By Eric Woods
With the exception of a five year period in Chicago, John Shafer has lived his entire life in Springfield. He returned 30 years ago and likes the size of the town. “This is a good place to raise a family. It is easy to get around,” he said. One thing he would like to do, though, is make Springfield a better place with more input on urban design in the city. One problem area he has seen is the lack of a vibrant downtown area due to the population being so spread out. The location of the University of Illinois Springfield and Lincoln Land Community College is an issue, according to Shafer. “I am disappointed in Springfield development. People do not always like to get in their car and drive everywhere.”
Shafer always knew he wanted to be an architect, even at a young age. It was a book by Frank Lloyd Wright that helped him see his calling. “I made the connection that people were actually designing buildings. I thought that would be the coolest thing,” he said. Growing up, though, he did have a number of jobs, including his first as a lawn mower and later on at Ponderosa. “That was my worst job and also my best. It was sloppy work, but I met some lifelong friends there.” With the exception of Ponderosa, Shafer has never worked at a company with more than 20 employees and is amazed at how the bigger businesses get things done.
John Shafer and Associates has been in business since 1992. While the customer focus is normally Springfield and the surrounding areas, Shafer has also done business all over the country. The firm has four or five employees, depending on the time of year. Shafer prefers working on a variety of arenas, including office buildings, custom residential and education. “We do typical architect work,” he said. “I do enjoy the variety of work over having a specialty. Business is pretty steady throughout the year.” Shafer admits that he is busier when the economy is doing well.
The quality of projects in Shafer’s portfolio is a result of Shafer himself seeking out and finding good clients. “We are fortunate to have nice projects on the boards. But we cannot do a really good project without a good client. It is a collaboration and a partnership,” he said. Sticking to the basics of being honest, treating people fairly, and following through have helped in this process. “Traditional values will help you succeed.”
Other means of succeeding in the world of architecture include finding a mentor, studying everything in the field and seeking travel opportunities, according to Shafer. “Use all of the resources available to learn as much as possible,” he said. “Architecture is a pretty broad subject. You can compartmentalize since there is a lot out there. You can hone in on one aspect if so inclined.”
An interesting building-related hobby Shafer has taken on is working backstage and helping build sets for local community theater shows. “I was recruited into theater by my daughter, who does some acting,” he said. Shafer has grown to admire the Springfield theater world for their passion and the time they put into their productions. He does note that building theater sets, which are lightweight, requires a lot less planning than the architectural world. “What I really enjoy is there can be changes up to the last minute. You can have more freedom and can be creative with the sets.”
Being a father, running a successful business and being a good architect are just some of Shafer’s greatest accomplishments. Looking ahead, Shafer hopes things stay in a prosperous manner and he still gets selected for the types of projects which he seeks out and enjoys. “I love designing buildings. For me, it’s like I am a kid in a candy store,” he said. Although he does watch how others go about retiring, Shafer plans to continue designing buildings exclusively but will likely delegate everything else to the others at the firm. “I just enjoy the design component the most.”
Title: Architect, John Shafer & Associates, Inc.
B.S. in architecture and design from University of Illinois Chicago
Wife – Cathy; Children – Shelley, Katie, and Emma
Movie: Lonesome Dove
Author: Alan Furst
Has a passion for music and loves going to concerts
Fan of all Chicago sports teams
Connect with Eric Woods at firstname.lastname@example.org.