Do You Have the Right Stuff to Remain an Architect? February 28, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in architect, books, career, change, creativity, possibility, problem solving, the economy.
Tags: adaptability, becoming an architect, LEED, perseverance, resilience, the right stuff
T. S. Eliot – Little Gidding, from Four Quartets
Up until recently, before the economic downturn, this post might have been entitled Do You Have the Right Stuff to Be an Architect? And while many in this economy have returned to school to study architecture, the more pressing crisis requiring addressing is the one involving those leaving the profession in droves – either by their own volition or by forces outside their control. In this post we’ll address those who are already architects – of whatever stripe – that want to hold on.
The Missing Middle 50
An exercise I used to do with my graduate architecture students was to have them draw a timeline – placing dots indicating their birth and the day the proverbial milk truck hits them at the end – and a dot indicating where they think they are now on this timeline.
Next I asked them to place dots relative to where they are now, indicating some of their milestones: graduating, getting their license, LEED accreditation, starting their own firms, winning the Pritzker Prize.
Interestingly, year after year, these goals were all cramped – along with marriage, buying a home and having their first child – in a 5 year period after graduation.
That left at least 50 years to contend with – to fill in – with what?
They were so busy focusing for so long on becoming an architect that they gave little thought or attention to how to remain one.
There they were, year after year, doing whatever it takes to get through school and graduation with little idea of what to do beyond their short horizon. To this I ask:
Have you addressed your middle 50?
Becoming vs. Remaining
Although the distinction is subtle – since the world is not a static place, and the status quo in our profession and industry is change – we are all, always, in the act of becoming. You might say that change – not buildings or even creating documents – is what architects produce. Demands on architects to learn, maintain, master and even anticipate changes in building codes, materials, emerging green technologies, virtual construction technologies, collaborative work processes, knowledge management, zoning, site planning, passive heating/cooling, LEED, structures, MEP, lighting, construction methods, cost estimating, fire protection, place making and design are considerable – and one wouldn’t question an architect’s desire to wave the white flag and jump ship based solely on the constant stress to keep-up these requirements.
Let alone while trying to get their work done, as well as the work inherited from those who were let go.
Let alone while seeking out insights on how best to navigate the ever-changing terrain and constant rapids our careers have become.
Let alone while new technologies and work processes raise the bar on the standard of care.
The question of becoming is a familiar one and addressed more than adequately in book form by Roger Lewis and our good friend Dr. Architecture himself, Lee Waldrep, Ph.D. – in book and website and blog.
This question of remaining is another matter – one that normally would not be posed except by and for the most discouraged.
The question of remaining speaks to our current economic condition, to a seemingly disinterested society, to owners who refuse to show appreciation, to uncommunicative employers still searching for their true north, to the indignities of the workplace, to our personal situation, and perhaps also to our psychological mindset and mettle.
Cynical, snide and skeptical comments have been left – in the wake of industry articles reporting on the condition of the contemporary architect – by those threatening to leave the tsunami of the profession for hopefully higher ground far afield.
To those – I wish you the best in your pursuits.
To those all others who have by choice, necessity, force, coercion, inertia, confusion or fear remained and find themselves today – employed, underemployed or unemployed – architects and wish to remain architects, please read on.
To you I ask, what will it take for you to remain?
Getting a Good R.A.P.
There are many qualities the architect who wishes to remain an architect for the long haul needs to focus on – but perhaps the three that are most critical are Resilience, Adaptability and Perseverance, or RAP. (Note: Please don’t suggest adding Age and revising the order to AARP or, for those golf-playing retiring types, PAR.)
Resilience is defined physiologically as the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused stress, and also psychologically as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. It is this second definition – one of mindset and attitude – that I feel best serves architects seeking to remain architects in the current terrain. Resilience here is the positive capacity of architects to cope and ability to bounce back after a disruption. It has two parts: exposure of adversity and the positive adjustment outcomes of that adversity.
In The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by psychologists Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté, resilience is a habit of mind and – with a focus on 7 skills you can learn – a practical roadmap for navigating unexpected challenges, surprises, and setbacks at work. The book’s premise and promise is that you can boost resilience by changing the way you think about adversity. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – adaptive, constructive strategies for dealing with negative thoughts and feelings applied here to the work place & force – is an especially effective way to bring about change.
The word “adaptive” in the previous sentence was not placed there accidently. A key factor in longevity – whether it’s mankind’s survival of the fittest or the last one standing in the workplace – is the ability to adapt to different situations. As I am a firm believer that there is a great, must-read book for all occasions and situations, this topic is no exception.
Such is the case with AdapAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For by MJ Ryan. about money and career issues, this book will help architects adjust to the changes inherent to forces acting upon the workplace in the current climate. Without specifically addressing them, the book will help architects with their ability to adapt to the fragmentation of the architect’s once-familiar world, the increasing demands placed on architects by unreasonable or misinformed owners and even the particular stresses brought about by an increasingly diverse, globalized workforce and industry. A book like AdapAbility can go a long way toward helping architects face the changes they want to see happen in their lives, and the ones that are thrust upon them in unexpected ways and at difficult times like our own.
On the subject of adapting to change, I highly recommend the Heath brother’s (Chip and Dan) new book, (following on the heels of their platinum Made to Stick, Switch – which I cover this week in my other blog www.bimandintegrateddesign.com
In kindergarten we were taught to not give up, trying again and again. That perseverance would take commitment, hard work, patience and endurance. That perseverance meant being able to bear difficulties calmly and without complaint. But how?
Unstoppable: 45 Powerful Stories of Perseverance and Triumph from People Just Like You, yours for a dollar, offers examples for the sort of architect inspired and motivated by stories over lists. If this is more mollifying than motivating you may want to look into reading Keep Going: The Art of Perseverance, a soul-searching book by best-selling Native American writer Joseph M. Marshall III. An inspirational guide deeply rooted in Lakota spirituality, yours here for a penny.
The Right Stuff
Remaining an architect doesn’t mean to sit still in one place. That is not remaining, that is falling behind. The cost of doing nothing is considerable. You must practice instead the art of doing something.
Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path talks about the wisdom of having the right view and intention; the ethics of right speech, action and livelihood; and the mental development of right effort, mindfulness and concentration. Noble indeed – together they may help you remain an architect – but I would like to suggest a ninth path: having the right stuff.
Fear not, architect. There are many spacesuits you can wear as you make your rounds through life on planet earth – and being and remaining an architect is just one of them. Many cannot imagine doing anything else. For them, being an architect is more than a job, vocation, career or even calling – it is a way to go through life, a lens through which they see the world at large, and a mindset from which they can approach any situation – however new and unfamiliar.
There has been much talk of late about design thinking and transferable skills – how the architect has within her arsenal an almost endless supply of strategies, tactics, tips and tricks to overcome any problem. Strategies they can apply to perhaps the greatest problem of all, that of determining a new career.
And yet, you can apply design thinking to your own current situation, in an effort to help find a way to continue. Try this. Design yourself a way out of this box – the box you’ve been put in, put yourself in or find yourself in. And in doing so, you may in fact find yourself right where you started and know the place – really know the place – for the first time. And that is when you will know that you have truly remained.
Design and Run February 9, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in architect, marginalization, survival, transformation.
Tags: basic services, iTunes, record albums, songs, value proposition, vision
iTunes became a one-stop destination when they broke-up the album and sold songs individually. You no longer had to buy 9 mediocre songs that you didn’t want in order to have the one you did. In the new model, you just download the one song you want.
The full-length album used to be on top. Today, major labels are finding that shorter might be better.
Just as purchasing 99 cent iTunes songs instead of buying the entire album created value for Apple – architect’s clients are being advised by owner’s reps, construction managers and contractors themselves to break-up the architect’s album-length basic services and only use the song-like parts they need.
Paying by the Piece
Owners want architects for a song. The song no one else can do as well.
The Vision Thing.
Owners – with their one track mind – are only interested in one thing.
Owners telling you that they only want you for your design is as empty, superficial and offensive as wanting somebody only for their mind.
Not a system thinker among them, they’re interested in the parts over the whole.
Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for a greatly reduced fee?
A number of architecture firms habitually submit schematic designs for projects – and that’s all.
What’s the value proposition in that? How do you make money doing that?
Selected from the architect scrapyard where architects are sold for scrap.
Owners playing the game of Design and Run.
Picking architects over – extracting parts – design ability here, visualization there.
Determining which are ripe for reprocessing and which can be discarded.
Skills often sold at prices substantially below the retail purchasing costs of similar parts.
Often confused with waste, scrap instead has significant value.
To the scrapyard, the primary value of the scrap is what the smelter will give you for it.
Why pay for the basic services album when you can have design for a song?
Under this model owners retain architects for their core competency – design – and go elsewhere for coordination, detailing, documentation…
…design development, construction documents, bidding and negotiation, construction observation.
Architects want to sell by the album – but owners aren’t buying it any longer.
They’re buying it shorter.
Selling the Architect Short
Owners are short of attention, short of cash, short of time – so naturally they sell their architects short.
“It’s a good idea to be able to provide people with shorter, more expedient, more time-sensitive” content, according to publisher Timothy C. Moore.
Like the iTunes song –one publisher has recently introduced for the Kindle a series of short, digital-only titles for professionals who want quick snippets of advice for $2.99 or less.
And so today we have what they’re calling Kindle editions.
And Kindle edition-sized architectural services.
Shorter, faster, cheaper.
Unless architects either find, discover or design a way to reap the value equivalent of the iTunes model for design services – and do so quickly – they may indeed see themselves go the way of the album.
What’s Black and White and Unread all Over? February 4, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in books, fiction, nonfiction, reading.
Tags: architects don't read, audiobook, designers don't read, Kindle, nook, reading, Sony Reader, YouTube
But then again you may have already known that, having seen the movie or listened to the book on your Kindle.
Architects Don’t Read
This is hardly news to architects who don’t read. Incredulous, astonishing and offensive to those who do.
This barrage of adjectives doesn’t make it any less true.
And yet it is a well-known homily, universally acknowledged, that architects skim. Architects peruse. Architects gloss over pictures, images, photos and cartoons. If they read at all, it is only to read the captions.
Those who say otherwise are as sincere as those who used to claim “I read Playboy for the articles.”
“I read Architectural Record for the articles.”
Face it, we need pictures.
Pictures are an architect’s lubricant or device intended to enhance their reading pleasure. A graphic is to an architect what a marital aid is to a marriage.
They keep things exciting, visually stimulating, less repetitive. Reducing friction, heat and wear.
Lecturers have known this for years. We’re a visual group and need to have visual stimulation or you’ll lose us.
[I have often wondered: When they lose us, where do we go?]
I once heard architect Richard Meier at the Cultural Center in Chicago speak for an hour with slides flashing by – on automatic changer – every couple seconds. This experiment seemed derelict at the time – there was no relationship between what he was saying and the image that flashed past – but on another level, it didn’t matter. He might have been onto something in that the standing room crown, made up mostly of architects, needed eye candy – no matter what imagery was used. Ironically, directly behind him was a giant window, the soon to be setting sun’s glaring light created a black effigy of the architect, rendering the slides all but unwatchable – and therefore, his speech all but unintelligible. For what are words without images to distract us away?
Authors also know this – when you write a book for architects you need to have pictures to break up the text (or is it text to break up the pictures?) – as though the whole point of the book was the pictures and that the text was the sorbet between – as though to say, you don’t really think anyone is going to read the text, do you?
As graphic designer Armin Vit wrote in Designers Don’t Read…Enough, “Rudy VanderLans, founder of Emigre, said in an interview with Speak Up, ‘Perusing the visuals is a kind of ‘reading’ also. It requires a certain visual literacy to appreciate looking at reproductions of graphic design.’ ”
Don’t Read This
To some extent this is understandable. We’re inundated with messages all day long and take our email to bed with us. Why read when you can listen to audio books, eBooks and podcasts (these I do consider reading.)
Or watch an author on YouTube.
Video is the future. Books are out. Magazines on the wane. History. Caput.
And yet – and yet. What is it that gives our lives gravitas?
Architect – if you are listening – the next opportunity ask a contractor this question: What is it that gives your life gravitas? On second thought…
Creative director, writer and design advocate Austin Howe has written a cleverly inspired book, Designers Don’t Read, which has quickly developed a passionate and widespread following – despite the fact that it doesn’t have any pictures. Midwest Book Review calls it “a daily consult for designers and busy professionals and offers quick case history examples designed to enhance creative thinking and provide food for thought. More than a set of admonitions, these provide a page or two of detail and depth to advocate change and creative thinking, and is perfect for any design professional or arts library.” If you want to know more about the book, this review is a good place to start.
Don’t have time to read (so many books, so little time)…My eyes hurt from staring at a monitor all day…I need a break from thinking…Too much media demanding my attention…Can’t afford books…They put me to sleep…
And then there’s the question of what exactly to read? Fiction? Non-fiction? The Architects Handbook of Professional Practice? One day with a cup of coffee read the tiny print between the graphics in Graphic Standards or what Rem had to say in S, M, L, XL.
It’s those darned hyperlinks (here’s a nifty, concise and comprehensive tutorial on how to create them. Oops I did it again!) Can’t get through a darned sentence without being transported to another site. And it’s only when closing all my windows that I remember where I was 20 minutes earlier.
Architects looking for a way to distinguish themselves – as antiquated as this is going to sound – can do a lot worse than to pick up a book – a Kindle, Sony Reader, nook or the bound paper version – and start reading.
We live in a time when the radical thing isn’t to burn books but to read them.
It is winter in much of the world – a great time to curl up with a blog – as many of you are doing right now in reading this.
But wait you say – surely I read. I’m reading this right now, right? And so you, dear architect, are the exception.
Where to start? Some suggestions?
Why should architects read? Especially when you can watch… Here are 12 reasons to read more:
- Distinguishes you from the masses that merely skim
- Provides you with a richer, more well-rounded life
- You develop your mind’s eye and imagination
- You balance the verbal with the visual, right brain with left
- Give you something to talk about with clients when in the elevator or with peers and colleagues during dinner
- Provides you with ideas for your designs
- Helps you to be well-rounded individual
- Gives you a leg up on your competition by keeping you sharp, stimulates the brain
- Frees your mind up to work on your ideas by distracting yourself
10. To learn a new topic, vicariously visit a new place or put yourself in a former time period
11. To discover a kindred soul out there who thinks like you
12. For the pure pleasure of reading
What are your reasons for reading? What do you consider essential reading for architects…of all stripes? This might be a good place to start!