Architect 2Tweets May 22, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, books, career, creativity, employment, optimism, questions, survival, sustainability, the economy.
Tags: AEC, BIM, construction, David Meerman Scott, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, John Maeda, John Thackara, modular, prefab, Roger Martin, RT, Sir Ken Robinson, Thomas Friedman, tweets, twitter
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Architect- and Architecture-related Tweets that my followers on Twitter have shared with their followers (retweeted or RT in Twitter parlance.)
Take a look. If you are not a Tweeter, by browsing the list of micro-posts you will get a good idea of how I use it.
And if you like what you see, follow me on Twitter @randydeutsch
Finally, some good news for the hard-hit design profession: Firms are hiring again! Architecture Employment on the Rise http://bit.ly/lZ4caM
The Strategic Agenda: Securing the Future. 2 day exec ed seminar 8/01-8/02 Harvard U Graduate School of Design http://bit.ly/e8zljY
Granite countertops cost the same around the world. Just like oil. As wages go up, US will make more of its own stuff. http://nyti.ms/mrka7v
Thinkers who are challenging designers? Bruce Sterling, John Thackara, Sir Ken Robinson, Roger Martin, John Maeda http://bit.ly/jZAEDb
Video of Mansueto Library’s 5-story robotic book retrieval system in operation. Now to get robots to read them! http://bit.ly/ikFcD0
Take your eyes on a scroll. Eye-popping drawings of Lebbius Woods’ UNDERGROUND BERLIN: the film treatment http://bit.ly/qQMNi
So everything’s OK after all? “Office of National Statistics accused of exaggerating construction slump.” http://bit.ly/khMVWX
Dear Architecture Graduates: Be Ready, Relentless, and Lucky http://bit.ly/d2z71P
Despite economy, logic, gravity & common sense, young architectural firm lands major projects, expands staff http://bit.ly/mzzGk8
MORE (and IMHO even better) visual notes from IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference 2011 http://bit.ly/jieG7m
How visual types take notes http://bit.ly/mpSheY
Architects 2Zebras Celebrates 2Years January 2, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, change, creativity, employment, optimism, possibility, survival, the economy, transformation.
Tags: AIA National, anniversary, ARCHITECT magazine, blog, Wordpress
The 81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect post immediately went viral, reposted on dozens of sites around the world, including for a time on the AIA National website. To this day several people view this post from as far flung places as Hungary and Japan.
And best of all, you came back again and again despite my not having always delivered on my promise: to uplift while I inform.
Here are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010:
81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect February 2010
107 Reasons Why You, Architect, Matter June 2010
55 Ways to Help You Evolve as an Architect May 2010
A Heartbreaking Book of Staggering Genius: One Architect’s Detour of Duty September 2010
My birthday is July 5, the day after Independence Day, so I get to celebrate an extra day every year. So it is only natural that I would celebrate the birth of this blog the day after another holiday: New Years Day.
WordPress, ‘Zebra’s host, sent out an email this morning identifying some of this blog’s highlights over the past year:
- · In 2010, you wrote 30 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 69 posts.
- · Your busiest day of the year was February 26th.
- · The most popular post that day was 81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect.
- · The top referring sites in 2010 were linkedin.com, facebook.com, twitter.com, architecture.myninjaplease.com, and architechnophilia.blogspot.com.
- · Some visitors came searching, mostly for “change,” “architect” and “to be optimistic about something.”
What WordPress failed to mention is that I did not always deliver on this last count.
It has been a hard year for many architects. I have been out of work for nearly a year and there are times when the state of the economy gets to me – someone who considers himself an eternal optimist.
My previous post was indicative of this state of mind. While several readers wrote to me – by email, or on LinkedIn – that what I said in that post was largely accurate, the vast majority found it to be depressing.
It is never my intention to add to anyone’s misery – I thought I was just stating it as I see it.
I was wrong.
I can see now, through WordPress’s stats, that no one visits my site after searching for “just the facts,” “reality” or “to be pessimistic about something.”
One of my resolutions for 2011 is to be, as always, honest with you and true to myself, but not at the expense of providing hope, pertinent information and sharing my normally optimistic outlook.
There is a world of good out there – and in each and every one of us.
I’ll do my best in the coming year to share with you resources, insights and knowledge that is growth promoting, nurturing and, whenever possible, inspiring.
That’s my pledge to you.
Thanks for stopping by. I hope to see you here again soon.
Have a happy, healthy, prosperous and creatively fulfilling 2011!
Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP
Making a Case for the Value of Architecture October 14, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in books, career, change, employment, optimism, possibility, pragmatism, survival, the economy, transition.
Tags: a case for architecture, Architecture for Humanity, Down Detour Road, Eric J Cesal
I’d like to share with you a personal letter from the author of Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice, featured here in a previous post. Eric Cesal’s words are eloquent, earnest and heartfelt. And his approach to architecture and life inspires and for me represents hope and salvation so many architects today are in search of. Thank you Eric. Eric writes:
Thank you so much for your very kind and generous review. It is a great thrill to know that my small book is resonating with at least a few people. It began as a series of disjointed thoughts on architecture, and through the support and prodding of many, evolved into what it is.
I’m still in Port au Prince, if you’re curious. We have an office of about 15 people and are working hard at school reconstruction, among other things. I’ve been here 8 months now, with only a few days off sputtered here and there. Its been a surreal thing to watch the book come out and gain traction while I’m here entrenched in Haiti’s recovery. The book and its course seem very distant to me now. I haven’t written much about my experiences here, owing to an inability to get appropriate space from the situation. I don’t know how you write without reflection, and I don’t know how you reflect at the heart of a disaster. We’re all here with our whole heart and its tough to imagine stepping away enough to write anything meaningful.
I did want to elaborate on something you mentioned in your review, specifically on your suggestion that my work in Haiti is somehow a detour from a normal course of practice. I’m referring specifically to the line “Architects who are considering doing a tour of duty helping the world in some selfless way while they wait out the Great Wake.” I’m not sure if you were exactly implying that that’s what I am doing, but truthfully I’m not really waiting out anything anymore, because I’m exactly where I need to be.
The title as metaphor, was really meant to suggest that unemployment was a detour – from the normal expected life of architects. That may seem strange, in that many architects have come to expect long bouts of unemployment as a necessary fact of life. But I was also, at some level, trying to argue that we shouldn’t expect such things. That we should treat unemployment, wage suppression, and general professional dissatisfaction as aberrations in what should be the life of an architect. If we really believe in what we’re doing, we should believe in its value and treat it as such.
I view my move to Haiti, and the work that I’m doing here, as the high expression of the ideals espoused in the book. I believe that I am here making a case for the value of architecture and its relevance on the planet as it exists today. I don’t believe that someone would need to move to Haiti to do so, but I had a certain flexibility in my life that the book’s publishing made possible, so I moved forward with the decision. Similarly, my work on the Katrina reconstruction was not a detour or a distraction, but an attempt to find for myself where architecture’s value lies. In no small way, I believe that the work that Architecture for Humanity is doing in Haiti (and everywhere else, for that matter), makes the case for the small practitioner doing residential work in rural middle America. It identifies architects as responsible citizens, adept problem solvers, and true professionals.
In that sense, I’m not waiting out anything. I have already moved past the Great Wake at a personal level. I have a job, a mission and a family of truly wonderful architects that I work with.
My editor and I went back and forth many times about the sub-title. “In Search of Work” “In Search of Meaning” “In Search of a Job” were all considered. Ultimately, “Practice” won out because that was really what I was searching for and that is ultimately what I found in the end. At the story’s close, I hadn’t found a job, the earthquake hadn’t happened, and I was still, in some literal way, sitting around. But I had found something: a way to practice. A way to understand what architecture was and how to do it. Not in some external, universal way, but in a way that worked for me, a way that allowed me to sleep at night and not feel like I had wasted the last ten years of my life.
Barring some unforeseen event (and to be honest, Haiti can give you plenty of those) I don’t plan on coming back to the U.S. anytime soon, or practicing anything within the conventional world of architecture. Even if the architecture job market were to recover tomorrow, I don’t think that I would feel any draw to come back. My architecture is here, among the survivors. Hope that makes sense.
A Heartbreaking Book of Staggering Genius: One Architect’s Detour of Duty September 25, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, architecture industry, books, career, change, employment, identity, management, optimism, questions, reading, software architects, the economy, transformation.
Tags: Architecture for Humanity, Cameron Sinclair, dave eggers, Down Detour Road, Eric J Cesal, Great Wake, Haiti, MacArthur fellowship, out of work architects, The Huffington Post, The MIT Press, unemployed architects
Today’s post will be brief: I have a presentation to edit and packing still to do. But I would be remiss in leaving town without first letting you in on a brand new book that I just read that I predict will take you and the architecture profession by storm. Before reading further, grab your wallet. You’ll need it by the time you get to the sixth line of this book review.
The book title: Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice
The author: Eric J. Cesal
Why you never heard of him: He’s a recent architecture graduate with 5 years experience as an intern and has built little.
Why that shouldn’t matter: You will be hearing a lot more of and from Eric J. Cesal.
The consensus: This may well be the best book by and for architects ever written. And (to my wife’s chagrin) I own and have read them all.
What the book will set you back: $14.93 ($21.95 + tax if you happen upon it in a bookstore, like I did. See “chagrin” above.)
Who should read this book: Out of work architects. Architects thinking of leaving the profession. Architects who have left the profession but want back in. Former architects who have left the profession for good but on deep, dark nights lie sleepless in bed wondering if they made a wise choice. Neighbors of out of work architects who wonder why they wear a tie when taking the dog out for a walk. Anyone who has ever had to wear a tie. Katherine Darnstadt would like this book. Parents who find their recent grads living once again under their roof. Or in their tent. Employers. Architect’s spouses, friends, relatives and roommates. Architects who think they might have a story to tell but question whether anyone will care to listen. Architects who are considering doing a tour of duty helping the world in some selfless way while they wait out the Great Wake. Architects who think they may be the next to be let go. Architects who sometimes wish they were the next to be let go. Architects who read architecture blog posts in hopes of finding someone who deeply, passionately understands their situation. Architects.
Why you should get it: This book speaks to you where you hurt. Cesal is wise beyond his 31 years (33 today) and whip smart. He knows what matters and he (and no doubts his talented editors) cut to the chase.
Why you should get it now: The sooner you read it, the sooner we’ll all be out of this mess; the sooner you’ll decide to stick it out in architecture; the sooner you’ll find a place for yourself in this new world.
Author’s espoused purpose in writing the book: “We want to find ways for the architecture profession to prosper as our world economy transitions.” p. 42
Why you should read it: Cesal wrote the book during a period of unemployment. Nearly every architect – employed, underemployed and unemployed – can relate.
Why else you should read it: Cesal names the Great Recession the Great Wake.
What will linger long after you’re done reading the book and give it to your colleague to read: The author’s voice.
What this book could also be used for: Like a commonplace book that soldiers used to carry around with them for reassurance and companionship on the front lines, you can keep this book nearby on your own detour of duty.
Why I love the book: Interjected throughout the book are short personal essays describing the author growing up, personal incidents and events that helped shape the architect/ author/ artist/ humanitarian he has become today. I love how the book captures timely subjects (the co-opting of our title by others) and timeless ones. I am most impressed by the way the author maintains a line of thought, without jumping around from subject to subject: a real feat and welcome revelation in contemporary writing. Like the late, great architect and author Peter Collins, Cesal asks hard questions and isn’t afraid to linger in them until he offers a solution.
Why this book may not be appropriate for all audiences: There’s an excruciatingly painful scene involving a tooth being pulled. Alcohol plays a part in a number of chapters.
The author’s eye for detail: How Cesal knew the recession had reached his city: “The coffee shop I usually passed by seemed to have too many people in it.”
Why I think Eric J. Cesal is architecture’s answer to Dave Eggers: Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius if it were written for architects.
Favorite passage from the book: The author’s attempt to find work at a temp agency. (p.117) Priceless.
The author’s education: Three master’s degrees in four years: business administration, construction management and architecture from Washington University in St Louis.
What book you might compare Down Detour Road with: During the deep recession of the 1970’s we had Harris Stone’s incomparably endearing and well-illustrated Workbook of an Unsuccessful Architect (available here for a penny.) But let there be no doubt: Down Detour Road is our age’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by Walker Evans and James Agee. This book is our The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.
Someone famous the author hangs with but doesn’t once mention in the book (very classy): Cameron Sinclair, co-founder and ‘chief eternal optimist’ (CEO) for Architecture for Humanity.
Representative quote from the book: “For all the things I had intended my life to be, for all of the things I thought I would be doing at 31, I was sitting in the dirt, on the side of an empty, unlit road, jobless, homeless, cold and hungry, lusting after a street sign.”
The author’s solution: Cesal recommends that we have to come to some hard truths about the limits of what we do “and then leap beyond those boundaries.” He goes on to describe 10 types of architects.
What are the ten architect types he writes about? The financial architect; The value architect; The risk architect; The paid architect; The idea architect; The knowing architect; The named architect; The citizen architect; The green architect; The sober architect. He refreshingly doesn’t over-use capital letters and dedicates a chapter to each architect type.
What it says on the dust jacket: As the world redesigns and rebuilds in the face of economic and ecological crises, unprecedented numbers of architects are out of work. What does this say about the value of architecture? That is the question that confronted architect Eric Cesal as he finished graduate school at the onset of the worst financial meltdown in a generation. Down Detour Road is his journey: one that begins off-course, and ends in a hopeful new vision of architecture.
Like many architects of his generation, Cesal confronts a cold reality. Architects may assure each other of their own importance, but society has come to view architecture as a luxury it can do without. For Cesal, this recognition becomes an occasion to rethink architecture and its value from the very core. He argues that the times demand a new architecture, an empowered architecture that is useful and relevant. New architectural values emerge as our cultural values shift: from high risks to safe bets, from strong portfolios to strong communities, and from clean lines to clean energy.
This is not a book about how to run a firm or a profession; it doesn’t predict the future of architectural form or aesthetics. It is a personal story—and in many ways a generational one: a story that follows its author on a winding detour across the country, around the profession, and into a new architectural reality.
Where you can find the author today: Port-au-Prince, managing and coordinating Architecture for Humanity’s design and reconstruction initiatives in Haiti until 2012.
No, really, where can you find him: You can find him here. But seriously, he lives in Haiti with a family of two dogs, 11 chickens, 5 cats and a goat named Newfie. Read more about it in the Huffington Post here.
What’s next up for the author: As Cesal explains on his webpage, “Two projects are currently in slow, agonizing, one-sentence/week progress: NCARB & I, a chronicle of architectural licensing, and Lets Just Finish These Beers and Go, a semi-autobiographical romp about how to become an architect while making every self-defeating effort you can.”
What does the word “detour”mean in the book’s title: de·tour, n.
1. A roundabout way or course, especially a road used temporarily instead of a main route.
2. A deviation from a direct course of action.
Likelihood that the book will be made into a movie: Very good odds. I’m not a betting man but I’d bet on it.
Final thoughts: Someone get this guy a MacArthur Genius Grant. And a second one to The MIT Press for having the foresight and gumption for publishing this staggering piece of exceptional writing from an otherwise little known entity. Cesal may very well be doing wonderful, necessary work in Haiti but we very much need him here back home with us.
The quickest way to get the book in your possession: Steal it from an architect in the coffee shop. Or click here
What to do while you wait for your copy of the book to arrive: Tell everyone you know to read Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice.
A Heartbreaking Book of Staggering Genius: One Architect’s Detour of Duty by Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP 2010
62 Reasons to be Optimistic (and 18 to still be Pessimistic) September 15, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, career, change, creativity, employment, management, optimism, possibility, pragmatism, survival, sustainability, technology, the economy, transition.
Tags: AEC industry, Bondy Studio, Donald Trump, Google, NBC, Olson Kundig Architects, positive psychology, positivity, The Apprentice
Not since my post from last year 32 Things to be Optimistic About Right Now have I tackled this subject head-on.
It’s about time.
That’s not to say I have avoided it altogether. I have addressed the positive side of practice on a number of occasions, not always to positive reception.
I started paying attention to not only what he said but the number of positive things he mentioned, despite the general gloom in the economy right now.
He was positively optimistic – and it was admittedly contagious.
There’s scientific research that backs a 3-to-1 “positivity ratio” as a key tipping point where, essentially, it takes 3 good experiences to block out one bad one.
A 3:1 ratio of positive statements or experiences to negative ones is considered the ideal for staying optimistic.
This ratio answers the question for many of how you can be generally positive and optimistic while maintaining some negative emotions and thoughts.
The following list roughly reflects this ideal ratio.
Agree or not – just by reading the lists here you have done your part today in remaining positive and optimistic.
Here are 62 absolutely fresh, upbeat and practical reasons to be positive (and 18 to still be pessimistic) about our chances of recovering, enduring or otherwise surviving this recession as individuals, organizations, profession and industry.
I would love to hear – optimistic or pessimistic – reasons of your own, by leaving a comment below.
Let’s get the pessimistic out of the way first (a commenter’s brilliant suggestion.)
There are times of course when it is advisable to be pessimistic, and we don’t have to look far to find them. Being pessimistic at times gives you an insight to your problems and situation by allowing you to realistically assess challenges, obstacles and roadblocks you may face which otherwise you might overlook – by being overly-optimistic. After all, you wouldn’t want an overly optimistic commander taking you into the war zone underestimating the enemy or one so paralyzed by indecision they end up doing nothing.
- We are seeing firms close that were once great, however amicably, due to economic pressures
- How can we get reciprocity in other states if we can’t get an NCARB certificate because the firms we once worked for – who can vouch for our tenure – no longer exist?
- Career stage: Being a mid-career professional – at no fault of one’s own
- Salary: Finding oneself too costly, too expensive, for most firms
- Finding one has not kept up with technology – and while that wasn’t a hazard in the past, it is an indictment against you today
- Statistics: Research shows once unemployed over 6 months – the odds are against you finding employment
- Compensation: If you made a good living before – one might rightfully doubt finding employment that would come anywhere close to what you made before
- Flexibility: If you had a great deal of freedom in your previous position – chances are under these circumstances that it is unlikely that sense of freedom would continue
- If well-rounded; firms seem to be looking, when they look at all, for experts, not generalists (thought see anexception below)
- M&A: Large conglomerates are buying-up well-established design firms, firms that helped give the profession variety, diversity and high profile design. In M&A news, according to Archinect, Stantec is on a tear. The mega-A/E company announced recently that it will acquire Burt Hill — just weeks after similar news about acquiring Anshen + Allen. Who will be next?
- Construction: Contractors are hiring graduates right out of school – potentially resulting in, or adding to the likelihood of, a lost generation
- Unemployed architects may never find work in the profession and be forced to leave, not to return
- Knowledge transfer: A great deal of knowledge and experience goes out the door with them
- Phil Read (Phil Read!) leaving HNTB (what is this world coming to?)
- Many architecture firms continue to shed staff and struggle to keep the lights on
- Ownership transition: Aging owners ready to monetize on their business, who in the past passed their practice on to the next generation internally, increasingly result in more acquisition activity because younger architects are not interested or in the position to buy.
- Intuition: This time around just “feels” different than any other downturn – very hard to compare it and therefore manage or act on it
- Being human: Even the best leader cannot maintain optimism in the midst of layoffs, salary reductions, increased workloads, missed payroll or bounced pay-checks.
Note: The following are optimistic without being rah-rah. And no qualifiers are necessary: these are not cautiously-, rationally-, pragmatically-, realistically- or conservatively-optimistic. They’re just:
- Experience: We ourselves are the reason to be optimistic – our training and experience have gotten us to where we are – and will also provided us with the tools and best practices to confront these changes
- Change: It’s all about change – and we’re not immune to it
- Resolve: We will design our way out of this
- We’re creative, resourceful, when it comes to seeking solutions, and this situation is no exception
- Training: We’re trained as problem solvers – we can solve this problem
- We needed a course correction; this situation provided us with the opportunity to change
- Change was imminent – something our industry has been wrestling with for ages
- Determination: This gives a chance to see what we are made of, how strong is our resolve
- An opportunity to look at our convictions – what it is we are really good at, what it is we believe in, what we ought to be putting our energies into, what really matters to us and to others – and to drop what isn’t as important
- Transparency: A chance for firms to share as much information as possible with each other, be transparent and open book – compare notes – not size each other up
- Our industry and profession has changed in the past – and will again
- Provides a chance for firm leaders to leverage the talents of those who work for them that otherwise may never have been tapped
- Design Excellence: The world will always need good design
- Owners will continue to need someone to sign and seal exceptional documents
- There are problems – such as retrofitting suburbs – that really only an architect can tackle
- Rest: This down time allows us to restore our energy and creativity
- Much-needed time to define and refine the current standards of care for our profession
- A chance to give to others – to help others out who may be in need
- The profession is no doubt smaller – but as the constant exchange of information makes the profession feel smaller, more accessible and manageable – we’re more likely to hear from and learn from each other
- Jobs: Everyday there are more and more jobs listed – and not just in NY and California
- Thawing: Word on the street, from developers, is that banks are freeing up loans for development
- Owners: Our clients are more and more cautiously optimistic
- You have to be optimistic to be in this profession
- Funding: Google Invests $86 Million In Low-Income Housing
- Governance: Great leadership opportunities and hope for greater voice and influence: More and more architects, such as Stefano Boeri, Italian architect in Milan and editor-in-chief of Abitare, announce plans to run for public office.
- Green design: Sustainability is no longer a specialty or added service and is on the verge of going mainstream and becoming standard procedure
- Olson Kundig Architects had an ad recently where they were seeking “Generalists Needed” in Seattle, WA
- Technology: There are iPhone apps for our profession and industry – including apps that allow us to read and CAD and Revit models and now “Buildings” – an iPhone app that help you find local architecture
- Marketing: The economic downturn has allowed us to refocus our energies on marketing, determine what it is that distinguishes us, and put it into words and images; to become better marketers of ourselves
- Selling: We’ve learned from the downturn how to make what we sell – which as a service is largely invisible – visible and tangible and therefore more likely to deliver
- Competition: The increase in competition and dearth of new projects has opened us to new markets and project types that otherwise may have remained outside our comfort zone
- The current situation itself, and all it entails, has widened our comfort zone considerably
- The truth is that nobody really knows what will happen next; why side with the negative?
- Correction: The optimistic scenario is that the recession is correcting the excesses of the euphoric bubble years, when the global economy was on an unsustainable path.
- Efficiency: We’re ushering in a new era of doing more with less
- Stabilizing effect: Instability leads inevitably to stability
- Green saplings: Optimists see the recession as a forest fire that clears out dead brush, making room for new growth.
- Progress: A lot of what we’re doing now would have been impossible even five years ago.
- Start-ups: There are a number of new firms and new ventures started because of this downturn, including completely new business models
- Global practice: Things look more optimistic if you adopt an international perspective
- Education and training: Those remaining or returning to school will be more highly educated forces when they return to practice
- Cost of materials: Prices on many materials are down after many years of climbing
- Recessions clean out the excess of past boom periods
- Registration and licensure: A recession results in an increase in individuals applying to take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to better position themselves in the workforce.
- Educators: A recession results in an increase in individuals applying to architecture programs and schools
- Sustainability: More people taking the LEED exam to give them the leg up when things pick up again
- More stabilized workforce: Many architecture firms have seen a leveling-off of the need to shed staff resulting in some stability
- M&A: We’re seeing some interesting mergers brought about by strategy and the need to fill specific niche needs as much as by the economy, such as the combining of OWP/P with Cannon Design.
- Learning: Professionals have had more time to learn and to catch-up on continuing education
- The lull has allowed some professionals to share information with the rest of us in the form of videos, webcasts, white papers and tutorials that we otherwise may never have benefitted from
- Helping-hand: Downsizing provides colleagues with the opportunity to secure another position for these individuals at other firms – the chance to contribute, help out, give and give back. A year later those individuals would often as not tell me ‘it was the best thing that happened to them.’
- Leadership: More leaders avoid mincing words, painting a false picture and putting spin on what is not know, while rising to the opportunity to be truthful, tell the truth, good or bad, be authentic in words and actions, will go a long way to assuaging what otherwise can be a devastatingly difficult time for some
- Doing this provides the right person with an incredible opportunity to lead
- And to (re)build trust
- Access to information: Accurate information about our profession and industry is right at our fingertips 24/7 – this was not always the case.
- Communication: The situation we find ourselves in forces you to communicate more frequently with others, showing you how connected you really are and how much you rely on one another; a valuable lesson lost on those who operate exclusively within their comfort zone
- Higher performance: Most people can sense a change in themselves when around optimistic people, feeling motivated, inspired and energized. That’s almost reason enough to be optimistic and be around optimistic people.
- This time around provided us with the chance to learn from our mistakes and move on.
- Resilience: Treat this as an opportunity to show your resilience.
- Attitude: As difficult as it might be to stomach, realize that “this too shall pass.” Remind yourself that there will be other challenges, that this is one among many and that you never went into your chosen field because it was easy. On some level you understood how difficult it would be. And that you were equal or better than the difficulties it entailed and that would ensue.
- Mindset: Without blame or recrimination, see this as an opportunity to face the situation with acceptance and peace.
- A sign: Recognize that pain of any type is to give us a message. Once you got the message, stop dwelling in the pain. See this situation as a sign that things, as they existed, were not sustainable. Come to realize that situations that present challenges have been brought to you so that you may learn and become more aware of your strength, resilience, ingenuity and ability to overcome.
Bonus item: Donald Trump and Co. are returning for a 10th season of NBC’s “The Apprentice.” In a new twist on the reality competition, this season’s 16 candidates have all been hit hard by the current economic downturn – and there is not one architect in the bunch. A sign of the times? You decide.
BTW 62 – the number of reasons to be optimistic – is the same number Edward De Bono used in his book entitled, Creativity Workout: 62 Exercises to Unlock Your Most Creative Ideas, a book that encourages you to make connections, think beyond your peers, recognize possibilities and create opportunities.
Not a bad place to start in keeping your 3-to-1 ratio intact.
Out-of-Work Architect Speaks September 10, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, books, career, collaboration, employment, optimism, questions, survival, technology, the economy.
Tags: best firms, conferences, conventions, employee engagement, public speaking, Pugh + Scarpa, scott berkun, Snøhetta, toastmasters
What’s so interesting about an unemployed architect saying something?
So interesting that you just have to read about it?
Or hear it for yourself?
Is it because up until now the out-of-work architect has been silent?
And suddenly – like an oracle – has something to say?
In the time I have been out of work – since earlier this year – I have been busy completing the writing of a book (my publisher expects to see the manuscript in 6 weeks,) creating content for two blogs,
And doing some public speaking.
So much so that my wife doesn’t consider me unemployed.
In fact, when she hears me refer to myself in public using the “u” word she’s momentarily taken aback.
Until she remembers that’s why she so often sees me voluntarily do the dishes and it all comes back to her.
Yes, I’m also learning new software and technology, applying for an MBA, interviewing at exceptional architecture firms, attending networking meet-ups and awaiting call-backs on some building design RFQs and RFPs – as well as making the kids lunches, helping with homework and walking the dog.
But in the meantime, this out-of-work architect speaks.
What have I gotten myself into?
Isn’t public speaking the thing where they say more people at a funeral would rather be the person in the coffin than the person up on stage giving the eulogy?
In all fairness, I have been a lecturer in graduate level building science/building technology at the University of Illinois at Chicago for a number of years.
Where I would present – no doubt to the chagrin of my students – upwards of two hours at a stretch without so much as a bathroom break.
And I was a playwright in an earlier life (though, according to one director, couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag.)
So I have some comfort in front of crowds.
Though you wouldn’t know it from recent attempts.
Speaking before peers on topics of interest – all of whom are experts in their domains – is something altogether different.
Earlier this year I gave the public speaking thing a try.
At KA Connect in Chicago – with mixed results.
KA Connect itself is an amazing, stimulating and entertaining conference with the next one – KA Connect 2011 – being held at the Fort Mason Center, San Francisco in April.
I can’t wait.
When they posted the thing on iTunes (for my kids and their friends to play and lambast me in public ridicule and merriment from the backseat of my car when I drive them to the movies) I was reminded of three rules that I would take to heart if I ever ventured into public speaking again:
Rule #1: Practice.
Rule #2: Practice.
Rule #3: Practice.
I can’t think of a better use of my time right now while I await my next big challenge than to travel all across the country, speak in front of large audiences of peers – often at other’s expense with modest honorariums – about the things that matter most to me.
I get to learn a great deal about myself – and even more about these topics – as I conduct research in preparation for the talks.
Stating your opinion in a blog post is one thing.
Being able to talk intelligently, entertainingly, on your feet representing all sides of the subject is something else altogether.
Yourself, in 100 words or less
One of the first, most challenging things you need to do when you speak is supply the conference organizers with a short written summary describing, well, you.
It’s an exercise everyone ought to go through – condensing yourself down to what’s absolutely essential – for someone else to know.
Here’s what I came up with my need-to-know blurb:
Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP is a lead design architect focusing on and dedicated to large, complex sustainable projects. A university instructor leading graduate-level building science, design studio and professional practice courses, he served on Chicago Architectural Club’s Board of Directors and as AIA Chicago Board as Vice President. Randy is a frequent blogger – with www.architects2zebras.com and www.bimandintegrateddesign.com both recently featured in ARCHITECT magazine – and the author of BIM and Integrated Design (Wiley, 2011,) a professional thought and practice leader, an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) facilitator, speaker, mentor and recipient of the AIA Young Architect Award.
Here are brief summaries of the four talks I am giving in the next 8 weeks.
I’ll be giving the opening keynote talk in the Training & Development theme of Engaging and Cultivating Top Performers, entitled:
Keeping Employees Engaged in an Age of Disruption
Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP, Architect, Author and Consultant, Deutsch Insights
What motivates employees to stay engaged and eager to contribute?
As the advent of new digital technologies enables collaborative work processes (that I discuss at length in my other blog,) what are the social impacts of these disruptive tools and process changes to firm culture and morale?
What motivates employees to share, collaborate and act transparently when working on integrated teams?
Learn how the new team workflows affect how employees engage with project work, each other and with the firm.
This session will illustrate how firms are turning to employees themselves to determine how best to stay engaged and motivated when the focus is set on the bottom line.
Well, that at least is the bar I have set for myself.
Everyone – especially those in HR – knows what it takes to keep employees engaged in normal times.
But how about keeping employees motivated and engaged in the new normal?
That’s something few have written or spoken about.
At the summit, among other notables, Markku Allison will be speaking on collaboration, John Soter and Pam Britton on leadership and training, and Knowledge Architecture founder and KA Connect creator Chris Parsons will be speaking on Leveraging Social Media Tools and again with the mercurial Marjanne Pearson and Christine Brack on talent management and benchmarking.
I have to get from Vegas to Toledo with, wouldn’t you know, no direct flights.
Another opening keynote talk (I’m noticing a theme. Did word get out that I’m a morning person?)
The Well-Informed Architect: Reasons to be Optimistic Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP, Architect, Author and Consultant, Architects2Zebras
This is how I describe my session in the brochure:
Architects are trained to be on the lookout for problems. We wear our skepticism as a badge of pride. Our dissatisfaction with the way things are keeps us focused, energized and motivated, while being optimistic is a sign of weakness. This session will focus on informed optimism as a critical attribute of all leaders and explain how to develop this attribute to attract clients, do our best work, collaborate with others, attract and retain employees and enjoy the work we do. This program promises to teach the steps to take to achieve informed optimism in your own work and practice.
You might be wondering about now, How did I get myself into this?
You might recall that about 6 months ago I wrote a somewhat controversial blog post entitled 81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect.
Organizers of the conference who wanted to see the author of this post tarred and feathered in a public venue generously offered to have me speak.
And I inexplicably complied.
The 2010 AIA Ohio Convention website, built around the theme: A Shared Vision from Different Perspectives, contains this sentence:
Keynote speakers include Craig Dykers of Snøhetta, Angela Brooks from Pugh + Scarpa, and Randy Deutsch.
Snøhetta… Pugh + Scarpa…Deutsch?!
Let’s just say when I first saw what esteemed company I was in I had a Zelig moment.
60 minutes of uninterupted optimism is what I promised to deliver.
60 minutes of uninterupted optimism is what they’ll get.
Questions? Complaints? Contact AIA Ohio
Beyond Convention is the theme for this year’s convention.
The convention planning committee invited speakers to share their knowledge and expertise with fellow practitioners and allied professionals as part of a special convention to address the changes occurring within the architectural profession and the implications on the future of practice.
They encouraged industry leaders and forward-thinking professionals who are on the cutting edge of practice, management, technology, collaboration, research, training, and mentoring to submit proposals to discuss trends that are changing the way architects practice.
I have Christopher Parsons, of Knowledge Architecture and KA Connect fame, to once again thank for this one.
Chris, the incomparable Laurie Dreyer and I will be speaking on the PMKC topic of
(Re)Learning to Collaborate Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP, Architect, Author and Consultant, Deutsch Insights
In 50 words or less,
Collaboration used to be simple. We knew how to do it as children. We have made it harder than it needs to be. Join Randy Deutsch, Laurie Dryer, and Christopher Parsons for an informative, entertaining, and contrarian tour through social media, knowledge management, IPD, and collaboration.
Followers of my blogs know that I ask lots of questions. In my portion of this session I’ll walk attendees through what I’ve learned along the way about:
- Why collaborate?
- How do we as professionals learn to collaborate?
- Is it something we need to learn?
- Or is it something we are born with and forget/just know?
- What distinguishes collaboration from working on teams?
- Is collaborating always desirable? How do we know?
I love, absolutely love, the AIA TAP conferences.
Can’t get enough of what they have to offer.
What’s different about this NTAP from previous TAP conferences, this one will be held in multiple venues and also virtually.
I have probably learned as much from them as from anything else I’ve encountered.
And so it is a thrill to be able to participate in this event.
This time, I won’t be getting up alone in front of a large crowd of peers.
I’m going to be moderating a panel of the world’s – and industry’s – most esteemed colleagues.
The session’s entitled:
Crossing the IPD Chasm with BIM Moderated by Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP, Architect, Author and Consultant, Deutsch Insights
The short of it is:
Early adopters of IPD have been well-documented. What role will BIM play in IPD going mainstream? What will it take to bridge the gap? Join industry leaders Phil Bernstein FAIA, Jonathan Cohen FAIA and Howard Ashcraft for a provocative discussion addressing what roles BIM plays in where IPD is headed.
Phil Bernstein FAIA. Jonathan Cohen FAIA. Howard Ashcraft.
And I get to ask them questions.
Should be a great, memorable panel and Q & A.
The proposed panel will be a moderated dialogue and interactive discussion among three notable panelists representing different expert perspectives from the AECOO community exploring how BIM can help bridge over the collaborative work processes and delivery method gap – brought about by concerns about interoperability, risk and responsibility, and the building lifecycle.
- What’s next on the horizon for IPD? Will this stall? Will it take off? What’s stopping owners and firms from adopting and implementing IPD? What’s with the workarounds – IPD as a philosophy but not a delivery method; IPD-ish projects; IPD-lite approaches and minor trust-based adjustments of existing team collaborations – and are they as effective and truly IPD?
- How does use of BIM encourage or discourage the widespread acceptance of IPD as a delivery method? Do architects need to return to startup mentality, by conducting the search for a new scalable, repeatable business model?
Again, lots of questions that I am eager to hear answered.
This panel discussion will focus on BIM tools and work processes that are going to be required for the industry to move toward a more collaborative project delivery methodology.
Participating venues include Washington D.C., Albuquerque, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco.
Let me know by leaving a comment here if there are other participating venues you know of that you don’t see here.
While nothing compares with the experience and tips you get from joining a Toastmasters club in your area, I have read dozens of books on public speaking and have to say Scott Berkun’s book, Confessions of a Public Speaker, is my overall favorite. I love all of his books, but this one covers the topic in such a realistic way anyone who reads it will benefit immediately from his wisdom, experience and the tales he shares of others. Great read. Read it free here or here, borrow it from the library or get the 5 star rated book here. Better yet, watch this experience public presenter speak.
If you have done some public speaking, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
107 Reasons Why You, Architect, Matter June 25, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect types, collaboration, creativity, environment, identity, marginalization, optimism, sustainability, technology, the economy.
Tags: career, collaboration, economy, environment, needs, passion, profession, wants
But how about a world without architects?
That’s not so hard to imagine.
It’s easy if you’re mostpeople.
Because mostpeople never so much as meet an architect.
Let alone engage one in a building project.
It’s also relatively easy to imagine if you’re an architect.
Because this is what we do, what we’re good at – imagining things that aren’t there.
Then relentlessly realize them until they are.
If architects were to disappear tomorrow – who would care?
At the moment – facing a double dip in the economy – architects feel overlooked and underappreciated.
So to say that we matter. To whom exactly? And what for?
To matter means to be of consequence, of importance (but not self-importance;) significant, relevant, worthy of note and of crucial value.
To feel appreciated and valued, not left-for-dead, abandoned or ignored.
But why ask whether architects matter when so clearly other things matter more.
The unchecked ravages of genocide, extreme poverty, child labor, AIDS, environmental degradation, Alzheimer’s disease, global warming and compulsive consumerism – these certainly matter more.
But this isn’t a contest. Architects can still matter.
Why the world still needs architects
The 107 reasons that follow may seem like overkill. A tad bit much.
But we need reminding. Really need reminding.
Some will inevitably say – tell it to our clients or convince a contractor – that we’re not the ones who need convincing.
Before we can convince anyone else that we matter we must first convince ourselves.
From the architects I’ve talked to and heard from we need a talking to.
And if we’re not going to remind ourselves – who will?
This is not a desperate attempt to justify our existence nor rationalize our cosmic importance. These reasons came easily, rolling off the pen and hammered out in an evening.
And as with most things worth doing, if I had more time there would have been far fewer.
You need to know you matter
The world may not always affirm what we do (try this: google “architect appreciation” or any facsimile thereof and what comes up?*)
People are not born with an appreciation for architecture.
Nor, for that matter, for architects.
Your employer may not always tell you that you – and the work you do – are valued.
But that doesn’t mean that what we do and who we are doesn’t have a profound impact on our world.
It does. And we do.
In the big scheme of things – we make a difference. A big difference. The world would be a very different place – a lesser place – without us.
And our interventions. Our ideas and ideals.
Think of these as the gifts architects give to society.
Think of these as The Gifts of the Architect:
How a Tribe of Tectonic Nomads Changed the Way People Everywhere Live and Feel.
Think of these as – in the spirit of Yale’s Why X Matters series
107 Reasons Why Architects Matter
(or the 107 Things I Like About You)
Reason1: Architects are optimists. So what? Otherwise we couldn’t survive, anticipate and prepare for an unknown future and imagine what is not there. Imagine a world of pessimist designers, planning for the worst. That’s the world without architects.
Reason2: Architects balance multiple intelligences. So what? It’s a job requirement and for some a liability. Architects use all of their faculties when they design and document – including spatial intelligence.
Reason3: Architects are wired to care. So what? Architects naturally empathize. We have the empathy gene. In abundance. More than our fair share, allowing us to put ourselves in other’s shoes. Others may be in it for the money – we’re burning the midnight oil because we care.
Reason4: Architects are strategists. So what? We ask tough, penetrating questions, seldom taking assignments or answers at face value. We reframe questions that are lobbed at us. And go about our work less as object designers than chess players or basketball coaches parlaying the playbook.
Reason5: Architects think in terms of systems, not just things. So what? Because we understand that the world is not made up of individual, disconnected things. And that everything is causal, interrelated and connected. We design the spaces between things as well as the things themselves – and help others to see what they were formerly unable to see and was certain wasn’t there before we gifted them with a new pair of eyes. We’ve all done this for someone in our lives.
Reason6: Architects think laterally and simultaneously – not linearly. So what? The very thinking skills that we need to nurture in others as we move ahead into the 21st century.
Reason7: We do more with less. So what? So there will be more for others – including our children – when they need it. Eaarth will thank you for it.
Reason8: Architects design outdoor spaces. So what? Think Central Park. Designed by a landscape architect (architects of all stripes.) Architects gave the world outdoor rooms, helping people to feel comfortable in their surroundings, to feel as though they belong, and on a good day, to dwell poetically.
Reason9: Architects are well-educated. So what? Who is most qualified to lead integrated project teams? (Those who deem this elitist need not respond.) The person trained to think of other’s needs before their own, the person who is licensed to protect the health, safety and welfare of the project’s inhabitants. The person dedicated to continuous learning.
Reason10: Architects are T-shaped – both deep and wide. So what? More than mere experts at what the do and know, architects – due to their training and education – are able to see through other’s eyes, empathize and understand what is important to others at the table. We have deep skills and wide wingspan breadth.
Reason11: Architects are “keepers of the geometry.” So what? Form-givers, architects give shape to our world. Who else provides our buildings, cities and lives with a sense of continuity and coherence?
Reason12: Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul. So what? Life speeds by fast. We need to slow down. Architects design places that help us to slow down, look around and take in the view. And then, before we realize it, we’re no longer in the place but of it. Architects have the ability to design places that touch the soul.
Reason13: Architects transform chaos into order. So what? While nature, animals and biomimicry are definitely trending, one look at architecture without architects and you wish you had called an architect.
Reason14: Architects give the world meaning. So what? So what? Architects may be involved in only a small number of projects, but just think of places where you have been happiest, felt most at home, felt a sense of purpose and accomplishment, at ease with yourself and your surroundings – and more than likely an architect was involved.
Reason15: Architects uplift the downtrodden. So what? Architects raise not only roof beams but eyes up toward the sky, and awareness to a higher plane altogether. We provide worthwhile, heightened experiences, naturally. (Ever walk across the structural glass floor to the outdoor amphitheater overlooking the Mississippi on Jean Nouvel’s Guthrie Theater? Then you know what I mean.)
Reason16: Architects think differently. So what? Yes, Apple thinks differently – but what of what Peter Bolin FAIA and his cohorts did for Apple? For Apple! In NYC. It’s no easy task wowing Steve Jobs. Architects do so on a regular basis.
Reason17: Architects are masters of branding. So what? Not corporate branding, but identity, genus loci and placemaking. Branded environment architects give places identity – to orient, so that you know where you are in the world and, in the best of places, why you are there and why you’ll return.
Reason18: Architects traffic in beauty. So what? Beauty is perhaps a dirty word these days – but we cannot live without it. While nature does her fair share, architects – in their riffs off of nature – certainly supplement in wondrous ways.
Reason19: Architects provide the wow effect. So what? Because life is not just bread and water. That sense of awe when standing before something manmade, masterful and inexplicably beautiful or grand. That’s the gift architects give to the world.
Reason20: Architects create the places that inspire – and where we live out and realize – our dreams and destiny. So what? You are here, on this planet, for one reason and one reason alone. And more than likely an architect was involved in helping you to recognize this. Just think about it.
Reason21: Architects are technologists, artists and craftsmen. So what? Architects learn with their hands, create with their imagination and put the human touch into technology. This assures that what we help to create will be useful, bring about joy and remain for some time.
Reason22: Architects serve the underprivileged. So what? Architects have a reputation for pandering to the wealthy. Creating low income housing is a higher calling for many architects where good works are the ultimate goal. Fee-wise we may take it on the chin, but the work we produce means a great deal to the people who live there.
Reason23: Architects are custodians of the built environment. So what? If not architects, whom else?
Reason24: Architects keep moving the ball forward. So what? Neither sentimentalists nor futurists, architects as optimists recognize that humans are still evolving. And so too their work. So so what? With each commission architects attempt to push the envelope just that much farther, to do their part to advance things. That is how the world progresses – and architects share in this movement.
Reason25: Architects bring poetry out of doors into the world. So what? Art and poetry reside almost exclusively indoors. Museums and libraries may contain these – but architects work hard to bring their qualities to the design of the outdoors, through their sensitive integration of their buildings into the landscape.
Reason26: Architects are master shapers of light. So what? Kahn in particular was transfixed by light: The sun never knew how great it was until it struck the side of a building. Nor did anyone else for that matter.
Reason27: Architects are for the most part fascinating people. So what? My uncle, when I was 5, told me his best friends were architects: they’re the most interesting people I know, he’d say. Architects try to live their lives by this credo.
Reason28: Architects are intrinsically motivated. So what? It’s better in the long run for all involved. As “I Types,” architects are not in it for the token gift card. We do it because we love it, because it is the right thing to do, because – we trust – it makes a difference in people’s lives.
Reason29: Architects operate from both sides of the brain. So what? Neither exclusively right nor left – architects are the original whole brain thinkers. In doing so, we help to keep things whole.
Reason30: Architects are practical dreamers. So What? Floating ideas like prisons in the sky. This is how we’ll solve large-scaled, complex and intractable problems facing millions: through the persistent application of our imagination, looking at things sideways until they appear to others right side up.
Reason31: Architects get design. So what? An understanding of good architectural design is vital for creating livable buildings and public spaces and architects understand how to design buildings. We make a difference to the positive outcome of the design of our world.
Reason32: Architects give others something inspiring to aspire to. So what? We have all heard someone say that they would have liked to be an architect. Going about the world as an architect is one of the last callings commensurate with our ability to imagine and to create. So so what? Architects have one of the few careers that guarantee that, while practicing, you will remain a lifelong student.
Reason33: Architects involve all of the senses. So what? While we’re lampooned for wearing all black – we know the value of color, the meaning of light, the importance of involving all of the senses in our work.
Reason34: Architects consistently provide people with what is important to them. So what? Some people know what they want while others look to the architect to tell them. Architects adapt to the client – and make it their goal to meet their needs. Sounds simple enough – but this in itself is all-too-rare in the business world, let alone the arts.
Reason35: Architects take ideas and pay it forward – by giving it a twist. So what? In doing so, we create something new. What we produce fits – because it gives the impression that we’ve seen it before – but at the same time it is fresh, unprecedented – keeping life interesting. Architecture, not variety, is the spice of life.
Reason36: Architects turn what is used, old, broken and decrepit and reinvent it into something living and healthy environment for people to use, in cities as well as in the suburbs. So what? Don’t take my word. Take Ellen Dunham-Jones’ word. Click on any of these links or read a sample chapter – and argument for doing so – of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs here.
Reason37: Architects are sexy So what? The world has become increasingly bland, globally with little that distinguishes itself. The architect, in the midst of this sameness, has retained her appeal. Why else would we be chosen as the number one career for lead roles in movies? Far from superficial, architects manage to keep things both relevant and interesting.
Reason38:, Architects are problem identifiers. So what? Not only problem solvers, architects recognize that identifying the right problem to solve is often 80% of the solution. Often, the problem they have been assigned is not the one that truly requires addressing. Architects work efficiently and effectively to make sure that everyone is focused on the most pressing, pertinent problem.
Reason39: Architects’ small acts have huge impacts. So what? You only have to think of the Bilbao effect. Don’t let statistics that architects design or impact less than 5% of buildings built. The buildings that count, that create a sense of place and pride of place, the places we take visitors to see and inhabit when in town, that best represent us – public places large and small – these are the buildings we remember and return to. And these are designed by architects.
Reason40: Architects got your back. So what? Architects assure that someone is watching out for you. We make sure you are safe by watching what’s behind you when you’re busy looking ahead. Who else besides the architect watches out for the health welfare and safety of society?
Reason42: Architects draw by hand, mouse and by wand. So what? Creatively ambidextrous, flexible and agile, we are not stuck on any one means of communication or delivery. Architects make the best use of available technology to get their point across – but we are not above using a stick in sand, rock on pavement or a burnt piece of charcoal in order to connect and help you understand.
Reason43: Architects design like they give a damn. So what? We care. We make a difference. This matters.
Reason44: Architects give something back. So what? Architects don’t go into architecture to take or even to make money but to give something back. We’re continuously giving, whether going the extra mile, burning one more end of the candle, or by putting their talent and resources in the service of those who need it most. Such as the The 1%, a program of Public Architecture, connects nonprofits with architecture and design firms willing to give of their time pro bono.
Reason45: Architects are change agents. So what? Not merely open to change, we assist in moving change along. No matter how traditional or conventional the assignment, architects make great strides to incorporate the latest advanced technologies. For example allowing for earthquake resistance in tall buildings or in the case of Wright’s Tokyo Hotel. So so what? But at the same time expressing and infusing local or regional character so that the buildings appear to belong to the place where they reside. We may be comfortable with change but recognize that we first have to make it palatable and acceptable for others.
Reason46: Architects – by just being architects – give hope. So what? This is something we do for others. So many aspire to do something interesting with their lives, belong to a profession that offers endless opportunities to challenge yourself. Being an architect is one of the last callings that matters.
Reason48: Architects serve as role models. So what? Citizen architects, such as Sam Mockbee of Rural Studio http://citizenarchitectfilm.com/ , urban activists, getting involved at the grass roots level, some going as far as government.
Reason49: Architects make connections. So what? As systems thinkers, by connecting elements in a project with its surroundings, architects create a social fabric: the semblance of a cohesive, consistent and meaningful world. Architects create worlds that hold a mirror up to life.
Reason50: Architects rise to a good challenge. So what? We challenge ourselves – and each other, our organizations, the profession and industry – to keep moving the ball forward. Improve improve improve.
Reason51: Architects draw crowds. So what? Imagine the world without Frank Lloyd Wright, Antonio Gaudi, Frank Gehry, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Louis I. Kahn, Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano and Herzog and de Meuron. Doesn’t matter to “mostpeople?” Think again. Then why are these (in order) the 10 most visited architects in the world..by non-architects!
Reason52: Architects are driven from within. So what? No carrot? No stick? No problem. Architects are self-starting, self-motivating and self-activating. That’s why architects like to think of what we do as an inside game.
Reason53: Architects are linchpins. So what? And being so, are an indispensible part of the design and construction process. We are at the crux of real estate, development, concrete and plumbing. On projects where there may be well over 100 independent entities – from interior design to energy analysis – all pass through the architect. Architects are the common link between project constituents.
Reason54: Architects see the big picture. So what? So many it seems have a difficult time seeing the forest from the trees. Not architects. As I explained here, Malcolm Gladwell in Blink called this ability to see information in its wider context: coup d’oeil or court sense or “giss,” the power of the glance, the ability to immediately make sense of situations. So so what? Architects may not be born with this all-too-rare and exceedingly important ability, but by the end of their formal training they’ve got it. In droves.
Reason55: Architects are meaning-makers. So what? While many make it their job to provide meaningful work for their employees, or to help people find meaning in their own lives, no one but the architect is dedicated to making the world – the built environment – meaningful and coherent.
Reason56: Architects make the world a better place for all. So what? Making the built environment useful, safe, comfortable, efficient, and as beautiful as possible is the architect’s quest. No one else makes this their ultimate goal. The world is a better place for our having been there.
Reason57: Architects are rare. So what? At a time when it seems like there are too many architects for the work available – an imbalance of supply and demand – architects make up just a tiny percentage of professionals, let alone the workforce. Architects are a rare but powerful breed.
Reason58: Architects represent and serve all clients – paying and non-paying. So what? Architects matter because they are the only entity who serves not only the paying but non-paying client (society-at-large.) So so what? Who else is going to represent the needs and wants of the neighbors, community, stakeholders – while balancing the client’s wishes? Architects respect the needs and aspirations of both the individual and the community.
Reason59: Architects are a luxury. So what? Admit it. Human beings the world over have built homes with nothing more than their own two hands. Up until recently, the world existed for millennia without architects and can very well do so again. But why do so? Architects – for all we do – are a luxury that most cannot live without.
Reason60: Architects understand the patterns of everyday life. So what? Architects get urban design. Architects know that the design of cities and buildings affects the quality of our lives – whether this is acknowledged or appreciated is another matter. The bottom line is this: When it comes to creating urban form, places where people live, work and play, architects matter.
Reason61: Architects are influencers. So what? Not everybody has their own ideas for how to live, work, shop and play. Some architects, such as Christopher Alexander, not only influence their own tribe but worlds beyond their own (i.e. urban planning to software engineers. The adoption of Alexander’s pattern language by the software community is one such instance.)
Reason62: Architects keep things whole. So what? Since Deconstructivism died, architects – irrespective of style – one way or another have focused on whole building and holistic design. Our hemisphere needs architects to keep things whole, to distinguish east and west while acknowledging the best of both, much as the olympics have. So so what? To keep globalization from creating an indistinguishable world. To provide order but also character and pride of place.
Reason63: Architects look to the beyond. So what? Beyond the immediate problem. Beyond the immediate issue at hand. Beyond their immediate surroundings – to look at the impacts of what they’re creating on the world beyond. The universe needs architects…to explore how to inhabit other places beyond our planet.
Reason64: Architects touch sp many walks of life. So what? The world needs architects – the earth, our continent and country needs architects to address national issues. Our region needs architects – to represent what distinguishes one locale from another, to make sure that our work belongs to specific place and time, so that we might place ourselves in it. Our state needs architects, our cities needs architects, and especially our suburbs.
Reason65: Architects save lives. So what? And not just hospital design architects. “Architecture can save lives”— Newsweek. Just look at what we are accomplishing in Haiti. Producing housing structures for displaced and disadvantaged populations, rethinking humanitarian assistance and pursuing innovative solutions to contemporary housing crises. Focusing on disaster relief and inexpensive and affordable design solutions.
Reason67: Architects are as diverse a group as those they design for. So what? Some will try to tell you that architects have a diversity problem. Forget the stereotype – it doesn’t exist. Architects themselves are a diverse bunch making them particularly effective at designing for diversity. We champion the values of diversity in a beautiful way — values essential to creating livable cities and housing.
Reason68: Architects give good design. Daily. So what? Architects, some may feel, are a luxury. So be it. But architects, as purveyors and perpetuators of good design, are truly needed. Good design is not a luxury, but a necessity.
Reason69: Architects have respect for the past, perform in the present and aspire to have their work help create the future. So what? Architects work attempts to represent the time in which they build – which for us, today, represents turmoil. As Frank Stella said: Architecture can’t fully represent the chaos and turmoil that are part of the human personality, but you need to put some of that turmoil into the architecture, or it isn’t real. For many architects it is not enough that their work represents a specific time and place – they strive to have it belong to both their time and all time. So so what? It matters because our work will not look dated and have a sense of permanence and inevitability, not leave the user with a sense o f otherwiseness. As another Frank has said (Gehry): Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.
Reason70: Architects are gifted. So what? Not a wrapped keepsake voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation but a notable capacity, talent, or endowment. Whether born with talent or acquired along the way, architects are made, not born. So so what? We owe their many gifts to their professors, educators and trainers along the way. Everything they need to know they learned in school.
Reason71: Architect’s work is a gift. So what? No matter how much they are paid – or whether they are paid at all – what architects leave behind outlasts them. More time is always put into a project’s design and making than our fee could cover.
Reason72: Architects give it away. So what? Architects worldwide regularly provide pro-bono services to communities that have survived war, government oppression and natural disasters. It’s also an antidote to apathy.
Reason73: Architects create nations and destinations. So what? Architects gave the world the Roman Colosseum, Sagrada Familia, Fallingwater, Pantheon and Guggenheim Museum to name but five. Creating timeless destinations serve as evidence of some of man’s highest achievements and something for every artist and architect to strive for.
Reason74: Architects get sustainability. So what? We not only get it – we act on it. We knew long before the recent revelation that location of a green project mattered as much – if not more – as the project siting, orientation and inclusion of systems and products.
Reason75: Architects make connections II. So what? Another sort of connections – we’re literally connectors – but also associative thinkers. The world needs more of us – to feel less isolated. Our product – buildings – may be one-offs, but not the way we design or plan them. We’re always linking and making connections between things. We can’t help it – it’s the way our minds work.
Reason76: Architects make cities real. So what? Architects have given the world the best architecture cities in the world. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and they had vanished. Barcelona, Spain, Beijing, China, Istanbul, Turkey, Chicago, USA, Athens, Greece – Parthenon vanished. Millennium Park and FLW home and studio. No more. Sydney without the Sydney Opera House? The work disappears – but so does its host. So so what? Architects create works that are inseparable from their environments –and the way we think about them.
Reason77: Architects listen. And listen. So what? People are helped when architecture is democratic. Take the underprivileged. Three past and present California architects come to mind: Michael Pyatok, David Baker, Charles Moore – all as well-regarded for their exuberance as for their participatory design approaches.
Reason78: Architects need to know it all. So what? Architects work with what they know, creating a harmonious balance our of disparate parts. As Vitruvius wrote over 2000 years ago: An architect should be a good writer, a skillful draftsman, versed in geometry and optics, expert at figures, acquainted with history, informed on the principles of natural and moral philosophy, somewhat of a musician, not ignorant of the law and of physics, nor of the motions, laws, and relations to each other, of the heavenly bodies. So so what? A career in architecture, as one parent of an architect put is, is a never-ending learning experience with a myriad of “career spokes” springing from the hub of the core disciplines. The architect takes it upon herself to continually learn and grow, remaining throughout their career a student not just of architecture but of life.
Reason79: Architects are lifelong learners. So what? And not just because they’re required to gather tally, and document their continuing education credits. We’re curious types – in the best sense of the word. We want to know it all – everything – and are thirsty for knowledge. Which is a good thing – because we need to know it all.
Reason80: Architects are all alike. So what? There has been some grumbling that there are now too many architects – software, enterprise, business – and not enough design architects. Or that design architects aren’t getting their fair share of the airwaves. So be it. So so what? The bottom line is this: all architects is alike. We share similar values, obsessions, fixations and interests. We can learn a great deal from each other. So stop complaining – and join the tribe.
Reason81: Architects are action-oriented. So what? Remember Mies’s “Build – don’t talk.” That’s not just a Chicago credo. Architects design to build – with building in mind. So so what? We use words, images and action to get our ideas across and accepted. But in the end, most want to get their designs out in the world, for others to use, live in and among and yes, even critique and judge.
Reason82: Architects are master puzzle makers. So what? Architects are needed because they can put it all together. We fix what is broken and repair what’s been devastated. When given a 500 page program containing 1000’s of input and data – it doesn’t even occur to us that the end result will be anything less and a complete, cohesive and coherent work of whole building design. Bring it on!
Reason83: Architects are pleasers. So what? Architects are comfortable with ambiguity. We keep everyone’s needs, wants, aspirations and wishes – their ideas and ideals – in mind throughout the design process. With many balloons in the air you’d think it would be hard to make everybody happy.
Reason84: Architects are in it for the long haul. So what? Architects matter because they know what they produce will be around for a while – and therefore carry the additional weight of responsibility for their choices and actions. So so what? For, as Lord Byron said: A man of eighty has outlived probably three new schools of painting, two of architecture and poetry and a hundred in dress. Architecture changes a lot less frequently than trends. This means that architects cannot be at the whims of fashion – what we do, what our designs look like, have to make sense and last for many generations.
Reason85: Architects are never satisfied with good enough. So what? Why settle? Life is too short. If you can give everybody what they need and want – and at the same time, through trickery or talent, perseverance or insight – find a way to deliver more, why not try to do so? No architect strives to do good enough design – but rather, good design that is enough.
Reason86: Architects use what they got. So what? Architects try to make the most with what they have and are given – even if it is not expected or asked for. Had they not – the built world would be confined to making shelters. Like Helmut Jahn, we strive for an architecture from which nothing can be taken away.
Reason87: Architects, ever patient, persevere. So what? Architecture takes a long time to plan, finance and build. It requires not only the long view but the vision for the long haul. So so what? The architect has the perspective to provide this. Who else on the design or construction team can same the same?
Reason88: Architects work in flows. So what? Architects not only improve the build world and environment but also design in order to improve processes. Architects understand it’s not about the building – it’s about the business and the people and what they do when there. Upstream, downstream and throughout the project – architects follow the flow of movement and energy to and from their projects.
Reason89: Architects put is all into perspective. So what? Architects know the price of their art – the hard work that goes into it, the sacrifices they make, often impacting their family life and sleep. They’re willing to put in the extra effort, to go the extra distance, to pace ourselves over a long career. We truly are the change we want to see.
Reason 90: Architects pay the price. So what? Architects work hard, very hard, at achieving their goals. FLW said: I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.
Reason91: Architects are of two minds. So what? Architects are able to think in both business and design terms, to use their design sense to further the business ambitions of their clients. Call it design thinking. Architects are leaders when it comes to design thinking – the ability to apply design sense to help others with their business needs.
Reason92: Architects envision what is not there. So what? But it doesn’t stop with sight or foresight. Architects are trained to be creative thinkers. We see things others don’t or can’t and are able to describe and explain them in ways that help others to understand and act.
Reason93: Architects make others look better. So what? Architects matter because they are there to help their clients succeed. Architects and our professional services firms don’t succeed unless the client does. Architects love to help others achieve their goals and reach their dreams and find imaginative ways to help them get there.
Reason94: Architects learn by doing. So what? Architecture is too broad and deep of a subject to ever really know it all. Continuous learning – there’s always something more to learn – keeps us perpetually on our toes.
Reason95: Architects thrive on less. So what? Our’s really a case where less is truly more. Architects recognize that in tough times such as the current one we’re facing better architecture can be the result. That tough times may in fact lead to better architecture. So so what? This is important because the opposite could occur – where fewer resources result in lesser buildings, less pride of place, and all of us being the lesser for it.
Reason96: Architects are here to serve. So what? Despite the reputation of some, architects exist to serve others. Except for the occasional architect-designed museum, it is what happens inside their buildings and spaces that matters – not the building itself. Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea. Yoshio Taniguchi.
Reason97: Architects operate both in the world – and outside it. So what? Architects practice an art that is in the world and also of the world. But at the same time – stands apart – is its own animal. As Thom Mayne has said: Architecture is involved with the world, but at the same time it has a certain autonomy. This autonomy cannot be explained in terms of traditional logic because the most interesting parts of the work are non-verbal. They operate within the terms of the work, like any art.
Reason98: Architects are markitects. So what? Architects help people and organizations make their mark on the planet – and do so with the widest appeal and the smallest carbon footprint. For better or worse, the first subject Prince Charles really went for as Prince was architecture. It made an impact. He was very intent to use his years as Prince of Wales to make his mark and architects helped him to do so. So so what? Wouldn’t you rather have an architect help make built statements than any other entity? They will at least be responsible, keeping all of the factors in mind. So make your mark!
Reason99: Architects play well with others. So what? Architects may come across as Howard Roark types – lone wolves in sheep’s clothing. But we are all born collaborators. Architects are trained and educated to work productively in teams, and despite the current interest in autonomy know that they get the best results when involving all stakeholders and working well with others. So so what? This matters because we live in a time of crowdsourcing, of co-creation, of participatory design. Architects are there to work with others to come up with the best solutions for all involved.
Reason100: Architects connect the past with the present and future. So what? Architecture serves to connect us in time – with works from the past, with past civilizations. Helping to locate and place us in time, to provide us with a sense of continuity, help us get our bearings and makes us truly inhabitants of this planet, not just hangers-on.
Reason101: Architects work with a palette of possibility. Architects are concerned not with the necessary but with the contingent – not with how things are but with how they might be. So what?
Reason102: The work architects perform touches so many parts of life – and of learning. It has so many facets, it can keep a person interested for a lifetime. As Richard Rogers said: I believe very strongly, and have fought since many years ago – at least over 30 years ago – to get architecture not just within schools, but architecture talked about under history, geography, science, technology, art. So what? Attorneys leave law due to burn-out as well as a lack of meaning in their work. Architects may leave the field for financial reasons, but few if any have done so for lack of what was found there.
Reason103: Architects strive to heal the world. So what? Architects still believe that their works and deeds can help to heal the places where they are privileged to work. Despite what Thom Mayne has said: I’m often called an old-fashioned modernist. But the modernists had the absurd idea that architecture could heal the world. That’s impossible. And today nobody expects architects to have these grand visions any more. Nobody expects this – except us architects, ourselves.
Reason104: Architects hake the hard decisions. So what? When a sales rep calls and asks for a decision-maker they hand the phone to an architect. Why? Architects matter because we have to make the hard decisions – thousands of them in every project. As Arne Jacobsen said: If architecture had nothing to do with art, it would be astonishingly easy to build houses, but the architect’s task – his most difficult task – is always that of selecting. Architects are first and last decision-makers. We make the decisions that count.
Reason105: Architects design for the heart as well as the head. So what? Architects create projects and places that affect us emotionally as well as intellectually. We address the whole person.
Reason106: Architects are passionate about design. So what? Architects do what they do because they are passionate about architecture and design. Despite the rigors of school and the relative lack of money to be obtained in the field, architects that have been in the field already for some time do what they do because they love to do it: plain and simple. So so what? This assures that we will go the extra mile, which is often necessary, to achieve a successful outcome.
Reason107: Architects matter because they sign and seal documents. So what? Exactly!
Don’t see a reason? Make it an even 108. Please let me know. Chiming-in by leaving a comment. Thanks!
The Last Architect? May 21, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, BIM, career, change, creativity, essence, integrative thinking, optimism, pragmatism, questions, technology.
Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today.
Think laterally and simultaneously
Redefine the problem, reframe the questions and direct people’s energy
Meet virtually but also face-to-face
These. according to Renée Cheng, Professor and Head of School of Architecture at University of Minnesota, are some of the ways we as a profession will proceed boldly into the future.
Cheng, an expert in emerging technologies in construction, recently talked with Markku Allison, Resource Architect at The American Institute of Architects, in an AIA – Architecture Knowledge Review podcast revisiting the 2006 Report on Integrated Practice that can be found on iTunes entitled: 2009 and Beyond “Suggestions for an Integrative Education.”
While the entire interview is generally excellent, I’d like to focus on the final third of the podcast, because these last 8 minutes of the podcast are like gold.
It is not that Markku and Renee go off-script – it’s that Markku allows Renee to riff on the question of “What’s next?” in a way that we seldom hear or see in our industry media.
Gratefully pragmatic without a whiff of academic jargon, what ensues in the latter part of the interview is a true dialogue, marked by a calm cadence – with much wisdom – found only rarely, if at all, anywhere.
Perhaps the last time was in this video of an interview where soft-spoken philosopher J Krishnamurti asks physicist David Bohm: Would you go into your chosen profession today if you had to do it all over?
Markku asks: What’s next? What developments are currently underway that you feel will have the most significant impact over the next three years?
Cheng acknowledges that it is always difficult to project into the future.
Renee: Things I’ve been keeping an eye on are things like crowdsourcing. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Netflix competition?
Renee: Crowdsourcing, where you can put out a query and get multiple minds working on it. Not like a wiki where you can let anyone post but more like invited experts working in somewhat of a hierarchy, somewhat of a system.
Cheng went on to describe how her school has run some studios based on social networking platforms.
Renee: We’re going to start to get some pretty highly specialized people that need to be brought in at very specific times and not end up having everyone in the room all the time. So if there can be some way to streamline some of that – how to keep communication going without necessarily having everyone be face to face.
But isn’t face to face collaboration critical to the successful outcome of a project?
On Virtual Interface vs. Face-to-Face
Renee: The more I’m getting into this the more I am realizing that face to face is a really critical part of this. And yet there are huge opportunities for virtual interface. So how do we as humans overcome the fact that face-to-face is still the best means of communication? And how can some of these virtual environments or virtual tools begin to – not replace – but supplement it, potentially making things go faster and involve more voices? That is something I will be looking for in the next couple of years.
On The Role of the Designer
Markku: I’m curious to hear you expand just a little bit on what you perceive as the role of the designer in this new future that may involve much larger numbers of stakeholders input into design. How do you think that crowdsourcing and other trends you describe will affect the role of the designer?
On Utopian vs. Dystopian Futures
Renee: There’s a utopian and dystopian way of looking at this (laughter.) In the dystopian way architects become just one of many, many voices. The hierarchy is lost and it becomes very difficult to get good design. You just get a lot of compromise. That would be the dystopian future I would not like to see.
On the Architect as Advocate for Design and Design Thinking
Renee: The utopian future that we are trying to prepare our students to lead and for this role is architect as – in some kind of manner of – not necessarily master builder but potentially something more in the Kieran Timberlake model, the central figure, the connector – someone who can be the advocate for design. And for design thinking. Can think laterally and simultaneously. And can help others to make decisions that make sense. Ideally there is some role for the architect that is different than the role of any other experts, clients or users – or whomever is adding to this future design process – that are coming in. Because of the training.
On the Architect’s Training
Renee: The training is not that they know how to make a zero-energy building. Or that they know how to manipulate a BIM model. The training is that they know how to see things laterally and simultaneously.
See laterally and simultaneously.
Renee: Very few people know how to do that. And when you can see things laterally and simultaneously, envisioning multiple options at the same time, you have an enormous ability to redefine the problem, reframe the questions and direct people’s energy.
Redefine the problem, reframe the questions and direct people’s energy
Renee: So that’s what I would hope would set the architect apart from others in the crowd. As crowdsourcing or social networking or larger number of stakeholders begin to be part of the process.
Markku: The ability to position the conversation within a framework of multiple, possible realities.
Renee: Exactly. And to be able to frame and reframe the questions. Because it’s not about trying to find answers or solutions to things. It’s really about precisely defining the problem – and then the solution becomes self-evident. And any designer who has had that moment happen – or visited a building where it all comes together and makes sense – that solution didn’t come from someone saying “make this museum function in this and this way.” It came from a variety of things that were juggled at the same time. A lot of tangible and intangible things that get fit into that process until you reach a result that is so beautiful and well-designed it becomes inevitable. But it wasn’t from trying to solve a problem. It comes from framing the questions.
On Preparing for the Unknown
Markku: Do you think that that ability to frame the problem in such a concise way that the solution becomes self-evident is possible in the realm of the academy?
Renee: we’re trying to develop and nurture that skill in our students. It’s both a blessing and a curse to have this ability to constantly frame questions and prolong the period of not jumping to conclusion or solution…If we’re asked to prepare students to meet these grand challenges that are coming forward for their generation, then we’re going to need to think about how we’re going to instill all of these skills that we’ve always counted on architects having, yet prepare them for a future that is extremely different than we knew when we were in school – or that’s even existing today. It’s a tough thing for a curriculum to do. A challenge that I would say architectural education has not faced ever before.
On How We’re Going to Get There
Markku: An interesting time for you.
Renee: It’s always good to be living in interesting times. Sometimes I do wonder how we’re going to get there. The creative thing is when you go into the studios and see the students and how enthusiastic they are in accepting the goals of carbon neutrality and low energy design and just aggressively and idealistically tackling them. And very, very thirsty for the tools that will allow them to get there. I don’t think, in student’s idealistic minds, they’re thinking of the billions of dollars cut from waste in the building industry. They’re thinking of a future where all buildings are efficiently built, with a good use of resources, hopefully with well-compensated designers and clients that are knowledgeable and willing to take risks on things that are willing to move the technology forward and buildings forward. Communities that are livable and walkable and promote healthy living. Students are aiming for the moon – which leads me to think it is a tough problem – but that’s our role as educators and our role as professionals. To show them that yes it can be done. And that we’re just taking it step by step.
Markku: Well I think we’re in great hands.
We are, indeed.
Renée Cheng is a graduate of Harvard’s GSD and Harvard College. A registered architect, her professional experience includes work for Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners and Richard Meier and Partners before founding Cheng-Olson Design. She taught at the University of Michigan and the University of Arizona before joining the faculty of University of Minnesota in January of 2002 where she is currently Head.
Professor Cheng has written on the topic of architectural education in the context of emerging practices and technology. These writings have appeared in the 2006 AIA Report on Integrated Practice and the Education Summit at ACADIA in 2004. 2006 “Suggestions for an Integrated Practice” in AIA Report on Integrated Practice, ed. Norm Strong, Daniel Friedman, Mike Broshar, also excerpted in AECBytes, Viewpoint July 2006.
Look here for the AIA’s review of 2009 and Beyond | Revisiting the Report on Integrated Practice, “Suggestions for an Integrative Education,” by Robert Smith, AIA.
Each essay from the 2006 Report on Integrated Practice is being re-released as part of the 2009 and Beyond series. The re-release includes new commentary as well as podcasts from interviews with the reports’ original authors.
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.