Drawn back to his native Mississippi after living and working for firms in Texas and Maine, John Taylor Schaffhauser was looking to invest in his home state. As Project Architect at WBA, he brings fresh ideas to the table from his wide-ranging experience in projects from retail to restaurants to libraries.
When did you know you wanted to be an architect?
The moment I decided to be an architect coincided with my freshman orientation at Mississippi State, where I attended as a biomedical engineering major. As part of the orientation, I sat in on a graduate-level biology lab and advanced calculus class with all of the other naive freshman, silently panicking, thinking to myself, “There’s absolutely no way I could do anything remotely like this for the rest of my life.” So I thought to myself, what’s the one thing I could do every day and actually enjoy? The answer was design; I had just finished being the editor of my high school yearbook and set designer/builder for the annual school pageant. I finally listened to my dad, who had always told me I should be an architect and I decided to give it a go. The final deadline for applying to the School of Architecture for that year was only 48 hours later, so I stayed up all night drawing a pair of tennis shoes and scrapping together my application (my first glimpse into what architecture school would be like), and I was accepted. It was one of the best impulsive decisions I’ve ever made.
What made you want to return to your home state and join Team WBA?
I’ve always been one to chase after adventure. So, upon graduating from architecture school at MSU, I vowed to move far away, see the world, and experience life in places very different than what I had known growing up in the South. After four years of traveling and living in both San Antonio and Coastal Maine, I came around to see my home state of Mississippi in a new light. I saw the value of where I grew up, the value of experiencing life with my family and old friends, and the opportunity to contribute to the place I knew and loved the most as an adult. When considering coming back to Mississippi, I was drawn to WBA because of the number of people here that have the same story and embrace their knowledge and lessons learned elsewhere, but choose to invest their talents into their home state and this community.
What values do you think are key in solving design problems?
I think before you can find the solution to a design problem you have to immerse yourself into discovering what the problem really is. So many times I’ve approached a design problem and discovered that what I thought was a problem or a constraint was actually an opportunity. Getting to this point takes time, so I believe a key value in design is allowing yourself the time and energy to meander through different iterations and allowing yourself to fail, because through this process, no matter how many seemingly irrelevant things you learn, each iteration or failure will only strengthen your understanding of the problem, and ultimately give your final solution legitimacy.
Do you have a design philosophy?
My time spent working with many different architects who all have their own approach to design has taught me that my own “design philosophy” will constantly evolve. If you would have asked me this question once a year since I’ve been in the design world, my answer would have been completely different each time. Similar to allowing myself the time and energy to solve a single design problem, I think forming a design philosophy as an architect takes a lot of time and experience. All this being said, right now I subscribe to the very broad belief that architecture should simultaneously strive to improve the lives of people, the built environment, and the natural environment. Ask me again in ten years and I’m sure I’ll tell you something different!
When you aren’t at work, what can we find you doing?
You can find me spending time with my wife, my family, and my dogs, and carving out time to dabble in one of many random hobbies. Right now my free time is being spent starting up a saltwater reef aquarium, but you can also find me tending to my yard, searching for more rare cacti and succulents to clutter my patio, or planning another trip to somewhere I’ve never been.