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EA173: Lee Calisti – The Entrepreneur Architect Series [Podcast]
9th June 2017 • EntreArchitect Podcast with Mark R. LePage • EntreArchitect // Gābl Media
00:00:00 01:06:50

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The Entrepreneur Architect Series featuring Lee Calisti

At EntreArchitect, you’re encouraged to share your knowledge. When we share with other architects, we all benefit. We are able to learn from one another and the profession will grow. One of the goals of EntreArchitect is to provide a platform for other entrepreneur architects to share their stories.

We want to interview you! What’s your story? Do you want to share your knowledge or the story about how you were inspired to pursue this profession? How do you become an entrepreneur architect?

Join us for our series called The Entrepreneur Architect, where each guest has the opportunity to share their story and answer some questions that will provide value to each of you.

This week on EntreArchitect Podcast, The Entrepreneur Architect Series featuring Lee Calisti.


Lee Calisti is based in Greensburg, Pennsylvania and is a licensed architect and founder of Lee Calisti Architecture and Design. He was one of the original founders of AIA Pittsburgh chapter’s Young Architects’ Forum and was a co-chair for seven years. He’s served as a regional liaison representing Pennsylvania as part of the AIA National Young Architects Forum. He serves on the City of Greensburg History and Architecture Review Board and trustee for the Greensburg Alliance Church. He’s active in social media and is a regular writer for the #ArchiTalks blog series.

Origin Story

Lee wanted to be an architect ever since he was a child. Early in grade school he discovered drawing and had a passion for comic books. He worked to replicate what he saw in the comics and developed skills in his early days. In junior high, he had an art teacher who was a great inspiration, he promoted creativity and encouraged Lee to develop his skills further. He was fascinated by architecture, checking out books from the library to learn more. Soon enough, he designed houses and built model. His mother bought him a drafting table as a kid and he spent hours there.

Lee focused singularly on architecture. He applied for school and plunged into the world of architecture. He took design classes at night and got connected twitch an adjunct professor who was hugely inspirational to him. His professor was working for a firm and doing work on the side. Recently, Lee was able to connect with him to thank him for his patience and inspiration.

After finishing school at the top of his class, he went to work for an architect he’d spent summers with previously. He learned the nuts and bolts of working in an architecture practice. After that, he went to work in downtown Pittsburg. He loved the big city where he was exposed to lots of different things, and it was those experiences that prepared him to launch his own firm.

His son was born shortly after, and Lee started teaching as an adjunct professor. He wanted to be an architect and a teacher just like those who mentored him. Everything leading up to that point prepared him, but couldn’t replace the hard work it takes to start a firm. Lee borrowed money from his personal savings with the promise to pay it off within a year. He brought work in slowly but surely and paid off the loan without having to borrow from a bank.

Down the road, he realized that, unfortunately, he couldn’t do both architecture and teaching. His personal practice was growing and he needed to focus on that exclusively. Last year, Lee began considering hiring his first employee and started the wheels in motion to expanding his firm.

The Entrepreneur Architect Questions

What is one big goal you’ve achieved in your career and how did you get there?

When Lee was an intern, it was important to him to become licensed. He wanted to reach that goal as soon as possible, and he had to do a ton to fulfill the requirements. He wanted to do it in the minimum amount of time, which was three years, and was upset when he didn’t. He disciplined himself and spent time doing the work every day. After finally making it through the exams and waiting a few months to hear his results, he got a letter in the mail with his passing scores.

It was such an intense experience for Lee, that he got a nosebleed literally during the 11th hour of his testing.

What is one struggle you experienced and how did you overcome it?

After being practice several years, Lee had a situation where he thought legal action might take place. Thankfully it didn’t! After working with his insurance company, he wrote a letter and the whole ordeal ended. He ran into the client years later, and the client admitted fault. Having an LLC gave him some peace of mind, but more than that, he wanted to keep good terms and maintain pride in himself and his brand.

What makes your firm unique?

Balance has always been the key to Lee’s success. He feels he hasn’t always been the best at design, but he was able to balance that skill with all his others. There’s so many things that architects are expected to do or be good at, some of them may not be inspirational, but you have to get them right. Lee has learned to do lots of different things, despite his various strengths and weaknesses.

Are you seeing any influence on your practice because you work with kids?

Quick Questions

At what age did you decide to become an architect? 9 years old
What’s your target market? Adaptive reuse projects for urban buildings and modern contemporary residential homes
Stipulated sum, hourly or percentage-based fee? Stipulated sum for commercial, hourly for residential
Other than architecture, what makes you happy? Family, faith in Jesus, and making things
What are some of your hobbies? Photography, graphic design, traveling, trying new things
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Listen to what the client is really needing, it’s different for everybody, and then work to meet that need
What’s one personal habit that contributes to your success? Sketching
What’s an app or resource you’d recommend? Pitch Gauge to figure out the pitch of a roof, or take approximate measurements
What book would you recommend and why? All In by Mark Batterson and The Road Back to You by Ian Morgan Cron and Suzanne Stabil
What’s a parting piece of guidance? Promote the profession of architecture first, and then the individual results will come in

What is the one thing that small firm architects can do today to build a better business tomorrow?

“Adapt. Depending on where you’re coming from, you could come from a lot of different scenarios. Adapt to dealing with different kinds of people, work settings, work days, building types, and more. It may not come easy, but adapting, learning new things, and adjusting to how the world of architecture is going will help you from getting lost in the back.” – Lee Calisti

Connect with Lee online at or You can also find him on LinkedInTwitter, Instagram and Facebook.

Want to be a guest on the entrepreneur architect series? Connect with us on any social media platform or email!

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Referenced in this Episode

EntreArchitect Academy
Ian Morgan Cron How Self-Awareness Makes You More Successful

The post EA173: Lee Calisti – The Entrepreneur Architect Series [Podcast] appeared first on EntreArchitect // Small Firm Entrepreneur Architects.

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