jump to navigation

Architects as Translators April 16, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, books, creativity, essence, pragmatism, problem solving, questions, reading, transformation.
Tags: , , , , ,
add a comment


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.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

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.

Letter to a Discontented Architect March 9, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, function, identity, optimism, problem solving, survival, the economy.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.

Mohandas Gandhi

Dear Architect,

Thanks for writing – now it’s my turn. I know it’s particularly hard out there right now and it’s hard for even the most diehard optimist to come up with the words you need to hear without sounding either glib or out of touch. But I understand your restlessness and discontent with your situation and may have a suggestion or two on how you might turn things around for the better.

First, let it be said, to be discontent – with our profession or the built environment, with your lot in life or the lot you’ve been given to work with, the cards you’ve been dealt and position you’ve been put in, the state of the economy or the way government is handling it  – is a natural, healthy state to be in. Like stress – it is a critical part of what it means to be human and, to a point, our dissatisfaction with the way things are keeps us focused, energized and motivated.

As an architect, you in fact need to remain discontent for as long as you can stand it. For to be discontent means you are alive, have a pulse, blood is running through your veins – all good.

You just need to be sure you are discontent with the right things.

By nature a discontented lot – architects look at what is and envision the way it can be. They not only create the built environment but see their interventions as improving the world around them – both the natural and the manmade. Yes, you heard that right. Most architects believe and have it ingrained early, that their work actually improves upon nature. Consider that! Most wouldn’t bother doing what they do if that wasn’t the case.

Architects are a discontented sort. They don’t like the way empty sites just sit there – so they look for or create opportunities whereby they can fill it with something. They don’t like the way existing buildings go underutilized – so they propose new uses for them. They don’t like the way others design their buildings – so they improve upon them by proposing their own. They don’t like the way clients stingily give them one building at a time to design so they go ahead and give their clients – for free – a value-added master plan indicating the unasked for, strategic placement of backlog for years to come! They don’t like the way developers maximize the gross area to reap the maximum reward irrespective of what needs there might be, so they propose buildings that meet the needs while making more efficient use of the site.

Architects improve upon whatever they see. They are always looking for ways to make things better – to the chagrin of our clients – even when they don’t necessarily need improving. They don’t like the way things are done and – action-oriented, creative, energized as they are – they do something about it.

That is why it is important to remain discontent – and sustain a perpetual state of restlessness – for as long as you can. For architecture – and becoming an architect – takes a long time. And you need to be there for it.

Discontent with those content

It’s a strange, contradictory and even a bit snobbish truism that architects who are content with everything are held in lower esteem by peers and even seen by some as sell-outs. It implies a serious lack of critical judgment, ignorance and worst of all, curiosity. Strange and unfortunate, but true.

To be content with something is seen as a sign of weakness. If you are OK with something it either means you have no values, you have no guts, you have no morals, you are too easily pleased, you’re a push-over, you’re ignorant or you have no ideas of your own. You’re made up of lesser stuff. Not up to snuff, there’s a place for people like you and, well, it’s not with us.

There is a great deal that needs improvement in our world and contentedness implies self-satisfaction when there’s still much work to do. Always is. As though to say, to be dissatisfied is to be alive. I’ll have plenty of time to be satisfied when I’m dead.

This is just to say I understand your discontent with your situation. You put in a lot of work and expended a lot of energy to make your way through school, to land your first positions, only – you say – to be handed this.

The Art of Being Discontent

So be discontent. A little discontent is fine and to be expected – this is what we are and who we are. Its par for the course for architects as we make our way through school into our careers as designers and custodians of the built environment to be a bit disgruntled with what lies in store or just outside our window or within our purview.

We need to be a bit discontent to be motivated to put up with all we have to put up with on the road from concept and visualization to realization of built form, whether we’re designing our careers or buildings.

Buildings made from contented architects would be a little bland. The world does not need more blah.

That said, choose wisely the things you are discontent about. Know the difference between supportive, constructive words and a rant. Less screed, more helping each other to succeed.

Criteria for healthy discontent

The allure of skepticism is its exoneration from obligation: if nothing works properly why try? If everyone is insincere why be honest? How can we trust when deceit is rampant, when cultural heroes are routinely toppled? – Baruch Epstein

But also like stress, like anything taken too far to excess, discontent turns into something vile and largely unhealthy to the body politic, and starts to appear less as a natural and understandable dissatisfaction and more like sarcasm and cynicism. Discontent becomes unsustainable as an operating procedure – bitter to be around, alienating, undermining our very efforts at communication and progress. Discontent becomes dour, corrosive and regressive – adding little but bile to the conversation. When like that you become disbelieving in the very possibility of sincerity of human motives.

Architects and cynics alike design and build protective walls to stand behind and contain. Skepticism and irony, sarcasm and cynicism are merely barriers to protect the deeply emotional expectations architects have for themselves in these uncertain times. This is entirely understandable – it’s scary out there. And yet, it may seem that without cynicism, architects have no place to hide. But as enclosures go, cynicism is the drafty, unsustainable, energy-wasting kind. Don’t go there.

As important as it is to be discontent – it is just as important to not be cynical. Cynicism will eat away at you. Know the difference between cynicism and sarcasm, discontent and skepticism. Only the latter two will serve you well. The former will make you dispassionate; you’ll come across to colleagues and clients alike – however unintended – as snide and angry and obtuse, standing in the way of the very progress you profess to perpetuate. Go on ridicule sincerity – when sincerity stands in your way of accomplishing great deeds.

Building designers – and for that matter bloggers and others who start and contribute to online discussions and forums – are content providers while, dissatisfied consumers of these have largely become discontent providers. Before adding your two cents, ask yourself these three things. Is, what I’m about to write nurturing? Is it growth promoting? And does it work (for others?)

If not, perhaps it doesn’t need to be said.

This criteria, it would seem, doesn’t allow for humorous, ironic and sarcastic responses and asides. Bringing more humor into our lives is always welcome. The question again is one of intent:  is the jibe intended to hurt or to help? Because right now, we – as a profession, as colleagues and co-creators with one another – need a little less sarcasm and more support.

As you may know, I recently posted “81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect.” Unabashedly optimistic, positive, uplifting – and asking for trouble. An outpouring of responses followed. Most of the positive ones were lengthy, while those less enthralled identified themselves with just two initials, posting 3-word screeds as though to say it wasn’t worth the time and effort (i.e. what is?) So, perhaps understandably, yk wrote “this is a joke, right?” and kh commented “Feel good fluff,” some more mean-spirited than others, one implying maybe I wouldn’t be in this situation “if your posts were more concise.” One comment perhaps spoke for everyone else: “I’d trade all 81 reasons for work.”

While contrarian views such as these are targets for concision, some of the comments that were left were downright accusatory, as though to say: all things considered, you really ought to be less content. You ought to be less happy and a whole lot less optimistic.

Architects comment on industry forums angered at the fact that they cannot call themselves architects while unlicensed technologists can. Standing on the sidelines back against the wall, design architects are deciding whether to bow out or wait out this dance. Cynical? Absolutely. Sneering? Sarcastic? To be sure. But also fearful. They’re afraid. Very, very afraid – about their future, about the fact that their hard fought education – not yet paid for – may have been for naught. That the initial inroads into the profession was at best a misfire, spent on the sidelines or behind the scenes cleaning-up other people’s mess. And yet, and yet we needn’t worry until we start to see the language of fear verge toward the language of anger. And this seething anger is, I’m afraid, something we are starting to see.

The content of discontent

There’s an inherent optimism in an architect’s discontent, as though to say: “I don’t like the way things are and I’m going to do something about it.” In this way, the act of architecture is one of healing. Tikkun Olam – repairing the world, healing the earth. There is always the initial recognition and awareness that something is wrong that needs to be righted, something is broken that needs to be fixed.

One fallout from the current economy is that under- and unemployed architects are subjected not only to the prospect of having less work but having seemingly less opportunity to make positive outcomes from their critical stances. In addition to the indignities of our current state, we remain discontent without the apparent creative outlet or opportunity to introduce change. To right what has been wronged.

But to believe this is wrong. We can tap into and turn our natural abundance of discontent toward the improvement of so much in our world that needs fixing. It may not be the occasional fire station, student residence or library for the near term. We will have to find other subjects in need of our healthy discontent to address in the interim.

A prelude to progress

Thomas Edison said that discontent is the first necessity of progress.

What are the right things worth being discontent about? Here are a few important things to consider:

  • Global warming: Improving the environment while using less energy
  • Education: Teaching future designers and architects what they need to know to succeed in the future
  • Our future as designers: Explaining the value of design to the unaware
  • The natural environment: Explaining the real meaning of sustainability to those who can do something about it
  • Sprawl I: Identifying ways to contain sprawl and present them
  • Sprawl II: Devote yourself to the improvement of our suburbs
  • The profession: Create a viable, win-win value proposition for architects in the age of BIM and IPD
  • Stubbornness, stagnation and unwillingness to change: Become a change agent for those unwilling to change
  • Construction: dissatisfied with the amount of construction, time and money waste and want to do something about it
  • Collaboration: with the way team members withhold information and work at odds with each other
  • Professional organizations: want to feel that members are better served while helping to serve yourself
  • Value proposition: frustrated with owner’s expectations about how/how little design professionals are paid

I’m sure you have a list of your own. If not, this is the time to take note.

What are some of the things that we shouldn’t bother being discontent with?

  • Trivial things, minutia
  • Things we have no control over
  • Situations that wouldn’t be improved despite our intervening and attention

In these cases, they need a whole lot of care from someone else – namely themselves.

Your Turn

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. George Bernard Shaw

The world needs you even if clients or employers don’t seem to right now. As an architect you have always had two clients – a paying one and, in the public-at-large, in building users and surrounding communities – a non-paying client.

Now it’s your turn. So go on – be discontent, dissatisfied with your situation. Turn it toward positive results. Turn – this negative energy toward something constructive and productive.

Turn – the collective frustration into a major rebuilding effort.

Turn – your anger into something productive.

Turn – your frustration into improving the profession

Turn – your experience into something helpful and positive

Turn – your attention to what needs fixing

Turn – your unending creativity toward building up rather than tearing down

Turn – your words around and ask what you could be doing for your community, for your industry and your fellow professionals in need – right now.

This may very well indeed be the winter of our discontent. If so, use it to improve one small corner of the world. And then get out in front of it. Our good works aren’t a bastion against anything – but rather a backdrop for what, ahead, is sure to be more a promising time of it. Together – if each of us takes our one small place – we will in time create a better world and lives for ourselves and for those around us. And that is nothing to be discontent about.

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.
Tags: , , , , ,
8 comments

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.

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.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
4 comments

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.
Tags: , , , ,
add a comment

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.

The Dead Fish Museum December 10, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, career, creativity, essence, fiction, identity, possibility, questions, transformation.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

What’s in your Cart?

That’s right, the Amazon.com shopping cart. The button with a shopping cart in the upper right hand corner of the home page on the Amazon website.

For most of us there’s an accumulation of items we’ve put on the Cart over the years under the wishful words Shopping Cart Items – To Buy Now.

My current subtotal is $1850.20

With this Important Message: Please note that the price of The Dead Fish Museum has increased from $11.25 to $11.70 since you placed it in your Shopping Cart.

I don’t recall what The_Dead_Fish_Museum  is – or why I placed it on my Cart. Or when. Which is the point of this post.

First a bit of back story. The other week I helped a friend out – made some suggestions on Skype about her in-progress house design in Revit – and she rewarded me by email with a generous gift card to be used at my favorite World’s Largest Online Bookseller.

It was the nicest gift I have ever gotten. In part because it was unexpected. In part because having helped was its own reward. In part because it was exactly what I wanted. And yet…

Critiquing someone’s design is hardly work. File under Joy, not Labor. And overlooking the questionable ethics of accepting rewards for performing work voluntarily and deciding whether to spend the loot on me, my family, or even on my friend, I immediately went to the Amazon.com website to shop.

That’s when I realized that I have 67 items in my Cart. I started adding to the Cart several years ago, around the time Amazon stopped removing items from the Cart and allowed them to accumulate, naturally, as they do in my basement and attic.

So, with the funny money (14 digit Gift Retrieval Code) in hand, I went shopping.

Rummaging through the items on my Cart, going back in time, is like slicing through a tree of your life to observe in the rings you’ve accumulated over the years; whether they reveal a harsh or mild winter followed by a barren or fruitful spring.

The Cart represents a timeline – of what it was you wanted, what once caught your eye or imagination, what you once desired. And unlike Amazon’s Wish List, the Cart is meant only for your eyes alone (and in rare instances, such as this, those belonging to readers of this post.)

Running down the list of items in my Cart inevitably patterns emerge. I have a tendency for example to look at – and place in my Cart – Buddhism books in the late fall. Every late fall. And poetry to help me get through the Siberian expanses of winter.

Every winter.

What follows are a few items in my Cart, annotated from memory of why they are there, what I was thinking at the time I placed them in my Cart.  Things I couldn’t afford at the time or saved for when I came into some cash. Things that speak to me.

Science Is Fiction: 23 Films by Jean Painleve DVD

Both my kids currently want to become marine biologists, if not entirely sure what that means. This Criterion Collection of short films set to the musical score of Yo La Tengo might be something we can share on cold winter days. The x-ray image of a seahorse on the cover is enticing. But will my kids watch it with me? If they wander off after one or two short films, do I really need to watch 21 short films about fornicating sea creatures? Verdict: Maybe the library will get it…

True to Life: Twenty-Five Years of Conversations with David Hockney by Lawrence Weschler

I cannot imagine a better use for a book, or time better spent. Verdict: Buy it.

Between Fire and Sleep: Essays on Modern Polish Poetry and Prose by Mr. Jaroslaw Anders

After 9/11 irony was dead, and humor was all but annulled. Poetry alone seemed to speak to those who needed consoling and Polish poetry spoke the most clearly and deeply, especially Stefan Garczyński, Zbigniew Herbert, Czesław Miłosz and of course Wisława Szymborska. Now that the urgency has passed, it would be nice to know how they manage to work their magic on us. Verdict: “Nice to know” is not reason enough to purchase.

Secrets in a Box (Adventures in Art) – Joseph Cornell

Verdict: Wait

Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki by David Chadwick

The story of how Buddhism came to America. Verdict: It’s late fall…Buy it.

Lewis.Tsurumaki.Lewis: Opportunistic Architecture

A good-for-you book. Nurturing. I would get this for myself when I felt the need to return to what it was that truly matters to me. When it’s no longer about keeping the lights on and paying the bills, showing up at the train platform every morning in my rain slicker. When I finally get around to purchasing this book it’ll be to honor the architect of old, to benchmark how far I’ve wandered off the path, or how long I’ve remained on it, to remind myself where the path is and how I stay the course. Verdict: Jury’s still out…

These, along with The Dead Fish Museum, are some of the things in my Cart. What’s in your Cart?

Do you see recurring patterns? Long lost interests or secret fascinations that were put on hold to take care of more urgent – but no less important – matters at hand? With the holidays ahead – and the promise of at least some downtime – what would you pluck from your list? Carpe diem translates literally not as seize the day but rather “pluck from the day.” What will you pluck from your cart to enliven, to enrich your day?

The Wisdom of Booklife December 4, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, fiction, management, optimism, survival, transformation.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

Money may not be able to buy you love but it can buy you – and those you live and work with – some happiness. How much happiness can $10.17 buy these days? It turns out – quite a lot.

You need not be a writer to enjoy a remarkable and inspiring new book, Booklife: Strategies and Survival Tips for the 21st Century Writer, by writer, reviewer, editor, publisher, anthologist, filmmaker, agent, animator and blogger Jeff VanderMeer. The perfect book for the writer in your life, yes but in all actuality I can think of no better book for non-writers to read, especially as we’re nearing year-end, the time we ritually consider changes we would like to make in our own lives for the coming year.

Booklife, Foodlife, Worklife, Lovelife, Whatever. This book will – in less time, with less effort and for less money – give you the Xlife you’ve been looking for. Not in short shrift but for the long haul.

As with all books on writing you can read it two ways: to learn tips and tricks of the trade, or to be inspired. As the author wisely suggests: Keep one eye on the matter at hand, and the other on the horizon. Advice or insight, this book is no exception.

For seeking inspiration, and for extraverts in particular, the Public Booklife section will be of more interest – whereas for those more introverted (fellow architects?) the prospect of putting yourself out there – online or off – just the mention of it will raise heart rates. Introverts will enjoy the book’s Private Booklife advice on how to be more productive, effective, balanced and generally happy.

But as we’ll see in a moment, it is in the combining of our public and private selves that we are most likely to find paradise.

First an aside: When I need a pick-me-up, as I sometimes do in these particularly challenging times, I bypass the ginkgo biloba and go for some soul-soothing and inspiring Anne Lamott or Carolyn See, two desert island-worthy authors whose writing-cum-inspiration books will help anyone off their islands, desert or otherwise.

But back to Booklife. First, a qualifier – and this grain of salt is more like a boulder. Substituting the word “Booklife” for “life,” the book makes the relatively unremarkable claim that the ideal life harmoniously combines a public life (marketing ourselves and our work) and a private life (strategies for getting our work done.)

As we all try to balance our public and private selves and all more or less do this – some more overtly, others more seamlessly – this will hardly be an earth-shattering revelation. There are those who would argue that balance is detrimental to achieving goals – including the creation of lasting work. Balance is the enemy of creativity.

That “marketing” today is malleable and ever-changing, involving a heightened presence on social networking sites and new forms of self-promotion, doesn’t change the fact that it is still essentially selling.

And a thousand suggestions for inspiring greater productivity doesn’t change the fact that writing of all kinds involves two things: butts in seats + writing. Period.

But then again the billion dollar diet industry would vanish overnight should people follow the simple – but almost impossible to practice – dictum of exercise + limiting caloric intake.

Since writing is no easier than dieting, writing books will continue to be written as long as people need to lose weight. To this point there is even a popular writing diet.

As the burden of book production and publicity today falls primarily on authors, I took special interest in the Public Booklife portion of the book.

One online reviewer noted, “BOOKLIFE serves as a much-needed corrective to the sad ‘market your book like a carnival huckster’ approach too often found in books of advice for writers these days.” An example of shameless (more overt, less seamless) self-promotion (on a new media social networking site) would be if I were to right here, in this sentence, not-so-subtly mention that I am currently writing a book for publication. Oh, and when it comes out want you to buy it and tell all of your friends.

With the advice contained in Booklife, moving forward no one would ever again need to self-promote in such obvious fashion. A relief to this blogger who prefers more subtle nudging.

So what then makes Booklife so remarkable?

The author is unflinchingly honest, forthright, avoiding what he calls “rah-rah” sentences, saying it like it is. The author’s website describes this guide to sustainable careers and sustainable creativity as “the first to fully integrate discussion of the role of new media into topics that have always been of interest to writers.” But this isn’t what makes this book remarkable.

What makes the book remarkable is that it explores questions we all could be asking ourselves this time of year:

  • How can you use social media and the internet?
  • How does the new online paradigm affect you and those you interface with, or wish to sell, inspire or change minds?
  • How can you find the time to both create and promote you work?
  • What should never be done?

Additionally, Booklife will help you

  • get from point A to point B, whatever your destination or goal.
  • accomplish, wrap-up, complete and finish – especially for those who habitually start things but seldom if ever close the deal.
  • balance your personal life and career – whatever it is.
  • set goals for yourself in the New Year ahead.
  • and those around you to be happier – because you will be happier and better balanced.

Booklife is like a travel guide for destinations that you alone determine and focus your compass on.

Perhaps most of all,

Booklife serves as an uplifting, honest and resourceful survival guide in these Zombie-festooned, 2012-dystopic, troubling times.

Architecting a Brighter Future July 14, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, creativity, problem solving, the economy.
Tags: , ,
add a comment

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

CLIENTS EXPECT DISCOUNTS OR FREE WORK

Little a architect, out of fear, complies.

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

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

Little a architect responds to assignment status quo.

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

OLD CLIENTS ARE NEW AGAIN

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

Little a architects pull out the accounts receivable and stew.

COMPETITORS ARE DISCOUNTING THEIR SERVICES

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

Little a architect cries foul.

COMPETITORS EATING DOWN THE FOOD CHAIN

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

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

CONSTRUCTION COSTS ARE DOWN

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

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

NEW MARKETS WILL BE FUELED BY NEW PLAYERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, creativity, problem solving.
1 comment so far

 

To what does an architect aspire?

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

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

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

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

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

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