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Andrew Wanko ’10

Public Historian, Missouri History Museum

I was walking on the waterfront in Volos, Greece on a breezy day when I first had the daunting realization—I was four years into architecture school, and I didn’t want to be an architect. I remember the moment clearly. I loved everything about architecture and my experience studying it at Drury. I soaked up every historical style from Byzantine to Brutalism. I poured over theories of city development and the poetic works of Aldo Rossi. I devoured stories of urban grassroots rehabbers bringing century-old homes back to life in disinvested American cities. I developed this passion for the built environment through Drury’s program, but I was having a difficult time seeing how professional architecture practice would work out for me. A less-thanstellar internship over the coming summer would only increase my worry.

It would take me until the middle of my fifth year to finally admit that practicing architecture wasn’t what I wanted to do. I was finally being honest with myself, yet I felt hopeless about changing my course at that point. I reluctantly kept up with adopting the multitude of acronyms facing the young potential architect—signing up for IDP with NCARB, renewing AIAS enrollment, and looking at ARE testing and LEED certification.

Over spring break my fifth year, during tough economic times, I sent my portfolio to more than 70 firms, and I didn’t get a single lead toward anything resembling gainful employment. The mix of rejection and my growing disinterest finally convinced me that I had to stick to my desires. That was my most challenging moment—not the rejection, but admitting that if I was to make my career what I wanted it to be, it would only be by avoiding an obvious path and finding it on my own, no matter how long it took.

So I started over. Within a few months of graduation I moved to the Chinese mega-city of Shenzhen, nearly equal in population to New York City but unknown to the average American. The year-long break was the best thing I could have done, as it got me out of the insulated world of architecture and allowed me the breathing space to decide my next move.

In the Shenzhen library’s tiny English-language section, I stumbled upon a book called Lion of the Valley, St. Louis, Missouri 1764 – 1980. I had always been deeply interested in my hometown, but this unexpected find had me completely intrigued. Here I was, 10,000 miles from the city in which I spent most of my life, and I desperately wanted to dive into its history. Life can be funny like that.

I returned to St. Louis and immediately got involved in two ways. I joined a local developer doing hands-on restoration of late-19th century townhomes in south central St. Louis, and I interned at the Landmarks Association of St. Louis, a non-profit organization committed to preserving and enhancing St. Louis’s architectural heritage. Shortly after, Landmarks helped me obtain a position at the Missouri History Museum, where I am now the public historian.

Armed with my bachelor’s degrees in architecture and fine arts from Drury and a strong passion, two years after graduation I started a career that perfectly accounted for my architectural theory, history and preservation interests. As MHM’s public historian, I bring the unique architecture of my city to life for thousands of people through exhibits and public outreach. I am currently the content lead on two great exhibits: “A Walk in 1875 St. Louis” and “Lost Buildings of St. Louis.” Just last year, I rehabbed my own first home—a 1927 stained glass and woodwork-filled bungalow beside one of St. Louis’s great urban parks.

I think architecture is one of the best fields anyone could choose to study because the skills developed apply to any career imaginable. The open-ended qualities you find in yourself during Drury’s architecture program are multi-faceted, personally reflective and oriented toward problem solving. Everything I do on a daily basis at MHM demands the knowledge I accumulated while at Drury.

Architectural preservation is a means of securing the fragments, both monumental and commonplace, which make unique places unrepeatable. My home of St. Louis is the unique place where my passion for the built environment was born and where it was unexpectedly reborn after my studies at Drury.

The advice I would share based on my Drury experience is to not settle for an awful-yet-comfortable job in a place you don’t want to be. Seek a place that fulfills you, and put everything you have into it. My work at Drury and its demonstration of my creative ability impressed employers, even if it was indirectly related to a particular job. Even outside of what I saw as an instant or obvious path, options revealed themselves, and my education ensured I was ready for them.