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Design and Run February 9, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, marginalization, survival, transformation.
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2 comments

When people think of good design they think of companies like Apple that not only design got-to-have products but also category killer services such as iTunes.

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

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

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

Paying by the Piece

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

The Vision Thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owners playing the game of Design and Run.

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

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

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

Often confused with waste, scrap instead has significant value.

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

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

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

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

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

They’re buying it shorter.

Selling the Architect Short

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

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

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

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

And Kindle edition-sized architectural services.

Shorter, faster, cheaper.

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

Living in the Margins May 6, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in creativity, marginalization.
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Today many people – not only architects – are feeling marginalized and when the word appears of late in the press it is often negative in connotation: “I was made marginal by my boss;” “the marginalization of newspapers;” and the like. To be marginalized is to be denied power, and – for many groups – this powerlessness can result in deprivation and even extermination. So marginalization is a serious concern. But as we learned from the Dodo, the marginalized in nature as well as in society often have no one to blame for their self-extermination but themselves.

If architects these days are feeling particularly marginalized – sidestepped, overlooked, underappreciated – it may well be because when architects meet to talk they talk to themselves in a language that only they can understand. And when they present their ideas they too often do so with drawings that only they can read. They flee from risk whether on the construction site or by “fleeing up” to the heady heights of design where they don’t have to be accountable to anything as mundane as gravity.

Marginalia (plurale tantum) is the term normally used for notes, scribbles, and enthusiastic editorial comments (“How true!!!”) made in the margin of a book. Book margins are where we write some of our most inspired thoughts, relate to authors, co-write and co-opt authorship, our way to participate in the creative process of reading by writing – a form of analog hyperlink to the self. As in this from Billy Collin’s poem, Marginalia

Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.

Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.

Like Endora  (Agnes Moorehead) in Bewitched, perched indelicately atop the raised panel kitchen cabinetry, observing from the perimeters, remaining without, looking in, architects – like all artists – try to keep one foot in the midst of things while standing on the sidelines, stationary and scot-free. We can’t make up our minds whether we’re masters of the Big Picture or Keepers of the Godlike Details – so we’re accomplished at both. Architects are not constructors but rather observers of construction. We are indeed arcontours, living in the outskirts, like the proverbial dog in repose stretched across the threshold of the open door: in or out? Living marginally – how many architects these days are just getting by? We’re at heart outliers, in search of a way in. Benched on the sidelines, as much by our own volition as by circumstances, we so badly want in. (“Let me in!!”)

For many of us we’re living marginal lives in marginal times and, you know, we really ought to be enjoying it more. I’m of the mind that if architects have gradually lived on the margins they must be doing so for a reason. We must be getting something out of it – otherwise, why bother? So what then is the payoff?

I believe our payoff is this: it is here, on the margins, that our best ideas are found. It is here, away from the pressure of commerce, where we think best, and in doing so, live perhaps a little more deeply. It is here on the outskirts of business that we enjoy the panoramic views of life stretched out from a distance before us. To me at least margins represent places of opportunity, where we can allow ourselves to unfold. It is no coincidence that a book as great as The Great Gatsby was written, in edit, largely in the margins. Our thoughts, ideas and ideals are indeed overflowing and where else – but in the margins – can they overflow? If paragraphs are cities then margins are like greenbelts – inhibiting sprawl yet at the same time in themselves contain – effluvious, fertile – worlds within. Just like ourselves.