Architecture Horror Stories

It wouldn’t be Halloween without a scary story, or two. So we asked a few architects to share frightening tales of haunted homes, fickle clients, and punch list disasters.

Jared Banks, AIA, of Shoegnome
Years ago, I was an intern working in Minnesota. On a particularly cold, winter day, I was tasked with measuring an old mansion. The homeowners were gone, so I had the house to myself. It wasn't until I'd been outside long enough for the cold to seep through my gloves and boots that I realized I'd locked myself out of the house. Luckily, I had my phone and car keys. But I still had to drive back to the office, explain to the project architect what happened, notify the client, and then return that evening to get all the stuff I'd left in their house and hastily finish the measure. No ghosts, no ghouls, but an intern horror story? You bet.

AIAS Executive Director Nick Serfass, AIA, NCARB, LEED AP
On a car ride back from a client meeting, my project manager was instructing me on the new design elements he wanted to incorporate. When I said, "I'll try," he replied, "Show me someone who's 'trying' and someone who's sleeping, and I can't tell the difference." So much for feeling confident in my job!

NCARB Manager of Examination Development Michelle Cohn, AIA, NCARB
Surveying an existing building that had been vacant for many years, walking through the pitch dark basement with just a flashlight, hearing a mysterious drip, drip, drip in the corner …

NCARB Director of Examination Jared Zurn, AIA, NCARB
I needed to perform an existing conditions assessment inside a maximum security prison and was being checked-in before being escorted to the secure area. As part of the process, a guard applied what turned out to be an invisible stamp on the back of my hand. After asking why he did such a thing, I received a horrific answer in a rather calm voice. “It’s so if someone beats you up, takes your clothes, and tries to leave the facility, they won’t have the stamp and won’t be let out.” Needless to say, the check-in process led me to be hyper-aware of anyone who came even relatively close to me that day.

Rosa Sheng, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, of The Missing 32% Project
Being in California, we had limited access to site visits for a project on the East Coast. The toilet seats were mistakenly submitted as the “assisted” height for hospitals, leading the subcontractor to install the wrong product in all the restrooms. We only realized this when we were doing the punch list less than a week before the tenant was going to move in.

NCARB Assistant Director, Examination Research Ryan Misner, AIA, NCARB
While on a construction site, I once saw a guy fall off the scaffolding and have a piece of rebar go straight through his leg. That was scary.

NCARB President Dale McKinney, FAIA
We’ve all had the client who hires you for a specific project. You develop a detailed program, complete schematic design, the design is approved, and then the client decides not to complete the project. And they don’t understand why we need to be paid for our work!

NCARB Outreach Manager Kimberly Tuttle, AIA, NCARB
Our clients had just purchased an old home that had been previously used as housing quarters. I went in one cold, January day to take some measurements in the attic, as this was where most of the work was going to happen. I’m used to being alone in quiet, vacant houses, but there was something really eerie with this one.

After hearing a strange noise, I had to remind myself that it was nothing to worry about. But then I heard the noise again … and again. I ended up leaving before I finished taking the measurements. The next time I went back, I made some excuse to my boss about him needing to look at something, because I didn’t want to be in there alone!

Do you have an architecture horror story to share?