WHEN architect Fay Jones was 16, he walked into a high school theater and saw a movie that changed his whole life. It wasn't a film starring Cary Grant or Clark Gable; it was a 1938 TechniColor movie starring the Johnson Wax Building in Racine, Wis. ``I saw the camera moving up those columns and the light flowing in, the camera shooting up those curving walls. And I thought - Gosh! I'd only seen things like that in `Buck Rogers' in the funny papers and `Flash Gordon,' and these were centuries away,'' explained Jones. ``So here's something that's another world, and it's being built. And of course it's the first time I'd ever heard the name of [the building's celebrated architect] Frank Lloyd Wright.
``Well, of course I walked out of the theater that day knowing that it was an architect that I wanted to be.''
As a result of that movie, Mr. Jones was to leave the engineering career he'd planned and become a student of Wright.
Now, on Feb. 22 Jones received the American Institute of Architects' 1990 Gold Medal Award for his outstanding designs. He muses about how that movie brought together the two roads in his life. Growing up as a boy in Eldorado, Ark., he loved to draw, although that art seemed too delicate to him. He also loved to build things - lean-to's, tree houses - out of salvaged wood, which seemed pretty crude stuff to him.
But the movie voice-over ``talked about not only the technical aspects of construction, the building part of it, but that this was a work of art. So here it was coming together - two things that I liked to do: Here's art [he thumps the metal table] and construction [another thump on the table], and it's coming together in something called architecture.''
Jones was talking to the press over a luncheon of Chicken Kiev and salad at the American Institute of Architects. It was the afternoon before he received his gold medal, plus a couple of verbal bouquets from the Prince of Wales, the royal architectural critic who was the keynote speaker at the AIA awards dinner.