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Professionalism as a State of Mind December 19, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, education, employment, essence, principles, survival.
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professionalismBack in summer, architect Rob Anderson tweeted:

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

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

@erinmurphyaia: I argue this point every day.

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

And what I see concerns me.

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

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

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

What concerns me is this:

Being a professional requires an independent mindset.

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

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

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

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

Architects cannot, for example, take kickbacks from contractors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

For them, being professional is conditional.

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

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

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

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

Here’s the thing:

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

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

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

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

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

Then I’d read each and every one.

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

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

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

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

Most ignored this advice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Whether you think someone is looking or not.

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

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

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

They place long-term relations above expressing immediate feelings.

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

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

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

Because someone probably will be.

Architecture’s Two Cultures (AND a Crucial Third) May 1, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, BIM, books, collaboration, essence, function, pragmatism, questions, sustainability, transformation, transition.
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9 comments

Architecture today exhibits a clear dividing line between the haves and have-nots.

Between us and them.

It’s not a matter of who’s on top and who’s on bottom – one being high and the other low – for they are both high-minded.

High-minded, that is, about different things.

The Two Cultures was an influential lecture, given just over 50 years ago this week, by scientist and novelist C. P. Snow about how the breakdown of communication between the “two cultures” of modern society — the sciences and humanities — was holding us back from solving the world’s major problems.

Architecture’s two cultures, similarly, can be best described as “high design” and “high delivery”.

In other words, architects devoted to architecture as art, and architects devoted to serving clients.

This model owes something to Weld Coxe, founder of the service professions management firm The Coxe Group, who passed away last month.

You can find a clear description of their model, published 25 years ago, here.

For simplicity’s sake, I am clumping together service and delivery, for they have one big thing in common: a client.

For some this might be likened to clumping together Vitruvius’ commodity and firmness and pitting them against delight.

Whereas, for high art (paper architecture, etc.), while patrons are welcome, they aren’t necessary.

Versus

It’s almost impossible to describe the two cultures without making a value judgment.

Innovators vs. Perpetuators of the status quo.

Ideas vs. Things.

Form vs. Function.

Thinking differently vs. The standard of care.

Sophisticated urban architects vs. Prosaic suburban architects.

AIA members vs. SARA members (or any other so-called alternative-AIA organizations.)

Local office continuing education events sponsored by USG Corp. vs. Outlier office sponsored industry events by Big Ass Fans.

The Architect’s Newspaper vs. Architect magazine.

Dwell and Domus vs. House Beautiful and Fine Homebuilding.

You get the idea.

In fact, it was a magazine that got this whole discussion rolling.

At the AIA Committee on Design Knowledge Community, an architect started a KnowledgeNet discussion thread last month concerning the Record Houses 2011 magazine issue.

The argument boils down to one word: elitism.

Record Houses, the argument goes, is elitist.

Exclusive, exclusionary and undemocratic.

Various voices chimed-in, leaving messages that, generally, complained the houses awarded year after year exhibit poor construction decision-making.

Or are uncomfortable to live in.

Or aren’t code-worthy.

Or don’t use construction best practices.

Or are unsustainable.

Or they leak.

In other words, their comments seem to say, “they may be art but I wouldn’t want to live in one.”

Several mentioned that these high-design homes perpetuate the image of the architect as designing for themselves, for each other or to receive awards and recognition.

Anything, really, but for what the world needs from a home today: shelter, safety, solace.

That Record Homes, if viewed in a doctor’s office by a non-architect, may leave the wrong conclusion of what we truly stand for as a profession, of where our true interests lie, and of what we value and believe.

In defense of the Record Houses issue, one architect admitted liking one of the houses:

“Do I design this way? I don’t have the client, the budget or, let’s face it, the talent.”

Another added:

“There are some beautifully resolved and detailed houses in the article, why the hate? I will argue for the issues of safety in public buildings but to use that as a metric for the merits of design for a home is misplaced…”

One counterpoint sums up the opposing side’s argument:

“Great architecture should be based on more than art alone. Otherwise it is sculpture.”

Architecture’s Third Culture

Just as CP Snow’s Two Cultures were welcomed by a Third Culture 20 years ago, so are ours today.

Snow’s Third Culture was a group envisioned as “curious non-scientists who could bridge the gap between scientists and humanists.”

In 1991, literary agent John Brockman wrote an essay entitled “The Third Culture.”

Architecture’s Third Culture could also be best described as a bridge.

One that can bridge a gaping hole between design and construction.

Architecture’s Third Culture would bridge the gap by removing the “vs.” between the two sides.

Replacing “vs.” with an “and.”

Today, for the world we face, we need to do both.

We need to be both.

Both/and. Not either/or.

For a world in need we, as architects, need to be more.

Because the world needs more.

And we have what it takes – as individuals, teams, firms and profession – to rise to the occasion.

We cannot afford any longer to stand apart.

To emphasize one side over the other.

Or ignore one side altogether.

Yes, the world needs beauty as much as it needs our services.

We need, today more than ever, to integrate our predilections and capabilities and stand together as one profession, however diverse we may be as individuals.

And we can start by dropping the divisiveness.

Replacing “vs.” with a simple “and.”

Architecture’s Next Destination (AND)

Call it the Yes AND movement.

We commit, here on out, in our work and in our lives, to address both ideas and things.

Both form and function.

Technology and process.

Academics and practitioners.

Design and construction.

Both thinking differently and exceeding the standard of care.

Beauty and sustainability.

BIM and integrated design.

To creating sophisticated, urban places and the revitalization of the suburbs.

To belong to – and volunteer at – any organization of our choosing.

Despite our schooling and training, which may have emphasized one over the other.

What we ought to have been doing all along.

Improv Wisdom

It’s like the old improv “Yes And” game.

The game represents a vital rule of improvisational theater:

Never deny your fellow actor.

Take what you’re given, whatever line you’re fed, and say “yes and…”

Be willing and able to accept the ideas the other person conveys.

Then, it’s your turn to add to the scene.

This improv principle is known as “Yes And.” Here’s how it works:

At the beginning of the scene, Character #1 will begin by establishing setting and plot.

Character #1: What a terrible time to be an architect!

Following the “Yes And” method, Character #2 will accept the premise and add onto the situation.

Character #2: Yep and the boss said we don’t get no salary until this model is coordinated.

Character #1: Yes and ain’t he the meanest cuss we’ve ever worked for?

Character #2: Yep and it’s made me think about leaving behind this cowboy life and headin’ off for bluer horizons. (Learn more about the method here.)

Seated with the project team, someone tosses out an idea that troubles you.

Never deny your teammate. You respond by saying, “Yes and…”

Don’t like what the client has given you in the way of a program, schedule or budget?

Never deny your client. “Yes and…”

Don’t like what the economy has given you?

Never deny your circumstances. “Yes and…”

Or the site. Or the budget. Or the schedule.

Yes And: Not either/Or.

Yes And: A Collaborative Attitude.

Yes And: Architecture’s Third Culture

Yes And: Architect’s New Direction

Yes And: Architecture’s Next Destination

This is the message we want to be making to others.

Do you agree?

Watch for Architecture’s Two Cultures (AND a Crucial Third) Part 2

Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail February 23, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, books, change, employment, essence, identity, optimism, questions.
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11 comments

I’ve been thinking about the state of our profession.

For anyone who belongs to an online social media group the subject has been hard to avoid.

And from the number of commenters in discussions it would be fair to say I am not alone.

These discussions tend to present an exhaustive laundry list comprised of complaints and recriminations that run their course until someone steps-up and wisely says something along the lines of

  • “You get out of it what you put into it,”
  • “Be the change you want to see in the world,” or
  • “Ask not what your profession can do for you, but what you can do for your profession,”

The thread soon runs out of steam but pops up again on another site and starts over again.

Rinse, repeat.

Victim mentality

It would appear that some of us never tire of describing the infractions we’ve been victims of and injustices we’ve experienced at the hands of our chosen profession.

Uprising anyone?

Most of the threads boil down to a wish list of what our profession can do for us:

  • Stop everyone who is not a building architect from using the name architect
  • Advocate on our behalf by informing the general public who we are, what we do and why what we do should be valued
  • Clear up any misconceptions that others have about us (that we are wealthy, that we only care about the way things look, that we control project outcomes, wear black, have unrealistic expectations)
  • Give us job security
  • A direct return on investment
  • Tell us – and everyone else – when we’re doing a fine job
  • Only take legislative positions that align with my own
  • Serve refreshments at professional programs
  • Charge us $75 annual dues (like the other guys)

That’s not what professions are for. That’s what Santa Claus is for.

If we were to go back and reread the comments, between the rants and unrealistic demands – if one were to listen carefully and read mindfully – one can discern a voice of reason and compassion: constructive, positive, hopeful.

So much so that one discussion commenter recently concluded:

“I think the comments here are a great foundation upon which to rebuild the profession of architecture.”

Amen.

That’s a good start.

Bowling alone together

While some pay dues in exchange for a very expensive magazine subscription – and so they can call themselves card-carrying members – today most don’t see themselves as belonging to a profession.

They belong to communities, groups and tribes.

In Tribes, Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people who are connected to

1. one another, 2. a leader, and 3. an idea.

Godin – like some of the more thoughtful voices in the group discussion threads – encourages readers to find their Tribe, step up, and lead.

So, what distinguishes a profession from a tribe?

A number of qualities and characteristics can be attributed to professions.

Professions, unlike tribes, regulate membership – as opposed to communities and networks that socially certify.

Professions gather skilled practitioners by seeing to it that they’ve acquired and maintained specialized training.

Professions put service to society before personal gain (spouses might add, to a fault.)

Professions encourage a private language be spoken amongst members.

Again?

It’s all part of the body of knowledge considered inaccessible to the uninitiated.

And one of the things that makes a profession a profession.

Witold Rybczynski earlier this month chastised architects for their private language in A Discourse on Emerging Tectonic Visualization and the Effects of Materiality on Praxis, Or an essay on the ridiculous way architects talk.

But that is what professions do: enable and foster professionals to talk to each other as professionals.

I am not saying that we ought to deliberately obfuscate and waylay the public (or use words like “obfuscate” and “waylay” when becloud and befog would do.)

But one way we reinforce our community is by talking to each other in terms familiar to ourselves (and a select few inebriated hangers-on of the 60’s and various sundry academics.)

Of the categories – individuals, teams, organizations, profession and industry – profession feels like the weak link.

There was a time we aspired to serve in professions. Stanley Tigerman asked in the introduction of his fine book Versus, in 1979; Growing up he’d hear his mother say:

My son the doctor, my son the lawyer. Why not, my son the architect?

Nobody would think of asking that question today (and not only because at least 40% of the time it would be addressed to My daughter the architect?)

Because we don’t think in terms of entering professions so much as careers.

How can we have a profession without shared memories, books, references, memes?

Who remembers (or still reads) Peter Collins comparing law with the profession of architecture in the brilliant book, Architectural Judgment, where Collins returns to law school so he might compare the two professions with firsthand experience?

Anyone?

$3.97 for a used copy (call me and we’ll discuss.)

What can we do for our profession?

“What is difficult about this moment in the history of the profession is that the field is moving in so many different directions at once. Changes are occurring in the structure of architectural firms and the scope of their services, in the goals of architectural graduates and the careers they are pursuing, and in the nature of architectural education and the responsibilities of the schools.”

Thomas Fisher wrote this in “Can This Profession Be Saved?” in Progressive Architecture, 17 years ago in February 1994. Read it here.

The title of this post – Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail – invokes the professions, rhythm and cadence of author John le Carre’s spy novel: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Derived from the English children’s rhyme “Tinker, Tailor,” this group of professions had another variant:

“Rich man, Poor man, beggar-man, thief; Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.”

Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail. What does this title say to me?

Our professions cannot fail us. Only we can fail each other.

What we can do for each other and for our profession is really quite simple. So simple, in fact, it’s worth asking why we aren’t doing some of these things more often.

So, what can we do for our profession?

  • Show up
  • Share our knowledge, stories and insights
  • Help each other
  • Listen to one another
  • Look for opportunities to improve our world
  • Be accepting and inclusive of others
  • Respect each other
  • Celebrate each other’s accomplishments
  • Mentor our fledgling members
  • Be authentic
  • Laugh more (make office Nerf N-Strike battles mandatory)
  • Give back
  • Give others a reason for wanting to become an architect
  •      

Now it’s your turn, by leaving a comment: What could we be doing more of for each other and for our profession? What one item would you add to this list?

Image courtesy NYTimes

In Search of another Type of Architect January 29, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, BIM, change, collaboration, essence, identity, the economy, transformation, transition.
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23 comments

It sometimes seems as though there are two types of architects: those doing architecture and those leaving comments online.

Lately, a number of my own comments left at various sites seem to stop the flow of the discussion thread.

They’re conversation-ending comments.

Is it me? The equivalent of my comment’s breath?

Is it something I said?

Or is it my Type?

I believe the best commenters (and architects) play well with others – they reference each other’s comments, build on them, politely beg to differ.

And they politely beg others to respond.

Their comments move the discussion forward.

Mine seem to just sit there like a ton of bricks. Anchoring the discussion the way a chunk of concrete anchors wiseguys at the bottom of the lake.

As though to say, um, thanks for sharing (not.)

Take for example this comment that I left at AIA’s new flagship publication, Architect Magazine.

The article is entitled “A Difficult Character” about how, when a leadership consultant reviewed the Myers-Briggs tests of 100 architects, he discovered there really is an “architect type” — and maybe a difficult one.

The big finding of the article is that the most frequent type among the architects was ENTJ — extraversion, intuition, thinking, and judging. ENTJs accounted for a whopping 31 percent of the architects that the consultant tested, despite the very low frequency of the type (estimated at 1.8 percent) within the general population.

The article is well-written and engaging. I just thought it was strange that it didn’t acknowledge earlier research that seemed to contradict – or inform – its findings.

So I said as much in my comment:

Posted by: randydeutsch | Time: 1:26 PM Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When Donald W. MacKinnon conducted his famous Myers-Briggs tests on architects in the 1950s and 1960s (published in In Search of Human Effectiveness) he found the vast majority of successful, self-actualized, creative architects to be ENFPs. Our apparent transitioning from FPs to TJs over the past half-century raises two questions: 1. Had architects with less pedigree (read: success, esteem, creativity, self-actualization) been tested 50 years ago would they have likewise exhibited a preference for ENTJ? and 2. Our organizations, profession, industry and world all demand a greater ability to work collaboratively, in an integrated manner: perhaps we would be better off with ENFP’s perception and empathy – two qualities in high demand (and, it appears, low inventory) when working on collaborative, integrated teams?

Is it possible to report your own comment as offensive?

That comment hit the ground with a major thud and pretty much put an end to what had been an otherwise interesting and energized online discussion.

You can still hear the echoes in the corridors of online comments everywhere.

The irony, of course, is that my comment was pure ENTJ: technically accurate, flawlessly judgmental, completely logical,

And not at all what the discussion needed at that moment.

It lacked perception and cooperation.

What was needed at that moment was a classically ENFP response: one that exhibited empathy.

One that perceptively, and collaboratively, worked well with the commenters who came before – to assure that there would be commenters who came after.

Soul Searching for another Type

Type Talk, along with Please Understand Me, are the 2 best books I have come across that describe the different personality “preferences” or types.

Type Talk’s chapter headings pretty well sum up the essence of each type:

ISTJ Doing What Should Be Done
ISFJ A High Sense of Duty
INFJ An Inspiration to Others
INTJ Everything Has Room For Improvement
ISTP Ready to Try Anything Once
ISFP Sees Much But Shares Little
INFP Performing Noble Service to Aid Society
INTP A Love of Problem Solving
ESTP The Ultimate Realist
ESFP You Only Go Around Once in Life
ENFP Giving Life an Extra Squeeze
ENTP One Exciting Challenge After Another
ESTJ Life’s Administrators
ESFJ Hosts and Hostesses of the World
ENFJ Smooth-Talking Persuaders
ENTJ Life’s Natural Leaders

Architects, by and large, are natural leaders. And leadership is something we could use a great deal more of right now.

But when you dig down a bit into what makes ENTJs who they are – what makes them click – largely has to do with their need for control.

And control is not something in great demand today.

In fact, it may go a long way to explain some of the frustration of architects who are unwilling to collaborate – whether by sharing their BIM models, participating on integrated teams or even sharing their work and responsibilities with colleagues.

Work, more and more, is occurring simultaneously – requiring lateral thinking – not in a linear fashion.

And that hurts.

And is incredibly draining. All that psychic energy spent trying to get such an unseemly and messy world to line up.

Architects have long been order makers – not order takers.

But life more and more is unpredictable and unrelenting.

Architects are a bit like Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer in the cinematic animation Fantasia.

We can’t help ourselves from wanting the world to stand on command, in some orderly way.

But nonetheless can’t seem to mop quickly enough to hold back the deluge.

Which reminds me of a favorite quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:

“I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.”

Architects who show a preference for ENTJ want the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever.

And you know, the world is just not cooperating.

Can ENTJs become ENFPs?

The short answer is: Yes.

Long ago, when I first took the Myers-Briggs assessment, I had been assessed as an ENFJ.

But not long after I noticed that many of the world’s most creative architects were ENFPs.

So I wanted to become one myself.

I put myself through a crash course of sorts. One of the things I did was to catch myself when I was passing judgment, to stop, take a deep breath, and substitute a more general – and hopefully helpful – observation or perception instead.

I tried to show more empathy than criticism whenever possible.

In fact, for years I taught a segment of a graduate level professional practice course where I purposefully assisted lifelong ENFJs and ENTJs who wanted to become ENFPs.

When I retested I was sure enough an ENFP and have remained one ever since.

Except for the times I revert, such as when reading through a great discussion thread and I feel compelled to leave an ENTJ-type comment.

It’s that part of me that wants the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever.

And you know, I may be collaborating, but the world’s just not cooperating.

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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2 comments

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.
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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.

Architects as Translators April 16, 2010

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

Grace Kim

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

To name but a few:

Architects synthesize, orchestrate and transform.

They facilitate, collaborate and innovate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q/A with an Architect-as-Translator

Q: What do architects translate?

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

Q: What else do they translate?

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

Q: How do architects translate?

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

Q: But how do they do it?

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

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

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

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

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

Q: How do architects acquire this ability?

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

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

A: Depends on your interpretation. Architects reinterpret.

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

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

Q: What is the future of this architect ability?

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

Q: Where do you recommend I start?

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

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

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

Building design? Noun.

Architects design? Verb.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design: Who we are. What we do.

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

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

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

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

Or do more of it in our heads.

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

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

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

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

Better we should ask ourselves these questions:

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

Is it design or is it design thinking?

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

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

10 Questions Architects Need to Ask Themselves

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

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

Thomas Friedman perhaps brought this point home when he wrote

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

Are architects talking about design like fish talking about water?

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

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

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

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

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

What should our message be?

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

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

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

And under Goals:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Design for the new decade

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

Cool buildings, innovative form and materials, sustainable design.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That is design for the new decade.

The Dead Fish Museum December 10, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, career, creativity, essence, fiction, identity, possibility, questions, transformation.
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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?

5 Books to Read for the End of the Recession April 5, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, creativity, essence, possibility, questions, transformation, transition.
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Do these troubling times have you in search of your passion, inspiration, idealism? Here I’ve selected – and am highly recommending – 5 books that should, once taken-in, put an end to your searching. Are there 5 other books you could be reading? Absolutely. Only these 5 action-oriented books are guaranteed to pick you up and get you moving toward your goals in no time. On a severe book budget? All can be found in the public library system, at your local bookseller, severely discounted at bookstores such as Half_Priced_Books, online at Amazon or at Borders using one of their 30-40% off printable coupons and your Border’s bucks. However you acquire them, do so now – one at a time or en masse – for there is no better time than the present to give yourself the present of self-discovery. Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The_Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything, by Ken Robinson PhD

Yes, the very same Sir Ken Robinson of TED conference fame, with his most-watched, most-beloved video Do_Schools_Kill_Creativity? Could give Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers a run for his money. In fact, The_Element addresses a theme common to both Gladwell’s book and Geoff Colvin’s Talent_is_Overrated and that is talent alone is not enough to ensure success. Each book proposes an additional element. For my money the message of Robinson’s book rings true: find the intersection (overlap) between what you’re good at (what you do well) and what you love to do (what you’re passionate about) – and you’ll be happy at what you do, enjoy a long career in which you’re engaged and the hours fly by unnoticed, and incidentally will do very well for yourself and your loved ones. The element is what he identifies as the point where the activities individuals enjoy and are naturally good at come together. Not a bad message for these less than inspiring times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Idealist.org Handbook to Building a Better World: How to Turn Your Good Intentions into Actions that Make a Difference, by Idealist.org

This short, quick and easy read was written to help idealists such as you to assess and identify their interests and motivations, and provides the tools, strategies, and inspiration to become engaged and active citizens. The book is filled with great advice on how to get started – and insider’s tips on what to expect – whether you’re interested in volunteering, workplace initiatives, fund-raising or even serving on a board. It’s a book you can read on the bus or train, carry around in your pocket, to familiarize yourself with the tools to help you make a difference but all you need is a hint as to where to start. Useful and inspiring reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown MD

Another longwinded title – but oh what a book! Don’t expect this to be yet another diatribe trying to convince you to install a ping-pong table in your office’s lunch room. Brown takes the attitude that daily play is as much a necessity as food and oxygen, but through incisive and convincing studies shows us why and how. The book will have you convinced that we will not as a people solve global warming without including play in our approach – and by the time you are half-way through the book it’ll have you convinced that the author very well may be right. Play and what it can do for us – including make us more successful and even happier – is anything but frivolous. What better way to counter the negative effects of the daily headlines that to gift yourself with the agile, flexible and open-minded attitude play instills in everyone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Becoming a Resonant Leader: Develop Your Emotional Intelligence, Renew Your Relationships, Sustain Your Effectiveness, by Richard Boyatzis et al.

Becoming_a_Resonant_Leader is a companion workbook filled with penetrating, thoughtful questions – culled from the author’s two previous books – that will help you understand the role of emotional intelligence in your career whether you pursue a leadership role or position or not. Equal parts nurturing teacher and place of self-discovery, this stand-alone workbook will force you to sit down and face where you have been professionally and where you want to go – with helpful suggestions on how to get there by a team of experts. Make some time in your calendar – the time you put into answering the questions will pay off – in terms of self-growth, competence and credibility. If you take the time to reflect on your personal experiences and growth opportunities, your vision for yourself, work and your life will become apparent. When it comes time for you to make your next move this book will have you prepared whether or not you aspire to a leadership position.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Be a Graphic Designer Without Losing Your Soul, by Adrian Shaughnessy

Regardless of what field you are in, whether you are in graphic design or not, this book, with a foreword by the incomparable Stefan Sagmeister (author of the mercurially brilliant and beautiful Things I Have Learned in My Life So Far – check out this video) is a must-have must-read. Why? The reasons are many and legion – but suffice it here to say that those of us in the fine arts are confronted everyday by insensitive, soul-scorching remarks and bad news and we need all of the inspiration we can find. No matter where you find yourself in your career, we are each of us students with a thirst to learn, perpetual novices at what we do – forever forced to learn our trades anew by changes in technology or by process. I find myself all the more receptive learning from those in fields outside my own – what better place to learn the hard lessons the easy way, by learning here from others? It doesn’t hurt that the book feels good in the hand, and is beautifully typeset and designed, a testament to the care enjoyed by soulful work.