Tags: AIA, Architectural Record, BIM, Coxe Group, elitism, integrated design, john brockman, knowledgenet, Record Houses, third culture, two cultures, Weld Coxe
Between us and them.
It’s not a matter of who’s on top and who’s on bottom – one being high and the other low – for they are both high-minded.
High-minded, that is, about different things.
The Two Cultures was an influential lecture, given just over 50 years ago this week, by scientist and novelist C. P. Snow about how the breakdown of communication between the “two cultures” of modern society — the sciences and humanities — was holding us back from solving the world’s major problems.
Architecture’s two cultures, similarly, can be best described as “high design” and “high delivery”.
In other words, architects devoted to architecture as art, and architects devoted to serving clients.
This model owes something to Weld Coxe, founder of the service professions management firm The Coxe Group, who passed away last month.
You can find a clear description of their model, published 25 years ago, here.
For simplicity’s sake, I am clumping together service and delivery, for they have one big thing in common: a client.
For some this might be likened to clumping together Vitruvius’ commodity and firmness and pitting them against delight.
Whereas, for high art (paper architecture, etc.), while patrons are welcome, they aren’t necessary.
It’s almost impossible to describe the two cultures without making a value judgment.
Innovators vs. Perpetuators of the status quo.
Ideas vs. Things.
Form vs. Function.
Thinking differently vs. The standard of care.
Sophisticated urban architects vs. Prosaic suburban architects.
AIA members vs. SARA members (or any other so-called alternative-AIA organizations.)
Local office continuing education events sponsored by USG Corp. vs. Outlier office sponsored industry events by Big Ass Fans.
You get the idea.
In fact, it was a magazine that got this whole discussion rolling.
At the AIA Committee on Design Knowledge Community, an architect started a KnowledgeNet discussion thread last month concerning the Record Houses 2011 magazine issue.
The argument boils down to one word: elitism.
Record Houses, the argument goes, is elitist.
Exclusive, exclusionary and undemocratic.
Various voices chimed-in, leaving messages that, generally, complained the houses awarded year after year exhibit poor construction decision-making.
Or are uncomfortable to live in.
Or aren’t code-worthy.
Or don’t use construction best practices.
Or are unsustainable.
Or they leak.
In other words, their comments seem to say, “they may be art but I wouldn’t want to live in one.”
Several mentioned that these high-design homes perpetuate the image of the architect as designing for themselves, for each other or to receive awards and recognition.
Anything, really, but for what the world needs from a home today: shelter, safety, solace.
That Record Homes, if viewed in a doctor’s office by a non-architect, may leave the wrong conclusion of what we truly stand for as a profession, of where our true interests lie, and of what we value and believe.
In defense of the Record Houses issue, one architect admitted liking one of the houses:
“Do I design this way? I don’t have the client, the budget or, let’s face it, the talent.”
“There are some beautifully resolved and detailed houses in the article, why the hate? I will argue for the issues of safety in public buildings but to use that as a metric for the merits of design for a home is misplaced…”
One counterpoint sums up the opposing side’s argument:
“Great architecture should be based on more than art alone. Otherwise it is sculpture.”
Architecture’s Third Culture
Just as CP Snow’s Two Cultures were welcomed by a Third Culture 20 years ago, so are ours today.
Snow’s Third Culture was a group envisioned as “curious non-scientists who could bridge the gap between scientists and humanists.”
In 1991, literary agent John Brockman wrote an essay entitled “The Third Culture.”
Architecture’s Third Culture could also be best described as a bridge.
One that can bridge a gaping hole between design and construction.
Architecture’s Third Culture would bridge the gap by removing the “vs.” between the two sides.
Replacing “vs.” with an “and.”
Today, for the world we face, we need to do both.
We need to be both.
Both/and. Not either/or.
For a world in need we, as architects, need to be more.
Because the world needs more.
And we have what it takes – as individuals, teams, firms and profession – to rise to the occasion.
We cannot afford any longer to stand apart.
To emphasize one side over the other.
Or ignore one side altogether.
Yes, the world needs beauty as much as it needs our services.
We need, today more than ever, to integrate our predilections and capabilities and stand together as one profession, however diverse we may be as individuals.
And we can start by dropping the divisiveness.
Replacing “vs.” with a simple “and.”
Architecture’s Next Destination (AND)
Call it the Yes AND movement.
We commit, here on out, in our work and in our lives, to address both ideas and things.
Both form and function.
Technology and process.
Academics and practitioners.
Design and construction.
Both thinking differently and exceeding the standard of care.
Beauty and sustainability.
BIM and integrated design.
To creating sophisticated, urban places and the revitalization of the suburbs.
To belong to – and volunteer at – any organization of our choosing.
Despite our schooling and training, which may have emphasized one over the other.
What we ought to have been doing all along.
It’s like the old improv “Yes And” game.
The game represents a vital rule of improvisational theater:
Never deny your fellow actor.
Take what you’re given, whatever line you’re fed, and say “yes and…”
Be willing and able to accept the ideas the other person conveys.
Then, it’s your turn to add to the scene.
This improv principle is known as “Yes And.” Here’s how it works:
At the beginning of the scene, Character #1 will begin by establishing setting and plot.
Character #1: What a terrible time to be an architect!
Following the “Yes And” method, Character #2 will accept the premise and add onto the situation.
Character #2: Yep and the boss said we don’t get no salary until this model is coordinated.
Character #1: Yes and ain’t he the meanest cuss we’ve ever worked for?
Character #2: Yep and it’s made me think about leaving behind this cowboy life and headin’ off for bluer horizons. (Learn more about the method here.)
Seated with the project team, someone tosses out an idea that troubles you.
Never deny your teammate. You respond by saying, “Yes and…”
Don’t like what the client has given you in the way of a program, schedule or budget?
Never deny your client. “Yes and…”
Don’t like what the economy has given you?
Never deny your circumstances. “Yes and…”
Or the site. Or the budget. Or the schedule.
Yes And: Not either/Or.
Yes And: A Collaborative Attitude.
Yes And: Architecture’s Third Culture
Yes And: Architect’s New Direction
Yes And: Architecture’s Next Destination
This is the message we want to be making to others.
Do you agree?
Watch for Architecture’s Two Cultures (AND a Crucial Third) Part 2
Letter to a Discontented Architect March 9, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, function, identity, optimism, problem solving, survival, the economy.
Tags: 81 Reasons, architect, blogging, comments, content providers, cyncism, discontent, irony, sarcasm, sincerity, skepticism, Tikkun Olam
Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.
Thanks for writing – now it’s my turn. I know it’s particularly hard out there right now and it’s hard for even the most diehard optimist to come up with the words you need to hear without sounding either glib or out of touch. But I understand your restlessness and discontent with your situation and may have a suggestion or two on how you might turn things around for the better.
First, let it be said, to be discontent – with our profession or the built environment, with your lot in life or the lot you’ve been given to work with, the cards you’ve been dealt and position you’ve been put in, the state of the economy or the way government is handling it – is a natural, healthy state to be in. Like stress – it is a critical part of what it means to be human and, to a point, our dissatisfaction with the way things are keeps us focused, energized and motivated.
As an architect, you in fact need to remain discontent for as long as you can stand it. For to be discontent means you are alive, have a pulse, blood is running through your veins – all good.
You just need to be sure you are discontent with the right things.
By nature a discontented lot – architects look at what is and envision the way it can be. They not only create the built environment but see their interventions as improving the world around them – both the natural and the manmade. Yes, you heard that right. Most architects believe and have it ingrained early, that their work actually improves upon nature. Consider that! Most wouldn’t bother doing what they do if that wasn’t the case.
Architects are a discontented sort. They don’t like the way empty sites just sit there – so they look for or create opportunities whereby they can fill it with something. They don’t like the way existing buildings go underutilized – so they propose new uses for them. They don’t like the way others design their buildings – so they improve upon them by proposing their own. They don’t like the way clients stingily give them one building at a time to design so they go ahead and give their clients – for free – a value-added master plan indicating the unasked for, strategic placement of backlog for years to come! They don’t like the way developers maximize the gross area to reap the maximum reward irrespective of what needs there might be, so they propose buildings that meet the needs while making more efficient use of the site.
Architects improve upon whatever they see. They are always looking for ways to make things better – to the chagrin of our clients – even when they don’t necessarily need improving. They don’t like the way things are done and – action-oriented, creative, energized as they are – they do something about it.
That is why it is important to remain discontent – and sustain a perpetual state of restlessness – for as long as you can. For architecture – and becoming an architect – takes a long time. And you need to be there for it.
Discontent with those content
It’s a strange, contradictory and even a bit snobbish truism that architects who are content with everything are held in lower esteem by peers and even seen by some as sell-outs. It implies a serious lack of critical judgment, ignorance and worst of all, curiosity. Strange and unfortunate, but true.
To be content with something is seen as a sign of weakness. If you are OK with something it either means you have no values, you have no guts, you have no morals, you are too easily pleased, you’re a push-over, you’re ignorant or you have no ideas of your own. You’re made up of lesser stuff. Not up to snuff, there’s a place for people like you and, well, it’s not with us.
There is a great deal that needs improvement in our world and contentedness implies self-satisfaction when there’s still much work to do. Always is. As though to say, to be dissatisfied is to be alive. I’ll have plenty of time to be satisfied when I’m dead.
This is just to say I understand your discontent with your situation. You put in a lot of work and expended a lot of energy to make your way through school, to land your first positions, only – you say – to be handed this.
The Art of Being Discontent
So be discontent. A little discontent is fine and to be expected – this is what we are and who we are. Its par for the course for architects as we make our way through school into our careers as designers and custodians of the built environment to be a bit disgruntled with what lies in store or just outside our window or within our purview.
We need to be a bit discontent to be motivated to put up with all we have to put up with on the road from concept and visualization to realization of built form, whether we’re designing our careers or buildings.
Buildings made from contented architects would be a little bland. The world does not need more blah.
That said, choose wisely the things you are discontent about. Know the difference between supportive, constructive words and a rant. Less screed, more helping each other to succeed.
Criteria for healthy discontent
The allure of skepticism is its exoneration from obligation: if nothing works properly why try? If everyone is insincere why be honest? How can we trust when deceit is rampant, when cultural heroes are routinely toppled? – Baruch Epstein
But also like stress, like anything taken too far to excess, discontent turns into something vile and largely unhealthy to the body politic, and starts to appear less as a natural and understandable dissatisfaction and more like sarcasm and cynicism. Discontent becomes unsustainable as an operating procedure – bitter to be around, alienating, undermining our very efforts at communication and progress. Discontent becomes dour, corrosive and regressive – adding little but bile to the conversation. When like that you become disbelieving in the very possibility of sincerity of human motives.
Architects and cynics alike design and build protective walls to stand behind and contain. Skepticism and irony, sarcasm and cynicism are merely barriers to protect the deeply emotional expectations architects have for themselves in these uncertain times. This is entirely understandable – it’s scary out there. And yet, it may seem that without cynicism, architects have no place to hide. But as enclosures go, cynicism is the drafty, unsustainable, energy-wasting kind. Don’t go there.
As important as it is to be discontent – it is just as important to not be cynical. Cynicism will eat away at you. Know the difference between cynicism and sarcasm, discontent and skepticism. Only the latter two will serve you well. The former will make you dispassionate; you’ll come across to colleagues and clients alike – however unintended – as snide and angry and obtuse, standing in the way of the very progress you profess to perpetuate. Go on ridicule sincerity – when sincerity stands in your way of accomplishing great deeds.
Building designers – and for that matter bloggers and others who start and contribute to online discussions and forums – are content providers while, dissatisfied consumers of these have largely become discontent providers. Before adding your two cents, ask yourself these three things. Is, what I’m about to write nurturing? Is it growth promoting? And does it work (for others?)
If not, perhaps it doesn’t need to be said.
This criteria, it would seem, doesn’t allow for humorous, ironic and sarcastic responses and asides. Bringing more humor into our lives is always welcome. The question again is one of intent: is the jibe intended to hurt or to help? Because right now, we – as a profession, as colleagues and co-creators with one another – need a little less sarcasm and more support.
As you may know, I recently posted “81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect.” Unabashedly optimistic, positive, uplifting – and asking for trouble. An outpouring of responses followed. Most of the positive ones were lengthy, while those less enthralled identified themselves with just two initials, posting 3-word screeds as though to say it wasn’t worth the time and effort (i.e. what is?) So, perhaps understandably, yk wrote “this is a joke, right?” and kh commented “Feel good fluff,” some more mean-spirited than others, one implying maybe I wouldn’t be in this situation “if your posts were more concise.” One comment perhaps spoke for everyone else: “I’d trade all 81 reasons for work.”
While contrarian views such as these are targets for concision, some of the comments that were left were downright accusatory, as though to say: all things considered, you really ought to be less content. You ought to be less happy and a whole lot less optimistic.
Architects comment on industry forums angered at the fact that they cannot call themselves architects while unlicensed technologists can. Standing on the sidelines back against the wall, design architects are deciding whether to bow out or wait out this dance. Cynical? Absolutely. Sneering? Sarcastic? To be sure. But also fearful. They’re afraid. Very, very afraid – about their future, about the fact that their hard fought education – not yet paid for – may have been for naught. That the initial inroads into the profession was at best a misfire, spent on the sidelines or behind the scenes cleaning-up other people’s mess. And yet, and yet we needn’t worry until we start to see the language of fear verge toward the language of anger. And this seething anger is, I’m afraid, something we are starting to see.
The content of discontent
There’s an inherent optimism in an architect’s discontent, as though to say: “I don’t like the way things are and I’m going to do something about it.” In this way, the act of architecture is one of healing. Tikkun Olam – repairing the world, healing the earth. There is always the initial recognition and awareness that something is wrong that needs to be righted, something is broken that needs to be fixed.
One fallout from the current economy is that under- and unemployed architects are subjected not only to the prospect of having less work but having seemingly less opportunity to make positive outcomes from their critical stances. In addition to the indignities of our current state, we remain discontent without the apparent creative outlet or opportunity to introduce change. To right what has been wronged.
But to believe this is wrong. We can tap into and turn our natural abundance of discontent toward the improvement of so much in our world that needs fixing. It may not be the occasional fire station, student residence or library for the near term. We will have to find other subjects in need of our healthy discontent to address in the interim.
A prelude to progress
Thomas Edison said that discontent is the first necessity of progress.
What are the right things worth being discontent about? Here are a few important things to consider:
- Global warming: Improving the environment while using less energy
- Education: Teaching future designers and architects what they need to know to succeed in the future
- Our future as designers: Explaining the value of design to the unaware
- The natural environment: Explaining the real meaning of sustainability to those who can do something about it
- Sprawl I: Identifying ways to contain sprawl and present them
- Sprawl II: Devote yourself to the improvement of our suburbs
- The profession: Create a viable, win-win value proposition for architects in the age of BIM and IPD
- Stubbornness, stagnation and unwillingness to change: Become a change agent for those unwilling to change
- Construction: dissatisfied with the amount of construction, time and money waste and want to do something about it
- Collaboration: with the way team members withhold information and work at odds with each other
- Professional organizations: want to feel that members are better served while helping to serve yourself
- Value proposition: frustrated with owner’s expectations about how/how little design professionals are paid
I’m sure you have a list of your own. If not, this is the time to take note.
What are some of the things that we shouldn’t bother being discontent with?
- Trivial things, minutia
- Things we have no control over
- Situations that wouldn’t be improved despite our intervening and attention
In these cases, they need a whole lot of care from someone else – namely themselves.
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. George Bernard Shaw
The world needs you even if clients or employers don’t seem to right now. As an architect you have always had two clients – a paying one and, in the public-at-large, in building users and surrounding communities – a non-paying client.
Now it’s your turn. So go on – be discontent, dissatisfied with your situation. Turn it toward positive results. Turn – this negative energy toward something constructive and productive.
Turn – the collective frustration into a major rebuilding effort.
Turn – your anger into something productive.
Turn – your frustration into improving the profession
Turn – your experience into something helpful and positive
Turn – your attention to what needs fixing
Turn – your unending creativity toward building up rather than tearing down
Turn – your words around and ask what you could be doing for your community, for your industry and your fellow professionals in need – right now.
This may very well indeed be the winter of our discontent. If so, use it to improve one small corner of the world. And then get out in front of it. Our good works aren’t a bastion against anything – but rather a backdrop for what, ahead, is sure to be more a promising time of it. Together – if each of us takes our one small place – we will in time create a better world and lives for ourselves and for those around us. And that is nothing to be discontent about.
On the New Pragmatism September 13, 2009Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, fiction, function, pragmatism, transformation, transition.
Tags: fiction, function, functional fiction, functional foods, novels, poetry, pragmatism
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It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.
William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)
With summer unofficially over, school back in session, and the light of day dwindling we find that we have to be all the more observant of how we spend our time. We tell ourselves that we have to make everything we do, every activity, every task, matter – or it is out of our regiment, we don’t have time for it.
The marketing and advertising world has picked-up on this rather 21st century tick of ours – call it multi-tasking, call it our striving for meaning-over-money – by renaming otherwise familiar products in the name of function.
One example are the so-called functional foods or “smart” foods and beverages that line grocery shelves containing “functional” ingredients touted to help protect your heart and vision, keep our gastrointestinal tract healthy, and even boost our immune system. Sales of these foods topped $25 billion last year despite not all health claims being substantiated.
Another example has crept up on the job hunters who are being forced to recreate their resumes. The functional resume format – one of several resume layouts including reverse chronological (listing all your experience from most to least recent) and functional, which lists experience in skills clusters. For those finding that they need to update their old resume – including those with very diverse experiences that don’t add up to a clear-cut career path – a functional format could be considered.
Form Follows Function
Ever since Louis Sullivan touted these words, architects have by turns been instructed to design buildings in the name of function [and of late finance.] We’ve been told that if you give your form – however subjective and intuitive, discretionary or ill-conceived – a purpose, a justification, a use – you can sell it and see it built. Whether real or fictional, function has been top of mind for architects – at least in their social interactions – for well over 100 years.
On this anniversary of 9/11 we recall a time soon after the attacks when irony was pronounced dead and fiction reading has dropped by double digits while nonfiction hung tough. People wanted their information and they wanted it straight. Sales of fiction suffered almost immediately after the attacks. Escapism and entertainment were thought to be secondary if not unnecessary distractions. We were living in a time of war and information was at a premium.
After 9/11 those who associated fiction with the frivolous fueled a unexpected resurgence for poems. Readers still wanted their nonfiction piled on but kept Auden’s September 1, 1939 or Wislawa Szymberska’s Poems New and Collected by their night stand. Poetry was one exception for it soothed the soul and, perhaps ironically, kept us rooted in the moment.
If they read fiction at all – novels, short stories, drama – it had to be informative, informational, instructive in some way,. For our time was short at hand and the end perhaps all too near. Call it “functional fiction” –fiction that is useful – fiction you can use. Stories that if they entertained did so while providing nuggets of truths or at least truisms we could take with us to work in the morning. Tales, if they carried us away to distant lands, did so clearly spelling out the lay of the land, recommending places to stay and sights to see: novel as travelogue.
And poetry? Not just for your nightstand anymore, Poem in your Pocket – a book of 200 poems you can tear out one at a time and put in your pocket – is available for those who need the feeling of inner security not found in the outside world. They’re available in bite size poems for your kids as well.
Which takes us to two novels – both current bestsellers – to help to illustrate this point.
In Nicholson Baker’s latest novel, The Anthologist, we meet Paul Chowder at a rather tough time in his life as he shares – in an often very funny stream of consciousness – his woes and his knowledge of poetry. While you are being amused and entertained – watch out – you will be left by book’s end with a veritable college education in poets, contemporary and classical, poetry writing and appreciation. The book will have you compulsively seeking out poets and poems as a music review has you do for songs on iTunes. While thoroughly enjoying yourself you will acquire an expert and splendid education in poetry writing and reading.
Such is also the case in fiction writer Lorrie Moore’s just-released novel, A Gate at the Stairs. One of the few short story and novel writers that continuously keeps readers in stitches, here she seems to have a keen sense of the need for fiction to function beyond the tasks of storytelling. As pointed out in a recent review in the New York Times, while the book has been called “heartbreaking” and her “masterpiece,” and while it is every bit as punny and funny as her other fictions, the intrusion of the real world – and by that I mean international affairs, wars and real-time events – leaves one with the feeling that in order too stay relevant – and read – the work had to allow nonfiction in. Strike it up to another example of NonfictionFiction.
How to Decide
It is hard not to feel that something has been lost in the translation – from a more or less pure fiction that purported to carry us away, to involve our imagination and fantasies and, yes, at times, allow us escape from the humdrum or overly demanding worlds we have come to know and be a part of. That everything must mean, and teach, and instruct, and deliver – puts not only an unnecessary demand on authors but on readers as well. It is as though too often fun has been left out of the stuff of fiction and been replaced by the news.
So how to decide – not only what to read – but what to include in your already overly crammed life and what to exclude? In lieu of function I suggest we turn to pragmatism. An enlightened Pragmatism. By asking yourself three inimitably essential questions of the choices you confront on a daily basis, you will find in time that your life is filled – not with trivia and facts – but with activities, occasions and opportunities that are physically, mentally and spiritually uplifting, supportive of who you are and want to become and life-enhancing.
These simple questions are potentially life-changing – so do add them to your arsenal now but only use them when you are ready to move forward with your life:
1. Is it nurturing?
2. Is it growth-promoting?
3. Does it work for me?
These three simple inquiries – when answered – have worked for me every time for well over twenty years. Do you have questions you ask yourself to help you make important decisions in your life?