By Molly Richmond / Photography by Craig Stocks
Architecture may be what Geoff Smith does, but in his heart he’s a visionary artist.
Geoff was born in Peoria, but at the age of five his family moved to Connecticut where his father took a job as a hospital administrator. He returned to Peoria and attended Bergan High School and it was there that he found his niche. “I remember when I was young, I always liked to draw things and that’s why I took the art class. My art teacher told my mom that I was the nicest boy, and very talented, and draws very well, but she didn’t think I had a future in the arts,” he stated rolling his eyes as if to say, “I showed her didn’t I.”
Upon graduation Geoff was accepted to Southern Illinois University where he studied physiology. “I was always interested in science and math even though I also liked art. When you combine science and math with art and put them all together, that’s architecture. I took a class which was creative problem solving and it changed me.” And with that realization, Geoff pulled up stakes and set out for the University of Illinois where he graduated with his degree in architecture in 1985.
His first job took him to the windy city of Chicago for nine years. Then lightening struck and Geoff landed the job as Corporate Architect for Boston Market. At this point, Geoff is married with one daughter and another one on the way and he packs the family up and heads to Denver Colorado. “I left mainstream architecture to do franchise architecture with Boston Market and it was a great opportunity. That job allowed me to practice architecture on my own terms.”
Eventually Geoff would move back to Peoria to be closer to family and with that move he began working for Phillips Swager Associates. He took over a huge project which was at his beloved U of I which was designing a parking deck and fire station on the campus. And his favorite project was the Dirksen Congressional Leadership Research Center in Pekin, Illinois. “It was a great project, it was a small project, but they required us to do three different drawings from which they would choose from. Typically you don’t get asked to do three different concepts or drawings, but this one they did.”
For Geoff, architecture isn’t just about coming up with the concept, drawing it and designing the building, it’s about the clients. “The most enjoyable thing about my job is the people I get to meet and the relationships that are formed. I maintain a personal connection with my clients even when the project is completed.”
When I asked who he looks up to as an architect he replied, “Louis Kahn. I got to see the building he designed when I was at Yale University.” Louis Kahn was considered one of the most influential architects of the 20th century and his works were said to have been monumental beyond modernism.
And like his role model Louis, Geoff had the esteemed privilege to design the Olin Hall Science Building at Bradley University which was a project estimated at 20 million dollars. “That project was what brought me full circle. I started out in science and math then went into art. Now I’ve designed a beautiful building where all my favorite subjects are under one roof.”