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The Architect’s Journey August 13, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, change, marginalization, questions, survival, technology, the economy.
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A few years back, right before the economic downturn, the AIA came out with a promotional piece entitled The Architect’s Journey.

The pamphlet was subtitled “Exploring a Future in Architecture,” with the focus on becoming an architect.

Then came the upheaval.

Whereby merely remaining an architect today is a hero’s journey.

Not ‘hero’ as ‘architect-as-hero’ in how director Sydney Pollack presented Gehry in Sketches of Frank Gehry.

But rather hero-as-in-heroic.

To be an architect today requires bravery, courage, ambition – qualities rarely discussed in these do-all-you-can-to-stay-on-the-boat days.

Architect’s careers once followed archetypes common to what Carl Jung (CJ) or Joseph Campbell (JC) might have called “the hero’s journey.”

Mythic structures that all architecture careers follow.

Something along these lines

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man. (Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, p.30)

Mythic, that is, but not formulaic.

Recognizing that each individual has their own story of how they arrived at where they are

  • The Call to Adventure
  • The Road of Trials
  • Meeting with the Mentor

And so on.

And yet, with

  • the convoluted process of earning one’s architectural stripes, stamp and seal
  • the downturn in the economy and the subsequent loss of colleagues and mentors
  • the inevitable flattening or organizational hierarchies
  • the loss of loyalty on both ends
  • the advent of new technologies in the workplace
  • work processes redefined
  • design itself becoming more collaborative
  • risks, responsibilities and rewards shared

Can it still be said that an architect’s career path has a recognizable structure?

In terms of storyline, can it still be said that one’s career has a dramatic arc?

Or – in lieu of former goals to attain one’s license, start a firm, win recognition from one‘s peers – is one’s career closer to an undulating succession of successes – and travails?

Becoming an architect is one thing.

Remaining one is something else.

There are many impediments one faces everyday

  • Unwitting clients
  • Unappreciative public
  • Demanding employers
  • Insensitive plan reviewers
  • New technologies and work processes to master

So many hurdles, in fact, that to remain an architect today you have to be driven from within.

And possess a fire in the mind.

Only, for perhaps the first time in our storied history as a profession, one has to wonder: is that enough?

Some other questions to consider:

  • How important are myths to the architect today?
  • Do you believe that a career in architecture can still have an underlying mythic structure?
  • Is it still possible to create careers with mythical power?
  • With eyes glued to monitors and seats to bouncy balls, could it still be said that architecture – as a calling – can be something more than the daily struggle to honor the bottom line?

What’s the Hardest Thing You’ve Had to Do as an Architect? June 19, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in books, creativity, problem solving, questions, survival.
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What’s the hardest thing you’ve had to do as an architect?

Some might say it was taking (or retaking) the licensing exam.

For others, it was the late-nighters before a major deadline when nerves were on edge.

For still others, it was biting their tongue while their boss took credit for an idea that only moments earlier they themselves had uttered.

When I think of the hardest thing I’ve had to do as an architect, it is something completely different.

It’s not even something that occurred in the past.

It’s something that is happening right now.

Because, for me, the hardest thing I have ever had to do as an architect is to be an architect.

Today

Merely being an architect today is the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Period.

As it turns out, architects are uniquely equipped to deal with our current situation.

In an earlier post I listed the many well-known attributes of the architect.

Architects

  • are optimists
  • balance multiple intelligences
  • are wired to care
  • do more with less
  • are strategists
  • think in terms of systems, not just things

There are 101 more.

One I failed to call attention to is the ability to think on their feet.

What MIT professor Donald Schön, in The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action, called reflection-in-action.

In the book, Schön examined five professions—engineering, architecture, management, psychotherapy and town planning—to explain how professionals go about solving problems.

The best professionals, Schön maintains, know more than they can put into words.

In other words, tacit (or embodied) knowledge.

Know-how

Tacit knowledge, in being intuitive and experience-based, is hard to define.

Nonetheless, it is regarded as the most valuable source of knowledge.

And the most likely to lead to creative breakthroughs.

To meet the challenges of their work, professionals such as architects rely less on rules-of-thumb and methodologies learned in school than on improvisation learned in practice.

The improvisation that occurs when we’re giving an extemporaneous presentation and, afterwards, don’t know where our words came from.

This unarticulated, largely unexamined process – the subject of Schön’s book – shows precisely how ”reflection-in-action” works.

And how this vital creativity might be fostered in future professionals.

Detractors of Schön’s notion of “reflection in action” point out that there is seldom time for reflection when a person is engaged in work.

But it is this very absence of time that renders the architect’s ability to think on their feet all the more remarkable.

And necessary today.

Urgency

Our goal as architects is to move our situation from being dire to one that is manageable.

Urgent, but no longer an out-of-control crisis.

A sense of urgency is important for architects to experience.

Urgency provides momentum and evidence of motivation.

The problem is that we remain in a crisis state and – like the proverbial frog that doesn’t realize it is in gradually boiling water – we no longer realize it.

Because – whether through fear or utter exhaustion – we have lost our perspective on our situation.

This is where one of our most critical attributes comes in: our ability to think in the midst of a crisis.

For practicing architecture presents us with an almost unrelenting state of crisis.

In Elaine Scarry’s new book, Thinking in an Emergency, she draws on the work of philosophers, neuroscientists and artists, to prove decisively that thinking and rapid action are compatible.

In this light, practices that we dismiss as mere habit and protocol instead represent rigorous, effective modes of thought that we must champion in times of crisis.

How is our profession – and individual architects that constitute this profession – acting in this crisis situation?

Why do we seem inclined to abandon rationality, debate and deliberation, allowing others to take the reins of responsibility out of our hands?

Architecture is an institution that relies on engrained training and cooperation to succeed.

Scarry’s argument is that forethought and the inculcation of virtues form the only bulwark against panic when disaster strikes.

And in order to think on our feet, we need all the bulwarks against panic we can get.

Don’t Waste a Good Crisis

So while thinking on one’s feet is a useful ability and talent, use this time for forethought and the inculcation of virtues.

This is the time to prepare your thinking – and those you work with – to prepare for inevitable professional states of emergency.

We all have a great deal we can learn during lean times.

And we may never see a better time than today to do so.

For a good crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

The Collaborative Designer May 23, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect types, books, change, collaboration, problem solving, questions.
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Summary: You don’t need to be a designer to benefit from the best practices espoused in this magnificent new book. A must-have for designers, but also for those in project management and anyone who works with designers.

Based on over 100 interviews with designers, researchers and educators, The_Strategic_Designer by David Holston provides an overview of the design process and best practices.

The Strategic Designer: Tools and techniques for managing the design process, published by F+W Media and HOW Design, is billed as a Strategic Graphic Design Thinking book.

Despite this categorization, the subject matter transcends graphic design and can be universally applied to any of the design trades and professions including product and environmental design.

The book description will sound familiar to anyone working in architecture and related design professions:

As designers look for ways to stay competitive in the conceptual economy and address the increasing complexity of design problems, they are seeing that they must not only be experts in form, but must also have the ability to collaborate, to design in context and be accountable through measurement.

By adopting a process that considers collaboration, context and accountability, designers move from makers of things to strategists.

The book focuses on the designer’s workflow, ideation techniques, client relationships and methods for measuring the success of their projects.

An excellent foreward by Shawn M McKinney gets things off to a fast start – which, alone, is worth the investment in the book.

Each chapter covers a specific design phase emphasis, providing a practical step-by-step approach, complete with tools and techniques.

The Conceptual Economy – where those who have the ability to collaborate and manage the increasing complexity of design will have greater opportunities

Overview of the Design Process – a process rife with opportunities for misinformation, dead ends, and divergent tracks, as well as amazing outcomes

The Value of Process – the benefits of having a well-defined design process

The Collaborative Designer – emphasizing co-creation, communication, mutual benefit, respect and trust in a strong client-designer relationship. This is a particularly rich chapter, addressing and answering such questions as: What makes a Good designer? What Makes a Good Client? and Clients to Avoid. There’s a wonderful sidebar on: Seven Principles for Managing Creative Tension.

Empathic Design – explaining how research provides a path and imperative for moving forward

Understanding the Business – includes a breakdown of basic strategy techniques and an explanation of the purpose of business analysis as understanding and defining goals of the client

Designing with the End User in Mind – with an emphasis on facilitating and moderating participatory and collaborative work sessions. The Designing for People chapter focuses on research as a valuable tool for gaining insight into the organizational needs of clients and their prospective audiences.

Managing Ideas – especially when ideating with others in a participatory or collaborative setting, relying heavily on the experiences and knowledge of people involved.

Making Strategy Visible – how the designer takes an empathic approach to design that connects business goals with user needs.

Design Accountability – asking: Why is design hard to measure? And answering by sharing significant research findings and metrics. Salient quote: “The price for a seat at the decision-making table is accountability.”

Planning in a Turbulent Environment – the days of using a linear design process are over. Strategic designers face increasingly wicked problems. A helpful framework offered by project management.

Refining Your Process – so it can provide a common understanding for “how things get done” mitigating wasted efforts while creating value for the client and user alike.

Holston’s text anticipates your questions and concerns and places each topic in a larger context. He is clearly in control of his subject.

The author places the book and subject squarely in Dan Pink’s Conceptual Economy, a term describing the contribution of creativity, innovation, and design skills to economic competitiveness, especially in the global context.

In his book A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink explains how the economy is now moving from the information age to the conceptual age.

Later in The Strategic Designer, Rotman School of Management dean Roger Martin says that the world is moving from the Information Economy to a Design Economy. A small distinction, but one that unnecessarily complicates matters. I would look to a book such as this to clarify the playing field, at the very least to acknowledge that the labeling of epochs and phraseology are still a work-in-progress.

The book’s strength is not in creating new knowledge – but in repackaging what is largely already known, experientially by every designer – in an easy to carry tome.

Readers, for example, who have perused Wikipedia articles on various topics related to design strategy will recognize the source of several of the author’s summaries.

In this sense, the book is not a product of the Conceptual Age, but instead is a well-designed, convenient and accessible agglomeration, aggregating both explicit and, perhaps the greater achievement here, tacit knowledge on the subject. The book is no less of an achievement for doing so.

The design world is a much better place for having this book at its disposal.

Conclusion: The Strategic Designer is a must-have book for designers, those who manage design projects and those who work with designers in a collaborative setting.

Addenda: How can this book not have a single review?

HOW books makes books on high quality paper, books that feel good in the hand, and themselves serve as exemplary reminders that ebooks should not be our only option. The Strategic Designer is no exception.

See this short video with author Dave Holston presenting the introduction to The Strategic Designer Brand and here on competitive strategy.

Architect 2Tweets May 22, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, books, career, creativity, employment, optimism, questions, survival, sustainability, the economy.
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Here are some of my Tweets that had the most impact from May 19-22 2011, all 140 characters or less.

Architect- and Architecture-related Tweets that my followers on Twitter have shared with their followers (retweeted or RT in Twitter parlance.)

Take a look. If you are not a Tweeter, by browsing the list of micro-posts you will get a good idea of how I use it.

And if you like what you see, follow me on Twitter @randydeutsch

Architects can Learn from David Meerman Scott @DMScotthttp://ff.im/DVKHJ RT @SuButcher

As even #modular homes struggle for mortgages: “Do we move into more land and house type solutions?” http://bit.ly/jEUUJu#prefab

Excellent read. The Builder Within: “No building is as important as what occurs inside.” Bob Clark, Clayco http://nyti.ms/mRKRLJ#AEC

Ever wonder, when designing a jail, if you’ll do time in it? County Suing Architect for $1.35M http://bit.ly/kpjBpJ#architects#AEC

Relating to people: #Construction sector gains soft skills w mentoring. Program helps workers w communication http://bit.ly/kODaWT#AEC

Don’t move: In making #innovation happen, does place matter? Yes, your location does matter http://bit.ly/mL4s0H

Teaching children construction gains momentum in US as way to develop imagination & confidence in youth http://nyti.ms/hEcFKH#AEC

#BIM lawsuit: You read the headline? Now, read the +70 comments http://bit.ly/jRqH85 (Then, if necessary, read the article.)

Finally, some good news for the hard-hit design profession: Firms are hiring again! Architecture Employment on the Rise http://bit.ly/lZ4caM

Weekend reading! (OK maybe 2 weekends) AMAZING cache of articles at The Coxe Group site http://bit.ly/my6hW8 & http://bit.ly/k1AGNY

The #AEC Sales Meeting: a “fly on the wall” view http://bit.ly/mwgpgf#architects

Fabulous interviews w Jim Cramer, Marjanne Pearson, Scott Simpson, Ava Abramowitz, Peter Piven et al http://bit.ly/15ihSa#architects

The Strategic Agenda: Securing the Future. 2 day exec ed seminar 8/01-8/02 Harvard U Graduate School of Design http://bit.ly/e8zljY

Granite countertops cost the same around the world. Just like oil. As wages go up, US will make more of its own stuff. http://nyti.ms/mrka7v

Thinkers who are challenging designers? Bruce Sterling, John Thackara, Sir Ken Robinson, Roger Martin, John Maeda http://bit.ly/jZAEDb

Video of Mansueto Library’s 5-story robotic book retrieval system in operation. Now to get robots to read them! http://bit.ly/ikFcD0

Call it the Book Bubble. The Dome for Tomes. Spaceship That Made #Reading Oh-So-Cool. Audacious: Kamin on Jahn http://bit.ly/jishKL

Sustainable Performance Institute promises to deliver on the promise of sustainability http://www.sustainable-performance.org/#green

Looking Beyond the Structure: Critical Thinking for #Designers & #Architectshttp://amzn.to/iAkbEE

Design Thinking for Interiors: Inquiry, Experience, Impact http://bit.ly/iUn5cr & http://amzn.to/kQ3uOT

Take your eyes on a scroll. Eye-popping drawings of Lebbius Woods’ UNDERGROUND BERLIN: the film treatment http://bit.ly/qQMNi

Excellent review of AIA 2011 Convention: Thomas Friedman’s Keynote & Energy-Related Technologies @AECbyteshttp://bit.ly/m0Wp5m#AIA2011

Are #architects too enamored with technology? Q&A: Architects’ Sketchbooks by Susan S. Szenasy @MetropolisMaghttp://bit.ly/iSRVh2

Learn how to protect your organization contractually from risks & legal challenges that come with #BIMhttp://bit.ly/l6Dcgm#revit#AEC

Here’s one way out: UCF freshman Greg Eason traded life in #construction for blossoming golf career http://bit.ly/mP476p#AEC

So everything’s OK after all? “Office of National Statistics accused of exaggerating construction slump.” http://bit.ly/khMVWX

New Strategies for Mobility – Rethinking Urban Transportation from the The #REDCAR Colloquium http://bit.ly/cfUGFT#innovation

Free excerpt from the book The Owner’s Dilemma: Leading with Exuberance @dinethttp://bit.ly/9a8qnP & more http://bit.ly/9WbyxG

Meet four #architects who have managed to bob, duck, weave and advance in a worsening #design market http://bit.ly/xDMRT#AEC

Dear Architecture Graduates: Be Ready, Relentless, and Lucky http://bit.ly/d2z71P

Despite economy, logic, gravity & common sense, young architectural firm lands major projects, expands staff http://bit.ly/mzzGk8

Marketing Architectural Services: Lessons from America’s Best-Managed #Architecture Firms http://bit.ly/fciKJr#AEC#architects

Is Investing in #AEC Firm Business Improvement Really Worth It? (Plus four most common objections to doing so) http://bit.ly/l6uEoM

Lawsuit over construction of major university building is 1st known claim related to use of #BIM by an architect http://bit.ly/ijYpiW

MORE (and IMHO even better) visual notes from IIT Institute of Design Strategy Conference 2011 http://bit.ly/jieG7m

How visual types take notes http://bit.ly/mpSheY

Interview with author http://bit.ly/16kivD of Design Is the Problem: The Future of Design Must be Sustainable http://amzn.to/lUjgX8

A Lifeline for a Profession Adrift May 7, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, books, career, change, collaboration, creativity, environment, fiction, IPD, marginalization, pragmatism, productive thinking, questions, Revit, technology.
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Using books as floatation devices is nothing new.

Cradle to Cradle, subtitled Remaking the Way We Make Things, is printed on waterproof paper for this reason.

Poetry anthologies served this purpose after 9/11 as did commonplace books carried by soldiers.

In fact, the book I’m about to introduce you to explains the original use of the word “communication” to mean bringing something to the “common place, to the community, to make it part of the larger social group.”

That is what I hope to accomplish with this review.

Building Knowledge in Architecture is a new book and lifesaver by architect, educator, researcher, scholar and poet, Richard Foqué.

On the academic side, Foqué is a professor and dean emeritus at the Henry van de Velde Higher Institute of Architecture at the University College Antwerp.

On the practice side, Foqué is the founder and honorary principal of FDA Architects (now OSAR), one of the largest architectural firms in Flanders.

Richard Foqué’s work is characterized by the integration of architecture, art, design and science and reflected in the book “Bringing the World into Culture”, dedicated to Foqué and in which 21 eminent scholars, architects and designers bring a tribute to his work. An interdisciplinary thinker, Foqué lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium.

But don’t read Building Knowledge in Architecture because of his credentials.

Read this book because Richard Foqué is the first poet to write beautifully and meaningfully about the architect, design, creativity,

And as importantly, digital design tools such as BIM and collaborative work processes such as integrated design, design-build, lean construction and design thinking, subjects at the focus of these discussions.

You had me at Introduction

A book, like any of us, competes in a marketplace for attention.

Building Knowledge in Architecture, until today, appears to have been satisfied waiting patiently to be discovered on library shelves.

Book, wait no more.

To stand out and distinguish yourself, says consultant and author Sally Hogshead, you get only 9 seconds.

Because that’s how long our attention spans today have been shortened to.

Reader, here I’ll introduce you to what will surely become a fine traveling companion and fellow conversationalist in the weeks ahead.

But I’ll need 9 minutes to do so – not 9 seconds. So please bear with me.

Man Measuring the Clouds

A passing glance at a sculpture, Man Measuring the Clouds, inspired Foqué to reflect on architecture and what it means to be an architect today.

“The architect works in the field of tension between imagination and reality. The architect’s task is to convert the dreams and often unreachable wishes of the client into a buildable concept, which should be functional, technically resolved, and in compliance with all building and safety codes, but at the same time must inspire a sense of well-being and have the necessary aesthetic qualities to contribute to and enrich its context.”

Foqué then asks:

“Is the architect the person who is measuring the clouds all the time? Is architectural design, per se, an impossible task to perform? In other words, what is the essence of being an architect? What are the skills, competencies, and knowledge an architect needs to perform as a true professional?”

Aware of the access to practical knowledge readily available to other fields such as medicine, business and law, things can be otherwise for the architectural profession, the author sets out in search of a robust knowledge base architects can access:

“In my own practice, I have endeavored to use my professional experience and accumulated know-how in an innovative way for every new commission. But I have always been left with a feeling of discontent: Could I have done better? Did I use all the creative potential and knowledge at my disposal, and did I not overlook essential elements?”

Foqué concludes that the architectural profession no longer has a shared knowledge base. Building Knowledge in Architecture asks all of the important questions:

“Why did we abandon or sacrifice (this) knowledge base? Why is the architectural profession drifting? Why are we sometimes reinventing the obvious? Why do we struggle to cope with contemporary technological evolution, and why is it so difficult to integrate in a satisfactory way new findings and insights into our design solutions? Why are we losing ground, and why are essential responsibilities of our professional practice being assumed by others?”

One page into the book, you realize you have underlined every line. It is one of those books.

The Creation of New Knowledge through Practice

The book is organized in two parts.

In Part 1, Building Knowledge in Architecture serves as a practical overview of contemporary architectural design methods, and proposes design – apart from science and art – as a third way to investigate the real world.

“Perceiving themselves as practitioners of a ‘creative’ profession, architects hover between science and art.” p. 25

This is one of the very few books that discuss new digital design tools such as building information modeling (BIM) from academic, theoretical and practical standpoints (discussed for the first time on p. 93.)

But also integrated project delivery (IPD) or at least a facsimile of the same.

In the section called The Exteriorization of the Design Process, Foqué indicates that recent evolution of communication information technology processes forces designers

“…to interact increasingly with his environment. He has no escape, so to speak, but must engage in a permanent dialogue with his surrounding world.” p. 82

Foqué points out that the concept of transdisciplinarity – and the way specialized knowledge can be integrated – harkens back to the work of developmental child psychologist, Jean Piaget, in the 1970’s.

Where, according to the author, specialized knowledge needs to be incorporated into a comprehensive body of integrated knowledge, “within a global system of values and well-considered choices.”

Per Piaget, those who have taken part on integrated design teams will recognize the suggestion that multidisciplinary collaboration is, at root, child’s play.

Key quotes:

“Learning should be revalorized in the sense that the creators of knowledge should also be held accountable for the application of that knowledge.” P. 24

“It is recognized that at the modern university, there exists a hierarchy of knowledge, which starts with the basic and fundamental science at the top, applied science in the middle, and technical skills at the bottom.” P. 26

Explaining why digital design tools, while used extensively, are infrequently taught at the university.

“…grounded in the field of tension between ‘technical’ performance and ‘artistic’ creation. It is exactly in that field of tension that every professional discipline grounds its own knowledge base.” P. 26

Foqué defines a critical component of the architect’s arsenal, intuition, as “a not-yet-conceptualized and not-yet-systematized form of knowledge.” P. 27

Beautiful.

Before I go on to quote every line in the book, I want to point out an additional pleasure in reading a book written with a poet’s sensibility.

In describing the synergistic integration of art, science and technology, Foqué uses the seemingly simple example of learning to ride a bike.

“If you describe every part of a bike in extreme detail and add these descriptions together, you will by no means have produced an appropriate description of a bike.”

He concludes this explanation:

“In other words, it is not by knowing the why that you master the how. You need to add the artistic dimension, the art of bike-riding.”

As only a poet – who is also an architect, educator, scholar – could have written.

Foqué explains the now familiar story of how architects abandoned responsibility, and in doing so, relinquished authority, over the past 40 years.

He asks: How can we reverse this decline?

Part 2 of the book presents his case, so to speak.

Reinventing the Obvious

In Part 2, Building Knowledge in Architecture makes the case for case studies in architecture.

The case goes something like this:

Because case studies are used as teaching tools at law, medicine, and in MBA programs, architectural training should also include more reading and creating of case studies.

Here’s the problem with this argument:

It doesn’t need to be made.

In the introduction, the author asks: Why are we sometimes reinventing the obvious?

And then proceeds to fall into this same trap.

Architecture curriculums already make use of case studies. I know, for example, when I taught an integrated design/technology studio, we made great use of them.

They are not only, as the author argues, a practical tool for documenting complicated building projects, finding solutions to technical problems and expanding a firm’s expertise.

They are also excellent opportunities for having architecture students work in teams and learn how to collaborate on a project team while still in school.

The complexity of building projects almost guarantees that the teams will be multidisciplinary.

An example is Aaron Greven’s course in the College of Architecture at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) in the Integrated Building Delivery program, a class that focuses on integrated practices and the technology that facilitates collaboration across a broad range of building project participants, for the Masters in Integrated Building Delivery program, a post-professional program that is in its pilot phase.

While the example does not prove the rule, I have previously reviewed these case study presentations here.

And more recently, they have been reviewed here.

The book does an excellent job explaining case study research as a means to establish a knowledge base and, as importantly, develops a practical method to do so.

“Architecture is no longer considered a true discipline, based on a comprehensive knowledge base, as it was for more than 2000 years. It is clear that this situation is no longer tenable, if architecture wants to survive in the Information Age, and in a quickly changing globalized world. A key question regarding the discipline of architecture today is how we can build a store of knowledge again.” P.174

But for me, proving the case for use of case studies in architectural education is not the reason to read this book.

This point has been made before here and more importantly, here.

Perhaps it is not case studies that are needed but a knowledge management and information system that can readily access the design professional’s accumulated knowledge.

There are people out there who do just this.

But this book does provide the rationale as well as a unique approach to constructing case studies, grounded in the arguments and methodology presented in the first part of the book.

And more importantly, this book explains how we can build knowledge in our profession and industry through the use of case studies.

Eminently Tweetable

The strengths of the book overwhelm its few weaknesses.

Weaknesses first. For all of the wonderful discussion about design and creativity throughout the first part of the book, there is nary a general mention of or reference to either in the index. It is almost as though the index was created for academics who might scrutinize sources for perfunctorily academic reasons but alas, not for the general reader’s ease of use.

Likewise, many of the otherwise wonderfully rich sources cited, are from the 1970’s or earlier. The book would have benefitted the reader (but no doubt not fellow academics) by referencing more contemporary examples of the same ideas or even the cited author’s more recent work.

On the strength side, the book’s diagrams are truly spectacular and help to illustrate many of the book’s finer concepts.

Another remarkable and no doubt unintended strength of the book is it is eminently tweetable.

A book of well-composed sentences, Building Knowledge in Architecture is remarkably aphoristic, and there are literally hundreds of quotable 140 character lines that are just crying out to be tweeted on Twitter:

“Intuitive thinking and rational thinking are not opponents; they are the twin poles between which the artist structures reality.” http://amzn.to/lyhDEl

Foqué explains that in earlier craft societies, severe penalties were imposed on those members who reveal knowledge in public. P. 93

Today, we are rewarded for the same by being retweeted.

See below for how critical Twitter is to this discussion.

Read or drown

It doesn’t matter if you don’t learn anything new by reading this book (you will.)

Because, after reading it, you will be able to say that you know what you know for the first time.

And that is some accomplishment. For any book.

It is absolutely critical that you read this book. Why?

Here are 3 reasons:

For all of the reasons I have stated up above.

For the reason that it tells us where we have been, where we are today and where we are headed.

And for this reason:

When drowning and you are thrown a life preserver you don’t say, “no thanks, I’ve seen one of these before,” and toss your line to safety aside.

A strength of this author, as mentioned, is that he has one foot in academia and the other in practice, a perspective evident in nearly every sentence:

“Professional disciplines…reduce the gap between real world problems and academic research, research increasingly captured by its own agenda.” P. 25

A book such as this can go a long way starting to fill the gap between education and practice.

That the author is a published poet can be seen in the book’s nearly perfect prose – so clear that you will not need to go back and read any sentence twice.

But you will do so anyway.

Because the sentences are so well-written they’ll strike a chord in you.

And you will find yourself rereading them for the sheer wonder and pleasure.

So don’t read Building Knowledge in Architecture because it develops a general design theory, a theoretical framework and practical instrumentation to establish a knowledge base for the discipline of architecture.

Read it if you want to improve your understanding of the impact and motives on decision making so that your designs are more responsive to real needs.

Read Building Knowledge in Architecture because you are an architect, an educator or student.

Read it because books like this are why we still have books.

Read Building Knowledge in Architecture because we as a profession are adrift and this book has been thrown to us as a lifeline.

Read it because at a time when the publishing and construction industry are experiencing upheavals, it is heartening to discover a book that is as well-written and well-illustrated as it is well-constructed and physically beautiful.

The book feels good in the hand, like a book by Peter Zumthor.

When you hold it for the first time you will feel

as though you have done so before,

as though the book is being returned to you

after a long absence.

To you alone.

That is because this book has been written for you.

The book, Building Knowledge in Architecture, was recommended to me by Ryan Schultz, founder of http://www.openingdesign.com/ via Twitter

@randydeutsch Hi Randy, speaking of books… ran across this one today in the library… looks right up our alley: http://amzn.to/hX0YG2

@theoryshaw P. 78 of Building Knowledge in Architecture (Design as a rational Process: The Triangle Broken) could be your mission statement. Thanks!

Ryan, with fellow IPD maven Oscia Timschell, is launching a beta version of the new site in time for the AIA National Convention. Check it out and follow Ryan on Twitter @theoryshaw

FYI This blog was posted for readers at my other blog by a different name.

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

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

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

Between us and them.

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

High-minded, that is, about different things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Versus

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

Innovators vs. Perpetuators of the status quo.

Ideas vs. Things.

Form vs. Function.

Thinking differently vs. The standard of care.

Sophisticated urban architects vs. Prosaic suburban architects.

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

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

The Architect’s Newspaper vs. Architect magazine.

Dwell and Domus vs. House Beautiful and Fine Homebuilding.

You get the idea.

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

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

The argument boils down to one word: elitism.

Record Houses, the argument goes, is elitist.

Exclusive, exclusionary and undemocratic.

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

Or are uncomfortable to live in.

Or aren’t code-worthy.

Or don’t use construction best practices.

Or are unsustainable.

Or they leak.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Another added:

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

One counterpoint sums up the opposing side’s argument:

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

Architecture’s Third Culture

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

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

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

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

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

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

Replacing “vs.” with an “and.”

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

We need to be both.

Both/and. Not either/or.

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

Because the world needs more.

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

We cannot afford any longer to stand apart.

To emphasize one side over the other.

Or ignore one side altogether.

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

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

And we can start by dropping the divisiveness.

Replacing “vs.” with a simple “and.”

Architecture’s Next Destination (AND)

Call it the Yes AND movement.

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

Both form and function.

Technology and process.

Academics and practitioners.

Design and construction.

Both thinking differently and exceeding the standard of care.

Beauty and sustainability.

BIM and integrated design.

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

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

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

What we ought to have been doing all along.

Improv Wisdom

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

The game represents a vital rule of improvisational theater:

Never deny your fellow actor.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Never deny your client. “Yes and…”

Don’t like what the economy has given you?

Never deny your circumstances. “Yes and…”

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

Yes And: Not either/Or.

Yes And: A Collaborative Attitude.

Yes And: Architecture’s Third Culture

Yes And: Architect’s New Direction

Yes And: Architecture’s Next Destination

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

Do you agree?

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

When the Road Map is more Complex than the Terrain March 2, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, books, change, function, questions, technology.
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1 comment so far

Simplicity is a myth whose time has passed, if it ever existed. – Donald Norman

We’re grappling as an industry with larger and more complex projects and work processes.

As are our teams and work flows.

Our construction document sets have over time become obese.

The world is becoming more maze-like every day and so, in an effort to address the compounding (and confounding) complexity, our tools become more complex.

It’s as though complexity begets complexity.

But like fighting fire with fire, must we address our complex problems with equally complex tools, processes and solutions?

As I write, the states of Florida and Texas are burning.

Thankfully, nobody is suggesting using fire to squelch the flames.

It’s a saying, thanks to Shakespeare, that means to match the solution to the problem.

Architects may be able to see the big picture and think in terms of detail simultaneously, but how about on complex projects?

Are there another set of tools and abilities – such as those of the conductor, arranger or orchestrator – we need to turn to?

How much sense does it make to use extremely complex tools to solve complex problems?

More importantly, in these digitally sophisticated times;

How much sense does it make to use extremely complex tools to solve relatively simple problems?

That is a question I posed the other week in the form of a metaphor.

At a recent Lean Construction event where a talented designer had presented his technically sophisticated building design with a fairly simple program, I asked:

Can the road map be more complex than the terrain?

From the audience’s complicit silence one suspected they were thinking the same thing.

(Click on image above to witness beauty in complexity.)

Much of our design work – in an effort to make a statement – errs on the side of complexity-for-complexity’s sake.

Why does it have to be this way? Why can’t it be simpler?

What we really mean when we have these thoughts is:

Why can’t it acknowledge people? Why can’t it admit me?

Why must it aim for popularity or posterity into perpetuity on sites such as this or this? 

Why do we as designers make projects harder than they need to be?

As designers, despite our good intentions, we sometimes trip ourselves up by making things more difficult than they are.

Why we do it

We do it for any number of reasons, not all of them rational:

1. We do it because we feel we need to do so in order to innovate and move the design ball forward.

2. We also do it because we can.

  1. 3. We do it because we mistakenly equate complexity with sophistication.

4. We do it because we’re afraid if we didn’t there would only be silence – like tumbleweeds – on the other side.

5. We’re do it because we’re afraid that, without our intervening, our projects won’t speak; they’ll lack meaning and even purpose.

6. We do it because we’re exercising our designer muscle and in doing so, keeping our designer cred fit and alive.

Our world is already too complex – we would do well by not creating more than is necessary.

In this sense I’m suggesting a form of voluntary simplicity.

There is no question that architects need to develop new abilities to address the increasing scale and complexity of projects and work processes.

Why can’t these skill-sets be simple ones?

Donald Norman, author of The Design of Everyday Things, in his excellent new book Living with Complexity, sees complexity not as a problem but as an opportunity.

While many of us feel like we’re bombarded by too much information, we can ironically benefit by seeking information by hearing what others have to say about their experiences dealing with complex systems.

How do we deal with complexity in our world and in our work?

One way is to tap into our networks.

Simple Resources for Dealing with Complexity

A good place to start is by joining, observing and participating in any one of the complexity-related groups that can be found on social networks such as these on LinkedIn:

Systems Thinking is a group for systems thinking and organizational transformation practitioners to build links and experience. One of the very best groups on LinkedIn.

Systems Thinking World‘s purpose is to create content which furthers understanding of the value of a systemic perspective and enables thinking and acting systemically.

Complexity goes beyond today’s solutions.

And there are other related LinkedIn groups and subgroups: Complexity Science is a network connecting scientists dealing with complex systems; Systems Thinking & System Dynamics is an international, nonprofit organization devoted to encouraging the development and use of systems thinking and system dynamics around the world; Complex Adaptive Systems group is about Complex Adaptive Systems theory applying to social sciences, aiming to bring professionals and academics together, and Systems Thinking for Managers is a networking opportunity for people interested in radical effectiveness and efficiency improvements in private and public sectors.

Some great blogs on complexity here, here, here and here

Some great books on complexity here,  here,  here and here

&

One brilliant book on (myth or not) simplicity here.

Now it’s your turn: Do you believe it is possible to successfully address complex problems – such as those brought about by working on large-scaled projects – with simple means and solutions? How so?

Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail February 23, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rinse, repeat.

Victim mentality

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

Uprising anyone?

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

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

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

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

So much so that one discussion commenter recently concluded:

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

Amen.

That’s a good start.

Bowling alone together

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

They belong to communities, groups and tribes.

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

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

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

So, what distinguishes a profession from a tribe?

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

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

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

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

Professions encourage a private language be spoken amongst members.

Again?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anyone?

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

What can we do for our profession?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, what can we do for our profession?

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

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

Image courtesy NYTimes

What it Means to be an Architect Today December 26, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, career, employment, identity, possibility, questions, reading, the economy, transformation, transition.
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16 comments

I saw the best architects of my generation destroyed by idleness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the vacant-lotted streets at dawn looking for an angry commission,

angleheaded architects burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night…

What does it mean to be an architect in 2011?

For every architect putting the finishing touches on a set of construction documents, or starting a design study for a prospective client, there’s one thinking outside the bun.

And another reading this for free at the public library.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says between 6 and 13% of architects are out of work.

The 53% of architects who are actually out of work believe these numbers are accurate.

The vast majority of working architects are severely underemployed, focused on getting work, marketing their own or their firm’s services.

The vast majority of architects, in other words, are now working in marketing.

Taking-on work outside their comfort zone.

Whether beneath them or above them, work of an altogether different caliber.

Like an actor, architects are awaiting call-backs. Waiting to be called back by the firm that let them go.

In the mean time, architects are driving cabs, working at Lowes.

Masters in Architecture now means we’re becoming masters of another art: the art of losing.

Tracking unemployment is logistically difficult, requiring a great deal of manpower, according to AIA chief economist Kermit Baker.

47,500 unemployed architects hired full-time by AIA and NCARB to track unemployment in the industry. 

Finding themselves in new, unfamiliar situations with people they hardly know and – digging deep into their bag-of-tricks – making the most of it.

Architects in retail hawking e-readers and housewares.

Architects moving across the country, or out of the country away from their families, to help pay their kids’ expenses.

Asking not what the AIA can do for them; asking what they can do for the AIA.

In the midst of such astounding lack of loyalty, remaining loyal to their calling and their muse.

Getting used to being “between projects” and any of a dozen other euphemisms for having been – for a loss of another euphemism – shitcanned.

Not waiting to see who will take the lead in the green movement.

Asking not what the world can do for them; asking what they can do for the planet.

Would-be architects turning their eyes and education to the gaming industry.

To pay back their student loans.

Notwithstanding, with 12 high school applicants for every 1 undergraduate architecture slot, it would seem that architects are gamblers from the start.

Architects working for food conglomerates, driving forklifts, putting furniture together.

Architects working for food.

Applying for positions that will go to exact matches – down to the hair follicle color.

Or to no one.

Job applicants asked to undertake DNA testing – to see if they’re an exact match for the position.

Architects who will gladly work “pro-bono” just to stay in the game are still rejected because they’re “too expensive.”

Questioning the wisdom of being a generalist.

Architects of lakefront manses taking-on basement renovations.

Gladly taking-on basement renovations.

Questioning the wisdom of being a specialist.

Or the wisdom of having sought and ultimately attained that Theory of Architecture advanced degree.

Is it possible that they don’t know that the phrase “pro-bono” means “free?”

2008 tested your mettle. As did 2009. 2010 tested your mettle. So will 2011.

If architecture is a calling, how come the phone doesn’t ring?

Maybe there’s an opening for mettle-testers?

Architects selling life insurance to other architects.

Who void their policies by killing themselves.

Who kill themselves by losing their sense of humor.

Who lose their sense of humor from dealing with former colleagues who are now selling insurance.

While women are getting paid 75 cents to the dollar, architects are getting paid 25 cents to the dollar.

Women architects are finally getting paid the same amount as men.

Justice after all.

Trying to find a way to monetize 30 years of professional working experience.

Otherwise known in the industry as a job.

 To be hit when you’re down by those who belittle what we do.

To lay there flailing and writhing.

And they still don’t hire you.

You still owe money to the money to the money you owe.

You remember being so busy a few years ago that you might have committed some lines to paper, or said some things to a colleague, that you now regret.

You remember thinking at the time that you would change when things finally slowed down.

 Coming to the slow realization that what you had been practicing all these years was a luxury that few could afford.

Or need.

To be an architect means to be at once both fragile and all-powerful.

To go from under-utilized to over-committed on a dime.

Or for a dime.

Wondering how on earth we – at this time in our lives – are supposed to reinvent ourselves.

Where to start?

Who, to be competitive now, must consider themselves certified-virtual construction-lean-accredited-design/build-BIM-IPD-VDC-LEED experts.

To be experts at everything means that we’re…generalists?

Find yourself humming Eric Clapton’s Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.

To be an architect today means to start over. Every day.

Able-bodied, talented, smart and eager young interns sitting this one out in the penalty box in perpetuity, for the sole reason that they are able-bodied, talented, smart, eager and young.

I get my hands on a dollar again, I’m gonna hang on to it till that eagle grins.

Starting over means to see with beginner’s eyes – because we’re reentering a new economy, a new profession, firms with new organizational structures.

To be an architect today means to consult, to borrow space, workstation and another’s air.

To be a product procured by means of a purchase order over being retained as a professional service.

Wondering if you’d be better off moving to Canada where there are purported to be more jobs (and where it is also purported to be warmer in winter.)

Or get up and move to NY or CA because it seems that these are the only places with job listings.

To understand that the current decline is the most severe and will probably take the longest to recover, but that the profession will recover nevertheless if the past is any predictor of the future.

And to wonder if the past is any predictor of the future.

Where design architects find themselves for the first time in the minority of all “architects” including computer, business and IT.

To adjust expectations so that pay, benefits and seniority are no longer primary drivers in your job pursuit.

To be wary of the easy temptation of cynicism.

To be underrepresented, ill-prepared and overlooked.

Always the bridesmaid. Never the bride.

For whom the phrase “the gray hairs are the first to go” used to mean you’re going bald.

It is as much about who you know now as what you know.

Network, reach-out, get involved. But to make any inroads you’re going to have to pave your own way.

Notice phrases such as “skeleton staff,” “trending downward” and “where’s dinner coming from?” have mysteriously entered your vocabulary.

And words like “salary” have disappeared.

All the tools in your toolbox. And nowhere to use them.

Beating against the current of a veritable ocean of regulatory design requirements.

While taking-on water.

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Otherwise we sink.

To be an architect means to persevere.

To do all one can, each day, to hold on and not let go.

Learning to persevere from American Indians.

Learning from cancer survivors.

To not give up, no matter how bleak.

To maintain your sense of humor.

To keep things in perspective.

To remain resourceful.

Ready to take-on whatever assignment you are offered.

Whatever comes your way.

To not lose heart when you find that you have lost rank.

To work hard at creating communities: of practice, of hope.

But also just of belonging.

That’s what it means to be an architect today.

 (Apologies to Allen Ginsberg)

Design in the Open December 4, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, collaboration, identity, IPD, questions.
Tags: , , , , ,
8 comments

Shortlisted for a major project on the west coast, I’m going into a project interview in a couple days.

With little interest in giving a dog and pony show, I want the meeting to be a working session.

To give them a taste of how we – as a team – are to work with.

And to make good use of everybody’s time.

Get some real value out of our brief time together, whatever the results.

We’re not going to pretend we have all the answers.

So we’ll ask a lot of questions.

And answer some of their questions with questions of our own.

Not to be difficult.

But to engage the client in a dialogue.

An Identity Problem

Participatory design is a design approach that seeks to actively involve all stakeholders (employees, partners, customers, citizens, end users) in the design process to help assure that what is designed meets their needs and functions well for all.

It involves cooperation and collaboration, and the attitudes and mindset necessary to allow these practices to flower.

Prior to its popularity in the 60’s and 70’s, participatory design was known as Cooperative Design.

Now we have Crowdsourcing and Integrated Design.

And would you know it, Co-Creation, too.

In The Power of Co-Creation: Build It with Them to Boost Growth, Productivity, and Profits, authors Venkat Ramaswamy and Francis Gouillart explain how to tap into ideas, design  and build products and services by engaging directly with employees, stakeholders, clients and suppliers.

Even with competitors.

The applications to, and implications for, Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) – especially in terms of how co-creation can help to lower risks and costs – are readily apparent.

“Participatory design always works.”

And like IPD it involves a democratization and decentralization of value creation among other benefits.

Participatory design is a far more democratic approach to design than most architects today would be comfortable with.

And that’s too bad.

It’s one that requires relinquishing control of the very design process that the architect struggles with to lead.

The American architect Charles Moore – a successful proponent of participatory design – had flippantly said that, in his own case, his oversized ego allowed him to relinquish his reigns on design.

This is an accurate statement in that Moore alone among architects at the time (1980’s) had the self-awareness and self-belief – the confidence – that he could take any form the masses came up with and turn it into an exceptional work of architecture.

And he was almost always right.

Charles Moore, an incredibly intelligent and creative architect and entrepreneur, late in his career said that the only architectural truth that he discovered was that “participatory design always works.”

Plain Modern: The Architecture of Brian Mackay-Lyons presents the work of Charles Moore’s internationally acclaimed, California-based firm Moore Ruble Yudell, whose unique expertise in community involvement and participatory design has profoundly influenced the course of contemporary architecture.

Moore’s advocacy of user participation in the design process influenced a whole generation of designers.

One of these was Brian MacKay-Lyons of MacKay-Lyons, whose mentor was Charles Moore.

A Design Process by any Other Name

But in changing names of this powerful design process over the years have we inadvertently thrown the baby out with the bath water?

Today we may talk about building social ecosystems, designing engagement platforms and expanding scope and scale of network interactions, but what we really mean when we say transforming enterprise operations through co-creation is…participatory design.

Whatever name you give it, participatory design is fast replacing traditional thinking that viewed design innovation as a proprietary activity.

Changing names on such a regular basis has led to books such as the unlikely (and awkwardly) titled “Crowdsourcing: Neologism, Independent contractor, Outsourcing, Crowd, Participatory design, Human-based computation, Citizen science, Web 2.0, … intelligence, Distributed computing.”

Architectural collaborator Dave Premi reflects on participatory design as a highly creative and evolving process when he looks back on his experience collaborating:

“I have been involved with MacKay-Lyons’ participatory design process on a number of buildings. Each time we created a new process, since every client has its own requirements. You have to mold the process each time to suit the requirements. It’s not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ method.”

Other take-aways from Charles Moore and his protégé MacKay-Lyons’ on participatory design:

  • To succeed, the architect can’t have his mind made up before working with the public on the design
  • No preconceived ideas
  • The secret to making it work: don’t get defensive
  • Have the conviction that you can make a nice building out of anything anyone comes up with
  • In the participatory design process, “the public define the shapes, we refine them.”
  • Refining building form is up to the architect; their sole domain
  • Participatory design is somewhat similar to advocacy planning of the 1960s where architects acted as midwives for lay people’s visions

Design in the Open

Architects, upon being asked a design or building question, can no longer say let me go back to the office and study it.

Because it’s all integrated and participatory from here on out.

It’s all open source.

Today we have science in the open, theater in the open, “out in the open” with CNN’s Rick Sanchez.

But design in the open?

To succeed, get buy-in and move projects forward, architects and other design professionals will need to design in the open.

Learning from Participatory Design

Take this exchange from a recent interview in the Huffington Post between Guy Horton and Witold Rybczynski:

Guy Horton: In your opinion, can architects reclaim more of a public role? This is something that is discussed in professional circles. There is the perception that they are more insular and out of the loop and have ceded much of their power to developers. What can architects do to elevate the visibility of their role?

Witold Rybczynski: I just watched an interview with Charles Moore on YouTube. He was talking about how architects should listen to the public, rather than dictate to it. It was quite compelling. That was in the 1980s, and neither postmodernism nor Moore’s vision of participatory design caught on. Not many architects had Moore’s confidence to share design decisions with their clients. Moreover, architects tend to be persuaders rather than listeners. Success in the architectural profession–realizing one’s vision in something as large and complex as a building–requires a strong ego and a single-minded, almost obsessive, attention to detail. These qualities can easily turn to arrogance. It is, as the French say, a déformation professionelle.

If the result is an increase in participatory design, here’s to a déformation professionelle in 2011.

Watch the interview.

And read this book: one of the best books ever written on the subject for those who want to encourage full participation in their own work, universally esteemed and revered,the Facilitator’s Guide to Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner et al. Highly recommended.