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Do You Have the Right Stuff to Remain an Architect? February 28, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, books, career, change, creativity, possibility, problem solving, the economy.
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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, from Four Quartets

Up until recently, before the economic downturn, this post might have been entitled Do You Have the Right Stuff to Be an Architect? And while many in this economy have returned to school to study architecture, the more pressing crisis requiring addressing is the one involving those leaving the profession in droves – either by their own volition or by forces outside their control. In this post we’ll address those who are already architects – of whatever stripe – that want to hold on.

The Missing Middle 50

An exercise I used to do with my graduate architecture students was to have them draw a timeline – placing dots indicating their birth and the day the proverbial milk truck hits them at the end – and a dot indicating where they think they are now on this timeline.

Next I asked them to place dots relative to where they are now, indicating some of their milestones: graduating, getting their license, LEED accreditation, starting their own firms, winning the Pritzker Prize.

Interestingly, year after year, these goals were all cramped – along with marriage, buying a home and having their first child – in a 5 year period after graduation.

That left at least 50 years to contend with – to fill in – with what?

Remaining.

They were so busy focusing for so long on becoming an architect that they gave little thought or attention to how to remain one.

There they were, year after year, doing whatever it takes to get through school and graduation with little idea of what to do beyond their short horizon. To this I ask:

Have you addressed your middle 50?

Becoming vs. Remaining

Although the distinction is subtle – since the world is not a static place, and the status quo in our profession and industry is change – we are all, always, in the act of becoming. You might say that change – not buildings or even creating documents – is what architects produce. Demands on architects to learn, maintain, master and even anticipate changes in building codes, materials, emerging green technologies, virtual construction technologies, collaborative work processes, knowledge management, zoning, site planning, passive heating/cooling, LEED, structures, MEP, lighting, construction methods, cost estimating, fire protection, place making and design are considerable – and one wouldn’t question an architect’s desire to wave the white flag and jump ship based solely on the constant stress to keep-up these requirements.

Let alone while trying to get their work done, as well as the work inherited from those who were let go.

Let alone while seeking out insights on how best to navigate the ever-changing terrain and constant rapids our careers have become.

Let alone while new technologies and work processes raise the bar on the standard of care.

The question of becoming is a familiar one and addressed more than adequately in book form by Roger Lewis and our good friend Dr. Architecture himself, Lee Waldrep, Ph.D. – in book and website and blog.

This question of remaining is another matter – one that normally would not be posed except by and for the most discouraged.

The question of remaining speaks to our current economic condition, to a seemingly disinterested society, to owners who refuse to show appreciation, to uncommunicative employers still searching for their true north, to the indignities of the workplace, to our personal situation, and perhaps also to our psychological mindset and mettle.

Cynical, snide and skeptical comments have been left –  in the wake of industry articles reporting on the condition of the contemporary architect – by those threatening to leave the tsunami of the profession for hopefully higher ground far afield.

To those – I wish you the best in your pursuits.

To those all others who have by choice, necessity, force, coercion, inertia, confusion or fear remained and find themselves today – employed, underemployed or unemployed – architects and wish to remain architects, please read on.

To you I ask, what will it take for you to remain?

Getting a Good R.A.P.

There are many qualities the architect who wishes to remain an architect for the long haul needs to focus on – but perhaps the three that are most critical are Resilience, Adaptability and Perseverance, or RAP. (Note: Please don’t suggest adding Age and revising the order to AARP or, for those golf-playing retiring types, PAR.)

Resilience

Resilience is defined physiologically as the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused stress, and also psychologically as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change.  It is this second definition – one of mindset and attitude – that I feel best serves architects seeking to remain architects in the current terrain. Resilience here is the positive capacity of architects to cope and ability to bounce back after a disruption. It has two parts: exposure of adversity and the positive adjustment outcomes of that adversity.

In The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles by psychologists Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatté, resilience is a habit of mind and – with a focus on 7 skills you can learn – a practical roadmap for navigating unexpected challenges, surprises, and setbacks at work. The book’s premise and promise is that you can boost resilience by changing the way you think about adversity. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) – adaptive, constructive strategies for dealing with negative thoughts and feelings applied here to the work place & force – is an especially effective way to bring about change.

Adaptability

The word “adaptive” in the previous sentence was not placed there accidently. A key factor in longevity – whether it’s mankind’s survival of the fittest or the last one standing in the workplace – is the ability to adapt to different situations. As I am a firm believer that there is a great, must-read book for all occasions and situations, this topic is no exception.

Such is the case with AdapAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn’t Ask For by MJ Ryan. about money and career issues, this book will help architects adjust to the changes inherent to forces acting upon the workplace in the current climate. Without specifically addressing them, the book will help architects with their ability to adapt to the fragmentation of the architect’s once-familiar world, the increasing demands placed on architects by unreasonable or misinformed owners and even the particular stresses brought about by an increasingly diverse, globalized workforce and industry. A book like AdapAbility can go a long way toward helping architects face the changes they want to see happen in their lives, and the ones that are thrust upon them in unexpected ways and at difficult times like our own.

On the subject of adapting to change, I highly recommend the Heath brother’s (Chip and Dan) new book, (following on the heels of their platinum Made to Stick, Switch – which I cover this week in my other blog www.bimandintegrateddesign.com

Perseverance

In kindergarten we were taught to not give up, trying again and again. That perseverance would take commitment, hard work, patience and endurance. That perseverance meant being able to bear difficulties calmly and without complaint. But how?

Unstoppable: 45 Powerful Stories of Perseverance and Triumph from People Just Like You, yours for a dollar, offers examples for the sort of architect inspired and motivated by stories over lists. If this is more mollifying than motivating you may want to look into reading Keep Going: The Art of Perseverance, a soul-searching book by best-selling Native American writer Joseph M. Marshall III. An inspirational guide deeply rooted in Lakota spirituality, yours here for a penny.

The Right Stuff

Remaining an architect doesn’t mean to sit still in one place. That is not remaining, that is falling behind. The cost of doing nothing is considerable. You must practice instead the art of doing something.

Buddhism’s Noble Eightfold Path talks about the wisdom of having the right view and intention; the ethics of right speech, action and livelihood; and the mental development of right effort, mindfulness and concentration. Noble indeed – together they may help you remain an architect – but I would like to suggest a ninth path: having the right stuff.

Fear not, architect. There are many spacesuits you can wear as you make your rounds through life on planet earth – and being and remaining an architect is just one of them. Many cannot imagine doing anything else. For them, being an architect is more than a job, vocation, career or even calling – it is a way to go through life, a lens through which they see the world at large, and a mindset from which they can approach any situation – however new and unfamiliar.

There has been much talk of late about design thinking and transferable skills – how the architect has within her arsenal an almost endless supply of strategies, tactics, tips and tricks to overcome any problem. Strategies they can apply to perhaps the greatest problem of all, that of determining a new career.

And yet, you can apply design thinking to your own current situation, in an effort to help find a way to continue. Try this. Design yourself a way out of this box – the box you’ve been put in, put yourself in or find yourself in. And in doing so, you may in fact find yourself right where you started and know the place – really know the place – for the first time. And that is when you will know that you have truly remained.

How Do We Know We’re Doing Things Right? Part I January 18, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, change, collaboration, pragmatism, problem solving, questions.
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In the face of the unknown – the always nagging uncertainty about whether, under complex circumstances, things will really be okay – the builders trusted in the power of communication. They didn’t believe in the wisdom of the single individual, of even an experienced engineer. They believed in the wisdom of the group, the wisdom of making sure multiple pairs of eyes were on a problem and then letting the watchers decide what to do. Man is fallible, but maybe men less so. Atul Gawande, from The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right

Things have become increasingly complex in medicine, in technology and no doubt, for architects and others in the design professions and construction industry.

New technologies, new work processes, new codes, new materials and systems, new energy requirements, new priorities –there is seemingly no letting up of the complexity.

Architects pride themselves in being comfortable with ambiguity – but there comes a time when neither pride nor patience serves them or anyone else well professionally.

So what’s an architect to do?

A Focus on Checklists

MacArthur Fellow Atul Gawande, gifted surgeon, New Yorker staff writer and esteemed author of Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance (“A masterpiece,” Malcolm Gladwell,) Complications, and now, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, in the chapter entitled The End of the Master Builder turned his scalpel on the architecture profession and construction industry. And what he discovered is quite astonishing.

The Checklist Manifesto grew out of a New Yorker article about the surprising impact of basic checklists in reducing complications from surgery.

Things have gotten pretty complex for architects and the construction industry and as Gawande writes “we need to make sure we apply the knowledge we have consistently and correctly.”

Messages

It has been years since I read a book so powerful and so thought-provoking…The danger, in a review as short as this, is that it makes Gawande’s book seem narrow in focus or prosaic in its conclusions. It is neither. Gawande is a gorgeous writer and storyteller, and the aims of this book are ambitious. Gawande thinks that the modern world requires us to revisit what we mean by expertise: that experts need help, and that progress depends on experts having the humility to concede that they need help. – Malcolm Gladwell

The book has a number of simple but powerful messages:

  • The volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded any single individual’s ability to manage it consistently without error despite material advances in technology, training and specialization of functions and responsibilities.

 

Gawande explains the challenges associated with the exponential growth in both the complexity and volume of information and the inability of expertise alone to manage that information successfully. Gawande informatively distinguishes between simple, complicated and complex problems – where complex problems are like raising a child or designing and constructing a building. He tells us that a simple checklist can help us keep things in order. He writes, “Since every building is a new creature with its own particularities, every building checklist is new, too.”

  • Despite demonstrating that checklists produce results, there is resistance to their use

From the book: “Despite showing (hospital) staff members the benefits of using the checklist, 20% resisted stating that it was not easy to use, it took too long and felt it had not improved the safety of care. Yet, when asked an additional question – would you want the checklist to be used if you were having an operation – a full 93% said yes.” In the book Gawande discusses two main types of checklists, characteristics of what constitutes a good checklist and some potential challenges of the approach.

  • If you are acting on intuition rather than a systematic process, this book will cause you to pause in your tracks and seek a more disciplined approach

Gawande writes: “In a world in which success now requires large enterprises, teams of clinicians, high-risk technologies, and knowledge that outstrips any one person’s abilities, individual autonomy hardly seems the ideal we should aim for.  …what is needed, however is discipline…discipline is hard – harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”

Some revelations from The Checklist Manifesto

  • You should develop and implement a process checklist for critical processes and decisions

Gawande explains how the construction industry operates in a world that has become overly complex to accommodate the traditional Master Builder at the helm, where a sole architect once controlled of all details of the building process. Hence, the Death of the Master Builder (the subject of Part 2 of this post and the title of a presentation Atul Gawande gave at the New Yorker Festival this past October.) Architects and contractors are able to accomplish this, he learns, through the use of multiple checklists.

  • It takes more than just one person to do a job well

We’ve been hearing a lot of late of the days of the architect working alone have long passed. Collaboration has become a buzzword in business circles, not just in the architecture, and for good reason. As Gawande writes in The End of the Master Builder, “the variety and sophistication of advancements in every stage of the construction process had overwhelmed the abilities of any individual to master them.”

  • A team is only as strong as its checklist

–by his definition, a way of organizing that empowers people at all levels to put their best knowledge to use, communicate at crucial points, and get things done, according to Bartholomew, Senior Books Editor at Amazon.com

  • Busy people, caught in the complexities of life can change their ways and can produce better outcomes by using a simple checklist.

Really, checklists! We live in a world that has at our disposal pre-designed checklists in Word, Excel and all kinds of checklists you can download for free.

It’s Complicated

Architects of course have had checklists at their disposal. The AIA’s D200 form is a color-by-numbers step-by-step guide that hand-holds you the way through the design process . But it’s necessarily a false comfort – as Gawande makes clear.

I have resorted to using checklists – but clandestine, hiding them in my file or side drawer – embarrassed that I was unable to trust that I had kept every step, action, question, material, system, deliverable in my head and needed to rely on a list, as one does when food shopping.

The 1995 AIA D200 checklist lays out the architectural design process step by step in a color by number format where all you need to do is connect the dots and voila! You have a building. The architect has the comfort of knowing what to do, when to do it, and what to look out for down the road.

 

According to the AIA, the D200™–1995, Project Checklist is a convenient listing of tasks a practitioner may perform on a given project. This checklist will assist the architect in recognizing required tasks and in locating the data necessary to fulfill assigned responsibilities. By providing space for notes on actions taken, assignment of tasks, and time frames for completion, AIA Document D200–1995 may also serve as a permanent record of the owner’s, contractor’s and architect’s actions and decisions.

A checklist of this sort acts as a back-up system – where I look like a hero when we get to that part of a meeting and someone says “anything else?” and I list 3 or 4 items than no one else had thought of. Don’t thank me. Thank the AIA.

Who needs scenario planning when you have a time-proven list of what to expect in front of you?

 

“The truly great don’t have checklists”

 

But architects pride themselves on keeping everything they need to know in their head. Having to rely on a checklist is a sign of weakness to some surgeons – and no doubt to architects.

 

Besides, as Gawande mentions, checklists aren’t cool.

As Gawande writes: “It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us – those we aspire to be – handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.”

We don’t picture architects Herzog and Demeuron with a checklist. But that is probably because their staff keeps them under wraps and out of sight. But no one doubts that they keep them.

Gawande points out in his book that each project by nature of being a one-off is unique and so no one checklist will serve.

This is true – anyone who has resorted to one of the checklist books – Fred Stitt’s Working Drawing Manual, Pat Guthrie’s Cross-Check: Integrating Building Systems and Working Drawings, or Guthrie’s forthcoming 688 pages 4th edition of his The Architect’s Portable Handbook: First-Step Rules of Thumb for Building Design Publisher: from McGraw-Hill –

 can attest to that. They are at best cursory, sometimes random, skipping around from reminding you to put in flashing to reminding you to submit for permit.

These field guides, handbooks and lists, by addressing the technology and science of building, give the design professional the false feeling of safety and security – they’re no substitute for covering your tracks by looking things up and crossing your T’s, nor for direct communication with your fellow project teammates and collaborators.

As one reviewer put it, “As in all of his work, Dr. Gawande latest book brilliantly reminds us all of the huge value of getting the human interaction side right to accompany the advancements in science and technology that his (and other’s) field of work has witnessed. It highlights the inadequacy of technical expertise when not joined by an equal (maybe greater) emphasis on strengthening our relationships with those we work with and care about.”

Anyone working with complexity and readers already familiar with Gawande’s previous books, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance and Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, will find The Checklist Manifesto no less an informative, entertaining and thought-provoking book.

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.

Architecting a Brighter Future July 14, 2009

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

CLIENTS EXPECT DISCOUNTS OR FREE WORK

Little a architect, out of fear, complies.

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

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

Little a architect responds to assignment status quo.

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

OLD CLIENTS ARE NEW AGAIN

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

Little a architects pull out the accounts receivable and stew.

COMPETITORS ARE DISCOUNTING THEIR SERVICES

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

Little a architect cries foul.

COMPETITORS EATING DOWN THE FOOD CHAIN

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

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

CONSTRUCTION COSTS ARE DOWN

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

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

NEW MARKETS WILL BE FUELED BY NEW PLAYERS

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

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

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

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

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

BIM and the Human Condition May 15, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, BIM, collaboration, IPD, problem solving, Revit.
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Craft is the pride one takes in making – making things – with one’s hands, mind and imagination. Two books that address craft – one recent and one published 50 years ago – help make clear the predicament architects find themselves in today as they face an uncertain future.

In The­_Craftsman, author and sociologist Prof. Richard Sennett asks what the process of making concrete things reveals to us about ourselves – what people can learn about themselves from the things they make. Craftsmanship here is defined as an enduring, basic human impulse, the skill of making things well. The pride one takes in work – whether making a wood model or a computer model – requires focusing on the intimate connection between head and hand, establishing effective, sustainable habits and a rhythm between problem finding and problem solving. It is an internal dialogue every craftsman – and architect – conducts in practice.

Craftsmanship, by combining skill, commitment and judgment, establishes a close relationship between head and hand, man and machine that Sennett asserts is vital to physical, mental and societal well-being. Combining a “material consciousness” with a willingness to put in years of practice (a common estimate of the time required to master a craft is 10,000 hours) and an acceptance of ambiguity, rather than an obsessive perfectionism, should be familiar to readers of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Dean Simonton’s Greatness and readers of this blog. Sennett asks whether our commitment to work – our craftsmanship – is merely about money, or about something deeper and more human. His answer implies that commitment – the skill, care, late nights, problem solving and pride that goes into our work – is about something greater.

Sennett does not think that craftsmanship has vanished from our world. On the contrary, as another critic noted, it has merely migrated to other regions of human enterprise, “so that the delicate form of skilled cooperation that once produced a cathedral now produces the Linux software system” – or, in the case of architects who take part in integrated practice, their work in BIM. The subject of craft has been all but excluded to date from discussions about building information modeling (BIM) and this poses a liability and potential hazard for architects – for therein resides our dedication, passion and resolve.

Hannah Arendt’s book, The_Human_Condition, published 50 years ago, distinguishes between labor, work, and action, explores the implications of these distinctions and affirms the value of human beings speaking openly and candidly to each other. In the book Arendt (1906-1975) famously distinguishes between Animal laborans and Homo faber, between labor and work. Labor is, according to Arendt, those human activities whose main aim is to allow men to survive, belong to the private sphere, and while the human being strives painstakingly to perform them, is not free. As Sennett – Arendt’s student in the 60’s – points out Animal laborans is akin to the beast of burden, “a drudge condemned to routine.” Here the derogatory term “CAD-jockey” comes to mind, one who envisions spending their working lives in front of a monitor churning out construction documents. Animal laborans: they’re the ones who, working alone, take the work as an end in itself.

With Homo faber, on the other hand, one imagines men and women doing work together and in doing so making a life in common. This is the public sphere, where men, after having provided for themselves and their families what was needed to continue, can at last be free. The name according to Sennett implies a higher way of life, one in which we stop producing and start discussing and judging together. It is in this word – together – that we find the seeds for collaboration and for integrated practice.

BIM is More Artifact than Fact, More Art than Artifact

Look around your office – it is easy to spot those who see themselves as Animal laborans and conversely those who see their role as Homo faber. You can sense it in their attitudes toward their work, their mindset in the way they tackle the challenge of learning –or familiarizing themselves with – new technologies and workflows. If you observe carefully, you can even detect it in their posture, in the way they approach their work and each other. As Sennett argues, as with Gladwell and Geoff_Colvin, motivation matters more than talent. The architect must imagine herself engaged with the model, the input of information no less an act of the imagination than the shaping of clay into new worlds for others to engage in and be inspired by. The architect has to find her inner, intelligent craftsman. If it can be reduced to a formula, as Arendt would have it,

bim = Animal laborans

BIM = Homo faber

where BIM enables integrated practice. The combination of speech and action the book calls for is the perfect prescription for integrated practice or IPD: architects working together with others, collaborating toward a common goal.

Sennett sees it differently and challenges his teacher’s definition of Labor as being too limited, slighting the practical man and woman at work, and offers a more balanced view – where thinking and feeling are contained within the process of making. Such is the student’s prerogative. Some architects complain that BIM – in being so fact-based and answer-hungry – makes them less creative, describing their work as “feeding the beast.” Here again we find Arendt’s Animal laborans, for whom the mind engages once the labor is done, and Sennett is right to push further.

When Sennett writes “leaving the public to ‘sort out the problem’ after the work is done means confronting people with usually irreversible facts,” and “engagement must start earlier, requires a fuller, better understanding of the process by which people go about producing things,” he could have been describing BIM, and IPD, the process it enables. IPD fulfills the promise and dictates of BIM just as Homo faber provides something for Animal laborans to aspire to.  

One of Arendt’s great themes is her sense of the decline of the public realm, the realm where action takes place. With the growing use of BIM, and through it integrated practice, architects once again have an opportunity to find themselves working in – and positively influencing if not creating – the public realm.

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

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, creativity, problem solving.
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To what does an architect aspire?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stay, Architect, Stay January 27, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect types, BIM, integrative thinking, problem solving, productive thinking, Revit.
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The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.
F. Scott Fitzgerald

One attribute that distinguishes architects from nearly every other professional is their comfort with ambiguity. As workplaces become threadbare, virtual marketing firms chasing after anything that moves, architects are alternatively encouraged to get up to speed with the latest technology and software: ostensibly so that they will be all the more valuable to their firms, or the marketplace (if it comes to that,) depending on timing and luck.

Roger_Martin’s concept of integrative thinking, as described in The Opposable Mind, beautifully illustrates that the longer the architect remains in the problem – the more likely a well-resolved solution will be discovered. Tim Hurson, author of the bible of productive thinking, Think_Better, instructs the reader to “stay in the question.” That is essentially what architects do so well. While engineers keep an eye often on immediate results and the first-best solution, the architect tends to take the longer route. Architects working with a number of competing forces, wishes, contingencies and constraints, habitually wait until the last available moment before honing-in on the most favorable solution.

Architect Nathan_Good juggles these variables for as long as he can. “We live with a high degree of ambiguity during the early design phase, because we want to give credit to the site, to the client’s needs,” he says, “to the structure, to what is it going to take for the inhabitants to be comfortable. It’s kind of like we’re juggling these things for as long as we can, and then there’s this flurry of activity right at the end of the design to pull it all together.”

One concern that some architects have is that the latest software and design tools, such as BIM, and design processes, such as IPD, require so many decisions upfront, potentially killing this quintessential quality of the architect. With every material and building system assigned, defined and specified in the early stages of design, how will the architect remember how to juggle, keeping so many balls – however unreconciled, unresolved, uncoordinated – in the air? Will working with BIM leave out the fermentation, the leavening of the loaf, resulting in the flat, dry cracker of design?

No fear, architect. No matter how efficient and detail-oriented, BIM is still just a tool. A tool to create in 3D (and beyond) what already exists in the architect’s mind. Instead of architects having to gradually give-up their core competency – comfort with ambiguity – in time BIM will become more comfortable with ambiguity. Just as architects in the past switched from hand drafting to CAD software, and now CAD to BIM, they adapt the tool to them as they adapt to the tool. We will continue to grow with the technology as it, with each new version, becomes more like us. And perhaps it is the architect’s very flexibility, juggling their variables, that will allow them to adopt to the new frontier awaiting them.

Kudos to architect extraordinaire Bradley Beck for his contributions to this post.