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

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, books, change, function, questions, technology.
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Simplicity is a myth whose time has passed, if it ever existed. –
Donald Norman

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

As are our teams and work flows.

Our construction document sets have over time become obese.

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

It’s as though complexity begets complexity.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More importantly, in these digitally sophisticated times;

How much sense does it make to use extremely complex tools to solve relatively simple problems?That is a question I posed the other week in the form of a metaphor.

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

Can the road map be more complex than the terrain?

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

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

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

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

What we really mean when we have these thoughts is:

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

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

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

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

Why we do itWe do it for any number of reasons, not all of them rational:

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

2. We also do it because we can.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One way is to tap into our networks.Simple Resources for Dealing with Complexity

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

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

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

Complexity goes beyond today’s solutions.

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

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

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

&

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

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

Do Architects Have the (Mindset) to Face the Future? March 1, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, BIM, books, career, change, identity, technology, the economy, transformation.
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Here is your future.

Do you know where your mindset is?

And do you have the right mindset to face your future?

The future was presented to us the other day in the form of a PDF.

That is, as the future will unfold according to Building Futures’ “The Future for Architects?” the result of a year’s inquiry and research into the future of architectural practice.

Here are some of the takeaways from this cautionary study:

  • Architecture is “a profession that has an unenviable reputation for being notoriously insular and more focused on what it can offer than what its client wants.
  • Smaller practices expressed a resistance to integrated technology such as BIM.
  • Technology is a more significant driver for larger practices – and an essential tool required to compete.
  • The vast majority of the demand side of the profession (clients and consultants) could see design slipping further down the pecking order in the next fifteen years.
  • Building technology is becoming increasingly more complex, so much so that design work is increasingly being carried out by subcontractors
  • The concept of the architect as a technician who composes all the constituent parts of a building that are designed by the subcontractors was widely thought to be a realistic vision of the future
  • The architectural profession unfortunately does not view itself as part of the wider construction industry, and that this was a fundamental value that needs to change
  • Whoever carried the risk would drive the design, and so in shying away from taking on risk architects are diminishing their ability to influence design outcomes.
  • Many saw the label ‘architect’ as restrictive and as creating barriers between themselves and other professions such as planning and urban design.

Interestingly, students and graduates of engineering were more positive about their education process, and said they felt well integrated into the other built environment professions – putting them in a good position to lead the design team.

Victimized or energized

How do we know that their findings are accurate?

We don’t.

But when you look at their two previous studies – Practice Futures 2005 is an update to The Professionals’ Choice, a 2003 Building Futures publication that examined the future of the built environment professions – they predicted everything correctly.

Only the global economic crisis wasn’t anticipated.

“The Future for Architects?” calls itself a speculative exploration of the imminent changes likely to affect the industry over the next fifteen years whose stated purpose is for “generating scenarios, cautionary tales and alternative futures to stimulate discussion and debate rather than perfect answers.”

To read more about the ongoing aims of the project click here, and to download their new mini-publication click here.

Whether you feel powerless and victimized by these changes, or empowered and energized by them, will have something to do with your age, status and position within your organization.

But more importantly, it has something to do with how you see yourself – as someone who is seen as being intelligent and having the answers.

Or, instead, as someone who is open to learning.

The Big Idea

On this last point, I’ve been thinking lately about Carol Dweck who’ll be visiting one of my kid’s schools here in Winnetka, Illinois USA in the coming weeks.

Her book, Mindset, is a familiar fixture in our household having spent time on just about every coffee table, night stand and otherwise flat surface in the house at one time or another.

Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford, like the hedgehog has one idea – but it is a BIG one.

I’ve written about Dweck and her big idea in my other blog.

Here’s her big idea:

She proposes that everyone has either a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.

And that determines how we succeed at work and in life.

Her idea has huge implications for how organizations professionally develop their employees, and the way design professionals go about professionally developing themselves.

Fixed Mindset

A fixed mindset is one in which you view your talents and abilities as fixed. In other words, you are who you are, your intelligence and talents are fixed, and your fate is to go through life avoiding challenge and failure.

So an architect with a fixed mindset would have rigid thinking, be set in their ways, practice their profession as a tradition with conventions that are time-tested, unvarying and inflexible.

For architects with fixed mindsets, architecture has to be practiced a certain way otherwise they will not be able to protect the health, welfare and safety of people who inhabit their buildings. You can see how architects, through education, training and practice, could develop fixed mindset attitudes concerning practice and the damage this attitude inflicts on us and those we work with.

Architects with a fixed mindset tend to

1. focus on proving that they have fixed knowledge or expertise in one area instead of focusing on the process of learning and

2. avoid difficult challenges because failing on these could cause them appear less knowledgeable

Their disregard of learning and challenge hinders their performance which in turn hinders their professional development of knowledge, skills and abilities.

Growth Mindset

A growth mindset, on the other hand, is one in which you see yourself as fluid, a work in progress.

Your fate is one of growth and opportunity.

An architect with a growth mindset recognizes that a change of mind is always possible and even welcome.

Note that this isn’t about positive and negative thinking – but about fixed and growth mindsets.

According to the dictionary, a mindset is an established set of attitudes held by someone.

When it comes to your career, which mindset do you possess?

How to develop a growth mindset

The good news, says Dweck, is that mindsets are not set.

At any time, you can learn to use a growth mindset to achieve your goals.

This is perhaps the best reason to read Mindset.

In the book Dweck tells how we can develop a growth mindset and improve our lives and the lives of those around us.

To change from a fixed to a growth mindset, follow these four steps:

Step 1. Learn to hear your fixed mindset “voice.”

Step 2. Recognize that you have a choice.

Step 3. Talk back to it with a growth mindset voice.

Step 4. Take the growth mindset action.

For those familiar with cognitive theory, you may recognize some similarities. For more detail, look here.

For us visual types, here’s an illustration that effectively describes the differences between the fixed and growth mindsets.

We’ll all need a growth mindset if we’re to meet the challenges facing the future for architects.

Despite the steps listed above, I cannot think of a more important first step than reading this book.

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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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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2 comments


…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

107 Reasons Why You, Architect, Matter June 25, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect types, collaboration, creativity, environment, identity, marginalization, optimism, sustainability, technology, the economy.
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17 comments


We’re often asked to imagine life without people, life without buildings, even life without oil.

But how about a world without architects?

That’s not so hard to imagine.

It’s easy if you’re mostpeople.

Because mostpeople never so much as meet an architect.

Let alone engage one in a building project.

It’s also relatively easy to imagine if you’re an architect.

Because this is what we do, what we’re good at – imagining things that aren’t there.

Then relentlessly realize them until they are.

If architects were to disappear tomorrow – who would care?

At the moment – facing a double dip in the economy – architects feel overlooked and underappreciated.

Elitism is out and elegance a low priority when living in deeply discounted times.

Beauty not a necessity, barely a nicety – too high on Maslow’s hierarchy – when focused on the lower rung of the pyramid labeled paying the mortgage.

So to say that we matter. To whom exactly? And what for?

To matter means to be of consequence, of importance (but not self-importance;) significant, relevant, worthy of note and of crucial value.

To feel appreciated and valued, not left-for-dead, abandoned or ignored.

But why ask whether architects matter when so clearly other things matter more.

The unchecked ravages of genocide, extreme poverty, child labor, AIDS, environmental degradation, Alzheimer’s disease, global warming and compulsive consumerism – these certainly matter more.

But this isn’t a contest. Architects can still matter.

Why the world still needs architects

The 107 reasons that follow may seem like overkill. A tad bit much.

But we need reminding. Really need reminding.

Some will inevitably say – tell it to our clients or convince a contractor – that we’re not the ones who need convincing.

Before we can convince anyone else that we matter we must first convince ourselves.

From the architects I’ve talked to and heard from we need a talking to.

And if we’re not going to remind ourselves – who will?

This is not a desperate attempt to justify our existence nor rationalize our cosmic importance. These reasons came easily, rolling off the pen and hammered out in an evening.

And as with most things worth doing, if I had more time there would have been far fewer.

You need to know you matter

The world may not always affirm what we do (try this: google “architect appreciation” or any facsimile thereof and what comes up?*)

* Nothing.

People are not born with an appreciation for architecture.

Nor, for that matter, for architects.

Your employer may not always tell you that you – and the work you do – are valued.

But that doesn’t mean that what we do and who we are doesn’t have a profound impact on our world.

It does. And we do.

In the big scheme of things – we make a difference. A big difference. The world would be a very different place – a lesser place – without us.

And our interventions. Our ideas and ideals.

Think of these as the gifts architects give to society.

Think of these as The Gifts of the Architect:

How a Tribe of Tectonic Nomads Changed the Way People Everywhere Live and Feel.

Think of these as – in the spirit of Yale’s Why X Matters series

107 Reasons Why Architects Matter

(or the 107 Things I Like About You)

Reason1: Architects are optimists. So what? Otherwise we couldn’t survive, anticipate and prepare for an unknown future and imagine what is not there. Imagine a world of pessimist designers, planning for the worst. That’s the world without architects.

Reason2: Architects balance multiple intelligences. So what? It’s a job requirement and for some a liability. Architects use all of their faculties when they design and document – including spatial intelligence.

Reason3: Architects are wired to care. So what? Architects naturally empathize. We have the empathy gene. In abundance. More than our fair share, allowing us to put ourselves in other’s shoes. Others may be in it for the money – we’re burning the midnight oil because we care.

Reason4: Architects are strategists. So what? We ask tough, penetrating questions, seldom taking assignments or answers at face value. We reframe questions that are lobbed at us. And go about our work less as object designers than chess players or basketball coaches parlaying the playbook.

Reason5: Architects think in terms of systems, not just things. So what? Because we understand that the world is not made up of individual, disconnected things. And that everything is causal, interrelated and connected. We design the spaces between things as well as the things themselves – and help others to see what they were formerly unable to see and was certain wasn’t there before we gifted them with a new pair of eyes. We’ve all done this for someone in our lives.

Reason6: Architects think laterally and simultaneously – not linearly. So what? The very thinking skills that we need to nurture in others as we move ahead into the 21st century.

Reason7: We do more with less. So what? So there will be more for others – including our children – when they need it. Eaarth will thank you for it.

Reason8: Architects design outdoor spaces. So what? Think Central Park. Designed by a landscape architect (architects of all stripes.) Architects gave the world outdoor rooms, helping people to feel comfortable in their surroundings, to feel as though they belong, and on a good day, to dwell poetically.

Reason9: Architects are well-educated. So what? Who is most qualified to lead integrated project teams? (Those who deem this elitist need not respond.) The person trained to think of other’s needs before their own, the person who is licensed to protect the health, safety and welfare of the project’s inhabitants. The person dedicated to continuous learning.

Reason10: Architects are T-shaped – both deep and wide. So what? More than mere experts at what the do and know, architects – due to their training and education – are able to see through other’s eyes, empathize and understand what is important to others at the table. We have deep skills and wide wingspan breadth.

Reason11: Architects are “keepers of the geometry.”  So what? Form-givers, architects give shape to our world. Who else provides our buildings, cities and lives with a sense of continuity and coherence?

Reason12: Architecture, of all the arts, is the one which acts the most slowly, but the most surely, on the soul. So what? Life speeds by fast. We need to slow down. Architects design places that help us to slow down, look around and take in the view. And then, before we realize it, we’re no longer in the place but of it. Architects have the ability to design places that touch the soul.

Reason13: Architects transform chaos into order. So what? While nature, animals and biomimicry are definitely trending, one look at architecture without architects and you wish you had called an architect.

Reason14: Architects give the world meaning. So what? So what?Architects may be involved in only a small number of projects, but just think of places where you have been happiest, felt most at home, felt a sense of purpose and accomplishment, at ease with yourself and your surroundings – and more than likely an architect was involved.

Reason15: Architects uplift the downtrodden. So what? Architects raise not only roof beams but eyes up toward the sky, and awareness to a higher plane altogether. We provide worthwhile, heightened experiences, naturally. (Ever walk across the structural glass floor to the outdoor amphitheater overlooking the Mississippi on Jean Nouvel’s Guthrie Theater? Then you know what I mean.)

Reason16: Architects think differently. So what? Yes, Apple thinks differently – but what of what Peter Bolin FAIA and his cohorts did for Apple? For Apple! In NYC. It’s no easy task wowing Steve Jobs. Architects do so on a regular basis.

Reason17: Architects are masters of branding. So what? Not corporate branding, but identity, genus loci and placemaking. Branded environment architects give places identity – to orient, so that you know where you are in the world and, in the best of places, why you are there and why you’ll return.

Reason18: Architects traffic in beauty. So what? Beauty is perhaps a dirty word these days – but we cannot live without it. While nature does her fair share, architects – in their riffs off of nature – certainly supplement in wondrous ways.

Reason19: Architects provide the wow effect. So what? Because life is not just bread and water. That sense of awe when standing before something manmade, masterful and inexplicably beautiful or grand. That’s the gift architects give to the world.

Reason20: Architects create the places that inspire – and where we live out and realize – our dreams and destiny. So what? You are here, on this planet, for one reason and one reason alone. And more than likely an architect was involved in helping you to recognize this. Just think about it.

Reason21: Architects are technologists, artists and craftsmen. So what? Architects learn with their hands, create with their imagination and put the human touch into technology. This assures that what we help to create will be useful, bring about joy and remain for some time.

Reason22: Architects serve the underprivileged. So what? Architects have a reputation for pandering to the wealthy. Creating low income housing is a higher calling for many architects where good works are the ultimate goal. Fee-wise we may take it on the chin, but the work we produce means a great deal to the people who live there.

Reason23: Architects are custodians of the built environment. So what? If not architects, whom else?

Reason24: Architects keep moving the ball forward. So what? Neither sentimentalists nor futurists, architects as optimists recognize that humans are still evolving. And so too their work. So so what? With each commission architects attempt to push the envelope just that much farther, to do their part to advance things. That is how the world progresses – and architects share in this movement.

Reason25: Architects bring poetry out of doors into the world. So what? Art and poetry reside almost exclusively indoors. Museums and libraries may contain these – but architects work hard to bring their qualities to the design of the outdoors, through their sensitive integration of their buildings into the landscape.

Reason26: Architects are master shapers of light. So what? Kahn in particular was transfixed by light: The sun never knew how great it was until it struck the side of a building. Nor did anyone else for that matter.

Reason27: Architects are for the most part fascinating people. So what? My uncle, when I was 5, told me his best friends were architects: they’re the most interesting people I know, he’d say. Architects try to live their lives by this credo.

Reason28: Architects are intrinsically motivated. So what? It’s better in the long run for all involved. As “I Types,” architects are not in it for the token gift card. We do it because we love it, because it is the right thing to do, because – we trust – it makes a difference in people’s lives.

Reason29: Architects operate from both sides of the brain. So what? Neither exclusively right nor left – architects are the original whole brain thinkers. In doing so, we help to keep things whole.

Reason30: Architects are practical dreamers. So What? Floating ideas like prisons in the sky.  This is how we’ll solve large-scaled, complex and intractable problems facing millions: through the persistent application of our imagination, looking at things sideways until they appear to others right side up.

Reason31: Architects get design. So what? An understanding of good architectural design is vital for creating livable buildings and public spaces and architects understand how to design buildings. We make a difference to the positive outcome of the design of our world.

Reason32: Architects give others something inspiring to aspire to. So what? We have all heard someone say that they would have liked to be an architect. Going about the world as an architect is one of the last callings commensurate with our ability to imagine and to create. So so what? Architects have one of the few careers that guarantee that, while practicing, you will remain a lifelong student.

Reason33: Architects involve all of the senses. So what? While we’re lampooned for wearing all black – we know the value of color, the meaning of light, the importance of involving all of the senses in our work.

Reason34: Architects consistently provide people with what is important to them. So what? Some people know what they want while others look to the architect to tell them. Architects adapt to the client – and make it their goal to meet their needs. Sounds simple enough – but this in itself is all-too-rare  in the business world, let alone the arts.

Reason35: Architects take ideas and pay it forward – by giving it a twist. So what? In doing so, we create something new. What we produce fits – because it gives the impression that we’ve seen it before – but at the same time it is fresh, unprecedented – keeping life interesting. Architecture, not variety, is the spice of life.

Reason36: Architects turn what is used, old, broken and decrepit and reinvent it into something living and healthy environment for people to use, in cities as well as in the suburbs. So what? Don’t take my word. Take Ellen Dunham-Jones’ word.  Click on any of these links or read a sample chapter – and argument for doing so – of Retrofitting Suburbia: Urban Design Solutions for Redesigning Suburbs here.

Reason37: Architects are sexy So what? The world has become increasingly bland, globally with little that distinguishes itself. The architect, in the midst of this sameness, has retained her appeal. Why else would we be chosen as the number one career for lead roles in movies? Far from superficial, architects manage to keep things both relevant and interesting.

Reason38:, Architects are problem identifiers. So what? Not only problem solvers, architects recognize that identifying the right problem to solve is often 80% of the solution. Often, the problem they have been assigned is not the one that truly requires addressing. Architects work efficiently and effectively to make sure that everyone is focused on the most pressing, pertinent problem.

Reason39: Architects’ small acts have huge impacts. So what? You only have to think of the Bilbao effect. Don’t let statistics that architects design or impact less than 5% of buildings built. The buildings that count, that create a sense of place and pride of place, the places we take visitors to see and inhabit when in town, that best represent us – public places large and small – these are the buildings we remember and return to. And these are designed by architects.

Reason40: Architects got your back. So what? Architects assure that someone is watching out for you. We make sure you are safe by watching what’s behind you when you’re busy looking ahead. Who else besides the architect watches out for the health welfare and safety of society?

Reason41: Architects wow. So what? While we may only design 5% of all structures –how amazing, absorbing, uplifting they are. You have architects – and their cast of thousands – to thank for that.

Reason42: Architects draw by hand, mouse and by wand. So what? Creatively ambidextrous, flexible and agile, we are not stuck on any one means of communication or delivery. Architects make the best use of available technology to get their point across – but we are not above using a stick in sand, rock on pavement or a burnt piece of charcoal in order to connect and help you understand.

Reason43: Architects design like they give a damn. So what? We care. We make a difference. This matters.

Reason44: Architects give something back. So what? Architects don’t go into architecture to take or even to make money but to give something back. We’re continuously giving, whether going the extra mile, burning one more end of the candle, or by putting their talent and resources in the service of those who need it most. Such as the The 1%, a program of Public Architecture, connects nonprofits with architecture and design firms willing to give of their time pro bono.

Reason45: Architects are change agents. So what? Not merely open to change, we assist in moving change along. No matter how traditional or conventional the assignment, architects make great strides to incorporate the latest advanced technologies. For example allowing for earthquake resistance in tall buildings or in the case of Wright’s Tokyo Hotel. So so what? But at the same time expressing and infusing local or regional character so that the buildings appear to belong to the place where they reside. We may be comfortable with change but recognize that we first have to make it palatable and acceptable for others.

Reason46: Architects – by just being architects – give hope. So what? This is something we do for others. So many aspire to do something interesting with their lives, belong to a profession that offers endless opportunities to challenge yourself. Being an architect is one of the last callings that matters.

Reason47: Architects work in all media and dimensions. So what? We model in clay and digital clay.

Reason48: Architects serve as role models. So what? Citizen architects, such as Sam Mockbee of Rural Studio http://citizenarchitectfilm.com/ , urban activists, getting involved at the grass roots level, some going as far as government.

Reason49: Architects make connections. So what? As systems thinkers, by connecting elements in a project with its surroundings, architects create a social fabric: the semblance of a cohesive, consistent and meaningful world. Architects create worlds that hold a mirror up to life.

Reason50: Architects rise to a good challenge. So what? We challenge ourselves – and each other, our organizations, the profession and industry – to keep moving the ball forward. Improve improve improve.

Reason51: Architects draw crowds. So what? Imagine the world without Frank Lloyd Wright, Antonio Gaudi, Frank Gehry, Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Alvar Aalto, Louis I. Kahn, Tadao Ando, Renzo Piano and Herzog and de Meuron. Doesn’t matter to “mostpeople?” Think again. Then why are these (in order) the 10 most visited architects in the world..by non-architects!

Reason52: Architects are driven from within. So what? No carrot? No stick? No problem. Architects are self-starting, self-motivating and self-activating. That’s why architects like to think of what we do as an inside game.

Reason53: Architects are linchpins. So what? And being so, are an indispensible part of the design and construction process. We are at the crux of real estate, development, concrete and plumbing. On projects where there may be well over 100 independent entities – from interior design to energy analysis – all pass through the architect. Architects are the common link between project constituents.

Reason54: Architects see the big picture. So what? So many it seems have a difficult time seeing the forest from the trees. Not architects. As I explained here, Malcolm Gladwell in Blink called this ability to see information in its wider context: coup d’oeil or court sense or “giss,” the power of the glance, the ability to immediately make sense of situations. So so what? Architects may not be born with this all-too-rare and exceedingly important ability, but by the end of their formal training they’ve got it. In droves.

Reason55: Architects are meaning-makers. So what? While many make it their job to provide meaningful work for their employees, or to help people find meaning in their own lives, no one but the architect is dedicated to making the world – the built environment – meaningful and coherent.

Reason56: Architects make the world a better place for all. So what? Making the built environment useful, safe, comfortable, efficient, and as beautiful as possible is the architect’s quest. No one else makes this their ultimate goal. The world is a better place for our having been there.

Reason57: Architects are rare. So what? At a time when it seems like there are too many architects for the work available – an imbalance of supply and demand – architects make up just a tiny percentage of professionals, let alone the workforce. Architects are a rare but powerful breed.

Reason58: Architects represent and serve all clients – paying and non-paying. So what? Architects matter because they are the only entity who serves not only the paying but non-paying client (society-at-large.) So so what? Who else is going to represent the needs and wants of the neighbors, community, stakeholders – while balancing the client’s wishes? Architects respect the needs and aspirations of both the individual and the community.

Reason59: Architects are a luxury. So what? Admit it. Human beings the world over have built homes with nothing more than their own two hands. Up until recently, the world existed for millennia without architects and can very well do so again. But why do so? Architects – for all we do – are a luxury that most cannot live without.

Reason60: Architects understand the patterns of everyday life. So what? Architects get urban design. Architects know that the design of cities and buildings affects the quality of our lives – whether this is acknowledged or appreciated is another matter. The bottom line is this: When it comes to creating urban form, places where people live, work and play, architects matter.

Reason61: Architects are influencers. So what? Not everybody has their own ideas for how to live, work, shop and play. Some architects, such as Christopher Alexander, not only influence their own tribe but worlds beyond their own (i.e. urban planning to software engineers. The adoption of Alexander’s pattern language by the software community is one such instance.)

Reason62: Architects keep things whole. So what? Since Deconstructivism died, architects – irrespective of style – one way or another have focused on whole building and holistic design. Our hemisphere needs architects to keep things whole, to distinguish east and west while acknowledging the best of both, much as the olympics have. So so what? To keep globalization from creating an indistinguishable world. To provide order but also character and pride of place.

Reason63: Architects look to the beyond. So what? Beyond the immediate problem. Beyond the immediate issue at hand. Beyond their immediate surroundings – to look at the impacts of what they’re creating on the world beyond. The universe needs architects…to explore how to inhabit other places beyond our planet.

Reason64: Architects touch sp many walks of life. So what? The world needs architects – the earth, our continent and country needs architects to address national issues. Our region needs architects – to represent what distinguishes one locale from another, to make sure that our work belongs to specific place and time, so that we might place ourselves in it. Our state needs architects, our cities needs architects, and especially our suburbs.

Reason65: Architects save lives. So what? And not just hospital design architects. “Architecture can save lives”— Newsweek. Just look at what we are accomplishing in Haiti. Producing housing structures for displaced and disadvantaged populations, rethinking humanitarian assistance and pursuing innovative solutions to contemporary housing crises. Focusing on disaster relief and inexpensive and affordable design solutions.

Reason66: Architects work at making stronger communities. So what? Our community needs architects. Our neighborhoods and even our families need architects.

Reason67: Architects are as diverse a group as those they design for. So what?  Some will try to tell you that architects have a diversity problem. Forget the stereotype – it doesn’t exist. Architects themselves are a diverse bunch making them particularly effective at designing for diversity. We champion the values of diversity in a beautiful way — values essential to creating livable cities and housing.

Reason68: Architects give good design. Daily. So what? Architects, some may feel, are a luxury. So be it. But architects, as purveyors and perpetuators of good design, are truly needed. Good design is not a luxury, but a necessity.

Reason69: Architects have respect for the past, perform in the present and aspire to have their work help create the future. So what? Architects work attempts to represent the time in which they build – which for us, today, represents turmoil. As Frank Stella said: Architecture can’t fully represent the chaos and turmoil that are part of the human personality, but you need to put some of that turmoil into the architecture, or it isn’t real. For many architects it is not enough that their work represents a specific time and place – they strive to have it belong to both their time and all time. So so what? It matters because our work will not look dated and have a sense of permanence and inevitability, not leave the user with a sense o f otherwiseness. As another Frank has said (Gehry): Architecture should speak of its time and place, but yearn for timelessness.

Reason70: Architects are gifted. So what? Not a wrapped keepsake voluntarily transferred by one person to another without compensation but a notable capacity, talent, or endowment. Whether born with talent or acquired along the way, architects are made, not born. So so what? We owe their many gifts to their professors, educators and trainers along the way. Everything they need to know they learned in school.

Reason71: Architect’s work is a gift. So what? No matter how much they are paid – or whether they are paid at all – what architects leave behind outlasts them. More time is always put into a project’s design and making than our fee could cover.

Reason72: Architects give it away. So what? Architects worldwide regularly provide pro-bono services to communities that have survived war, government oppression and natural disasters. It’s also an antidote to apathy.

Reason73: Architects create nations and destinations. So what? Architects gave the world the Roman Colosseum, Sagrada Familia, Fallingwater, Pantheon and Guggenheim Museum to name but five. Creating timeless destinations serve as evidence of some of man’s highest achievements and something for every artist and architect to strive for.

Reason74: Architects get sustainability. So what? We not only get it – we act on it. We knew long before the recent revelation that location of a green project mattered as much – if not more – as the project siting, orientation and inclusion of systems and products.

Reason75: Architects make connections II. So what? Another sort of connections – we’re literally connectors – but also associative thinkers. The world needs more of us – to feel less isolated. Our product – buildings – may be one-offs, but not the way we design or plan them. We’re always linking and making connections between things. We can’t help it – it’s the way our minds work.

Reason76: Architects make cities real. So what? Architects have given the world the best architecture cities in the world. Imagine if you woke up tomorrow and they had vanished. Barcelona, Spain, Beijing, China, Istanbul, Turkey, Chicago, USA, Athens, Greece – Parthenon vanished. Millennium Park and FLW home and studio. No more. Sydney without the Sydney Opera House? The work disappears – but so does its host. So so what? Architects create works that are inseparable from their environments –and the way we think about them.

Reason77: Architects listen. And listen. So what? People are helped when architecture is democratic. Take the underprivileged. Three past and present California architects come to mind: Michael Pyatok, David Baker, Charles Moore  – all as well-regarded for their exuberance as for their participatory design approaches.

Reason78: Architects need to know it all. So what? Architects work with what they know, creating a harmonious balance our of disparate parts. As Vitruvius wrote over 2000 years ago: An architect should be 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. So so what? A career in architecture, as one parent of an architect put is, is a never-ending learning experience with a myriad of “career spokes” springing from the hub of the core disciplines. The architect takes it upon herself to continually learn and grow, remaining throughout their career a student not just of architecture but of life.

Reason79: Architects are lifelong learners. So what? And not just because they’re required to gather tally, and document their continuing education credits. We’re curious types – in the best sense of the word. We want to know it all – everything – and are thirsty for knowledge. Which is a good thing – because we need to know it all.

Reason80: Architects are all alike. So what? There has been some grumbling that there are now too many architects – software, enterprise, business – and not enough design architects. Or that design architects aren’t getting their fair share of the airwaves. So be it. So so what? The bottom line is this: all architects is alike. We share similar values, obsessions, fixations and interests. We can learn a great deal from each other. So stop complaining – and join the tribe.

Reason81: Architects are action-oriented. So what? Remember Mies’s “Build – don’t talk.” That’s not just a Chicago credo. Architects design to build – with building in mind. So so what? We use words, images and action to get our ideas across and accepted. But in the end, most want to get their designs out in the world, for others to use, live in and among and yes, even critique and judge.

Reason82: Architects are master puzzle makers. So what? Architects are needed because they can put it all together. We fix what is broken and repair what’s been devastated. When given a 500 page program containing 1000’s of input and data – it doesn’t even occur to us that the end result will be anything less and a complete, cohesive and coherent work of whole building design. Bring it on!

Reason83: Architects are pleasers. So what? Architects are comfortable with ambiguity. We keep everyone’s needs, wants, aspirations and wishes – their ideas and ideals – in mind throughout the design process. With many balloons in the air you’d think it would be hard to make everybody happy.

Reason84: Architects are in it for the long haul. So what? Architects matter because they know what they produce will be around for a while – and therefore carry the additional weight of responsibility for their choices and actions. So so what? For, as Lord Byron said: A man of eighty has outlived probably three new schools of painting, two of architecture and poetry and a hundred in dress. Architecture changes a lot less frequently than trends. This means that architects cannot be at the whims of fashion – what we do, what our designs look like, have to make sense and last for many generations.

Reason85: Architects are never satisfied with good enough. So what? Why settle? Life is too short. If you can give everybody what they need and want – and at the same time, through trickery or talent, perseverance or insight – find a way to deliver more, why not try to do so? No architect strives to do good enough design – but rather, good design that is enough.

Reason86: Architects use what they got. So what? Architects try to make the most with what they have and are given – even if it is not expected or asked for. Had they not – the built world would be confined to making shelters. Like Helmut Jahn, we strive for an architecture from which nothing can be taken away.

Reason87: Architects, ever patient, persevere. So what? Architecture takes a long time to plan, finance and build. It requires not only the long view but the vision for the long haul. So so what? The architect has the perspective to provide this. Who else on the design or construction team can same the same?

Reason88: Architects work in flows. So what? Architects not only improve the build world and environment but also design in order to improve processes. Architects understand it’s not about the building – it’s about the business and the people and what they do when there. Upstream, downstream and throughout the project – architects follow the flow of movement and energy to and from their projects.

Reason89: Architects put is all into perspective. So what? Architects know the price of their art – the hard work that goes into it, the sacrifices they make, often impacting their family life and sleep. They’re willing to put in the extra effort, to go the extra distance, to pace ourselves over a long career. We truly are the change we want to see.

Reason 90: Architects pay the price. So what? Architects work hard, very hard, at achieving their goals. FLW said: I know the price of success: dedication, hard work, and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.

Reason91: Architects are of two minds. So what? Architects are able to think in both business and design terms, to use their design sense to further the business ambitions of their clients. Call it design thinking. Architects are leaders when it comes to design thinking – the ability to apply design sense to help others with their business needs.

Reason92: Architects envision what is not there. So what? But it doesn’t stop with sight or foresight. Architects are trained to be creative thinkers. We see things others don’t or can’t and are able to describe and explain them in ways that help others to understand and act.

Reason93: Architects make others look better. So what? Architects matter because they are there to help their clients succeed. Architects and our professional services firms don’t succeed unless the client does. Architects love to help others achieve their goals and reach their dreams and find imaginative ways to help them get there.

Reason94: Architects learn by doing. So what? Architecture is too broad and deep of a subject to ever really know it all. Continuous learning – there’s always something more to learn – keeps us perpetually on our toes.

Reason95: Architects thrive on less. So what? Our’s really a case where less is truly more. Architects recognize that in tough times such as the current one we’re facing better architecture can be the result. That tough times may in fact lead to better architecture. So so what? This is important because the opposite could occur – where fewer resources result in lesser buildings, less pride of place, and all of us being the lesser for it.

Reason96: Architects are here to serve. So what? Despite the reputation of some, architects exist to serve others. Except for the occasional architect-designed museum, it is what happens inside their buildings and spaces that matters – not the building itself. Architecture is basically a container of something. I hope they will enjoy not so much the teacup, but the tea. Yoshio Taniguchi.

Reason97: Architects operate both in the world – and outside it. So what? Architects practice an art that is in the world and also of the world. But at the same time – stands apart – is its own animal. As Thom Mayne has said: Architecture is involved with the world, but at the same time it has a certain autonomy. This autonomy cannot be explained in terms of traditional logic because the most interesting parts of the work are non-verbal. They operate within the terms of the work, like any art.

Reason98: Architects are markitects. So what? Architects help people and organizations make their mark on the planet – and do so with the widest appeal and the smallest carbon footprint. For better or worse, the first subject Prince Charles really went for as Prince was architecture. It made an impact. He was very intent to use his years as Prince of Wales to make his mark and architects helped him to do so. So so what? Wouldn’t you rather have an architect help make built statements than any other entity? They will at least be responsible, keeping all of the factors in mind. So make your mark!

Reason99: Architects play well with others. So what? Architects may come across as Howard Roark types – lone wolves in sheep’s clothing. But we are all born collaborators. Architects are trained and educated to work productively in teams, and despite the current interest in autonomy know that they get the best results when involving all stakeholders and working well with others. So so what? This matters because we live in a time of crowdsourcing, of co-creation, of participatory design. Architects are there to work with others to come up with the best solutions for all involved.

Reason100: Architects connect the past with the present and future. So what? Architecture serves to connect us in time – with works from the past, with past civilizations. Helping to locate and place us in time, to provide us with a sense of continuity, help us get our bearings and makes us truly inhabitants of this planet, not just hangers-on.

Reason101: Architects work with a palette of possibility. Architects are concerned not with the necessary but with the contingent – not with how things are but with how they might be. So what?

Reason102: The work architects perform touches so many parts of life – and of learning. It has so many facets, it can keep a person interested for a lifetime. As Richard Rogers said: I believe very strongly, and have fought since many years ago – at least over 30 years ago – to get architecture not just within schools, but architecture talked about under history, geography, science, technology, art. So what? Attorneys leave law due to burn-out as well as a lack of meaning in their work. Architects may leave the field for financial reasons, but few if any have done so for lack of what was found there.

Reason103: Architects strive to heal the world. So what? Architects still believe that their works and deeds can help to heal the places where they are privileged to work. Despite what Thom Mayne has said: I’m often called an old-fashioned modernist. But the modernists had the absurd idea that architecture could heal the world. That’s impossible. And today nobody expects architects to have these grand visions any more. Nobody expects this – except us architects, ourselves.

Reason104: Architects hake the hard decisions. So what? When a sales rep calls and asks for a decision-maker they hand the phone to an architect. Why? Architects matter because we have to make the hard decisions – thousands of them in every project. As Arne Jacobsen said: If architecture had nothing to do with art, it would be astonishingly easy to build houses, but the architect’s task – his most difficult task – is always that of selecting. Architects are first and last decision-makers. We make the decisions that count.

Reason105: Architects design for the heart as well as the head. So what? Architects create projects and places that affect us emotionally as well as intellectually. We address the whole person.

Reason106: Architects are passionate about design. So what? Architects do what they do because they are passionate about architecture and design. Despite the rigors of school and the relative lack of money to be obtained in the field, architects that have been in the field already for some time do what they do because they love to do it: plain and simple. So so what? This assures that we will go the extra mile, which is often necessary, to achieve a successful outcome.

Reason107: Architects matter because they sign and seal documents. So what? Exactly!

Don’t see a reason? Make it an even 108. Please let me know. Chiming-in by leaving a comment. Thanks!

Being of Three Minds June 7, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, career, change, essence, identity, software architects, technology.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
2 comments


I was of three minds,

Like a tree

In which there are three blackbirds.

Wallace Stevens, Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird

Technology is […] a queer thing. It brings you gifts with one hand, and stabs you in the back with the other.

C.P. Snow

While being interviewed the other day for an article about my blogs, I was asked about their genesis: What had provoked me to write them?

Explaining how my other blog http://bimandintegrateddesign.com/ came about was easy.

Architects and other design professionals have to deal with change from new disruptive technologies and work processes.

My other blog exists to help fellow professionals confront the forces that create an immunity to change – forces brought about by fear, hesitancy, uncertainty or misinformation.

What makes an architect an architect?

The original purpose of this blog – Architects 2 Zebras – was different.

It came about in order to identify and discuss what it is exactly that all architects have in common.

In other words – what makes an architect an architect – irrespective of what type of architect they are.

Instead of focusing on who stole who’s thunder and identity and reclaiming “our” title back, this was to be a blog focused on what architects of all stripes have in common and what we can learn from each other.

In the 18 months since the first post, the term “architect” has become increasingly common with non-design entities and many design architects resent this.

But it is not just the title design architects are concerned about – nor the inconvenience of doing a job search only to come up with IT positions.

Some design architects wonder if software architects have not only usurped design architect’s title but in doing so their mojo?

A Tale of Two Bookshelves

One only need visit any of the big box bookstores in the U.S. to witness two very different circumstances.

On the one hand, books on technology, computing, software and social networking are thriving.

Where sold copies are replaced as soon as those on display are depleted.

At the bookstores I’ve visited architecture-related books told a different story.

The shelves where architecture, interior design and planning books are displayed have been decimated, the few remaining titles left in disarray.

This could be seen as a positive sign – one, say, of strong sales – were it not for the fact that these shelves remain unreplenished.

Or perhaps a reflection of the buying power of the two architects at this time in history? Perhaps.

A situation all the more disconcerting for someone like myself who plans on having a book published and displayed on such a shelf in the coming year.

A Third Culture

“The third culture consists of scientists and other thinkers who are taking the place of the “traditional intellectuals” in rendering visible the deeper meanings of our lives, redefining who and what we are.”

John Brockman, The Third Culture

Good packages – like omens and wishes – come in threes (BIM, IPD and LEED come to mind.)

Thirds in fact seem to be popping up everywhere these days.

With owners and contractors, architects often feel like the Third wheel.

There are the Third world impacts from globalization to contend with.

Architects focused on the design and inhabitation of Third places – such as bookstores, cafes and bars.

We’re planning the Third chapters of our careers.

Our current focus in architecture on the virtual representation of the Third dimension.

The Third Teacher (a marvelous must-have book on design of schools and education by Bruce Mau with OWPP/Cannon Design)

A Third Way

And some less relevant to our discussion:

The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien; The Third Reich; The Third realm

and

Why My Third Husband Will be a Dog

A Tale of Two Cultures

Design architects like to say that architecture is both an art and science – both of the humanities and of the sciences – the two cultures first identified by C.P. Snow in his seminal lecture and subsequent essay The Two Cultures published 50 years ago.

It’s a reflection based on the premise that intellectual life was divided into two cultures: the arts and humanities on one side and science on the other.

Software architects on the other hand associate themselves with technology, a culture not yet represented by design architect’s two cultures.

Until now, that is.

In the intervening years since Snow’s lecture, third cultures of course have been proposed, generally termed “social science” and comprised of fields such as sociology, political science, economics, psychology, and anthropology.

As mentioned earlier in this post, my other blog focuses on this third culture: the social implications of technology on design professionals, firm culture, organizations, and the profession and construction industry as a whole.

But the social impacts are a result – a symptom that needs to be addressed – not the cause.

The cause is the technology that seems all but inescapable in the practice of our art and science.

So I wonder if for architects our third culture is something closer to that of technology?

To be sure, one could argue that technology has been with us all along, as the so-called science of architecture is building science, otherwise known as building technology.

But there’s no mistaking the fact that with the advent of BIM and other IT-related tools, architects have started to wonder:

Whether our profession now comprises all three cultures: art, science and technology?

And if it does – does one take precedence over the other?

Or is it – like Vitruvius’ triumvirate – more a matter of maintaining a balance?

firmitas, utilitas and venustas

Commodity, firmness and delight – structural stability, spatial accomodation and attractive appearance – have been called architecture’s ultimate synthesis.

Roughly speaking – these three terms mirror architect’s three cultures: art, science and technology.

Could it be with the advent of new technologies and the collaborative work processes enabled by them that we as professionals are finally in a position to achieve Vitruvius’ ideal?

Perhaps it would be helpful for architects to think of themselves as being of three minds?

To think of ourselves as having an art mind, a science mind – which we already possess – and a technology mind.

To see technology as less of a threat and rather as something that was there all along – helping us to stay balanced.

And in doing so garner some of that technology mojo for ourselves?

delightful, delovely, design

When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

R. Buckminster Fuller

Building science and digital technology both require that the architect have a strong grasp of how buildings are put together.

One cannot use digital tools, let alone practice architecture, without a thoroughly understanding – in minute detail – how buildings are constructed.

With technology and building science covered – let’s turn our attention to Vitruvius’ venustas or beauty, art, appearance.

You could argue – with Bucky Fuller – that once structure and function have been addressed the resulting building will inevitably be beautiful.

But I’m not going to do that here.

I’m going to suggest you do something else instead.

This week – I am going to ask you to acknowledge and honor yourself and as an artist and as a designer: your art mind, if you will.

What resides deep inside – after the documents have been coordinated and submitted, and work out in the field has been observed – what in you remains.

You know what I am talking about.

It has gone on for too long underserved, unacknowledged – by others, certainly, but admittedly by yourself as well.

How to go about honoring ourselves as designers and artists that we as architects truly are?

Each of us has our own way of going about this.

Pour a cup or glass and flip through the pages of The Phaidon Atlas of Contemporary World Architecture.

Or a book on Italian Hill towns.

Or head out to visit your favorite building in person. And really spend some time there.

Or volunteer at one of the many architecture boot camp summer programs taking place at many of the colleges and universities across the states.

Or attend the AIA National Convention (Design for the New Decade) in Miami this week – in person or virtually.

Fill a sketchbook with ideas you have been meaning to explore.

However you choose to honor yourself, take the time – this week – to honor the small, still voice that resides in you that wants to be heard.

What have you done lately to address and honor your artistic side?

Architects have been criticized for being “artists” when others needed us to be responsible constructors and business partners.

We’ve convinced ourselves to work clandestine as artist/architects, under the radar.

So as not to let on that we’re duplicitous in our motives, representing not only our clients but also the call of our higher selves.

Do this one thing for yourself this week.

As with any threesome, art is threatened to be overcome by the two bolder – and seemingly more objective – of the three cultures: science and technology.

Art almost always loses out to the larger, more vocal forces.

We tell ourselves that – as with Fuller – art will be served by our working within constraints, meeting objectives, representing the health, safety and welfare of the building’s inhabitants.

This is just something we tell ourselves. But it never is.

Next week you can be an architect of three minds – art, science and technology.

This week – go out and let your inner architect play.

For those of us who don’t get to design every day, it remains critical to our identity, role, essence – our satisfaction, well-being and happiness – that we honor our artistic side.

Our art mind.

So get in touch with what truly mattered to you when you first started out.

And matters to you still.

Do this one thing for yourself this week.

Next week you can go back to the rigor and challenge of living and working within the three cultures.

If not now, when?

The Last Architect? May 21, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, BIM, career, change, creativity, essence, integrative thinking, optimism, pragmatism, questions, technology.
2 comments


Indeed, the attempt to live according to the notion that the fragments are really separate is, in essence, what has led to the growing series of extremely urgent crises that is confronting us today.

David Bohm

Think laterally and simultaneously

Redefine the problem, reframe the questions and direct people’s energy

Meet virtually but also face-to-face

These. according to Renée Cheng, Professor and Head of School of Architecture at University of Minnesota, are some of the ways we as a profession will proceed boldly into the future.

Cheng, an expert in emerging technologies in construction, recently talked with Markku Allison, Resource Architect at The American Institute of Architects, in an AIA – Architecture Knowledge Review podcast revisiting the 2006 Report on Integrated Practice that can be found on iTunes entitled: 2009 and Beyond “Suggestions for an Integrative Education.”

While the entire interview is generally excellent, I’d like to focus on the final third of the podcast, because these last 8 minutes of the podcast are like gold.

It is not that Markku and Renee go off-script – it’s that Markku allows Renee to riff on the question of “What’s next?” in a way that we seldom hear or see in our industry media.

Gratefully pragmatic without a whiff of academic jargon, what ensues in the latter part of the interview is a true dialogue, marked by a calm cadence – with much wisdom – found only rarely, if at all, anywhere.

Perhaps the last time was in this video of an interview where soft-spoken philosopher J Krishnamurti asks physicist David Bohm: Would you go into your chosen profession today if you had to do it all over?

On Crowdsourcing

Markku asks: What’s next? What developments are currently underway that you feel will have the most significant impact over the next three years?

Cheng acknowledges that it is always difficult to project into the future.

Renee: Things I’ve been keeping an eye on are things like crowdsourcing. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the Netflix competition?

Markku: Yes.

Renee: Crowdsourcing, where you can put out a query and get multiple minds working on it. Not like a wiki where you can let anyone post but more like invited experts working in somewhat of a hierarchy, somewhat of a system.

Cheng went on to describe how her school has run some studios based on social networking platforms.

Renee: We’re going to start to get some pretty highly specialized people that need to be brought in at very specific times and not end up having everyone in the room all the time. So if there can be some way to streamline some of that – how to keep communication going without necessarily having everyone be face to face.

But isn’t face to face collaboration critical to the successful outcome of a project?

On Virtual Interface vs. Face-to-Face

Renee: The more I’m getting into this the more I am realizing that face to face is a really critical part of this. And yet there are huge opportunities for virtual interface. So how do we as humans overcome the fact that face-to-face is still the best means of communication? And how can some of these virtual environments or virtual tools begin to – not replace – but supplement it, potentially making things go faster and involve more voices? That is something I will be looking for in the next couple of years.

On The Role of the Designer

Markku: I’m curious to hear you expand just a little bit on what you perceive as the role of the designer in this new future that may involve much larger numbers of stakeholders input into design. How do you think that crowdsourcing and other trends you describe will affect the role of the designer?

On Utopian vs. Dystopian Futures

Renee: There’s a utopian and dystopian way of looking at this (laughter.) In the dystopian way architects become just one of many, many voices. The hierarchy is lost and it becomes very difficult to get good design. You just get a lot of compromise. That would be the dystopian future I would not like to see.

On the Architect as Advocate for Design and Design Thinking

Renee: The utopian future that we are trying to prepare our students to lead and for this role is architect as – in some kind of manner of – not necessarily master builder but potentially something more in the Kieran Timberlake model, the central figure, the connector – someone who can be the advocate for design. And for design thinking. Can think laterally and simultaneously. And can help others to make decisions that make sense. Ideally there is some role for the architect that is different than the role of any other experts, clients or users – or whomever is adding to this future design process – that are coming in. Because of the training.

On the Architect’s Training

Renee: The training is not that they know how to make a zero-energy building. Or that they know how to manipulate a BIM model. The training is that they know how to see things laterally and simultaneously.

See laterally and simultaneously.

Renee: Very few people know how to do that. And when you can see things laterally and simultaneously, envisioning multiple options at the same time, you have an enormous ability to redefine the problem, reframe the questions and direct people’s energy.

Redefine the problem, reframe the questions and direct people’s energy

Renee: So that’s what I would hope would set the architect apart from others in the crowd. As crowdsourcing or social networking or larger number of stakeholders begin to be part of the process.

Markku: The ability to position the conversation within a framework of multiple, possible realities.

Renee: Exactly. And to be able to frame and reframe the questions. Because it’s not about trying to find answers or solutions to things. It’s really about precisely defining the problem – and then the solution becomes self-evident. And any designer who has had that moment happen – or visited a building where it all comes together and makes sense – that solution didn’t come from someone saying “make this museum function in this and this way.” It came from a variety of things that were juggled at the same time. A lot of tangible and intangible things that get fit into that process until you reach a result that is so beautiful and well-designed it becomes inevitable. But it wasn’t from trying to solve a problem. It comes from framing the questions.

On Preparing for the Unknown

Markku: Do you think that that ability to frame the problem in such a concise way that the solution becomes self-evident is possible in the realm of the academy?

Renee: we’re trying to develop and nurture that skill in our students. It’s both a blessing and a curse to have this ability to constantly frame questions and prolong the period of not jumping to conclusion or solution…If we’re asked to prepare students to meet these grand challenges that are coming forward for their generation, then we’re going to need to think about how we’re going to instill all of these skills that we’ve always counted on architects having, yet prepare them for a future that is extremely different than we knew when we were in school – or that’s even existing today. It’s a tough thing for a curriculum to do. A challenge that I would say architectural education has not faced ever before.

On How We’re Going to Get There

Markku: An interesting time for you.

Renee: It’s always good to be living in interesting times. Sometimes I do wonder how we’re going to get there. The creative thing is when you go into the studios and see the students and how enthusiastic they are in accepting the goals of carbon neutrality and low energy design and just aggressively and idealistically tackling them. And very, very thirsty for the tools that will allow them to get there. I don’t think, in student’s idealistic minds, they’re thinking of the billions of dollars cut from waste in the building industry. They’re thinking of a future where all buildings are efficiently built, with a good use of resources, hopefully with well-compensated designers and clients that are knowledgeable and willing to take risks on things that are willing to move the technology forward and buildings forward. Communities that are livable and walkable and promote healthy living. Students are aiming for the moon – which leads me to think it is a tough problem – but that’s our role as educators and our role as professionals. To show them that yes it can be done. And that we’re just taking it step by step.

Markku: Well I think we’re in great hands.

We are, indeed.

Renée Cheng is a graduate of Harvard’s GSD and Harvard College. A registered architect, her professional experience includes work for Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners and Richard Meier and Partners before founding Cheng-Olson Design. She taught at the University of Michigan and the University of Arizona before joining the faculty of University of Minnesota in January of 2002 where she is currently Head.

Professor Cheng has written on the topic of architectural education in the context of emerging practices and technology. These writings have appeared in the 2006 AIA Report on Integrated Practice and the Education Summit at ACADIA in 2004. 2006 “Suggestions for an Integrated Practice” in AIA Report on Integrated Practice, ed. Norm Strong, Daniel Friedman, Mike Broshar, also excerpted in AECBytes, Viewpoint July 2006.

Look here and here for more on IPD at AIA.

Listen to Renée Cheng’s interview with Markku Allison on AIA Pod Net

Look here for the AIA’s review of 2009 and Beyond | Revisiting the Report on Integrated Practice, “Suggestions for an Integrative Education,” by Robert Smith, AIA.

Each essay from the 2006 Report on Integrated Practice is being re-released as part of the 2009 and Beyond series. The re-release includes new commentary as well as podcasts from interviews with the reports’ original authors.

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.

What We Talk About When We Talk About Design March 23, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, BIM, collaboration, creativity, essence, IPD, management, marginalization, problem solving, questions, software architects, technology, the economy.
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1 comment so far

Design. Noun or verb?

Building design? Noun.

Architects design? Verb.

So why do architects keep treating design like it’s a noun?

What architects talk about when they talk about design – is mostly buildings.

Design strategies, initiatives, options?  Design criteria, benchmarks and objectives? Leave these for MBAs.

 “Hiring an AIA architect,” says the AIA website, “could be the best decision you’ll make for your design project.” Yet no client considers their project a design assignment. That’s framing it as an architect sees it.

Design – the noun – is a tool architects use to plan and solve a client’s or owner’s problems: they need more space, they need to move and they need to attract more students or customers or retain the ones they have. They don’t have design projects – we do.

And note: the emphasis is on action  –  not thing.

To a client, an architect may help you to realize, recommend, guide, clarify, define, orchestrate, and help you get the most for your construction dollar. All verbs.

If that’s what we mean by design – then why don’t we say it? Why don’t we remind others that that is what we do?

And with the 2010 AIA Convention on the horizon why don’t we remind ourselves of this meaning of the word?

That said, if design is our core competency – what distinguishes us from pretenders –the act of design takes up a relatively small part of our day.

Over the past 25 years I have worked on several projects where I might design the building in a day – and then spend the next 3-5 years fleshing it out – and everything else that’s required to see to its realization. Some would say fleshing it out is someone else’s design development and another person’s iteration and still another’s level of detail. Sure – there is a great deal more design to do once the client says go. But again – the emphasis is on action – design as a verb – and not on the building.

One of the advantages of the new technologies such as Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) – the collaborative work process enabled by it (the subject of my other blog www.bimandintegrateddesign.com)– is that design occurs early, involving many stakeholders, and can come from just about anywhere. Yes, the architect may orchestrate the effort – and may be the one person qualified to do so – but she’s still applying for that position, it has not been awarded yet. Design in the near future will happen sooner in the process, by many – including considerable contributions made by non-designers and designers alike.

In fact – architects have been threatened by the role of the “designer” that has been appearing more and more in industry diagrams illustrating construction project teams. Where in these diagrams is the architect? The architect’s very survival instinct kicks in when this happens and what ensues can be unnerving. I have seen chairs fly and voices rise. Someone else is moving in on our territory and the instinct is to attack.

When we talk about design – who is our intended audience? By calling attention to design are we thinking that this will remind others on the construction team who really has the corner on design? Is this the meta-message for making this the year of design? “Don’t forget – architects design, too.” By calling attention to design, are we primarily reminding others that we design? Or – and at the same time – are we reminding ourselves?

Because many architects haven’t designed a building since the immersive studio experience in school and are in need of reminding. All but buried in building codes, zoning regulations, contractor’s RFI’s and change orders, lean construction, green building rating systems –  not to mention BIM, IPD, VDC and a hundred other acronyms that come our way – it’s almost as though instead of announcing to the world who we are, we are announcing it to ourselves. It’s almost as though we’re experiencing a form of professional amnesia or Alzheimer’s – and can’t remember who we are and what we do.

Design: Who we are. What we do.

Part of the problem is that the word design has become ubiquitous. Architects, of course, don’t have a corner on the design market.  Yes, architects design, but so do web designers, product designers, urban designers, environmental designers, business designers, set design, packaging design, game design, exhibition designers, landscape designers, graphic designers, interior designers, industrial designers, fashion designers and all the other T-shaped designers to name but a few.

If design is the planning that serves as the basis for the making of every object and system in the universe, then what are we talking about when we talk about design?

How can our purpose, our heart, our core – as design professionals – be such a small part of what we do?

And – if the new technologies and work processes have their way – we’re about to do even less of it.

Or do more of it in our heads.

Or conceptualize in the monitor, using the program’s built-in metrics to ferret out the most cost effective options.

The problem with the word design isn’t that it too narrowly defines what we as architects do. The problem is that the word design is overused, vague, appropriated by too many industries and domains – from MBA’s to makers of medical devices. I can understand the need for a convention to have as its subject a sweeping or enveloping concept to allow for the myriad specific entries and presentation-. As the convention material puts it, the weft through which a number of threads—sustainability, diversity, professional practice, technologies, leadership, communities, typologies, and others—will be woven. Last year’s was diversity. Next year’s – you can imagine – will be selected from amongst the remaining threads.

That design is not enough of a differentiator, whether building, city or global design.

To go from diversity to design isn’t to return to our roots.

Better we should ask ourselves these questions:

  • What distinguishes the architect?
  • What is unique to the architect?

Is it design or is it design thinking?

Is it design or is it problem identifying and problem solving?

The word design has too many connotations and is appropriated by too many industries. Earlier, I did my best to answer these questions here in Ten Ways to Face the Decade like an Architect.

10 Questions Architects Need to Ask Themselves

So, before heading off for the AIA Convention in Miami, ask yourself: What do we talk about when we talk about design?

  • Are we talking about design as a competitive advantage over our competition, namely design-builders and construction managers and other design professionals?
  • Is design enough of a differentiator? Others on the construction team see themselves as designers – including some owners and fellow design professionals.
  • By separating design from the rest of the process are we reinforcing others’ firmly held notions – however erroneous – that architects are elitist, arrogant, isolationists, rarified in some way.
  • Will architects who gather to celebrate design – and celebrate themselves – be accused of navel gazing, reinforcing the scourge of being labeled out-of-touch aesthetes?
  • Will architects be seen by others – disenfranchised and disillusioned architects among them – as reinforcing their already perceived irrelevance in the construction process, by meeting to talk about design they’re proverbially rearranging deckchairs while the rest of the profession goes down?
  • Will meeting to talk about design further sharpen the architect’s already considerable edge by playing-up their cool factor and wow factor?
  • If design can’t be taught and is something you intuit – that you either have it or you don’t – why meet to talk about it?
  • By talking about design do architects risk alienating teammates by remind them of their increasing irrelevance?
  • While the rest of the world is knee deep in design thinking will architects be perceived as focusing on design without the thinking?
  • By talking about the design of buildings as objects as opposed to systems, flows or solutions, will architects – with the Wal-Marting of the world and Targeting of design – reinforce the commoditizing of their skill-sets?

Thomas Friedman perhaps brought this point home when he wrote

If I just have the spark of an idea now, I can get a designer in Taiwan to design it. I can get a factory in China to produce a prototype. I can get a factory in Vietnam to mass manufacture it. I can use Amazon.com to handle fulfillment. I can use freelancer.com to find someone to do my logo and manage my backroom. And I can do all this at incredibly low prices. The one thing that is not a commodity and never will be is that spark of an idea.

Are architects talking about design like fish talking about water?

A San Francisco architect, Ted Pratt, Principal and Founder of MTP Architects, wrote to me today

The idea of Design Thinking is really taking hold here with business.  Last week I attended a panel discussion focused on the topic of Design and Business.  The event was held at Swissnex here in San Francisco.  All of the panel members were business people.  I commented to my business partner that we needed to be on the panel alongside the persons from Clorox and Nestle.  There was an administrator from the California College of Arts’ MBA program.  They have an MBA focused on Design Thinking.

Architects are already seen by many as the makers of pretty pictures. By getting together to talk about design will we be perpetuating this perception?

As Ted wrote, we needed to be on the panel.

Architects – working at many scales, from GIS to doorknobs – are first and foremost design thinkers. Design thinking is a term that some feel is the latest buzzword and by the time you read this will already be past-tense. But the truth is – whatever you call it – design thinking is something we as architects have done for centuries. You can learn more about it here.

What should our message be?

In the AIA’s 2010-2015 Strategic Plan, under Vision, it is written:

The American Institute of Architects: Driving positive change through the power of design.

Sooner that contrarian author and Design Futures Council board member, Richard Farson, author of The Power of Design, should speak at the convention.

And under Goals:

Serve as the Credible Voice: Promote the members and their AIA as the credible voice for quality design and the built environment.

Quality design. There you have it. With the focus front and center of the product and not the process.

The planet will always need quality design. But what the world needs right now is not more buildings but the creativity and ingenuity that goes into their design applied to the problems and forces at hand.

We love buildings – we love architecture – that is why we became architects: to be part of their design and realization.

But, as IDEO’s Diego Rodriguez says, Stop Treating Design as A Noun.

Is design even the message we need to be sending? At this time in history, shouldn’t our message be on collaboration, cooperation, teamwork, making our teammates look better, improving the process for all involved, playing well with others and our trustworthiness?

Design for the new decade

The 2010 AIA Convention has as its theme Design for the new decade. Design, a return to design. Getting back to our roots. Reprioritizing. Do what we do best. Which is namely,

Cool buildings, innovative form and materials, sustainable design.

With the selection of Dan Pink as keynote, the message appears to be that we have been spending too much time in the left hemisphere – with all of our focus on the left-brain thinking required of practice – and seek some Florida solace in the sun and respite in the right.

Once architects leave Miami, their brains newly balanced and their hemispheres aligned, perhaps we ought to consider the fact that what distinguishes the architect is the mercurial interaction of our left and right hemispheres. Design is not the domain exclusively of the left or right brains – but the back-and-forth interaction of the two. Our real value as architects occurs in neither individual lobe but in the space between.

Architects already do what the world needs most right now – they don’t need to emphasize one hemisphere over another – they just need to get the word out there a little louder in a world that’s already screaming for attention; that this is what we already do, this is who we already are.

Don’t get me wrong – I love Dan Pink. He spoke back to back at the Design Futures Council’s summit AND my kid’s middle school last Fall. He’s moved on – driven – past design onto more intrinsically motivated pastures. And we ought to take a clue from him and follow his lead.

So it should be clear by now. Design isn’t what we do or who we are. But instead Design thinking. Design deliberation. Design countenance. It’s not design – that’s shared by far too many to have any meaning – but what we do with it. Design isn’t a skill but a modifier for who we are and what we do. We ought to start acting more like it and let others in on the secret.

So go ahead – re-commit yourself to design as the architect’s primary mode of thought and action. Just don’t be fooled by the siren song of designed objects be they places, projects or things. What you are re-committing to is making design thought and design action a priority.

Design thinking and design doing: who we are and what we do.

This is the crux: for the present time – to reinforce the notion that we are team players, that we are relevant, that we are necessary – we ought to emphasize our positive impact on the process, not the end result.

We are designers in that we are design managers and design leaders.

We are designers – we are design thinkers – gathering to re-commit to helping to define and solve our clients’, city’s, community’s and neighborhoods’ problems.

That is design for the new decade.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

66. mac os x

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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