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A Better Way for Architects? August 28, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architecture industry, change, collaboration, marginalization.
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3 comments

We have to live in the world we create. – Peter Janko

Note from blogger: I just received this email from Peter Janko, Lumenelle President and Product Design Engineer for Lighting Restoration, Design and Manufacturing. While the email was addressed to me, it ought to be read by all architects. I have always benefited from Pete’s advice, thoughts and suggestions. His insights into the world of architecture and construction – and his creative mind and clever way with words – make Pete a model collaborator and teammate. These may be tough words but he always has architects’ best interests in mind. Thank you Pete!

Randy,

I have followed all of your posts and blogs for quite some time and think that you have some great messages for your fellow architects. But there is one aspect of architecture that I feel is very important but I see slipping away. That is architects should make it a priority to get closer and more personally involved in their projects.

Yesterday we finished our lighting restoration project at the Rialto. Unlike most projects, where after you finish, you just sort of “ride into the sunset” off to the next project, the completion of this project was bittersweet. It took us an hour to say our goodbyes as Rialto staffers stopped by one by one while were packing up our equipment to leave. Even though it is a 1 1/2 hour drive (in good traffic) they made us promise to visit often and stay in touch. Two days before we finished, the Rialto held an open house to see the work on “The Duchess” close up. By the time they opened the doors, it was estimated that over 100 people were standing outside waiting and turnout was 2-3 times what they expected. I made a 30 minute presentation on the restoration. The question and answer session afterward went for over an hour. People came up to us after my talk and shared their personal connections to the Rialto with us. We all felt like family. This is what makes being in preservation/restoration so worthwhile.

Although all of us like to see stories about us in the media, I am disappointed at how this story was told. There are a few bullet points on the history but I think the articles totally miss the real significance of the whole purpose of the work at the Rialto. The whole human interest/history aspect is absent. I think this is one of the major reasons why saving out historical treasures is such an uphill battle. To the media, I would like to say, “It’s the people behind the building, then and now, – otherwise, it only a pile of bricks and metal.”

The backstory is pretty profound. The Rialto Square Theater – “The Jewel of Joliet” http://www.rialtosquare.com/ was saved from being torn down in order to build a parking garage…

A feisty, spirited group of citizens took the challenge and began the wildly successful “Save the Rialto Campaign.” Dorothy Mavrich, president of The Rialto Square Arts Association, got the campaign rolling, and all stops were pulled out to offer an alternative plan to the awful thought of selling the land to developers,.. ” See http://www.hauntedhouses.com/states/il/rialto_theatre.cfm

By isolating themselves from the day-to-day life of their projects, architects deny themselves so much in the way of personal fulfillment and trap themselves in the mundane.

I hear complaints that they can’t make it out to the project because they are trapped at the office having to get caught up on paperwork. I have heard architects complain that when they chose to enter the field of architecture, they did so to be creative – not to deal with mountains of paperwork. I can tell you from personal experience that a two hour visit to the project site to solve an issue in real time can eliminate two days worth of delay and hours of paperwork on the project. Forms and documents are prominent on the AIA website.  So what is AIA really about? Iron clad forms? In contrast, our contract with the Will County Exposition Authority (for the Rialto) was simply their signature on the bottom of our 8 page proposal (one page for each chandelier type defining the work to be done on each one). We worked out a calendar schedule (1 page) with Rialto management so that our work did not impact there event schedule. That became our only addendum. Nine sheets of paper plus our insurance certificates and we were off on our two month project – get this – with a government agency.

We have to live in the world we create. So tell those architects out there that there really is a better way.

Regards,
Pete

Peter Janko, Lumenelle President and Product Design Engineer for Lighting Restoration, Design and Manufacturing, restores and recreates historic lighting fixtures, designs and manufactures custom lighting products in styles ranging from vintage to contemporary. Lumenelle has created custom light fixtures for clients from casinos to hotels to museums (Glessner House Museum – Chicago.) In addition to their work at the Rialto Square Theater, Lumenelle was involved in the largest hotel renovation in North American history with their restoration of 23 crystal chandeliers for the Grand and State Ballrooms of Chicago’s landmark Palmer House Hilton. http://www.lumenelle.com/ 

Become a Life Change Architect August 19, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, career, change, collaboration, creativity, employment, reading, survival, the economy.
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1 comment so far

Fall is near, school’s back in session.

You can feel it in the air.

Studio Assignment #1: Apply the skills you acquired in becoming an architect to design a way out of this mess.

Finding a job – or keeping your current one – is job #1 for many architects today.

But should it be job #2?

I know 2 talented, well-connected out-of-work architects who found jobs this year.

Only to have their firm file Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Maybe our job #1 should be something else?

As in, ourselves.

Assuming we can all take care of our physiological needs –

Food?

Water?

Shelter?

though admittedly these days, nothing can be taken for granted.

It may seem that anything other than 100% fixation on the bottom line is foolhardy.

But that’s just not the case.

Until you find that light at the end of the tunnel – however you define it – I am going to suggest you focus on something other than the economy, construction recovery, credit thaw or employment.

And I am going to suggest that you consider becoming something that you already do rather well.

In fact, quite exceptionally – better than most.

Literature of Reinvention or Chicken Soup for the Architect’s Soul?

Architects right now need empathy and understanding as much as they need work and relief.

Architects need courage and tools to face their situation and this is where a helpful new book comes in.

It offers both.

Heartily endorsed by Daniel Pink, Marshall Goldsmith and Gregg Levoy among others, the book can be read by all ages.

Though one senses the main audience might be what is innocuously referred to as “the third age.”

I posted a while back on the subject of increasingly prevalent thirds – and the third age is one of them.

What I am suggesting is that the answer to our circumstances may just be in retirement – specifically in the literature of self-reinvention.

Third age literature refers to retirement – how to spend our post-work years.

While retirement is not an option for most architects, and very few architects ever plan on retiring at all, perhaps it makes sense to think of our current situation as a third age of sorts.

Three (St)ages

1. School

2. Working pre-great recession

3. Work/Life post-great recession

The book I’m about to introduce you to helps you to plan for your third age – right now.

And by that I mean your post-great recession worklife.

It helps you to see your life as an architect stepping onto an empty lot for the first time – the architect’s equivalent of the blank canvas, blank page or hunk of clay.

The book is based on research into the work processes of artists and over 100 success stories of those who have managed to reinvent themselves under similar circumstances to our own.

Using the very same skills and creativity we use as architects.

Become a Life Change Architect

While waiting for your next opportunity and for your life to change you can become a life change artist.

Becoming a Life Change Artist: 7 Creative Skills to Reinvent Yourself at Any Stage of Life, by Fred Mandell, Ph.D., an acclaimed personal transformation catalyst, and Kathleen Jordan, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in personal creativity and business innovation.

As the book makes clear, the authors are equally adept at helping individuals make considerable changes in their organizational settings as well as their individual lives.

The book – recently published in paperback new from $7.39 – offers an innovative approach to reinventing yourself at any stage of life.

Making a Major Life Change

The authors deduced 7 key strengths that the most creative minds of history shared, and that anyone rethinking their future can cultivate to effectively change their life:

  • Preparing the brain to undertake creative work
  • Seeing the world and one’s life from new perspectives
  • Using context to understand the facets of one’s life
  • Embracing uncertainty
  • Taking risks
  • Collaborating
  • Applying discipline

To architects this list may at first appear overly familiar and simplistic.

But don’t let these strengths fool you.

Once you dig into each you’ll realize that the abilities we take for granted – and use in our everyday lives – are much more powerful than we give them credit for.

Especially when you apply them to the problem of our worklives.

Just take the first strength: Preparation.

The book defines this not as undertaking mental or physical warm-ups but as “deliberately engaging in activities that help break us from our usual patterns of thought and feeling and prepare us for creative insight.”

This insight can be just what you need to lead the way to a breakthrough in your situation.

The book talks a great deal about creativity and art – but it is primarily focused on process, not product, as well as on skills and learning.

With the belief that the very skills we use in creating art – or in our case designing buildings – are those that we need to create a more fulfilling life.

The book argues that making a major life change requires the skills of an artist.

And certainly for the unemployed and underemployed, finding work of any sort but especially satisfying and fulfilling work, calls on our inherent creative ability.

As an architect, you already have a leg-up on the targeted audience of this book in that you have been trained in these seven key skills.

They’re in your blood and soul and you, at times like these, forget.

And don’t even realize it.

You can almost imagine a job interview in the near future where your future employer asks you what you did during the lull – and you explain that you treated your predicament as though it were a design assignment.

What was your secret?

How did you escape from the box you were in?

You treated the process of finding your way into a new life by utilizing the very skills engendered in becoming an architect.

You designed you way out the only way I knew.

If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got. Right?

So why not try something different?

To be sure, the book is not Chicken Soup for the Architect’s Soul.

But right now, despite the summer season, a little soup might just be what is needed to help us assuage and survive the predicament we find ourselves in.

When all life gives you are tomatoes, make gazpacho.

The book is inspiring and with its exercises, tools and creativity assessment in the appendix, it will help you to keep your creativity – and soul and much else – alive and well in these trying times.

Building on What You Already Know

You need help.

You want to help others in need.

And you help yourself by helping others.

Becoming a Life Change Artist: 7 Creative Skills to Reinvent Yourself at Any Stage of Life will help you to help others – the young, the elderly, neighbors, friends, emerging and senior talent, those out of work, those looking to make a change in their own lives – discover these qualities for themselves.

Because you already have these skills, strengths and insights: in droves.

You just needed someone – or something – to remind you.

With this book you can consider yourself reminded.

How Much Juice Can You Squeeze from an Architect? August 14, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in career, employment, management, questions, the economy.
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7 comments

I start each day – before doing anything else – by preparing a cup of warm lemon water.

Before tending to the still sleeping kids and pets, before stretching, yoga or meditating, before saying affirmations, doing visualizations or reading positive, uplifting quotes and passages – even before posting here – I take a sip from this cup.

Over time, while preparing my morning ritual elixir, I noticed no matter how hard I squeezed I was tossing out valuable pulp and juice.

One day I asked myself if I was getting the most from my morning lemon.

How much lemon juice can you get from 1 lemon?

Most will tell you, depending on size, about 2 ½ tablespoons (about how much I was getting.)

So how about if you could get a ¼ cup or so from each lemon

– with no additional effort or expense –

You’d do it, right?

Here’s how you can extract more juice from your lemon.

Briefly microwave the lemon for 15 seconds before juicing.

That’s it.

It doesn’t matter what type of lemon it is.

Meyer, Eureka or Lisbon, or whether organic or conventionally grown, foreign or from here.

What does the microwaving do to the lemon?

It warms it up. It pumps up the pulp. Prepares the lemon for the big squeeze.

Resulting in greater productivity and effectiveness from the lemon with less effort and waste.

So if you are not getting ¼ cup or so of juice from your lemon you’re not optimizing it, squeezing out all of its natural goodness. Which leads me to ask:

Could it be as easy to get the most and best from ourselves today at work?

Architects, Freshly Squeezed

Architects, before the economic downturn, used to do work roughly matching their skill sets and talents.

While others had jobs, vocations and careers, architects had a calling.

And architects were called. Now we’re doing most of the calling.

When the downturn came, people were let go and holes needed to be filled by those who remained.

Generally, people within the firm stepped down to fill the role of those immediately below them.

Interns were let go – and so junior architects took on their tasks – while maintaining their own workload.

Principals stepped down to ostensibly fill in for senior managers missing in action.

Hands-off designers – who formerly operated side-by-side – picked-up software, manned their posts and joined the DIY fray or else were permanently sidelined.

All of this while everybody took on additional tasks such as marketing, business development and IT; vacuuming, garbage and kitchen duty.

Often for less pay. And less gratitude. In less time.

The Big Squeeze

Architects of course are not alone today in feeling squeezed.

The book, The Big Squeeze, by labor correspondent for the New York Times Steven Greenhouse, is a personal and emotionally compelling look at what the American worker is experiencing today, an all too human tale about the American way of living in our time.

In an interview, Greenhouse was asked: Why did you title your book The Big Squeeze?

Greenhouse responded: I really feel there’s a squeeze on workers. In many ways, corporate America is clamping down on its workers. Wages have been cut over the past few years. We’ve seen health benefits get worse. Middle-class Americans have health insurance while the typical worker has to pay twice as much for health insurance as was the case seven years ago. We’ve seen good pensions kind of disappear, evaporate and be replaced by 401(k)s, which I describe as Swiss-cheese retirement plans. A lot of workers don’t have 401(k)s—many workers have little to support themselves when they retire. While wages are stagnant and benefits are getting worse, workers also are being squeezed to work harder. There’s less job security than there used to be. And with all the rounds of downsizing, workers feel more insecure on the job. If you’re feeling insecure, you’re less likely to push for better wages and benefits.

That from the comparatively halcyon days of 2008.

What’s Within Our Control?

How much of the squeeze is brought about by factors outside our control (the economy, globalization, frozen credit, etc) and what is within our control to change and interpret differently?

In other words, despite what the world is giving us today, are employers making every effort to do the right thing?

Are employees doing everything in their power – emotionally, rationally, psychically and physically – to adjust to the new realities of the workplace?

Part of the stress architects are feeling these days is due to their internal make-up.

With obvious exceptions, architects

–          have an exceptional capacity for dealing with a variety of people, events and challenges – often simultaneously. The current economy doesn’t honor this capacity of the architect – limiting the people we work with, the number and type of projects we work on and the types of challenges we contend with;

–          truly believe they can do most anything they are given to work on. More often than not today architects are being told what to work on, how to do it, and given little say in the project’s definition or destiny;

–          work must be play or it is often not worth doing. Worthwhile tasks for the architect are those that affirm and enlarge the self, involve learning on the job and more fun than drudgery. Little of the work architects are given to undertake today – when there is work – could be described as “play.”

Architects also

–          love to please others. They will overexert themselves – physically and psychologically – to please. Today they are finding that there are fewer people – colleagues to clients – to please;

–          often work in fits and starts, and so when they become excited, they lose all sense of time, physical needs and anything else. They follow their enthusiasm until totally fatigued then collapse. More often today architects are experiencing a new kind of stress brought about from there being too little to do, too little to capture their attention and imagination, having to parse their work to fill in their allotted time;

–          are rarely complacent. With their job security at risk, few are willing to go out on a limb to voice their opinion or attempt to improve a project or situation for fear of rocking the boat.

Architects generally make more starts than finishes – and the work they are given if it is about anything these days – is finish work: their motivating mantra reduced to get it done.

Taking on project work that is outside of their – and the firm’s – expertise, the result of overzealous and opportunistic marketing efforts.

Someone brought in this project, promises made without your input, and now you have to complete it.

It is not uncommon for architects to work themselves into exhaustion while following an inspiration. Open to a never-ending flow of alternatives in any situation, the work they are given today does not call for their creativity but their ability to come to a quick and certain conclusion: not normally the architect’s strong suit.

A Question of Capacity

As architects we don’t even know how much we have to give.

If we’re capable of lifting a car off of someone who has just been run over, we are capable of achieving a great deal more than we can fathom.

When an employee knows that they are valued – for their penetrating mind, their passions and interests, for their person, who they are – and recognized for their contributions to the firm, they will find that extra place from which they have the capacity to give.

Employers, ask yourself:

  • Are you preparing your staff to be more productive?
  • Are you being realistic about the amount of work you give them and expect them to undertake?
  • Do you explain on a regular basis how the firm’s and world’s circumstances are driving this situation and that – while no one can predict when it will end – it is temporary?
  • Are you doing all you can to keep your employees engaged with the work they’ve been given to complete?
  • Or have you left it to them to fend for themselves, sink or swim?

Prepare your staff to give – from themselves, willingly, and not because they feel like they are being squeezed from all directions – in terms of time, money and output.

Employees, ask yourself:

  • Are you getting enough rest?
  • How about optimal nutrition and exercise?
  • Are you making adjustments in your lifestyle to account for these changes in the workplace?
  • Have you identified ways outside of work to remain energized, invigorated and to refuel? Have you identified a prize for yourself, however you define it – passing the ARE or studying for the LEED exam, taking a course in hand sketching, traveling or visiting projects that inspire you or however you define it for yourself – and kept your eyes on that prize?
  • Do you feel like you are being squeezed in every direction, used up for your cheap labor, relatively flexible demands on your free time, your heightened energy levels, your need to gain experience, your wanting to climb the corporate ladder, your fear of being abandoned as so many of your peers?

As an architect, you are meant to give. Are you interpreting your current situation as the world telling you not to give of, and from, yourself?

The energy, attention, skill and talent are there in you to give – you only need to know how to properly prepare for it.

Greater productivity is ours to have – as individuals and as a profession.

The construction industry – which has seen no productivity gain in the past 40 years – will only improve if each individual who participates makes it their goal to achieve greater productivity and work more effectively.

To work smarter, not work more.

It all starts with you – one architect.

So, how much juice can you get from one architect?

Unless we change the way we work with and engage with ourselves and each other, the world may never know.