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Thomas Eatman

Firm: Builders by Design, LLC

Title: Owner

Alma mater: University of Kansas

Hometown: Kansas City, KS

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Why did you go into your chosen field?

Art & math were my prevailing interests in high school and I attended the only one in KC at the time that offered architectural drafting classes. This was my intro into the field. I had no idea what an architect was or did prior to that experience, but it became my pursuit thereafter. I was attracted to the notion that you could make a living drawing & creating actual buildings.

What gives you motivation to progress your design career?

While growing up I rarely gave the built environment very much thought as to how it came to be. I moved through the world and observed construction in action and considered it in the domain of business decisions having been made for it to occur then and there, and wondered what it would become. After I became a true design professional, I was excited about the notion that I could influence the shape and content of the environment and by extension: the lives of those who inhabited or came into contact with that place. It remains my principal motivation.

What is your most meaningful project, and why?

In 1991, the “new” Central High Magnet School was opened. It replaced what had become a very dismal educational facility in the urban core and was touted as the flagship of the KCMO School District’s Capital Improvement Program at the time. The District facilities staff had designated it to become a magnet school to offer both classical Greek learning in companion with what was called the “computers unlimited curriculum”. A blending of the ancient with modernity. The computers program was a total embrace of computers as a tool for learning at a time when it was becoming as basic to the classroom as books, but it took it a few steps further by creating a totally immersive curriculum that relied less on hard copy texts while embracing the computer as the predominant educational tool. A major component of the classical Greek philosophy focused on the development of physical as well as mental achievement in classical training. To that end, Olympic-class training facilities were included in the building’s program and included a Natatorium, Field House and Gymnastics Center.


The desire on the part of the School District was that these magnet programs would be the attraction needed to influence suburban students back to the district’s urban core schools because there was nothing else like them in the metropolitan area. It became an almost 300,000 SF facility that became a new and powerful neighborhood landmark. The firm that I founded, By Design Architects, Inc., was selected by the District to bring this concept to life. On opening day there was an assembly in the Field House and I was introduced to the student body and faculty as the architect of this sparkling new edifice. I received a thunderous standing ovation lasting several minutes. I’m not sure if it was an expression of appreciation of the job we did or the recognition by 1100 predominantly black students that a black architect was responsible for this project. The experience shook me to my core because I have never experienced anything like it before or since and it remains the single most defining moment of my career.

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