Your Lego set was more advanced than those of your peers. Meticulously curated through years of single-minded Santa-letter-writing and trading with friends, your set was capable of producing perfect miniature cityscapes. Whereas most kids didn’t care if the north facing wall of their plastic skyscraper was a mottled mess of yellow blue and red bricks haphazardly stacked without any regard for structural integrity, you were a perfectionist, insisting that your multistory masterpieces were cohesive in their color and in the pattern of brick boundaries.
For your eleventh birthday your parents wanted to take you to Disney World, but you begged them to take you to New York City instead. You wanted to experience the city whose skyline you’d become so intimate with through television and movies. Your parents were good sports, waiting in line for an average of 3 hours each of the 4 times you dragged them to the Empire State Building during that weekend. You explained that you needed to see New York from on high in multiple lighting conditions to really experience it. They smiled and patted your head.
After that weekend your singular goal in life was to make your mark on the Manhattan skyline. You weren’t going to be content to design a building that merely occupied the skyline; you had to create an iconic New York skyscraper. You were single-minded in your pursuit of this goal. You paid your way through college by doing freelance drafting work for people who bought houses during the real estate bubble and planned to profit by building additions and flipping before the mortgage caught up with them. By the time the bubble collapsed you had plenty of money saved up to carry you through and even provide a cushion while you looked for a job.
Looking for a job after college was more difficult than you ever thought it would be. You graduated near the top of your class but there were no offers coming in. The credit crisis that dried up your drafting work took everything else down with it and now some of your classmates were struggling to find work at The Gap, let alone as working architects. Many of your classmates opted to take on more student loan debt (or, more often, more checks from Mom and Dad) and enroll in the hospitality management program at Cornell. It seemed like a smart move. Despite the unpredictable economy, Americans were eating out and traveling more than ever. You might have joined them if not for your stubbornness and your burning need to prove wrong everyone—teachers, parents, friends—who told you that your dream was unrealistic. That very few people throughout history have had the opportunity to create an architectural icon. That the numbers were against you.
You held fast and made sure that nothing would derail your plans to make your mark on the Manhattan skyline. You moved to the Big Apple to to feed off the energy of the city and draw inspiration. Architecture jobs were scarce, but there were buildings being built all over the city. The economy couldn’t keep this city from reaching for the sky. You decided to join a construction crew and gain valuable experience on the blue collar side of the business. Your parents made the requisite judgements about your big fancy education going to waste. Your coworkers did the same, albeit with more colorful turns of phrase. Like the man who inspired this decision, you laughed. If Howard Roark wasn’t above working the quarry, you weren’t above pouring cement.
You made an impression on your supervisors as a hard worker with a good head on your shoulders. They knew you were an architect and soon started inviting you to analyze blueprints when things didn’t seem quite right. At almost every job you were able to spot flaws in the plans that saved the company time, money, and on a couple of occasions, potential lawsuits. It wasn’t long before the higher ups were questioning why they had their best architect wearing a yellow hard hat instead of white. They fired their staff architect and put you in his place. You weren’t going to get to design the next Chrysler Building or anything, but you were a working architect and that meant you were moving in the right direction.
Over the next few years you kept busy designing renovations for old buildings that would become modern Chase branches or Starbucks. You created, unofficially of course, the fanciest drug store in history when you turned the bottom two floors of a century-old SoHo condo building into a Duane Reade. Pregnancy tests and condoms were on aisle 5, just on the other side of the Corinthian column. From the front door you could look downtown and see the new Gehry building. It represented everything you dreamed of creating. An instant icon. The fact that it was his first skyscraper inspired you. It was still possible to make a mark on this city with a single set of blueprints. You just needed to wait for the opportunity.
You got the chance to design the new headquarters for a regional bank. It wasn’t a city-changing skyscraper, but at 50 stories it would at least be visible from across the river. You would be a legitimate part of the skyline, if not one easily recognizable by tourists. The more important part was that the site was adjacent to 40 Wall Street, the loser of the historic battle with the Chrysler Building to become the tallest in the world in 1930. Even though your building would only be about half the size of its proud neighbor, you took pride in the fact that you’d be sharing the same block.
As construction progressed and your building took shape you spent more time on the site observing, directing, and micromanaging the crew. Everyone tried to be patient with you but you insisted on being more hands-on than you should have been. That became clear when you started lecturing a young welder for what you considered to be low-quality work. Snatching the torch from his hands you told him you were going to show him the right way to do it. Unfortunately you didn’t snatch his safety goggles and seconds later you were screaming in agony as errant sparks melted your corneas. They rushed you to the hospital but the damage was done. Unable to continue working as an architect, you spent the remainder of your days collecting disability and became known citywide as the crazy blind guy who spends every day on Wall Street asking tourists to describe some unimportant building to him.