Today, 2018, we celebrate our 30th anniversary as an architectural firm. As the company continues to transition from Gregg Maedo + Associates into GM+A, I look back 30 years ago to 1988. I remember the reaction of my peers when I decided to focus on healthcare at a time when the trendy, cool, and more lucrative direction was to do Residential or Commercial architecture, maybe even Hospitality or Retail – really anything but Healthcare. It was high noon for the baby boomers, everyone was healthy and active, sunset seemed so far away. However, despite this pressure, I went my own way. To understand why, I look back even further, to 1968.
They say that the experiences you have just before your teenage years have a huge influence in determining who you will become. Those experiences of pre-teen years and how you see the world then influences and modes your outlook towards life and who you will become. For example, the children who grew up during the Great Depression were forever shaped by it. Growing up with nothing taught them frugality, hence for the rest of their lives they were never comfortable leaving a morsel on their dinner plates.
Likewise, the late 60’s were my pre-teen years. Twenty years before starting GM+A was 1968. Although I did not know at the time the lasting influence this year would have on me, this was a year that changed the world.
1968 was a year of seismic social and political unrest. From the burgeoning anti-Vietnam War and Civil Rights movements in the United States, protests and revolutions in Europe, the demonstrations at the Mexico Olympics and the Democratic Convention, the Women’s Liberation movement and the first comprehensive coverage of the war and the famine in Africa, the world and the way I saw it would never be the same again.
The Vietnam War was the first war to be played out on television. If TV put an end to war as we knew it, the Tet Offensive was the beginning of the end of US involvement in Vietnam. The shock of the attack and subsequent television coverage turned public opinion away from the war. I remember my mom being horrified by the images of war that streamed across the evening news. Later, I remember as my brother and I grew closer to draft age, my parents diminishing support of the war intensified, … giving more legitimacy to the adage that blood was thicker than water.
1968 was the year of the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. While I did not understand the full meaning of those deaths, I do remember my elementary school teacher coming to school the next day with tears in her eyes barely able to explain to us what had just happened.
In 1968 North Korea captured the USS Pueblo, Yale admitted its first women to the university, the TV show 60 Minutes debuted, Intel was born, the game changing Boeing 747 was unveiled, and Star Trek had the first interracial kiss on TV.
The year ended with the launching of Apollo 8 in December. It would be the first-time photos of Earth were taken from deep space including the now iconic “Earthrise.” The amazing and joyous mission ended the year, filled with historically tragic events, on a high note.
One wouldn’t believe this was a single year, but yes it was. In looking back 50 years, it wasn’t any single event or experience but the summation of those times that left a lasting impression on me 20 years later when I decided to go for it: forgo my steady paycheck, get out of my comfort zone, and start on my own and start my own architectural practice.
What I really learned from 1968 and what those turbulent times taught me was that everyone had to take a side. Staying on the sidelines was not an option; everyone had to grab a glove and get in the game. The world was changing rapidly and merely existing was not enough. People had to take a stance, plant their feet, stand their ground, stay the course, risk take, and believe strongly in themselves and their convictions just to survive. I experienced how intense day to day living was, the deep contrast of existing rather than living your life, the huge importance between achievement and the activity of merely going through the motions.
So, in 1988, fueled by experiences twenty year before, I decided to take care of the elderly, the sick, and the frail through Architecture and start GM+A. I decided to ignore the opinions of my peers, avoid the in-vogue Architecture of that time, and do my own thing and do what I believed in…. and in the process to serve Architecture.
Along with my business partners Gladys Makabenta and Onney Wongmelert, we continue to believe it is better to have everyone work as partners and not as employees. We believe that an “ownership mentality” creates more caring, that purposely blurring the line between partners and employees intensifies commitment and gives people the freedom to go the extra mile, to thrive in uncertainty, to work hard for something greater, to strive for a fulfilling career rather than a paycheck and to better serve architecture and ultimately themselves.
Now, in looking back these 30 years since starting GM+A, I find it interesting how those childhood experiences and lessons I learned twenty years before then in the 60’s has translated into our core values and office culture here at GM+A and how those values and office culture have enabled us to better serve our clients.
And in looking back to 1968 and the events that helped shape GM+A many years later, I remember Apollo 8 and the healing power of words. As Apollo 8 was finishing its orbit around the dark side of the moon during Christmas, radio contact resumed. For first time the whole planet Earth was seen from the back drop of darkness that was deep space. At that moment, the trio of astronauts read from the first 10 verses from Genesis with Astronaut Borman adding: “And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”
-Written by Gregg Maedo