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Executive Q&A: Architect strives to exceed expectations through relevant, value-driven architecture

Executive Q&A: Architect strives to exceed expectations through relevant, value-driven architecture

From #jcmo Inside Business

February 12th, 2018 by Philip Joens in Business

Julie Smith/News Tribune Architect Cary Gampher poses in his W. Main Street office.

As an architect and principal at The Architects Alliance, Cary Gampher turns drawings into 3-D objects every day.

Gampher grew up as an artist and credits high school art and drafting teachers with much of his success. Today, Gampher works at the firm with his wife and best friend, Julia.

Recently, he's played an instrumental role in the design of the second Jefferson City public high school. Gampher also recently began working with the Blair Oaks R-2 school district as it drafts plans for a new high school.

Answers below were edited for clarity and brevity.

Cary Gampher

Organization: The Architects Alliance
Age: 53
Hometown: Jefferson City
Last books I read: "Living Buddha, Living Christ," "The Selected Poems of EE Cummings," and a biography of Jackson Pollack.
Favorite movie: I tend to watch documentaries and usually have three or four books going at the same time. Sometimes a book will cause me to watch a documentary, and other times the documentary will cause me to read more.
My first job ever was: In high school, I was the janitor for the Knowles YMCA. Today, I am the architect for the Jefferson City Area YMCA.
If I wasn't doing this, I'd be: In a different century.

Q. How would you describe your job?

A. Juggling underwater with a changing current.

Q. Who influenced your decision to enter this profession?

A. I credit two teachers from Jefferson City High school for seeing a sliver of potential. Each of these people were instrumental in the path that I took: Pat Jones, a JCHS art department director, and Bill Smith, a JCHS drafting instructor.

Q. What career path brought you to this profession?

A. My academic passions include all forms of art and the psychology throughout history behind successful architecture. I also enjoyed building non-code-compliant tree houses as a child. Fortunately both JCPS and Kansas State University offered research opportunities into each of these. My implementation experience began with an internship at The Architects Alliance and Community Infrastructure Development in Southeast Asia.

Q. What's the most common mistake people make when entering your profession?

A. People new to architecture often do not realize the diversity of responsibilities. This profession is about more than drawing pretty pictures and designing buildings. Architecture encompasses art, science, technology, building codes, energy conservation. We learn something new for every project. Our field, like other industries, is constantly evolving, and therefore, we have to keep pace.

Q. What's the biggest lesson you've learned during your career?

A. Faith, flexibility, determination, patience to succeed have been guiding principles. A client's dreams take years to manifest as a completed project. Examples include the Cole County Law Enforcement Center, Helias Catholic High School Masterplan Expansion, The Linc wellness center, Jefferson City Boys & Girls Club, and now two high schools for Jefferson City Public Schools.

Q. What's the biggest challenge facing you in the next year?

A. Balancing my career and my marriage to my best friend, Julia; to encourage my children to complete college and create a career they love; and promote our young talented staff to continue excelling in both their personal and professional lives.

Q. Why did you decide to locate in Jefferson City?

A. Following work in several other states, I was offered the opportunity to return to my hometown as an architect and partner at The Architects Alliance. The choice was simple, and I've been blessed by the support of my wife, children, colleagues and clientele.

Q. What can Jefferson City do to improve itself?

A. Continue to trust and retain local talent. We need to spend locally and support our local talent and local business whenever we can.

Q. Where do you see yourself in five years?

A. Continuing to advocate for the human experience. Much of what we do is very personal. Our design work can make the workplace more productive, more humane, more aesthetically pleasing, more mentally satisfying and physically healthy.

Q. What are the best and worst parts of your job?

A. Best: Exceeding expectations by working creatively backstage to ensure our clients succeed in their mission through relevant, value-driven architecture. Worst: Communicating verbally and graphically about a built environment that is in the future, all the while juggling evolving technology, life-safety codes, fiduciary responsibility, aesthetics and constituency input, and a rotating sundial.

Q. What is something about you that nobody knows?

A. I grew up painting the scenery for the actors on stage. I worked for the YMCA as a janitor before an architect. I was once served an entire grilled dog as a village guest of honor.

Q. You served in the U.S. Peace Corps. What did you do, and what was that experience like?

A. In 1987, I left the United States to serve in Southeast Asia. I was allowed to serve in an extremely remote area which could only be reachable by traveling a combination of airplane, bus, jeep and out-rigger canoe. No infrastructure or sanitation existed.

This region lacked basic sanitation facilities. Because of this, (the inhabitants) were plagued with disease and needless annual deaths. The beach served as the latrine, and high tide was the "flushing" system. Drinking water was obtained from open pits exposed to rain runoff and animal waste.

We were able to create a gooseneck water trap, with no methane gas release. Flushing occurred by overwhelming the setup with a bucket of saltwater. During this time, I learned just how lucky we are to be Americans. Other countries have more extreme contrasts between beauty and disease; safety and danger; luxury and basic human needs.

Q. Your firm works on a lot of school projects. Is there anything unique about the second Jefferson City public high school compared to other projects you've worked on?

A. Working in the community in which you were born is a lifetime honor. As JCHS alumni, we are extremely motivated to push for continued improvement and success of all our centers of learning. While in college, I realized the quality of education offered here was superb because JCPS allowed me to enter college ahead of the game.

Our office is determined to ensure an excellent academic environment for faculty and our future generations of children. JCHS has the unique, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, to provide two state-of-the-art facilities via both extensive renovation and new construction.

Click here to view the full February 2018 edition of #jcmo Inside Business.