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The Gifts of a Son of an Architect March 13, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in books, career, change, creativity, fiction, identity, nonfiction, possibility, reading.
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4 comments

Before having kids I decided I was neither going to push them in the direction of architecture nor, if they showed interest at any time, discourage them from pursuing it as a career. I’d wait for them to show an interest in something and when they did help make it available to them to explore and study as they saw fit. Less of a catalyst than an enabler, the interest had to come from them.

When it comes to which career a child pursues: How much is nature and how much nurture?

I realized that this was a largely irrelevant question after attending my 10 year high school reunion, where I discovered that the vast majority of my graduating class had rejected their first (or sometimes second or third) career choice in favor of another. I wasn’t going to sweat what my kids became obsessed with when they were 9, 10 or even 15.

That said, if my son had chosen architecture as a career path, it would have meant, in part, that my frequent absences, long nights working and preoccupations with all-things-architecture wouldn’t have left a bad aftertaste for him. It would have been an affirmation of my career choice as though to say, “what intrigues you intrigues me. I want to give it a try.”

My observations about architects and their sons is not new.

There was of course the film MY ARCHITECT: A Son’s Journey written by Nathaniel Kahn, son of Louis Kahn.

Saif Gaddafi, considered by some to be the most powerful son of Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, is an architect. 

Jesus was the son of a middle-class, highly educated architect, according to a new book.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s son and architect, John Lloyd Wright, invented Lincoln Logs in 1918, and practiced extensively in the San Diego.

My own son showed an early interest in art, but not architecture. A few years back, when I was working at Adrian Smith-Gordon Gill Architecture, I took Simeon to spend the day with me up in their studio. Surrounded by some of the most interesting and intriguing models of high-rises being designed and built anywhere in the world, he sat beside me the entire day not looking up once from his book – Catcher in the Rye. Either he  had no real interest in architecture or, more likely, the  book had him mesmerized.

When Simeon was 10 he painted a series of acrylic paintings that were impressive by any standards, not just his proud parent’s. But his interest turned out to be in the subject matter – African animals – and not the artistic media, and his involvement in painting waned as soon as he outgrew his interest in animalia.

Of late, he has taken-up photography and glass art – at both of which he excels.

He also blogs. He and a friend purport to review “EVERYTHING EVER MADE” at The Greatest Review.

I’ll watch a DVD with him and afterwards ask him what he thought, and like most teens he’ll say “it was fine.”

Later that night I’ll log onto his site and read a 1200 word incisive critique of the film that is sharp, entertaining and, in some cases, especially critical of his father’s taste in films.

He may not care for Shakespeare, but his reviews of Shakespeare plays and film adaptations have influenced other film reviewers, who tell him so in their comments.

Even his enlightening list of top Radiohead albums got me to rethink my favorites.

My relationship with my son reminds me most of architect Gunnar Birkerts’s relationship with his son, the literary critic, Sven Birkerts.

Gunnar, because of his long career in Michigan, not far from where I was born and raised; because of his metaphoric architecture; and because he was a visiting critic at University of Illinois in the early 1980’s when I was in school there.

His son, Sven, interestingly enough didn’t follow in his father’s footsteps but in every way is as accomplished in his chosen field, of literary criticism and as an essayist, best known for his book The Gutenberg Elegies as well as others.

It is as though Sven had to blaze his own trail so as not to be extinguished by the shadow cast by his domineering architect father.

Like sons, daughters of architects often have to find their niche as well.

A son’s birthday wish list

My son, Simeon, turned 16 today. A few weeks back he emailed a list of things he wanted for his birthday to his mother, and she forwarded the list to me. Of all his creations so far – the cleverly designed but painfully slow award winning Pinewood Derby cars, the paintings, glass art and blogs – I think his birthday wish list is his greatest creation to date and that of which I am most proud.

I think he would be mortified if he knew I was posting it (probably why he sent it to my wife and not to me) but as in so many cases, I would rather ask for forgiveness than permission. I intend no harm in sharing this with you.

No matter how he decides to spend his life, anyone who has created such a list before turning 16 is on track to live a rich, fulfilling inner life. Writing, art and social media gives him a chance to share that inner life with others.

I especially like item j) below. I hope you do so as well.

From: Simeon

To: Mom

Sent: Saturday, February 26, 2011 5:44 PM

Subject: Birthday Presents

It seems like M. really wants to get me Halo: Reach and I’m not really sure why because I continuously tell her that it wasn’t on my original list and that if I wanted a video game it would be that one but otherwise I don’t necessarily have a particular need for it.

Here’s a list of some things that I’d like for my birthday that don’t have to be ordered from the internet and would simply require someone to drive her to Borders or something: but if she’s gotten Halo already then maybe this could be more suggestions for you guys or other people or something like that. Not saying you need to get all this stuff………… just some suggestions for individual things.

Books:

Anything by Hermann Hesse (except Siddhartha, Steppenwolf, or Damien)

Everything by John Steinbeck (except the one’s I already have which are lined up consecutively on my bookshelf)

Big books that we don’t own; like Moby Dick or Don Quixote or War and Peace or a copy of Anna Karenina with a less feminine cover

The Possessed or The Idiot by Dostoevsky

Anything by Jean-Paul Sartre

Anything by George Orwell (except the obvious two that I’ve read already)

Anything by Thomas Mann

The Rebel by Albert Camus

Amerika or The Castle by Franz Kafka

Anything by Jack Kerouac (except On The Road)

Anything by Kurt Vonnegut (except Slaughterhouse-Five and Cat’s Cradle)

Franny and Zooey by J D Salinger

Anything I’m forgetting by an author I like

Movies:

The Trial- Orson Welles version

Othello- Orson Welles version

War and Peace- Russian version from the 1960s

Some posters would be nice; like the ones I listed in the previous e-mail. I’d like one for Apocalypse Now or Grand Illusion or The Third Man or There Will Be Blood or Chimes at Midnight (Falstaff) because I like those movies and the posters look cool.

Music:

I have enough music

Guitar stuff:

Any guitar pedal that’s not a “Distortion” or a “Wah-Wah” pedal, because those are the two I have. Preferably a pedal that changes the guitar’s octave (“Whammy” pedal or “octave changer”) or just a pedal that has multiple effects to choose from on it. Ask a guitar guy and he’ll probably know what I’m talking about. Or any other pedal really, just not a Distortion or Wah Wah pedal. It’s been something I’ve wanted for a long time but I’ve never gotten around to it and this, above most other things on the list, would probably be the one thing that’ll be the most fun/engaging/distracting/fun for me to use.

Another guitar (relatively cheap “Stratocaster”?)

Gift Cards:

Borders

Starbucks

Don’t get me anything to GameStop or any major stores like Target or Sports Authority because you know I’m not going to spend it for a year or so probably.

Quick recap:

a) Obscure/hard to find movies

b) Many Books

c) Guitar Pedals that aren’t “Distortion” or “Wah-Wah”

d) Movie Posters

e) Money

f) Clothing that may appeal to me (example: has a picture of someone I revere on it/band I like/comedic phrase or pun or something)

g) All of the above

h) other things you can think of because this is all I can come up with.

i) Not video games/electronics/accessories or decorations of any kind unless listed above/anything I might not care for but could be useful to someone else like say for example a light-up Ipod speaker

j) yeah.

 

Sincerely, 

Your Son, 

Simeon

 

P.S. Most of the stuff I’d like for my birthday. Some other stuff too. I’ll e-mail that later.

Amazon.com: DigiTech Whammy Pedal Re-issue with MIDI Control: Musical Instruments $199

Amazon.com: Halo Reach: Xbox 360: Video Games

Amazon.com: Sony MDR-XD200 Stereo Headphones: Electronics

Amazon.com: The Trial: Anthony Perkins, Orson Welles, Jeanne Moreau, Romy Schneider, Elsa Martinelli, Suzanne Flon, Akim Tamiroff, Madeleine Robinson, Arnoldo Foà, Fernand Ledoux, Michael Lonsdale, Max Buchsbaum, Max Haufler: Movies & TV

Amazon.com: Apocalypse Now Poster German 27×40 Marlon Brando Martin Sheen Robert Duvall: Home & Garden

Amazon.com: The Third Man Poster Movie F 11×17 Joseph Cotten Orson Welles Alida Valli Trevor Howard: Home & Garden

Amazon.com: There Will Be Blood Poster C 27×40 Daniel Day-Lewis Paul Dano Kevin J. O’Connor: Home & Garden

Amazon.com: John Steinbeck Art Poster Print by Jeanne Stevenson, 18×24: Home & Garden

Amazon.com: Hermann Hesse’s Magister Ludi (Previously published as the Glass Bead Game) (9780553055559): Hermann Hesse: Books

Amazon.com: Beneath the Wheel (9780312422301): Hermann Hesse, Michael Roloff: Books

Amazon.com: Narcissus and Goldmund: A Novel (9780312421670): Hermann Hesse, Ursule Molinaro: Books

Amazon.com: The Devils: The Possessed (Penguin Classics) (9780140440355): Fyodor Dostoyevsky, David Magarshack: Books

Amazon.com: The Idiot (9780375702242): Fyodor Dostoevsky, Richard Pevear, Larissa Volokhonsky: Books

Amazon.com: Grand Illusion Poster Movie B 11×17 Jean Gabin Dita Parlo Pierre Fresnay Erich von Stroheim: Home & Garden

Amazon.com: Paper poster printed on 12″ x 18″ stock. Battleship Potemkin 1905: Home & Garden

Amazon.com: Chimes at Midnight Poster Movie French (11 x 17 Inches – 28cm x 44cm): Home & Garden

Boss OC-3 SUPER Octave Pedal and more Guitar Effects at GuitarCenter.com.

Amazon.com: Behringer SF300 Guitar Distortion Effect Pedal: Musical Instruments

James Joyce Dark T-Shirt – CafePress

Hemingway literature retro portrait t-shirt from Zazzle.com

Hemingway Men’s Tshirt – Customized from Zazzle.com

Fyodor Dostoyevsky Tee Shirt from Zazzle.com

And if we don’t end up finding this:

Albert says Absurd ! Tee Shirts from Zazzle.com

When the Road Map is more Complex than the Terrain March 2, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, books, change, function, questions, technology.
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1 comment so far

Simplicity is a myth whose time has passed, if it ever existed. – Donald Norman

We’re grappling as an industry with larger and more complex projects and work processes.

As are our teams and work flows.

Our construction document sets have over time become obese.

The world is becoming more maze-like every day and so, in an effort to address the compounding (and confounding) complexity, our tools become more complex.

It’s as though complexity begets complexity.

But like fighting fire with fire, must we address our complex problems with equally complex tools, processes and solutions?

As I write, the states of Florida and Texas are burning.

Thankfully, nobody is suggesting using fire to squelch the flames.

It’s a saying, thanks to Shakespeare, that means to match the solution to the problem.

Architects may be able to see the big picture and think in terms of detail simultaneously, but how about on complex projects?

Are there another set of tools and abilities – such as those of the conductor, arranger or orchestrator – we need to turn to?

How much sense does it make to use extremely complex tools to solve complex problems?

More importantly, in these digitally sophisticated times;

How much sense does it make to use extremely complex tools to solve relatively simple problems?

That is a question I posed the other week in the form of a metaphor.

At a recent Lean Construction event where a talented designer had presented his technically sophisticated building design with a fairly simple program, I asked:

Can the road map be more complex than the terrain?

From the audience’s complicit silence one suspected they were thinking the same thing.

(Click on image above to witness beauty in complexity.)

Much of our design work – in an effort to make a statement – errs on the side of complexity-for-complexity’s sake.

Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t it be simpler?

What we really mean when we have these thoughts is:

Why can’t it acknowledge people? Why can’t it admit me?

Why must it aim for popularity or posterity into perpetuity on sites such as this or this? 

Why do we as designers make projects harder than they need to be?

As designers, despite our good intentions, we sometimes trip ourselves up by making things more difficult than they are.

Why we do it

We do it for any number of reasons, not all of them rational:

1. We do it because we feel we need to do so in order to innovate and move the design ball forward.

2. We also do it because we can.

  1. 3. We do it because we mistakenly equate complexity with sophistication.

4. We do it because we’re afraid if we didn’t there would only be silence – like tumbleweeds – on the other side.

5. We’re do it because we’re afraid that, without our intervening, our projects won’t speak; they’ll lack meaning and even purpose.

6. We do it because we’re exercising our designer muscle and in doing so, keeping our designer cred fit and alive.

Our world is already too complex – we would do well by not creating more than is necessary.

In this sense I’m suggesting a form of voluntary simplicity.

There is no question that architects need to develop new abilities to address the increasing scale and complexity of projects and work processes.

Why can’t these skill-sets be simple ones?

Donald Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things, in his excellent new book Living with Complexity, sees complexity not as a problem but as an opportunity.

While many of us feel like we’re bombarded by too much information, we can ironically benefit by seeking information by hearing what others have to say about their experiences dealing with complex systems.

How do we deal with complexity in our world and in our work?

One way is to tap into our networks.

Simple Resources for Dealing with Complexity

A good place to start is by joining, observing and participating in any one of the complexity-related groups that can be found on social networks such as these on LinkedIn:

Systems Thinking is a group for systems thinking and organizational transformation practitioners to build links and experience. One of the very best groups on LinkedIn.

Systems Thinking World‘s purpose is to create content which furthers understanding of the value of a systemic perspective and enables thinking and acting systemically.

Complexity goes beyond today’s solutions.

And there are other related LinkedIn groups and subgroups: Complexity Science is a network connecting scientists dealing with complex systems; Systems Thinking & System Dynamics is an international, nonprofit organization devoted to encouraging the development and use of systems thinking and system dynamics around the world; Complex Adaptive Systems group is about Complex Adaptive Systems theory applying to social sciences, aiming to bring professionals and academics together, and Systems Thinking for Managers is a networking opportunity for people interested in radical effectiveness and efficiency improvements in private and public sectors.

Some great blogs on complexity here, here, here and here

Some great books on complexity here,  here,  here and here

&

One brilliant book on (myth or not) simplicity here.

Now it’s your turn: Do you believe it is possible to successfully address complex problems – such as those brought about by working on large-scaled projects – with simple means and solutions? How so?

Do Architects Have the (Mindset) to Face the Future? March 1, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, BIM, books, career, change, identity, technology, the economy, transformation.
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1 comment so far

Here is your future.

Do you know where your mindset is?

And do you have the right mindset to face your future?

The future was presented to us the other day in the form of a PDF.

That is, as the future will unfold according to Building Futures’ “The Future for Architects?” the result of a year’s inquiry and research into the future of architectural practice.

Here are some of the takeaways from this cautionary study:

  • Architecture is “a profession that has an unenviable reputation for being notoriously insular and more focused on what it can offer than what its client wants.
  • Smaller practices expressed a resistance to integrated technology such as BIM.
  • Technology is a more significant driver for larger practices – and an essential tool required to compete.
  • The vast majority of the demand side of the profession (clients and consultants) could see design slipping further down the pecking order in the next fifteen years.
  • Building technology is becoming increasingly more complex, so much so that design work is increasingly being carried out by subcontractors
  • The concept of the architect as a technician who composes all the constituent parts of a building that are designed by the subcontractors was widely thought to be a realistic vision of the future
  • The architectural profession unfortunately does not view itself as part of the wider construction industry, and that this was a fundamental value that needs to change
  • Whoever carried the risk would drive the design, and so in shying away from taking on risk architects are diminishing their ability to influence design outcomes.
  • Many saw the label ‘architect’ as restrictive and as creating barriers between themselves and other professions such as planning and urban design.

Interestingly, students and graduates of engineering were more positive about their education process, and said they felt well integrated into the other built environment professions – putting them in a good position to lead the design team.

Victimized or energized

How do we know that their findings are accurate?

We don’t.

But when you look at their two previous studies – Practice Futures 2005 is an update to The Professionals’ Choice, a 2003 Building Futures publication that examined the future of the built environment professions – they predicted everything correctly.

Only the global economic crisis wasn’t anticipated.

“The Future for Architects?” calls itself a speculative exploration of the imminent changes likely to affect the industry over the next fifteen years whose stated purpose is for “generating scenarios, cautionary tales and alternative futures to stimulate discussion and debate rather than perfect answers.”

To read more about the ongoing aims of the project click here, and to download their new mini-publication click here.

Whether you feel powerless and victimized by these changes, or empowered and energized by them, will have something to do with your age, status and position within your organization.

But more importantly, it has something to do with how you see yourself – as someone who is seen as being intelligent and having the answers.

Or, instead, as someone who is open to learning.

The Big Idea

On this last point, I’ve been thinking lately about Carol Dweck who’ll be visiting one of my kid’s schools here in Winnetka, Illinois USA in the coming weeks.

Her book, Mindset, is a familiar fixture in our household having spent time on just about every coffee table, night stand and otherwise flat surface in the house at one time or another.

Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, like the hedgehog has one idea – but it is a BIG one.

I’ve written about Dweck and her big idea in my other blog.

Here’s her big idea:

She proposes that everyone has either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

And that determines how we succeed at work and in life.

Her idea has huge implications for how organizations professionally develop their employees, and the way design professionals go about professionally developing themselves.

Fixed Mindset

A fixed mindset is one in which you view your talents and abilities as fixed. In other words, you are who you are, your intelligence and talents are fixed, and your fate is to go through life avoiding challenge and failure.

So an architect with a fixed mindset would have rigid thinking, be set in their ways, practice their profession as a tradition with conventions that are time-tested, unvarying and inflexible.

For architects with fixed mindsets, architecture has to be practiced a certain way otherwise they will not be able to protect the health, welfare and safety of people who inhabit their buildings. You can see how architects, through education, training and practice, could develop fixed mindset attitudes concerning practice and the damage this attitude inflicts on us and those we work with.

Architects with a fixed mindset tend to

1. focus on proving that they have fixed knowledge or expertise in one area instead of focusing on the process of learning and

2. avoid difficult challenges because failing on these could cause them appear less knowledgeable

Their disregard of learning and challenge hinders their performance which in turn hinders their professional development of knowledge, skills and abilities.

Growth Mindset

A growth mindset, on the other hand, is one in which you see yourself as fluid, a work in progress.

Your fate is one of growth and opportunity.

An architect with a growth mindset recognizes that a change of mind is always possible and even welcome.

Note that this isn’t about positive and negative thinking – but about fixed and growth mindsets.

According to the dictionary, a mindset is an established set of attitudes held by someone.

When it comes to your career, which mindset do you possess?

How to develop a growth mindset

The good news, says Dweck, is that mindsets are not set.

At any time, you can learn to use a growth mindset to achieve your goals.

This is perhaps the best reason to read Mindset.

In the book Dweck tells how we can develop a growth mindset and improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

To change from a fixed to a growth mindset, follow these four steps:

Step 1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.”

Step 2. Recognize that you have a choice.

Step 3. Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice.

Step 4. Take the growth mindset action.

For those familiar with cognitive theory, you may recognize some similarities. For more detail, look here.

For us visual types, here’s an illustration that effectively describes the differences between the fixed and growth mindsets.

We’ll all need a growth mindset if we’re to meet the challenges facing the future for architects.

Despite the steps listed above, I cannot think of a more important first step than reading this book.