Brian Elyo is not your typical young professional. Without a college degree or formal training, he has cultivated an architectural career by building relationships and keeping his passion for the trade on its toes. Elyo, 38, is originally from El Paso, Texas, but has lived in the Springs since his short stint in the U.S. Air Force. He parlayed his military background in drafting and engineering into work as an architectural designer, working for local companies including CSNA Architects, RTA Architects, H&L Architecture and now Echo Architecture. Elyo, in the process of becoming a state-licensed architect, spoke this week about his nontraditional career path and the Colorado Springs environment in which it has evolved.
Can you first tell me a bit about yourself and your background?
I joined the Air Force at 19, and that is how I got into architecture. I started doing civil engineering and drafting and worked at Cheyenne Mountain. I was the only drafter on the base, so I drew everything — mechanical, electrical, civil and structural. … Eventually, the Air Force wanted to move me to Florida, but I said no and I got out. Then, around 2000, I worked for an interior designer for a year until they closed their office. That’s when I put my resumé on Monster.com and really decided that I wanted to do architecture — proper architecture. So I hit the street with my resumé and my tiny little portfolio of nothing and interviewed at a couple of different places, including CSNA. … I worked there for about two years. … Then I went to work for H+L Architecture … then RTA hired me and I worked there for about two years before I quit and started freelancing in 2007 or 2008.
Did you find freelancing as an architect to be a viable career in Colorado Springs?
For me, and for what I do here, it is. It’s very hectic, but it was kind of helpful when the economy really started to take a crap. Architecture firms could call me to work on a project for a few weeks and then that was it … without them having to hire someone. And I was really getting plugged in to the architectural community, so people were starting to get to know me. It just worked out. … I taught software [at Pikes Peak Community College] while being productive and billable, so when firms were transitioning … I would get hired to be in-house help/training while also being actively productive on projects. So that was probably how I was able to get into so many offices also and keep a lot of architects as clients. … I probably ended up working for about 30-35 different firms in town.
How do you think not having a degree has affected your career?
It has been very positive, and principals love it. “Someone that hasn’t been ruined by school” is what they would tell me. …
How did you come to work for Echo Architecture and what is your role at the firm?
Every time [architect Ryan Lloyd] needed help, he would ask around and everybody would tell him to talk to me. … It took about a year before my workload lightened up and he got enough work to “take the bite,” but we’ve been working together for about a year now. … The work that we do is mostly small commercial, and we’re waiting for the bigger stuff to happen. So far I’ve helped Echo on Iron Bird Brewing, Pueblo 210 and other smaller projects.
Why did you choose to stay in the Springs after getting out of the military?
It was originally because I didn’t have anywhere else to go. Now I’m married and have two kids, and this is a fine place to live. … When I first moved here, it was sort of the doldrums, but now it seems like everyone wants to invest in the city — not just money, but time and energy. People actually want to stay here now. People like Ryan [Lloyd] are adamant about doing work in the Springs. … I want to design buildings where I live; not just because I want to see them, but because I know how it feels to be here.
What was developing as a young professional like for you in Colorado Springs?
It was very easy for my personality type, because I’m very naive and I had no idea what I was getting into. … And I’m also not what many people would describe as a young professional: I have no degree, no formal training, none of that. … I think people hire me because I’m a decent designer, I’ve got a good eye and I absolutely love architecture.