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Become a Life Change Architect August 19, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, career, change, collaboration, creativity, employment, reading, survival, the economy.
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Fall is near, school’s back in session.

You can feel it in the air.

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

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

But should it be job #2?

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

Only to have their firm file Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Maybe our job #1 should be something else?

As in, ourselves.

Assuming we can all take care of our physiological needs –

Food?

Water?

Shelter?

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

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

But that’s just not the case.

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

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

In fact, quite exceptionally – better than most.Literature of Reinvention or Chicken Soup for the Architect’s Soul?

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

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

It offers both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three (St)ages

1. School

2. Working pre-great recession

3. Work/Life post-great recession

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

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

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

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

Using the very same skills and creativity we use as architects.Become a Life Change Architect

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

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

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

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

Making a Major Life Change

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

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

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

But don’t let these strengths fool you.

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

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

Just take the first strength: Preparation.

The book defines this not as undertaking mental or physical warm-ups but as “deliberately engaging in activities that help break us from our usual patterns of thought and feeling and prepare us for creative insight.”This insight can be just what you need to lead the way to a breakthrough in your situation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And don’t even realize it.

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

What was your secret?

How did you escape from the box you were in?

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

You designed you way out the only way I knew.

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

So why not try something different?

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

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

When all life gives you are tomatoes, make gazpacho.

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

Building on What You Already Know

You need help.

You want to help others in need.

And you help yourself by helping others.

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

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

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

With this book you can consider yourself reminded.

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Being of Three Minds June 7, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, career, change, essence, identity, software architects, technology.
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I was of three minds,

Like a tree

In which there are three blackbirds.

Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Technology is […] a queer thing. It brings you gifts with one hand, and stabs you in the back with the other.

C.P. Snow

While being interviewed the other day for an article about my blogs, I was asked about their genesis: What had provoked me to write them?

Explaining how my other blog http://bimandintegrateddesign.com/ came about was easy.

Architects and other design professionals have to deal with change from new disruptive technologies and work processes.

My other blog exists to help fellow professionals confront the forces that create an immunity to change – forces brought about by fear, hesitancy, uncertainty or misinformation.

What makes an architect an architect?

The original purpose of this blog – Architects 2 Zebras – was different.

It came about in order to identify and discuss what it is exactly that all architects have in common.

In other words – what makes an architect an architect – irrespective of what type of architect they are.

Instead of focusing on who stole who’s thunder and identity and reclaiming “our” title back, this was to be a blog focused on what architects of all stripes have in common and what we can learn from each other.

In the 18 months since the first post, the term “architect” has become increasingly common with non-design entities and many design architects resent this.

But it is not just the title design architects are concerned about – nor the inconvenience of doing a job search only to come up with IT positions.

Some design architects wonder if software architects have not only usurped design architect’s title but in doing so their mojo?

A Tale of Two Bookshelves

One only need visit any of the big box bookstores in the U.S. to witness two very different circumstances.

On the one hand, books on technology, computing, software and social networking are thriving.

Where sold copies are replaced as soon as those on display are depleted.

At the bookstores I’ve visited architecture-related books told a different story.

The shelves where architecture, interior design and planning books are displayed have been decimated, the few remaining titles left in disarray.

This could be seen as a positive sign – one, say, of strong sales – were it not for the fact that these shelves remain unreplenished.

Or perhaps a reflection of the buying power of the two architects at this time in history? Perhaps.

A situation all the more disconcerting for someone like myself who plans on having a book published and displayed on such a shelf in the coming year.

A Third Culture

“The third culture consists of scientists and other thinkers who are taking the place of the “traditional intellectuals” in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”

John Brockman, The Third Culture

Good packages – like omens and wishes – come in threes (BIM, IPD and LEED come to mind.)

Thirds in fact seem to be popping up everywhere these days.

With owners and contractors, architects often feel like the Third wheel.

There are the Third world impacts from globalization to contend with.

Architects focused on the design and inhabitation of Third places – such as bookstores, cafes and bars.

We’re planning the Third chapters of our careers.

Our current focus in architecture on the virtual representation of the Third dimension.

The Third Teacher (a marvelous must-have book on design of schools and education by Bruce Mau with OWPP/Cannon Design)

A Third Way

And some less relevant to our discussion:

The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien; The Third Reich; The Third realm

and

Why My Third Husband Will be a Dog

A Tale of Two Cultures

Design architects like to say that architecture is both an art and science – both of the humanities and of the sciences – the two cultures first identified by C.P. Snow in his seminal lecture and subsequent essay The Two Cultures published 50 years ago.

It’s a reflection based on the premise that intellectual life was divided into two cultures: the arts and humanities on one side and science on the other.

Software architects on the other hand associate themselves with technology, a culture not yet represented by design architect’s two cultures.

Until now, that is.

In the intervening years since Snow’s lecture, third cultures of course have been proposed, generally termed “social science” and comprised of fields such as sociology, political science, economics, psychology, and anthropology.

As mentioned earlier in this post, my other blog focuses on this third culture: the social implications of technology on design professionals, firm culture, organizations, and the profession and construction industry as a whole.

But the social impacts are a result – a symptom that needs to be addressed – not the cause.

The cause is the technology that seems all but inescapable in the practice of our art and science.

So I wonder if for architects our third culture is something closer to that of technology?

To be sure, one could argue that technology has been with us all along, as the so-called science of architecture is building science, otherwise known as building technology.

But there’s no mistaking the fact that with the advent of BIM and other IT-related tools, architects have started to wonder:

Whether our profession now comprises all three cultures: art, science and technology?

And if it does – does one take precedence over the other?

Or is it – like Vitruvius’ triumvirate – more a matter of maintaining a balance?

firmitas, utilitas and venustas

Commodity, firmness and delight – structural stability, spatial accomodation and attractive appearance – have been called architecture’s ultimate synthesis.

Roughly speaking – these three terms mirror architect’s three cultures: art, science and technology.

Could it be with the advent of new technologies and the collaborative work processes enabled by them that we as professionals are finally in a position to achieve Vitruvius’ ideal?

Perhaps it would be helpful for architects to think of themselves as being of three minds?

To think of ourselves as having an art mind, a science mind – which we already possess – and a technology mind.

To see technology as less of a threat and rather as something that was there all along – helping us to stay balanced.

And in doing so garner some of that technology mojo for ourselves?

delightful, delovely, design

When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

R. Buckminster Fuller

Building science and digital technology both require that the architect have a strong grasp of how buildings are put together.

One cannot use digital tools, let alone practice architecture, without a thoroughly understanding – in minute detail – how buildings are constructed.

With technology and building science covered – let’s turn our attention to Vitruvius’ venustas or beauty, art, appearance.

You could argue – with Bucky Fuller – that once structure and function have been addressed the resulting building will inevitably be beautiful.

But I’m not going to do that here.

I’m going to suggest you do something else instead.

This week – I am going to ask you to acknowledge and honor yourself and as an artist and as a designer: your art mind, if you will.

What resides deep inside – after the documents have been coordinated and submitted, and work out in the field has been observed – what in you remains.

You know what I am talking about.

It has gone on for too long underserved, unacknowledged – by others, certainly, but admittedly by yourself as well.

How to go about honoring ourselves as designers and artists that we as architects truly are?

Each of us has our own way of going about this.

Pour a cup or glass and flip through the pages of The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture.

Or a book on Italian Hill towns.

Or head out to visit your favorite building in person. And really spend some time there.

Or volunteer at one of the many architecture boot camp summer programs taking place at many of the colleges and universities across the states.

Or attend the AIA National Convention (Design for the New Decade) in Miami this week – in person or virtually.

Fill a sketchbook with ideas you have been meaning to explore.

However you choose to honor yourself, take the time – this week – to honor the small, still voice that resides in you that wants to be heard.

What have you done lately to address and honor your artistic side?

Architects have been criticized for being “artists” when others needed us to be responsible constructors and business partners.

We’ve convinced ourselves to work clandestine as artist/architects, under the radar.

So as not to let on that we’re duplicitous in our motives, representing not only our clients but also the call of our higher selves.

Do this one thing for yourself this week.

As with any threesome, art is threatened to be overcome by the two bolder – and seemingly more objective – of the three cultures: science and technology.

Art almost always loses out to the larger, more vocal forces.

We tell ourselves that – as with Fuller – art will be served by our working within constraints, meeting objectives, representing the health, safety and welfare of the building’s inhabitants.

This is just something we tell ourselves. But it never is.

Next week you can be an architect of three minds – art, science and technology.

This week – go out and let your inner architect play.

For those of us who don’t get to design every day, it remains critical to our identity, role, essence – our satisfaction, well-being and happiness – that we honor our artistic side.

Our art mind.

So get in touch with what truly mattered to you when you first started out.

And matters to you still.

Do this one thing for yourself this week.

Next week you can go back to the rigor and challenge of living and working within the three cultures.

If not now, when?

Architects as Translators April 16, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, books, creativity, essence, pragmatism, problem solving, questions, reading, transformation.
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So much of what we do is listen to the stories of our clients and reinterpret them into physical form. If we can demonstrate to our clients that we understand their story by, in turn, telling them a story about their building and how it achieves their vision and mission, then we can create truly powerful places.

Grace Kim

Architects do many things that others – and they themselves – take for granted.

To name but a few:

Architects synthesize, orchestrate and transform.

They facilitate, collaborate and innovate.

They form-give, order-make (some would wryly add, order-take) and problem-solve.

Architects are seers, polymaths and integrators (the future belongs to the integrators.)

Architects are by necessity optimists, predisposed to act, and at one and the same time both product- and process-oriented in their thinking.

They see – and are able to zoom in and out of – the big picture and minutest detail at once.

Architects are systems thinkers, visionary pragmatists and create the elusive wow effect.

They design buildings, the spaces between buildings and the interfaces between people.

Architects do more with less; make the complex simple and look easy and the invisible apparent.

They see things that to others just aren’t there – but that they alone can see.

Architects make connections; celebrate and make apparent the meeting of materials and systems.

Architects make meaning out of bricks and sticks where only an empty lot existed before.

But perhaps the most miraculous thing architects do – is translate.

Q/A with an Architect-as-Translator

Q: What do architects translate?

A: Words into images into buildings. Some would say: Words into 3D digital models built of database spreadsheets filled with…words. Words to images and back to words again.

Q: What else do they translate?

A: Other people’s dreams, ideas and needs into a cohesive, comprehensive, meaningful whole. And sometimes for themselves. User requirements into a vision. Chaos into order. Architects listen and translate information into a meaningful medium the client understands.

Q: How do architects translate?

A: They observe. They listen. They’re receptive to other’s input.

Q: But how do they do it?

A: No one really knows how it happens – the magical synthesis, the transformation. It’s alchemy.

Q: Is translation strictly a right brain activity? Left brain? Or does it use both sides of the brain?

A: Yes. Yes. And yes. Architects think of translation as a bridge – moving from one modality to another. They bridge one medium to another; one stage of development to another.

Q: Are architects alone in this ability? Is the ability to translate unique to architects?

A: To architects…and translators. No one besides the architect that I am aware of has been able to bridge words and thoughts into images – let alone into 3-dimensional objects – that (purportedly) keep the rain out.

Q: How do architects acquire this ability?

A: Architects first learn to translate words, user needs and directions into spaces, images and form while in school. The irony is – while translation can be learned – it cannot be taught. It is impossible to pinpoint the moment when the architect learns the art of translation. Most do not even realize that they have acquired this transformative skill – going a long way to explain why they take their ability to do so for granted.

Q: Architects interpret – is this the same as translate?

A: Depends on your interpretation. Architects reinterpret.

Q: What do you call translating that involves associative thinking? As when a refrigerator is compared with a cat because: they both contain fish, they both purr and they both have tails.

A: Deluded? Some call it creative thinking. If you were paid for that thought? Design thinking.

Q: What is the future of this architect ability?

A: With gadgets and no-cost services available for translating languages, it would seem that the architect’s mercurial ability to translate written or spoken directions into both analog and digital neck-craning spaces and worlds is just an appa way. But in truth it cannot be replicated except in others who are given – or give themselves – the opportunity to learn it. With the current emphasis on digital technology, architects seldom freehand draw and have lost the ability to translate in front of others.

Q: Where do you recommend I start?

A: Why Translation Matters by Edith Grossman – translator of Cervantes’s “Don Quixote” and many of the major works of García Márquez –  a just-released book in the same Yale U Press “Why X Matters” series as Why Architecture Matters, won’t teach you to be a better translator of words into images and form. But in that it argues for the importance of translation and for a more encompassing and nuanced appreciation of the translator’s role – the architect may pick-up a thing or two about this little appreciated, misunderstood and taken-for-granted ability of theirs. Grossman’s belief in the crucial significance of the translator’s work is noteworthy and compelling and ought to rub-off on the architect. But then again, that’s my interpretation.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design March 23, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, BIM, collaboration, creativity, essence, IPD, management, marginalization, problem solving, questions, software architects, technology, the economy.
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Design. Noun or verb?

Building design? Noun.

Architects design? Verb.

So why do architects keep treating design like it’s a noun?

What architects talk about when they talk about design – is mostly buildings.

Design strategies, initiatives, options?  Design criteria, benchmarks and objectives? Leave these for MBAs.

 “Hiring an AIA architect,” says the AIA website, “could be the best decision you’ll make for your design project.” Yet no client considers their project a design assignment. That’s framing it as an architect sees it.

Design – the noun – is a tool architects use to plan and solve a client’s or owner’s problems: they need more space, they need to move and they need to attract more students or customers or retain the ones they have. They don’t have design projects – we do.

And note: the emphasis is on action  –  not thing.

To a client, an architect may help you to realize, recommend, guide, clarify, define, orchestrate, and help you get the most for your construction dollar. All verbs.

If that’s what we mean by design – then why don’t we say it? Why don’t we remind others that that is what we do?

And with the 2010 AIA Convention on the horizon why don’t we remind ourselves of this meaning of the word?

That said, if design is our core competency – what distinguishes us from pretenders –the act of design takes up a relatively small part of our day.

Over the past 25 years I have worked on several projects where I might design the building in a day – and then spend the next 3-5 years fleshing it out – and everything else that’s required to see to its realization. Some would say fleshing it out is someone else’s design development and another person’s iteration and still another’s level of detail. Sure – there is a great deal more design to do once the client says go. But again – the emphasis is on action – design as a verb – and not on the building.

One of the advantages of the new technologies such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) – the collaborative work process enabled by it (the subject of my other blog www.bimandintegrateddesign.com)– is that design occurs early, involving many stakeholders, and can come from just about anywhere. Yes, the architect may orchestrate the effort – and may be the one person qualified to do so – but she’s still applying for that position, it has not been awarded yet. Design in the near future will happen sooner in the process, by many – including considerable contributions made by non-designers and designers alike.

In fact – architects have been threatened by the role of the “designer” that has been appearing more and more in industry diagrams illustrating construction project teams. Where in these diagrams is the architect? The architect’s very survival instinct kicks in when this happens and what ensues can be unnerving. I have seen chairs fly and voices rise. Someone else is moving in on our territory and the instinct is to attack.

When we talk about design – who is our intended audience? By calling attention to design are we thinking that this will remind others on the construction team who really has the corner on design? Is this the meta-message for making this the year of design? “Don’t forget – architects design, too.” By calling attention to design, are we primarily reminding others that we design? Or – and at the same time – are we reminding ourselves?

Because many architects haven’t designed a building since the immersive studio experience in school and are in need of reminding. All but buried in building codes, zoning regulations, contractor’s RFI’s and change orders, lean construction, green building rating systems –  not to mention BIM, IPD, VDC and a hundred other acronyms that come our way – it’s almost as though instead of announcing to the world who we are, we are announcing it to ourselves. It’s almost as though we’re experiencing a form of professional amnesia or Alzheimer’s – and can’t remember who we are and what we do.

Design: Who we are. What we do.

Part of the problem is that the word design has become ubiquitous. Architects, of course, don’t have a corner on the design market.  Yes, architects design, but so do web designers, product designers, urban designers, environmental designers, business designers, set design, packaging design, game design, exhibition designers, landscape designers, graphic designers, interior designers, industrial designers, fashion designers and all the other T-shaped designers to name but a few.

If design is the planning that serves as the basis for the making of every object and system in the universe, then what are we talking about when we talk about design?

How can our purpose, our heart, our core – as design professionals – be such a small part of what we do?

And – if the new technologies and work processes have their way – we’re about to do even less of it.

Or do more of it in our heads.

Or conceptualize in the monitor, using the program’s built-in metrics to ferret out the most cost effective options.

The problem with the word design isn’t that it too narrowly defines what we as architects do. The problem is that the word design is overused, vague, appropriated by too many industries and domains – from MBA’s to makers of medical devices. I can understand the need for a convention to have as its subject a sweeping or enveloping concept to allow for the myriad specific entries and presentation-. As the convention material puts it, the weft through which a number of threads—sustainability, diversity, professional practice, technologies, leadership, communities, typologies, and others—will be woven. Last year’s was diversity. Next year’s – you can imagine – will be selected from amongst the remaining threads.

That design is not enough of a differentiator, whether building, city or global design.

To go from diversity to design isn’t to return to our roots.

Better we should ask ourselves these questions:

  • What distinguishes the architect?
  • What is unique to the architect?

Is it design or is it design thinking?

Is it design or is it problem identifying and problem solving?

The word design has too many connotations and is appropriated by too many industries. Earlier, I did my best to answer these questions here in Ten Ways to Face the Decade like an Architect.

10 Questions Architects Need to Ask Themselves

So, before heading off for the AIA Convention in Miami, ask yourself: What do we talk about when we talk about design?

  • Are we talking about design as a competitive advantage over our competition, namely design-builders and construction managers and other design professionals?
  • Is design enough of a differentiator? Others on the construction team see themselves as designers – including some owners and fellow design professionals.
  • By separating design from the rest of the process are we reinforcing others’ firmly held notions – however erroneous – that architects are elitist, arrogant, isolationists, rarified in some way.
  • Will architects who gather to celebrate design – and celebrate themselves – be accused of navel gazing, reinforcing the scourge of being labeled out-of-touch aesthetes?
  • Will architects be seen by others – disenfranchised and disillusioned architects among them – as reinforcing their already perceived irrelevance in the construction process, by meeting to talk about design they’re proverbially rearranging deckchairs while the rest of the profession goes down?
  • Will meeting to talk about design further sharpen the architect’s already considerable edge by playing-up their cool factor and wow factor?
  • If design can’t be taught and is something you intuit – that you either have it or you don’t – why meet to talk about it?
  • By talking about design do architects risk alienating teammates by remind them of their increasing irrelevance?
  • While the rest of the world is knee deep in design thinking will architects be perceived as focusing on design without the thinking?
  • By talking about the design of buildings as objects as opposed to systems, flows or solutions, will architects – with the Wal-Marting of the world and Targeting of design – reinforce the commoditizing of their skill-sets?

Thomas Friedman perhaps brought this point home when he wrote

If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use Amazon.com to handle fulfillment. I can use freelancer.com to find someone to do my logo and manage my backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea.

Are architects talking about design like fish talking about water?

A San Francisco architect, Ted Pratt, Principal and Founder of MTP Architects, wrote to me today

The idea of Design Thinking is really taking hold here with business.  Last week I attended a panel discussion focused on the topic of Design and Business.  The event was held at Swissnex here in San Francisco.  All of the panel members were business people.  I commented to my business partner that we needed to be on the panel alongside the persons from Clorox and Nestle.  There was an administrator from the California College of Arts’ MBA program.  They have an MBA focused on Design Thinking.

Architects are already seen by many as the makers of pretty pictures. By getting together to talk about design will we be perpetuating this perception?

As Ted wrote, we needed to be on the panel.

Architects – working at many scales, from GIS to doorknobs – are first and foremost design thinkers. Design thinking is a term that some feel is the latest buzzword and by the time you read this will already be past-tense. But the truth is – whatever you call it – design thinking is something we as architects have done for centuries. You can learn more about it here.

What should our message be?

In the AIA’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, under Vision, it is written:

The American Institute of Architects: Driving positive change through the power of design.

Sooner that contrarian author and Design Futures Council board member, Richard Farson, author of The Power of Design, should speak at the convention.

And under Goals:

Serve as the Credible Voice: Promote the members and their AIA as the credible voice for quality design and the built environment.

Quality design. There you have it. With the focus front and center of the product and not the process.

The planet will always need quality design. But what the world needs right now is not more buildings but the creativity and ingenuity that goes into their design applied to the problems and forces at hand.

We love buildings – we love architecture – that is why we became architects: to be part of their design and realization.

But, as IDEO’s Diego Rodriguez says, Stop Treating Design as A Noun.

Is design even the message we need to be sending? At this time in history, shouldn’t our message be on collaboration, cooperation, teamwork, making our teammates look better, improving the process for all involved, playing well with others and our trustworthiness?

Design for the new decade

The 2010 AIA Convention has as its theme Design for the new decade. Design, a return to design. Getting back to our roots. Reprioritizing. Do what we do best. Which is namely,

Cool buildings, innovative form and materials, sustainable design.

With the selection of Dan Pink as keynote, the message appears to be that we have been spending too much time in the left hemisphere – with all of our focus on the left-brain thinking required of practice – and seek some Florida solace in the sun and respite in the right.

Once architects leave Miami, their brains newly balanced and their hemispheres aligned, perhaps we ought to consider the fact that what distinguishes the architect is the mercurial interaction of our left and right hemispheres. Design is not the domain exclusively of the left or right brains – but the back-and-forth interaction of the two. Our real value as architects occurs in neither individual lobe but in the space between.

Architects already do what the world needs most right now – they don’t need to emphasize one hemisphere over another – they just need to get the word out there a little louder in a world that’s already screaming for attention; that this is what we already do, this is who we already are.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Dan Pink. He spoke back to back at the Design Futures Council’s summit AND my kid’s middle school last Fall. He’s moved on – driven – past design onto more intrinsically motivated pastures. And we ought to take a clue from him and follow his lead.

So it should be clear by now. Design isn’t what we do or who we are. But instead Design thinking. Design deliberation. Design countenance. It’s not design – that’s shared by far too many to have any meaning – but what we do with it. Design isn’t a skill but a modifier for who we are and what we do. We ought to start acting more like it and let others in on the secret.

So go ahead – re-commit yourself to design as the architect’s primary mode of thought and action. Just don’t be fooled by the siren song of designed objects be they places, projects or things. What you are re-committing to is making design thought and design action a priority.

Design thinking and design doing: who we are and what we do.

This is the crux: for the present time – to reinforce the notion that we are team players, that we are relevant, that we are necessary – we ought to emphasize our positive impact on the process, not the end result.

We are designers in that we are design managers and design leaders.

We are designers – we are design thinkers – gathering to re-commit to helping to define and solve our clients’, city’s, community’s and neighborhoods’ problems.

That is design for the new decade.

Do You Have the Right Stuff to Remain an Architect? February 28, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, books, career, change, creativity, possibility, problem solving, the economy.
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We shall not cease from exploration and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

T. S. Eliot – Little Gidding, from Four Quartets

Up until recently, before the economic downturn, this post might have been entitled Do You Have the Right Stuff to Be an Architect? And while many in this economy have returned to school to study architecture, the more pressing crisis requiring addressing is the one involving those leaving the profession in droves – either by their own volition or by forces outside their control. In this post we’ll address those who are already architects – of whatever stripe – that want to hold on.

The Missing Middle 50

An exercise I used to do with my graduate architecture students was to have them draw a timeline – placing dots indicating their birth and the day the proverbial milk truck hits them at the end – and a dot indicating where they think they are now on this timeline.

Next I asked them to place dots relative to where they are now, indicating some of their milestones: graduating, getting their license, LEED accreditation, starting their own firms, winning the Pritzker Prize.

Interestingly, year after year, these goals were all cramped – along with marriage, buying a home and having their first child – in a 5 year period after graduation.

That left at least 50 years to contend with – to fill in – with what?

Remaining.

They were so busy focusing for so long on becoming an architect that they gave little thought or attention to how to remain one.

There they were, year after year, doing whatever it takes to get through school and graduation with little idea of what to do beyond their short horizon. To this I ask:

Have you addressed your middle 50?

Becoming vs. Remaining

Although the distinction is subtle – since the world is not a static place, and the status quo in our profession and industry is change – we are all, always, in the act of becoming. You might say that change – not buildings or even creating documents – is what architects produce. Demands on architects to learn, maintain, master and even anticipate changes in building codes, materials, emerging green technologies, virtual construction technologies, collaborative work processes, knowledge management, zoning, site planning, passive heating/cooling, LEED, structures, MEP, lighting, construction methods, cost estimating, fire protection, place making and design are considerable – and one wouldn’t question an architect’s desire to wave the white flag and jump ship based solely on the constant stress to keep-up these requirements.

Let alone while trying to get their work done, as well as the work inherited from those who were let go.

Let alone while seeking out insights on how best to navigate the ever-changing terrain and constant rapids our careers have become.

Let alone while new technologies and work processes raise the bar on the standard of care.

The question of becoming is a familiar one and addressed more than adequately in book form by Roger Lewis and our good friend Dr. Architecture himself, Lee Waldrep, Ph.D. – in book and website and blog.

This question of remaining is another matter – one that normally would not be posed except by and for the most discouraged.

The question of remaining speaks to our current economic condition, to a seemingly disinterested society, to owners who refuse to show appreciation, to uncommunicative employers still searching for their true north, to the indignities of the workplace, to our personal situation, and perhaps also to our psychological mindset and mettle.

Cynical, snide and skeptical comments have been left –  in the wake of industry articles reporting on the condition of the contemporary architect – by those threatening to leave the tsunami of the profession for hopefully higher ground far afield.

To those – I wish you the best in your pursuits.

To those all others who have by choice, necessity, force, coercion, inertia, confusion or fear remained and find themselves today – employed, underemployed or unemployed – architects and wish to remain architects, please read on.

To you I ask, what will it take for you to remain?

Getting a Good R.A.P.

There are many qualities the architect who wishes to remain an architect for the long haul needs to focus on – but perhaps the three that are most critical are Resilience, Adaptability and Perseverance, or RAP. (Note: Please don’t suggest adding Age and revising the order to AARP or, for those golf-playing retiring types, PAR.)

Resilience

Resilience is defined physiologically as the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused stress, and also psychologically as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.  It is this second definition – one of mindset and attitude – that I feel best serves architects seeking to remain architects in the current terrain. Resilience here is the positive capacity of architects to cope and ability to bounce back after a disruption. It has two parts: exposure of adversity and the positive adjustment outcomes of that adversity.

In The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by psychologists Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté, resilience is a habit of mind and – with a focus on 7 skills you can learn – a practical roadmap for navigating unexpected challenges, surprises, and setbacks at work. The book’s premise and promise is that you can boost resilience by changing the way you think about adversity. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – adaptive, constructive strategies for dealing with negative thoughts and feelings applied here to the work place & force – is an especially effective way to bring about change.

Adaptability

The word “adaptive” in the previous sentence was not placed there accidently. A key factor in longevity – whether it’s mankind’s survival of the fittest or the last one standing in the workplace – is the ability to adapt to different situations. As I am a firm believer that there is a great, must-read book for all occasions and situations, this topic is no exception.

Such is the case with AdapAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For by MJ Ryan. about money and career issues, this book will help architects adjust to the changes inherent to forces acting upon the workplace in the current climate. Without specifically addressing them, the book will help architects with their ability to adapt to the fragmentation of the architect’s once-familiar world, the increasing demands placed on architects by unreasonable or misinformed owners and even the particular stresses brought about by an increasingly diverse, globalized workforce and industry. A book like AdapAbility can go a long way toward helping architects face the changes they want to see happen in their lives, and the ones that are thrust upon them in unexpected ways and at difficult times like our own.

On the subject of adapting to change, I highly recommend the Heath brother’s (Chip and Dan) new book, (following on the heels of their platinum Made to Stick, Switch – which I cover this week in my other blog www.bimandintegrateddesign.com

Perseverance

In kindergarten we were taught to not give up, trying again and again. That perseverance would take commitment, hard work, patience and endurance. That perseverance meant being able to bear difficulties calmly and without complaint. But how?

Unstoppable: 45 Powerful Stories of Perseverance and Triumph from People Just Like You, yours for a dollar, offers examples for the sort of architect inspired and motivated by stories over lists. If this is more mollifying than motivating you may want to look into reading Keep Going: The Art of Perseverance, a soul-searching book by best-selling Native American writer Joseph M. Marshall III. An inspirational guide deeply rooted in Lakota spirituality, yours here for a penny.

The Right Stuff

Remaining an architect doesn’t mean to sit still in one place. That is not remaining, that is falling behind. The cost of doing nothing is considerable. You must practice instead the art of doing something.

Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path talks about the wisdom of having the right view and intention; the ethics of right speech, action and livelihood; and the mental development of right effort, mindfulness and concentration. Noble indeed – together they may help you remain an architect – but I would like to suggest a ninth path: having the right stuff.

Fear not, architect. There are many spacesuits you can wear as you make your rounds through life on planet earth – and being and remaining an architect is just one of them. Many cannot imagine doing anything else. For them, being an architect is more than a job, vocation, career or even calling – it is a way to go through life, a lens through which they see the world at large, and a mindset from which they can approach any situation – however new and unfamiliar.

There has been much talk of late about design thinking and transferable skills – how the architect has within her arsenal an almost endless supply of strategies, tactics, tips and tricks to overcome any problem. Strategies they can apply to perhaps the greatest problem of all, that of determining a new career.

And yet, you can apply design thinking to your own current situation, in an effort to help find a way to continue. Try this. Design yourself a way out of this box – the box you’ve been put in, put yourself in or find yourself in. And in doing so, you may in fact find yourself right where you started and know the place – really know the place – for the first time. And that is when you will know that you have truly remained.

Design and Run February 9, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, marginalization, survival, transformation.
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When people think of good design they think of companies like Apple that not only design got-to-have products but also category killer services such as iTunes.

iTunes became a one-stop destination when they broke-up the album and sold songs individually. You no longer had to buy 9 mediocre songs that you didn’t want in order to have the one you did. In the new model, you just download the one song you want.

The full-length album used to be on top. Today, major labels are finding that shorter might be better.

Just as purchasing 99 cent iTunes songs instead of buying the entire album created value for Apple – architect’s clients are being advised by owner’s reps, construction managers and contractors themselves to break-up the architect’s album-length basic services and only use the song-like parts they need.

Paying by the Piece

Owners want architects for a song. The song no one else can do as well.

The Vision Thing.

Owners – with their one track mind – are only interested in one thing.

Owners telling you that they only want you for your design is as empty, superficial and offensive as wanting somebody only for their mind.

Not a system thinker among them, they’re interested in the parts over the whole.

Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for a greatly reduced fee?

A number of architecture firms habitually submit schematic designs for projects – and that’s all.

What’s the value proposition in that? How do you make money doing that?

Selected from the architect scrapyard where architects are sold for scrap.

Owners playing the game of Design and Run.

Picking architects over – extracting parts – design ability here, visualization there.

Determining which are ripe for reprocessing and which can be discarded.

Skills often sold at prices substantially below the retail purchasing costs of similar parts.

Often confused with waste, scrap instead has significant value.

To the scrapyard, the primary value of the scrap is what the smelter will give you for it.

Why pay for the basic services album when you can have design for a song?

Under this model owners retain architects for their core competency – design – and go elsewhere for coordination, detailing, documentation…

…design development, construction documents, bidding and negotiation, construction observation.

Architects want to sell by the album – but owners aren’t buying it any longer.

They’re buying it shorter.

Selling the Architect Short

Owners are short of attention, short of cash, short of time – so naturally they sell their architects short.

“It’s a good idea to be able to provide people with shorter, more expedient, more time-sensitive” content, according to publisher Timothy C. Moore.

Like the iTunes song –one publisher has recently introduced for the Kindle a series of short, digital-only titles for professionals who want quick snippets of advice for $2.99 or less.

And so today we have what they’re calling Kindle editions.

And Kindle edition-sized architectural services.

Shorter, faster, cheaper.

Unless architects either find, discover or design a way to reap the value equivalent of the iTunes model for design services – and do so quickly – they may indeed see themselves go the way of the album.

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.

Rescue a Life in this, Our Time of Need December 12, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, creativity, environment, the economy.
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When’s the last time you did something nice for an architect?

Architects are seen by most as self-reliant. They don’t need anything from anyone, except perhaps a patron or a client now and then.

Self-reliant. Self-confident. Self-controlled…

With their designer duds, dressed in black. And the eyewear… Not exactly a warm and fuzzy image that comes to mind. Perhaps explaining why “Have you hugged an architect today?” mugs and bumper stickers are rarely seen.

So, when asked when the last time is that you did something nice for an architect? Your answer is probably along the lines of…?

I recently put this question to a select few colleagues and contacts, these were some of the responses:

  • An architect? Aren’t there others – the underprivileged, the bereft – that require our tending to first?
  • What? I give so often I’m starting to show symptoms of gifting exhaustion.
  • When is the last time someone gave to me?
  • If I give – then I will have less and I need everything I have for that rainy day.
  • Yes, I know of a job opening and nearby – but I’m not about to tell them. I’m saving it for myself.

As my wife has long observed: architects just aren’t nice to other architects.

It’s primarily an image problem. As victims of rampant stereotyping, we know that what  motivates us is to leave the world a better place than the way we found it. It’s just that we don’t often extend to people what we intend for the environment.

Since you’ve taken the time to read this post take a moment to ask yourself: Are you your colleague’s keeper?

Are you your former student’s keeper?

Your mentee’s keeper?

Are you your LinkedIn contact’s keeper?

If you have benefited in the past by the unseen hand of others, then your answer is indeed, yes.

Do you owe it to someone to help them out in this time of need? No. You don’t.

You owe it to yourself. To give at this time. Even if you don’t readily feel as though you have a lot to give right now.

For giving is a two-way street. What goes around comes around, especially if you live in a part of the world with a favor economy.

Part of the problem, no doubt, is gifting exhaustion, volunteer and philanthropic burn-out. Part of the problem is that with so many in need it’s hard to know who to help first – so we don’t help anyone. We tell ourselves at least that’s fair. I will unilaterally help no one, so no one, so to speak, is at a disadvantage.

But that’s a cop-out. We have deeper reserves than we allow ourselves to believe. Especially architects – resourceful to a fault, walking talking human Swiss Army knives. We can give – of ourselves, our time, our contacts, insights and creativity. It only requires refocusing our attention for a few moments.

And it only takes one.

Think for a moment: Who do you know – in the profession or industry – that’s in a position to help someone else? In this economy. Right now.

Don’t concern yourself with why they should they help someone they don’t know – especially when there are so many they already know that require their attention and assistance. For one reason: Because they know you. And for an abundance of other reasons:

  • Because you have stayed in touch with them over the years.
  • Because you are connected in some way – through school, past history, and organization.
  • Because they want to do good by you.
  • Because they may owe you a favor.
  • Because they have secretly admired you and would extend themselves to help you out if given the opportunity. Because they are looking for an opportunity – any opportunity – to act from their higher selves and by your calling on them are helping them out.
  • Because they have long wanted to help you out – but never found the chance or opportunity, didn’t know in what way, or because you never came across like you needed their help.

Well – that day has arrived. If not for yourself, for someone else you know who is in need. Extend yourself selflessly, perhaps even anonymously.

He that gives should never remember, he that receives should never forget.

Recall those who have helped you out – with a letter, a call – at a magic moment that turned things around for you. This is such a moment. If not now, when?

Every architect knows an architect in need

  • A colleague
  • An out of work architect
  • A former student or colleague
  • An architect online – on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – you suddenly see their status change; their past outweighs their current status

What can I do to help out an architect?

  • Write a recommendation – unprovoked, proactively, as a gift
  • List a nice, kind thing you can do for a fellow architect
  • Have an out of work architect  work at an empty workstation in your office and learn Revit – using tutorials
  • Ask around and identify a part-time position outside the field for an able and willing underemployed colleague
  • When I had my own firm I would secure a position elsewhere with a comparable architecture firm for an employee before letting them go. They had the option of accepting the position elsewhere. At the very least, I’d offer to serve as a recommendation for the candidate – and do a reasonable job talking them up. Without veering from the truth, architects can accomplish as much selling of their former employees and colleagues as they do selling their designs.

Why is this an issue? Why now?

  • The economy, banks not lending, developers unmotivated to move forward with their own cash; too much inventory already out there to absorb
  • We are not kind to, nor supportive of, one another; all too often of late it is every person for themselves
  • It’s as though a sign of professional pride – as in a fraternity, hazing, treat the upcoming class cruelly, because you were treated that way and so on into perpetuity – to treat our fellow architects poorly
  • One last issue why we are experiencing this as a problem is this: some believe that since professors haven’t been keeping up with advances in technology and practice that students upon graduation are unemployable – that they have to rely on practitioners to provide them with the skill sets they didn’t learn in school. No mechanism, as one architect put it recently, to keep our professors “tuned-up”, so to speak, on the emerging trends in our profession and trained to teach these aspects of our profession. As another online commenter stated, graduates are under the impression that their place of employment would teach them what they needed to know
  • There’s the perception by some of the AIA having gone AWOL (some want to rename the AIA the MIA.)

There is a great deal we can do for ourselves – be proactive, network, keep up with colleagues outside the office, contribute to your alma mater so that they will be there for us in our time of need .

We are architects. If we are not for ourselves, who will be?

The Talmud may seem like an unusual place to look for wisdom on this point, but I cannot imagine better words than these two last thoughts to carry within as we support our fellow architects:

Whoever destroys a single life is as guilty as though he had destroyed the entire world; and whoever rescues a single life earns as much merit as though he had rescued the entire world.

And this,

He who carries out one good deed acquires one advocate in his own behalf.

On the New Pragmatism September 13, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, fiction, function, pragmatism, transformation, transition.
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It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.

William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963)

With summer unofficially over, school back in session, and the light of day dwindling we find that we have to be all the more observant of how we spend our time. We tell ourselves that we have to make everything we do, every activity, every task, matter – or it is out of our regiment, we don’t have time for it.

The marketing and advertising world has picked-up on this rather 21st century tick of ours – call it multi-tasking, call it our striving for meaning-over-money – by renaming otherwise familiar products in the name of function.

One example are the so-called functional­ foods  or “smart” foods and beverages that line grocery shelves containing “functional” ingredients touted to help protect your heart and vision, keep our gastrointestinal tract healthy, and even boost our immune system. Sales of these foods topped $25 billion last year despite not all health claims being substantiated.

Another example has crept up on the job hunters who are being forced to recreate their resumes. The functional resume format – one of several resume layouts including reverse chronological (listing all your experience from most to least recent) and functional, which lists experience in skills clusters. For those finding that they need to update their old resume – including those with very diverse experiences that don’t add up to a clear-cut career path – a functional format could be considered.

Form Follows Function

Ever since Louis Sullivan touted these words, architects have by turns been instructed to design buildings in the name of function [and of late finance.] We’ve been told that if you give your form – however subjective and intuitive, discretionary or ill-conceived – a purpose, a justification, a use – you can sell it and see it built. Whether real or fictional, function has been top of mind for architects – at least in their social interactions – for well over 100 years.

On this anniversary of 9/11 we recall a time soon after the attacks when irony was pronounced dead and fiction reading has dropped by double digits while nonfiction hung tough. People wanted their information and they wanted it straight. Sales of fiction suffered almost immediately after the attacks. Escapism and entertainment were thought to be secondary if not unnecessary distractions. We were living in a time of war and information was at a premium.

After 9/11 those who associated fiction with the frivolous fueled a unexpected resurgence for poems.   Readers still wanted their nonfiction piled on but kept Auden’s September 1, 1939 or Wislawa Szymberska’s Poems New and Collected by their night stand. Poetry was one exception for it soothed the soul and, perhaps ironically, kept us rooted in the moment.

If they read fiction at all – novels, short stories, drama – it had to be informative, informational, instructive in some way,. For our time was short at hand and the end perhaps all too near. Call it “functional fiction” –fiction that is useful – fiction you can use. Stories that if they entertained did so while providing nuggets of truths or at least truisms we could take with us to work in the morning. Tales, if they carried us away to distant lands, did so clearly spelling out the lay of the land, recommending places to stay and sights to see: novel as travelogue.

And poetry? Not just for your nightstand anymore, Poem in your Pocket – a book of 200 poems you can tear out one at a time and put in your pocket – is available for those who need the feeling of inner security not found in the outside world.  They’re available in bite size poems for your kids  as well.

NonfictionFiction

Which takes us to two novels – both current bestsellers – to help to illustrate this point.

In Nicholson Baker’s latest novel, The Anthologist, we meet Paul Chowder at a rather tough time in his life as he shares – in an often very funny stream of consciousness – his woes and his knowledge of poetry. While you are being amused and entertained – watch out – you will be left by book’s end with a veritable college education in poets, contemporary and classical, poetry writing and appreciation. The book will have you compulsively seeking out poets and poems as a music review has you do for songs on iTunes. While thoroughly enjoying yourself you will acquire an expert and splendid education in poetry writing and reading.

Such is also the case in fiction writer Lorrie Moore’s just-released novel, A Gate at the Stairs. One of the few short story and novel writers that continuously keeps readers in stitches, here she seems to have a keen sense of the need for fiction to function beyond the tasks of storytelling. As pointed out in a recent review in the New York Times, while the book has been called “heartbreaking” and her “masterpiece,” and while it is every bit as punny and funny as her other fictions, the intrusion of the real world – and by that I mean international affairs, wars and real-time events – leaves one with the feeling that in order too stay relevant – and read – the work had to allow nonfiction in. Strike it up to another example of NonfictionFiction.

How to Decide

It is hard not to feel that something has been lost in the translation – from a more or less pure fiction that purported to carry us away, to involve our imagination and fantasies and, yes, at times, allow us escape from the humdrum or overly demanding worlds we have come to know and be a part of. That everything must mean, and teach, and instruct, and deliver – puts not only an unnecessary demand on authors but on readers as well. It is as though too often fun has been left out of the stuff of fiction and been replaced by the news.

So how to decide – not only what to read – but what to include in your already overly crammed life and what to exclude? In lieu of function I suggest we turn to pragmatism. An enlightened Pragmatism. By asking yourself three inimitably essential questions of the choices you confront on a daily basis, you will find in time that your life is filled – not with trivia and facts – but with activities, occasions and opportunities that are physically, mentally and spiritually uplifting, supportive of who you are and want to become and life-enhancing.

These simple questions are potentially life-changing – so do add them to your arsenal now but only use them when you are ready to move forward with your life:

1. Is it nurturing?

2. Is it growth-promoting?

3. Does it work for me?

These three simple inquiries – when answered – have worked for me every time for well over twenty years. Do you have questions you ask yourself to help you make important decisions in your life?

How Little the Future is Focused on the Future August 30, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, change, technology, transformation.
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“This new generation does not waste time speculating about the future.  Its attitude seems to be: Who needs the future? The present is plenty interesting on its own.”

The most striking thing about the best technology writing of 2009 is how little of it focuses on the future.

So opens the introduction of The Best Technology Writing 2009, as in the past made up of short articles from periodicals, blogs, newspapers. And how refreshing to discover a technology reader that continually returns us – neither to the foreseeable future nor the recent past – but to the eternal now. Readers and writers both were invited by the Yale University Press to nominate pieces, and even self-nominations are encouraged, with a preference for “profiles, policy, and Big Think pieces including blog posts, features, and investigative reporting; human interest, humor, business and gadgetry.”

In other words, the usual geeky fair with the ideal submissions being engagingly written for a mass audience, no longer than 5,000 words and published in 2008 (explaining how the 2009 collection – though with an official publishing date in October, can be had in August.)

Guest edited (given their quality it would be more accurate to say curated collection of essays) by Steven Johnson author of Everything Bad Is Good for You, it turns out that the criteria for inclusion in the collection is as creative and open-sourced as the content within.

Some of Johnson’s favorite passages in this collection “have this introspective quality: the mind examining its own strange adaption to a world that has been transformed by information technology.”

With our preoccupation with all things online we may have inadvertently missed a remarkable streak of emotive writing when learning of the previous collections: last year’s The Best of Technology Writing 2008, Sherry Turkle, Director, MIT Initiative on Technology and Self, and author of my current favorite read Simulation and Its Discontents (Simplicity: Design, Technology, Business, Life), wrote “reading this collection, one suspects he is right—it sparkles with beautifully written narratives not only about what technology can do for us but what it does to us as people, to our ways of thinking about ourselves, our relationships, and how we envisage our world.” The human element in this collection looms large.

There has been much written in the past about “High Tech, High Touch,” the balancing and rebalancing of the cool innovations of technology with the all-too-human interface. The essays selected for The Best Technology Writing 2009 take “touch” to another plane altogether when you consider how in touch they are with our feelings about our current – and human – condition.

The Best of Technology Writing 2007 also touched on the human element (social networking, “crowdsourcing” and the online habits of urban moms, amongst others) and the changes that connected computers have brought to this aspect of human behavior.

The current collection contains essays by Nicholas Carr [worrying that Google is making us stupid,] Dana Goodyear [heartbreakingly chronicling the renaissance of the cell phone novel,] Andrew Sullivan [on why he blogs,] Dalton Conley [on how the wealthy overwork in the information age,] and a particularly incisive essay by Clay Shirky marveling at the “cognitive surplus” unleashed by the decline of the TV sitcom, resulting in Wikipedia and perhaps the saving of the earth, amongst many others.

So why should architects of all stripes bother with this annual collection of well-wrought wisdom? For many reasons – not the least of which being that architects – whether building or software – can get pretty wrapped-up in the latest technology and software only to be reminded that it is people that count. People – who use the buildings or programs, people who we are designing for. A simple message perhaps – but one we need reminding of each day as we sit before the monitor and design.

Something that says a great deal about technology today is that I discovered the book at my local bookstore and shamelessly ordered it from Amazon at 7:30PM that weekday evening only for it to arrive – free of charge – at 3PM the next afternoon. That’s technology for you – but also excellent customer service. The “get it in two-day” delivery option under-promised and over-performed – what any self-respecting service provider (including architect) would strive to do. Needless to say, with an official release date still months away, let it be acknowledged that this is the book’s first review.

As Johnson concludes in his introduction, “sometimes, when the future finally arrives, the most surprising thing you discover is that things aren’t that different after all.” Bless this realization.