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Architects 2Zebras Celebrates 2Years January 2, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, change, creativity, employment, optimism, possibility, survival, the economy, transformation.
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2 comments


Looking back, 2010 was a pretty amazing year for Architects 2Zebras.

The 81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect post immediately went viral, reposted on dozens of sites around the world, including for a time on the AIA National website. To this day several people view this post from as far flung places as Hungary and Japan.

In July, ARCHITECT magazine generously featured both this blog, and my other blog, in a Screen Grabs feature article.

And best of all, you came back again and again despite my not having always delivered on my promise: to uplift while I inform.

Here are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010:

1

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

2

107 Reasons Why You, Architect, Matter June 2010
3 comments

3

about
8 comments

4

55 Ways to Help You Evolve as an Architect May 2010
7 comments

5

A Heartbreaking Book of Staggering Genius: One Architect’s Detour of Duty September 2010
7 comments

My birthday is July 5, the day after Independence Day, so I get to celebrate an extra day every year. So it is only natural that I would celebrate the birth of this blog the day after another holiday: New Years Day.

WordPress, ‘Zebra’s host, sent out an email this morning identifying some of this blog’s highlights over the past year:

What WordPress failed to mention is that I did not always deliver on this last count.

It has been a hard year for many architects. I have been out of work for nearly a year and there are times when the state of the economy gets to me – someone who considers himself an eternal optimist.

My previous post was indicative of this state of mind. While several readers wrote to me – by email, or on LinkedIn – that what I said in that post was largely accurate, the vast majority found it to be depressing.

It is never my intention to add to anyone’s misery – I thought I was just stating it as I see it.

I was wrong.

I can see now, through WordPress’s stats, that no one visits my site after searching for “just the facts,” “reality” or “to be pessimistic about something.”

One of my resolutions for 2011 is to be, as always, honest with you and true to myself, but not at the expense of providing hope, pertinent information and sharing my normally optimistic outlook.

There is a world of good out there – and in each and every one of us.

I’ll do my best in the coming year to share with you resources, insights and knowledge that is growth promoting, nurturing and, whenever possible, inspiring.

That’s my pledge to you.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope to see you here again soon.

Have a happy, healthy, prosperous and creatively fulfilling 2011!

Randy

Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP

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

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


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

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

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

What does it mean to be an architect in 2011?

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

And another reading this for free at the public library.

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

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

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

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

Taking-on work outside their comfort zone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architects in retail hawking e-readers and housewares.

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

Asking not what the AIA can do for them; asking what they can do for the AIA.In the midst of such astounding lack of loyalty, remaining loyal to their calling and their muse.

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

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

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

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

To pay back their student loans.

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

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

Architects working for food.

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

Or to no one.

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

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

Questioning the wisdom of being a generalist.

Architects of lakefront manses taking-on basement renovations.

Gladly taking-on basement renovations.

Questioning the wisdom of being a specialist.

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

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

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

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

Maybe there’s an opening for mettle-testers?

Architects selling life insurance to other architects.

Who void their policies by killing themselves.

Who kill themselves by losing their sense of humor.

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

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

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

Justice after all.

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

Otherwise known in the industry as a job.


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

To lay there flailing and writhing.

And they still don’t hire you.

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

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

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

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

Or need.

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

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

Or for a dime.

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

Where to start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be wary of the easy temptation of cynicism.

To be underrepresented, ill-prepared and overlooked.

Always the bridesmaid. Never the bride.For whom the phrase “the gray hairs are the first to go” used to mean you’re going bald.

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

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

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

And words like “salary” have disappeared.

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

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

While taking-on water.

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

Otherwise we sink.

To be an architect means to persevere.

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

Learning to persevere from American Indians.

Learning from cancer survivors.

To not give up, no matter how bleak.

To maintain your sense of humor.

To keep things in perspective.

To remain resourceful.

Ready to take-on whatever assignment you are offered.

Whatever comes your way.

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

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

But also just of belonging.

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

 (Apologies to Allen Ginsberg)

Unlearning to Collaborate November 28, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, BIM, books, collaboration, IPD, management, problem solving, sustainability, the economy.
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5 comments


Is the ability to collaborate something we are born with only later to forget?

Are we wired to collaborate?

Michael Tomasello in Why We Cooperate argues that we are – up until a certain age. Then – through conditioning – we forget. Tomasello’s book itself is an interesting act of cooperation, where the author invited his severest critics to poke holes in his argument and explore the implications of his work in light of their own research.

To put it another way: as we grow we cooperate conditionally, attending to the behavior of others. This has huge implications for architects and design professionals who might be naturally collaborative – through sharing knowledge, learning, mentoring and teaching – but are otherwise conditioned by the culture of the firm where they work.

Some firms encourage collaboration while others discourage it by focusing exclusively on individual achievement or by not valuing knowledge sharing. In a sense, you are collaborative because the culture of your organization is one that promotes and encourages collaboration.

The Latest Buzzword?

The word “collaboration” seems to have been invented to provide adults with a serious sounding activity that we, as children, seemed to do naturally.

We like to think of collaboration as the latest business buzzword but of course is nothing new. The word is actually 130 years old, making headlines nearly 100 years ago in the New York Times. We are all still trying to figure out how to do it effectively or at least how to sell it as a unique way architects work.

In any event, there’s a great deal we need to unlearn in order to return to our original sharing attitude and collaborative ways, including bad habits we’ve picked up since we left the cocoon of school and embarked on the hard knocks of a career in architecture and construction, where we learned to be mistrustful, skeptical, competitive, secretive, working independently out of silos. We unlearned all of the critical natural habits, attitudes and mindsets necessary to work effectively on integrated teams.

Collaboration Defined

While collaboration extends and reorients insight, increases efficiency, creates credibility and community, the word itself is too often loosely defined.

A definition of collaboration particularly relevant for our age of Building Information Modeling (BIM) and Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) is a process through which people who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible. (Grey, 1989)

Collaboration is simply when people work together to create something that couldn’t be done by someone on their own. We do it all the time when designing buildings, resolving problems or working with owners to deliver solutions. The difference today is that we need to get even better at working together and sharing knowledge to solve problems, which are getting larger and more complex.

Moving beyond our boundaries – personal, organizational – requires that we see our blind spots and who better than our fellow collaborators – seeing-eye professionals – can help us see our blind spots?

To do so we have to seek out people who have other pieces of the puzzle.

Wicked problems

Collaboration is best used to solve what Howard Gardner called “wicked” problems with “imperfect, changing or divergent solutions.” The problems architects face today are wicked in that they are complex, defying simple formulations and easy solutions, such as fighting global warming or increasing productivity in the construction industry.

Problems aren’t only wicked – they’re simultaneous – occurring at the same time. Buildings aren’t only complicated, becoming increasingly complex; they also change quickly, marked by a sense of urgency.

To remain efficient and effective, recognizing when it’s unhelpful to collaborate can be important. There’s no need to collaborate, for example, on simple, repetitive, fast turnaround assignments.

Conditions for Successful Collaboration

We don’t trust that this diverse group of people we hardly know will be able to perform better than we can on our own and tend to feel more comfortable and self-assured managing tangible things such as projects over people and relationships. Fortunately, architects are more people-focused later in their careers.

In addition to being people-focused, here are eight preconditions for successful collaboration:

Chemistry – because how can you work well together if you don’t like each other?

Equal, multiple expertise – it’s not truly collaboration if the manager cannot participate in design and the designer cannot participate in managing – it’s an assembly line.

A willingness to play – because fun leads to better, more creative results.

Listening – because it’s about the process of making something together.

Having an open mindset

Willingness – you must choose to collaborate – it can’t be done at gunpoint

Willful effort to work together to get things done; and

Trust between those involved

Why collaborate?

Because architects find themselves questioning their relevance, their collaborative participation is crucial. We perhaps sent the wrong message by recently honoring sole practitioners such as Glenn Murcutt and Peter Zumthor because it glamorizes autonomy over working together.

Why collaborate? Because if you don’t you will not fully participate in public, community, creative and economic life. We may be natural collaborators, but now it is time for us to build collaborative cultures.

It is the Enviable Architect who gets to Stay on Deck and Burn October 27, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect types, architecture industry, career, change, identity, survival, the economy, transformation.
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3 comments


This post will introduce a very short poem.

One that I feel perfectly captures the predicament architects find themselves in today.

But first, a few words about change.                    

As in What will it take for architects to change?

Let’s start by removing the word “change.”

Changing the word change.

Architects don’t like the word any more than anyone else.

Change itself is stressful and just the word alone has been known to raise one’s blood pressure.

And fight or flight response.

So what will it take for architects to evolve?

In order to transform, the pain of remaining the way we are has to be stronger than the pain of doing things differently.

From what I have seen and heard, architects have reached their pain threshold.

We’re crying Uncle.

Ready for the next step in our ongoing evolution.

Bring on the Next Age.

The next stage in our development.Is architecture a burning platform?

The term burning platform in business parlance means immediate and radical change due to dire circumstances.

Radical change in architects only comes when survival instincts trump comfort zone instincts.

When making major decisions or solving major problems a sense of urgency is required to achieve one’s goals.

Despite the hardships we face and have faced for the past several years, most of us have felt more of a numbness than any real urgency.

As though our eyes were transfixed on a nearby fire.

When it is we ourselves who are engulfed  in flames.Architects who would like an excuse to stay on deck

Thinking about architects and our situation today reminded me of a poem I’ve long loved.

A poem by one of the 20th century’s most esteemed poets – a poet’s poet – Elizabeth Bishop.

The poem is entitled Casabianca.

Four sentences.

Goes like this:

Casabianca

Love’s the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite `The boy stood on
the burning deck.’ Love’s the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love’s the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love’s the burning boy.

If one would judiciously liken the poor boy in the poem to the architect today.

And substitute the boy’s burning love for the architect’s passion.

The poem could be about the architect’s inability to describe, explain and justify their relevance – while crisis ensues all around.

Crisis of identity, of economy, you name it.

Who we are. What we are.

Where we belong. Whether we belong.

The poem would then be structured from the individual, into the world, returning to the architect in the final line.

As with the architect’s creative process, the lens of this poem widens from the architect to everything else and then, finally, back to the architect.

Something we often forget, and don’t give ourselves enough credit for:

Architecture begins and ends with the architect.

I know. There’s no architecture without a willing client.

And someone has to build the darned thing.

But while the building may belong to the world at large, architecture largely remains in our domain.

The poem’s build from the poor boy – and then back to the burning boy – is what makes this poem a whole, complete and memorable work of art.

Something the architect (stammering elocution) knows a little about.

I really miss architecture.

I envy you who despite all give it your all every day.

For it is the enviable architect who gets to stay on deck and burn.

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again,

Eric

A Heartbreaking Book of Staggering Genius: One Architect’s Detour of Duty September 25, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, architecture industry, books, career, change, employment, identity, management, optimism, questions, reading, software architects, the economy, transformation.
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9 comments


Today’s post will be brief: I have a presentation to edit and packing still to do. But I would be remiss in leaving town without first letting you in on a brand new book that I just read that I predict will take you and the architecture profession by storm. Before reading further, grab your wallet. You’ll need it by the time you get to the sixth line of this book review.

The book title: Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice

The author: Eric J. Cesal

Why you never heard of him: He’s a recent architecture graduate with 5 years experience as an intern and has built little.

Why that shouldn’t matter: You will be hearing a lot more of and from Eric J. Cesal. 

The consensus: This may well be the best book by and for architects ever written. And (to my wife’s chagrin) I own and have read them all.

What the book will set you back: $14.93 ($21.95 + tax if you happen upon it in a bookstore, like I did. See “chagrin” above.)

Who should read this book: Out of work architects. Architects thinking of leaving the profession. Architects who have left the profession but want back in. Former architects who have left the profession for good but on deep, dark nights lie sleepless in bed wondering if they made a wise choice. Neighbors of out of work architects who wonder why they wear a tie when taking the dog out for a walk. Anyone who has ever had to wear a tie. Katherine Darnstadt would like this book. Parents who find their recent grads living once again under their roof. Or in their tent. Employers. Architect’s spouses, friends, relatives and roommates. Architects who think they might have a story to tell but question whether anyone will care to listen. Architects who are considering doing a tour of duty helping the world in some selfless way while they wait out the Great Wake. Architects who think they may be the next to be let go. Architects who sometimes wish they were the  next to be let go. Architects who read architecture blog posts in hopes of finding someone who deeply, passionately understands their situation. Architects.

Why you should get it: This book  speaks to you where you hurt. Cesal is wise beyond his 31 years (33 today) and whip smart. He knows what matters and he (and no doubts his talented editors) cut to the chase.

Why you should get it now: The sooner you read it, the sooner we’ll all be out of this mess; the sooner you’ll decide to stick it out in architecture; the sooner you’ll find a place for yourself in this new world.

Author’s espoused purpose in writing the book: “We want to find ways for the architecture profession to prosper as our world economy transitions.” p. 42

Why you should read it: Cesal wrote the book during a period of unemployment. Nearly every architect – employed, underemployed and unemployed – can relate.

Why else you should read it: Cesal names the Great Recession the Great Wake.

What will linger long after you’re done reading the book and give it to your colleague to read: The author’s voice.

What this book could also be used for: Like a commonplace book that soldiers used to carry around with them for reassurance and companionship on the front lines, you can keep this book nearby on your own detour of duty.

Why I love the book: Interjected throughout the book are short personal essays describing the author growing up, personal incidents and events that helped shape the architect/ author/ artist/ humanitarian he has become today. I love how the book captures timely subjects (the co-opting of our title by others) and timeless ones. I am most impressed by the way the author maintains a line of thought, without jumping around from subject to subject: a real feat and welcome revelation in contemporary writing. Like the late, great architect and author Peter Collins, Cesal asks hard questions and isn’t afraid to linger in them until he offers a solution.

Why this book may not be appropriate for all audiences: There’s an excruciatingly painful scene involving a tooth being pulled. Alcohol plays a part in a number of chapters.

The author’s eye for detail: How Cesal knew the recession had reached his city: “The coffee shop I usually passed by seemed to have too many people in it.”

Why I think Eric J. Cesal is architecture’s answer to Dave Eggers: Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice is A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius if it were written for architects.

Favorite passage from the book: The author’s attempt to find work at a temp agency. (p.117) Priceless.

The author’s education: Three master’s degrees in four years: business administration, construction management and architecture from Washington University in St Louis.

What book you might compare Down Detour Road with: During the deep recession of the 1970’s we had Harris Stone’s incomparably endearing and well-illustrated Workbook of an Unsuccessful Architect (available here for a penny.) But let there be no doubt: Down Detour Road is our age’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by Walker Evans and James Agee. This book is our The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl.

Someone famous the author hangs with but doesn’t once mention in the book (very classy): Cameron Sinclair, co-founder and ‘chief eternal optimist’ (CEO) for Architecture for Humanity.

Representative quote from the book: “For all the things I had intended my life to be, for all of the  things I thought I would be doing at 31, I was sitting in the dirt, on the side of an empty, unlit road, jobless, homeless, cold and hungry, lusting after a street sign.”

The author’s solution: Cesal recommends that we have to come to some hard truths about the limits of what we do “and then leap beyond those boundaries.” He goes on to describe 10 types of architects.

What are the ten architect types he writes about? The financial architect; The value architect; The risk architect; The paid architect; The idea architect; The knowing architect; The named architect; The citizen architect; The green architect; The sober architect. He refreshingly doesn’t over-use capital letters and dedicates a chapter to each architect type.

What it says on the dust jacket: As the world redesigns and rebuilds in the face of economic and ecological crises, unprecedented numbers of architects are out of work. What does this say about the value of architecture? That is the question that confronted architect Eric Cesal as he finished graduate school at the onset of the worst financial meltdown in a generation. Down Detour Road is his journey: one that begins off-course, and ends in a hopeful new vision of architecture.

Like many architects of his generation, Cesal confronts a cold reality. Architects may assure each other of their own importance, but society has come to view architecture as a luxury it can do without. For Cesal, this recognition becomes an occasion to rethink architecture and its value from the very core. He argues that the times demand a new architecture, an empowered architecture that is useful and relevant. New architectural values emerge as our cultural values shift: from high risks to safe bets, from strong portfolios to strong communities, and from clean lines to clean energy.

This is not a book about how to run a firm or a profession; it doesn’t predict the future of architectural form or aesthetics. It is a personal story—and in many ways a generational one: a story that follows its author on a winding detour across the country, around the profession, and into a new architectural reality.

Where you can find the author today: Port-au-Prince, managing and coordinating Architecture for Humanity’s design and reconstruction initiatives in Haiti until 2012.

No, really, where can you find him: You can find him here. But seriously, he lives in Haiti with a family of two dogs, 11 chickens, 5 cats and a goat named Newfie. Read more about it in the Huffington Post here.

What’s next up for the author: As Cesal explains on his webpage, “Two projects are currently in slow, agonizing, one-sentence/week progress: NCARB & I, a chronicle of architectural licensing, and Lets Just Finish These Beers and Go, a semi-autobiographical romp about how to become an architect while making every self-defeating effort you can.”

What does the word “detour”mean in the book’s title: de·tour, n.

1. A roundabout way or course, especially a road used temporarily instead of a main route.

2. A deviation from a direct course of action.

Likelihood that the book will be made into a movie: Very good odds. I’m not a betting man but I’d bet on it.

Final thoughts: Someone get this guy a MacArthur Genius Grant. And a second one to The MIT Press for having the foresight and gumption for publishing this staggering piece of exceptional writing from an otherwise little known entity. Cesal may very well be doing wonderful, necessary work in Haiti but we very much need him here back home with us.

The quickest way to get the book in your possession: Steal it from an architect in the coffee shop. Or click here

What to do while you wait for your copy of the book to arrive: Tell everyone you know to read Down Detour Road: An Architect in Search of Practice.

A Heartbreaking Book of Staggering Genius: One Architect’s Detour of Duty by Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP 2010

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

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


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

It’s about time.

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

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

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

He was positively optimistic – and it was admittedly contagious.

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

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

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

The following list roughly reflects this ideal ratio.

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

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

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

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

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

Pessimistic

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

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

Optimistic

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

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

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

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

Out-of-Work Architect Speaks September 10, 2010

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

Become a Life Change Architect August 19, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, career, change, collaboration, creativity, employment, reading, survival, the economy.
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Fall is near, school’s back in session.

You can feel it in the air.

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

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

But should it be job #2?

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

Only to have their firm file Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Maybe our job #1 should be something else?

As in, ourselves.

Assuming we can all take care of our physiological needs –

Food?

Water?

Shelter?

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

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

But that’s just not the case.

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

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

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

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

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

It offers both.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three (St)ages

1. School

2. Working pre-great recession

3. Work/Life post-great recession

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Making a Major Life Change

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

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

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

But don’t let these strengths fool you.

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

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

Just take the first strength: Preparation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And don’t even realize it.

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

What was your secret?

How did you escape from the box you were in?

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

You designed you way out the only way I knew.

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

So why not try something different?

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

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

When all life gives you are tomatoes, make gazpacho.

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

Building on What You Already Know

You need help.

You want to help others in need.

And you help yourself by helping others.

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

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

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

With this book you can consider yourself reminded.

How Much Juice Can You Squeeze from an Architect? August 14, 2010

Posted by randydeutsch in career, employment, management, questions, the economy.
Tags: , , , ,
7 comments


I start each day – before doing anything else – by preparing a cup of warm lemon water.

Before tending to the still sleeping kids and pets, before stretching, yoga or meditating, before saying affirmations, doing visualizations or reading positive, uplifting quotes and passages – even before posting here – I take a sip from this cup.

Over time, while preparing my morning ritual elixir, I noticed no matter how hard I squeezed I was tossing out valuable pulp and juice.

One day I asked myself if I was getting the most from my morning lemon.

How much lemon juice can you get from 1 lemon?

Most will tell you, depending on size, about 2 ½ tablespoons (about how much I was getting.)

So how about if you could get a ¼ cup or so from each lemon

– with no additional effort or expense –

You’d do it, right?

Here’s how you can extract more juice from your lemon.

Briefly microwave the lemon for 15 seconds before juicing.

That’s it.

It doesn’t matter what type of lemon it is.

Meyer, Eureka or Lisbon, or whether organic or conventionally grown, foreign or from here.

What does the microwaving do to the lemon?

It warms it up. It pumps up the pulp. Prepares the lemon for the big squeeze.

Resulting in greater productivity and effectiveness from the lemon with less effort and waste.

So if you are not getting ¼ cup or so of juice from your lemon you’re not optimizing it, squeezing out all of its natural goodness. Which leads me to ask:

Could it be as easy to get the most and best from ourselves today at work?Architects, Freshly Squeezed

Architects, before the economic downturn, used to do work roughly matching their skill sets and talents.

While others had jobs, vocations and careers, architects had a calling.

And architects were called. Now we’re doing most of the calling.

When the downturn came, people were let go and holes needed to be filled by those who remained.

Generally, people within the firm stepped down to fill the role of those immediately below them.

Interns were let go – and so junior architects took on their tasks – while maintaining their own workload.

Principals stepped down to ostensibly fill in for senior managers missing in action.

Hands-off designers – who formerly operated side-by-side – picked-up software, manned their posts and joined the DIY fray or else were permanently sidelined.

All of this while everybody took on additional tasks such as marketing, business development and IT; vacuuming, garbage and kitchen duty.

Often for less pay. And less gratitude. In less time.The Big Squeeze

Architects of course are not alone today in feeling squeezed.

The book, The Big Squeeze, by labor correspondent for the New York Times Steven Greenhouse, is a personal and emotionally compelling look at what the American worker is experiencing today, an all too human tale about the American way of living in our time.

In an interview, Greenhouse was asked: Why did you title your book The Big Squeeze?

Greenhouse responded: I really feel there’s a squeeze on workers. In many ways, corporate America is clamping down on its workers. Wages have been cut over the past few years. We’ve seen health benefits get worse. Middle-class Americans have health insurance while the typical worker has to pay twice as much for health insurance as was the case seven years ago. We’ve seen good pensions kind of disappear, evaporate and be replaced by 401(k)s, which I describe as Swiss-cheese retirement plans. A lot of workers don’t have 401(k)s—many workers have little to support themselves when they retire. While wages are stagnant and benefits are getting worse, workers also are being squeezed to work harder. There’s less job security than there used to be. And with all the rounds of downsizing, workers feel more insecure on the job. If you’re feeling insecure, you’re less likely to push for better wages and benefits.

That from the comparatively halcyon days of 2008.

What’s Within Our Control?

How much of the squeeze is brought about by factors outside our control (the economy, globalization, frozen credit, etc) and what is within our control to change and interpret differently?

In other words, despite what the world is giving us today, are employers making every effort to do the right thing?

Are employees doing everything in their power – emotionally, rationally, psychically and physically – to adjust to the new realities of the workplace?

Part of the stress architects are feeling these days is due to their internal make-up.With obvious exceptions, architects

–          have an exceptional capacity for dealing with a variety of people, events and challenges – often simultaneously. The current economy doesn’t honor this capacity of the architect – limiting the people we work with, the number and type of projects we work on and the types of challenges we contend with;

–          truly believe they can do most anything they are given to work on. More often than not today architects are being told what to work on, how to do it, and given little say in the project’s definition or destiny;

–          work must be play or it is often not worth doing. Worthwhile tasks for the architect are those that affirm and enlarge the self, involve learning on the job and more fun than drudgery. Little of the work architects are given to undertake today – when there is work – could be described as “play.”

Architects also

–          love to please others. They will overexert themselves – physically and psychologically – to please. Today they are finding that there are fewer people – colleagues to clients – to please;

–          often work in fits and starts, and so when they become excited, they lose all sense of time, physical needs and anything else. They follow their enthusiasm until totally fatigued then collapse. More often today architects are experiencing a new kind of stress brought about from there being too little to do, too little to capture their attention and imagination, having to parse their work to fill in their allotted time;

–          are rarely complacent. With their job security at risk, few are willing to go out on a limb to voice their opinion or attempt to improve a project or situation for fear of rocking the boat.

Architects generally make more starts than finishes – and the work they are given if it is about anything these days – is finish work: their motivating mantra reduced to get it done.

Taking on project work that is outside of their – and the firm’s – expertise, the result of overzealous and opportunistic marketing efforts.

Someone brought in this project, promises made without your input, and now you have to complete it.

It is not uncommon for architects to work themselves into exhaustion while following an inspiration. Open to a never-ending flow of alternatives in any situation, the work they are given today does not call for their creativity but their ability to come to a quick and certain conclusion: not normally the architect’s strong suit.A Question of Capacity

As architects we don’t even know how much we have to give.

If we’re capable of lifting a car off of someone who has just been run over, we are capable of achieving a great deal more than we can fathom.

When an employee knows that they are valued – for their penetrating mind, their passions and interests, for their person, who they are – and recognized for their contributions to the firm, they will find that extra place from which they have the capacity to give.

Employers, ask yourself:

  • Are you preparing your staff to be more productive?
  • Are you being realistic about the amount of work you give them and expect them to undertake?
  • Do you explain on a regular basis how the firm’s and world’s circumstances are driving this situation and that – while no one can predict when it will end – it is temporary?
  • Are you doing all you can to keep your employees engaged with the work they’ve been given to complete?
  • Or have you left it to them to fend for themselves, sink or swim?

Prepare your staff to give – from themselves, willingly, and not because they feel like they are being squeezed from all directions – in terms of time, money and output.

Employees, ask yourself:

  • Are you getting enough rest?
  • How about optimal nutrition and exercise?
  • Are you making adjustments in your lifestyle to account for these changes in the workplace?
  • Have you identified ways outside of work to remain energized, invigorated and to refuel? Have you identified a prize for yourself, however you define it – passing the ARE or studying for the LEED exam, taking a course in hand sketching, traveling or visiting projects that inspire you or however you define it for yourself – and kept your eyes on that prize?
  • Do you feel like you are being squeezed in every direction, used up for your cheap labor, relatively flexible demands on your free time, your heightened energy levels, your need to gain experience, your wanting to climb the corporate ladder, your fear of being abandoned as so many of your peers?

As an architect, you are meant to give. Are you interpreting your current situation as the world telling you not to give of, and from, yourself?

The energy, attention, skill and talent are there in you to give – you only need to know how to properly prepare for it.

Greater productivity is ours to have – as individuals and as a profession.

The construction industry – which has seen no productivity gain in the past 40 years – will only improve if each individual who participates makes it their goal to achieve greater productivity and work more effectively.

To work smarter, not work more.

It all starts with you – one architect.

So, how much juice can you get from one architect?

Unless we change the way we work with and engage with ourselves and each other, the world may never know.