Personal Legend Project: Bill Browne

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Bill Browne, Principal/President, Ratio Architects

Bill founded Ratio in 1982 and the firm has gone on to create many iconic Indianapolis buildings such as Bankers Life Fieldhouse and the Indiana State Museum.  In reading Bill’s answers to the questions below, it’s no wonder he and his company have been so successful.  Photographing during a design meeting was a fascinating glimpse into the process.  As someone who works alone most of the time, I enjoyed seeing how a room of people can come together to form one, cohesive idea.

Once again, you’ll notice a husband and wife connection here, as Bill is married to Tiffany Benedict Browne, who was featured in the April 24th post.

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The following set of six questions will be answered by each of the subjects.

1)  Some people call it a “true calling” or their “life’s work.”  In the book The Alchemist, author Paulo Coelho calls it your Personal Legend. What do you consider to be your true calling, or Personal Legend?

Without a doubt, my passion is architecture, as I have always believed my true calling was to be an architect.  I enjoy cities, looking and studying their buildings.  I also enjoy learning the history and evolution of urban places.  It has and continues to consume me.

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2)  When did you first realize that this was your calling?

Oddly, I recall at the age of 10 that I wanted to become an architect.  I am not exactly sure what specifically happened in sixth grade, but something about architecture stuck in my head and has stayed there ever since.  My family would routinely go on driving trips around the city and the state looking at historic sites, and perhaps this triggered it.  Or it could have been simply looking at interesting buildings in pictures that got my attention.  I was always drawn to the fine arts; drawing and singing, so in all likelihood it was a combination of several influences that led me to passionately pursuing a career in architecture.

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3)  People often become completely engrossed, losing track of time or outside concerns while performing tasks related to their calling.  This might be referred to as being “in the zone” or “flow.”  When do you experience this most often?

In some ways I experience this regularly.  I practice the profession daily.  This includes finding design/client opportunities, pursuing them vigorously,  securing the commission, collaborating with my colleagues in their design, seeing it through its construction, and then turning it over to the client. 

I also “chase” new architecture by other architects across the nation, and globe to some extent.  My travels and vacations are rife with architectural tours, finding architectural gems, both historical and new, in very out of the way places, photographing them, learning/studying their details and striving to better understand how this architect solved the client’s desires.  This profession breeds individuals who are so passionate about the work that it is naturally consuming.
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4)  What is the greatest challenge or obstacle you’ve faced in pursuit of your life’s work?

The obstacles have changed during my career.  It is like climbing a ladder.  Early on it was convincing and demonstrating to clients I/we were capable of designing their building and spaces.  Then it was completing the commissions satisfactorily both personally and for the client.  As the firm gained respect then it became the many business challenges of leading and managing a large architectural practice; talent attraction/retention, keeping a full pipeline of work, making a profit to reinvest in the business, and maintaining high quality of design in the work.  Now the challenge is how to stay relevant and authentic as the profession advances itself in the computer age where virtually anything in design seems possible.

Certainly the elusive challenge will always be the pursuit and completion of the “pure piece of architecture”.  An architect has a vision for a building, but the execution of this vision takes many people to realize.  The details are where the architecture comes to life.  This is also where architecture breaks down when it is not executed or constructed properly.  If all of the details of the building vision are executed perfectly, then the pure vision can be achieved.  This is rare indeed.  I am not sure any architect has ever achieved this, although there are some buildings that without a doubt are very close to accomplishing this goal.  This challenge exists as we start and chase this on every new project.

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5)  What has pursuing your Personal Legend taught you?

I can unequivocally state that I enjoy getting up almost every day as I head into my profession.  I love what I do.  It has brought me so much such self-satisfaction and joy.  It has also shown me that I can provide this experience for the colleagues who work with me/us.  

By pursuing my passion, my focus has always been on it and everything else was a result.  Whether it was accolades from the client, peer awards, financial success, or gaining the next commission, by staying true to my passion of creating and producing as high a quality of design for our clients with each project, all of these rewards will fall into place.  Pursing these rewards directly will never result in the same level of accomplishment.

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6)  What piece of advice can you offer to others seeking their true calling?

Pursue your true calling or passion with total abandon and vigor.  Immerse yourself such that it becomes part of your very being.  The reward is hard to describe.
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Are you following your Personal Legend?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Subscribe to the blog, or add us to your RSS feed to follow along as we post a new set of images each day for the next 30 days.   For background on this project, check out our first post in the series.