The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of what is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope. John Buchan
Having grown up in a small town on Lake Erie, I know the difference between a Palomar knot and a Berkeley braid. Fishing was our religion from April through October each year, practiced in small boats drifting slowly across rolling waves with nothing but water and sky as far as the eye could see. As I waited patiently for the slightest nibble to mark the passage of time, I’d look to the horizon and imagine what lay just beyond it. From that vantage point, you couldn’t see much, but you could picture everything. Entire cities sprang up in my mind’s eye. Expeditions into deep caverns for ancient treasures long forgotten. Grand sea voyages that would make Thor Heyerdahl take pause. It was as if my mind housed a full run of National Geographic magazine, and that deep-seated need to explore has driven me to chase horizons ever since.
Along the way I’ve been fortunate to have many guides. My grandfather taught me in his woodshop that you can build anything as long as you have a plan. My parents made sure I knew how important it is to stop and read the historical markers on the side of the road. Countless teachers and librarians fielded my endless questions as I read my way through the Dewey Decimal System. Sister Corita Kent left behind rules to live by that I revisit every day. Stephen Kern challenged me to read, write and think with a rigor that opened new universes of possibility. My wife, Christine, shows me on a daily basis how to look at the world with an artist’s eye and see the endless beauty it contains. And my children keep the wonder and playfulness of childhood burning brightly inside of me.
Translated to my career path, these influences have pushed me to ask questions and defy categorization. Without losing a step, I’ve been known to transition from the sands of an archaeological dig to the boardrooms of Sand Hill Road. I’ve worked for nonprofits big and small, donned tweed jackets with elbow patches in ivory towers, advised tech investors on what will be the “next big thing,” organized black-tie galas and post-it-laden charrettes, and established my place in the global vanguard of the climate community. By traditional measures, I was finding success, but I never felt at home. More often than not I was the odd duck in the room, the one making recommendations deemed too audacious, too far out of reach. While folks around me seemed content to move the needle, I was determined to break the glass.
In October 2017, I was once more looking to the horizon. That’s when I met Sharon Chang. A mutual friend, Kaz Brecher, brought us all together at an impact investment conference in San Francisco. Sitting in a hip little coffee shop at Fort Mason, the low rumble of dealmaking was all around us. Yet our conversation took a decidedly different tack. Sharon had just returned from climbing K2, a feat she referenced quickly with total humility, but I wasn’t about to let her get away with a passing nod to the experience. So, we talked about base camps and leg cramps before pivoting into a discussion of phenomenology (one of my fields of study). I thoroughly enjoyed the conversation, and then we went our separate ways.
It wasn’t until the following March that we reconnected, this time for dinner in a BBQ joint in downtown Austin during SXSW. Ironically, given that we were meeting for the second time at a conference, our main topic of conversation was our shared frustration with conference culture. Then, over dessert, we discussed this emergent discipline that she had been developing with a team of collaborators, future architecture. With just a high-level introduction, I knew intuitively that it was something special, though I wasn’t yet quite sure why.
That dinner led to working sessions in Los Angeles and New York City, where we focused on how best to share future architecture with the world. It wasn’t clear how I was expected to engage. Was I being brought into a core team? Was I meant to advise? Was this just a case of a friend helping a friend? It didn’t matter. I welcomed all scenarios. After several of these conversations, Sharon asked me directly what I saw myself bringing to the table. I stumbled in my response, launching into the things one says when asked that question, trying to differentiate myself. I clearly remember pausing mid-sentence, taking a deep breath and allowing myself to be honest. “Me. I bring me to the table. All of me.” And with that, I felt an incredible moment of liberation.
The discipline resonated so strongly with me that I began to call myself a future architect. I recognized that for years I’d practiced many of the tenets of future architecture without defining them as such. My hours spent challenging what was easier not to challenge; my work to build relationships anchored in trust and understanding; my constant reaching toward futures that appeared to be out of reach to others . . . it was all a perfect complement to future architecture. Now I had found a collaborative system, context and community devoted to the deep understanding of such ideals — and, more importantly, to applying them to systems-level challenges for the benefit of all humanity. It felt like coming home.
I’ve fully embraced this vocation of future architecture. With imagination at its core, it appeals both to this seasoned veteran of the social impact sector and that small boy who pictured the future he wanted to live in with rod and reel in hand. I used to wonder what my legacy would be. How could I help make the world more beautiful for more people? With clarity and resolve, I’m now part of a community working to do just that. Future architecture is a gift that has empowered me, and it’s one that I hope to share with the world.