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Making a Case for the Value of Architecture October 14, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in books, career, change, employment, optimism, possibility, pragmatism, survival, the economy, transition.
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5 comments

 

I’d like to share with you a personal letter from the author of Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice, featured here in a previous post. Eric Cesal’s words are eloquent, earnest and heartfelt. And his approach to architecture and life inspires and for me represents hope and salvation so many architects today are in search of. Thank you Eric. Eric writes:

Thank you so much for your very kind and generous review.  It is a great thrill to know that my small book is resonating with at least a few people.  It began as a series of disjointed thoughts on architecture, and through the support and prodding of many, evolved into what it is.

I’m still in Port au Prince, if you’re curious.  We have an office of about 15 people and are working hard at school reconstruction, among other things.  I’ve been here 8 months now, with only a few days off sputtered here and there.  Its been a surreal thing to watch the book come out and gain traction while I’m here entrenched in Haiti’s recovery.  The book and its course seem very distant to me now.  I haven’t written much about my experiences here, owing to an inability to get appropriate space from the situation.  I don’t know how you write without reflection, and I don’t know how you reflect at the heart of a disaster.  We’re all here with our whole heart and its tough to imagine stepping away enough to write anything meaningful.

I did want to elaborate on something you mentioned in your review, specifically on your suggestion that my work in Haiti is somehow a detour from a normal course of practice.   I’m referring specifically to the line “Architects who are considering doing a tour of duty helping the world in some selfless way while they wait out the Great Wake.”  I’m not sure if you were exactly implying that that’s what I am doing, but truthfully I’m not really waiting out anything anymore, because I’m exactly where I need to be.

The title as metaphor, was really meant to suggest that unemployment was a detour – from the normal expected life of architects.  That may seem strange, in that many architects have come to expect long bouts of unemployment as a necessary fact of life.  But I was also, at some level, trying to argue that we shouldn’t expect such things.  That we should treat unemployment, wage suppression, and general professional dissatisfaction as aberrations in what should be the life of an architect.  If we really believe in what we’re doing, we should believe in its value and treat it as such.

I view my move to Haiti, and the work that I’m doing here, as the high expression of the ideals espoused in the book.  I believe that I am here making a case for the value of architecture and its relevance on the planet as it exists today.  I don’t believe that someone would need to move to Haiti to do so, but I had a certain flexibility in my life that the book’s publishing made possible, so I moved forward with the decision.  Similarly, my work on the Katrina reconstruction was not a detour or a distraction, but an attempt to find for myself where architecture’s value lies.  In no small way, I believe that the work that Architecture for Humanity is doing in Haiti (and everywhere else, for that matter), makes the case for the small practitioner doing residential work in rural middle America.  It identifies architects as responsible citizens, adept problem solvers, and true professionals.

In that sense, I’m not waiting out anything.  I have already moved past the Great Wake at a personal level.  I have a job, a mission and a family of truly wonderful architects that I work with.

My editor and I went back and forth many times about the sub-title.  “In Search of Work” “In Search of Meaning” “In Search of a Job” were all considered.  Ultimately, “Practice” won out because that was really what I was searching for and that is ultimately what I found in the end.  At the story’s close, I hadn’t found a job, the earthquake hadn’t happened, and I was still, in some literal way, sitting around.  But I had found something: a way to practice.  A way to understand what architecture was and how to do it.  Not in some external, universal way, but in a way that worked for me, a way that allowed me to sleep at night and not feel like I had wasted the last ten years of my life.

Barring some unforeseen event (and to be honest, Haiti can give you plenty of those) I don’t plan on coming back to the U.S. anytime soon, or practicing anything within the conventional world of architecture.  Even if the architecture job market were to recover tomorrow, I don’t think that I would feel any draw to come back.  My architecture is here, among the survivors.  Hope that makes sense.

Thanks again,

Eric

62 Reasons to be Optimistic (and 18 to still be Pessimistic) September 15, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, career, change, creativity, employment, management, optimism, possibility, pragmatism, survival, sustainability, technology, the economy, transition.
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9 comments


Not since my post from last year 32 Things to be Optimistic About Right Now have I tackled this subject head-on.

It’s about time.

That’s not to say I have avoided it altogether. I have addressed the positive side of practice on a number of occasions, not always to positive reception.

I was having a great conversation the other day with my good friend, architectural illustrator and e-book publisher, Bruce Bondy, when I noticed how up-beat he sounded.

I started paying attention to not only what he said but the number of positive things he mentioned, despite the general gloom in the economy right now.

He was positively optimistic – and it was admittedly contagious.

There’s scientific research that backs a 3-to-1 “positivity ratio” as a key tipping point where, essentially, it takes 3 good experiences to block out one bad one.

A 3:1 ratio of positive statements or experiences to negative ones is considered the ideal for staying optimistic.

This ratio answers the question for many of how you can be generally positive and optimistic while maintaining some negative emotions and thoughts.

The following list roughly reflects this ideal ratio.

Agree or not – just by reading the lists here you have done your part today in remaining positive and optimistic.

Here are 62 absolutely fresh, upbeat and practical reasons to be positive (and 18 to still be pessimistic) about our chances of recovering, enduring or otherwise surviving this recession as individuals, organizations, profession and industry.

I would love to hear – optimistic or pessimistic – reasons of your own, by leaving a comment below.

Let’s get the pessimistic out of the way first (a commenter’s brilliant suggestion.)

There are times of course when it is advisable to be pessimistic, and we don’t have to look far to find them. Being pessimistic at times gives you an insight to your problems and situation by allowing you to realistically assess challenges, obstacles and roadblocks you may face which otherwise you might overlook – by being overly-optimistic. After all, you wouldn’t want an overly optimistic commander taking you into the war zone underestimating the enemy or one so paralyzed by indecision they end up doing nothing.

Pessimistic

  1. We are seeing firms close that were once great, however amicably, due to economic pressures
  2. How can we get reciprocity in other states if we can’t get an NCARB certificate because the firms we once worked for – who can vouch for our tenure – no longer exist?
  3. Career stage: Being a mid-career professional – at no fault of one’s own
  4. Salary: Finding oneself too costly, too expensive, for most firms
  5. Finding one has not kept up with technology – and while that wasn’t a hazard in the past, it is an indictment against you today
  6. Statistics: Research shows once unemployed over 6 months – the odds are against you finding employment
  7. Compensation: If you made a good living before – one might rightfully doubt finding employment that would come anywhere close to what you made before
  8. Flexibility: If you had a great deal of freedom in your previous position – chances are under these circumstances that it is unlikely that sense of freedom would continue
  9. If well-rounded; firms seem to be looking, when they look at all, for experts, not generalists (thought see anexception below)
  10. M&A: Large conglomerates are buying-up well-established design firms, firms that helped give the profession variety, diversity and high profile design. In M&A news, according to Archinect, Stantec is on a tear. The mega-A/E company announced recently that it will acquire Burt Hill — just weeks after similar news about acquiring Anshen + Allen. Who will be next?
  11. Construction: Contractors are hiring graduates right out of school – potentially resulting in, or adding to the likelihood of, a lost generation
  12. Unemployed architects may never find work in the profession and be forced to leave, not to return
  13. Knowledge transfer: A great deal of knowledge and experience goes out the door with them
  14. Phil Read (Phil Read!) leaving HNTB (what is this world coming to?)
  15. Many architecture firms continue to shed staff and struggle to keep the lights on
  16. Ownership transition: Aging owners ready to monetize on their business, who in the past passed their practice on to the next generation internally, increasingly result in more acquisition activity because younger architects are not interested or in the position to buy.
  17. Intuition: This time around just “feels” different than any other downturn – very hard to compare it and therefore manage or act on it
  18. Being human: Even the best leader cannot maintain optimism in the midst of layoffs, salary reductions, increased workloads, missed payroll or bounced pay-checks.

Note: The following are optimistic without being rah-rah. And no qualifiers are necessary: these are not cautiously-, rationally-, pragmatically-, realistically- or conservatively-optimistic. They’re just:

Optimistic

  1. Experience: We ourselves are the reason to be optimistic – our training and experience have gotten us to where we are – and will also provided us with the tools and best practices to confront these changes
  2. Change: It’s all about change – and we’re not immune to it
  3. Resolve: We will design our way out of this
  4. We’re creative, resourceful, when it comes to seeking solutions, and this situation is no exception
  5. Training: We’re trained as problem solvers – we can solve this problem
  6. We needed a course correction; this situation provided us with the opportunity to change
  7. Change was imminent – something our industry has been wrestling with for ages
  8. Determination: This gives a chance to see what we are made of, how strong is our resolve
  9. An opportunity to look at our convictions – what it is we are really good at, what it is we believe in, what we ought to be putting our energies into, what really matters to us and to others – and to drop what isn’t as important
  10. Transparency: A chance for firms to share as much information as possible with each other, be transparent and open book – compare notes – not size each other up
  11. Our industry and profession has changed in the past – and will again
  12. Provides a chance for firm leaders to leverage the talents of those who work for them that otherwise may never have been tapped
  13. Design Excellence: The world will always need good design
  14. Owners will continue to need someone to sign and seal exceptional documents
  15. There are problems – such as retrofitting suburbs – that really only an architect can tackle
  16. Rest: This down time allows us to restore our energy and creativity
  17. Much-needed time to define and refine the current standards of care for our profession
  18. A chance to give to others – to help others out who may be in need
  19. The profession is no doubt smaller – but as the constant exchange of information makes the profession feel smaller, more accessible and manageable – we’re more likely to hear from and learn from each other
  20. Jobs: Everyday there are more and more jobs listed – and not just in NY and California
  21. Thawing: Word on the street, from developers, is that banks are freeing up loans for development
  22. Owners: Our clients are more and more cautiously optimistic
  23. You have to be optimistic to be in this profession
  24. Funding: Google Invests $86 Million In Low-Income Housing
  25. Governance: Great leadership opportunities and hope for greater voice and influence: More and more architects, such as Stefano Boeri, Italian architect in Milan and editor-in-chief of Abitare, announce plans to run for public office.
  26. Green design: Sustainability is no longer a specialty or added service and is on the verge of going mainstream and becoming standard procedure
  27. Olson Kundig Architects had an ad recently where they were seeking “Generalists Needed” in Seattle, WA
  28. Technology: There are iPhone apps for our profession and industry – including apps that allow us to read and CAD and Revit models and now “Buildings” – an iPhone app that help you find local architecture
  29. Marketing: The economic downturn has allowed us  to refocus  our energies on marketing, determine what it is that distinguishes us, and put it into words and images; to become better marketers of ourselves
  30. Selling: We’ve learned from the downturn how to make what we sell – which as a service is largely invisible – visible and tangible and therefore more likely to deliver
  31. Competition: The increase in competition and dearth of new projects has opened us to new markets and project types that otherwise may have remained outside our comfort zone
  32. The current situation itself, and all it entails, has widened our comfort zone considerably
  33. The truth is that nobody really knows what will happen next; why side with the negative?
  34. Correction: The optimistic scenario is that the recession is correcting the excesses of the euphoric bubble years, when the global economy was on an unsustainable path.
  35. Efficiency: We’re ushering in a new era of doing more with less
  36. Stabilizing effect: Instability leads inevitably to stability
  37. Green saplings: Optimists see the recession as a forest fire that clears out dead brush, making room for new growth.
  38. Progress: A lot of what we’re doing now would have been impossible even five years ago.
  39. Start-ups: There are a number of new firms and new ventures started because of this downturn, including completely new business models
  40. Global practice: Things look more optimistic if you adopt an international perspective
  41. Education and training: Those remaining or returning to school will be more highly educated forces when they return to practice
  42. Cost of materials: Prices on many materials are down after many years of climbing
  43. Recessions clean out the excess of past boom periods
  44. Registration and licensure: A recession results in an increase in individuals applying to take the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) to better position themselves in the workforce.
  45. Educators: A recession results in an increase in individuals applying to architecture programs and schools
  46. Sustainability: More people taking the LEED exam to give them the leg up when things pick up again
  47. More stabilized workforce: Many architecture firms have seen a leveling-off of the need to shed staff resulting in some stability
  48. M&A: We’re seeing some interesting mergers brought about by strategy and the need to fill specific niche needs as much as by the economy, such as the combining of OWP/P with Cannon Design.
  49. Learning: Professionals have had more time to learn and to catch-up on continuing education
  50. The lull has allowed some professionals to share information with the rest of us in the form of videos, webcasts, white papers and tutorials that we otherwise may never have benefitted from
  51. Helping-hand: Downsizing provides colleagues with the opportunity to secure another position for these individuals at other firms – the chance to contribute, help out, give and give back. A year later those individuals would often as not tell me ‘it was the best thing that happened to them.’
  52. Leadership: More leaders avoid mincing words, painting a false picture and putting spin on what is not know, while rising to the opportunity to be truthful, tell the truth, good or bad, be authentic in words and actions, will go a long way to assuaging what otherwise can be a devastatingly difficult time for some
  53. Doing this provides the right person with an incredible opportunity to lead
  54. And to (re)build trust
  55. Access to information: Accurate information about our profession and industry is right at our fingertips 24/7 – this was not always the case.
  56. Communication: The situation we find ourselves in forces you to communicate more frequently with others, showing you how connected you really are and how much you rely on one another; a valuable lesson lost on those who operate exclusively within their comfort zone
  57. Higher performance: Most people can sense a change in themselves when around optimistic people, feeling motivated, inspired and energized. That’s almost reason enough to be optimistic and be around optimistic people.
  58. This time around provided us with the chance to learn from our mistakes and move on.
  59. Resilience: Treat this as an opportunity to show your resilience.
  60. Attitude: As difficult as it might be to stomach, realize that “this too shall pass.” Remind yourself that there will be other challenges, that this is one among many and that you never went into your chosen field because it was easy. On some level you understood how difficult it would be. And that you were equal or better than the difficulties it entailed and that would ensue.
  61. Mindset: Without blame or recrimination, see this as an opportunity to face the situation with acceptance and peace.
  62. A sign: Recognize that pain of any type is to give us a message. Once you got the message, stop dwelling in the pain. See this situation as a sign that things, as they existed, were not sustainable. Come to realize that situations that present challenges have been brought to you so that you may learn and become more aware of your strength, resilience, ingenuity and ability to overcome.

Bonus item: Donald Trump and Co. are returning for a 10th season of NBC’s “The Apprentice.” In a new twist on the reality competition, this season’s 16 candidates have all been hit hard by the current economic downturn – and there is not one architect in the bunch. A sign of the times? You decide.

BTW 62 – the number of reasons to be optimistic – is the same number Edward De Bono used in his book entitled, Creativity Workout: 62 Exercises to Unlock Your Most Creative Ideas, a book that encourages you to make connections, think beyond your peers, recognize possibilities and create opportunities.

Not a bad place to start in keeping your 3-to-1 ratio intact.

Out-of-Work Architect Speaks September 10, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, books, career, collaboration, employment, optimism, questions, survival, technology, the economy.
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…and speaks and speaks and speaks.

What’s so interesting about an unemployed architect saying something?

So interesting that you just have to read about it?

Or hear it for yourself?

Is it because up until now the out-of-work architect has been silent?

And suddenly – like an oracle – has something to say?

In the time I have been out of work – since earlier this year – I have been busy completing the writing of a book (my publisher expects to see the manuscript in 6 weeks,) creating content for two blogs,

And doing some public speaking.

So much so that my wife doesn’t consider me unemployed.

In fact, when she hears me refer to myself in public using the “u” word she’s momentarily taken aback.

Until she remembers that’s why she so often sees me voluntarily do the dishes and it all comes back to her.

Yes, I’m also learning new software and technology, applying for an MBA, interviewing at exceptional architecture firms, attending networking meet-ups and awaiting call-backs on some building design RFQs and RFPs – as well as making the kids lunches, helping with homework and walking the dog.

But in the meantime, this out-of-work architect speaks.

What have I gotten myself into?

Isn’t public speaking the thing where they say more people at a funeral would rather be the person in the coffin than the person up on stage giving the eulogy?

In all fairness, I have been a lecturer in graduate level building science/building technology at the University of Illinois at Chicago for a number of years.

Where I would present – no doubt to the chagrin of my students – upwards of two hours at a stretch without so much as a bathroom break.

And I was a playwright in an earlier life (though, according to one director, couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag.)

So I have some comfort in front of crowds.

Though you wouldn’t know it from recent attempts.

Speaking before peers on topics of interest – all of whom are experts in their domains – is something altogether different.

Earlier this year I gave the public speaking thing a try.

At KA Connect in Chicago – with mixed results.

KA Connect itself is an amazing, stimulating and entertaining conference with the next one – KA Connect 2011 – being held at the Fort Mason Center, San Francisco in April.

I can’t wait.

When they posted the thing on iTunes (for my kids and their friends to play and lambast me in public ridicule and merriment from the backseat of my car when I drive them to the movies) I was reminded of three rules that I would take to heart if I ever ventured into public speaking again:

Rule #1: Practice.

Rule #2: Practice.

Rule #3: Practice.

I can’t think of a better use of my time right now while I await my next big challenge than to travel all across the country, speak in front of large audiences of peers – often at other’s expense with modest honorariums – about the things that matter most to me.

I get to learn a great deal about myself – and even more about these topics – as I conduct research in preparation for the talks.

Stating your opinion in a blog post is one thing.

Being able to talk intelligently, entertainingly, on your feet representing all sides of the subject is something else altogether.

Yourself, in 100 words or less

One of the first, most challenging things you need to do when you speak is supply the conference organizers with a short written summary describing, well, you.

It’s an exercise everyone ought to go through – condensing yourself down to what’s absolutely essential – for someone else to know.

Here’s what I came up with my need-to-know blurb:

Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP is a lead design architect focusing on and dedicated to large, complex sustainable projects. A university instructor leading graduate-level building science, design studio and professional practice courses, he served on Chicago Architectural Club’s Board of Directors and as AIA Chicago Board as Vice President. Randy is a frequent blogger – with www.architects2zebras.com and www.bimandintegrateddesign.com both recently featured in ARCHITECT magazine – and the author of BIM and Integrated Design (Wiley, 2011,) a professional thought and practice leader, an Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) facilitator, speaker, mentor and recipient of the AIA Young Architect Award.

Here are brief summaries of the four talks I am giving in the next 8 weeks.2010 Best Firms Summit, Sept 28-29, Las Vegas, NV

I’ll be giving the opening keynote talk in the Training & Development theme of Engaging and Cultivating Top Performers, entitled:

Keeping Employees Engaged in an Age of Disruption
Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP, Architect, Author and Consultant, Deutsch Insights

What motivates employees to stay engaged and eager to contribute?

As the advent of new digital technologies enables collaborative work processes (that I discuss at length in my other blog,) what are the social impacts of these disruptive tools and process changes to firm culture and morale?

What motivates employees to share, collaborate and act transparently when working on integrated teams?

Learn how the new team workflows affect how employees engage with project work, each other and with the firm.

This session will illustrate how firms are turning to employees themselves to determine how best to stay engaged and motivated when the focus is set on the bottom line.

Well, that at least is the bar I have set for myself.

Everyone – especially those in HR – knows what it takes to keep employees engaged in normal times.

But how about keeping employees motivated and engaged in the new normal?

That’s something few have written or spoken about.

At the summit, among other notables, Markku Allison will be speaking on collaboration, John Soter and Pam Britton on leadership and training, and Knowledge Architecture founder and KA Connect creator Chris Parsons will be speaking on Leveraging Social Media Tools and again with the mercurial Marjanne Pearson and Christine Brack on talent management and benchmarking.

To learn more about it look here and here.2010 AIA Ohio Convention Sept 30-Oct 2, Toledo, OH

I have to get from Vegas to Toledo with, wouldn’t you know, no direct flights.

Another opening keynote talk (I’m noticing a theme. Did word get out that I’m a morning person?)

The Well-Informed Architect:  Reasons to be Optimistic  Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP, Architect, Author and Consultant, Architects2Zebras

This is how I describe my session in the brochure:

Architects are trained to be on the lookout for problems. We wear our skepticism as a badge of pride. Our dissatisfaction with the way things are keeps us focused, energized and motivated, while being optimistic is a sign of weakness. This session will focus on informed optimism as a critical attribute of all leaders and explain how to develop this attribute to attract clients, do our best work, collaborate with others, attract and retain employees and enjoy the work we do. This program promises to teach the steps to take to achieve informed optimism in your own work and practice.

You might be wondering about now, How did I get myself into this?

You might recall that about 6 months ago I wrote a somewhat controversial blog post entitled 81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect.

Organizers of the conference who wanted to see the author of this post tarred and feathered in a public venue generously offered to have me speak.

And I inexplicably complied.

The 2010 AIA Ohio Convention website, built around the theme:  A Shared Vision from Different Perspectives, contains this sentence:

Keynote speakers include Craig Dykers of Snøhetta, Angela Brooks from Pugh + Scarpa, and Randy Deutsch.

Snøhetta… Pugh + Scarpa…Deutsch?!

Let’s just say when I first saw what esteemed company I was in I had a Zelig moment.

60 minutes of uninterupted optimism is what I promised to deliver.

60 minutes of uninterupted optimism is what they’ll get.

Questions? Complaints? Contact AIA Ohio2010 AIA MN Convention, Nov 2 – 5, Minneapolis, MN

Beyond Convention is the theme for this year’s convention.

The convention planning committee invited speakers to share their knowledge and expertise with fellow practitioners and allied professionals as part of a special convention to address the changes occurring within the architectural profession and the implications on the future of practice.

They encouraged industry leaders and forward-thinking professionals who are on the cutting edge of practice, management, technology, collaboration, research, training, and mentoring to submit proposals to discuss trends that are changing the way architects practice.

I have Christopher Parsons, of Knowledge Architecture and KA Connect fame, to once again thank for this one.

Chris, the incomparable Laurie Dreyer and I will be speaking on the PMKC topic of

(Re)Learning to Collaborate                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP, Architect, Author and Consultant, Deutsch Insights

In 50 words or less,

Collaboration used to be simple. We knew how to do it as children. We have made it harder than it needs to be. Join Randy Deutsch, Laurie Dryer, and Christopher Parsons for an informative, entertaining, and contrarian tour through social media, knowledge management, IPD, and collaboration.

Followers of my blogs know that I ask lots of questions. In my portion of this session I’ll walk attendees through what I’ve learned along the way about:

  • Why collaborate?
  • How do we as professionals learn to collaborate?
  • Is it something we need to learn?
  • Or is it something we are born with and forget/just know?
  • What distinguishes collaboration from working on teams?
  • Is collaborating always desirable? How do we know?

2010 New Technologies | Alliances | Practices conference on Nov 12th, Washington DC

I love, absolutely love, the AIA TAP conferences.

Can’t get enough of what they have to offer.

Starting with the 2006 and 2007 conference and moving onto the present.

What’s different about this NTAP from previous TAP conferences, this one will be held in multiple venues and also virtually.

I have probably learned as much from them as from anything else I’ve encountered.

And so it is a thrill to be able to participate in this event.

This time, I won’t be getting up alone in front of a large crowd of peers.

I’m going to be moderating a panel of the world’s – and industry’s – most esteemed colleagues.

The session’s entitled:

Crossing the IPD Chasm with BIM                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Moderated by Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP, Architect, Author and Consultant, Deutsch Insights

The short of it is:

Early adopters of IPD have been well-documented. What role will BIM play in IPD going mainstream? What will it take to bridge the gap? Join industry leaders Phil Bernstein FAIA, Jonathan Cohen FAIA and Howard Ashcraft for a provocative discussion addressing what roles BIM plays in where IPD is headed.

Phil Bernstein FAIA. Jonathan Cohen FAIA. Howard Ashcraft.

And I get to ask them questions.

Should be a great, memorable panel and Q & A.

The proposed panel will be a moderated dialogue and interactive discussion among three notable panelists representing different expert perspectives from the AECOO community exploring how BIM can help bridge over the collaborative work processes and delivery method gap – brought about by concerns about interoperability, risk and responsibility, and the building lifecycle.

  • What’s next on the horizon for IPD? Will this stall? Will it take off? What’s stopping owners and firms from adopting and implementing IPD? What’s with the workarounds – IPD as a philosophy but not a delivery method; IPD-ish projects; IPD-lite approaches and minor trust-based adjustments of existing team collaborations – and are they as effective and truly IPD?
  • How does use of BIM encourage or discourage the widespread acceptance of IPD as a delivery method? Do architects need to return to startup mentality, by conducting the search for a new scalable, repeatable business model?

Again, lots of questions that I am eager to hear answered.

This panel discussion will focus on BIM tools and work processes that are going to be required for the industry to move toward a more collaborative project delivery methodology.

Participating venues include Washington D.C., Albuquerque, Chicago, Columbus, Dallas, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Salt Lake City, San Francisco.

Let me know by leaving a comment here if there are other participating venues you know of that you don’t see here.

You can learn more about this event on TAP’s Ning site or by e-mailing tap@aia.org.Public Speaking resources

While nothing compares with the experience and tips you get from joining a Toastmasters club in your area, I have read dozens of books on public speaking and have to say Scott Berkun’s book, Confessions of a Public Speaker, is my overall favorite. I love all of his books, but this one covers the topic in such a realistic way anyone who reads it will benefit immediately from his wisdom, experience and the tales he shares of others. Great read. Read it free here or here, borrow it from the library or get the 5 star rated book here. Better yet, watch this experience public presenter speak.

If you have done some public speaking, I’d love to hear about it. Leave a comment or contact me at randydeutsch@att.net

Become a Life Change Architect August 19, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, career, change, collaboration, creativity, employment, reading, survival, the economy.
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1 comment so far


Fall is near, school’s back in session.

You can feel it in the air.

Studio Assignment #1: Apply the skills you acquired in becoming an architect to design a way out of this mess.

Finding a job – or keeping your current one – is job #1 for many architects today.

But should it be job #2?

I know 2 talented, well-connected out-of-work architects who found jobs this year.

Only to have their firm file Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Maybe our job #1 should be something else?

As in, ourselves.

Assuming we can all take care of our physiological needs –

Food?

Water?

Shelter?

though admittedly these days, nothing can be taken for granted.

It may seem that anything other than 100% fixation on the bottom line is foolhardy.

But that’s just not the case.

Until you find that light at the end of the tunnel – however you define it – I am going to suggest you focus on something other than the economy, construction recovery, credit thaw or employment.

And I am going to suggest that you consider becoming something that you already do rather well.

In fact, quite exceptionally – better than most.Literature of Reinvention or Chicken Soup for the Architect’s Soul?

Architects right now need empathy and understanding as much as they need work and relief.

Architects need courage and tools to face their situation and this is where a helpful new book comes in.

It offers both.

Heartily endorsed by Daniel Pink, Marshall Goldsmith and Gregg Levoy among others, the book can be read by all ages.

Though one senses the main audience might be what is innocuously referred to as “the third age.”

I posted a while back on the subject of increasingly prevalent thirds – and the third age is one of them.

What I am suggesting is that the answer to our circumstances may just be in retirement – specifically in the literature of self-reinvention.

Third age literature refers to retirement – how to spend our post-work years.

While retirement is not an option for most architects, and very few architects ever plan on retiring at all, perhaps it makes sense to think of our current situation as a third age of sorts.

Three (St)ages

1. School

2. Working pre-great recession

3. Work/Life post-great recession

The book I’m about to introduce you to helps you to plan for your third age – right now.

And by that I mean your post-great recession worklife.

It helps you to see your life as an architect stepping onto an empty lot for the first time – the architect’s equivalent of the blank canvas, blank page or hunk of clay.

The book is based on research into the work processes of artists and over 100 success stories of those who have managed to reinvent themselves under similar circumstances to our own.

Using the very same skills and creativity we use as architects.Become a Life Change Architect

While waiting for your next opportunity and for your life to change you can become a life change artist.

Becoming a Life Change Artist: 7 Creative Skills to Reinvent Yourself at Any Stage of Life, by Fred Mandell, Ph.D., an acclaimed personal transformation catalyst, and Kathleen Jordan, Ph.D., a psychologist who specializes in personal creativity and business innovation.

As the book makes clear, the authors are equally adept at helping individuals make considerable changes in their organizational settings as well as their individual lives.

The book – recently published in paperback new from $7.39 – offers an innovative approach to reinventing yourself at any stage of life.

Making a Major Life Change

The authors deduced 7 key strengths that the most creative minds of history shared, and that anyone rethinking their future can cultivate to effectively change their life:

  • Preparing the brain to undertake creative work
  • Seeing the world and one’s life from new perspectives
  • Using context to understand the facets of one’s life
  • Embracing uncertainty
  • Taking risks
  • Collaborating
  • Applying discipline

To architects this list may at first appear overly familiar and simplistic.

But don’t let these strengths fool you.

Once you dig into each you’ll realize that the abilities we take for granted – and use in our everyday lives – are much more powerful than we give them credit for.

Especially when you apply them to the problem of our worklives.

Just take the first strength: Preparation.

The book defines this not as undertaking mental or physical warm-ups but as “deliberately engaging in activities that help break us from our usual patterns of thought and feeling and prepare us for creative insight.”This insight can be just what you need to lead the way to a breakthrough in your situation.

The book talks a great deal about creativity and art – but it is primarily focused on process, not product, as well as on skills and learning.

With the belief that the very skills we use in creating art – or in our case designing buildings – are those that we need to create a more fulfilling life.

The book argues that making a major life change requires the skills of an artist.

And certainly for the unemployed and underemployed, finding work of any sort but especially satisfying and fulfilling work, calls on our inherent creative ability.

As an architect, you already have a leg-up on the targeted audience of this book in that you have been trained in these seven key skills.

They’re in your blood and soul and you, at times like these, forget.

And don’t even realize it.

You can almost imagine a job interview in the near future where your future employer asks you what you did during the lull – and you explain that you treated your predicament as though it were a design assignment.

What was your secret?

How did you escape from the box you were in?

You treated the process of finding your way into a new life by utilizing the very skills engendered in becoming an architect.

You designed you way out the only way I knew.

If you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got. Right?

So why not try something different?

To be sure, the book is not Chicken Soup for the Architect’s Soul.

But right now, despite the summer season, a little soup might just be what is needed to help us assuage and survive the predicament we find ourselves in.

When all life gives you are tomatoes, make gazpacho.

The book is inspiring and with its exercises, tools and creativity assessment in the appendix, it will help you to keep your creativity – and soul and much else – alive and well in these trying times.

Building on What You Already Know

You need help.

You want to help others in need.

And you help yourself by helping others.

Becoming a Life Change Artist: 7 Creative Skills to Reinvent Yourself at Any Stage of Life will help you to help others – the young, the elderly, neighbors, friends, emerging and senior talent, those out of work, those looking to make a change in their own lives – discover these qualities for themselves.

Because you already have these skills, strengths and insights: in droves.

You just needed someone – or something – to remind you.

With this book you can consider yourself reminded.

Maybe What the Architecture Profession Needs is a Small Heart Attack July 27, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in change, collaboration, environment, survival, the economy, transformation.
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4 comments


What will it take for us to change?

That’s the question I posed recently to a psychologist and a professor.

First, it’s important to recognize that architecture is a conservative profession.

We’re looking out for others – protecting the health, welfare and safety of the public.

We take a lot of risks and by nature are risk-averse.

So when we hear change knocking – it’s not often we’re first in line.

And yet – as the world is making clear – our job now is to change.

The biggest challenge is recognizing that we need to change.

What will motivate us to do so and how will we benefit by doing so?

Motivation vs. Benefit

Think of a recent change that you have made in your diet, lifestyle or habits.

What events, experiences, knowledge or people motivated you to change your behavior?

Where did this motivation come from?

Within you? Or from without?

What were the payoffs for making the needed change?

The reason I ask is this:

Unless there are clear benefits, we won’t change.

If the reasons are big enough, architects will change

While conducting research for my book, BIM and Integrated Design (Wiley, 2011,) I asked a psychologist and a professor each what it will take for architects to change.

With the new technologies and collaborative work processes upon us, do these call for the redesign of the architect?

And if so, how will we go about making our necessary changes?

The psychologist responded,

“How?” is about 10% of it.

90% of it is “Why?”

With an architect, if the reasons are big enough, they’ll change.

Unless they feel hurt, depressed, angry, upset, disappointed, without that there’s no leverage to change.

People change when they can no longer stand the way they’re living and architects are no different.

Architects are going to have to change when they can no longer stand to practice the way they’re doing it and realize that they have to change.

They’ll be forced into it.

When the reasons are big enough, they’ll change.

Unless the feared pain of changing is less than the feared pain of not changing, I’m not changing.

It’s not “This is good for you.”

I’ll fight you to the death on that one.

People don’t change because it’s good for them.

They don’t change for people.

I’ve come to appreciate “negative” feelings. I need those. That’s the leverage.

Architects are Always Changing

The professor took a different tact.

I asked him if this is an important question or is change in the profession and industry inevitable, a given?

The professor responded:

It comes back to the question whether people think it is productive for their own roles or place in the profession for change to happen.

People who are asking that often feel threatened because they may be in positions of power and for them status quo is beneficial. So they don’t want a change.

Whereas people who want to make a place for themselves are often the ones who are trying to change things.

Change is inevitable.

The idea that architecture has ever been a consistent type of practice is a myth.

It has always changed.

There will always be people for whom change will seem alluring and filled with opportunity to advance and position themselves better.

There will always be this element of change.

We cannot predict when things will change in various contexts – but change is always this element in there that’s at play.

In a pretty amazing book succinctly summarizing the recent economic crisis, author John Lanchester borrows a concluding metaphor from climate scientist James Lovelock who observed that

What the planet needed was the equivalent of a small heart attack.

In Lanchester’s view, the recent economic crisis is the equivalent of capitalism’s small heart attack.

Such an episode in a person’s life is often beneficial because it forces the person to face unpleasant facts and to adopt a healthier lifestyle.

Perhaps it could have a similar effect on architects and the health of the profession?

Sometimes it takes a dramatic event to shake things up and to make people wake up.

So maybe what we are going through right now – with the economy, environmental challenges and technological changes – is a small heart attack?

Not so large so as to kill us.

But big enough to get our attention.

And get us to make the necessary changes.

The Rise of the Knowledge-Driven Architect July 10, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in change, collaboration, management, questions, survival, transformation.
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6 comments


In third grade the local dentist came to our elementary school gymnasium and showed the entire student body proper dental care, including how to brush properly: up and down.

In fourth grade the same dentist came to our elementary school gymnasium and showed the entire student body how to brush properly: side to side. He did not acknowledge the fact that the method had changed.

In fifth grade the dentist came to our elementary school and showed the assembled students in the gymnasium how to brush properly: in a circular motion. Again, no reference to the method changing.

Having moved on to middle school, I didn’t stick around to find out what they recommended the following year. One can easily imagine them gathered at the assembly year after year recommending another method.

And it is little wonder that I had grown up to be a relativist in philosophy and situationalist in leadership style, not to mention sporting several cavities.

This varietal display of effective brushing technique did not bode well for the dental profession. Nor, for that matter, for elementary school.

But because the gymnasium had daylight, according to researchers, I have managed to retain this vital information all of these years.

Knowledge: The Podcast

What prompted my recollection of ever-changing dental tactics is an ambitious, seminal, drop-everything-that-you’re-doing-and-listen-to-this podcast on how knowledge is transforming the profession.

In the AIA podcast, The Knowledge Agenda: Transforming a Profession, Markku Allison AIA, ever-resourceful Resource Architect at AIA talks with Walter Hainsfurther FAIA, President at Kurtz Associates Architects, Vice President at American Institute of Architects and chair of the AIA Board Knowledge Committee, about this much-anticipated change to the profession.

Warning: This post raises as many questions as the podcast seeks to answer.

Markku fires the first shot by stating that knowledge is the most valuable asset of the architect.

When you hear firm owners say “our employees are our most valuable asset” what they mean is their knowledge. And we naturally equate knowledge with money as in the oft heard phrase: “90 percent of your corporate assets walk out the door each night.” (Unless by this they mean someone’s taking home the Canon  iPF755 large format color printer.) Owners want to know that their money is invested wisely in their projects. Architects assure them by citing data, research and science, delivering value to owners. Research, not intuition. Outcomes, not anecdotes. In the podcast Walter and Markku – both incidentally LinkedIn group KA Connect members – talk about

  • the AIA knowledge agenda crafted by the AIA Board Knowledge Committee over the past 18 months with input from a large body of stakeholders across the institute
  • how the agenda will provide a framework and structure for all of AIA’s knowledge initiatives moving forward with the ambitious goal of nothing less than the transformation of the mindset and behavior of architects throughout the AIA
  • how the knowledge agenda commits the institute to a path of formal pursuit, creation  and open sharing of knowledge not unlike that of the medical profession
  • the outcome will be a stronger focus on research, higher degrees of rigor and validating the resources of knowledge available to the profession and others

Walter describes the Knowledge Agenda as an instrument to guide the AIA moving forward in the area of knowledge, with “the most important thing about this transformative document that takes our profession from an anecdotal based profession – as it currently is – to one that relies upon data-driven decisions and what we call a knowledge driven profession so that owners can get more predictable outcomes out of their buildings.”

Some highlights of the podcast:

  • we’re moving away from an anecdote- to a research-driven profession
  • citing research and science is more likely to put us in a leadership position
  • reference to the apt aphorism: the rising tide lifts all boats
  • how the knowledge agenda supports developing thought leadership as a process that will result in architects being looked to as the go-to person in an area that has to do with the built environment

The podcast references a specific sort of knowledge: result-oriented, researched, science-backed, empirical-driven, accountable, repeatable, sharable and outcome-predictable.

Types of Knowledge

First we need to clarify what exactly we are talking about here. Rules of thumb? Information? Or knowledge.

In other words, defining what knowledge actually is and how is it differentiated from data and information.

And if in fact knowledge, what kind is it?

Academic knowledge (defined as what practitioners don’t find useful) or practical knowledge (defined as useless to academics.) Theoretical, logical or semantic?

Systemic or empirical?

Direct or indirect? Procedural or intuitive?

Explicit or tacit knowledge?

When Walter says in the podcast that we gain much of our knowledge anecdotally – through habit, similar to oral history – is this just another way of saying much of our knowledge is tacit, which is by definition highly personal and hard to formalize, making it difficult to communicate or share with others? Will doing-away with our anecdotal approach to design and building impact our tacit learning and implicit sharing of knowledge?

And is this all just a new way of reformulating the architect’s special burden of proof? That we design subjectively but explain and justify rationally? However ill-advised and indefensible, since architecture is both an art and a science, it is something most great architects have practiced for millennia.

Architects’ Ways of Knowing

It may just be a case that architects know what they know in ways that can’t be served by a giant, knowledge-filled clearinghouse.

What Nigel Cross described as designerly ways of knowing, articulating and understanding the nature of design cognition, leading to a better understanding of what is now called design thinking.

Anyone who has recently read one of the four extant versions and editions of How Designers Think by Bryan Lawson (which shamefully is almost no one) will be familiar with his companion piece, What Designers Know, exploring and detailing the knowledge that architects work with, how they use this knowledge, whether design knowledge is special and where design knowledge comes from. It’s a life-changing good read.

The bottom line is that architects – by training and experience – gain knowledge in multiple ways: by way of drawings, site visits and travel, interactions with computer software, increasingly with the internet and through late night caffeine-fueled conversations. Not to mention learning by doing. 80% about what I know about architectural practice I know from eavesdropping on 20% of a particularly vocal project manager’s forceful, voice-carrying phone conversations earlier in my career (a vastly underrated knowledge-gaining method.)

Show Me the Data!

Knowledge in this case is based on results – not reasons. You want to design something one way – you show me the data, the metrics, the analytics.

Evidence-based design, an approach to healthcare design giving importance to design features that impact patient health, well-being, mood, and safety, as well as staff stress and safety, has a growing body of research showing that proper design of the built environment contributes to improving key outcomes. This is what clients would like to know. This area of study has gone on to impact other building types that involves creating better, more effective designs by using an approach based on evidence and outcomes rather than intuition and anecdotal information.

In the podcast, Walter alludes to there being a lot of knowledge on the web. Whether this is information or knowledge is a question worth asking. As is how much on the web is useful and how much dross.

How do we decide what knowledge to utilize in our next project? Someone – an early adopter – tries something out, returns for a post-occupancy and uploads the results.

Do you use it? What worked in Santa Cruz may not play in Peoria.

And the knowledge – in these fast-paced times – may have to be easily digestible, the equivalent of sugar-coated. How the knowledge is marketed becomes of critical importance.

How does this differ from CTRL+C: Copy, CTRL+V: Paste information out of such “knowledge guides” as Architectural Graphic Standards and Time-Saver Standards for Architectural Design Data, with contributions by world authorities and specialists reflecting essential changes and new knowledge in the field of architecture where one size never quite fits all? If you were to make a suit jacket by averaging all the suit sizes of men in Chicago it would result in a suit that fit no one.

Perhaps architects ought to Whispersync onto their Kindles, once and for all, in less than a minute for $9.99, the Architect’s Complete Knowledge Companion?

Or create a complete online source for information and insight on architectural planning, design and detailing that will get your clients the results they are looking for.

Architect’s Special Burden of Proof

Evidence-based design bases design decisions on the best available current research evidence. Just as online question and answer sites identify the best answer, one can imagine the AIA’s Knowledge Agenda site having architects vote on the best answer. Or, in lieu of democratic voting, one can imagine using something like Ask.com’s AnswerFarm™ technology – their proprietary method of crawling and extracting question/answer pairs from hundreds of thousands of sources, including user generated content, FAQ pages, news/blog articles, and structured/semi-structured data.

There are knowledge-driven organizations that emphasize the people side of knowledge management – what it takes to get employees to contribute to a knowledge system including ways to orchestrate the required culture change, explaining how organizations can move from “hoarding” knowledge to “sharing” it, building a global strategy that allows them to respond faster to client’s needs.

Christopher Parsons, founder of Knowledge Architecture  and the ever growing LinkedIn group, tribe and movement, KA Connect, wrote a great post recently on becoming a knowledge-driven firm.

Architects have a special burden of proof. For it is not enough to place windows in classrooms in order to get better test scores (cited in the podcast and in a million other places.) Architects are challenged to always consider the big picture – the little clients and big clients, the paying and non-paying.

Architects knowledge is a special type of epistemology. Architects may access research knowledge but they also have designerly or tacit knowledge.

Architects acquire their knowledge in myriad and unusual ways: from magazines and blogs, webinars and lectures, reference books and websites, manufacturer’s literature, heresy and hunches. Gut punches from path-narrowing options of previous decisions and lessons learned.

At every critical juncture of a project, architects ask 4 Questions:

1. What is actual?

2. What is necessary?

3. What is desirable?

4. What is possible?

What sort of knowledge results from asking these pertinent questions?

For knowledge-driven architects to come about, what will it take for us to change our thinking? To put results and results-oriented thinking first?

We’re told again and again that natural daylight in classrooms improves knowledge retention in students and improves test scores. A study found that the use of skylights, for example, improved test scores in reading by 8.8 points and in math by 12.3 points. This translates to a 19% faster learning rate for reading and a 20% faster learning rate for math.

Whether skylights or windows, were they operable or fixed? Was this location specific? Could the students see out the windows or was the day light indirect? Were students distracted by views or were the windows largely clerestory? Was this data taken before the prevalence of classroom computers and their opportunity to create glare? Were the windows tinted or clear, south facing or north, and did this matter?

Can anyone name one result in architectural knowledge besides the daylight-to-test-score relationship or how seating arrangements at work increase performance and reduce sick days?

12 Questions the Knowledge Agenda ought to consider:

1. What will it take for architects to be able to change from a knowledge-is-power mindset to one of open-book collaboration and sharing? More importantly, will senior management be able to overcome their knowledge-is-power-trips in time to train and promote the next generation of emerging talent?

2. Will architects be able to create the culture that supports knowledge sharing before others – including their competitors – do so?

3. Will architects have the discipline to become research-driven professionals in lieu of anecdote, folk-wisdom and other subjective means of architectural justification?

4. Will 24/7 access to a shared communal knowledge base help architects to resolve technical problems quickly and make immediate, informed decisions to help solve client issues?

5. How will this knowledge be attained, retained and in what form that is usable to the vast majority of architects in the planning, design and documentation process?

6. If we can agree that architects gain knowledge, at least in part, tacitly, and that tacit knowledge is highly personal and hard to formalize, making it difficult to communicate or share with others, then how exactly will this knowledge be stored and made accessible for architects to download and share?

7. The AIA all-too-well understands just how diverse the make-up of the profession is. As Bryan Lawson points out “It is quite possible to find two people who call themselves architects and yet hardly share any of their daily tasks.” Will the shared knowledge made available to architects take this inherent diversity in mind?

8. Is this idea of a knowledge clearinghouse the equivalent of building one big, loosely organized planetary brain for the architecture profession? Would the site serve much the way as Robert Wright recently proposed, where the point of evolution (in this case of the profession) is to create social brains and to weave them into a big brain?

9. If architects are being nudged, encouraged or prompted to share knowledge with one another – how far do we take it? Shouldn’t we also then share information with our professional counterparts, including interior designers and construction managers? Or will the big brain be card-carrying members-only? Or is this what Markku meant when, in the podcast, he says the outcome will be “a stronger focus on research, higher degrees of rigor and validating the resources of knowledge available to the profession and others?”

10. Is it fair to say that the web contains information and by collecting it we store knowledge? If true, then let’s stop saying that the internet contains lots of knowledge.

11. Data, information, knowledge and understanding all relate to the past: what has been and what is known. Architects must certainly acknowledge the past and address present needs, but as innovators, we must focus on the future. Had architects through time only utilized past knowledge there would have been few of what we enjoy and take for granted today: innovations of our built environment.

12. Is this really just another way of saying Albert Einstein’s oft-quoted “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand”?

But then again, in order to recall this, you would have to know that.

Are You a Koala or Raccoon? July 4, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, career, employment, environment, identity, pragmatism, survival, the economy.
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All architects are by training generalists and then in practice become specialists.

To see that this is true we only need to look at Vitruvius’s bucket list for the training of architects:

to be creative, apt in the acquisition of knowledge, a good writer, a skillful draftsman, versed in geometry and optics, expert at figures, acquainted with history, informed on the principles of natural and moral philosophy, somewhat of a musician, not ignorant of the law and of physics, nor of the motions, laws, and relations to each other, of the heavenly bodies

Despite never becoming somewhat of a musician, many practitioners understandably have remained generalists their entire careers.

Some to great success.

That is, until now.

For while statistics aren’t readily available it is conceivable that the majority of architects who find themselves out of work, or underemployed, today are the generalist sort.

That the better gamble would have – years earlier – been to become experts at something.

But that thinking – while comforting to tell oneself – would be off-the-mark.

By suddenly specializing, generalists do themselves a disservice, are untrue to their calling and sell themselves short.

More than anyone employers need to realize this.

For while there are certainly merits and detriments to each:

Is the current trend to fill holes predominantly with specialists short-sighted?The Generalist Advantage

Using a biological analogy, a generalist species is able to thrive in a wide variety of environmental conditions and can make use of a variety of different resources while specialist species can only thrive in a narrow range of environmental conditions with a limited diet.

In more utilitarian terms, specialists know where to hit the nail to get rid of the creak in the floor board.

While generalists can recommend eleven types of flooring that don’t creak in the first place.

Generalists see the big picture.

Specialists have great depth of experience in one specific area.

Generalists conceive the big ideas and concepts that energize teams and carry construction projects through their arduous 3-5 year lifespan.

Specialists focus all of their effort and skill development on one specialty.

Generalists keep things interesting – they’re often whom colleagues and clients relate with best.

Specialists have an easier time selling their services once they find their market and can charge more.

Generalists are the glue that holds teams together.

In the body politic, specialists are the workhorse liver and spleen.

Generalists? The heart and sinew.

Specialists know the work inside and out.

Generalists – with broad peripheral knowledge and the ability to provide clients with alternatives if one solution doesn’t fit – are the heart and soul of the operation.

For that really is the crux of the matter:

When specialists die who attends their funeral?

When generalists die they’re standing 10 deep, nary a dry eye in the room.

Specialists may be safer in the short term but generalists are a whole lot more fun.Wanted: Specialists – Not Deeper Generalists

Is your specialty being a generalist? Are generalists the new specialists?

Architects have so much to learn that being a jack-of-all-trades isn’t really a conceivable route to take.

Even generalists are more specialized than they give themselves credit for.

One look at the jobs postings – what there are of them – and its dishearteningly clear: only specialists are in demand.

Employers now require recruits and candidates that are exact matches for the holes they need to fill.

Down to the detail – looking for people with single attributes.

In the wish list of job requirements “well-rounded” is not among them.

Forget round altogether. We’re living in square peg, square hole times.

Not fire starters but firemen – relievers – to put out fires.

Wanted: Closers, not openers. Fastballs, not knuckleballs.

Generalists in a Specialist’s World

And there’s no room for ambiguity, no growing into the position. You’re either it – or you’re not.

It may be well and good that the architect’s core competency is a hard-earned and all-too-rare comfort with ambiguity.

Make no mistake. We are living in clearly unambiguous times.

This talent – often referred to as agility and flexibility – to keep as many balls in the air for as long as possible isn’t needed right now, thank you.

For there are far fewer balls to maneuver and the few that there are seem to hang in the air longer.

Task masters are in. Multitaskers need not apply.

Going back to that biological analogy, most organisms of course do not fit neatly into either the specialist or generalist camp. Some species are highly specialized, others less so, while some can tolerate many different environments.

In other words, it’s probably healthiest for architects to think of the specialist–generalist issue as a continuum, from highly specialized experts on one end to broadly generalist practitioners on the other.Are You a Koala or Raccoon?

Forget the Hedgehog or the Fox, where the generalist fox knows many things, but the specialist hedgehog knows one big thing.

Instead, ask yourself: Are you a Koala or Raccoon?

A well-known example of a specialist animal is the koala which subsists almost entirely on eucalyptus leaves. No eucalyptus, no koala.

In our current work environment it is perhaps best to think of oneself like the wily raccoon – which are able to adapt to all sorts of environments, even urban ones.

Ever adaptable, the raccoon is a generalist because it has a natural range that includes most of North and Central America and it is omnivorous, eating berries, insects, eggs and small animals.

But then again, adaptability – like the generalist today – is underrated.

Perhaps it’s best to be a little of both?

But you’d have to be a generalist to see it that way.

I

55 Ways to Help You Evolve as an Architect May 3, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architecture industry, BIM, books, change, collaboration, fiction, IPD, management, nonfiction, reading, survival, technology, transformation, transition.
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9 comments


The architecture profession and construction industry are in transition. A transition largely driven by technology, but also driven by owners. Owners fed up with adversarial relations between team members, with material waste, with schedules and budgets not being met; owners wanting greater accountability and improved efficiencies on the part of design professionals and constructors.

But this transition is also due to the increasing complexity: of buildings, building systems, team make-up, processes, technology, stringent energy, security and other project requirements and goals that seem to increase on a daily basis. A desire for improved efficiencies and a demand for fewer conflicts, less resistance, better information sharing and communication and an improvement in team relations.

Everyone wants fewer claims and better results.

One thing is clear: To meet these demands we need to change. But change is hard and creates the very resistance that we need to rid ourselves of.

With the economy slowly improving and recovery on the horizon you need to do EVERYTHING you can to assure yourself a place at the table when it does arrive.

As Kimon Onuma writes, you have but two choices: Evolve or Dissolve. Much in the vein of Thom Mayne’s Change or Perish, these words are intended to get us motivated, moving and evolving.

What to do: Skim the list. Start anywhere – find an item that interests you – and act on it. Today. Return to the list on a regular basis. It was created to help you evolve – one small incremental step at a time.

Keep this in mind: If you have suggestions for helping us evolve that you don’t see here, please add them by leaving a comment. Your help here is welcome, needed and appreciated. We’re all in this together.

55 Ways to Help You Evolve as an Architect

1. Represent Both Clients Architects represent both paying and “non-paying” clients (public-at-large, neighbors, building users.) List the ways in which you address and represent non-paying client on your last project and make a commitment to do more on the next.

2. Ask Yourself: Is Your Profession Unethical? Is the profession of architecture corrupt? That is the question Harvard educator Victoria Beach asked recently at the Design Intelligence blog.  Read what your contemporaries have to say in one of the liveliest, most animated online discussions in ages. Better yet, join the discussion. Still unsure of where you stand? Sometimes you don’t know until you write it down. Leave a comment.

3. See the Future Before it Happens Check out this presentation of a workshop on The Future of the AEC Industry.

4. Commit to Collaboration Many architects say that they are team players but few truly know what it means to collaborate. Make a commitment to find out what is involved: the benefits and challenges to truly collaborating with others on your team. [Go to the end to see a list of recommended collaboration articles, presentations and books.]

5. Assess Your Communication Style You might be an expressive trying to sell your ideas to financial types. One reason you might have difficulty convincing others to see your vision and agree with your suggestions is that you might be speaking different languages. There are many books and resources online to assess your style – start here.

6. Assess Your Emotional Intelligence Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is a great book that will provide you with the tools and outlook you need to work collaboratively with others in the workplace and out in the field. Buy it new, and the book comes with a one-user-only code that will get you entry to a new, enhanced online edition of the world’s bestselling emotional intelligence test, the Emotional Intelligence Appraisal®, that will show you where your EQ stands today and what you can do to begin maximizing it immediately. Find it here.

7. Assess the Emotional Intelligence of Your Team Have you ever wondered what happens when you put in all that time and energy working to improve your own communication style and emotional intelligence only to discover that one of your team members (not naming any names) had to go ahead and ruin it for everybody? Learn more about how to work in, with and around this situation in The Emotionally Intelligent Team: Understanding and Developing the Behaviors of Success. An excellent resource that uses a seven-step approach for learning to maximize performance on any team.

8. Assess Your Personality Whether an ENFJ or ENFP (as most architects are) there are pros and cons for taking the Myers-Briggs personality type assessment test online – I have had the most luck here.

9. Read Donald W. MacKinnon Written in the 1970’s, In Search of Human Effectiveness: Identifying and Developing Creativity will convince you that you share many of the same characteristics of the 20th century’s greatest architects and can be found for under $3 here.

10. Read More Make a commitment to read more. Ask yourself how many non-fiction books you read in a year; fiction books; how many articles; how many blogs and websites you visit. It doesn’t necessarily matter whether these are industry-related. Reading outside your area of expertise makes you more interesting to coworkers as well as clients. This list is filled with suggested places to start.

11. Learn the Power of Collective Wisdom Just read the customer reviews to convince yourself of the positive impact and originality of The Power of Collective Wisdom: And the Trap of Collective Folly to help you grow into a thoroughly collaborative team member. Yours here for under $8.

12. Watch Joshua Prince-Ramus in Action Speaking probably more effectively than anyone before or since on the future of the profession and the industry especially here and here and here.

13. Apply What You Read to your design. To your next proposal or cover letter. To the next presentation that you give or design competition that you enter.

14. Join the In-the-Know Group KA Connect on LinkedIn.  Short for Knowledge Architecture – where the AEC industry and knowledge management (and just about everything in between) meet. One of the hottest and fastest growing groups with ongoing discussions – the start-up group is headed by Knowledge Architecture founder Chris Parsons. A great way for architects to expose themselves to like-minded individuals from many walks of life while sharpening their edge. A must.

15. Keep a Quote File Some of the best architects not only keep a file of the projects that appeal to them the most, but also a file for the bon mot words or phrases that appeal to them. Once kept in a safe place for easy access – you can pull one out to emphasize a point or design idea.

16. Collect Quotes Describing Architects Then do the exact opposite. I came across this quote this morning: “Most architects think their audience is other architects.” We often hear that museums are designed more to exhibit the architecture than the art that they were originally intended to contain. When you come across comments describing what you yourself don’t like about other architects – save it – and then do the opposite. The composite of what-not-to-dos could result in as compelling an example of the evolved architect as following any to-do list.

17. Understand What Motivates You Access the valuable tools and resources that make up a good part of Dan Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us. Watch Dan perform at a recent TED conference of the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.

18. Become a Master Builder How well are you immersed and rehearsed in building construction? Do an honest assessment (ask the last contractor that you worked with what they think about your construction awareness and abilities) – then team with a contractor early on your next project, supplement your learning by attending conferences and through reading. Make it your goal to become more well-rounded as a design-construction professional.

19. Change Your Mind How so? Not in terms of indecisiveness. But instead in terms of what will be needed from architects in the near future. Read anything written by Howard Gardner – but if you have to start somewhere consider starting with his latest book, a very inspiring read 5 Minds for the Future. I heard him speak on this topic last year and his ideas are absolutely transformative.

20. Change Your Mind II Reread Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future with this in mind: How can you evolve as an architect by addressing both sides of the mind? In other words, as an architect, you are being hired because of your left as well as your right brain. The best thinking involves both sides – called whole brain thinking. Make it your concerted practice to be a whole brain thinker. And here.

21. Change Others’ Minds Already convinced yourself, but not yet sure those around you are on board? If you can’t get everyone to read and discuss Dan Pink’s book, why not brown bag it in the conference room one day and spend an hour watching and afterwards discussing Dan Pink’s inspiring dvd?

22. Subscribe to Revit3D.com Gregory Arkin’s blog on all things BIM, LEED and IPD. There you’ll be blessed with a minimum of three posts a day on average providing software tips and tricks (don’t be fooled by the  name, the scope is broad and generous including posts on Navisworks, AutoCAD, Ecotect and other Autodesk products, as well as reports, videos, charts and just about everything else you need to evolve.

23. Google Alerts Maybe you’re already using this or feel that your email inbox already overrun with items that you are having trouble keeping up with. To evolve you have to keep up and even stay ahead of the pack. Twitter is great for this but if you want to learn what is happening even before Twitter pick a subject of interest, of fascination or obsession, and have Google alert you daily – or even as the latest relevant item arises, anywhere on the internet by email.

24. No Time? Read the Comments If you just don’t have the time in your schedule to accommodate one more book, use this workaround: read the comments that readers leave at Amazon, at news sources or in the group discussions on LinkedIn. In a very short matter of time you can pick up the gist of just about any subject, witness multiple points of views, formulate your own opinion and maybe even be able to discuss the topic on a cursory level with others.

25. Imagine the World in 20 or 30 Years Or better yet, visit this site that does the imagining for you. Just sit back and become informed – and ideally motivated – by all that you find here. As climate change touches every aspect of our lives, how will it change us? How will we adapt? Living Climate Change is a devoted space for the most defining design challenge of our time. It’s also a place to support fresh thinking and share provocative ideas about the future.

26. As a Last Resort…Fake It Learn how to talk about books you haven’t read by reading last year’s international hit  How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (but you’ll have to read it to learn how.)

27. Spend More Time in School Or at least at school. Commit to visiting your nearest architecture school at least twice a year, to serve on a design jury, or provide much-needed feedback at desk crits on your area of expertise. Sign-up to give a lecture on a topic to fill a gap in the curricula. Give an impromptu talk on portfolio design or resume writing or interview best practices. Pay attention to the student’s work: the inspiration you will gain from being around their energy and fresh ideas will pay off in dividends over time.

28. Reread Refabricating Architecture You have it on your shelf. Refabricating Architecture: How Manufacturing Methodologies are Poised to Transform Building Construction by Kieran and Timberlake. This time, read it with an eye to better understand how working in BIM can lead to virtual models that go directly to fabrication. Ask yourself: What level of detail is required? What impact will this have on insurance, liability, responsibility and roles? Is this something you are even interested in, or does considering this future make you recoil from the work of construction? If it does – ask yourself this: What then – in this world – does it mean to be an architect? Your answer to this question may help you to decide.

29. Mentor The best way to learn is to teach, and the best way to teach is to mentor. What better way to give  back to the profession and community than to share some of your hard earned experience,  information – and passion – with those just starting out? Become a mentor.

30. Join the Conversation Read Building (in) the Future: Recasting Labor in Architecture That conversation…on the use of technology across the building-design and construction processes. The book is a collection of essays by industry leaders, theorists, and academics organized into two main sections, `Working and Making’ followed by `Collaboration,’ or very roughly into BIM and IPD. Over thirty contributors – including Phillip Bernstein Autodesk, Inc., Building Solutions Division VP and Yale School of Architecture lecturer, Peggy Deamer, Kenneth Frampton, Paolo Tombesi, Howard W. Ashcraft, Jr., Reinhold Martin, James Carpenter, Branko Kolarevic, Chris Noble and Kent Larson among many others – including designers, engineers, fabricators, contractors, construction managers, planners, and scholars examine how contemporary practices of production are reshaping the design/construction process. Exposing yourself to these topics – originally presented and discussed at a Yale U conference in 2006 – will put you back in the conversation concerning the most heated topics in architectural practice, creation and construction.

31. Continue the Conversation By getting your hands on a copy of, and reading, the essays and interviews in Provisional: Emerging Modes of Architectural Practice USA.

32. Try Kaizen One small step at a time. That’s the kaizen approach. Small steps, taken daily, even keel, bring about the results you are looking for before you even realize it. The no-pain all-to-gain approach. See also the surprisingly relevant Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott.

33. Head over to DesignIntelligence at to find some of the most rigorously well-thought-out and comprehensive articles on career-expanding subjects such as Best Practices, Client Relationships, Communications, Design and Construction Marketplace, Design/Build Project Delivery, Education, Financial Management and Profitability, Intelligent Choices, Leadership, Management, Operations Management, Staff Recruitment and Retention, Strategy, Sustainability, Technology and Trends

34. Reevaluate Your Sustainability Efforts Why? Because what is needed today may not be needed tomorrow. Just consider this and decide for yourself if this is the case.

35. Live In More Than One World Living in More Than One World: How Peter Drucker’s Wisdom Can Inspire and Transform Your Life shares with you the management guru’s belief in recognizing the importance of diversifying the nature and extent of daily existence, to sharpen a sense of curiosity while remaining open to new ideas, and to learn as much as possible from as many different sources as possible. Something every architect needs in order to remain current and grow with the times.

36. Immerse Yourself in Lean Construction Lean – where Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) got its start. A good place for you to start – and a handy pocket-sized reference and toolkit packed with diagrams, lists and charts for under $10 – is The Simply Lean Pocket Guide for Construction which is small and light enough for you to read on your commute and take anywhere you go.

37. Re-familiarize Yourself BIM Revisit the subject with fresh eyes. Here’s a great place to start. One of AIA’s 2009 Integrated Practice Discussion Group’s (IPDiG) projects involved revisiting the Report on Integrated Practice released during the 2006 AIA National Convention in Los Angeles. This report contains ten essays by leaders in many disciplines on the world of, and the state of, Integrated Practice. IPDiG wanted to explore what portions of that report remain valid today and what portions may warrant updates to reflect the current “state of the art”. Through interviews with each of the report’s original authors, IPDIG sought to solicit their views. The original essays―along with newly developed commentaries and podcasts―will be released monthly in AIArchitect as part of the 2009 and Beyond series and are available here.

38. Immerse yourself in IPD Some of the best sources – all free – are available here. Integrated Practice/Integrated Project Delivery (IP/IPD) leverages early contributions of knowledge and expertise through the utilization of new technologies, allowing all team members to better realize their highest potentials while expanding the value they provide throughout the project life cycle.

39. Choose Your Poison This is a great place for architects to get excited, get motivated and get involved.

40. Join a Knowledge Community The Practice Management Knowledge Community (PMKC) identifies and develops information on the business of architecture for use by the profession to maintain and improve the quality of the professional and business environment.  The PMKC initiates programs, provides content and serves as a resource to other knowledge communities, and acts as experts on AIA Institute programs and policies that pertain to a wide variety of business practices and trends. Find one here.

41. To Understand Where We are Headed, it Helps To Know From Where We Come Today, in the face of the challenges confronting their profession, from the economic crisis to an urgent need for longer-lasting, more affordable, and greener construction, architects have been forced to reconsider the relationship between architecture and society, between buildings, their inhabitants, and the environment. No single individual did more to build this discourse than Robert Gutman. Sometimes referred to as the sociological father of architecture, Gutman in his writing and teaching initiated a conversation about the occupants of buildings and the forms, policies, plans, and theories that architects might shape. Read Architecture From the Outside In: Selected Essays by Robert Gutman (2010)

42. Discover How to Become a T-Shaped Architect The T-Shaped teammate: a simple, seemingly obvious concept that could transform you as well as an entire industry.

43. Join a BIM or Revit Users Group Such as those offered in Chicago or New_York. Meet on a regular basis, network, eavesdrop on conversations, learn something new: there’s always something happening at these meetings that isn’t happening anywhere else. Give the London RUG a try! Check out LinkedIn or this list for a group near you. BIM Pages (www.bimpages.com) lists the United States buildingSMART Interest Groups and other groups such as the Canadian BIM Council under the Category “Professional Affiliations.”

44. Put Down What You Are Doing and Read This Book it may seem that based on this list reading books is the answer for evolving as an architect. That is only partly true. But here is one book that is critical that ever design professional reads in order to evolve professionally. The Future and Its Enemies: The Growing Conflict Over Creativity, Enterprise, and Progress by Virginia Postrel (yes that Virginia Postrel, author of The Substance of Style and AIA Convention keynote speaker.) Simply put, the book sanctions the world into two groups: stasists (who urge control and favor the status quo) and dynamists (who will shape the future.) To which group do you belong? Read and find out what the implications are for you and our profession.

45. Be Like John John Moebes, that is, director of construction, Crate & Barrel. Get your hands on one of his online presentations or better yet, hear him speak in person. A truly inspired and inspiring construction professional and owner leading the way for the industry.

46. Visit Collaborative Construction on a regular basis. The website and cutting-edge blog belonging to James L. Salmon, Esq., that is, that serves as a gateway to what he calls the collaborative revolution that is sweeping the construction industry.

47. Revit vs. Archicad vs. Microstation Become informed, try them out, make an opinion and move on. The future is in your hands. Don’t waste the opportunity debating the pros and cons or worse – waiting for the perfect app. It’ll never happen. Except only in your hands. So get modeling!

48. Spend a Day at Home and take- in some educational videos.

49. Become an Intrapreneur Intrapreneurship – entrepreneurship within a large organization: one valuable, productive and relevant way to survive these turbulent times.

50. Create a Master Directory of resources – and use it. Here’s one for Revit blogs but you can also find some great links here and here. Pick your weapon and master it – the world is your oyster!

51. Overcome Your Immunity to Change Read Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization a wonderfully original approach to a familiar problem: why many crucial change efforts fail and how you can assure yours won’t. Catch a free presentation here.

52. Reacquaint Yourself with Great Architecture With all of the demands on us it is easy to forget why we are doing what we do in the first place. To stay motivated to change, it helps to refresh our memory and restart our engines from time to time. Nothing compares with visiting buildings in person, but short of that there are several ways to experience great buildings vicariously.

53. Spend Some Time at the AECCafé There is always something of interest and of importance happening here.  

54. Attend an Industry Webinar There’s always something happening nearly every day. Earn learning units, expose yourself to future practice issues and ideas. Better yet, watch with colleagues while brown bagging it and leave time at the end to discuss what you learned and how you might apply it – and act on it – in your career and in your firm.

55. Get Comfortable with Transformative Tools So exactly what is this panacea for all that ails the design and construction industry? Here’s a good place to find out. Do you have others to recommend?

Recommended books, articles and presentations on Collaboration

Learn about how to select the right tools for internal and external collaboration – watch this presentation.

See Collaborating with Contractors for Innovative Architecture to better be able to evaluate the pros and cons of collaborating, including insurance and legal issues.

Become familiar with the myriad types of collaborative project delivery – including integrated project delivery – the most collaborative of all.

The Culture of Collaboration by Evan Rosen showing how collaboration creates value in business.

How to Make Collaboration Work by David Straus offers five principles of collaboration (Involve the Relevant Stakeholders, Build Consensus Phase by Phase, Design a Process Map, Designate a Process Facilitator, and Harness the Power of Group Memory) that have been tested and refined in organizations everywhere, addressing the specific challenges people face when trying to work collaboratively. Each can be applied to any problem-solving scenario.

Collaboration How Leaders Avoid the Traps, Create Unity, and Reap Big Results by Morten T. Hansen With approx. 37,000 books on the topic of Collaboration sold on Amazon.com this one is considered by some to be “the” book on the topic. Hansen bases his analysis in an economic analysis of when collaboration creates value that includes not only a project’s benefits but also the costs of collaboration and the cost of foregoing alternatives. Hansen is realistic about collaboration’s limits and attests that over-collaborating id a potential hazard: “Bad collaboration is worse than no collaboration.”

Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration by Keith Sawyer is completely different from the previous books. A practical, inspiring book about how innovation always emerges from a series of sparks—not a single flash of insight. And finally,

The Collaborative Habit by choreographer Twyla Tharp. Life Lessons for Working Together.

Letter to a Discontented Architect March 9, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, function, identity, optimism, problem solving, survival, the economy.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.

Mohandas Gandhi

Dear Architect,

Thanks for writing – now it’s my turn. I know it’s particularly hard out there right now and it’s hard for even the most diehard optimist to come up with the words you need to hear without sounding either glib or out of touch. But I understand your restlessness and discontent with your situation and may have a suggestion or two on how you might turn things around for the better.

First, let it be said, to be discontent – with our profession or the built environment, with your lot in life or the lot you’ve been given to work with, the cards you’ve been dealt and position you’ve been put in, the state of the economy or the way government is handling it  – is a natural, healthy state to be in. Like stress – it is a critical part of what it means to be human and, to a point, our dissatisfaction with the way things are keeps us focused, energized and motivated.

As an architect, you in fact need to remain discontent for as long as you can stand it. For to be discontent means you are alive, have a pulse, blood is running through your veins – all good.

You just need to be sure you are discontent with the right things.

By nature a discontented lot – architects look at what is and envision the way it can be. They not only create the built environment but see their interventions as improving the world around them – both the natural and the manmade. Yes, you heard that right. Most architects believe and have it ingrained early, that their work actually improves upon nature. Consider that! Most wouldn’t bother doing what they do if that wasn’t the case.

Architects are a discontented sort. They don’t like the way empty sites just sit there – so they look for or create opportunities whereby they can fill it with something. They don’t like the way existing buildings go underutilized – so they propose new uses for them. They don’t like the way others design their buildings – so they improve upon them by proposing their own. They don’t like the way clients stingily give them one building at a time to design so they go ahead and give their clients – for free – a value-added master plan indicating the unasked for, strategic placement of backlog for years to come! They don’t like the way developers maximize the gross area to reap the maximum reward irrespective of what needs there might be, so they propose buildings that meet the needs while making more efficient use of the site.

Architects improve upon whatever they see. They are always looking for ways to make things better – to the chagrin of our clients – even when they don’t necessarily need improving. They don’t like the way things are done and – action-oriented, creative, energized as they are – they do something about it.

That is why it is important to remain discontent – and sustain a perpetual state of restlessness – for as long as you can. For architecture – and becoming an architect – takes a long time. And you need to be there for it.

Discontent with those content

It’s a strange, contradictory and even a bit snobbish truism that architects who are content with everything are held in lower esteem by peers and even seen by some as sell-outs. It implies a serious lack of critical judgment, ignorance and worst of all, curiosity. Strange and unfortunate, but true.

To be content with something is seen as a sign of weakness. If you are OK with something it either means you have no values, you have no guts, you have no morals, you are too easily pleased, you’re a push-over, you’re ignorant or you have no ideas of your own. You’re made up of lesser stuff. Not up to snuff, there’s a place for people like you and, well, it’s not with us.

There is a great deal that needs improvement in our world and contentedness implies self-satisfaction when there’s still much work to do. Always is. As though to say, to be dissatisfied is to be alive. I’ll have plenty of time to be satisfied when I’m dead.

This is just to say I understand your discontent with your situation. You put in a lot of work and expended a lot of energy to make your way through school, to land your first positions, only – you say – to be handed this.

The Art of Being Discontent

So be discontent. A little discontent is fine and to be expected – this is what we are and who we are. Its par for the course for architects as we make our way through school into our careers as designers and custodians of the built environment to be a bit disgruntled with what lies in store or just outside our window or within our purview.

We need to be a bit discontent to be motivated to put up with all we have to put up with on the road from concept and visualization to realization of built form, whether we’re designing our careers or buildings.

Buildings made from contented architects would be a little bland. The world does not need more blah.

That said, choose wisely the things you are discontent about. Know the difference between supportive, constructive words and a rant. Less screed, more helping each other to succeed.

Criteria for healthy discontent

The allure of skepticism is its exoneration from obligation: if nothing works properly why try? If everyone is insincere why be honest? How can we trust when deceit is rampant, when cultural heroes are routinely toppled? – Baruch Epstein

But also like stress, like anything taken too far to excess, discontent turns into something vile and largely unhealthy to the body politic, and starts to appear less as a natural and understandable dissatisfaction and more like sarcasm and cynicism. Discontent becomes unsustainable as an operating procedure – bitter to be around, alienating, undermining our very efforts at communication and progress. Discontent becomes dour, corrosive and regressive – adding little but bile to the conversation. When like that you become disbelieving in the very possibility of sincerity of human motives.

Architects and cynics alike design and build protective walls to stand behind and contain. Skepticism and irony, sarcasm and cynicism are merely barriers to protect the deeply emotional expectations architects have for themselves in these uncertain times. This is entirely understandable – it’s scary out there. And yet, it may seem that without cynicism, architects have no place to hide. But as enclosures go, cynicism is the drafty, unsustainable, energy-wasting kind. Don’t go there.

As important as it is to be discontent – it is just as important to not be cynical. Cynicism will eat away at you. Know the difference between cynicism and sarcasm, discontent and skepticism. Only the latter two will serve you well. The former will make you dispassionate; you’ll come across to colleagues and clients alike – however unintended – as snide and angry and obtuse, standing in the way of the very progress you profess to perpetuate. Go on ridicule sincerity – when sincerity stands in your way of accomplishing great deeds.

Building designers – and for that matter bloggers and others who start and contribute to online discussions and forums – are content providers while, dissatisfied consumers of these have largely become discontent providers. Before adding your two cents, ask yourself these three things. Is, what I’m about to write nurturing? Is it growth promoting? And does it work (for others?)

If not, perhaps it doesn’t need to be said.

This criteria, it would seem, doesn’t allow for humorous, ironic and sarcastic responses and asides. Bringing more humor into our lives is always welcome. The question again is one of intent:  is the jibe intended to hurt or to help? Because right now, we – as a profession, as colleagues and co-creators with one another – need a little less sarcasm and more support.

As you may know, I recently posted “81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect.” Unabashedly optimistic, positive, uplifting – and asking for trouble. An outpouring of responses followed. Most of the positive ones were lengthy, while those less enthralled identified themselves with just two initials, posting 3-word screeds as though to say it wasn’t worth the time and effort (i.e. what is?) So, perhaps understandably, yk wrote “this is a joke, right?” and kh commented “Feel good fluff,” some more mean-spirited than others, one implying maybe I wouldn’t be in this situation “if your posts were more concise.” One comment perhaps spoke for everyone else: “I’d trade all 81 reasons for work.”

While contrarian views such as these are targets for concision, some of the comments that were left were downright accusatory, as though to say: all things considered, you really ought to be less content. You ought to be less happy and a whole lot less optimistic.

Architects comment on industry forums angered at the fact that they cannot call themselves architects while unlicensed technologists can. Standing on the sidelines back against the wall, design architects are deciding whether to bow out or wait out this dance. Cynical? Absolutely. Sneering? Sarcastic? To be sure. But also fearful. They’re afraid. Very, very afraid – about their future, about the fact that their hard fought education – not yet paid for – may have been for naught. That the initial inroads into the profession was at best a misfire, spent on the sidelines or behind the scenes cleaning-up other people’s mess. And yet, and yet we needn’t worry until we start to see the language of fear verge toward the language of anger. And this seething anger is, I’m afraid, something we are starting to see.

The content of discontent

There’s an inherent optimism in an architect’s discontent, as though to say: “I don’t like the way things are and I’m going to do something about it.” In this way, the act of architecture is one of healing. Tikkun Olam – repairing the world, healing the earth. There is always the initial recognition and awareness that something is wrong that needs to be righted, something is broken that needs to be fixed.

One fallout from the current economy is that under- and unemployed architects are subjected not only to the prospect of having less work but having seemingly less opportunity to make positive outcomes from their critical stances. In addition to the indignities of our current state, we remain discontent without the apparent creative outlet or opportunity to introduce change. To right what has been wronged.

But to believe this is wrong. We can tap into and turn our natural abundance of discontent toward the improvement of so much in our world that needs fixing. It may not be the occasional fire station, student residence or library for the near term. We will have to find other subjects in need of our healthy discontent to address in the interim.

A prelude to progress

Thomas Edison said that discontent is the first necessity of progress.

What are the right things worth being discontent about? Here are a few important things to consider:

  • Global warming: Improving the environment while using less energy
  • Education: Teaching future designers and architects what they need to know to succeed in the future
  • Our future as designers: Explaining the value of design to the unaware
  • The natural environment: Explaining the real meaning of sustainability to those who can do something about it
  • Sprawl I: Identifying ways to contain sprawl and present them
  • Sprawl II: Devote yourself to the improvement of our suburbs
  • The profession: Create a viable, win-win value proposition for architects in the age of BIM and IPD
  • Stubbornness, stagnation and unwillingness to change: Become a change agent for those unwilling to change
  • Construction: dissatisfied with the amount of construction, time and money waste and want to do something about it
  • Collaboration: with the way team members withhold information and work at odds with each other
  • Professional organizations: want to feel that members are better served while helping to serve yourself
  • Value proposition: frustrated with owner’s expectations about how/how little design professionals are paid

I’m sure you have a list of your own. If not, this is the time to take note.

What are some of the things that we shouldn’t bother being discontent with?

  • Trivial things, minutia
  • Things we have no control over
  • Situations that wouldn’t be improved despite our intervening and attention

In these cases, they need a whole lot of care from someone else – namely themselves.

Your Turn

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. George Bernard Shaw

The world needs you even if clients or employers don’t seem to right now. As an architect you have always had two clients – a paying one and, in the public-at-large, in building users and surrounding communities – a non-paying client.

Now it’s your turn. So go on – be discontent, dissatisfied with your situation. Turn it toward positive results. Turn – this negative energy toward something constructive and productive.

Turn – the collective frustration into a major rebuilding effort.

Turn – your anger into something productive.

Turn – your frustration into improving the profession

Turn – your experience into something helpful and positive

Turn – your attention to what needs fixing

Turn – your unending creativity toward building up rather than tearing down

Turn – your words around and ask what you could be doing for your community, for your industry and your fellow professionals in need – right now.

This may very well indeed be the winter of our discontent. If so, use it to improve one small corner of the world. And then get out in front of it. Our good works aren’t a bastion against anything – but rather a backdrop for what, ahead, is sure to be more a promising time of it. Together – if each of us takes our one small place – we will in time create a better world and lives for ourselves and for those around us. And that is nothing to be discontent about.

Design and Run February 9, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

Paying by the Piece

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

The Vision Thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Owners playing the game of Design and Run.

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

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

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

Often confused with waste, scrap instead has significant value.

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

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

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

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

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

They’re buying it shorter.

Selling the Architect Short

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

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

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

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

And Kindle edition-sized architectural services.

Shorter, faster, cheaper.

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