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For Architects, No Leadership Outside Of Technology November 27, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.

In a discussion over at the KA Connect LinkedIn Group, the question was asked:

How will the role of a senior architect change over the next five years?

Looking into my crystal ball, I responded first – largely in terms of technology.

While no one knows where the profession will be in five years, I listed some changes that one would do well to be mindful of.

I wrote:

While developing skills is important, mindset and attitudes are equally important.

Be flexible and open about exposing yourself to digital technology. At the start of every project, ask which technologies will help you achieve your project goals and work for everyone involved. No one solution will work best for all involved in every situation.

We will need to become more comfortable working directly from our models to fabrication – not just in terms of technology, but taking on the associated risk. If possible, take a class in how to code.

Architects will be expected to customize their tools, making them optimal for each project, especially by looking under the hood – or risk losing out to those who are comfortable doing so.

Be prepared to work in a less linear manner (linear checklists like AIA document D200 will come in handy only in retrospect.) In the near future, a barrage of information and insight will come at us simultaneously, from the earliest stages of design, from every party involved in the project, including trades.

In the future, your professional judgment will have less to do with applying the knowledge and skills your learned from books and in school – even from experience – than from developing the ability to aggregate the input of experts and other sources you have access to, including analysis and building data. We will need to resist the temptation to seek consensus as we’ve done in the past. Our architectural judgment will best be thought of and appreciated as a social act of filtering and aggregating input from others.

You can read the rest of my and others’ comments here.

The discussion that ensued followed two lines of thought: one emphasizing the architect’s future technological role, the other emphasizing leadership skills.

To this last point, Ed Friedrichs wrote:

All of the above is interesting, but the most salient talent today and going forward will be leadership skills – the ability to inspire an entire team of participants to collaborate, to contribute the best they have to offer, in order to bring value to a client. We’ve all experienced the chaos which ensues when there is no leadership talent on a project, whether from the architect, contractor or another participant. We also know that when that leadership skill and style becomes manifest, the project flourishes, no matter who steps up. The leader keeps everyone focused on achieving solutions that will explicitly contribute to the enhancement of the client’s business – more sales in a store, higher repeat and referral guests in a hotel, less absenteeism and higher employee satisfaction and engagement in the workplace.

Bob Buday concurred with Ed and added:

I imagine these leadership skills will become even more important in the years ahead as projects become far more complex: more technologies that must be managed, more “moving parts,” more firms that must be coordinated and from more parts of the world, etc. I imagine that raises the game of project leaders (and their bosses in upper management at an architecture firm) — but especially leaders of big projects who must (more than ever) periodically (or more) remind everyone on the project of the goals, timelines, mission, etc. 

Or to use the words of Francis Ford Coppola, the famed moviemaker (“The Godfather,” “Apocalypse Now,” and more): “One of the secrets to making a great movie is making sure everyone is making the same movie.” 

I’m not an architect. But I imagine that as projects get bigger and more complex, it becomes easier for everyone on a project “not to be making the same movie.”

RTKL’s Michael Woods mentioned the importance of providing metrics:

To Ed’s point, the leadership of an architect that understands, manages and communicates the metrics of design that really matter to the client are probably the biggest change. This isn’t something that we are prepared for in school or in practice until very recently. I’m concerned by the emphasis I see on the tools and technologies instead of metrics that really matter. Design matters even more than it did in the past to our increasingly sophisticated clients, but metrics are an important dimension that we must master.

So there you have it: the changes that will come about for architects in the next five years will involve adjusting to new technology, acquiring leadership skills, and mastering the management of design metrics.

Except for this: I believe that these three areas will be inextricably integrated and linked.

In other words, in five years there will be no leadership outside of technology. There won’t be project leaders and teammates who work in technology. We will be leading projects not as in the past, top down, but from the middle – and by extension – from the model. To imply that leadership will be a separate package of skills is not to thoroughly imagine where the profession and industry are headed. The development of leadership skills will come about from working within the technology, not as a series of workshops, seminars or from executive coaching. There won’t be one without the other.

Similarly, leaders will be held accountable for their acts of design volition. The burden of proof will be in the data. We won’t be able to lead without it, nor the means for acquiring and analyzing it.

So, how will the role of a senior architect change over the next five years? Technology, leadership and metrics will become inseparably intertwined and the architect will be ill-prepared and ill-advised to master one without the others.



1. Elijah Gregory - December 9, 2014

I completely agree with this. I am a young person just beginning to enter the field of construction–by a slur of using Revit to design then going to do the work–and I see the clear necessity for a full-fledged integration of the trades and all parties into the design process in order to make the most efficient, quality product possible. The need for adaptive design and full-house input has begun.

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