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81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect February 17, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, books, career, collaboration, employment, optimism, possibility, reading, technology, the economy.
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37 comments

I am an out of work architect. And the prospects for attaining full-time employment doing what I have had the privilege to do on a daily basis for the past 25 years aren’t promising. But despite the grim statistics I can still wholeheartedly say with conviction – and some knowledge of architectural practice and history – that there is no better time than right now to be an architect. Period. Employed, underemployed or unemployed.

How can I possibly say that? Because 1. Today, while architects may not ever again be so-called Master Builders, an individual architect working alone, if necessary, can virtually do the work of an entire firm. It is because of this that there has never been a better time than today when an architect – with imagination, dedication, discipline and hard work – can do whatever she dreams up, virtually anywhere in the world. It is for this reason – and the 80 other reasons that follow – that I am convinced that there is no better time in history for an architect to be alive than right now.

How this works: I gave myself an hour – in lieu of writing in my gratitude journal. Any such list is going to be personal, partial and impartial, and inevitably idiosyncratic – but that’s what makes it unique and why you ought to give yourself an hour to see what you come up with. Create your own list of 81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect. Once you do, feel free to share it. Because right now more of us need a reason.

2. Social networking sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter has made staying informed and connected with those who matter most to you never-easier but also edifying, entertaining and contagious.

3. Aggregate sites such as Alltop (“aggregation without the aggravation”) and Google Reader allow you to simply and easily create your own miniature version of the internet that matches your interests, preferences and needs – and best of all, does the hard work of gathering all the pertinent data and waits for you when you have time. With Alltop you have the proto-creative and mercurial Guy Kawasaki to thank. You can almost live at ArchNewsNow.

4. Architects today have a rare opportunity to use the skills – transferable skills – that they have picked-up in their education to put to use not only in practicing architecture but in any number of related and even non-traditional fields.

5. Severely underappreciated Andy (Andrew) Pressman FAIA has done more over the years to elucidate the intricacies of architectural practice than just about anyone. No one writes more clearly and expertly.

6. Blogging – writing an online journal – especially on sites such as WordPress, has never been easier to learn and master. One more great creative and expressive outlet for the architect, especially in times when the opportunity to design and built is lessened, such as now.

7. http://archinect.com/ Need I say more?

8. Architects today have an opportunity to get involved and redefine their profession – what the AIA means for them. Heated comments and discussions on this very subject are occurring at this very moment in LinkedIn group discussions.

9. To know that you are alive, living and working at a time when Ava J. Abramowitz and her quint-essential latest edition of her Architect’s Essentials of Contract Negotiation is just sitting there waiting to be read and re-read – is almost enough.

10. The world of technology has never been less about the hard fact of technology than right now – and more about human factors such as improved interfaces. A balance is being struck today between technology and emotion – especially in the world of design. High tech – but also high touch.

11. Architects really don’t need that much food to live on. I am a long time practitioner of what is called Calorie Restriction or CR. Also a vegan – you can live quite well and deliciously on 1200 calories a day.

12. There has never been a time where more professionals are willing and able – and have multiple means – to share their insights and experience with others.

13. Books on every conceivable subject are available for mere pennies with a click of a mouse or the touch of a button.

14. Where we live, north of Chicago, you can head into the yard anytime in winter and build a snow shelter – like the one in Spike Jonze’s Where the Wild Things Are.

15. Architect, educator, all-round inspiration for all those whose lives he touches and miraculously changes on a regular basis, Dan Wheeler FAIA.

16. The 2010 winter Olympics gets the competitive juices going; the feeling of closeness with all humanity; the vast indoor spaces of the winter olympics, the expressive architecture.

17. Designing mobile apps  for the apple tablet, ipad iphone itablet such as Revit Keys mobile apps that can be found at many app stores.

18. The fact that you can design a building – any building – out of thin air, everyday, in 3D – using a free downloadable program such as SketchUp, and with a few simple clicks – voila – you have an animation.

19. Architectural reference books covering the entire range of experience an architect needs to know are available, for free, in your firm’s library, waiting to be opened and perused.

20. We have a president, barack obama, who wanted to be an architect  watch obama on this youtube video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zNOp2VaUoQ4

21. Every week The Sunday NY Times business  section is available to you for free – learn what your future bosses look for in a candidate during a job interview

22. Trailblazing architect Jeanne Gang and her see-it-to-believe-it Aqua. When her name comes up I am proud to say that I am in the same profession as her.

23. Bookstores such as barnes noble with comfortable chairs to sit with a cup of coffee and open pad of paper and reinvent yourself – or design a strategy for your next career stage.

24. You can easily get lost spending hours perusing informative – and entertaining – discussion sites such as a forum at www.areforum.org on any number of topics critical to your understanding and education no matter where you are in your career.

25. There is no better use of your time right now than to brand you or re-brand your firm. The application of a business marketing concept – branding – on (link to www.di.net for branding articles) see Tom Peters, The Brand Called You in Fast Company.

26. Architects have multiple ways to have an influence on the built environment. Architects have the opportunity today to work for their clients – as well as contractors in a construction role.

27. BIM technology allows architects to create virtual versions of their buildings before they get built. This would have been simply inconceivable at any other age – and has been in the minds and dreams of some theorists for several decades.

28. Architects have an opportunity today – unlike that of any other time – to define and redefine their role and identity – their place within the profession – who you are and who you want to be and how you want to best serve your profession, community and world.

29. When there’s a blow-up in business, even on TV, such as the recent conan o brien  escapade, you can bet within 24 hours it will be turned into a business case study with lessons learned at HBR online that even an architect can appreciate and learn from.

30. Architects have greater opportunities today than at any other time to have their voice heard in government. Start by learning how to lobby your congressman. Here are some tips.

31. There is nothing positive about climate change global warming energy except the fact that architects are among those that can do something about it – is many different way. Just apply your design thinking abilities to come up with solution and ways to address these and other environmental issues. Architects can start by coming up with the electric cars equivalent  of buildings.

32. It is a great time to be an architect, but admittedly, having a working spouse helps.

33. There has never been a better or more important time for design – the term, the subject, the act, the activity has never been more popular, with more people aware and appreciative

34. This is the year of Design Thinking. Architects have the chance right now to apply the design process that they use to design places and buildings on the very businesses that they run and work with – whether for themselves or for others.

35. Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) promises to help architects and others in the design and build process and team accomplish all of the goals they have dreamed about but up to now have frustratingly been unable to achieve.

36. Architects can perhaps have the greatest influence by running for office. Look at the example of Richard Swett. Read his inspiring story, Leadership by Design: Creating and Architecture of Trust.

37. This is the year of Building Information Modeling (BIM) – make or break for architects. No better time to prove ourselves and what we can accomplish – together.

38. Architects have the opportunity through the application of BIM and IPD to regain their status as master builders

39. Today it has never been easier to be a subject area expert. Have Google Alerts send you the latest information as it is created – or on a daily basis – on the area or subject of your choice.

40. Today’s workplace offers greater flexibility for working architects in terms of location, time, schedule, role, titles and variety of work.

41. It is good to know that in these difficult times architect, technologist, writer, educator Phil Bernstein FAIA is around to clearly, articulately, cogently and without pulling any punches, explains IT ALL for you.

42. Architect Frank Heitzman who has selflessly devoted much of his life to openly, collaboratively, assisting and promoting all who will listen to become viable, responsible architects

43. No better time than now to work collaboratively, cooperatively – especially with the tools we’ve been given.

44. That there are so many spectacularly different and innovative ways to practice architecture today.

45. When natural disaster occurs – like the recent earthquake or new orleans – architects are the canaries in the coal mine, often the first ones to gather, form a coalition such as http://architectureforhumanity.org/, and apply their thinking like architects to help solve seemingly unsolvable problems

46. Like doctors without borders , architects of late have started working – and thinking – globally. The world is truly their oyster. With such successful and influential organizations as Architecture for Humanity, there really ought to be an Architects without Borders.

47. Out of work or even underemployed, architects understand more about the economy and economics now than at any other time in history. unemployment means there is more information at their disposal – and fingertips – they can no longer be singled out for not having a grasp of business, as so many like to complain.

48. Google Earth, Google maps. Need I say more?

49. The internet. It is quite possible we’re taking this miracle for granted.

50. Lachmi Khemlani Founder and Editor of http://www.aecbytes.com/ where you are always assured you are in the company of genius, innovators and intelligence.

51. The search for jobs has architects thinking creatively, out of the box – as frustrating as it is – a job search in this recession and economy is truly a challenging design assignment

52. Two words. Maybe one. DesignIntelligence. www.di.net A true gift to all those who visit and spend time in their rarified and thought-leaderly environs.

53. Being an architect in itself is pretty amazing. But sometimes having a dog helps.

54. Paul F. Aubin makes learning Revit almost easy and always enjoyable. I keep a copy of his handy-dandy plastic-coated coursenotes in my car to read when exercising at the gym. Find his books and services at his site or right at your fingertips discounted on Amazon

55. You live at a time when you are free to choose the lifestyle you wish to lead and are unlikely now more than any other time to be punished for it

56. There are so many different ways to read a book today, kindle just to name one

57. Professor, Pianist, Renaissance man, NYC architect William Gati singlehandedly proves you can do it ALL. An absolute inspiration, he makes you proud to be an architect.

58. You can take your work with you and go mobile almost anywhere with all you need to be productive

59. We live in a time when you have to be savvy about marketing – of yourself, and your firm – and need to be cognizant at all times on the lookout for opportunities to promote

60. Finith E. Jernigan AIA and his concept of BIG BIM little bim is more than a book. It’s a way of life.

61. Tocci’s Virtual Construction Manager Laura Handler and her public musings at Bim(x)

62. meditation is available to you for free almost anywhere at any time – even for 3 minutes a day – what a difference it makes. A reminder of silence, stillness, the sacred amidst our daily lives

63. Being an architect is a thoroughly fulfilling experience. But not sharing a house with teens helps.

64. Yoga (self-explanatory to those who partake)

65. We have a better understanding today of what motivation means (see Dan Pink’s Drive) what really drives us to perform and compete and excel and get up in the morning

66. mac os x

67. Billy Joel said it best in New York State of Mind: It was so easy living day by day, Out of touch with the rhythm and the blues, But now I need a little give and take, The new york times, the daily news… The wall street journal ain’t so bad either, even if you can’t sing to it.

68. Listen to music or podcasts or audio books on your iPods

69. Opportunities for personal development are legion, are everywhere, are ubiquitous.

70. The recent Toyota recall proves that no one is perfect and that Perfectionism is no longer a realistic, healthy or even necessary goal. The Toyota recall proves we’re all human.

71. Technology is becoming more widespread and at the same time never easier to use. Technology’s user interface has never been friendlier or more accessible to more people.

72. The touchscreen makes your life – and work – so much easier, more fluid and enjoyable.

73. It has never been easier to be informed about a topic of interest, breaking news or of crucial importance to you. Have Google alert you of the latest information as it arises.

74. Travel as always been important to architects. Going places has never been easier and user-friendly – or less expensive – than it is now.

75. It has never been easier for architects to draw attention to their work – or to their thoughts and ideas. Sites and online services such as Technorati – which has supplied tags (keyword or short phrase that writers assign to articles to describe or identify the content) planted throughout this post to draw attention in a very loud and busy internet and world and more importantly for you, helps people searching for a particular type of content to find articles using those tags.

76. Architects can spend available downtime – or free time – learning any number of new skills by way of watching video tutorials.

77. There is no better way to learn how to present information clearly, powerfully and impactfully than to watch a pro do it. TED Conference videos are certainly great to watch for their subject matter. But they are also great to watch to pick upsome needed presenting tips.

78. Information has never been freer – and more readily available. Learn the The TED Commandments here.

79. Wireless  networks – slip into a Caribou café iTouch in hand and voila –– instant email messages

80. You can create a website featuring yourself, your interests, your work, your area of focus – your sole place in the world you can control and call your own

81. An architect today needs to know a lot. For starters, building codes, materials, emerging green technologies, zoning, site planning, passive heating/cooling, LEED, structures, MEP, day-lighting, construction methods, Lighting, Estimating, Fire protection, place-making and as always, design. Admittedly a lot for any one individual to learn let alone master – it has never been easier to learn it, and with the dedication – and help readily available from others – to master it. It is only up to you.

Ten Ways to Face the Decade like an Architect January 8, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, change, creativity, optimism, possibility, problem solving, the economy.
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Many people say that they would have liked to become an architect but for the math or drawing requirement – areas where they felt they were weak. While sketching and crunching numbers remain important parts of what an architect does, with technology and others nearby to help out, these skills have become less critical with time while other skillsets, mindsets and attitudes have come to fore. The irony is that architects to a great extent don’t do the very things that might have kept you from pursuing this career in the first place.

But luckily that need not deter you from thinking like one. Architects are trained to face seemingly intractable, unsolvable problems with a set of tools and mindsets that are readily accessible by all.

So, at the start of a new decade, let’s turn our attention to how architects approach problems – so that we might do the same in our own lives, at home and work, in our schools, neighborhoods, cities and the world at large.  

What can we learn from the ways architects think that might help us improve our lives and the world?

Architects see the Big Picture – how often have you worked on a team when most of those involved focus on their own special interest areas, in silos, seemingly unable to see how their viewpoint impacts others? Architects are trained to understand their client’s, user’s and neighbor’s issues and circumstances and come up with multiple solutions that not only solve the problem for all involved but do so while successfully addressing multiple constraints brought about by economics, the site, user’s needs, resource availability, politics. In other words – architects determine the consequences for their paths of action and decide accordingly. Architects are often characterized as focusing on objects and things – at the expense of all else. But in truth what separates the architect from others is that they see everything as a system, the object of their assignment as either a contributor or inhibitor of the various necessary flows within that system. In the end, you may walk into the physical library or school that they designed, but to them it’s all part of a much larger, largely invisible, network of flows.

Architects focus on the Details – specifically, the Divine Details. How so? Architects believe that opportunities for discovery and creativity come from focusing on the details. Architects say, after Mies, “God is in the details” while others might say “The devil is in the details.” Architects are optimists – we have to be – in order to work on the front ends of projects, to visualize and imagine them one day existing despite so many obstacles in their path. Non-architects more often opt for the devil version, where solutions break down when you examine them closely enough.  You can see this most often when someone in a meeting offers to play the “devil’s advocate,” determined to kill whatever promising idea is in their path by death-by-detail. When it comes to details, go the God route.

Architects believe in Reciprocity – Sees the big picture in the detail and the detail in the big picture – keeping things whole, a hidden wholeness, all of a piece, keeping chaos at bay, providing meaning and purpose, when elements refer to a larger whole relate, appear less arbitrary, justified in their existence. The house is a city and the city a house. Architects address the big picture and the details at the same time. Their work is organic in this way – where every part is of the whole.

Architects Synthesize – as much as they are sometimes labeled as head in the clouds, impractical dreamers, architects always have at least one foot in the ground because they know if they are ever going to build what they’ve dreamed-up every idea and suggestion needs to have a corresponding answer in the real world. Architects only take to the air knowing that the goal is to land safely. They take part in digressive thinking knowing that sooner rather than later they need to return from their excursion – where they gather information and explore alternatives – to solid land with ready answers in terms of gravity, dollars and sense.

Architects like Ambiguity – they’re even comfortable with ambiguity. The architect has a lot thrown at them in the early stages of a project – a lot of unknowns – it’s pretty difficult to juggle all those balls especially if you’re the sort who needs to hold onto a ball or two while the others are in the air. Architects are trained to keep the balls in the air for as long a possible while a solution makes itself known. Yes, many have a reputation for designing for too long, but truth be told, just as often the architect is delaying the materialization of a solution while still gathering critical information from stakeholders as well as shareholders. Bean counters tend not to be so comfortable with ambiguity. This calls on another skill of the architect…

Architects Manage Expectations – architects today are expected to work quickly, efficiently and expertly all at once. But as every architect worthy of her name knows, you can have it free, now and perfect – pick two – but not all three.  I can lower my fee and get it to you sooner – but the quality will suffer. Or get you great detailing and quick – but it’s going to cost you. Knowing this – and because architects can see the big picture well into the future – they need to temper expectations. They do this subtly, casually, along the way.

Architects remain Flexible – stuff changes all the time. Architects know they need to roll with the punches. I used to design buildings, no matter how large and complex, by coming to a solution rather quickly then holding on to my hat – and my breath – as the design went through the veritable spanking machine of the process before coming out the other end a building. If 80% resembled the way it first started out, I deemed it a success.  This is no doubt – like bungee jumping – a game for youth and not recommended for those faint of heart. Today, older and wiser, I recommend keeping a vision in one’s mind while allowing for other possibilities as information is gathered and feedback provided and realities set it. Neither way is foolproof – and both can lead to great results – but the key lesson here is not to approach situations with preconceived ideas, lest you repeat the last one you did in a new situation. Each site and situation, client and opportunity, is unique and deserves the architect’s full display of resources.

Architects Prototype – not stereotype. Architects, as designers, love to make models and sketch – they do so to test ideas out quickly and inexpensively before going to the big show. As rigid as some architects may come across when it comes to their limited wardrobe palette, architects seldom zoom in on one solution, even if they know intuitively beforehand that it is the right solution. Why? Because the right solution may not be the best solution for those involved.

Architects Facilitate – meetings, presentations, discussions need someone who both belongs to the group and at the same time –simultaneously – can stand apart. Architects always keep the goal in mind and in doing so keep the topic moving forward. They design and present knowing that they are leading the client down a path. And once the client has taken their first step on that path, everything that is said and offered ought to move the story forward. No diversions, no distractions. Sure, architects take flight of fancies as much as anyone. But all know if these flights are to end in real results – they need to have both feet on the ground and place one in front of the other until they arrive at their mutual destination.

Architects Help – most architects will tell you if they weren’t able to practice their chosen profession any longer and were given the choice would opt for one of the helping fields – medicine, healthcare, therapy. As a service profession, one would conceive this to be a natural outcome – serving others is what they are in business to do. But what is perhaps less well known is that architects when they build – whether they are working on new ground-up construction or renovating existing buildings – see themselves as repairing what is broken. They’re repairing and maintaining the manmade and natural world. Much the way doctors see what it is they do.

So, what can we learn from the ways architects think that might help us improve our lives? What in other words are the takeaways? Draw your own conclusions – here are some of mine:

  • When working on an assignment – don’t let yourself get buried by the details. As yourself how this specific task relates to the larger whole. If it doesn’t – then creatively find a way that it relates or propose a way that it can.
  • Don’t focus on the task you’ve been given as an end in itself but rather as a way of fixing or repairing an existing system, fabric or situation
  • When in a discussion or meeting, mindfully zoom out to see what is being covered in its larger habitat or situations; then zoom in to the close-up detail level to see if a solution can be found there – or an overlooked problem revealed
  • The world is in a state of flux – in terms of politics, the environment, the economy and much more. See to what extent that instead on fixating on a stance or solution – how you and others around you might benefit by your becoming more comfortable with the idea that things are unsettled and might remain that way for some time. What are some things you can do or yourself to approach and respond to events in a more flexible way?
  • You may be in business to produce the next widget – but even so, try to picture what you do as a service that is performed to help others in some way. To do so will result in your performing your work with more of a sense of purpose and meaning. Ask yourself: What is the problem in the world that my product fixes, repairs or maintains?
  • See your individual decisions as part of a larger system – one that flows both upstream and downstream. Before realizing any idea by pursuing it, test out your course of action by determining the potential consequences for each course taken – who is impacted and why.
  • The next time you are confronted with a problem of some weight – test out your response on paper first, building a miniature prototype of your answer or solution before taking it out on the road for a spin and exposing it to scrutiny. This will help you to see the benefits – as well as the flaws – before others do, and will help you to see your treasured idea through their eyes.
  • When it comes to the details – go the God route. In other words, use details to allow you to see things as a positive opportunity – as opposed to providing you and others reasons and excuses for not pursuing a trend or goal.

The Wisdom of Booklife December 4, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, fiction, management, optimism, survival, transformation.
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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.

Returning Home to What we Are August 18, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in change, optimism, possibility, questions, the economy, transformation.
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We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.                                                             T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

Amongst several other projects, in the past year as an architect I have worked on the design of a 180 story super-tall high rise and designed a mile long retail spine. It’s easy to understand with projects such as these how architects can get it in their minds that what they do has cosmic importance and is on some level even heroic.

Many of these largest projects were designed and destined for countries expanding at a fast clip, often found abroad. We would find ourselves setting off for distant lands to compete and conquer and reap our rewards by garnering yet another commission.

We’ve been on many voyages – professional, family, artistic – all involving great effort and many sacrifices on our part. And on the part of others.

The past several years has led us on a journey to many foreign – and some not so foreign – destinations and here we find ourselves, back where we started.

All of that was – as we know too well – a lifetime ago. Here we are today, summer winding down, sailing home. Today we find ourselves on the most unusual destination of all: home, returning to the place where we started. If anything, the economic headwinds have brought each of us back into our own. Reintroduced us to ourselves as though we had been away from ourselves and are only now returning and getting reacquainted.

Many architects with our long hours and near obsession with our craft and calling, are using this newfound land of time to readjust and reprioritize. The Odyssey is over – it is time to return home.

Or so writes Norman Fischer in his profoundly beautiful Sailing Home: Using Homer’s Odyssey to Navigate Life’s Perils and Pitfalls.  Comparing Odysseus’s journey to our own, Fischer asserts that this book “will help you appreciate the shape and feeling for the journey, will give you the reflections to keep you company and perhaps also steady your step as you walk forward into the darkness.” For those trying to make their way back from your own 10-years wars with our own personal Troys in these challenging times, it is a book I cannot recommend enough. As much as any book that has come before, because it is inspired by and based on a living classic that has been with us for thousands of years, the book is about you and your life, right now.

So why do I recommend this book to architects? For the very reason that architects (of all stripes) are strivers, journeymen and women, fighting daily battles inside and outside the office to overcome divine and earthly obstacles, in search of a promised (but little seen) heroism. Odysseus and his wanderings are certainly relevant to architect’s own heroic journey – wherever you find yourself on your own. The book will help you to yield personal revelations, make sense of your past journeys, elucidate their outcomes and show you the way to greater purpose and meaning in your own life.

Additionally, one of the books messages will stand out for many architects: namely, to resist novelty and instead replace it with repetition (practice) which will lead in time to Mastery. Certainly this is a welcome message after so many years of one-upmanship of taller, bigger, longer. Likewise, Fischer advises that we stop criticizing the state of things and instead accept “all that is  messy, inexact, troublesome and uncontrollable in human life.” A relief for the perfectionists in us all in these all-too messy times.

So where does he suggest we go from here? As though speaking directly to the architect in all of us, Fischer surmises “Perhaps we are living in a post-heroic age. Maybe the human race, so full of promise, bright ideas, and hubris, is finally weary of the toxic idealisms and thoughtless excesses of power that has been so destructive and so exhausting for so long. We have seen and done so much, and it has left us dazed and confused. Maybe, like Odysseus, we are finally ready simply to return home to what we are, to our beauty and strength as well as our limitations…”

Could this be enough?

ARE WE LISTENING? April 26, 2009

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At Bookman’s Alley of Evanston this weekend, on the cusp of this week’s AIA National Convention in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist opening the May 1977 issue of Progressive Architecture bearing “The Future of Architecture” cover story. Louis Kahn’s last work had just opened at Yale, Harry Weese’s detention center in Chicago received an AIA National Honor Award and 30-50% of architecture firms had recently laid-off staff leading to rampant unemployment among architects. Thumbing through the long defunct but then most-edgy of building design magazines, one could easily conclude that history indeed repeats itself, only in more ways than one could have foretold.

PA editor, John Morris Dixon, notes in this issue that architecture at that time was at a point of “particular anxiety, uncertainty and challenge,” pointing out that the AIA Convention was convening the following week in California to “ponder the theme of ‘tomorrow’,” covering a span of 25 to 50 years – in other words, today – with the hopeful prompt: Where will all this uncertainty lead? Dixon himself responds: “To introspection, we hope; to re-examination of the architect’s role in society; to reconsideration of the power of architectural design in human life – and its potential glory.” It is interesting to note that live stream videoconferencing is available this week for those who cannot attend the AIA Convention – whereas in 1977 “videotaped replays will be shown at a later time.” Despite so much, how much has truly changed?

But this was around the time when the profession walked away from taking-on additional risk – including that of construction administration oversight. Here we find ourselves, over 30 years later, with yet another opportunity to address our collective comfort with risk – this time to the extent it is shared – and the question remains whether we are willing and ready to do so. Or, if not, whether we will take a pass on this perhaps last chance to step up and, at the beckoning of attorneys and insurers – as well as our own inner voice that tells us to stick to the knitting, so often defined as design, increasingly including sustainable and urban design – fall back on old habits, rest on our laurels and the comfort and familiarity of what we do so well.  

To its credit PA got a lot about the future right, having identified trends that we now take for granted – and have yet to successfully nor adequately prepare for – such as the great migration of US population southwest and ensuing impacts on resources, addressing smaller families, aging of the population, fuel shortages, energy conservation and lifecycle costs, rising populations and scarcity of natural resources. There was no mention of computers, CAD or especially BIM in this issue but we only have to be reminded that BIM Handbook co-author, Chuck Eastman, had already penned in 1975 “The Use of Computers Instead of Drawings in Building Design” in the AIA Journal. PA guest author and social researcher Robert Gutman strongly advises “architects to take initiative for their services to remain essential” while presciently pointing out (via Future Shock author Alvin Toffler) that opportunities may emerge for architects in the area of information. Fast-forward 30 years – the “I” in BIM. Humorously, the editors point out that in 1977 “we are already encountering an advance wave of ‘information overload.'” Oh, if they only knew…

Seemingly out of nowhere, Gutman poses an epistemological question that proved unanswerable to those about to attend the 1977 AIA National Convention:  What makes the architectural profession architectural? “Certainly not the fact that it gets buildings up on schedule, or that it designs buildings which are economical to construct and maintain…Such tasks could be handled as well by good contractors and engineers.” Gutman proposes that the architectural profession merits this title because “it alone is expected to coordinate the achievement of these ends with an aesthetic element, producing a design which responds to the canons of order, form, function and convenience all in a single solution.” Sadly, 1977 was the time of style wars in the profession and the answer – had there been one – no doubt would have been in stylistic or theoretical terms. With so much at stake, with so many roles to play, so much to continuously learn, and with so many opportunities before us, I wonder how we would answer this question today: What makes the architectural profession architectural?

Predicting the future is always risky. Living in it has proven even riskier. Who could have predicted BIM when computers weren’t yet readily available in architecture? Or, at the apex of participatory design, who could have anticipated IPD? It’s always both quaint and mildly amusing to look back at what the future was – was to be – and in the end, wasn’t in the least. The ironically titled “Progressive Architecture” now appears – with its colored pencil rendered cover – anything but. Today, with 4D BIM, 5D BIM and xD BIM – we can only wonder now what we are missing, getting woefully wrong and oh so off the mark. This week, in San Francisco, we’re gathering to talk to one another. Let us only hope that this time we’ll listen.

Optimistically, architect Richard Bender philosophically compares the underemployed architect with the fisherman in repose: “In many ways we are like the fishermen who haul in their boats for the winter. We will not catch many fish in this season, but we can patch and caulk the boat, replace some obsolete equipment, and make the many changes and improvements for which there is no time while we are at sea. As designers this is a familiar challenge. It is one I am happy to accept.” Indeed, perhaps there is no better metaphor for our circumstance today as we embark upon the annual gathering of like-minded professionals.

32 Things to be Optimistic About Right Now April 18, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, collaboration, creativity, optimism.
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Challenges = Opportunities. The economy has turned all of us into marketers and marketers like to refer to challenges as “opportunities,” and I don’t see the economic times any differently so in that sense plenty of opportunities exist out there. Upheaval and change expose opportunities that may have gone unnoticed at other times.

The Year of Collaboration. When times get tough, people pull together to get through it. For evidence of this look no further than the North Dakota floods to witness how far we’ve come since Katrina.  Everything is becoming more collaboration, and that doesn’t have to mean losing control or identity. I am a huge believer that EVERYTHING is made better by the well-intentioned, purposeful input of others. Whether that’s working more closely with clients to generate ideas, or bringing together synergistic strategic partners to create a more complete solution.

Change. Change. Change. Admit it. Deep down, where it counts, you weren’t really happy doing what you were doing, or where you were doing it, anyway.  Life has given you a little push – it’s up to you to see that it is in the right direction.

Control. You may not have control over everything (think destiny, think workload) but you still control your focus, attitude, IQ, interests, beliefs and values, profile and brand, image, credibility, education and weight. On this last one – and it works – try this.

Prices are lower. Gas is lower, costs less to travel, hotel stays cost less, more retailers willing to haggle. In fact, there has been of late a 29% increase in number of Americans who reported haggling for goods.

More Presidential wisdom than you could possibly read in a lifetime. Average number of books about Abraham Lincoln released every week since 2007? One. (Harper’s Index, May 2009)

Social Media Hits the Mainstream. Facebook has been called a perpetual, ongoing high school reunion attended by only the people you like and who like you. Through Twitter you can mingle with people from all over and find yourself appearing in the most beneficial places. Blog and you’ll discover at faraway conferences people that come up to you to say how much they enjoy reading you. Traveling soon? Through social media applications  you can find what 19 people in your network will be at the same conference or live in the city you’ll be visiting – who’ll be at the same place at the same time.   

TV Has Become Ubiquitous. And free. Online Video Consumption: remember viewing stop-and-go online video not too long ago? Consumers can turn to their PCs to watch their favorite television broadcasts along with unique content. Heck, there’s Architect TV. And the critically acclaimed Architecture School.

Our New Mobility. New applications for interactive phones like the iPhone, Blackberry Storm, and the promise of Google’s Android make expensive gadgets – virtual readers and GPS systems within reach of all. My son just finished reading Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea on his iPod, for free.

Wisdom of Crowds. Like collaboration, all of us is better than one or some of us. Again, no need to worry about anonymity – life’s too short. Participate and we all win. Where to start? Some titles to consider: Here Comes Everybody, Wikinomics and of course The Wisdom of Crowds     

Finally, a President Who Gets It. Need I say more?

The Blogosphere. Today, there’s a blog for nearly everything – in fact there are probably ten blogs for everything. Which is a good thing for you even if not for journalists and newspapers. Better yet, if so inclined – if you haven’t already – make it a goal this year to start a blog of your own. You will be surprised at what you learn about yourself, the many facets you may not have known you have, when writing on command on a regular basis for instant consumption. Get started with www.wordpress.com or read a good guide such as this from the Huffington Post.

You have the capacity to learn. Despite all you have going on in your life – work, family, friends, health, obligations, hobbies – you always have the chance to learn something new. To listen to books on tape in your car or on your iPod on your way into work. To learn a new language or take-on a new piece of software. To attend a seminar, a lecture on an intriguing topic or take an exam you’ve been putting off. A great place to start is by reading this inspirational story by a former world class chess master.

World changing. Want to change the world? You’re not alone – in fact, far from it. There are many more like you out there and linking-up has never been easier. There has been no better time in history to for you to feel empowered to do so. Twenty years ago you could join Greenpeace or celebrate Earth Day – today, there are as many organizations, causes and opportunities as there are stars. Where to begin? You can do a lot worse than start here  http://www.worldchanging.com/ a not-for-profit media organization that comprises a global network of independent journalists, designers and thinkers covering the world’s most intelligent solutions to today’s problems, inspiring readers around the world with stories of the most important and innovative new tools, models and ideas for building a bright green future. Worldchanging will help link you to your first steps in changing the world.

Books. Did you think you were going to get through this list without my mentioning books? Evidence of intelligent life out there? You bet. What to read right now? Go back a couple years. Fiction? Don DeLillo’s White_Noise  Already read it or want something lighter? The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Poetry? Try Mark Doty’s Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems or something more uplifting? Elizabeth Bishop’s Complete Poems

Economic Downturn. Say that again? You heard it. This downturn has been a blessing to many in that it has given them a chance to stop and reevaluate their aims and priorities. When things were crazy busy we found ourselves doing a great deal without thinking, acting on autopilot, navigating our way through presentations on instinct. Remember 1999 and 2005? You were running around like those proverbial chickens. You were lucky that you got away with it. Now, no more of that. Now’s the time to take stock and consider where we’ve been and figure out where we want to go. A slowdown – correction to some – is an apt time to make amends with our past ways and look forward to a more certain and deliberate future.

You were not born Schopenhauer. The 19th century brilliant philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer made a long career out of pessimism. He began his book Studies in Pessimism with the following words: “Unless suffering is the direct and immediate object of life, our existence must entirely fail of its aim.” Chapter two of his book goes on: “Human life must be some kind of mistake.” The subject of chapter three is suicide. He was so dour and depressing that his own mother forbid him from attending her dinner parties. If your mother still invites you to dinner parties you have a reason to be optimistic.

Creativity. It’s always right there – where you are. All it takes is you, a blank sheet and a pen. What’s stopping you? Need someplace to begin? Thy this site for a kick-start library of techniques.

Lists. There is an infinite variety of lists available online and in print on nearly every subject inclusing optimism. Need 20 reasons to feel optimistic in this economy? Look no further than Forbes and Fox News. Need reasons to feel optimistic about architecture in Chicago? There’s even “Ten Reasons to be Hopeful
About the Future of Architecture” and last but not least, the website www.43things.com and book it inspired “Dream It. List It. Do It!: How to Live a Bigger & Bolder Life, from the Life List Experts at 43Things.com” where for under $9 you can find handy pocket-sized lists of every topic under the sun.

Literary Theory is officially dead. Remember Post-Structuralism? Me neither. You never understood it – now you don’t have to. Be grateful you waited as long as you did. It’s over and soon no one will remember it ever existed. Your procrastination, ignorance or impatience paid off. Good work!

Free training. Online Webinars available free of charge on almost every subject. You tube tutorials in abundance yours at a moment’s notice in the privacy of your own home. Seminars, software test runs, lectures by the dozens. Since 80% of success is showing up – all you need to do is show up. The remaining 20%? Take notes…

Information. Everything, all-the-time, right at your fingertips. Enjoy it now – for just around the corner all you’ll have to do is to think it.

Curiosity. Is free. Question. Ask. Interview. Let them do most of the talking. It’s still that easy to get others interested in you.

Reality Check. The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition. By Guy Kawasaki. It’s nearly impossible to pick up this book and not feel optimistic about your present and future.

It’s no longer who you know. What better time than right now to turn your existing social networks into a clearinghouse whose sole purpose is to connect others. That’s right – not yourself, but to match people who ought to know one another, who should work together, partner. Go on – broker deals for others. Heck, match-make. We live in a favor economy – what goes around comes around. The more in need you are the more you need to give a way – or better yet – bring together. Pour yourself a cup of coffee or a glass of wine, open LinkedIn or Facebook and mettle. You will be amazed at what chemistry you might inspire. Only you can unleash the inner workings from your particular vantage.

It’s who you know. But wait, you just said… Other people can serve as a short cut and we live in a favor economy (I rub your back and…) If you do want to know someone, has there ever been a better time than now to be in touch with Pulitzer prize winners, New York Times reporters, CEOs of major corporations, Bestselling authors and designer rock-stars? On LinkedIn – has it ever occurred to you that in lieu of connecting with the weak and feeble automated “You appear to be someone I trust…” line to write three short but personal sentences. It may mean that you have to invest 3 minutes in learning a bit about the future contact’s background, interests, body of work – but the return is inestimable.  This is true for Facebook as well. Want to friend a famous person? As easy as writing a sincere, personal note – and voila! You’re now friends!

www.reasonsforoptimism.com Yup, a full-time, constantly updated, around-the-clock blog on the very subject. What else will they think of?

The Age of Memoir. Intimate details about every facet of everybody’s life. Readily available in the privacy of your own home. At all hours.

We didn’t need all that stuff anyway. Not to be good, anyway. Not to be happy. Not to be thoughtful and kind. Not to be good citizens and neighbors.

BIM. For the uninitiated that’s Building Information Modeling. Remember when Jack Nicholson said to Helen Hunt “You make me want to be a better man” in As Good as it Gets? BIM is the Helen Hunt of technology. BIM makes you want to be a better architect. Not yet using BIM? What’s stopping you? This is the best time – when things are at a standstill to take the plunge. (Not an architect? Certainly you are some type of architect…) Not so long ago, architects based their decisions on subjective criteria. Now decisions can be based on technology, precision, evidence-based design, metrics and other measurable means. BIM helps architects be honest. And relevant.

This Time of Non-fiction. Just the facts lady. Admit it – you never cared much for fiction. I still read it – but it’s pretty lonely out there. You want facts, and you want them now. You want quick and easily accessible answers to your questions – How to duck tape a window? How to play like Yo Yo Ma? The top songs of Radiohead? – You live at a time when Microsoft Windows spell-check includes “Radiohead” in it’s vocabulary. [And informs you that the proper word choice is “its” not “it’s” in the previous sentence.]

The All-time Best Grateful Dead live concerts available on iTunes. May 8,1977 Barton Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY vs. February 13/14, 1970 Fillmore East, New York, NY… Want to debate which concert is the all-time best? Coming to an amicable agreement – that I’m more pessimistic about.