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Ten Ways to Face the Decade like an Architect January 8, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, change, creativity, optimism, possibility, problem solving, the economy.
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Many people say that they would have liked to become an architect but for the math or drawing requirement – areas where they felt they were weak. While sketching and crunching numbers remain important parts of what an architect does, with technology and others nearby to help out, these skills have become less critical with time while other skillsets, mindsets and attitudes have come to fore. The irony is that architects to a great extent don’t do the very things that might have kept you from pursuing this career in the first place.

But luckily that need not deter you from thinking like one. Architects are trained to face seemingly intractable, unsolvable problems with a set of tools and mindsets that are readily accessible by all.

So, at the start of a new decade, let’s turn our attention to how architects approach problems – so that we might do the same in our own lives, at home and work, in our schools, neighborhoods, cities and the world at large.  

What can we learn from the ways architects think that might help us improve our lives and the world?

Architects see the Big Picture – how often have you worked on a team when most of those involved focus on their own special interest areas, in silos, seemingly unable to see how their viewpoint impacts others? Architects are trained to understand their client’s, user’s and neighbor’s issues and circumstances and come up with multiple solutions that not only solve the problem for all involved but do so while successfully addressing multiple constraints brought about by economics, the site, user’s needs, resource availability, politics. In other words – architects determine the consequences for their paths of action and decide accordingly. Architects are often characterized as focusing on objects and things – at the expense of all else. But in truth what separates the architect from others is that they see everything as a system, the object of their assignment as either a contributor or inhibitor of the various necessary flows within that system. In the end, you may walk into the physical library or school that they designed, but to them it’s all part of a much larger, largely invisible, network of flows.

Architects focus on the Details – specifically, the Divine Details. How so? Architects believe that opportunities for discovery and creativity come from focusing on the details. Architects say, after Mies, “God is in the details” while others might say “The devil is in the details.” Architects are optimists – we have to be – in order to work on the front ends of projects, to visualize and imagine them one day existing despite so many obstacles in their path. Non-architects more often opt for the devil version, where solutions break down when you examine them closely enough.  You can see this most often when someone in a meeting offers to play the “devil’s advocate,” determined to kill whatever promising idea is in their path by death-by-detail. When it comes to details, go the God route.

Architects believe in Reciprocity – Sees the big picture in the detail and the detail in the big picture – keeping things whole, a hidden wholeness, all of a piece, keeping chaos at bay, providing meaning and purpose, when elements refer to a larger whole relate, appear less arbitrary, justified in their existence. The house is a city and the city a house. Architects address the big picture and the details at the same time. Their work is organic in this way – where every part is of the whole.

Architects Synthesize – as much as they are sometimes labeled as head in the clouds, impractical dreamers, architects always have at least one foot in the ground because they know if they are ever going to build what they’ve dreamed-up every idea and suggestion needs to have a corresponding answer in the real world. Architects only take to the air knowing that the goal is to land safely. They take part in digressive thinking knowing that sooner rather than later they need to return from their excursion – where they gather information and explore alternatives – to solid land with ready answers in terms of gravity, dollars and sense.

Architects like Ambiguity – they’re even comfortable with ambiguity. The architect has a lot thrown at them in the early stages of a project – a lot of unknowns – it’s pretty difficult to juggle all those balls especially if you’re the sort who needs to hold onto a ball or two while the others are in the air. Architects are trained to keep the balls in the air for as long a possible while a solution makes itself known. Yes, many have a reputation for designing for too long, but truth be told, just as often the architect is delaying the materialization of a solution while still gathering critical information from stakeholders as well as shareholders. Bean counters tend not to be so comfortable with ambiguity. This calls on another skill of the architect…

Architects Manage Expectations – architects today are expected to work quickly, efficiently and expertly all at once. But as every architect worthy of her name knows, you can have it free, now and perfect – pick two – but not all three.  I can lower my fee and get it to you sooner – but the quality will suffer. Or get you great detailing and quick – but it’s going to cost you. Knowing this – and because architects can see the big picture well into the future – they need to temper expectations. They do this subtly, casually, along the way.

Architects remain Flexible – stuff changes all the time. Architects know they need to roll with the punches. I used to design buildings, no matter how large and complex, by coming to a solution rather quickly then holding on to my hat – and my breath – as the design went through the veritable spanking machine of the process before coming out the other end a building. If 80% resembled the way it first started out, I deemed it a success.  This is no doubt – like bungee jumping – a game for youth and not recommended for those faint of heart. Today, older and wiser, I recommend keeping a vision in one’s mind while allowing for other possibilities as information is gathered and feedback provided and realities set it. Neither way is foolproof – and both can lead to great results – but the key lesson here is not to approach situations with preconceived ideas, lest you repeat the last one you did in a new situation. Each site and situation, client and opportunity, is unique and deserves the architect’s full display of resources.

Architects Prototype – not stereotype. Architects, as designers, love to make models and sketch – they do so to test ideas out quickly and inexpensively before going to the big show. As rigid as some architects may come across when it comes to their limited wardrobe palette, architects seldom zoom in on one solution, even if they know intuitively beforehand that it is the right solution. Why? Because the right solution may not be the best solution for those involved.

Architects Facilitate – meetings, presentations, discussions need someone who both belongs to the group and at the same time –simultaneously – can stand apart. Architects always keep the goal in mind and in doing so keep the topic moving forward. They design and present knowing that they are leading the client down a path. And once the client has taken their first step on that path, everything that is said and offered ought to move the story forward. No diversions, no distractions. Sure, architects take flight of fancies as much as anyone. But all know if these flights are to end in real results – they need to have both feet on the ground and place one in front of the other until they arrive at their mutual destination.

Architects Help – most architects will tell you if they weren’t able to practice their chosen profession any longer and were given the choice would opt for one of the helping fields – medicine, healthcare, therapy. As a service profession, one would conceive this to be a natural outcome – serving others is what they are in business to do. But what is perhaps less well known is that architects when they build – whether they are working on new ground-up construction or renovating existing buildings – see themselves as repairing what is broken. They’re repairing and maintaining the manmade and natural world. Much the way doctors see what it is they do.

So, what can we learn from the ways architects think that might help us improve our lives? What in other words are the takeaways? Draw your own conclusions – here are some of mine:

  • When working on an assignment – don’t let yourself get buried by the details. As yourself how this specific task relates to the larger whole. If it doesn’t – then creatively find a way that it relates or propose a way that it can.
  • Don’t focus on the task you’ve been given as an end in itself but rather as a way of fixing or repairing an existing system, fabric or situation
  • When in a discussion or meeting, mindfully zoom out to see what is being covered in its larger habitat or situations; then zoom in to the close-up detail level to see if a solution can be found there – or an overlooked problem revealed
  • The world is in a state of flux – in terms of politics, the environment, the economy and much more. See to what extent that instead on fixating on a stance or solution – how you and others around you might benefit by your becoming more comfortable with the idea that things are unsettled and might remain that way for some time. What are some things you can do or yourself to approach and respond to events in a more flexible way?
  • You may be in business to produce the next widget – but even so, try to picture what you do as a service that is performed to help others in some way. To do so will result in your performing your work with more of a sense of purpose and meaning. Ask yourself: What is the problem in the world that my product fixes, repairs or maintains?
  • See your individual decisions as part of a larger system – one that flows both upstream and downstream. Before realizing any idea by pursuing it, test out your course of action by determining the potential consequences for each course taken – who is impacted and why.
  • The next time you are confronted with a problem of some weight – test out your response on paper first, building a miniature prototype of your answer or solution before taking it out on the road for a spin and exposing it to scrutiny. This will help you to see the benefits – as well as the flaws – before others do, and will help you to see your treasured idea through their eyes.
  • When it comes to the details – go the God route. In other words, use details to allow you to see things as a positive opportunity – as opposed to providing you and others reasons and excuses for not pursuing a trend or goal.

Regaining a Sense of Self August 9, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, change, identity, the economy, transformation.
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Today’s New York Times has a front page story on the science of identity that has me thinking about how easy it is to lose a sense of yourself at this time – in summer but also in history. When it comes to identity the media has been focused almost exclusively on identity theft and much less so on the subject of our social identity – the roles we play and how we see ourselves in relation to others. In the midst of August – especially this particular August – with a recession reversing gears and uncertain signs of recovery ahead, it is easy to consider the possibility of an identity crisis.

 

Summer months in particular often relieve us of the social roles that we play: we shed our work clothes as we do our social identity or cultural identity. Just think of Congress or the Supreme Court justices on summer recess, donning swimsuits in lieu of robes and dress suits. Summer challenges our social and cultural identities – our professional identities – at a time when we are already feeling the stress and strain of reduced hours – or relief altogether of our workday duties.

 

As for myself, I have been spending most of my waking hours this summer – when not at the office – writing my book, “BIM and Integrated Design” (Wiley, 2011) and besides the isolated sustainable hotel design or infrequent master plan, not designing as much as I might. An architect is someone who designs buildings, right? Is an architect an architect when they are writing? Or going to the movies?

 

Aspiring Architect

 

It seems that even in the media architects are in a perpetual state of becoming. A recent article noted “When screenwriters give a hero a career, it’s often architecture. Think Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver and Adam Sandler in Click. When Matt Dillon attempts to impress Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary, he pretends to be an architect.” More recently we’ve seen several trailers for upcoming films with an architect in the lead role, not to mention the current hit in theaters, “(500) Days of Summer,” where Tom is an aspiring architect with a day job writing copy for greeting cards. “The public perceives architecture as a career for creative, free spirits who nonetheless earn good money while designing cool new buildings,” and yet the article concludes that “there’s a Grand Canyon of difference between the screen and reality.” This gulf is the very same one we ourselves feel – between architects portrayed on screen and the architects we are. Take that even further – architects we aren’t when we’re on vacation, on furlough or not practicing due to unemployment or by choice.

 

By the time they graduate from college, architects should be well-prepared for the identity challenges of multiple role-playing. The AIA’s Richard Hobbs believes that as many as 50 percent of the nation’s architectural graduates now work, or soon will, outside the profession. Consider this: Half of your classmates are doing something else entirely. It’s no wonder that for the 50% that stick with it and practice architecture within the profession must from time to time regain a sense of who they are – in terms of what they do. So to answer the question “When is an architect not an architect?” the best answer is probably one that finds the architect isolated from colleagues, not attending conferences and social gatherings, working alone or not working at all; going after work that doesn’t match their profile and tap into their core competencies; with each passing day living without the small but vital reminders – a coworker passing along an image found online, seeing a building that touches you somewhere deep down, an article that connects with you on some level that you can identify with – of who we are and why we do what we do. That is when an architect is least of all an architect. It is then that you know that you need to return – as so many are returning right now to school or to work – in order to regain a sense of self so that we might help others – through the work we do and the buildings we design and build – do the same for themselves. What are you doing right now to regain and strengthen your sense of self?

 

Architecting a Brighter Future July 14, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, creativity, problem solving, the economy.
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Faced with difficulties too many to enumerate, it’s easy in times like these to give up, to disregard the wisdom proffered by our “Big A” Architect higher selves and fall back on old attitudes and mindsets of our “little a” selves. And yet architects are gifted with attributes, abilities, insights and competencies that help them turn the dourest site or least inspiring program into a mercurial work of art. Abilities such as seeing the big picture and granular detail at the same time; comfort with ambiguity, flexibility and creative problem solving come to mind. So why is it then that we cannot apply these traits to the seemingly insurmountable problems at hand? For certainly there is no impediment, hurdle, roadblock, trend or threat that the architect can’t handle. To name only a few:

CLIENTS EXPECT DISCOUNTS OR FREE WORK

Little a architect, out of fear, complies.

Big A Architect proposes a win-win should the project move forward.

CLIENT HAS NO PARTICULAR URGENCY (“Banks aren’t loaning anytime soon…”)

Little a architect responds to assignment status quo.

Big A Architect offers client services, seeks out and connects client with credible, freely flowing lines of credit, treating every assignment as though it would be built tomorrow.

OLD CLIENTS ARE NEW AGAIN

Big A Architect treats past clients with same respect and attention as new (if you can remember what those were like.) They are after all the ones we nurtured and worked so hard to retain and repeat. It’s only natural that they’d think of us in times like these, when so little loyalty can be found.

Little a architects pull out the accounts receivable and stew.

COMPETITORS ARE DISCOUNTING THEIR SERVICES

Big A Architect treats this as an opportunity to evaluate her work processes and acquired inefficiencies – to be honest with herself and her staff – to keep and reinforce what’s working and rid of what’s not.

Little a architect cries foul.

COMPETITORS EATING DOWN THE FOOD CHAIN

Little a architect says: Look who’s shown up for lunch!

Big A Architect accepts this as all part of the process, welcomes their peers and looks for opportunities to collaborate. And admits that they are doing the same – taking-on projects outside their area of interest and expertise. “Out of our strike zone.” Heck, the partners are doing the very same thing within their own offices! Working down the food chain, taking-on assignments that they used to delegate to others, working their way down the org chart. Big A stands for Abundance – and the Big A Architect knows that there’s enough to go around for everyone.

CONSTRUCTION COSTS ARE DOWN

Big A Architects call clients whose projects have stalled due to costs and inquires as to whether they would like to reevaluate given the circumstances – material costs are down 10-15% in some areas, even if labor remains out of touch. Maybe your project is financeable, more palatable to the developer, the owner – and the bank.

Little a architects wonder why their clients aren’t calling them.

NEW MARKETS WILL BE FUELED BY NEW PLAYERS

Little a architects see this is a euphemism for unemployed architects.

While Big A Architects mimic their tendency to be agile, flexible and open to possibilities – scrappy even – open to everything that comes their way. We used to offer steak and potatoes – today it’s tapas. It’s all a la carte – “additional services” are now our bread and butter.) If no one needs what we have to offer (tapas) we recalibrate, fine tune, retrain and offer what is needed. We approach any client willing to listen (listening is free) what it is that they didn’t realize they needed because they didn’t know it existed or that anybody did that – especially you, whom they thought they knew like the back of their hand. If it’s no longer a product that you offer – or even a service – then it’s something altogether new and different and remarkably beneficial for all involved: we offer “process.” We’re experts at process – because we know how.

Little a architect, uncertain of recovery, wonders where’s the bottom?

Little a architect sees the huge surplus in housing, retail, commercial, hotel and says: We’re toast. Obsolete, redundant, inconsequential.

Big A Architect looks out the window and sees a world of possibility. Buildings crying out for reuse; clients in need of their creativity, insights, point of view, experience, tenacity that they heroically exhibit every day they come into the office. Here’s to the roll-up-your-sleeve, scrappy tenacity of you, the Big A Architect.

The Receptionist’s Candy Bowl as Economic Indicator June 7, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, career, change, employment, survival, the economy.
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It’s official. You no longer recognize your life.

Things you’ve seen over the past few months you can’t quite place. Often, you don’t have a name for them. And if it weren’t for your spouse, no one would believe that they’re happening to you.

It’s as though you’re living in some kind of simulacrum of someone else’s existence, only for about half the salary. Without matching funds. And the candy bowl is empty.

Your company mobile phones are long gone. You can no longer print in color. Just the sound of the office printer – inexplicably stocked only with resume paper – raises eyebrows.

The company printer is no longer for printing. It is for emailing. You use it to email things to yourself. Otherwise your mail box would be empty. This is now what you do for a living.

Working part time, if they want you to work a full week (and legally they can’t ask you to do that) they assign you to kitchen clean-up duty at 4:30PM on Fridays, a day you haven’t worked in 6 months. Not cleaning the kitchen at 4:30PM on Fridays is grounds for dismissal, so you show up for work on Friday at 4:30PM, clean the kitchen and leave fifteen minutes later.

You’ve cracked the code. This is the new win-win. And the kitchen is clean come Monday morning.

Renting available cubicle real-estate, your former clients now sit amongst you. They use the company bathroom, not the bathroom for company.

Going after work you normally don’t go after, you inevitably run into the same firms, going after work they normally don’t go after. Those that normally went after this work aren’t anywhere to be found.

The receptionist’s candy bowl as economic indicator. Completely empty in March, the bowl is now filled each morning with candy leftover from Halloween. Even so, it empties before noon.

You wonder if eating stale candy means things are improving.

In order to network effectively, you attend afterhours events featuring presentations on quarter sawn lumber, rooftop mounted wind-turbines, and the future of the city. All in the same day.

You no longer know who you are. You find yourself frequently referencing your business card to remind yourself who you are.

You need to order more business cards, but are afraid to ask.

Meanwhile, you find yourself considering whether quarter sawn wind-turbines might save our cities?

Attending webinars in conference rooms. Muted. Phoning-in to RFP Q&As. Disembodied voices.

Owners, recognizing the feeding frenzy, suddenly put out their projects in hopes of attracting the lowest bidder.

Can you be furloughed from a furlough? During your furlough, you’re needed at the office. Then, inexplicably, the client stops calling. You no longer know where you should be.

You find yourself offering weird services for which you know you are not qualified. Building commissioning in foreign countries. 3D laser scanning of entire cities. Quarter-sawing lumber.

People you haven’t spoken to in 20 years suddenly “friend” you online. Eleven seconds later they request an introduction. Wham Bam, Recommend Me Man.

Former colleagues, unemployed, quizzically seem better off than you. You run into one at the gym. They look at you like recession, what recession?

You know you should have taken their job offer.

Former donors to social service organizations are now recipients of their services.

You consider temporarily living away from your spouse, children and dog. You wonder how the dog will handle it.

Not knowing what to do with the accumulated pile of once vital information on living in Dubai.

Former classmates – now semi-famous politicians, actors and actresses – find you on social networking sites. Just at the one time in the past 20 years when you have nothing to brag about, you’re needy, and for all your former success the best you can offer when they suggest meeting for drinks is going Dutch.

You feel like you’re 16 again on Facebook because you are 16 again.

You’re making what you made in 1989 but the world, uncooperatively, costs 2009.

New technologies keep popping up, you wonder – with every passing day hovering ever closer to retirement – whether you’ll need to learn them. Or can take a pass. You wait and see.

The irony that you need to belong to organizations and attend networking events in order to find the kind of job where you make the kind of money to pay for these organizations and networking events.

No longer contributing to your 401K while watching the market climb. Afraid that contributing will trigger something that causes the market to stop climbing.

When your business cards finally run out, is that your last day?

You remind yourself that a watched receptionist’s candy bowl never fills.

BIM and the Human Condition May 15, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, BIM, collaboration, IPD, problem solving, Revit.
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Craft is the pride one takes in making – making things – with one’s hands, mind and imagination. Two books that address craft – one recent and one published 50 years ago – help make clear the predicament architects find themselves in today as they face an uncertain future.

In The­_Craftsman, author and sociologist Prof. Richard Sennett asks what the process of making concrete things reveals to us about ourselves – what people can learn about themselves from the things they make. Craftsmanship here is defined as an enduring, basic human impulse, the skill of making things well. The pride one takes in work – whether making a wood model or a computer model – requires focusing on the intimate connection between head and hand, establishing effective, sustainable habits and a rhythm between problem finding and problem solving. It is an internal dialogue every craftsman – and architect – conducts in practice.

Craftsmanship, by combining skill, commitment and judgment, establishes a close relationship between head and hand, man and machine that Sennett asserts is vital to physical, mental and societal well-being. Combining a “material consciousness” with a willingness to put in years of practice (a common estimate of the time required to master a craft is 10,000 hours) and an acceptance of ambiguity, rather than an obsessive perfectionism, should be familiar to readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Dean Simonton’s Greatness and readers of this blog. Sennett asks whether our commitment to work – our craftsmanship – is merely about money, or about something deeper and more human. His answer implies that commitment – the skill, care, late nights, problem solving and pride that goes into our work – is about something greater.

Sennett does not think that craftsmanship has vanished from our world. On the contrary, as another critic noted, it has merely migrated to other regions of human enterprise, “so that the delicate form of skilled cooperation that once produced a cathedral now produces the Linux software system” – or, in the case of architects who take part in integrated practice, their work in BIM. The subject of craft has been all but excluded to date from discussions about building information modeling (BIM) and this poses a liability and potential hazard for architects – for therein resides our dedication, passion and resolve.

Hannah Arendt’s book, The_Human_Condition, published 50 years ago, distinguishes between labor, work, and action, explores the implications of these distinctions and affirms the value of human beings speaking openly and candidly to each other. In the book Arendt (1906-1975) famously distinguishes between Animal laborans and Homo faber, between labor and work. Labor is, according to Arendt, those human activities whose main aim is to allow men to survive, belong to the private sphere, and while the human being strives painstakingly to perform them, is not free. As Sennett – Arendt’s student in the 60’s – points out Animal laborans is akin to the beast of burden, “a drudge condemned to routine.” Here the derogatory term “CAD-jockey” comes to mind, one who envisions spending their working lives in front of a monitor churning out construction documents. Animal laborans: they’re the ones who, working alone, take the work as an end in itself.

With Homo faber, on the other hand, one imagines men and women doing work together and in doing so making a life in common. This is the public sphere, where men, after having provided for themselves and their families what was needed to continue, can at last be free. The name according to Sennett implies a higher way of life, one in which we stop producing and start discussing and judging together. It is in this word – together – that we find the seeds for collaboration and for integrated practice.

BIM is More Artifact than Fact, More Art than Artifact

Look around your office – it is easy to spot those who see themselves as Animal laborans and conversely those who see their role as Homo faber. You can sense it in their attitudes toward their work, their mindset in the way they tackle the challenge of learning –or familiarizing themselves with – new technologies and workflows. If you observe carefully, you can even detect it in their posture, in the way they approach their work and each other. As Sennett argues, as with Gladwell and Geoff_Colvin, motivation matters more than talent. The architect must imagine herself engaged with the model, the input of information no less an act of the imagination than the shaping of clay into new worlds for others to engage in and be inspired by. The architect has to find her inner, intelligent craftsman. If it can be reduced to a formula, as Arendt would have it,

bim = Animal laborans

BIM = Homo faber

where BIM enables integrated practice. The combination of speech and action the book calls for is the perfect prescription for integrated practice or IPD: architects working together with others, collaborating toward a common goal.

Sennett sees it differently and challenges his teacher’s definition of Labor as being too limited, slighting the practical man and woman at work, and offers a more balanced view – where thinking and feeling are contained within the process of making. Such is the student’s prerogative. Some architects complain that BIM – in being so fact-based and answer-hungry – makes them less creative, describing their work as “feeding the beast.” Here again we find Arendt’s Animal laborans, for whom the mind engages once the labor is done, and Sennett is right to push further.

When Sennett writes “leaving the public to ‘sort out the problem’ after the work is done means confronting people with usually irreversible facts,” and “engagement must start earlier, requires a fuller, better understanding of the process by which people go about producing things,” he could have been describing BIM, and IPD, the process it enables. IPD fulfills the promise and dictates of BIM just as Homo faber provides something for Animal laborans to aspire to.  

One of Arendt’s great themes is her sense of the decline of the public realm, the realm where action takes place. With the growing use of BIM, and through it integrated practice, architects once again have an opportunity to find themselves working in – and positively influencing if not creating – the public realm.

From AIA to FAIA to GAIA: A Final Warning May 8, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, creativity, problem solving.
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To what does an architect aspire?

Or, to paraphrase Freud, What do architects want? A leadership role in a design firm. To design a large-scaled international project or a diminutive, well-detailed, well-accoutered house, unimpeded by client input. For some it’s to make a comfortable living doing what they love while having a positive effect on the built environment with no harm done to the natural. For many while they scale the heights of their profession there is no higher calling than to garner the esteem of their well-regarded peers and allies. In times of suppressed expectations – when our aspirational selves are reality-checked at the door – any of these look attractive.

Last weekend, when architects gathered for their annual convention, the 2009 AIA Jury of Fellows honored at an investiture ceremony at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco 112 AIA members elevated to its prestigious College of Fellows. No small accomplishment, statistically out of a total AIA membership of nearly 86,000, fewer than 1 in 32 are distinguished with the honor of fellowship. The FAIA tag is an honor awarded to members who have made significant contributions to the profession in education, volunteer work, service to society, practice, leading the institute or related organization, design, alternative career, preservation, urban design, government/ industry, volunteer work and research. Election to fellowship not only recognizes the achievements of architects as individuals, but also their significant contribution to architecture and society on a national level. That said, noticeably absent this year from this distinguished list of significant professional contributions were categories for “saving the earth,” “protecting the environment,” and “solving global warming,” all significant contributions to architecture and society on a global – as in the globe or planetary level. And all addressing our immediate eco-emergency, perhaps the most pressing problem of our or any age.

Which brings us to GAIA, named after the Greek goddess who represented the earth, and like architects, brought forth order from chaos. Just as AIA architects today aspire to become FAIAs, fellows of the institute in turn could leverage their considerable respect and esteem, power within the profession, leadership and experience to lead the profession to accomplish nothing less than protection of the earth and healing of the world, effectively saving the planet in one fell swoop. Imagine when architects gather in New Orleans the 2011 that the AIA Jury of Fellows elevate FAIAs to GAIA. The critieria that would entail would need to be determined, but once FAIAs have taken their well-deserved year-long victory lap they would then get down to the brass tacks of becoming GAIAs. In doing so they would evolve from being custodians of the built environment to keepers and protectors of the unbuilt environment. Whom better than those we have already honored to lead the charge to right what is wrong with the earth? FAIAs in elevating to GAIAs essentially become Fellows of the Earth. Many factors – population increase, global warming among them – are contributing to upset the balance of forces that make earth conducive to life. FAIAs would lead all architects to turn their attention to innovatively address housing for population growth, sustainable land use in urban areas and beyond and preservation of existing resources. Imagine a design competition where you were asked to submit, on three 30×40 boards, a scheme to save the earth from extinction. That’s the challenge we have before us – and who better to get us there but FAIA-turned-GAIAs? A challenging yet solvable assignment. This is no time for small thinking.

The world needs leaders and the architectural profession has them in droves. In becoming GAIAs, FAIAs could leverage their considerable problem solving ability, effective verbal and graphic communication, brainpower, creativity, comfort with ambiguity and legendary grasp of the big picture coupled with granular detail.

In fact, DesignIntelligence is hosting their annual Summit entitled Voice, Influence and Power: Taking the Reins of Leadership, Sept. 30 – Oct. 2 this year in Chicago. One hundred delegates from the world’s most influential AEC firms will convene to identify change drivers, analyze emerging data, and explore innovation in sustainable design at this unique meeting, which is co-hosted by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Speakers at the by-invitation-only conference include some of the most celebrated thinkers of our time including A Whole New Mind’s Daniel Pink, Moshe Safdie, Foster + Partner’s Stefan Behling, TED Conference founder and architect Richard Saul Wurman amongst others. With Chicago’s Mayor Daley’s Chief Environmental Officer Sadhu Johnson and AS+GG’s Adrian Smith present no doubt the subject of leadership in sustainability will be addressed. The Design Futures Council is currently seeking nominations for Emerging Leaders.

While GAIA places nature before humanity, the natural environment ahead of the manmade, this is not a call for architects to become horticulturists but rather to shift priorities for the near term. The economy and situation we find ourselves in should support this effort. GAIA envisions the earth as a self-regulating living system and was the title of James Lovelock’s 1974 book as well as a recently issued final warning for those who did not heed his claims. It is a holistic, total system to produce environments conducive to life. Architects already do the same and should be naturals at it.

Stay, Architect, Stay January 27, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect types, BIM, integrative thinking, problem solving, productive thinking, Revit.
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The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

One attribute that distinguishes architects from nearly every other professional is their comfort with ambiguity. As workplaces become threadbare, virtual marketing firms chasing after anything that moves, architects are alternatively encouraged to get up to speed with the latest technology and software: ostensibly so that they will be all the more valuable to their firms, or the marketplace (if it comes to that,) depending on timing and luck.

Roger_Martin’s concept of integrative thinking, as described in The Opposable Mind, beautifully illustrates that the longer the architect remains in the problem – the more likely a well-resolved solution will be discovered. Tim Hurson, author of the bible of productive thinking, Think_Better, instructs the reader to “stay in the question.” That is essentially what architects do so well. While engineers keep an eye often on immediate results and the first-best solution, the architect tends to take the longer route. Architects working with a number of competing forces, wishes, contingencies and constraints, habitually wait until the last available moment before honing-in on the most favorable solution.

Architect Nathan_Good juggles these variables for as long as he can. “We live with a high degree of ambiguity during the early design phase, because we want to give credit to the site, to the client’s needs,” he says, “to the structure, to what is it going to take for the inhabitants to be comfortable. It’s kind of like we’re juggling these things for as long as we can, and then there’s this flurry of activity right at the end of the design to pull it all together.”

One concern that some architects have is that the latest software and design tools, such as BIM, and design processes, such as IPD, require so many decisions upfront, potentially killing this quintessential quality of the architect. With every material and building system assigned, defined and specified in the early stages of design, how will the architect remember how to juggle, keeping so many balls – however unreconciled, unresolved, uncoordinated – in the air? Will working with BIM leave out the fermentation, the leavening of the loaf, resulting in the flat, dry cracker of design?

No fear, architect. No matter how efficient and detail-oriented, BIM is still just a tool. A tool to create in 3D (and beyond) what already exists in the architect’s mind. Instead of architects having to gradually give-up their core competency – comfort with ambiguity – in time BIM will become more comfortable with ambiguity. Just as architects in the past switched from hand drafting to CAD software, and now CAD to BIM, they adapt the tool to them as they adapt to the tool. We will continue to grow with the technology as it, with each new version, becomes more like us. And perhaps it is the architect’s very flexibility, juggling their variables, that will allow them to adopt to the new frontier awaiting them.

Kudos to architect extraordinaire Bradley Beck for his contributions to this post.