Architect / Civic Leader
Mentor, Andrew A. Kinslow
Andy started what is now called KKT Architects in 1989 with just two other people first doing interior design and space planning. His firm has since grown to become a full-service architecture, interior and engineering firm with fifty-six employees averaging over three million square feet of design space a year. The firm has designed a wide range of well-known local buildings including the new Unit Corporation headquarters, the Woody Guthrie Center, the Tulsa Historical Society and the Zarrow Center for the Arts as well as downtown revitalization projects including the Mayo 420 Apartments. KKT also developed the concept for the Oklahoma Weather Museum and Research Center, a tornado shaped building that has received international recognition for its innovative design.
Andy gives back to his community and is a civic leader who has served on the boards of many organization including the Tulsa Ballet, Living Arts Emergency Infant Services, Arts Alliance and the Tulsa Arts Commission. He has served as the Cattle Baron for the American Cancer Society and and served on the Tulsa Preservation Commission. His firm also provides internship opportunities to local young people interested in careers in architecture. Because of the success of his firm and his civic leadership, Andy was named the Tulsa Metro Chamber of Commerce Small Businessperson of the Year in 2008. Besides his primary business, he and his husband started a documentary film production company two years ago that has just completed a historical documentary on Tulsa called “Boomtown: An American Journey”. Andy holds a Bachelors of Architecture from the University of Arkansas, Fay Jones School of Architecture, and is a member of the professional advisory committee at his alma mater.
In his article, Andy talks about the many different areas of architecture that you can choose to pursue including the design and construction of new buildings and their interiors, the renovation of older buildings, civil projects and even careers in Hollywood set designs and the fashion industry. He also points out that as an architect you must understand engineering principals so your architectural designs will not just look good but also function well. Andy overcame several obstacles to become a successful architect and businessperson. His career path is a good example for young people of the kind of hard work and persistence you need to build a successful professional career or business.
I grew up in Russellville, Arkansas, a small town that at the time had about twelve thousand people. My interest in architecture started when I was in the third grade even though I didn’t know then what an architect was. That year my parents built a house and I was able to watch my father draw up the plans and help with a small part of the construction. I also played a lot with Legos and Lincoln Logs when I was young and built ramps for my electric train and matchbox cars to see how steep I could make them before they would fall. I also had a large sandbox as a kid where I built tunnels and buildings using sand, bark, rocks and sticks. Later my fifth grade teacher encouraged my interest in design and was the first to encourage me to become an architect.
Russellville was the home of a nuclear power plant giving the city a large tax base that supported a great school system. I was able to take advanced math classes while I was in high school like algebra, geometry, trigonometry and introductory calculus and was well prepared when I went to college to study architecture. I was also in the band and became the drum major, something that gave me my first chance to be in charge of a group of people. I also got a job at Wal-Mart between my junior and senior year, an experience that taught me how to work with people of all ages.
One personal trait I needed to overcome was that I am shy and had to make myself get out and talk to people. For example, when I went to college, I didn’t know anyone. The first thing I did when I arrived at my dorm was make myself go down the hall and introduced myself to everyone on my floor. Being able to talk to people is important for an architect because you must have open communication with your clients and your co-workers and be able to go out in the community and develop new business for your firm. If you work at it like I did, shyness is something you too can overcome. It is also important to learn about subjects other than just architecture. The clients you approach are not going to know much about architecture and you will want to be able to talk about things that interest them.
A Bachelor of Architecture at Arkansas is a five-year degree and it surprised me that much of my coursework over all five years involved a lot of math classes much like an engineering program. Math was difficult for me and it was not something I enjoyed. At the end of my fourth year, I was beginning to think I might have made a mistake going into architecture and I didn’t see where I was going to use all that math as an architect. But I stayed with it. Later when we studied how to build with wood, steel and concrete, I could see the math was necessary to be able to understand things like how these materials would bear loads so that the design of the building would be functional. After I graduated and began designing buildings and their interior spaces, I was working with structural, electrical and mechanical engineers and needed to understand basic engineering principals based on this math to develop my designs. As an architect, you want to create a beautiful design (form) but also make it useful (function), the architectural dictum that “form follows function”. For a building, this means that the design does not conflict with what the engineers will need to do to see the building is structurally sound and that it can carry the heating, cooling, plumbing and electrical components necessary to make the building function not just look good.
I graduated from college in 1980 and wanted to work in Kansas City because I liked all the buildings, fountains and parks. I wasn’t able to get a job there but was offered an entry-level job at a firm in Tulsa that was completing the City of Faith hospital complex. I worked there for six months and then went to another firm that was working on the Doubletree hotel downtown, several buildings for the Union School District. I worked there until 1981 when the oil markets crashed. Tulsa went into a steep recession and I was forced to look for another job. Thinking about what to do and where to go, I remembered a guest lecturer who spoke at the University of Arkansas. He had designed a restaurant called Windows on the World at the top of one of the World Trade Towers in NYC. He showed us pictures of the interiors and talked about how he developed the space including designing the furniture. I liked the idea of designing interior spaces and started working for Arthur Johnson Designs. After three years I was ready for a change. So I decided to look for a job doing interior design and space planning in Tampa. That city’s economy was booming and after seventeen interviews I got sixteen offers and stayed in Tampa for three years.
In 1984, I got two phone calls from firms in Tulsa. The economy was recovering and they were looking for help. I went back and began the process of getting all my Oklahoma licenses. State requirements include working under a licensed architect for three years and taking nine tests that are only offered once a year. The rules have now changed and most students take the tests when they graduate from college while the subject matter is still fresh in their minds. I had been out of college for several years and it took me three years to study and pass all the tests. I actually failed the test that was heavy on math the first time and had to go back and take it again.
In 1989, I decided to start my own architectural firm. I always wanted to have my own business and started small with just myself and two other people concentrating on interior building design and space planning. Two of our customers were building developers and managers, Trammell Crow and Case and Associates, who wanted us to design buildings for them. So I added architectural services and have continued to grow the business. We now have 55+ people in our firm KKT Architecture with many of the people having been with me for over twenty years. Our client services include in-house architecture, interior design, structural engineering and civil engineering. I also deliberately built a firm with a diverse client base. My hope is that with this diverse group of clients, KKT will be able to work through the inevitable bumps in the road in the local economy.
Here is a list of some of the buildings and spaces we have designed that will be familiar to people in Tulsa:
- Johns Clinic
- First Oklahoma Bank
- Unit Corporation Headquarters
- Henry Zarrow Center for the Arts
- Woody Guthrie Center
- Guthrie Green Pavilion
- Tulsa Technology Center
- Southern Hill Country Club
- Mayo and Philtower Apartments and Lofts
- Riverwalk in Jenks
- Kings Landing
- LaFortune Park Club House
- Sky Fitness
You can go to our website and click on the portfolio pull down at the top of the home page to see pictures of these and other buildings and interior spaces our firm has designed: http://kktarchitects.com
In 2015, we responded to a request from Tulsa People Magazine to re-envision a building in downtown Tulsa. We wanted to do something that would make people talk about architecture and demonstrate that at building doesn’t have to be a box. We originally started with a revolving restaurant on top of a tower. In looking at ways to skin the tower, the swirling look of a tornado inspired us and the Oklahoma Weather Museum & Research Center was born.
As of today, there have been articles about the Tulsa Tornado Tower in publications in 45 countries around the world including Architectural Record, GQ Italy, Daily Mail UK, Gawker and The Huffington Post. I was also invited to give a presentation at Kiev in the Ukraine to a group of one hundred and fifty architects.
How to Prepare Yourself for a Career as an Architect
- It is important that you take advanced math classes in high school like I did. The college programs at most schools are for five years and for all five you are going to be studying math. While I never liked math myself and found it difficult, I was able to get through the courses I needed. So make sure you take advanced math classes in high school so you will be prepared and will know before you start that you can handle the advanced math classes you are required to take in college.
- I also think it will be helpful for you to take classes and be involved in activities where you learn to speak in front of people. These can be classes like debate, theater or activities like student government. As an architect you will be making presentations to clients as well as going out and developing new business. It is important for you to learn how to communicate well including learning to listen to what your clients want.
- Don’t hesitate to call an architectural firm like ours and ask if there are internships available. We hire four or five every year from high school and college. Being an intern and seeing what you will be doing as an architect will help you decide if this is a career that really interests you.
- In high school and college, you have electives you can choose that will broaden your knowledge of subjects outside of architecture. Most people are not going to know much about architecture and you need to be able to talk to them about subjects that interest them so you can build relationships. Besides just classes, you can do this by taking every opportunity you get to travel in the US and abroad so you can meet different people and see others cultures.
- Learn to speak Spanish. Spanish speakers now do almost all of the construction jobs. It makes it much easier when you visit a job site and see something that is not being done the way you drew it to be able to talk to the construction workers yourself.
- You will also need to build your computer skills. Computer-aided design and drafting (CADD) and building information modeling (BIM) have replaced traditional paper and pencil as the most common methods for creating designs and construction drawings.
- Some college architectural programs now offer a four year Bachelors degree and a two year Master degree. But you cannot get licensed with less than five years of college courses. So unless you want to get a masters degree and can afford to be in college for six years, make sure you go to a school that offers a five-year bachelors degree.
- Those of you who are from Oklahoma can hold down the cost of your college education by going to either Oklahoma State or the University of Oklahoma and paying instate tuition. Both schools have good architecture programs. Unfortunately Tulsa Community College doesn’t offer a two-year pre-architectural program like it does for professions like engineering where you can go your first two years tuition free and transfer to larger colleges and universities.
- Keep in mind that besides designing buildings and their interior spaces, people who graduate with degrees in architecture can also work in other areas. There are civil architects who design bridges, tunnels and roads. There are also other places where you might not expect an architect to work including designing video games and in fashion design because the structure of a dress requires a lot of the same knowledge as designing a building. I also know people who became set designers in Hollywood. In fact, thirty-five people who I graduated with from the Fay Jones College of Architecture at Arkansas used their degrees to enter these kinds of careers and were not designing buildings.
I have enjoyed being an architect and growing my firm. It is a career that has let me design new buildings, renovate landmark buildings and create unique interior spaces. It also gives me a lot of personal satisfaction to go almost anywhere in Tulsa and see my firm’s work. Being a principal in an architectural firm has also allowed me to meet a lot of wonderful people and build lasting relationships with my staff and my clients. I have tried to give back to my community and been involved with nonprofit organizations where I have seen how our work has benefited people from all walks of life. If you have an interest in design and can handle the math, it is a professional career you should consider.
US Bureau of Labor Salary Statistics for Architects
The median annual wage for architects was $76,100 in May 2015. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,080, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $125,520.
Employment of architects is projected to grow 7 percent from 2014 to 2024, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Architects will be needed to make plans and designs for the construction and renovation of homes, offices, retail stores, and other structures. Many school districts and universities are expected to build new facilities or renovate existing ones. In addition, demand is expected for more healthcare facilities as the baby-boomer population ages and as more individuals use healthcare services. The construction of new retail establishments may also require more architects.
Demand is projected to be highest for architects with knowledge of “green design,” also called sustainable design. Sustainable design emphasizes the efficient use of resources, such as energy and water conservation; waste and pollution reduction; and environmentally friendly design, specifications, and materials. Rising energy costs and increased concern about the environment have led to many new buildings being built with more sustainable designs.