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THE LEARNING YEARS February 25, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
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In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.  Albert Camus

Spring is nearly upon us and thoughts of renewal are on our mind.

As the United States ineloquently teeters on the precipice of economic collapse, we look for clues in Jared Diamond’s “Collapse” why some civilizations die and others renew themselves. The book’s subtitle – How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed – implies a choice as to whether some human populations have flourished or perished, renew themselves or die.

It is hard to read that without considering the state of our profession.

How Professions Choose to Fail or Succeed. How Architects Choose to Fail or Succeed.

One senses that the architecture profession will come out of this a different profession. That firms will look different, feel different, hire back in a different manner.

Stress, anxiety, sleeplessness – we feel pressure to keep busy or just look busy in lieu of learning-on-the-job, to hunker down instead of undertaking the meaningful work of personal growth and development. Rubbing two pencils together to try to get something started. One senses architects will either rise to the challenges brought on by Revit or revert back to mechanical pencils and straight edges. Some architects will wither under the strain while others will prosper, even thrive.

There are some people whose clocks stop at a certain point in their lives, says a French writer. Preternaturally observant, architects are often so focused on the outside world they sometimes forget to look inside and self-reflect. Are you regularly functioning below your level of potential? Have you stopped learning and growing? Have you of late run out of steam? For some it is time to wind their watch.

This is a great time of year to look back and take stock before our gardens need tending to.

“Midway upon the road of our life I found myself within a dark wood, for the right way had been missed,” Dante begins his Inferno.

The middle years are great, great learning years, said leader, activist, author and reformer John Gardner in his perennially brilliant, life-altering speech “Personal Renewal.”

In these times of necessity, ask not what your country has done for you but rather, what you have done for yourself lately? What have you learned recently? Here I don’t mean software and sustainability. How about optimism? Where have you taken yourself to become inspired? We are so hard on ourselves, sometimes we forget to honor our selves. When is the last time you acknowledged that you are doing – or have done – what it is you originally set out to do? To give yourself the benefit of doubt? To let yourself off the hook? To breathe deep, take the weight off.

What are you doing right now in your personal and professional lives to renew yourself? To revive your interest in what you do?  To personally – if not financially – prosper?

Gardner continues: Learn all your life. Learn from your failures. Learn from your successes. When you hit a spell of trouble, ask What is it trying to teach me? The lessons, he concludes, aren’t always happy ones, but they keep coming.


will today be the day you use your color pencils? February 17, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.


Who is the architect when not working? Who is the architect when not being an architect? Who is that architect? Who is the architect that is underutilized, underappreciated, underemployed? Who are you when you are forced to work at a level below you because those who once aspired to be wearing your shoes are no longer there and you find yourself in their shoes aspiring to be who you once were? Who are you when you aren’t doing what you were put on this planet to do? When you are not working in a state of Flow? Or a state of Frenzy? When you are not using your talents, your core competencies, when you are not utilizing your competitive advantage? When you are not being who you are? When you are not able to be you?

The act of creation, coming up with the idea, instant prototyping, modeling – making, breaking, fixing, making, breaking, fixing – let’s face it, is such a small part of what the architect does – at least in terms of time. Three minutes – bang – done. Five tops. You got yourself a…a what? Idea? Parti? Some vague notion of what to do next. Basic instructions that will in more favorable times perhaps keep a small army of a hundred gainfully employed for years. Five minutes is generous.

There’s the story of the squeaky floor board that won’t stop squeaking and the pro who’s called in and with a single stroke silences the board. “What’ll that cost me?” “Ten cents for the nail. And 80 bucks form my knowing where to put it.”

Those five minutes is the nail. Or at least hitting it on its head.

The secret to remaining an architect throughout one’s career is finding ways to be resourceful, of ultimate usefulness, from the time of inspiration and inception forward, throughout the entire process. Throughout one’s career.

Many designers – not just architects – are only interested in the conquest of design and once the idea is consummated they lose interest. Some design architects come up with the building design themselves, while for others the design occurs, happens, from out of the ether of a collaborative encounter. An hour max.

The architect may then spend the rest of the project – upwards of 3, 4, 5 or more years – tweaking the design. Modifying it, nurturing it along, nuzzling it, messing with it.

Think about it: Are you an architect when you are not designing?

Who are you when you are sitting in a meeting, and some part of the process is being discussed in great detail that seemingly doesn’t concern you.

Are you at that moment an architect?

Are you an architect when you go to the movies? Passing popcorn between your companions in the dark. Is this something an architect does?

Are you an architect if you do not wear fancy pajamas?

If not, what are you then?

I own 96 Prismacolor markers – the scent of which I am sure leaks out from under the never tight enough caps into unsuspecting lungs – a certain undiagnosed silent killer of architects in their prime.  I own 148 Prismacolor pencils, like fine tea bags nestled in their black felt lined wooden case. They have, as far as I know, killed no one. But perhaps every day that they sit there, unused, they kill the small silent voice inside that says “I am an architect.” I tell myself everyday that today will be the day I use my color pencils. And every day I end the day, their silent rebuke asphyxiates as it ridicules. Will this be the day that you finally take your color pencils out for a spin?




Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
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…instead of reading this blog. [Actually, I’m grateful that you’re reading this blog.] If you are feeling a bit marginalized – as though in a game of musical chairs and find yourself in a wide circle looking in at one or two architects remaining in the game – then consider all of the things you could be doing right now

1.      learn new technology or software

2.      become a better collaborator

3.      attend an architecture lecture with a non-architect friend

4.      assess your emotional intelligence at work

5.      write a note to a client or a former client

6.      discover Chicago’s greatest architects

7.      become a better wordsmith

8.      take a seminar in marketing

9.      read DesignIntelligence online or in print

10. mentor an emerging architect

11. give a 7 minute slide presentation – join Pecha Kucha

12. enhance their portfolio

13. start a free blog on WordPress.com

14. really consider your personal brand

15. memorize your elevator speech

16. study for the ARE exam

17. re-learn how to freehand sketch

18. wordsmith a colleague’s proposal

19. get comfortable rendering in Photoshop

20. attend UIC’s summer would-be architect program

21. help younger architects understand downturns

22. get inspired watching TED Talks online [for free]

23. work on a side project with a friend

24. peruse the day’s architecture articles

25. recharge your architecture batteries

26. give a talk on architecture to local high school students

27. look up “architect” in the Oxford English Dictionary

28. watch an IM Pei DVD

29. write a recommendation for a colleague

30. visit an architecture website

31. complete your profile on your favorite social networking site

32. watch a Maya_Lin DVD

33. give a lecture on campus

34. study for the LEED_exam   

35. serve on a school design jury for half a day

36. get_involved at Architecture for Humanity

37. volunteer to conduct a peer review

38. improve both your creative & critical thinking

39.  work on a design competition

40. ask a younger architect to teach you something

41. join a professional organization

42. get comfortable speaking in public

43. revisit why you went into architecture in the first place

44. apply for a grant for a pet project

45. meet a former co-worker for after work coffee

46. discuss creativity with other creative types online

47. return to school

48. watch Sketches of Frank Gehry

49. ask a colleague or employer for a recommendation

50. become a better writer

51. redline a co-worker’s drawing set

We need to do what we can today, to focus and bolster our resolve, while the music is still playing and not listen to the naysayers and the eat-or-be-eaten crowd and those who would love to see architects everywhere succumb to economic, technological or evolutionary forces.