jump to navigation

First, Be Promiscuous May 25, 2015

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Architect and educator Brian Vitale, AIA, Principal and Design Director at Gensler, Chicago spoke recently at the Convocation Ceremony of the 2015 graduating class of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. A graduate of the program, Brian’s speech was truly memorable and inspiring, and he was, as always, generous in sharing the transcript of his commencement speech.

Thank you! Thank you, for that humbling introduction and to Director Mortensen for the invitation and privilege of addressing the class of 2015. It is absolutely surreal to be standing here addressing you all in an auditorium that I freely admit to having fallen asleep in one too many times as a student, which given my invitation here today apparently did not matter. So thank you again for this honor and allowing me to get that off my chest.

I would also like to congratulate and more importantly thank the faculty. Though a lot has changed over the past 22 years when I was last a student here, many of you haven’t, and for that I am grateful (and surprised, quite frankly). You have played an instrumental role in my being asked to deliver this speech and I am sure, once this class catches up on the sleep that you all are responsible for depriving them of, they will all eventually appreciate you to. Your dedication, patience and wisdom often go without formal appreciation, but know your influence on us all (even if you all don’t realize it yet) is beyond measure.

To the parents, family and friends, you also deserve to be congratulated, because for all the pride that you feel and deservedly so, it was your sacrifice, your friendship and your unconditional support that has made this all possible, oh, and the beer money, let’s not forget about that. And if they told you that the money was for “model materials” at a place called the “art coop”, they were lying, that place does not actually exist.

Now, to the class of 2015!! Congratulations!! You are the most recent class from a school with one of the longest histories. You all have worked incredibly hard, you have made it through the infamous weeding out year, you have survived many all-nighters, difficult juries, and countless toxic fumes from a panoply of adhesives; your day is finally here! And make no mistake, you all are the stars of this event, far outshining me, which would lead you to assume that you have the best seat in the house, but your vantage point is not as clear as mine, blurred with concerns and nervous about the unknown. What will my first position hold, what kind of firm will I work for, will I be a success, and how hard is that damn A.R.E. exam? The view from where I am standing is much clearer, for I get to look out at you all, and know what the future holds for you, the possibilities that lie ahead and the raw potential that you all are about to capitalize on.

Well, 22 years ago, I was sitting in the same place that you all are, receiving my Bachelors of Science in Architectural Studies otherwise referred to as a “BS” in Architecture, really. My experience at the University of Illinois was invaluable and had unknowingly prepared me for my eventual career. (So you should all take comfort in that). Throughout these years, I have been recognized with both personal and project awards, I have been published in magazines and books, I have been exhibited in museums, I have had the opportunity to teach and have traveled all across the world collaborating in the design of buildings and working with some of the world’s most amazing people. At this campus alone I have been a visiting professor, built a building for the world’s fastest supercomputer, and now this. This school and its amazing network was my foundation and has served me well, and it will for all of you.

In preparing this speech, everyone tells you to share with the graduating class the path to your achievement; I would rather, however, tell you what I wish I would have known before I started….so you can make your own path. So I want to share with you 3 principles. Some will seem counterintuitive others obvious, but all are crucial to the way architecture is and will be practiced. After that, I have one simple request, and it won’t be to “fail” or “take risks” or “change the world” (I mean for god sakes, do those things), but rather something very simple but I believe incredibly powerful and will change the trajectory of your careers.

But first, here are a few musings:


Now parents, before you try to usher me off the stage, what I am asking you all to do is be promiscuous with ideas, concepts, spaces, program, and the people that you have sitting around the table collaborating. Create hybrids, live in the middle of those Venn diagrams we are always drawing, mix it up, then re-mix it, because that is where real innovation comes from.

In Maria Popova’s review of “Dancing About Architecture” she cites the author, Phil Beadle as focusing on creativity’s combinatorial nature, quoting,” We create the new not generally through some mad moment of inspiration in fictionalized accounts of ancient Greeks in baths, but by putting things together that do not normally go together; from taking disciplines and seeing what happens when they are forced into unanticipated collisions.”

Now when you work in this manner, please be prepared for some push back, as many of the firms that you will be employed by will be practicing architecture like it was 1995 and will not understand what you are trying to do, they might even tell you that “you can’t do it that way”, I am here to tell you to stop listening to those people immediately turn around and carry on.

Second: Give up the ownership of ideas:

I know this may be counterintuitive, because if not for our own ideas, what do we have? “More” is the correct answer. You must worry less about being the initiator of ideas and focus on being the connector of them. Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things”

In order to do this, you must always invite more voices to the table rather than less, and make sure they are varied voices, not from a singular point of view. We at Gensler work this way every day, my job at times is more of editor rather than initiator.   I will freely admit it takes courage to do this, because at its core, its process means that you have no idea where a solution is headed, no preconceived notions, there is no certainty from having formulated an answer before the process even begins (which gets harder the longer people practice) but that is precisely the point. Voltaire said, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” You have to trust the process and then hang on for dear life.

THREE: BE CURIOUS, Really curious:

Throughout your career, you will be looked upon for answers to problems posed to you by clients, your colleagues, and society. As you progress in your career, you begin to rely on your perceived knowledge to answer those very questions. “This is how we did it last time” can be valuable to a point (like not touching fire a second time), but ultimately, in the case of architecture, deadly. When Picasso said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” He was making this very point. We often lose that discovery trait as we gain experience, we stop looking, and we create Best Buys. You must question relentlessly, test and re-test, train yourself to act in this manner and maintain the curiosity of a child for rest of your life and you will always arrive at innovative answers.


A student that had attended an event that I was speaking at recently asked, “What do you attribute your success to?” or as I took it to mean from his inflection, “How the hell did you get to be where you are?” And admittedly, I did not have a great answer; hard work, dedication, late nights, an incredible amount of support and some God given talent was my answer. But as I pondered this question, I began to remember a couple of similar events in my career, which I will share with you before I leave you with my request.

During my first week of High School, you can all remember that, I was brought in, with a group of my peers, to meet with our appointed guidance counselor. We sat around a conference table in an uncomfortably small room and listened to Mr. Sime speak about High School, future careers and how to be social, but not too social. When he was through with his speech about this new academic endeavor, he posed a question to the group, one whose content I don’t remember (and is not important to the story). What followed was typical, awkward teenage silence, everyone trying very hard not to make eye contact as if that would help in this incredibly small room. I was sitting at the head of the table (where I like to sit), opposite of Mr. Sime and decided to speak up. I answered the question, and his response to my answer was, “Brian, you are going to be successful because you had the nerve to speak up, to answer a question when no one else wanted to, to be the first brave enough to share your opinion”. Many years later I confirmed with Mr. Sime that he did this every year with every new group of freshman and that he really didn’t care what the answer was, but was instilling a life lesson to the group.

Fast forwarding a number of years to my first position after Grad School, it happened again. I was the most junior member at Booth Hansen, a well-known Chicago firm led by Larry Booth, one of the Chicago 7 architects as they were known. Within the first couple of weeks of my employment there, an all office design review was being held in the basement during lunch with the client present. The project was presented, and it seemed to me like very little thought went into it, and that bothered me enough that I mustered up the confidence to speak out and suggested different ways to think about the project. I remember Larry Booth agreeing with me as well as the Client and then Larry asking, “Who are you?” Later that day I was called into Larry’s office, which was pretty cool especially for a young kid like I was, and he was asking me a lot of questions and began sharing with me things he had been working on and books that he had lying around. Afterward, I noticed that I was being treated differently not only by him, but by everyone, people noticed me and asked my opinion of which I was always happy to give. What had happened, by contributing unexpectedly is that I had created an immediate value. Soon thereafter, I was assigned to projects that Larry was working on, presenting with him to clients and becoming a trusted designer. I was now being exposed to opportunities I would not otherwise have been exposed to, I was seen differently by others; my career path was changing and I capitalized on it.

Now I have been focusing on the number 22, the number years that have passed since I was sitting in your seat, because it is also, for many of you the number of years that you have been on this planet. Let me assure you that these years go by in a blink of an eye. So to the Class of 2015, what I am simply requesting of you all as you enter your next venture is to speak up, immediately, let your voice be heard, now, and begin contributing to the dialogue of your firm, community and beyond, as soon as possible. Don’t be intimidated, don’t be shushed, and most importantly don’t think that you are not ready to contribute, I promise you that you are, I have seen it over and over throughout my career. And when you do, it will open up opportunities for you that would otherwise pass you by. Your time is valuable and precious, the profession is changing and it needs your skills, the profession needs your talent and the profession needs your voice now more than ever before. It is now time to turn the tables and let us begin learning from you!

Congratulations, again, Class of 2015, we are expecting great things! Thank you.


This Is Your Career on Cracks April 25, 2015

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.

If you expect to become the next Frank Lloyd Wright leave now

Those were the first words I ever heard as a college student

Admitted to the school of architecture

Attending orientation with my parents

A senior administrator got up in front and said to a roomful of 200 freshmen future architects and their parents

If you expect to become the next Frank Lloyd Wright leave now

A questionable student retention tactic – even then

Had it been a Simpsons episode you would have heard the rear door slam

But as the Simpsons wouldn’t be invented for another 10 years, nobody moved

Next the administrator said the 9 most important words I ever heard

Only 3 of you will ever design a building

This was before everybody gets a trophy

Apparently, back then only 3 of us would get trophies

The remainder would go on to toil away in management

Perhaps our prospects would have improved had we worn shoes?

When the administrator said: Only 3 of you will ever design a building

My first thought was: I wonder who the other two are?

It wasn’t: I wonder if I should double major and get an MBA?

I wanted to design buildings, and while I also wanted a job after graduation

No one will let you design buildings with an MBA.

It’s not as if for me designing buildings was a forgone conclusion

I grew up in a split-level house in the suburbs

The architectural equivalent of living in a van down by the river

We didn’t come from either money or good taste

And we clearly didn’t know any architects

In your career you will spend 5 years sitting at a desk & 2 years sitting in meetings.

No one ever goes into architecture because they want to sit in meetings

Yet apparently this is what all but 3 of us were signing up for

What all but three students would get to do with their lives

Architecture students are a confident and resilient bunch

Every student in that room must have wondered who the other two are?

And yet, we didn’t all go on to design buildings

Some became technical architects, some became managers

The ones with MBAs – became our clients

And about half went on to other fields

And so, at my first career crossroad

I chose the design of buildings  over meetings

And spent 30+ years – a career – doing what I love

And in all that time I never had a bad day.

While I never became Frank Lloyd Wright, I became something even more important for me to become: myself

And I got to do this because at every career crossroad

I again and again chose the design of buildings over meetings

I did this because a life NOT designing buildings – not acting on our world, not making a positive contribution, not adding value – was for me unimaginable

But as importantly, a life NOT designing buildings was somebody else’s life

And as long as I remembered this – and acted on it – everything would work out

And it did, both creatively and financially. And it can for you as well.

You can be one of the three

One of the three who designs buildings

One of the three who creates an innovation

One of the three who experience meaning & purpose in their work

One of the three who makes a difference

One of the three who helps transform the world

But there comes a time in every career, for some sooner, some later

When we no longer see ourselves as one of the three.

Why is that? Why do we give up on our promises and dreams?

There are times when we choose money over our dreams

And work for a paycheck.

Other times when we’ll be frustrated or bored with what we do.

And be dissatisfied with our job.

Our dreams change, or we forget our dreams.

We give up on our dreams. But, as often, our dreams give up on us.

During an internship I designed my first building – before I graduated college

And very quickly realized I had achieved my dream of being one of the three.

Michelangelo said: The greatest danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.

Our dreams, in other words, are too small

They’re too easily achieved

They’re not enough to sustain a life-long career

So what does it take to sustain a long, fulfilling career?

Upon graduation, I decided to find out and treat my career as an experiment

In this experiment I would do two things:

  1. Always have two careers
  2. And I would change one of them every 7 years.

You can think of your two careers like majors and minors:

  1. Always have a minor to go along with your major
  2. And change your minor every 7 years.

It turns out that to sustain a long, fulfilling career

You need to have a bunch of short, fulfilling careers.

Think of each as a 7-Year Career

Most careers look like this.

Which really mean they look like this.

We all know people like this.

Following the formula: Work. Repeat. Retire.

If careers were meals, most people’s career looks like this:

all meat, no potatoes

Instead, think of your career as a main career with a side

I wanted a well-balanced career

To major in salmon with a minor in broccoli.

If it works for nutrition, why not for our careers?

I didn’t want sequential careers, one after the other

So I made my careers concurrent. Like this

And yes sometimes they can be really concurrent.

While I haven’t written a play in over 20 years, a day doesn’t go by when I haven’t used something I learned while being a playwright.

You can think of your 7 year careers like microbrews

Only with your life’s work, not beer

The key thing is to stick with it for 7 years

No dabbling, with one thing one day, and another the next

Doing something else alongside your main job has multiple benefits:

  • It guarantees that you are always learning and growing
  • It acts as a relief valve for the pressures and sometimes disappointments of your main job, and
  • It can positively impact your main job, and vice versa

For example, in my own career, when I wasn’t able to design buildings – due to the economy, or a fickle client – it didn’t bother me because I was writing plays on the side. One creative outlet relieved the other, until building design picked up again.

Think of your main job like a puzzle

and your side job like a second puzzle.

Each made up of your skills, talents, interests and passions

You would think having two jobs would just add two lines on your resume.

Or mean that you are working twice as much. It doesn’t.

What happens between your two careers is closer to alchemy

When you have two careers, the overall effect is like taking the two puzzles apart and, using the same pieces, putting them back together again, creating something new and compact.

By doing so, you are in essence creating a better version of your former self.

And when you do this every 7 years, you’re assuring that you are growing and transforming throughout your career.

Why 7?

Besides the 7 days of creation

We regenerate our skin every 7 days

Our body’s cells renew every 7 years

We’re essentially a new person every 7 years

Allowing land to lie fallow every 7th year

returns moisture and nutrients to the soil, restoring productivity.

As a professor, it takes 7 years to achieve tenure

7 years to earn a sabbatical

There’s the 7th inning stretch and the 7-year itch

But there’s a more compelling reason you change your career every 7 years

People have a hard time thinking more than 7 years into the future.

Here’s a case in point demonstrated by this career timeline exercise

The career timeline is an experiment I do with my students

With birth at one end and the proverbial milk truck on the other

I ask my students to place their career goals along this timeline:

  • Graduation; Employment; Taking exams and licensure;
  • Falling in love; Getting married; Finding a home;
  • Starting a family; Starting a firm; Winning recognition

Here’s what I discovered: They inevitably placed all of them in the first 7 years

Who can blame them?

Who can really say what will happen beyond the 7-year time horizon?

No one knows what will happen in even a decade ahead

The future is fuzzy

Creating a career is like writing a novel

E.L. Doctorow said that Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.

Careers are long – it makes sense to break them into chunks

To break them into chunks, it helps to think of your career in terms of successive sigmoid curves

Each chunk of our career has an arc

We start by learning something new, then get gradually better at it

Then we become something of an expert

There comes a time when we peak – and our output becomes less and less effective

At the same time our interest wanes or we get burned out

And we’re looking for something else to keep us – and our interest – active

You cannot earn a high income just by showing up on time and doing an average job. So you must constantly improve.

The goal should be to jump off onto something new, starting the whole process over

Ideally you would do that before your effectiveness starts to decline

And your expiration date arrives

The problem with successive sigmoid curves is knowing when the inflection point (crossroads) occurs: You can’t

No one knows when that pesky inflection point occurs

A lot of times you don’t know until after you look back in retrospect and say

I should have gotten off (the second red x) and it is just too late

Since you can never know when the best time is to move on

I decided to jump off and onto a new interest every 7 years.

As an architect, I like to think of a career path like a concrete sidewalk

This is my walk home from the train

In 20 years I made this walk 6000 times

Those keeping score with fitbits that’s 60 million steps

Sidewalks aren’t made in one long ribbon

Why should our careers be?

Now lets look a little more closely at our career path

Not quite as smooth as you were led to believe

We build sidewalks over all sorts of things: roots, utilities.

Metaphorically what are the roots underneath your career?

Ever-shifting technological trends

Fickle employers

An unpredictable economy

We’re building the foundations of our careers over roots!

One of the dirty little secrets I share with my architecture students is this:

All concrete cracks

We confront microscopic cracks everyday

Like a concrete sidewalk, our careers need to accommodate these cracks

Otherwise they’ll take over

Cracks will sometimes appear in your careers due to

  • Your interests waning
  • You get burned out doing one thing
  • Your salary prices you out of a position
  • Emerging talent steals your place

When cracks do occur in our careers we can try to hide or mask them

Crack what crack? I don’t see a crack…There’s no crack here. Just us birds!

And sometimes there are just too many to try and hide them.

This is what your career looks like when you don’t control the inevitable cracks

This is your career on cracks!

Cracks appear when

  • We aren’t happy in our career
  • We can’t be ourselves
  • We can’t speak our mind
  • We are playing by someone else’s set of rules
  • We’re biting our tongues
  • We’re swallowing our pride

Constantly addressing these forces drain our psychic energy and take its toll

Concrete cracks – but you can control where they occur

We do this in architecture by creating control joints.

By creating a break, we induce a crack

The crack goes where we want it to go, not randomly where it can catch us by surprise

In your career path, it leaves you in control

You can saw cut a seam in your career path

Think of it as creating a career control joint

You can relieve these tensions by creating a career control joint every 7 years

Before I leave, let me leave you with this.

If you are working toward one career, start planning for your next

Either once your current one has played out or to run along side it

Careers are long. To assure that yours remains that way, do these 2 things:

  1. Always have two careers, and
  2. Change one of them every 7 years.

You change your side career every 7 years

  • to avoid an existential crisis midway through your career
  • to keep from becoming complacent and bored
  • to keep from falling behind and becoming obsolete
  • to keep from falling into the trap of living someone else’s idea of who you are

You can look at having two careers two ways:

As an unfortunate economic and social reality, or you can view it as an opportunity to expand meaning, purpose and possibility in your life.

By changing your career every 7 years you are in essence, with each iteration, creating a better version of your former self.

And in that way you assure that you are always evolving and improving

Always doing what you love

Always doing what it takes to sustain a long, fulfilling career.

While you may never became Frank Lloyd Wright, you’ll became something even more important for you to become: YOU!

Author’s Note: This is a transcript of my TEDx talk delivered on 041915. Due to technical difficulties, nearly half of the slides were projected blank (white on white); and since the speaker’s clicker didn’t advance the slides, but instead the stage monitor, the advancement of slides were not in sync with the oral presentation according to those present. Thus the representation of the content here. Hope you enjoyed it!

8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming An Architect January 16, 2014

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Dear Emerging Professional,

I am so excited to be able to participate with you in the 2014 Emerging Professionals Summit in Albuquerque next week.

If for some reason I am not able to attend, there are a few things I would want you know – a few things I learned along the way to becoming and being an architect.

1. If you want to design buildings, design buildings

I actually learned this about writing. The best way to be a writer is to write. If you want to write, put butt in seat and write.

The same holds true for designing buildings.

I was fortunate to be given the opportunity early in my career to design buildings.

A large firm I was working for at the time made me an associate of the firm.

But there were only so many design positions. If I were to continue working at the firm, I would be a technical architect.

So I said thank you and left the firm to work at a firm that had a strong design reputation.

Then I left that firm and thereafter, associated with that strong design boutique, was given the opportunity to design buildings for a living.

I have been a designer ever since.

The world today gives you so many opportunities to design.

So, if you want to design, design.

2. You can reinvent yourself at any time

There’s nothing wrong with being a project architect or project manager. These are worthy career tracks, and in the case of being a PM, has a greater career longevity than being a designer.

But I asked myself, at the end of my life how would I feel knowing that I hadn’t designed buildings?

While acknowledging that everyone is different, this thought made me feel empty.

I knew then I would not be following the dictates of my personality if I decided to spend a career in architecture as anything but a designer.

So I chose design. And by that I mean I dedicated myself to designing buildings.

I took a cut in salary at the design boutique, and worked way too many hours.

But I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself.

Like going back to school, this short commitment to a professional transformation has paid off for nearly two decades.

And I can see now, looking back, that my life would have turned out very differently had I not taken this less trodden path.

3. Anyone can be a designer

As with anything worth doing, you just have to really want it.

It isn’t so much about talent as it is about listening.

Knowing what it is that your client – or your manager or you boss – is looking for.

And then using the resources you have available to you – including tools, processes, consultants and teammates – to help you deliver the results.

All the talent in the world will get you nowhere if you can’t discern what it is others are looking for.

When you present your designs, what you’re saying is, look: I heard you.

And that’s all people really want: to be heard.

The greatest gift you can give others is to show them that they’ve been heard. That you’ve listened.

Then, once they’ve been heard, if you have a better idea – show them.

They are much more likely to see what you see if you first show them that you heard what they said.

I grew up in a cookie-cutter split-level home in the suburbs outside of Chicago. We didn’t know any architects. If I can be a designer, anyone can.

4. You can see your designs built

For the longest time, the most important thing for me – besides my family and my health – was to wake up each day and design.

Design, but not build.

If you want to see your designs built, then you will spend time designing your buildings in such a way that they are buildable.

You will make the ability to put buildings together on equal terms with the ability to design.

Otherwise, you’ll be a paper or digital architect.

But not an architect who builds.

If you want to see your designs built, you have to be excited about discovering cost-saving, value-adding, waste-reducing ways to see your designs built.

If you can be as excited about putting buildings together as you are about designing buildings, you have it. You have what it takes.

5. You can make a killing in architecture

This is probably the greatest myth in our profession.

That you can’t get rich being an architect.

It probably helps if money isn’t important to you.

Money was never important to me. It is part of the reason I went into architecture.

People – your boss, co-workers, clients – recognize when you’re not in it for the money.

You do what you do because you love it.

If you don’t love it, get out.

Or take a vacation, take a break, and see if the feeling has passed.

If you can’t wait to get out of bed because you have the opportunity – the privilege – for one more day to be an architect, then money probably isn’t your first concern.

Which is good.

Because the universe will recognize this and make you bloody rich.

I will never forget the time, years ago, when I was first offered $100,000 to design buildings – to do the thing I loved – for a living.

I showed my wife the email with the job offer and said “watch this.”

And before she could stop me from doing something stupid, I replied to the email asking for $10,000 more.

We sat in silence watching my computer monitor for what seemed like an eternity.

It was thirty seconds.

When the reply said “sure. OK.” Deal.

Rule of thumb: If someone is willing and able to offer you a $100,000 salary they probably don’t care if it’s $110,000.

You don’t make over $100,000 in architecture because it matters to you.

You will make over $100,000 in architecture only when it stops mattering to you.

Money is still not important to me. But it is important to my family.

And so, like going to the dentist twice a year, I make sure it’s covered.


Don’t give it any more attention or energy than that.

6. You can open an office without any clients

One of the gifts of being an emerging professional is that you don’t know enough – haven’t been around enough – to be scared away from doing unwise things.

Like opening an office with no clients.

I remember when I announced to my colleagues that I was opening a firm, one took me aside and asked: “Aren’t you scared?”

At the time, it seemed like such an odd question. Scared of what?

OK, I learned soon enough. Who knows, perhaps had I known what I was getting into, I might not have made the leap.

But call it naïve or fearless, I opened my firm without any clients.

And by the end of day one I had three.

How? By putting myself out there.

Before launch, I hired a graphic designer and designed professional looking letterhead and an announcement.

And sent the announcement out to everyone I knew.

I got out of my office and, wouldn’t you know, while putting gas in my car, I heard a voice – a former client who, having received one of my announcements, asked if I would be interested in doing some work for him?

It’s all about putting yourself out there. You’ll find if you put yourself out there, people will meet you halfway.

Make it easy on others to find you .

7. You can teach and practice architecture

Before I graduated grad school, I went into the dean’s office and said there was something weighing on me:

Will I be able to practice architecture and write plays?

At the time, I couldn’t imagine being an architect without also being a playwright, and I wanted to know if there was a precedent for this, if this was possible?

The dean said: “If you want to do both, you’ll do both.”

And so, for the next dozen years, I was a playwright writing plays (some won awards and got produced) while being an architect.

I took that same thinking – if you want it badly enough – and applied it to teaching architecture.

And so, for half a dozen years, without any teaching experience, I taught in Chicago while running my own practice.

So, how do you get your first teaching position if you haven’t taught?

8. You can do anything if you have a sponsor

Join the local component of the AIA.

Participate in committees, attend events.

You not only benefit from exposure to interesting subjects, but as importantly – others see that you are someone who gets involved.

If you volunteer and serve, you’ll do so because you care about the profession; about the environment; about giving back.

The thing is, someone will notice you. It may not happen right away.

But one day, you’ll get a call to serve on a board, to organize an important event, to rise within an organization; to teach at their university.

Someone has been watching you.

When this happens, turn off your iPod and take off your earbuds.

You’ve been sponsored.

People will see that you have time – you are the sort of person who can create time – to do something outside of the office.

And they will push you a little, by presenting you with opportunities.

This person is your champion. They may not be your mentor, but they’re no doubt your sponsor.

Most emerging professionals don’t want to make decisions because they feel it limits their options, and in doing so, closes doors.

But in one’s career only so many doors will open for you in the first place.

You need to be there – and recognize – when it happens.

And when it does, ask yourself if you are truly interested in where it might take you.

If you are, well, go through the door.

I have seen it many times – and have experienced it myself.

The way you get your first teaching gig is to show up and get involved in the AIA or another worthwhile organization like Architecture for Humanity.

And care.

It won’t be long before you feel that hand on your shoulder.

Or you get that email or the phone rings.

And if you care about something, don’t be afraid of showing your enthusiasm. Enthusiasm helps. There’s not enough of it.

Being an architect is the best job in the world

Think of it like this. You are given so many days on this planet.

How do you want to go about spending them?

Being an architect is like the spacesuit you are given.

Only you get to choose which spacesuit to wear while you’re here.

I can think of no greater way to live on our planet than to have a position where you can act on it, change it, grow it, improve it.

But this is something I suspected all along. I hope you come to find this is true for you, too.

Wear your spacesuit well.

Professionalism as a State of Mind December 19, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, education, employment, essence, principles, survival.
Tags: , , , , , ,
add a comment

Back in summer, architect Rob Anderson tweeted:

‪@Architect1122: AIA will be emerging professionals, now or later.

Erin Murphy AIA, the Director of Emerging Professionals at AIA National in Washington, DC tweeted back:

@erinmurphyaia: I argue this point every day.

Because I teach large undergraduate and graduate architecture lecture courses at a major state university, I get a pretty good look – at least number-wise – at the future make-up of the profession.

And what I see concerns me.

It’s not their intelligence. Most are very smart.

Nor is it their work ethic. They clearly work hard.

And it’s not for a lack of talent that they got into a competitive university.

What concerns me is this:

Being a professional requires an independent mindset.

In this age of collaboration, to be a professional means one has to think for oneself.

That’s not to say that they cannot seek advice. In fact, having people and resources you can turn to is a critical part of practice.

When starting a firm, for example, it’s important to line up a support system including a banker, management consultant, accountant or bookkeeper and an attorney.

And yet, to be a professional means not to be swayed by outside forces.

Architects cannot, for example, take kickbacks from contractors.

In fact, for an architect to receive payment outside of the client and still be considered independent, they should never accept a finder’s fee, share contractor’s profit or accept rebates from suppliers or manufacturers.

For an architect to be considered independent, they shouldn’t receive payment outside of the client.

There are other factors that distinguish the professional. Academically, an attribute of being a professional involves knowledge that is more than ordinarily complex and is an intellectual enterprise.

Being a professional means that one will apply theoretical and complex knowledge to the solution of human and social problems.

And to be a professional means that you will pass your knowledge to novice generations.

What concerns me about the current crop of students is this:

For them, being professional is conditional.

If you give me an A, I will like you.

If you make the assignments a breeze, I will give you a good teaching evaluation.

Give me what I want, and I will acknowledge you outside of class.

I will tell you what is important to know and what is not. Not you.

Here’s the thing:

Professionalism, like your mama’s love, is unconditional.

You have to love what you do and act from that passion.

You have to think for yourself and not be swayed by outside forces.

Each week, I had my professional practice students write a journal entry on the online blackboard course site.

I’d ask them to provide feedback on a guest lecturer’s presentation or a reading we had discussed in class.

Then I’d read each and every one.

Most of the students thought that these journal entries were a waste of time – and told me so.

I actually believe they were incredibly important indicators of who will and will not become valued professionals in the years to come.

Many of the journal entries told me what the student thought I wanted to hear. For example, in order to reach the minimum word count, they usually repeated the question or questions, and unnecessarily provided background information – the equivalent of throat clearing before getting around to a speech.

I warned them in class about providing “boilerplate” content – information one could find online or elsewhere without much effort.

Most ignored this advice.

I told them what I was interested in was their opinions. Their points of view. I wanted to hear about their experiences – and what they believed in.

The students who did this grew exponentially from the earliest journal entries to the last.

They were able to express themselves in writing. They were able to incorporate content that they had learned from other courses, or from experiences outside of school.

Others merely phoned-in their entries. They showed-up at the online site, usually at the last minute, as though to fulfill an obligation – one that was obviously not as important as the other demands on their time, especially design studio.

I saw reading 82 journal entries each week for 16 weeks – 1320 essays in all – as a gift.

It gave me a perspective into the future of the profession – like looking into a crystal ball.

Some of what I see concerns me, but I also like a lot of what I see as well.

I wish I had a dozen openings in my firm because I would hire at least that many students based on their journal entries alone.

Based on their writing, logic and critical thinking, based on their ability to articulate their feelings, communicate and care, we can rest assured that our profession – and the AIA – will be in good hands in the years ahead.

The others who merely showed up – they will have to decide what is important to them.

My whole contention in my professional practice course is that you cannot act one way at one time and act another way at another time.

As an architect, you’re more slab stone than laminate or veneer. Who you are on the outside is who you are inside.

Being a professional is something you take with you – it is the way you carry yourself and handle yourself not just in class, or in the office, but all of the time.

Whether you think someone is looking or not.

One day, I accidentally double-booked my calendar and didn’t sync my iCal. When my student showed up for his schedule timeslot, I apologized and told him I had another meeting I needed to go to, and asked if we could reschedule?

In my experience, there are students who handle this situation graciously, and others who will make you feel like a total heel.

The first type of student is, in my opinion, well on their way to being someone others will want to work with. Their level of maturity and perspective – their ability to suppress their disappointment, and to think in terms of the other person’s needs – is what distinguishes them.

They place long-term relations above expressing immediate feelings.

I will want to work with them because I know that I will continue to be imperfect and make mistakes in the future, and will want to work with people who are understanding, who handle the situation maturely, reschedule and move on.

For our profession and industry to thrive, we’ll need to send the message that to be a professional, you’ll need to do more than graduate from an accredited program, put in office time and pass an exam.

To be a professional means to behave in a way, even when alone, as though someone else is watching.

Because someone probably will be.

Bridging Gaps That Don’t Reside in Building Skins December 6, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, career, change, education, management, transformation.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Negotiating a book contract, writing and giving conference presentations, proceedings, and journal articles, along with teaching my college courses, I overbooked my calendar this fall.

What resulted for the first time in my public speaking career, I gave a talk at an AIA conference that I didn’t prepare for.

And by that I mean, at all.

I spent three months preparing for my keynote at the 2013 AIA Illinois Conference in November.

But my breakout session later that morning – Through Architecture We Bridge Gaps by Embracing Change?

Not so much.

And wouldn’t you know, it was hands-down the best talk I ever gave.

Or I should say, that the attendees gave.

Because the success of the session was due in no small part to the attendees and the lively discussion that ensued.

The subject of the talk – caulk – really seemed to strike a chord, and the architects in the audience shared lots of examples from their own careers.

The Culture of Caulk

In over a hundred talks I have given around the country, I never had a talk bestowed with the strongly sought-after HSW designation.

Until that November day.

The session offered attendees 1 AIA/CES HSW lu because the AIA powers that be thought the talk was on applying caulk.

The session description starts off thus:

Architects know that the most vulnerable parts of a building enclosure are the joints, connections or gaps between two building systems, and spend an inordinate amount of their time trying to successfully fill them.

The institute officials probably read that first sentence and thought “caulk – that’s good for an HSW LU.”

But had they read on, they would have realized it was a metaphor. And you don’t get HSW LU’s for metaphors:

While their designs and details are fortunately airtight, there are many other gaps that remain wide open and unresolved.

Still about caulk, right? It continues:

These gaps cannot be addressed by architectural technology because they do not reside in building skins, but in the education, training and practice of architects: gaps between academia and professional practice; between internship and licensure; between mentoring emerging professionals for leadership positions; and ever-widening gaps facing those concerned about career advancement and firm succession, including practitioners in all phases of their careers.

Uh oh…

Using the metaphor of the detailing of building joints, this presentation will show attendees that they already have the skills, tools and mindsets to successfully bridge the seemingly unbridgeable gaps at their various career stages, reconnecting training with practice, management and leadership in our architecture firms and those we serve.

So it appears that you get the coveted HSW when you speak on caulk, but not when you try to solve entrenched issues in architectural careers.

Hopefully posting this here won’t result in attendees’ HSWs being revoked.

All Detailing is Joints (apologies to Patrick Moynahan)

I told the session attendees that we’re here to talk about another type of gap.

And the need to bridge these gaps – through architecture.

I told them this session is participatory (code in speakers’ circles for my being totally unprepared) – I don’t have all the answers: none of us does.

But, I offered, as a believer in the collaborative process, all of us might.

I am your presenter, I continued – but so are you: I am here to facilitate a discussion (because I didn’t prepare one.)

I showed some slides of nifty bridges from around the world, hitting home on the point that it is possible to cross over necessary career transitions with panache.

What Gaps Require Spanning?

Does it help to think of our career transitions as gaps that require spanning and/or bridging?

And whether we’ll attempt to fill them metaphorically with caulk – or silicone sealant?

One such gap is between academia and practice.

Do we agree that it needs bridging?

I mentioned to the attendees that the past weekend the SAIC Design Educator’s Symposium in Chicago was such a gesture in bridging with firm visits, Archiculture film viewing and panel discussions.

Architectural Record featured an article recently on how the phenomenon of transformational change—in technologies, systems, materials, sustainability, management, and demographics—is unfolding faster in professional firms than it is in higher education. This gap is a concern.

The article offered remedies:

  • more practitioners should teach
  • more faculty should be professionally licensed
  • business and management skills need to be introduced in the studio
  • no longer does tenure benefit students
  • real estate finance should be a basic part of architectural education
  • heavier doses of reality, not theory
  • practitioners and architectural educators should work together

Another gap that requires spanning is from emerging professional to firm management.

One of the firms I worked for had a Sink or Swim (vs. training and mentoring) approach to bringing up project managers. When an employee graduated from emerging professional to management, the firm would throw them in the deep end and, well, stay afloat or sayonara.

Gaps We Need to Bridge

Other gaps need addressing, especially those between:

  • internship and licensure
  • mentoring emerging professionals and leadership positions
  • technology and reality, or
  • digital technology and building technology
  • men’s and women’s salaries
  • those concerned about career advancement and succession

On this last gap, SAIC’s Chuck Charlie (@charliechuck) tweeted:

How do we resolve the gap between the old guard now leading the industry, and the digital-native emerging profession?

Perhaps the biggest gap that needs spanning is this: Where our industry is today and where our industry needs to be.

Namely, adding value, reducing waste, growing and become more resilient and profitable.

That’s a bridge worth crossing. And as designers, we ought to be able to span it with panache.

Goodbye Architects. Hello Equal Partners in Design (EPD) November 28, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, career, change, IPD, management, survival.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Whatever they end up doing in their careers, architects originally go into architecture to design buildings.

Somewhere along the way – perhaps recognizing that other students or architects are more talented, or willing or able to sacrifice more – many would-be designers give up their dream to design buildings and instead opt to manage teams, schedules or budgets, document and detail other people’s buildings, or undertake any of a hundred other tasks required to get permit sets approved and buildings built.

Whatever first drew them to the profession, it is safe to say that they didn’t become an architect to be a designer among designers.

They became architects to design. Period.

Whether architecture students, architectural interns and emerging professionals realize it, this is what the profession and industry offers them today.

Founder and president of Nissan Design International, Jerry Hirshberg, in The Creative Priority: Driving Innovative Business in the Real World, describes a scene where, in a workplace safe for people to provide input and express their ideas, the receptionist – participating in a design review – provides the idea for the direction for their new line of automobiles.

That, in a nutshell, is the future of architecture.

To bridge the divide between design and construction, improve communication, better coordinate documents, and increase collaboration, firms have started to prepare for Integrated Project Delivery (IPD).

IPD requires the participation of all project stakeholders early in the design and decision-making process.

Whether working in pure IPD or an IPD-ish process, with IPD the lines of responsibility are blurred when compared to traditional “design bid build” project delivery.

IPD removes barriers that, in traditional project delivery, kept design and construction professionals from collaborating.

With IPD, contractors contribute to the design and architects address construction issues, with risk distributed across the team.

With IPD, contractors made aware of and contribute to design direction and design decisions by the entire project team.

In IPD, key participants are encouraged to contribute to the design intent, just as designers are free to comment on and contribute to means and methods of construction.

While intended to remove obstacles and encourage collaboration, architects are sometimes threatened by the blurring of roles brought about by working in the IPD.

Collaborating is hard. Architects often have individualistic ways of working. IPD may be antithetical to the way many architects design projects.

To persevere in this new world of collaboration, architects should consider getting off the project pyramid and rebrand themselves as Equal Partners in Design (EPD).

Becoming an Equal Partner in Design would have implications for school and practice. Imagine architects being educated, trained and tested not to be independent building designers but designers among designers.

Are you prepared for the day when the plumber makes the winning design suggestion and everyone in the room lets out a resounding Yes!

How will it make you feel to sit beside a teammate who is sketching?

How about when your co-designer is a computer?

Building designers participate in man-machine collaboration every time they work in computational design.

But we don’t have to imagine a cyborgian future to recognize that whomever – or whatever – we will be collaborating with, from here on out we will be collaborating.

Take Aditazz, a collaborative team of not only building architects and planners, but also microchip architects, software designers, mechanical and electrical engineers and materials scientists.

The hospital design that vaulted his unknown company into the round of a hospital competition shortlist of nine had been designed largely by an algorithm.

Barry Schwartz has warned that as the number of choices keeps growing, negative aspects of having a multitude of options begin to appear.

Too many options remains a problem for architects, engineers and owners. But not for Aditazz, whose algorithms are able to compute thousands of options in a fraction of the time to find the best solution.

Gone, along with the architects’ Prismacolor pencils, will be the concept of design intent.

Participatory architects such as Charles Moore and Michael Pyatok have been doing this for years. But will you be comfortable and satisfied letting others provide design input?

Or will you be threatened by other’s participation in design?

Could you be personally and professionally fulfilled playing the role – not always of designer, but – of design refiner?

Can you see yourself being an Equal Partner in Design?

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

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
1 comment so far

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.

13 Tips to Make the Most of Your AIA 2013 Convention Experience June 8, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.

In recent years, as an author and speaker I’ve attended and participated in dozens of conferences around the country. Subsequently, I’ve picked up some tips along the way on how to get the most out of one’s limited time and resources.

With the AIA 2013 National Convention in Denver just around the corner, I thought I’d share a few hard-earned tactics on how to enhance your convention experience.

1. It’s not about the programs

I used to think that the formal presentations were what conventions were all about. No more. This is especially hard for me to admit because

  • I love to learn – I’m energized by learning – and find the cornucopia of education sessions offered at the AIA Convention to be particularly enticing; and
  • I’m presenting at this year’s convention and wouldn’t want you to be a program no-show because of something I wrote here.

But ever notice all those firm principals hanging out just outside the entry of the conference rooms – or in the lobby – while programs are in session? They know a secret that it has taken them a career to learn and that I will share with you right now:

The programs are the least important part of the convention.

It is whom you meet or see going in or out of the programs that matters. So, by all means, attend and participate in the programs – just be sure to linger on the way in and out. And when waiting for the presentation to start, introduce yourself to the speaker and strike up a conversation with those sitting nearby.

2. Don’t just sit there – participate in programs

The education programs have been designed this year to be especially engaging and interactive. No more sage on the stage, leaning on a podium, pontificating on the importance of their work. AIA has said goodbye to the old presenter’s standby and hello to Phil Donahue-style edutainment.

You should still expect to learn a lot – in fact, a great deal more than in past conventions – because each of your presenters has been trained over the past six months on how to help you learn and engage in the material, to assure learning takes place and your expectations are more than met.

3. You can’t do everything. Know your schedule and goals

There are just way too many events competing for your attention. So prioritize – and have a plan.To start, know where you’re supposed to be and when.

Author Don Peppers has some sage advice from a lifetime of “living mouth to hand.”

Before the conference starts, be clear on your goals and what you want to get our of the convention. Ask yourself:

  • Do you want to consolidate existing relationships or meet new people?
  • Do you want to acquire “how to” expertise or to gather industry insights and intelligence?
  • From a personal standpoint, are you trying to grow your “personal brand” or make connections with others?
  • Learn more in order to do your current job better, or to get to the next level?

Like AIA membership itself, what you get from attending a conference will be based on what you put into it. And as with design assignments, the time you put into the planning will pay off many times over in the end. You won’t regret it.

4. Forget networking. Just ask questions instead

The word ‘networking’ seems to put architects on edge. What it boils down to is interacting with your peers and engaging them in conversation.

Most would be thrilled to have you come up and introduce yourself, and ask a question or two, exchange cards and move on.

You never know what might become of it – and what doors may open for you on account of a simple social exchange. So, instead of networking, simply introduce yourself and ask:

  • What have you been working on lately?
  • Discuss your reactions to the last presentation.
  • Talk about what you’re working on.

And the networking – and conversation – will take care of itself.

5. Don’t be a sponge, engage

Architects so often think of themselves as sponges. Taking-in all that surrounds them.

Stop soaking. At the Expo, don’t just look at products and play who can collect the most swag.

Instead, engage with the reps. Get to know them: they can be a fount of industry wisdom and you never know when they might come to your rescue on a project.

Look around. You might see former classmates or former colleagues.

Check out this infographic explaining what to do and what not to do when visiting the convention expo.

In terms of the exception for when you should not under any circumstances engage, here’s one word of advice:

If you see a former employer cavorting with someone who is, um, not their spouse? Turn the other way. Even if you’ve caught eyes – they will appreciate it. This has happened to me three times – with three separate former employers on three separate occasions – and each time resulted in the most awkward conversations.

The difference between a convention and conference? A convention is where conventional behavior takes place. Or it at least seems to.6. Allow for some downtime

With all of this meeting, greeting, engaging, dis-engaging and participating, you’ll need to recharge your batteries.

Architects tend to be introverts. Instead of being energized by social occasions, they’re drained by all of the energy required to meet and greet.

So give yourself a break. Better yet, several of them. Perhaps steal away to your hotel room for a short nap between events, or for a walk outdoors in the fresh air.

7. Make the most of after-hours socializing

I tend to spend the evening hours putting the finishing touches on my conference presentations. Mistake. Instead of tweaking and un-tweaking, I should be out and about taking-part in after-hour activities.

Some sound suggestions on why what goes on at night is as important a part of any conference or convention as what happens by day.

8. Get to know those you interact with on social media

You’ve probably engaged in more back and forth with some of the convention attendees – on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Architizer, (fill-in-the-blank) – than you have with your own family members.

Here’s your chance to put a face to the handle and get to know your social media buds in person. Who knows? They may be your future peers, colleagues, friends or employers – you never know.

MeetUp with Your Twitter Friends at the AIA 2013 TweetUp.

9. Can’t attend in person? Attend the Virtual Convention

Face it – conventions are expensive and not every firm can afford to send everyone they would like to have represent the firm.

Nor can individuals justify the cost of attending each year. That’s what the virtual convention is for: on demand live streaming, simulcasts and the virtual expo.

When attending virtually, you’re not peering in, spying on presentations. Speakers are trained to address and engage attendees who are participating in programs from outside the classroom.

Not convinced and would still like to attend in person? Here are some ideas for how to go about convincing the powers-that-be to give you the green light – and the green – on attending.10. Approach a big-name architect

Don’t be intimidated – they’re people, too.

I wish someone had told me that before meeting Morphosis principal Thom Mayne FAIA at a past AIA convention. He couldn’t have been more friendly and patient, doing all he could to get me from just standing there making blblblblbl sounds with my lips and index finger.

Or upon approaching Peter Eisenman FAIA – suddenly at a loss for something to say – asking him to deconstruct his signature for me (he did, without hesitating, as though he were asked to do this a hundred times a day.)

Or the time I saw architect Scott Simpson going up the escalator while I was going down. Instead of catching eyes and saying hello (and gushing that I’ve read all of his articles in DesignIntelligence including this and this and this and this and this and this and this and even his books) I just kept my head down and pretended that I didn’t see him (on second thought, maybe that was best.)

Some sound advice on how to approach (and how NOT to approach) your hero.

Here’s some great tips on how to be confident, even when you’re not.

11. Leave your work at the office

You are here to learn, to engage, to converse and to have fun. And there is nothing less fun than to see a colleague doing office work at the convention – and no better way to alienate your peers. They are just not impressed that you are so busy that you can’t set your work aside for a few days.

Taking a call from back at the office now and then is unavoidable – but be sure to make every effort to plan specific times when you can address questions from your team or fires that need putting out – to assure you are getting the most from attending the convention.

12. Look for an opportunity to get involved

The convention is perhaps the one time and place where you are exposed to all the AIA does for members – and the public – and an ideal time to recalibrate your level of involvement.

Find a knowledge community to meet with upon your return from the convention. Make a commitment to get involved.

My initiation to AIA was attending knowledge community meetings, which led to serving as a local director, then vice-president, and so on. Step up your involvement a notch this year – you never know where it can lead.

13. What to do as soon as you return home

Within the first few days back, send each of those you met at the convention a brief hand-written note or email, reminding them

that you met them at the convention, saying:

  • how much you enjoyed meeting them,
  • how much you enjoyed their presentation (especially if they presented,) perhaps asking them for a copy of their presentation – or
  • just let them know that you enjoyed your conversation with them.

You do this because you authentically care about them as a person – but it also helps them remember you and your name the next time you see them.

It would be a fascinating exercise to fill-out a program for the convention – after the fact – based on how you really spent your time. Most of you would be surprised. Let me know if you have tips of your own that you’d like to share.

–       Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED-AP

Learn more about the AIA 2013 National Convention here and here.

Download the AIA 2013 Convention App for iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, Android BlackBerry/Windows Phone.

Learn what’s new at this year’s convention.

Download a PDF version of the 2013 convention guide to review the daily schedule, exhibitors, and more.

On June 20, 2013 at the AIA 2013 Convention in Denver, I will be leading a early morning session on how to lead in the new world of practice – live in person and also on-demand for the virtual convention. To learn more, please click the link below:

TH107: (Re)Learning to Lead with BIM and IPD

2013 AIA National Convention

Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM

Denver, CO Convention Center, Room 201

Earn 1.00 AIA LUs + GBCI


Also, in July 2013, I will be leading a 2-day Harvard GSD Executive Education seminar. To learn more, please click the link below:

BIM: Lessons in Leadership

July 8, 2013 – 9:00am – July 9, 2013 – 5:00pm

Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Earn 14 AIA/CES


Can You Be an Architect and Still Have a Life? June 2, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
Tags: , , , ,

Probably the biggest surprise for me in university teaching is how much studio culture has changed in the last decade.

Ten years ago, when I co-taught a graduate level integrated building science design studio, no matter what time of day or night, students would be in studio, working away at their drawings and models.

Not so anymore.  While there are exceptions to this, my peers in the teaching profession back this up.

Fewer students are working in studio outside of class time.

Why is this? and Why is this important?

From a design professor’s perspective, there are several reasons that working in studio is critical to the development of the emerging architect and design professional:

  • Collaboration is increasingly valued not only in our profession, but many other industries
  • Learning is accelerated when learning from others
  • Bounce ideas off one another. Fellow students serve as sounding boards, providing a constant source of feedback

Additionally, working alone in one’s dorm room or dining room table can encourage silo mentality and bad working habits.

It also can increase competitive behavior – the designer surprising everyone back in studio with the magic they cooked up at home. This leads to the “white knight syndrome,” where the architect whisks into the office or meeting at the eleventh hour with the design decision intact, whole-cloth, undermining the efforts of all those who stayed up late working on alternative solutions.

I tell my students my concerns – but it has little impact on their behavior.

First School, Then Practice

Architecture students no doubt work very hard, are pulled in a number of increasingly divergent directions, all of which make demands on their time and attention. My students are no exception.

When asked, students inevitably say they don’t feel safe driving home when tired, walking home at night from studio, or don’t like to have to rely on others walking with them or giving them a lift.

Some just feel more comfortable working from home, where they are in familiar surroundings, surrounded by people they know, pets they care for, and all the media they can access at once.

And they’re right. For a long time, the studio student experience had a number of strikes against it.

Much has been researched and reported on the need for a redesign of studio culture.

And many schools have strict policies on studio culture, many of which build on these reports.

One comprehensive background and overview of the subject, Design Juries on Trial – reissued recently and now also in the form of related iPhone apps – by my university colleague Kathryn Anthony.

In her research, Anthony gathered comments from students at schools throughout the U.S. through surveys or student diaries, and also conducted extensive interviews with academic colleagues and architects. Well worth a read.

Work-Life Imbalance?

Among all advanced nations, the United States ranks 28th in work-life balance –barely better than Mexico, says the says The Atlantic.

The U.S. may be tops in housing access and family wealth, but in terms of work-life balance? Ninth from the bottom.

Want work-life balance? Don’t become an architect. Move to Denmark.

If only it was so easy.

It is impossible to talk about studio culture without delving into the larger topic of work-life balance, but I will try to keep this discussion focused on what I perceive to be a behavior among students that can potentially affect not only practice, but their work satisfaction, for years to come.

We’re living at a time where many of the work-life trends have taken-on an unfamiliar look, one that seems counterintuitive:

  • American leisure time has been increasing for decades (for most people)
  • American men work less today & have more down time than ever recorded.

While it is seldom wise to generalize about demographics, I believe it is fair to say that Millennials – the current generation of emerging design professionals – want work/life balance.

They have made this clear not only in many class discussions in the courses I teach, but also in their behavior.

Students today have seen the negative impact overwork has had on their parents – and on their marriages – and they don’t want to perpetuate this by repeating what they feel are mistakes of their parent’s generation.

Including the side-affect that working too much makes one boring.

And unhappy. One recent study indicates that between 20 and 40 percent of architects are dissatisfied with their rate of pay, practice management, promotion prospects, working hours and opportunity to use their abilities.

Like everyone else, architects want to be happy.Work-Life-Work Balance

Architect Andrew Maynard points out that many women leave the profession due to the difficult combination of poor work cultures, long hours and low pay. He writes:

“But these conditions affect everyone – women and men – as well as the viability of the profession as a whole.”

He calls this situation in architecture Work/Life/Work balance, and that we must “stop deluding ourselves that architectural employees are anything other than a contemporary exploited labor force.”

The seeds of this Work/Life/Work balance trend begins in school.

In other courses, I have students who won’t do the course reading because, they say, it is boring, too long, takes up too much time, they can’t concentrate for long periods of time required to read the assigned chapter, don’t see the relevance, because reading is not among their preferred ways to learn.

Often, I see their unwillingness to do the reading as a symptom of a larger, overriding situation: a lack of balance between school work and life outside school.

Work-Work Balance

I have been told that I have a great work ethic. Even by my family.

Except my family translates a great work ethic with “you work too much.”

They would describe what I have been able to accomplish day-in, day-out for over 25 years as a Work-Work Balance.

After all, while my neighbors three floors below are loading golf gear into their car trunks, I’m up in my garret posting on Work-Life Balance.

The result is a noticeable all-work-and-no-play imbalance.

Can architects achieve a work-life balance?

Since high school, I’ve abided by the Zorba the Greek approach to life.

Zorba, who famously gave his work 100% of his effort and attention when working and life 100% when living.

In other words, give everything you do 100% when you’re doing it.

Achieving work-life balance takes, well, work, requiring time management, technology management, change management, stress management, leisure management (!) and self-management.

Can architects achieve a work-life balance? Yes.

But it takes work.

And at the heart of work-life balance is the value of “balance.”

Not everyone believes balance is achievable.

Some critics argue against work-life balance, not believing it is achievable.

And, as importantly, not every architect believes balance is desirable.

They feel that architects are artists and there’s no room for balance if they’re going to achieve their dreams.

And so, they ought to go about living life at extremes, burning their candle at both ends.

Want work-life balance? Work for a firm dedicated to upholding values that support a work-life balance.

Or create one of your own.

– Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED-AP

On June 20, 2013, I will be leading a early morning session on how to lead in the new world of practice, at the AIA 2013 Convention in Denver – live in person and also on-demand for the virtual convention. To learn more, please click the link below:

TH107: (Re)Learning to Lead with BIM and IPD

2013 AIA National Convention

Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM

Denver, CO Convention Center, Room 201

Earn 1.00 AIA LUs + GBCI


Also, in July 2013, I will be leading a 2-day seminar. To learn more, please click the link below:

BIM: Lessons in Leadership

Harvard GSD Executive Education seminar

July 8, 2013 – 9:00am – July 9, 2013 – 5:00pm

Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Earn 14 AIA/CES





Professional Practice Makes Perfect May 27, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
Tags: ,

I was asked recently to teach Professional Practice to first year architecture grad students.

This would be in addition to the architecture technology courses I normally teach.

Despite its reputation for being at best a necessary evil and at worse a bore, I enjoy teaching ProPrac – as it is affectionately known.

The standard course content includes an overview of contracts, delivery methods, finances, marketing, business development, communication, people skills.

All add up in most students’ minds to equate with “not design.”

For some, the course might as well be called “ARCH 501: Not Design.”

In fact, it is a well-known assumption in architecture education that once undergraduates are indoctrinated into their first courses of architecture studies, having tasted the sweet nectar of design studio, they hence split their courses into two categories: design and everything else i.e. not design.

While I do teach design studio, the bigger part of my academic attention – teaching and research– is in architectural technology, construction, fabrication, building science, construction management, digital technology.

In other words: not design.

And yet, in order to keep the content in these courses engaging, I’ll try as often as possible to filter the topics through my 25 years of experience as a designer.

And so, wherever practical, I will talk about ProPrac in terms of design. This at least gets student’s attention.

Ideally, Professional Practice wouldn’t need its own course. The course content would be covered in design studio and the “everything else” courses: building technology, structures, history and so on.

These course instructors would walk over to the white board to illustrate a practice point.

They’d have a ProPrac corner for a ProPrac moment or perhaps even ProPrac break-out sessions.

May You Practice in Interesting Times

I have a sense of what sticks and what doesn’t stick from having previously taught ProPrac for many years to architecture grad students at UIC in Chicago.

And yet, this time around will be different, because I’ll be teaching the course at an interesting time.

A time marked by the advent of new technologies and new delivery methods and a reshuffling of whose in charge in the profession and industry.

Due to these circumstances, this raises some questions to ponder:

  • How do you teach Design-Bid-Build when you recognize that its use is declining year by year, while at the same time more integrated methods – such as Design-Build, CM@Risk and IPD – are becoming the go-to choices for improved results?
  • How do you discuss construction documentation knowing that the majority of firms now work in models, not drawings, making fuzzy the line between design intent and dictating construction means and methods?
  • How do you cover the architect’s standard of care when BIM puts that term into question?
  • How do you make the content relevant to all students when you know that 50% of them will go on to non-traditional practice?

I’ll often hear practitioners complain that architecture school doesn’t teach students about running a practice, about the importance of attaining business skills or even how buildings are put together. You might have heard similar complaints – or perhaps even agree with these yourself.

The thing is, sometimes I would hear these complaints from firm principals, for example about the dearth of business knowledge in recent graduates, only moments after returning to the office from having taught just these very subjects in my courses.

Students are exposed to these practical topics – especially in professional practice courses. They are either just not making this known to their employers – or they aren’t carrying-over what they learned in school into the office, the proverbial academic/practice gap.

Is it that the information learned in courses such as professional practice doesn’t “stick,” or because it isn’t put into immediate use, doesn’t resonate with them – and so it is soon forgotten.

Some of this has no doubt been covered in the extensive reports collected by The National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB) for their 2013 Accreditation Review Conference (ARC13) July 17-19, in Snowbird, UT. Following the conference, the NAAB will revise The Conditions for Accreditation with a new edition scheduled for release in 2014.

Learning Professional Practice from Books

I attended school before professional practice course content was required for accreditation. I learned everything I needed to learn about practice from reading: books such as The Architect’s Handbook of Professional Practice (look for the new 15th edition Nov. 2013) and lesser known but equally impactful books, such as The Executive Architect: Transforming Designers into Leaders.

Architect and educator Andrew Pressman has written some excellent books including a new book due out January 2014, Designing Relationships: The Art of Collaboration in Architecture. Look for it.

But I recognize that students have different learning preferences and perhaps due to the forces of digital technology and social media, reading is less and less one of them. What worked for me won’t necessarily work for them. Reading gets relegated to the supplemental.

In my own courses, I emphasize the importance of people skills and in order to make the material memorable as well as actionable, I try to use a variety of learning tools – storytelling, role playing, break-out sessions, hands-on exercises – so as not to reduce the learning of course content to rote memorization from a sage on the stage.

As it is, students tend to compartmentalize knowledge – what happens in building science stays in building science – instead of applying what they learned in non-design courses to what they are working on in studio.

In the comprehensive Capstone studio I taught last fall – teaching both design studio and technology courses – I had the unusual perspective of realizing that my students could not perform tasks as seniors that I had evidence of their performing as sophomores. Instead of accumulating knowledge, or building on what came before, it is as though the information learned in one part of the curriculum remained inaccessible or dormant – as though left behind in some unused sketchbook.

For ProPrac course content to have any resonance, meaning and import – it has to find a way to be applied across the curriculum.

What, if anything, do you recall from your professional practice course?

What would you recommend to change about how professional practice is taught to make it more relevant for emerging design professionals?

– Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED-AP

On June 2013, I will be leading a early morning session on how to lead in the new world of practice, at the AIA 2013 Convention in Denver – live in person and also on-demand for the virtual convention. To learn more, please click the link below:

TH107: (Re)Learning to Lead with BIM and IPD

2013 AIA National Convention

Thursday, June 20, 2013 | 7:00 AM – 8:00 AM

Denver, CO Convention Center, Room 201

Earn 1.00 AIA LUs + GBCI


Also, in July 2013, I will be leading a 2-day seminar. To learn more, please click the link below:

BIM: Lessons in Leadership

Harvard GSD Executive Education seminar

July 8, 2013 – 9:00am – July 9, 2013 – 5:00pm

Gund Hall, 48 Quincy Street, Cambridge, MA

Earn 14 AIA/CES