Archeology, Anthropology, Architecture…

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Archeology, Anthropology, Architecture…

“A” List of Careers Inspires Long Tenure in University Architecture


David Stapleton never got too far into the alphabet when researching career options.
Now an architect, Stapleton said, “During high school, my father wanted me to be an engineer. But I went through the guidance books and determined I wanted to be an archeologist, an anthropologist or an architect. I never got out of the A’s.”

Stapleton’s father had a good reason for suggesting an engineering career. That’s what he planned when World War II intruded on his career path.

“After his military service, he returned to Kentucky to work for Pillsbury. He rolled dough at the Ballard Biscuit Mill and retired in 1977 as vice president of Pillsbury’s milling operations,” Stapleton recalled. “He always thought a professional degree would allow me to work with my mind, not necessarily my muscles!”

That “A” List stayed with Stapleton as he headed for college. Having grown up in Kentucky, California, New York and Illinois, he had already enrolled in the University of Illinois’ architecture program when his father was transferred to Enid, four weeks before classes began.

“I was devastated to move to Oklahoma,” Stapleton said. “I had no idea what was here or why I should come here. I must admit, I’ve been working in Oklahoma since graduation from the University of Oklahoma in 1974. My children are here. My family moved here from Kentucky. This is really a great place to be.”

A career in architecture seemed ideal “because it seemed to capture the total image of a man in charge with a focus on design, thought, creativity and building. The architecture curriculum even said engineers worked for the architect,” Stapleton joked.

“Architecture was compelling because we get to do things most professionals don’t. We can change and morph into many different entities and wear many different hats. We can have a profound impact on the lives of those who work, live and grow in the structures we ‘imagine’ and can create. Architecture doesn’t have to repeat. Each project must be different and better than the last. Each client has different goals and ideals that must be met for the project to truly succeed.”

Stapleton received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Environmental Design and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Architecture. He worked for OU’s Architecture Services for 22 years, after receiving his architect’s license. He joined the University of Central Oklahoma faculty in 1999 as director of architectural and engineering services and university architect.

He found working in university environments an exciting challenge. Numerous buildings on the OU campus reflect his professional influence. Among them are the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History, Sarkey’s Energy Center, the Neustadt Wing of the Bizzell Memorial Library and an addition to the OU Law Center.

“During my tenure at OU, I was project architect/manager for more than $500 million in capital improvements, including multiple renovations, new buildings, furniture designs, bid packages and campus landscape projects,” he said.
The latter included the four-year David Ross Boyd tree planting programs that greatly enhanced the visual appeal of the OU campus.

The Museum of Natural History project was “one of the most complex and gratifying projects, by far” of Stapleton’s career. “The project took great effort from all members of the team and the project had a destiny to be created. Dr. Michael Mares, PhD, Director of the Museum, simply would not accept anything less than the best possible outcomes to preserve the history of this area, the state and its inhabitants. That forced us, as architects and exhibit designers to believe, accept and embrace his passion as ours. I believe we succeeded well beyond most of our beliefs.”
Stapleton sees OU’s Sarkeys Center as a significant trend setter in architecture.

“The Center began a process within Oklahoma Higher Education for combining multiple colleges, institutes and programs into one facility and, in essence, forcing the occupants to collaborate. It was a very successful model for creativity, research and interactive education. Yet, it was done during a 10-year span of some of the worst bust times in Oklahoma,” he said.

He also sees UCO’s Wellness Center as a trend setter for other projects on the campus he now serves.
“It became the image for UCO during the early 2000’s in that it captured the essence of the history of UCO in the imagery and design of the building. It became the trend setter for other UCO projects that followed, including the Webb Forensic Science Institute, the Center for Transformative Learning, the new Wantland Football Stadium and Pressbox and The Quad, new student housing currently under construction,” he said.

Stapleton’s current UCO project, the renovation of Old North is “one of the most interesting projects I’ve ever worked on. It is also more professionally and emotionally challenging than I ever imagined it could or would be.”

The building is a UCO campus icon. Demolishing it seemed unthinkable. Its rich history resonates strongly with students, faculty and alumni. University officials, including Stapleton, believed renovation, not demolition, was the only survival tactic for Old North.

It was the original Oklahoma Territorial Normal School, the first building in the state dedicated to higher education. It played a major role in the lives of young adults within the state, even before statehood. For all its importance it was deemed a “decrepit” building in 1906. The renovation, scheduled for completion in 2016, will enhance and capture the spirit of UCO, Stapleton believes.

Having devoted his career to campus environments, Stapleton
considers what a student might ask who wishes to follow in his footsteps.

“Ask us about our profession,” he suggests. “Architecture has so many avenues, not just design. Architects are trained to think creatively, to solve complex problems, to resolve very difficult choices. Architects provide great places for living, learning, working and participating in the planning of towns, universities, regions, and often, the arts, which allow others to share in the imagery and grandeur of distant places.”

If someone wants to be an architect, they must be good at multi-tasking.

“We must be fluent in accounting, construction, business practices, construction law. Architecture is so complex, it helps to be able to envision in 3D. It is also important to listen. What we think may simply not be what is being requested. From my experience, architects seem to be able to multitask with the best of them.”

After a long career, Stapleton said he doesn’t fit into anyone’s mold as an architect.

“I admit I’m not really an architect’s architect. I don’t delve into theories of design and believe some styles are better, more important or influential than others. I also believe just because AutoCAD or Revit lets us design something, it doesn’t mean it should be done.”

Stapleton always remembers a comment from his grandfather about work.

“He said, ‘Work is something you hated but had to do. But, if you could find something you loved to do you would never have to work a day in your life.’ As a youngster, I really didn’t understand what he was saying but now I really have to agree with him. I’ve certainly loved those days that were not work. It has been really great to get paid to do what I do. Certainly some times are better than others but I wouldn’t trade my career for anything else – not even anthropology or archeology.”

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