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It is the Enviable Architect who gets to Stay on Deck and Burn October 27, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect types, architecture industry, career, change, identity, survival, the economy, transformation.
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3 comments


This post will introduce a very short poem.

One that I feel perfectly captures the predicament architects find themselves in today.

But first, a few words about change.                    

As in What will it take for architects to change?

Let’s start by removing the word “change.”

Changing the word change.

Architects don’t like the word any more than anyone else.

Change itself is stressful and just the word alone has been known to raise one’s blood pressure.

And fight or flight response.

So what will it take for architects to evolve?

In order to transform, the pain of remaining the way we are has to be stronger than the pain of doing things differently.

From what I have seen and heard, architects have reached their pain threshold.

We’re crying Uncle.

Ready for the next step in our ongoing evolution.

Bring on the Next Age.

The next stage in our development.Is architecture a burning platform?

The term burning platform in business parlance means immediate and radical change due to dire circumstances.

Radical change in architects only comes when survival instincts trump comfort zone instincts.

When making major decisions or solving major problems a sense of urgency is required to achieve one’s goals.

Despite the hardships we face and have faced for the past several years, most of us have felt more of a numbness than any real urgency.

As though our eyes were transfixed on a nearby fire.

When it is we ourselves who are engulfed  in flames.Architects who would like an excuse to stay on deck

Thinking about architects and our situation today reminded me of a poem I’ve long loved.

A poem by one of the 20th century’s most esteemed poets – a poet’s poet – Elizabeth Bishop.

The poem is entitled Casabianca.

Four sentences.

Goes like this:

Casabianca

Love’s the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite `The boy stood on
the burning deck.’ Love’s the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love’s the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love’s the burning boy.

If one would judiciously liken the poor boy in the poem to the architect today.

And substitute the boy’s burning love for the architect’s passion.

The poem could be about the architect’s inability to describe, explain and justify their relevance – while crisis ensues all around.

Crisis of identity, of economy, you name it.

Who we are. What we are.

Where we belong. Whether we belong.

The poem would then be structured from the individual, into the world, returning to the architect in the final line.

As with the architect’s creative process, the lens of this poem widens from the architect to everything else and then, finally, back to the architect.

Something we often forget, and don’t give ourselves enough credit for:

Architecture begins and ends with the architect.

I know. There’s no architecture without a willing client.

And someone has to build the darned thing.

But while the building may belong to the world at large, architecture largely remains in our domain.

The poem’s build from the poor boy – and then back to the burning boy – is what makes this poem a whole, complete and memorable work of art.

Something the architect (stammering elocution) knows a little about.

I really miss architecture.

I envy you who despite all give it your all every day.

For it is the enviable architect who gets to stay on deck and burn.

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Making a Case for the Value of Architecture October 14, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in books, career, change, employment, optimism, possibility, pragmatism, survival, the economy, transition.
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5 comments

 

I’d like to share with you a personal letter from the author of Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice, featured here in a previous post. Eric Cesal’s words are eloquent, earnest and heartfelt. And his approach to architecture and life inspires and for me represents hope and salvation so many architects today are in search of. Thank you Eric. Eric writes:

Thank you so much for your very kind and generous review.  It is a great thrill to know that my small book is resonating with at least a few people.  It began as a series of disjointed thoughts on architecture, and through the support and prodding of many, evolved into what it is.

I’m still in Port au Prince, if you’re curious.  We have an office of about 15 people and are working hard at school reconstruction, among other things.  I’ve been here 8 months now, with only a few days off sputtered here and there.  Its been a surreal thing to watch the book come out and gain traction while I’m here entrenched in Haiti’s recovery.  The book and its course seem very distant to me now.  I haven’t written much about my experiences here, owing to an inability to get appropriate space from the situation.  I don’t know how you write without reflection, and I don’t know how you reflect at the heart of a disaster.  We’re all here with our whole heart and its tough to imagine stepping away enough to write anything meaningful.

I did want to elaborate on something you mentioned in your review, specifically on your suggestion that my work in Haiti is somehow a detour from a normal course of practice.   I’m referring specifically to the line “Architects who are considering doing a tour of duty helping the world in some selfless way while they wait out the Great Wake.”  I’m not sure if you were exactly implying that that’s what I am doing, but truthfully I’m not really waiting out anything anymore, because I’m exactly where I need to be.

The title as metaphor, was really meant to suggest that unemployment was a detour – from the normal expected life of architects.  That may seem strange, in that many architects have come to expect long bouts of unemployment as a necessary fact of life.  But I was also, at some level, trying to argue that we shouldn’t expect such things.  That we should treat unemployment, wage suppression, and general professional dissatisfaction as aberrations in what should be the life of an architect.  If we really believe in what we’re doing, we should believe in its value and treat it as such.

I view my move to Haiti, and the work that I’m doing here, as the high expression of the ideals espoused in the book.  I believe that I am here making a case for the value of architecture and its relevance on the planet as it exists today.  I don’t believe that someone would need to move to Haiti to do so, but I had a certain flexibility in my life that the book’s publishing made possible, so I moved forward with the decision.  Similarly, my work on the Katrina reconstruction was not a detour or a distraction, but an attempt to find for myself where architecture’s value lies.  In no small way, I believe that the work that Architecture for Humanity is doing in Haiti (and everywhere else, for that matter), makes the case for the small practitioner doing residential work in rural middle America.  It identifies architects as responsible citizens, adept problem solvers, and true professionals.

In that sense, I’m not waiting out anything.  I have already moved past the Great Wake at a personal level.  I have a job, a mission and a family of truly wonderful architects that I work with.

My editor and I went back and forth many times about the sub-title.  “In Search of Work” “In Search of Meaning” “In Search of a Job” were all considered.  Ultimately, “Practice” won out because that was really what I was searching for and that is ultimately what I found in the end.  At the story’s close, I hadn’t found a job, the earthquake hadn’t happened, and I was still, in some literal way, sitting around.  But I had found something: a way to practice.  A way to understand what architecture was and how to do it.  Not in some external, universal way, but in a way that worked for me, a way that allowed me to sleep at night and not feel like I had wasted the last ten years of my life.

Barring some unforeseen event (and to be honest, Haiti can give you plenty of those) I don’t plan on coming back to the U.S. anytime soon, or practicing anything within the conventional world of architecture.  Even if the architecture job market were to recover tomorrow, I don’t think that I would feel any draw to come back.  My architecture is here, among the survivors.  Hope that makes sense.

Thanks again,

Eric

A Heartbreaking Book of Staggering Genius: One Architect’s Detour of Duty September 25, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, architecture industry, books, career, change, employment, identity, management, optimism, questions, reading, software architects, the economy, transformation.
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9 comments


Today’s post will be brief: I have a presentation to edit and packing still to do. But I would be remiss in leaving town without first letting you in on a brand new book that I just read that I predict will take you and the architecture profession by storm. Before reading further, grab your wallet. You’ll need it by the time you get to the sixth line of this book review.

The book title: Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice

The author: Eric J. Cesal

Why you never heard of him: He’s a recent architecture graduate with 5 years experience as an intern and has built little.

Why that shouldn’t matter: You will be hearing a lot more of and from Eric J. Cesal. 

The consensus: This may well be the best book by and for architects ever written. And (to my wife’s chagrin) I own and have read them all.

What the book will set you back: $14.93 ($21.95 + tax if you happen upon it in a bookstore, like I did. See “chagrin” above.)

Who should read this book: Out of work architects. Architects thinking of leaving the profession. Architects who have left the profession but want back in. Former architects who have left the profession for good but on deep, dark nights lie sleepless in bed wondering if they made a wise choice. Neighbors of out of work architects who wonder why they wear a tie when taking the dog out for a walk. Anyone who has ever had to wear a tie. Katherine Darnstadt would like this book. Parents who find their recent grads living once again under their roof. Or in their tent. Employers. Architect’s spouses, friends, relatives and roommates. Architects who think they might have a story to tell but question whether anyone will care to listen. Architects who are considering doing a tour of duty helping the world in some selfless way while they wait out the Great Wake. Architects who think they may be the next to be let go. Architects who sometimes wish they were the  next to be let go. Architects who read architecture blog posts in hopes of finding someone who deeply, passionately understands their situation. Architects.

Why you should get it: This book  speaks to you where you hurt. Cesal is wise beyond his 31 years (33 today) and whip smart. He knows what matters and he (and no doubts his talented editors) cut to the chase.

Why you should get it now: The sooner you read it, the sooner we’ll all be out of this mess; the sooner you’ll decide to stick it out in architecture; the sooner you’ll find a place for yourself in this new world.

Author’s espoused purpose in writing the book: “We want to find ways for the architecture profession to prosper as our world economy transitions.” p. 42

Why you should read it: Cesal wrote the book during a period of unemployment. Nearly every architect – employed, underemployed and unemployed – can relate.

Why else you should read it: Cesal names the Great Recession the Great Wake.

What will linger long after you’re done reading the book and give it to your colleague to read: The author’s voice.

What this book could also be used for: Like a commonplace book that soldiers used to carry around with them for reassurance and companionship on the front lines, you can keep this book nearby on your own detour of duty.

Why I love the book: Interjected throughout the book are short personal essays describing the author growing up, personal incidents and events that helped shape the architect/ author/ artist/ humanitarian he has become today. I love how the book captures timely subjects (the co-opting of our title by others) and timeless ones. I am most impressed by the way the author maintains a line of thought, without jumping around from subject to subject: a real feat and welcome revelation in contemporary writing. Like the late, great architect and author Peter Collins, Cesal asks hard questions and isn’t afraid to linger in them until he offers a solution.

Why this book may not be appropriate for all audiences: There’s an excruciatingly painful scene involving a tooth being pulled. Alcohol plays a part in a number of chapters.

The author’s eye for detail: How Cesal knew the recession had reached his city: “The coffee shop I usually passed by seemed to have too many people in it.”

Why I think Eric J. Cesal is architecture’s answer to Dave Eggers: Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius if it were written for architects.

Favorite passage from the book: The author’s attempt to find work at a temp agency. (p.117) Priceless.

The author’s education: Three master’s degrees in four years: business administration, construction management and architecture from Washington University in St Louis.

What book you might compare Down Detour Road with: During the deep recession of the 1970’s we had Harris Stone’s incomparably endearing and well-illustrated Workbook of an Unsuccessful Architect (available here for a penny.) But let there be no doubt: Down Detour Road is our age’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by Walker Evans and James Agee. This book is our The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.

Someone famous the author hangs with but doesn’t once mention in the book (very classy): Cameron Sinclair, co-founder and ‘chief eternal optimist’ (CEO) for Architecture for Humanity.

Representative quote from the book: “For all the things I had intended my life to be, for all of the  things I thought I would be doing at 31, I was sitting in the dirt, on the side of an empty, unlit road, jobless, homeless, cold and hungry, lusting after a street sign.”

The author’s solution: Cesal recommends that we have to come to some hard truths about the limits of what we do “and then leap beyond those boundaries.” He goes on to describe 10 types of architects.

What are the ten architect types he writes about? The financial architect; The value architect; The risk architect; The paid architect; The idea architect; The knowing architect; The named architect; The citizen architect; The green architect; The sober architect. He refreshingly doesn’t over-use capital letters and dedicates a chapter to each architect type.

What it says on the dust jacket: As the world redesigns and rebuilds in the face of economic and ecological crises, unprecedented numbers of architects are out of work. What does this say about the value of architecture? That is the question that confronted architect Eric Cesal as he finished graduate school at the onset of the worst financial meltdown in a generation. Down Detour Road is his journey: one that begins off-course, and ends in a hopeful new vision of architecture.

Like many architects of his generation, Cesal confronts a cold reality. Architects may assure each other of their own importance, but society has come to view architecture as a luxury it can do without. For Cesal, this recognition becomes an occasion to rethink architecture and its value from the very core. He argues that the times demand a new architecture, an empowered architecture that is useful and relevant. New architectural values emerge as our cultural values shift: from high risks to safe bets, from strong portfolios to strong communities, and from clean lines to clean energy.

This is not a book about how to run a firm or a profession; it doesn’t predict the future of architectural form or aesthetics. It is a personal story—and in many ways a generational one: a story that follows its author on a winding detour across the country, around the profession, and into a new architectural reality.

Where you can find the author today: Port-au-Prince, managing and coordinating Architecture for Humanity’s design and reconstruction initiatives in Haiti until 2012.

No, really, where can you find him: You can find him here. But seriously, he lives in Haiti with a family of two dogs, 11 chickens, 5 cats and a goat named Newfie. Read more about it in the Huffington Post here.

What’s next up for the author: As Cesal explains on his webpage, “Two projects are currently in slow, agonizing, one-sentence/week progress: NCARB & I, a chronicle of architectural licensing, and Lets Just Finish These Beers and Go, a semi-autobiographical romp about how to become an architect while making every self-defeating effort you can.”

What does the word “detour”mean in the book’s title: de·tour, n.

1. A roundabout way or course, especially a road used temporarily instead of a main route.

2. A deviation from a direct course of action.

Likelihood that the book will be made into a movie: Very good odds. I’m not a betting man but I’d bet on it.

Final thoughts: Someone get this guy a MacArthur Genius Grant. And a second one to The MIT Press for having the foresight and gumption for publishing this staggering piece of exceptional writing from an otherwise little known entity. Cesal may very well be doing wonderful, necessary work in Haiti but we very much need him here back home with us.

The quickest way to get the book in your possession: Steal it from an architect in the coffee shop. Or click here

What to do while you wait for your copy of the book to arrive: Tell everyone you know to read Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice.

A Heartbreaking Book of Staggering Genius: One Architect’s Detour of Duty by Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP 2010

62 Reasons to be Optimistic (and 18 to still be Pessimistic) September 15, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, career, change, creativity, employment, management, optimism, possibility, pragmatism, survival, sustainability, technology, the economy, transition.
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9 comments


Not since my post from last year 32 Things to be Optimistic About Right Now have I tackled this subject head-on.

It’s about time.

That’s not to say I have avoided it altogether. I have addressed the positive side of practice on a number of occasions, not always to positive reception.

I was having a great conversation the other day with my good friend, architectural illustrator and e-book publisher, Bruce Bondy, when I noticed how up-beat he sounded.

I started paying attention to not only what he said but the number of positive things he mentioned, despite the general gloom in the economy right now.

He was positively optimistic – and it was admittedly contagious.

There’s scientific research that backs a 3-to-1 “positivity ratio” as a key tipping point where, essentially, it takes 3 good experiences to block out one bad one.

A 3:1 ratio of positive statements or experiences to negative ones is considered the ideal for staying optimistic.

This ratio answers the question for many of how you can be generally positive and optimistic while maintaining some negative emotions and thoughts.

The following list roughly reflects this ideal ratio.

Agree or not – just by reading the lists here you have done your part today in remaining positive and optimistic.

Here are 62 absolutely fresh, upbeat and practical reasons to be positive (and 18 to still be pessimistic) about our chances of recovering, enduring or otherwise surviving this recession as individuals, organizations, profession and industry.

I would love to hear – optimistic or pessimistic – reasons of your own, by leaving a comment below.

Let’s get the pessimistic out of the way first (a commenter’s brilliant suggestion.)

There are times of course when it is advisable to be pessimistic, and we don’t have to look far to find them. Being pessimistic at times gives you an insight to your problems and situation by allowing you to realistically assess challenges, obstacles and roadblocks you may face which otherwise you might overlook – by being overly-optimistic. After all, you wouldn’t want an overly optimistic commander taking you into the war zone underestimating the enemy or one so paralyzed by indecision they end up doing nothing.

Pessimistic

  1. We are seeing firms close that were once great, however amicably, due to economic pressures
  2. How can we get reciprocity in other states if we can’t get an NCARB certificate because the firms we once worked for – who can vouch for our tenure – no longer exist?
  3. Career stage: Being a mid-career professional – at no fault of one’s own
  4. Salary: Finding oneself too costly, too expensive, for most firms
  5. Finding one has not kept up with technology – and while that wasn’t a hazard in the past, it is an indictment against you today
  6. Statistics: Research shows once unemployed over 6 months – the odds are against you finding employment
  7. Compensation: If you made a good living before – one might rightfully doubt finding employment that would come anywhere close to what you made before
  8. Flexibility: If you had a great deal of freedom in your previous position – chances are under these circumstances that it is unlikely that sense of freedom would continue
  9. If well-rounded; firms seem to be looking, when they look at all, for experts, not generalists (thought see anexception below)
  10. M&A: Large conglomerates are buying-up well-established design firms, firms that helped give the profession variety, diversity and high profile design. In M&A news, according to Archinect, Stantec is on a tear. The mega-A/E company announced recently that it will acquire Burt Hill — just weeks after similar news about acquiring Anshen + Allen. Who will be next?
  11. Construction: Contractors are hiring graduates right out of school – potentially resulting in, or adding to the likelihood of, a lost generation
  12. Unemployed architects may never find work in the profession and be forced to leave, not to return
  13. Knowledge transfer: A great deal of knowledge and experience goes out the door with them
  14. Phil Read (Phil Read!) leaving HNTB (what is this world coming to?)
  15. Many architecture firms continue to shed staff and struggle to keep the lights on
  16. Ownership transition: Aging owners ready to monetize on their business, who in the past passed their practice on to the next generation internally, increasingly result in more acquisition activity because younger architects are not interested or in the position to buy.
  17. Intuition: This time around just “feels” different than any other downturn – very hard to compare it and therefore manage or act on it
  18. Being human: Even the best leader cannot maintain optimism in the midst of layoffs, salary reductions, increased workloads, missed payroll or bounced pay-checks.

Note: The following are optimistic without being rah-rah. And no qualifiers are necessary: these are not cautiously-, rationally-, pragmatically-, realistically- or conservatively-optimistic. They’re just:

Optimistic

  1. Experience: We ourselves are the reason to be optimistic – our training and experience have gotten us to where we are – and will also provided us with the tools and best practices to confront these changes
  2. Change: It’s all about change – and we’re not immune to it
  3. Resolve: We will design our way out of this
  4. We’re creative, resourceful, when it comes to seeking solutions, and this situation is no exception
  5. Training: We’re trained as problem solvers – we can solve this problem
  6. We needed a course correction; this situation provided us with the opportunity to change
  7. Change was imminent – something our industry has been wrestling with for ages
  8. Determination: This gives a chance to see what we are made of, how strong is our resolve
  9. An opportunity to look at our convictions – what it is we are really good at, what it is we believe in, what we ought to be putting our energies into, what really matters to us and to others – and to drop what isn’t as important
  10. Transparency: A chance for firms to share as much information as possible with each other, be transparent and open book – compare notes – not size each other up
  11. Our industry and profession has changed in the past – and will again
  12. Provides a chance for firm leaders to leverage the talents of those who work for them that otherwise may never have been tapped
  13. Design Excellence: The world will always need good design
  14. Owners will continue to need someone to sign and seal exceptional documents
  15. There are problems – such as retrofitting suburbs – that really only an architect can tackle
  16. Rest: This down time allows us to restore our energy and creativity
  17. Much-needed time to define and refine the current standards of care for our profession
  18. A chance to give to others – to help others out who may be in need
  19. The profession is no doubt smaller – but as the constant exchange of information makes the profession feel smaller, more accessible and manageable – we’re more likely to hear from and learn from each other
  20. Jobs: Everyday there are more and more jobs listed – and not just in NY and California
  21. Thawing: Word on the street, from developers, is that banks are freeing up loans for development
  22. Owners: Our clients are more and more cautiously optimistic
  23. You have to be optimistic to be in this profession
  24. Funding: Google Invests $86 Million In Low-Income Housing
  25. Governance: Great leadership opportunities and hope for greater voice and influence: More and more architects, such as Stefano Boeri, Italian architect in Milan and editor-in-chief of Abitare, announce plans to run for public office.
  26. Green design: Sustainability is no longer a specialty or added service and is on the verge of going mainstream and becoming standard procedure
  27. Olson Kundig Architects had an ad recently where they were seeking “Generalists Needed” in Seattle, WA
  28. Technology: There are iPhone apps for our profession and industry – including apps that allow us to read and CAD and Revit models and now “Buildings” – an iPhone app that help you find local architecture
  29. Marketing: The economic downturn has allowed us  to refocus  our energies on marketing, determine what it is that distinguishes us, and put it into words and images; to become better marketers of ourselves
  30. Selling: We’ve learned from the downturn how to make what we sell – which as a service is largely invisible – visible and tangible and therefore more likely to deliver
  31. Competition: The increase in competition and dearth of new projects has opened us to new markets and project types that otherwise may have remained outside our comfort zone
  32. The current situation itself, and all it entails, has widened our comfort zone considerably
  33. The truth is that nobody really knows what will happen next; why side with the negative?
  34. Correction: The optimistic scenario is that the recession is correcting the excesses of the euphoric bubble years, when the global economy was on an unsustainable path.
  35. Efficiency: We’re ushering in a new era of doing more with less
  36. Stabilizing effect: Instability leads inevitably to stability
  37. Green saplings: Optimists see the recession as a forest fire that clears out dead brush, making room for new growth.
  38. Progress: A lot of what we’re doing now would have been impossible even five years ago.
  39. Start-ups: There are a number of new firms and new ventures started because of this downturn, including completely new business models
  40. Global practice: Things look more optimistic if you adopt an international perspective
  41. Education and training: Those remaining or returning to school will be more highly educated forces when they return to practice
  42. Cost of materials: Prices on many materials are down after many years of climbing
  43. Recessions clean out the excess of past boom periods
  44. Registration and licensure: A recession results in an increase in individuals applying to take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to better position themselves in the workforce.
  45. Educators: A recession results in an increase in individuals applying to architecture programs and schools
  46. Sustainability: More people taking the LEED exam to give them the leg up when things pick up again
  47. More stabilized workforce: Many architecture firms have seen a leveling-off of the need to shed staff resulting in some stability
  48. M&A: We’re seeing some interesting mergers brought about by strategy and the need to fill specific niche needs as much as by the economy, such as the combining of OWP/P with Cannon Design.
  49. Learning: Professionals have had more time to learn and to catch-up on continuing education
  50. The lull has allowed some professionals to share information with the rest of us in the form of videos, webcasts, white papers and tutorials that we otherwise may never have benefitted from
  51. Helping-hand: Downsizing provides colleagues with the opportunity to secure another position for these individuals at other firms – the chance to contribute, help out, give and give back. A year later those individuals would often as not tell me ‘it was the best thing that happened to them.’
  52. Leadership: More leaders avoid mincing words, painting a false picture and putting spin on what is not know, while rising to the opportunity to be truthful, tell the truth, good or bad, be authentic in words and actions, will go a long way to assuaging what otherwise can be a devastatingly difficult time for some
  53. Doing this provides the right person with an incredible opportunity to lead
  54. And to (re)build trust
  55. Access to information: Accurate information about our profession and industry is right at our fingertips 24/7 – this was not always the case.
  56. Communication: The situation we find ourselves in forces you to communicate more frequently with others, showing you how connected you really are and how much you rely on one another; a valuable lesson lost on those who operate exclusively within their comfort zone
  57. Higher performance: Most people can sense a change in themselves when around optimistic people, feeling motivated, inspired and energized. That’s almost reason enough to be optimistic and be around optimistic people.
  58. This time around provided us with the chance to learn from our mistakes and move on.
  59. Resilience: Treat this as an opportunity to show your resilience.
  60. Attitude: As difficult as it might be to stomach, realize that “this too shall pass.” Remind yourself that there will be other challenges, that this is one among many and that you never went into your chosen field because it was easy. On some level you understood how difficult it would be. And that you were equal or better than the difficulties it entailed and that would ensue.
  61. Mindset: Without blame or recrimination, see this as an opportunity to face the situation with acceptance and peace.
  62. A sign: Recognize that pain of any type is to give us a message. Once you got the message, stop dwelling in the pain. See this situation as a sign that things, as they existed, were not sustainable. Come to realize that situations that present challenges have been brought to you so that you may learn and become more aware of your strength, resilience, ingenuity and ability to overcome.

Bonus item: Donald Trump and Co. are returning for a 10th season of NBC’s “The Apprentice.” In a new twist on the reality competition, this season’s 16 candidates have all been hit hard by the current economic downturn – and there is not one architect in the bunch. A sign of the times? You decide.

BTW 62 – the number of reasons to be optimistic – is the same number Edward De Bono used in his book entitled, Creativity Workout: 62 Exercises to Unlock Your Most Creative Ideas, a book that encourages you to make connections, think beyond your peers, recognize possibilities and create opportunities.

Not a bad place to start in keeping your 3-to-1 ratio intact.

A Better Way for Architects? August 28, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architecture industry, change, collaboration, marginalization.
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3 comments


We have to live in the world we create.
– Peter Janko

Note from blogger: I just received this email from Peter Janko, Lumenelle President and Product Design Engineer for Lighting Restoration, Design and Manufacturing. While the email was addressed to me, it ought to be read by all architects. I have always benefited from Pete’s advice, thoughts and suggestions. His insights into the world of architecture and construction – and his creative mind and clever way with words – make Pete a model collaborator and teammate. These may be tough words but he always has architects’ best interests in mind. Thank you Pete!

Randy,

I have followed all of your posts and blogs for quite some time and think that you have some great messages for your fellow architects. But there is one aspect of architecture that I feel is very important but I see slipping away. That is architects should make it a priority to get closer and more personally involved in their projects.

Yesterday we finished our lighting restoration project at the Rialto. Unlike most projects, where after you finish, you just sort of “ride into the sunset” off to the next project, the completion of this project was bittersweet. It took us an hour to say our goodbyes as Rialto staffers stopped by one by one while were packing up our equipment to leave. Even though it is a 1 1/2 hour drive (in good traffic) they made us promise to visit often and stay in touch. Two days before we finished, the Rialto held an open house to see the work on “The Duchess” close up. By the time they opened the doors, it was estimated that over 100 people were standing outside waiting and turnout was 2-3 times what they expected. I made a 30 minute presentation on the restoration. The question and answer session afterward went for over an hour. People came up to us after my talk and shared their personal connections to the Rialto with us. We all felt like family. This is what makes being in preservation/restoration so worthwhile.Although all of us like to see stories about us in the media, I am disappointed at how this story was told. There are a few bullet points on the history but I think the articles totally miss the real significance of the whole purpose of the work at the Rialto. The whole human interest/history aspect is absent. I think this is one of the major reasons why saving out historical treasures is such an uphill battle. To the media, I would like to say, “It’s the people behind the building, then and now, – otherwise, it only a pile of bricks and metal.”

The backstory is pretty profound. The Rialto Square Theater – “The Jewel of Joliet” http://www.rialtosquare.com/ was saved from being torn down in order to build a parking garage…

A feisty, spirited group of citizens took the challenge and began the wildly successful “Save the Rialto Campaign.” Dorothy Mavrich, president of The Rialto Square Arts Association, got the campaign rolling, and all stops were pulled out to offer an alternative plan to the awful thought of selling the land to developers,.. ” See http://www.hauntedhouses.com/states/il/rialto_theatre.cfm

By isolating themselves from the day-to-day life of their projects, architects deny themselves so much in the way of personal fulfillment and trap themselves in the mundane.I hear complaints that they can’t make it out to the project because they are trapped at the office having to get caught up on paperwork. I have heard architects complain that when they chose to enter the field of architecture, they did so to be creative – not to deal with mountains of paperwork. I can tell you from personal experience that a two hour visit to the project site to solve an issue in real time can eliminate two days worth of delay and hours of paperwork on the project. Forms and documents are prominent on the AIA website.  So what is AIA really about? Iron clad forms? In contrast, our contract with the Will County Exposition Authority (for the Rialto) was simply their signature on the bottom of our 8 page proposal (one page for each chandelier type defining the work to be done on each one). We worked out a calendar schedule (1 page) with Rialto management so that our work did not impact there event schedule. That became our only addendum. Nine sheets of paper plus our insurance certificates and we were off on our two month project – get this – with a government agency.

We have to live in the world we create. So tell those architects out there that there really is a better way.

Regards,
Pete

Peter Janko, Lumenelle President and Product Design Engineer for Lighting Restoration, Design and Manufacturing, restores and recreates historic lighting fixtures, designs and manufactures custom lighting products in styles ranging from vintage to contemporary. Lumenelle has created custom light fixtures for clients from casinos to hotels to museums (Glessner House Museum – Chicago.) In addition to their work at the Rialto Square Theater, Lumenelle was involved in the largest hotel renovation in North American history with their restoration of 23 crystal chandeliers for the Grand and State Ballrooms of Chicago’s landmark Palmer House Hilton. http://www.lumenelle.com/ 

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.

Maybe What the Architecture Profession Needs is a Small Heart Attack July 27, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in change, collaboration, environment, survival, the economy, transformation.
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What will it take for us to change?

That’s the question I posed recently to a psychologist and a professor.

First, it’s important to recognize that architecture is a conservative profession.

We’re looking out for others – protecting the health, welfare and safety of the public.

We take a lot of risks and by nature are risk-averse.

So when we hear change knocking – it’s not often we’re first in line.

And yet – as the world is making clear – our job now is to change.

The biggest challenge is recognizing that we need to change.

What will motivate us to do so and how will we benefit by doing so?

Motivation vs. Benefit

Think of a recent change that you have made in your diet, lifestyle or habits.

What events, experiences, knowledge or people motivated you to change your behavior?

Where did this motivation come from?

Within you? Or from without?

What were the payoffs for making the needed change?

The reason I ask is this:

Unless there are clear benefits, we won’t change.

If the reasons are big enough, architects will change

While conducting research for my book, BIM and Integrated Design (Wiley, 2011,) I asked a psychologist and a professor each what it will take for architects to change.

With the new technologies and collaborative work processes upon us, do these call for the redesign of the architect?

And if so, how will we go about making our necessary changes?

The psychologist responded,

“How?” is about 10% of it.

90% of it is “Why?”

With an architect, if the reasons are big enough, they’ll change.

Unless they feel hurt, depressed, angry, upset, disappointed, without that there’s no leverage to change.

People change when they can no longer stand the way they’re living and architects are no different.

Architects are going to have to change when they can no longer stand to practice the way they’re doing it and realize that they have to change.

They’ll be forced into it.

When the reasons are big enough, they’ll change.

Unless the feared pain of changing is less than the feared pain of not changing, I’m not changing.

It’s not “This is good for you.”

I’ll fight you to the death on that one.

People don’t change because it’s good for them.

They don’t change for people.

I’ve come to appreciate “negative” feelings. I need those. That’s the leverage.

Architects are Always Changing

The professor took a different tact.

I asked him if this is an important question or is change in the profession and industry inevitable, a given?

The professor responded:

It comes back to the question whether people think it is productive for their own roles or place in the profession for change to happen.

People who are asking that often feel threatened because they may be in positions of power and for them status quo is beneficial. So they don’t want a change.

Whereas people who want to make a place for themselves are often the ones who are trying to change things.

Change is inevitable.

The idea that architecture has ever been a consistent type of practice is a myth.

It has always changed.

There will always be people for whom change will seem alluring and filled with opportunity to advance and position themselves better.

There will always be this element of change.

We cannot predict when things will change in various contexts – but change is always this element in there that’s at play.

In a pretty amazing book succinctly summarizing the recent economic crisis, author John Lanchester borrows a concluding metaphor from climate scientist James Lovelock who observed that

What the planet needed was the equivalent of a small heart attack.

In Lanchester’s view, the recent economic crisis is the equivalent of capitalism’s small heart attack.

Such an episode in a person’s life is often beneficial because it forces the person to face unpleasant facts and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Perhaps it could have a similar effect on architects and the health of the profession?

Sometimes it takes a dramatic event to shake things up and to make people wake up.

So maybe what we are going through right now – with the economy, environmental challenges and technological changes – is a small heart attack?

Not so large so as to kill us.

But big enough to get our attention.

And get us to make the necessary changes.

The Rise of the Knowledge-Driven Architect July 10, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in change, collaboration, management, questions, survival, transformation.
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6 comments


In third grade the local dentist came to our elementary school gymnasium and showed the entire student body proper dental care, including how to brush properly: up and down.

In fourth grade the same dentist came to our elementary school gymnasium and showed the entire student body how to brush properly: side to side. He did not acknowledge the fact that the method had changed.

In fifth grade the dentist came to our elementary school and showed the assembled students in the gymnasium how to brush properly: in a circular motion. Again, no reference to the method changing.

Having moved on to middle school, I didn’t stick around to find out what they recommended the following year. One can easily imagine them gathered at the assembly year after year recommending another method.

And it is little wonder that I had grown up to be a relativist in philosophy and situationalist in leadership style, not to mention sporting several cavities.

This varietal display of effective brushing technique did not bode well for the dental profession. Nor, for that matter, for elementary school.

But because the gymnasium had daylight, according to researchers, I have managed to retain this vital information all of these years.

Knowledge: The Podcast

What prompted my recollection of ever-changing dental tactics is an ambitious, seminal, drop-everything-that-you’re-doing-and-listen-to-this podcast on how knowledge is transforming the profession.

In the AIA podcast, The Knowledge Agenda: Transforming a Profession, Markku Allison AIA, ever-resourceful Resource Architect at AIA talks with Walter Hainsfurther FAIA, President at Kurtz Associates Architects, Vice President at American Institute of Architects and chair of the AIA Board Knowledge Committee, about this much-anticipated change to the profession.

Warning: This post raises as many questions as the podcast seeks to answer.

Markku fires the first shot by stating that knowledge is the most valuable asset of the architect.

When you hear firm owners say “our employees are our most valuable asset” what they mean is their knowledge. And we naturally equate knowledge with money as in the oft heard phrase: “90 percent of your corporate assets walk out the door each night.” (Unless by this they mean someone’s taking home the Canon  iPF755 large format color printer.) Owners want to know that their money is invested wisely in their projects. Architects assure them by citing data, research and science, delivering value to owners. Research, not intuition. Outcomes, not anecdotes. In the podcast Walter and Markku – both incidentally LinkedIn group KA Connect members – talk about

  • the AIA knowledge agenda crafted by the AIA Board Knowledge Committee over the past 18 months with input from a large body of stakeholders across the institute
  • how the agenda will provide a framework and structure for all of AIA’s knowledge initiatives moving forward with the ambitious goal of nothing less than the transformation of the mindset and behavior of architects throughout the AIA
  • how the knowledge agenda commits the institute to a path of formal pursuit, creation  and open sharing of knowledge not unlike that of the medical profession
  • the outcome will be a stronger focus on research, higher degrees of rigor and validating the resources of knowledge available to the profession and others

Walter describes the Knowledge Agenda as an instrument to guide the AIA moving forward in the area of knowledge, with “the most important thing about this transformative document that takes our profession from an anecdotal based profession – as it currently is – to one that relies upon data-driven decisions and what we call a knowledge driven profession so that owners can get more predictable outcomes out of their buildings.”

Some highlights of the podcast:

  • we’re moving away from an anecdote- to a research-driven profession
  • citing research and science is more likely to put us in a leadership position
  • reference to the apt aphorism: the rising tide lifts all boats
  • how the knowledge agenda supports developing thought leadership as a process that will result in architects being looked to as the go-to person in an area that has to do with the built environment

The podcast references a specific sort of knowledge: result-oriented, researched, science-backed, empirical-driven, accountable, repeatable, sharable and outcome-predictable.

Types of Knowledge

First we need to clarify what exactly we are talking about here. Rules of thumb? Information? Or knowledge.

In other words, defining what knowledge actually is and how is it differentiated from data and information.

And if in fact knowledge, what kind is it?

Academic knowledge (defined as what practitioners don’t find useful) or practical knowledge (defined as useless to academics.) Theoretical, logical or semantic?

Systemic or empirical?

Direct or indirect? Procedural or intuitive?

Explicit or tacit knowledge?

When Walter says in the podcast that we gain much of our knowledge anecdotally – through habit, similar to oral history – is this just another way of saying much of our knowledge is tacit, which is by definition highly personal and hard to formalize, making it difficult to communicate or share with others? Will doing-away with our anecdotal approach to design and building impact our tacit learning and implicit sharing of knowledge?

And is this all just a new way of reformulating the architect’s special burden of proof? That we design subjectively but explain and justify rationally? However ill-advised and indefensible, since architecture is both an art and a science, it is something most great architects have practiced for millennia.

Architects’ Ways of Knowing

It may just be a case that architects know what they know in ways that can’t be served by a giant, knowledge-filled clearinghouse.

What Nigel Cross described as designerly ways of knowing, articulating and understanding the nature of design cognition, leading to a better understanding of what is now called design thinking.

Anyone who has recently read one of the four extant versions and editions of How Designers Think by Bryan Lawson (which shamefully is almost no one) will be familiar with his companion piece, What Designers Know, exploring and detailing the knowledge that architects work with, how they use this knowledge, whether design knowledge is special and where design knowledge comes from. It’s a life-changing good read.

The bottom line is that architects – by training and experience – gain knowledge in multiple ways: by way of drawings, site visits and travel, interactions with computer software, increasingly with the internet and through late night caffeine-fueled conversations. Not to mention learning by doing. 80% about what I know about architectural practice I know from eavesdropping on 20% of a particularly vocal project manager’s forceful, voice-carrying phone conversations earlier in my career (a vastly underrated knowledge-gaining method.)

Show Me the Data!

Knowledge in this case is based on results – not reasons. You want to design something one way – you show me the data, the metrics, the analytics.

Evidence-based design, an approach to healthcare design giving importance to design features that impact patient health, well-being, mood, and safety, as well as staff stress and safety, has a growing body of research showing that proper design of the built environment contributes to improving key outcomes. This is what clients would like to know. This area of study has gone on to impact other building types that involves creating better, more effective designs by using an approach based on evidence and outcomes rather than intuition and anecdotal information.

In the podcast, Walter alludes to there being a lot of knowledge on the web. Whether this is information or knowledge is a question worth asking. As is how much on the web is useful and how much dross.

How do we decide what knowledge to utilize in our next project? Someone – an early adopter – tries something out, returns for a post-occupancy and uploads the results.

Do you use it? What worked in Santa Cruz may not play in Peoria.

And the knowledge – in these fast-paced times – may have to be easily digestible, the equivalent of sugar-coated. How the knowledge is marketed becomes of critical importance.

How does this differ from CTRL+C: Copy, CTRL+V: Paste information out of such “knowledge guides” as Architectural Graphic Standards and Time-Saver Standards for Architectural Design Data, with contributions by world authorities and specialists reflecting essential changes and new knowledge in the field of architecture where one size never quite fits all? If you were to make a suit jacket by averaging all the suit sizes of men in Chicago it would result in a suit that fit no one.

Perhaps architects ought to Whispersync onto their Kindles, once and for all, in less than a minute for $9.99, the Architect’s Complete Knowledge Companion?

Or create a complete online source for information and insight on architectural planning, design and detailing that will get your clients the results they are looking for.

Architect’s Special Burden of Proof

Evidence-based design bases design decisions on the best available current research evidence. Just as online question and answer sites identify the best answer, one can imagine the AIA’s Knowledge Agenda site having architects vote on the best answer. Or, in lieu of democratic voting, one can imagine using something like Ask.com’s AnswerFarm™ technology – their proprietary method of crawling and extracting question/answer pairs from hundreds of thousands of sources, including user generated content, FAQ pages, news/blog articles, and structured/semi-structured data.

There are knowledge-driven organizations that emphasize the people side of knowledge management – what it takes to get employees to contribute to a knowledge system including ways to orchestrate the required culture change, explaining how organizations can move from “hoarding” knowledge to “sharing” it, building a global strategy that allows them to respond faster to client’s needs.

Christopher Parsons, founder of Knowledge Architecture  and the ever growing LinkedIn group, tribe and movement, KA Connect, wrote a great post recently on becoming a knowledge-driven firm.

Architects have a special burden of proof. For it is not enough to place windows in classrooms in order to get better test scores (cited in the podcast and in a million other places.) Architects are challenged to always consider the big picture – the little clients and big clients, the paying and non-paying.

Architects knowledge is a special type of epistemology. Architects may access research knowledge but they also have designerly or tacit knowledge.

Architects acquire their knowledge in myriad and unusual ways: from magazines and blogs, webinars and lectures, reference books and websites, manufacturer’s literature, heresy and hunches. Gut punches from path-narrowing options of previous decisions and lessons learned.

At every critical juncture of a project, architects ask 4 Questions:

1. What is actual?

2. What is necessary?

3. What is desirable?

4. What is possible?

What sort of knowledge results from asking these pertinent questions?

For knowledge-driven architects to come about, what will it take for us to change our thinking? To put results and results-oriented thinking first?

We’re told again and again that natural daylight in classrooms improves knowledge retention in students and improves test scores. A study found that the use of skylights, for example, improved test scores in reading by 8.8 points and in math by 12.3 points. This translates to a 19% faster learning rate for reading and a 20% faster learning rate for math.

Whether skylights or windows, were they operable or fixed? Was this location specific? Could the students see out the windows or was the day light indirect? Were students distracted by views or were the windows largely clerestory? Was this data taken before the prevalence of classroom computers and their opportunity to create glare? Were the windows tinted or clear, south facing or north, and did this matter?

Can anyone name one result in architectural knowledge besides the daylight-to-test-score relationship or how seating arrangements at work increase performance and reduce sick days?

12 Questions the Knowledge Agenda ought to consider:

1. What will it take for architects to be able to change from a knowledge-is-power mindset to one of open-book collaboration and sharing? More importantly, will senior management be able to overcome their knowledge-is-power-trips in time to train and promote the next generation of emerging talent?

2. Will architects be able to create the culture that supports knowledge sharing before others – including their competitors – do so?

3. Will architects have the discipline to become research-driven professionals in lieu of anecdote, folk-wisdom and other subjective means of architectural justification?

4. Will 24/7 access to a shared communal knowledge base help architects to resolve technical problems quickly and make immediate, informed decisions to help solve client issues?

5. How will this knowledge be attained, retained and in what form that is usable to the vast majority of architects in the planning, design and documentation process?

6. If we can agree that architects gain knowledge, at least in part, tacitly, and that tacit knowledge is highly personal and hard to formalize, making it difficult to communicate or share with others, then how exactly will this knowledge be stored and made accessible for architects to download and share?

7. The AIA all-too-well understands just how diverse the make-up of the profession is. As Bryan Lawson points out “It is quite possible to find two people who call themselves architects and yet hardly share any of their daily tasks.” Will the shared knowledge made available to architects take this inherent diversity in mind?

8. Is this idea of a knowledge clearinghouse the equivalent of building one big, loosely organized planetary brain for the architecture profession? Would the site serve much the way as Robert Wright recently proposed, where the point of evolution (in this case of the profession) is to create social brains and to weave them into a big brain?

9. If architects are being nudged, encouraged or prompted to share knowledge with one another – how far do we take it? Shouldn’t we also then share information with our professional counterparts, including interior designers and construction managers? Or will the big brain be card-carrying members-only? Or is this what Markku meant when, in the podcast, he says the outcome will be “a stronger focus on research, higher degrees of rigor and validating the resources of knowledge available to the profession and others?”

10. Is it fair to say that the web contains information and by collecting it we store knowledge? If true, then let’s stop saying that the internet contains lots of knowledge.

11. Data, information, knowledge and understanding all relate to the past: what has been and what is known. Architects must certainly acknowledge the past and address present needs, but as innovators, we must focus on the future. Had architects through time only utilized past knowledge there would have been few of what we enjoy and take for granted today: innovations of our built environment.

12. Is this really just another way of saying Albert Einstein’s oft-quoted “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand”?

But then again, in order to recall this, you would have to know that.

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?

The Last Architect? May 21, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, BIM, career, change, creativity, essence, integrative thinking, optimism, pragmatism, questions, technology.
2 comments


Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today.

David Bohm

Think laterally and simultaneously

Redefine the problem, reframe the questions and direct people’s energy

Meet virtually but also face-to-face

These. according to Renée Cheng, Professor and Head of School of Architecture at University of Minnesota, are some of the ways we as a profession will proceed boldly into the future.

Cheng, an expert in emerging technologies in construction, recently talked with Markku Allison, Resource Architect at The American Institute of Architects, in an AIA – Architecture Knowledge Review podcast revisiting the 2006 Report on Integrated Practice that can be found on iTunes entitled: 2009 and Beyond “Suggestions for an Integrative Education.”

While the entire interview is generally excellent, I’d like to focus on the final third of the podcast, because these last 8 minutes of the podcast are like gold.

It is not that Markku and Renee go off-script – it’s that Markku allows Renee to riff on the question of “What’s next?” in a way that we seldom hear or see in our industry media.

Gratefully pragmatic without a whiff of academic jargon, what ensues in the latter part of the interview is a true dialogue, marked by a calm cadence – with much wisdom – found only rarely, if at all, anywhere.

Perhaps the last time was in this video of an interview where soft-spoken philosopher J Krishnamurti asks physicist David Bohm: Would you go into your chosen profession today if you had to do it all over?

On Crowdsourcing

Markku asks: What’s next? What developments are currently underway that you feel will have the most significant impact over the next three years?

Cheng acknowledges that it is always difficult to project into the future.

Renee: Things I’ve been keeping an eye on are things like crowdsourcing. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Netflix competition?

Markku: Yes.

Renee: Crowdsourcing, where you can put out a query and get multiple minds working on it. Not like a wiki where you can let anyone post but more like invited experts working in somewhat of a hierarchy, somewhat of a system.

Cheng went on to describe how her school has run some studios based on social networking platforms.

Renee: We’re going to start to get some pretty highly specialized people that need to be brought in at very specific times and not end up having everyone in the room all the time. So if there can be some way to streamline some of that – how to keep communication going without necessarily having everyone be face to face.

But isn’t face to face collaboration critical to the successful outcome of a project?

On Virtual Interface vs. Face-to-Face

Renee: The more I’m getting into this the more I am realizing that face to face is a really critical part of this. And yet there are huge opportunities for virtual interface. So how do we as humans overcome the fact that face-to-face is still the best means of communication? And how can some of these virtual environments or virtual tools begin to – not replace – but supplement it, potentially making things go faster and involve more voices? That is something I will be looking for in the next couple of years.

On The Role of the Designer

Markku: I’m curious to hear you expand just a little bit on what you perceive as the role of the designer in this new future that may involve much larger numbers of stakeholders input into design. How do you think that crowdsourcing and other trends you describe will affect the role of the designer?

On Utopian vs. Dystopian Futures

Renee: There’s a utopian and dystopian way of looking at this (laughter.) In the dystopian way architects become just one of many, many voices. The hierarchy is lost and it becomes very difficult to get good design. You just get a lot of compromise. That would be the dystopian future I would not like to see.

On the Architect as Advocate for Design and Design Thinking

Renee: The utopian future that we are trying to prepare our students to lead and for this role is architect as – in some kind of manner of – not necessarily master builder but potentially something more in the Kieran Timberlake model, the central figure, the connector – someone who can be the advocate for design. And for design thinking. Can think laterally and simultaneously. And can help others to make decisions that make sense. Ideally there is some role for the architect that is different than the role of any other experts, clients or users – or whomever is adding to this future design process – that are coming in. Because of the training.

On the Architect’s Training

Renee: The training is not that they know how to make a zero-energy building. Or that they know how to manipulate a BIM model. The training is that they know how to see things laterally and simultaneously.

See laterally and simultaneously.

Renee: Very few people know how to do that. And when you can see things laterally and simultaneously, envisioning multiple options at the same time, you have an enormous ability to redefine the problem, reframe the questions and direct people’s energy.

Redefine the problem, reframe the questions and direct people’s energy

Renee: So that’s what I would hope would set the architect apart from others in the crowd. As crowdsourcing or social networking or larger number of stakeholders begin to be part of the process.

Markku: The ability to position the conversation within a framework of multiple, possible realities.

Renee: Exactly. And to be able to frame and reframe the questions. Because it’s not about trying to find answers or solutions to things. It’s really about precisely defining the problem – and then the solution becomes self-evident. And any designer who has had that moment happen – or visited a building where it all comes together and makes sense – that solution didn’t come from someone saying “make this museum function in this and this way.” It came from a variety of things that were juggled at the same time. A lot of tangible and intangible things that get fit into that process until you reach a result that is so beautiful and well-designed it becomes inevitable. But it wasn’t from trying to solve a problem. It comes from framing the questions.

On Preparing for the Unknown

Markku: Do you think that that ability to frame the problem in such a concise way that the solution becomes self-evident is possible in the realm of the academy?

Renee: we’re trying to develop and nurture that skill in our students. It’s both a blessing and a curse to have this ability to constantly frame questions and prolong the period of not jumping to conclusion or solution…If we’re asked to prepare students to meet these grand challenges that are coming forward for their generation, then we’re going to need to think about how we’re going to instill all of these skills that we’ve always counted on architects having, yet prepare them for a future that is extremely different than we knew when we were in school – or that’s even existing today. It’s a tough thing for a curriculum to do. A challenge that I would say architectural education has not faced ever before.

On How We’re Going to Get There

Markku: An interesting time for you.

Renee: It’s always good to be living in interesting times. Sometimes I do wonder how we’re going to get there. The creative thing is when you go into the studios and see the students and how enthusiastic they are in accepting the goals of carbon neutrality and low energy design and just aggressively and idealistically tackling them. And very, very thirsty for the tools that will allow them to get there. I don’t think, in student’s idealistic minds, they’re thinking of the billions of dollars cut from waste in the building industry. They’re thinking of a future where all buildings are efficiently built, with a good use of resources, hopefully with well-compensated designers and clients that are knowledgeable and willing to take risks on things that are willing to move the technology forward and buildings forward. Communities that are livable and walkable and promote healthy living. Students are aiming for the moon – which leads me to think it is a tough problem – but that’s our role as educators and our role as professionals. To show them that yes it can be done. And that we’re just taking it step by step.

Markku: Well I think we’re in great hands.

We are, indeed.

Renée Cheng is a graduate of Harvard’s GSD and Harvard College. A registered architect, her professional experience includes work for Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners and Richard Meier and Partners before founding Cheng-Olson Design. She taught at the University of Michigan and the University of Arizona before joining the faculty of University of Minnesota in January of 2002 where she is currently Head.

Professor Cheng has written on the topic of architectural education in the context of emerging practices and technology. These writings have appeared in the 2006 AIA Report on Integrated Practice and the Education Summit at ACADIA in 2004. 2006 “Suggestions for an Integrated Practice” in AIA Report on Integrated Practice, ed. Norm Strong, Daniel Friedman, Mike Broshar, also excerpted in AECBytes, Viewpoint July 2006.

Look here and here for more on IPD at AIA.

Listen to Renée Cheng’s interview with Markku Allison on AIA Pod Net

Look here for the AIA’s review of 2009 and Beyond | Revisiting the Report on Integrated Practice, “Suggestions for an Integrative Education,” by Robert Smith, AIA.

Each essay from the 2006 Report on Integrated Practice is being re-released as part of the 2009 and Beyond series. The re-release includes new commentary as well as podcasts from interviews with the reports’ original authors.