Teaching Architecture From The Streets with Eric Wheeler

On today’s episode of the Young Architect Podcast, Michael chatted with his good friend, Architectural Historian and Positively Portland Walking Tour Guide, Eric Wheeler, about his enthusiasm for architecture, how anyone can come to appreciate architecture and design, and why it’s never too late to make a life change.

Eric Wheeler Young Architect Podcast Teaching Architecture From The Streets with Eric Wheeler Podcast

Architectural Historian and Walking Tour Guide Eric Wheeler

Young Architect Podcast Host, Michael Riscica speaks to one of his best friends who is both an architectural historian and a walking tour guide in Portland, Oregon – Eric Wheeler.

Eric grew up just outside of Chicago in the small town of Geneva, Illinois but moved to Minnesota to study history. It would be his love of architecture history that would lead him to work closely with architects in Wisconsin.

As an architectural historian and heritage tourism consultant, Eric assisted various architecture firms, businesses, and individuals by researching and identifying different commercial and residential buildings.

As he worked as a real estate appraiser and worked with local Architects, he began to really hone in on his architecture observational skills.

His immense interest in architecture eventually led Eric to visit Portland, Oregon in 2009. Eric loved the city so much that he decided to make the ultimate life change and move to the Pacific Northwest city.

Eric now leads groups of people through different Portland neighborhoods to teach them about the architecture, history, and culture of the city through his Positively Portland Walking Tours.

Eric has also written numerous National Register of Historic Places nominations and has taught graduate level classes in architectural history and design. 

What You’ll Hear on This Episode

  • How Eric used his education in history to become a Real Estate Appraiser and work in La Crosse, Wisconsin with Rivers Architect.
  • Eric’s experience as an Architectural Historian and a Heritage Tourism Consultant for different businesses and individuals.
  • How he came across Portland, Oregon in 2009 and what drew him to the city and the Pacific Northwest region.
  • When Eric became an architecture history walking tour guide in Portland and what types of tours he gives based on location, the length of time, and distance walking.
  • How Portland allowed Eric to become aware of what his gift is an architectural historian and guide.
  • How Portland helped Eric to make a life change and re-invent himself.
  • Why Eric’s professors during graduate school became his mentors.
  • What Eric has learned from fellow architecture historians and city tour guides.
  • Why are The Three Vitruvian Principles of Architecture and Design so important?
  • The simple beauty and wonder we can experience when we observe architectural buildings.
  • How Eric is helping people to take a step back and really both observe and appreciate architectural history.
  • Eric’s work with different real estate and architecture companies in Portland by doing tours for them or their clients.
  • The different challenges that face Portland and what people can do to help, enhance, support, preserve, and develop the city.
  • What we can learn about sustainability through the growth and development of Portland.
  • The 5 Virtues of Buildings according to the author, Alain De Botton.
    • Order
    • Balance
    • Elegance
    • Coherence
    • Self-knowledge

Its a bird its a plane...no its an architectural detail Teaching Architecture From The Streets with Eric Wheeler Podcast

Top 3 Takeaways from This Episode

  1. There is a simple beauty and wonder that we can experience when we observe architectural structures. No matter what city you’re in, there will always be a building or a design that you can appreciate.
  2. It’s never too late to make a life change. When you follow your passion and discover your role in the world, you can always make a life change. Or similar to Michael’s former boss, you can rediscover why you loved what you were doing with your life in the first place.

  3. Architecture’s history and significance go way back to the Sumerians, Egyptians, Romans, and Greeks etc. We truly never stop learning from other architects or architectural designs. There will always be a connection from one design to the next.

Eric Wheeler’s Advice for Making a Life Change in Portland

“Moving to Portland without a job, family, or friends haven't always been a rosy path, but I’ve realized that there are plenty of people who have been in similar situations. If you are going to reinvent yourself at age 35, 45, or whenever and you’re following your bliss, there’s probably no better city in the US than Portland to try something new. I just felt a sense of collegiality here in Portland.”

Eric Wheeler’s Advice for Aspiring Architects

“As a historian and someone who appreciates good architecture, if I was the Tsar of Architectural Education, I would say this: Go look at the classics. History didn’t start with the Greeks and the Romans. They were learning from the Sumerians and the Egyptians. Understanding these fundamental concepts that were really evoked, described, and displayed for over 2,000 years is an important part of architectural education. The classics are worth visiting for anyone who’s a practicing architect.”

Favorite Quotes

“I was able to experience the process of architecture vicariously by sitting next to working architects in the office. This really gave me a very interesting insight into the process of design and how it works.” – Eric Wheeler about his experience working as a real estate appraiser for River Architects in La Crosse, Wisconsin. 

“I’m from Wisconsin and I’ve always felt drawn to ideas, places, and people that are different and challenging in some way. There’s still a part of me that’s still this adventurer. What I’ve found in Portland through my guided walking tours are people who are similar. I’ve discovered my tribe in this city.” – Eric Wheeler on what drew him to leave La Crosse, Wisconsin and move to Portland, Oregon. 

“The Three Vitruvian Principles of Architecture and Design: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas which mean stability, utility, and beauty. When I first read the three principles, it just knocked me off my feet and I thought, ‘This is such a wonderful insight into architecture.’ These three concepts seem very simple, but use these three criteria against any building and you will start to have a different appreciation and responsive feeling towards architecture.” – Eric Wheeler on the importance of the Three Vitruvian Principles of Architecture and Design. 

“Notice what you’re seeing, feeling, and hearing all around you. The observational piece can be so delightful for someone who’s going on an architectural walking tour. Whether you’re going down to Cancun or Hawaii, you can do this anywhere. Just pay attention to your surroundings.” – Eric Wheeler on the beauty of observing architecture in any city. 

“I grew up in a historic, old Geneva-neighborhood house that was built by my great-grandfather. I spent my youth there and graduated from high school in that city. However, I was basically looking and I never really saw my neighborhood. So now I’m coming back around 40-50 years later and now I can put the architecture pieces together.” – Eric Wheeler on how it takes time to look and then really see the architectural history in different cities, even your own hometown.  

“There are different architectural markers on every building and I encourage people to see differences and similarities. I always say that “every building has a precedent” or in other words, “every building in some way, shape, or form is based on a building that was built before it.” – Eric Wheeler on helping people to recognize the differences and similarities in all buildings. 

“The purpose of history is to learn and to be part of the future from not just a point of information, but from a point of sensitivity to what we might want to do and what we might not want to do.” – Eric Wheeler on how we can learn from the past to help shape our future.

“The more things change, the more they remain the same.” – A French saying.

Resources Mentioned in the Show 



Michael Riscica

Michael Riscica is a Licensed Architect, Founder and Head Coach of the ARE Boot Camp Coaching Program & Online Study Group.

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