Luce Architects – A reflection of the past 10 years

With the firm’s 10th year anniversary soon approaching, I found myself reflecting on the events and personalities that brought us to this moment in time.

In 2003, the construction industry was good… really good. For a young, registered architect such as myself, I felt the time was right to fulfill my lifelong dream of opening my own firm. It wasn’t an easy road getting to that point since it was one I largely traveled alone.

I had the desire, talent and experience to succeed. I spent nine years putting myself through Drexel University’s architectural program in the evening, while working in the industry during the day. After graduation in 1996, I spent an additional 6 years completing my internship and acquiring my license to practice architecture. Fifteen years… Fifteen years of hard work I’d invested getting to that point and there was no turning back.

With $6,000.00 my wife and I saved over the years, on April 1st, 2003, Luce Architects was born. That’s right, April Fools Day. That date not only reflected my sense of humor but it also served as a reminder… Don’t be the fool. I’ve worked for many people that displayed their own strengths and weaknesses. They weren’t all bad but I’ve worked for a lot of fools. The fools always found a way to dismantle what they’ve created in some of the most careless and fruitless ways. Someone once said, “Some of the best lessons learned are the ones not taught.”

Within the following four years, I hired key individuals that shared my vision and who created the backbone of the firm. Together, we provided award winning designs, an understanding of the construction industry and most importantly, we exceeded the client’s expectations. Steady growth and success had continued while I followed the cycles, analyzed the data, and planned for the future.

Our specialty had always been the residential building market, which had always been a driving force in the economy. In November of 2007, indicators were signaling a recession. I’ve seen recessions come and go and I’d been around long enough to know what had to be done. I believed the worst was over in the market and within six months, we would be in a better position. The next six months did not get better as I had anticipated. In 2009, most projects in our backlog were halted due to a lack of bank financing. Some of our clients went out of business, or scaled back considerably. I’ve seen other architectural firms closing their doors as well and I struggled to find a way for it not to happen to us. Clients were on edge and hesitant to make a move. Lack of confidence and financing were typically the reasons for projects being shelved. Those days were tough. I went through every possible emotion and I was thoroughly exhausted. It was painful but I had to stay upbeat and positive for clients and staff. I once compared it to smiling during a root canal. I felt I was letting the firm, one that I worked so hard for and was proud of, wither on the vine like a piece of fruit left after the fall harvest. It was perhaps the lowest I ever felt in my life.

One day, I thought of my grandfather who passed away a few years earlier from pancreatic cancer. He immigrated to this country and later opened his own business in the automotive industry. His company had seen 40 years of success until his retirement. When I visited him in the hospital for the last time with my daughters, he knew he was about to die but he mustered the energy to say goodbye. When I left that day, I walked out of the room, and looked back. Our eyes met for the last time, and I knew he was proud of me. His life was tough but he never gave up. That memory was perhaps the spark I needed to reignite my passion.

By 2010, with so many firms out of business, the playing field had opened up to an industry which had previously been dominated by old men. At age 42, I was the old man. The firm’s strength had always been diversity and talent. Our portfolio demonstrates a broad range of residential, commercial, industrial and institutional projects. I had no money for marketing and I had to be creative. A lot of ideas were developed and services were expanded to include construction management, land planning, and interior design. Necessity is the mother of invention after all. It was back to basics and to some degree, and it felt like I was starting over again. By March of 2011, we began to see something we hadn’t seen in a long time. Profit. It was barely noticeable but it was a positive sign.

I’m proud of how far we’ve come given the circumstances. I feel privileged for having experienced this time in American history. It’s made me a better friend, husband, father and business owner.

Our firm has been built on pride, diligence and determination. We’ve seen the fulfillment of lifelong dreams and watched those dreams almost disappear during this great recession. Through our hard work, we were able to reclaim those dreams and reignite the flame which initially fueled our passion. As we approach our tenth year anniversary, we have found a new strength in our convictions, while bearing witness to this difficult time in our nation’s history.

In looking forward to the future with great enthusiasm and vigor, I raise my glass and thankfully say to my staff and clients, “Our best years are ahead of us. Here’s to 10 years and many more… Cheers!”

Christopher J. Luce, AIA