By Emily Black
Jerry wins 1st place in the Chief Architect Remodel/Addition Design Contest. His level of detail and craftsmanship show his passion and experience.
“Soon to be 63 years old, I was born and raised in the Detroit Metropolitan area. After high school, I attended the University of Michigan, graduating in 1980 from the School of Architecture with my Bachelor of Science in Architecture. Shortly after graduation, I married my beautiful and brilliant high school sweetheart, Debbie, who often helps me when I’m struggling with project designs… and is also my best critic (soon to be celebrating our 39th anniversary!).
“Debbie and I bought our first home right after getting married, a fixer-upper, where I completed my very first residential reno design. When I submitted my plans to the St. Clair Shores Building Department for the building permit, the Building Inspector called me and asked who prepared the documents and shared how impressed he was (you may not remember or know that this was before the advent of Computer Aided Design for Architecture, so everything was drawn by hand back then). Shortly after, I was contacted by several of what became my first ‘paying’ clients.
“Several years later, knowing that a graduate degree would be required if I was to become a registered architect, I was accepted and enrolled in Lawrence Technological University’s unique, graduate-level ‘BArch’ architectural degree program recognized by the American Institute of Architecture (AIA) (at the time, LTU’s BArch degree program was the only non-Masters program accepted by the AIA to meet the licensing requirement). I completed my graduate thesis on the “Design and Development of Comprehensive Health Care Facilities.”
“Graduating with my BArch degree in 1983, I took a job with a local architectural firm where I spent most of my time as a ‘go-for’ for the owner and principal architect. I was charged with taking a lot of as-built dimensions of existing residential and small commercial structures along with providing a number of as-built drawings for the firm but never was permitted to work on any ‘design’ projects. Staying in touch with a friend I made in my thesis class, we decided to give it a go together and formed an architectural design firm called Hensel & Heckendorn (my partner won the straw draw, so his last name went first)! We worked on several projects together before succumbing to an economy that had taken a turn for the worse. We chose to go our separate ways and I ended up taking a job as an Engineer with General Motors Corporation.
“As architecture, particularly residential architecture, has been and will always be my absolute passion, I’ve had the fortune of a very successful, albeit moonlighting, a career spanning over 38 years. Everything from residential additions, renovations, new single-family residence projects ranging from small to large (largest to date has been a 4,800 square foot 2-story with, believe it or not, a 2-lane bowling alley located under a 5-car garage, complete with gutters and pinsetters), as well as several small to large commercial projects. Ironically, at the time I was to lose my father to cancer, I was actually commissioned to design a rather large Funeral Home. Unfortunately, the timing was such that we lost my father before the project was completed, however, the clients who then became friends took very good care of my family through the process of saying ‘goodbye’. One of the very unique and wonderful outcomes of the ‘residential’ design profession is the amazing opportunity to meet, and often become friends of the clients we work with! Though I am currently not a registered architect, when necessary, I will collaborate with one of my college professors as well as my old business partner who are both licensed to practice architecture in Michigan.
“Somewhere in the middle of my moonlight business, Computer Aided Architectural Design (CAAD) software programs began to pop up and caught my intrigue. As a family-proclaimed tech geek, I saw the potential CAAD had for my architectural work. AutoCAD was the first program I purchased and taught myself. Shortly after becoming awkwardly proficient, AutoCAD came out with a 3rd party Architectural add-on. I thought that was ‘awesome’! I buried myself into the program and was professing the need for my architect friends to embrace the change. They were very reluctant to abandon the historically rich and romantic craft of ‘hand-drawn’ designs and construction documents. But I saw the bright light and believed that CAD would definitely be the way of the future for all architectural practices.
“For a number of my friends, all I had to do was show them how I could flip a completed plan over by drawing a simple line down the middle and all annotation presented itself as if it was always drawn that way, they were hooked. I can’t tell you how many times that request was presented by a client when I had invested hours in annotating the documents, only to bring out the eraser and get to work removing all of that text only to re-draw it on the backside of the sheet, all the while hoping I did not bore a hole through the sheet… which also happened more than once! Thank goodness for the ‘power’ erasers we had to work with back then… I still have mine!
Though I saw ads for the Chief Architect program, I did not think it would be advanced enough to use in my business… boy was I wrong.
“Over the years I’ve watched a number of architectural CAD programs hit the marketplace, becoming more and more useful and user-friendly. In the early nineties, I even had the opportunity to teach CAAD at a local community college for several years using AutoCAD and a new (at that time,) 3rd party add-on called ASG. Though I saw ads for the Chief Architect program, I did not think it would be advanced enough to use in my business… boy was I wrong. I started using what I believed to be a high-end architectural software program but was seriously struggling, trying to come up with macros and shortcuts to help speed up my productivity. I began to dig deeper into researching programs that were geared more to residential work as that is where my true passion lies.”
“It was in late 2014, to early 2015 that I thought I would give Chief Architect a try… I believe it was with Version 6. I was quickly blown away with everything the program and the company (customer support) had to offer! The very expensive, very difficult and unyielding ‘high-end’ program that had taken me several years to learn and become proficient, paled in comparison to what I could do with Chief Architect!!! I quickly and literally cut my turn-around time on projects by more than half what it was taking me before and I was able to do things, provide additional types of information, and bring much of the lost, what I like to call, ‘romance’, of the ‘hand drawing’ era of construction documents.
“I continue to be hugely impressed with the updates and additional tools and routines, new functions, and improvements Chief Architect regularly does with their program. The ‘User Center’ is incredible, and the customer support, who I seem to challenge often as I am always seeming to try something out of the ordinary, is outstanding. I’ve yet to stump them, and I promise I’m not trying to do that, I just seem to have clients that ask me to do some unique or different from normal-type things. Chief Architect always seems to come through.”
“Years have gone by using Chief Architect now. I’ve completed numerous fun projects and I seem to be getting much better at using many of the program’s productivity and fun functions. I have even received a collection of outstanding compliments from contractors, builders, but most importantly, several municipalities Building Department Chiefs & Inspectors complimenting me as much about my ‘design’ as the look and content of the working drawings I produce using Chief Architect. I absolutely give all the credit to the program.
“As I get ready to retire from my day job working for a large company, I am very excited to dive back into my architectural business full-time. I mean this sincerely when I say that Chief Architect has provided me the ability and desire to do so. Thank you to everyone at Chief for what you have and continue to create… and thanks to those of you who ‘liked’ my project entry.”