Architects 2Zebras Top 10 Posts for 2011 December 31, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, BIM, books, career, change, education.
Tags: AIA, architect, architects, architecture, influence, knowledge, Michael Graves, Myers-Briggs, Richard Foqué
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Architects 2Zebras ended 2010 on a down note and readers let me know it, many of whom came to Zebras expecting positive, uplifting posts.
Not walks down reality lane.
You made it clear: there are plenty of reminders of how hard it is out there for architects and no one needed reminding.
You needed encouragement, resources and guidance.
I heard you and responded with a year’s worth of what I hoped would be more helpful posts.
Here are the ones you responded most positively to.
Thank you for sticking around, engaging and helping to make this another great year at Architects 2Zebras!
A response to an article entitled “A Difficult Character” about how, when a leadership consultant reviewed the Myers-Briggs tests of 100 architects, he discovered there really is an “architect type” — and maybe a difficult one.
In Princeton in the ‘80s, I twice lived in – or next to – Michael Graves home and office. Here’s what it was like.
This post received a very strong response, in part because – despite the title – its message was ultimately positive and empowering for architects.
Ask not what our profession (and AIA) can do for us. Ask: What can we do for our profession?
Re-titling it turns out is no longer just for cars. Architects, in an effort to distinguish themselves in a competitive market and work environment, have started to call themselves different things.
Architecture’s Two Cultures (AND a Crucial Third)
In-depth review of Building Knowledge in Architecture is a new book and lifesaver by architect, educator, researcher, scholar and poet, Richard Foqué.
Architect 2Tweets – The Week in Tweets May 28, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, architecture industry, books, career, collaboration, creativity, employment, identity, management, sustainability, technology, the economy, transformation, transition.
Tags: architect Barbie, architects, architecture, CONSTRUCT, construction, retweets, tweets, twitter
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Take a look. Click on the links to find articles, websites and other resources.
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
Online Attendee Registration Opens Early June for @CONSTRUCTshow Free Exhibit Hall Admission & Discounted Education Packages thru Aug 11
The Architect of Flowers http://amzn.to/jrXJCh ‘Dreamlike and ethereal’ stories
Insurer: Payment delays, fragile construction industry conditions mean more building subcontractors go out of business http://bit.ly/lPLWWQ
The first warning sign that a project is in trouble. Sometimes it even begins before the project does http://bit.ly/aRY7fp
Model of San Francisco, made with 100,000 Toothpicks, began in 1976 – 3000 hours later http://bit.ly/juD4iK
Renter Nation: Since housing meltdown, nearly 3 million households have become renters. 3 million more expected by 2015 http://bit.ly/kUt51j
“There’s nothing off-putting about sustainability. Find someone who is in favor of purposely ruining the future” http://bit.ly/lV2GcG
THE construction industry, regarded as a barometer for economic activity, is now a volatile, unpredictable barometer http://bit.ly/jCwYcp
Why crumbling of America’s transportation infrastructure is a good thing, according to developers http://bit.ly/f6l6Cp
In a modern day Dark Ages with the potential for another great Renaissance? The 21st Century Renaissance http://bit.ly/a2wPeb
Polymath, Renaissance person, Multidisciplinarian (!) – Why we all must become one http://zd.net/kRoKem
To compete in a knowledge-based economy business leaders need to reinvent themselves as innovators in services http://bit.ly/ixxU24
Connections, James Burke’s iconic BBC series on the history of innovation, free to watch online http://j.mp/fcppDy
How Do We Know We’re Doing Things Right? Part I January 18, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, change, collaboration, pragmatism, problem solving, questions.
Tags: architects, architecture, Atul Gawande, construction industry, contractors, profession, The Checklist Manifesto
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In the face of the unknown – the always nagging uncertainty about whether, under complex circumstances, things will really be okay – the builders trusted in the power of communication. They didn’t believe in the wisdom of the single individual, of even an experienced engineer. They believed in the wisdom of the group, the wisdom of making sure multiple pairs of eyes were on a problem and then letting the watchers decide what to do. Man is fallible, but maybe men less so. Atul Gawande, from The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Things have become increasingly complex in medicine, in technology and no doubt, for architects and others in the design professions and construction industry.
New technologies, new work processes, new codes, new materials and systems, new energy requirements, new priorities –there is seemingly no letting up of the complexity.
Architects pride themselves in being comfortable with ambiguity – but there comes a time when neither pride nor patience serves them or anyone else well professionally.
So what’s an architect to do?
A Focus on Checklists
MacArthur Fellow Atul Gawande, gifted surgeon, New Yorker staff writer and esteemed author of Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance (“A masterpiece,” Malcolm Gladwell,) Complications, and now, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, in the chapter entitled The End of the Master Builder turned his scalpel on the architecture profession and construction industry. And what he discovered is quite astonishing.
The Checklist Manifesto grew out of a New Yorker article about the surprising impact of basic checklists in reducing complications from surgery.
Things have gotten pretty complex for architects and the construction industry and as Gawande writes “we need to make sure we apply the knowledge we have consistently and correctly.”
It has been years since I read a book so powerful and so thought-provoking…The danger, in a review as short as this, is that it makes Gawande’s book seem narrow in focus or prosaic in its conclusions. It is neither. Gawande is a gorgeous writer and storyteller, and the aims of this book are ambitious. Gawande thinks that the modern world requires us to revisit what we mean by expertise: that experts need help, and that progress depends on experts having the humility to concede that they need help. – Malcolm Gladwell
The book has a number of simple but powerful messages:
- The volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded any single individual’s ability to manage it consistently without error despite material advances in technology, training and specialization of functions and responsibilities.
Gawande explains the challenges associated with the exponential growth in both the complexity and volume of information and the inability of expertise alone to manage that information successfully. Gawande informatively distinguishes between simple, complicated and complex problems – where complex problems are like raising a child or designing and constructing a building. He tells us that a simple checklist can help us keep things in order. He writes, “Since every building is a new creature with its own particularities, every building checklist is new, too.”
- Despite demonstrating that checklists produce results, there is resistance to their use
From the book: “Despite showing (hospital) staff members the benefits of using the checklist, 20% resisted stating that it was not easy to use, it took too long and felt it had not improved the safety of care. Yet, when asked an additional question – would you want the checklist to be used if you were having an operation – a full 93% said yes.” In the book Gawande discusses two main types of checklists, characteristics of what constitutes a good checklist and some potential challenges of the approach.
- If you are acting on intuition rather than a systematic process, this book will cause you to pause in your tracks and seek a more disciplined approach
Gawande writes: “In a world in which success now requires large enterprises, teams of clinicians, high-risk technologies, and knowledge that outstrips any one person’s abilities, individual autonomy hardly seems the ideal we should aim for. …what is needed, however is discipline…discipline is hard – harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”
Some revelations from The Checklist Manifesto
- You should develop and implement a process checklist for critical processes and decisions
Gawande explains how the construction industry operates in a world that has become overly complex to accommodate the traditional Master Builder at the helm, where a sole architect once controlled of all details of the building process. Hence, the Death of the Master Builder (the subject of Part 2 of this post and the title of a presentation Atul Gawande gave at the New Yorker Festival this past October.) Architects and contractors are able to accomplish this, he learns, through the use of multiple checklists.
- It takes more than just one person to do a job well
We’ve been hearing a lot of late of the days of the architect working alone have long passed. Collaboration has become a buzzword in business circles, not just in the architecture, and for good reason. As Gawande writes in The End of the Master Builder, “the variety and sophistication of advancements in every stage of the construction process had overwhelmed the abilities of any individual to master them.”
- A team is only as strong as its checklist
–by his definition, a way of organizing that empowers people at all levels to put their best knowledge to use, communicate at crucial points, and get things done, according to Bartholomew, Senior Books Editor at Amazon.com
- Busy people, caught in the complexities of life can change their ways and can produce better outcomes by using a simple checklist.
Architects of course have had checklists at their disposal. The AIA’s D200 form is a color-by-numbers step-by-step guide that hand-holds you the way through the design process . But it’s necessarily a false comfort – as Gawande makes clear.
I have resorted to using checklists – but clandestine, hiding them in my file or side drawer – embarrassed that I was unable to trust that I had kept every step, action, question, material, system, deliverable in my head and needed to rely on a list, as one does when food shopping.
The 1995 AIA D200 checklist lays out the architectural design process step by step in a color by number format where all you need to do is connect the dots and voila! You have a building. The architect has the comfort of knowing what to do, when to do it, and what to look out for down the road.
According to the AIA, the D200™–1995, Project Checklist is a convenient listing of tasks a practitioner may perform on a given project. This checklist will assist the architect in recognizing required tasks and in locating the data necessary to fulfill assigned responsibilities. By providing space for notes on actions taken, assignment of tasks, and time frames for completion, AIA Document D200–1995 may also serve as a permanent record of the owner’s, contractor’s and architect’s actions and decisions.
A checklist of this sort acts as a back-up system – where I look like a hero when we get to that part of a meeting and someone says “anything else?” and I list 3 or 4 items than no one else had thought of. Don’t thank me. Thank the AIA.
Who needs scenario planning when you have a time-proven list of what to expect in front of you?
“The truly great don’t have checklists”
But architects pride themselves on keeping everything they need to know in their head. Having to rely on a checklist is a sign of weakness to some surgeons – and no doubt to architects.
Besides, as Gawande mentions, checklists aren’t cool.
As Gawande writes: “It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us – those we aspire to be – handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.”
We don’t picture architects Herzog and Demeuron with a checklist. But that is probably because their staff keeps them under wraps and out of sight. But no one doubts that they keep them.
Gawande points out in his book that each project by nature of being a one-off is unique and so no one checklist will serve.
This is true – anyone who has resorted to one of the checklist books – Fred Stitt’s Working Drawing Manual, Pat Guthrie’s Cross-Check: Integrating Building Systems and Working Drawings, or Guthrie’s forthcoming 688 pages 4th edition of his The Architect’s Portable Handbook: First-Step Rules of Thumb for Building Design Publisher: from McGraw-Hill –
can attest to that. They are at best cursory, sometimes random, skipping around from reminding you to put in flashing to reminding you to submit for permit.
These field guides, handbooks and lists, by addressing the technology and science of building, give the design professional the false feeling of safety and security – they’re no substitute for covering your tracks by looking things up and crossing your T’s, nor for direct communication with your fellow project teammates and collaborators.
As one reviewer put it, “As in all of his work, Dr. Gawande latest book brilliantly reminds us all of the huge value of getting the human interaction side right to accompany the advancements in science and technology that his (and other’s) field of work has witnessed. It highlights the inadequacy of technical expertise when not joined by an equal (maybe greater) emphasis on strengthening our relationships with those we work with and care about.”
Anyone working with complexity and readers already familiar with Gawande’s previous books, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance and Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, will find The Checklist Manifesto no less an informative, entertaining and thought-provoking book.
Rescue a Life in this, Our Time of Need December 12, 2009Posted by randydeutsch in architect, creativity, environment, the economy.
Tags: architects, assist, help, self-reliance, support
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Architects are seen by most as self-reliant. They don’t need anything from anyone, except perhaps a patron or a client now and then.
Self-reliant. Self-confident. Self-controlled…
With their designer duds, dressed in black. And the eyewear… Not exactly a warm and fuzzy image that comes to mind. Perhaps explaining why “Have you hugged an architect today?” mugs and bumper stickers are rarely seen.
So, when asked when the last time is that you did something nice for an architect? Your answer is probably along the lines of…?
I recently put this question to a select few colleagues and contacts, these were some of the responses:
- An architect? Aren’t there others – the underprivileged, the bereft – that require our tending to first?
- What? I give so often I’m starting to show symptoms of gifting exhaustion.
- When is the last time someone gave to me?
- If I give – then I will have less and I need everything I have for that rainy day.
- Yes, I know of a job opening and nearby – but I’m not about to tell them. I’m saving it for myself.
As my wife has long observed: architects just aren’t nice to other architects.
It’s primarily an image problem. As victims of rampant stereotyping, we know that what motivates us is to leave the world a better place than the way we found it. It’s just that we don’t often extend to people what we intend for the environment.
Since you’ve taken the time to read this post take a moment to ask yourself: Are you your colleague’s keeper?
Are you your former student’s keeper?
Your mentee’s keeper?
Are you your LinkedIn contact’s keeper?
If you have benefited in the past by the unseen hand of others, then your answer is indeed, yes.
Do you owe it to someone to help them out in this time of need? No. You don’t.
You owe it to yourself. To give at this time. Even if you don’t readily feel as though you have a lot to give right now.
For giving is a two-way street. What goes around comes around, especially if you live in a part of the world with a favor economy.
Part of the problem, no doubt, is gifting exhaustion, volunteer and philanthropic burn-out. Part of the problem is that with so many in need it’s hard to know who to help first – so we don’t help anyone. We tell ourselves at least that’s fair. I will unilaterally help no one, so no one, so to speak, is at a disadvantage.
But that’s a cop-out. We have deeper reserves than we allow ourselves to believe. Especially architects – resourceful to a fault, walking talking human Swiss Army knives. We can give – of ourselves, our time, our contacts, insights and creativity. It only requires refocusing our attention for a few moments.
And it only takes one.
Think for a moment: Who do you know – in the profession or industry – that’s in a position to help someone else? In this economy. Right now.
Don’t concern yourself with why they should they help someone they don’t know – especially when there are so many they already know that require their attention and assistance. For one reason: Because they know you. And for an abundance of other reasons:
- Because you have stayed in touch with them over the years.
- Because you are connected in some way – through school, past history, and organization.
- Because they want to do good by you.
- Because they may owe you a favor.
- Because they have secretly admired you and would extend themselves to help you out if given the opportunity. Because they are looking for an opportunity – any opportunity – to act from their higher selves and by your calling on them are helping them out.
- Because they have long wanted to help you out – but never found the chance or opportunity, didn’t know in what way, or because you never came across like you needed their help.
Well – that day has arrived. If not for yourself, for someone else you know who is in need. Extend yourself selflessly, perhaps even anonymously.
Recall those who have helped you out – with a letter, a call – at a magic moment that turned things around for you. This is such a moment. If not now, when?
Every architect knows an architect in need
- A colleague
- An out of work architect
- A former student or colleague
- An architect online – on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – you suddenly see their status change; their past outweighs their current status
What can I do to help out an architect?
- Write a recommendation – unprovoked, proactively, as a gift
- List a nice, kind thing you can do for a fellow architect
- Have an out of work architect work at an empty workstation in your office and learn Revit – using tutorials
- Ask around and identify a part-time position outside the field for an able and willing underemployed colleague
- When I had my own firm I would secure a position elsewhere with a comparable architecture firm for an employee before letting them go. They had the option of accepting the position elsewhere. At the very least, I’d offer to serve as a recommendation for the candidate – and do a reasonable job talking them up. Without veering from the truth, architects can accomplish as much selling of their former employees and colleagues as they do selling their designs.
Why is this an issue? Why now?
- The economy, banks not lending, developers unmotivated to move forward with their own cash; too much inventory already out there to absorb
- We are not kind to, nor supportive of, one another; all too often of late it is every person for themselves
- It’s as though a sign of professional pride – as in a fraternity, hazing, treat the upcoming class cruelly, because you were treated that way and so on into perpetuity – to treat our fellow architects poorly
- One last issue why we are experiencing this as a problem is this: some believe that since professors haven’t been keeping up with advances in technology and practice that students upon graduation are unemployable – that they have to rely on practitioners to provide them with the skill sets they didn’t learn in school. No mechanism, as one architect put it recently, to keep our professors “tuned-up”, so to speak, on the emerging trends in our profession and trained to teach these aspects of our profession. As another online commenter stated, graduates are under the impression that their place of employment would teach them what they needed to know
- There’s the perception by some of the AIA having gone AWOL (some want to rename the AIA the MIA.)
There is a great deal we can do for ourselves – be proactive, network, keep up with colleagues outside the office, contribute to your alma mater so that they will be there for us in our time of need .
We are architects. If we are not for ourselves, who will be?
The Talmud may seem like an unusual place to look for wisdom on this point, but I cannot imagine better words than these two last thoughts to carry within as we support our fellow architects:
He who carries out one good deed acquires one advocate in his own behalf.
Living in the Margins May 6, 2009Posted by randydeutsch in creativity, marginalization.
Tags: architects, marginalized, margins
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Today many people – not only architects – are feeling marginalized and when the word appears of late in the press it is often negative in connotation: “I was made marginal by my boss;” “the marginalization of newspapers;” and the like. To be marginalized is to be denied power, and – for many groups – this powerlessness can result in deprivation and even extermination. So marginalization is a serious concern. But as we learned from the Dodo, the marginalized in nature as well as in society often have no one to blame for their self-extermination but themselves.
If architects these days are feeling particularly marginalized – sidestepped, overlooked, underappreciated – it may well be because when architects meet to talk they talk to themselves in a language that only they can understand. And when they present their ideas they too often do so with drawings that only they can read. They flee from risk whether on the construction site or by “fleeing up” to the heady heights of design where they don’t have to be accountable to anything as mundane as gravity.
Marginalia (plurale tantum) is the term normally used for notes, scribbles, and enthusiastic editorial comments (“How true!!!”) made in the margin of a book. Book margins are where we write some of our most inspired thoughts, relate to authors, co-write and co-opt authorship, our way to participate in the creative process of reading by writing – a form of analog hyperlink to the self. As in this from Billy Collin’s poem, Marginalia
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive -
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” -
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Like Endora (Agnes Moorehead) in Bewitched, perched indelicately atop the raised panel kitchen cabinetry, observing from the perimeters, remaining without, looking in, architects – like all artists – try to keep one foot in the midst of things while standing on the sidelines, stationary and scot-free. We can’t make up our minds whether we’re masters of the Big Picture or Keepers of the Godlike Details – so we’re accomplished at both. Architects are not constructors but rather observers of construction. We are indeed arcontours, living in the outskirts, like the proverbial dog in repose stretched across the threshold of the open door: in or out? Living marginally – how many architects these days are just getting by? We’re at heart outliers, in search of a way in. Benched on the sidelines, as much by our own volition as by circumstances, we so badly want in. (“Let me in!!”)
For many of us we’re living marginal lives in marginal times and, you know, we really ought to be enjoying it more. I’m of the mind that if architects have gradually lived on the margins they must be doing so for a reason. We must be getting something out of it – otherwise, why bother? So what then is the payoff?
I believe our payoff is this: it is here, on the margins, that our best ideas are found. It is here, away from the pressure of commerce, where we think best, and in doing so, live perhaps a little more deeply. It is here on the outskirts of business that we enjoy the panoramic views of life stretched out from a distance before us. To me at least margins represent places of opportunity, where we can allow ourselves to unfold. It is no coincidence that a book as great as The Great Gatsby was written, in edit, largely in the margins. Our thoughts, ideas and ideals are indeed overflowing and where else – but in the margins – can they overflow? If paragraphs are cities then margins are like greenbelts – inhibiting sprawl yet at the same time in themselves contain – effluvious, fertile – worlds within. Just like ourselves.
Architects Bridge the Gap January 24, 2009Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, collaboration, infrastructure, the economy.
Tags: architects, Architecture depends, collaboration, humor, infrastructure, Jeremy Till
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With all this talk about chasing after infrastructure work, architects – at the start of the New Year and the administration – have bridges on the mind. This is understandable for a number of reasons, not the least of which involves architects finding themselves in survival mode until credit starts flowing again. Likewise, in order to survive professionally and creatively, architects must find ways to convincingly span between the world as they knew it to the world-in-the-making they are beginning to witness in the new year.
Architects are masters at bridging – in the linking of two disparate worlds on a regular basis. On the one side is the real world of contingency: people, time, politics, ethics, mess. On the other resides the utopian ideal every architect secretly carries around in her head: one dependent for its very existence on things outside itself – on autonomy, purity, and control. In other words, in essence, architecture is ideally independent of the real world, and the architect – with each heroic architectural act – attempts to bridge the gap between the dependent and independent.
Author Jeremy Till, Dean of Architecture and Built Environment at the University of Westminster and a partner at Sarah Wigglesworth Architects, has just written a fantastic and fantastically funny book, Architecture Depends, that addresses this very conundrum. The fairly straightforward premise of the book is that uncertainty, contingency and circumstances invariably intervene to upset the architect’s best-laid plans—at every stage in the process, from design through construction to occupancy. Architects, however, tend to deny this, fearing contingency and preferring to pursue perfection.
Books such as Architecture of the Everyday speak to our everyday world as a disordered mess. Till argues that it is this very messiness from which architects have retreated—and this retreat, says Till, is deluded. It is a hopeful and positive statement that this book proposes architects must face reality and engage with the inescapable reality of the world. And, perhaps more importantly, in that engagement is the potential for a reformulation of architectural practice. Contingency should be understood as an opportunity rather than a threat. As MIT_Press so convincingly stated, Elvis Costello said that his songs have to work when played through the cheapest transistor radio; for Till, architecture has to work (socially, spatially) by coping with the flux and vagaries of everyday life.
And this is where the last bridging occurs: in a collaborative effort, between architects. Architects, Till proposes, must move from the autonomy still sometimes instilled in school with its reliance on the impulsive imagination of the lone genius to a confidence in the collaborative ethical imagination. From clinging to notions of total control to an intentional acceptance of letting go, ironically the architect can find a way to successfully hold on, spanning the necessary distances.