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Bridging Gaps That Don’t Reside in Building Skins December 6, 2013

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, career, change, education, management, transformation.
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spanningNegotiating a book contract, writing and giving conference presentations, proceedings, and journal articles, along with teaching my college courses, I overbooked my calendar this fall.

What resulted for the first time in my public speaking career, I gave a talk at an AIA conference that I didn’t prepare for.

And by that I mean, at all.

I spent three months preparing for my keynote at the 2013 AIA Illinois Conference in November.

But my breakout session later that morning – Through Architecture We Bridge Gaps by Embracing Change?

Not so much.

And wouldn’t you know, it was hands-down the best talk I ever gave.

Or I should say, that the attendees gave.

Because the success of the session was due in no small part to the attendees and the lively discussion that ensued.

The subject of the talk – caulk – really seemed to strike a chord, and the architects in the audience shared lots of examples from their own careers.

The Culture of Caulk

In over a hundred talks I have given around the country, I never had a talk bestowed with the strongly sought-after HSW designation.

Until that November day.

The session offered attendees 1 AIA/CES HSW lu because the AIA powers that be thought the talk was on applying caulk.

The session description starts off thus:

Architects know that the most vulnerable parts of a building enclosure are the joints, connections or gaps between two building systems, and spend an inordinate amount of their time trying to successfully fill them.

The institute officials probably read that first sentence and thought “caulk – that’s good for an HSW LU.”

But had they read on, they would have realized it was a metaphor. And you don’t get HSW LU’s for metaphors:

While their designs and details are fortunately airtight, there are many other gaps that remain wide open and unresolved.

Still about caulk, right? It continues:

These gaps cannot be addressed by architectural technology because they do not reside in building skins, but in the education, training and practice of architects: gaps between academia and professional practice; between internship and licensure; between mentoring emerging professionals for leadership positions; and ever-widening gaps facing those concerned about career advancement and firm succession, including practitioners in all phases of their careers.

Uh oh…

Using the metaphor of the detailing of building joints, this presentation will show attendees that they already have the skills, tools and mindsets to successfully bridge the seemingly unbridgeable gaps at their various career stages, reconnecting training with practice, management and leadership in our architecture firms and those we serve.

So it appears that you get the coveted HSW when you speak on caulk, but not when you try to solve entrenched issues in architectural careers.

Hopefully posting this here won’t result in attendees’ HSWs being revoked.

All Detailing is Joints (apologies to Patrick Moynahan)

I told the session attendees that we’re here to talk about another type of gap.

And the need to bridge these gaps – through architecture.

I told them this session is participatory (code in speakers’ circles for my being totally unprepared) – I don’t have all the answers: none of us does.

But, I offered, as a believer in the collaborative process, all of us might.

I am your presenter, I continued – but so are you: I am here to facilitate a discussion (because I didn’t prepare one.)

I showed some slides of nifty bridges from around the world, hitting home on the point that it is possible to cross over necessary career transitions with panache.

What Gaps Require Spanning?

Does it help to think of our career transitions as gaps that require spanning and/or bridging?

And whether we’ll attempt to fill them metaphorically with caulk – or silicone sealant?

One such gap is between academia and practice.

Do we agree that it needs bridging?

I mentioned to the attendees that the past weekend the SAIC Design Educator’s Symposium in Chicago was such a gesture in bridging with firm visits, Archiculture film viewing and panel discussions.

Architectural Record featured an article recently on how the phenomenon of transformational change—in technologies, systems, materials, sustainability, management, and demographics—is unfolding faster in professional firms than it is in higher education. This gap is a concern.

The article offered remedies:

  • more practitioners should teach
  • more faculty should be professionally licensed
  • business and management skills need to be introduced in the studio
  • no longer does tenure benefit students
  • real estate finance should be a basic part of architectural education
  • heavier doses of reality, not theory
  • practitioners and architectural educators should work together

Another gap that requires spanning is from emerging professional to firm management.

One of the firms I worked for had a Sink or Swim (vs. training and mentoring) approach to bringing up project managers. When an employee graduated from emerging professional to management, the firm would throw them in the deep end and, well, stay afloat or sayonara.

Gaps We Need to Bridge

Other gaps need addressing, especially those between:

  • internship and licensure
  • mentoring emerging professionals and leadership positions
  • technology and reality, or
  • digital technology and building technology
  • men’s and women’s salaries
  • those concerned about career advancement and succession

On this last gap, SAIC’s Chuck Charlie (@charliechuck) tweeted:

How do we resolve the gap between the old guard now leading the industry, and the digital-native emerging profession?

Perhaps the biggest gap that needs spanning is this: Where our industry is today and where our industry needs to be.

Namely, adding value, reducing waste, growing and become more resilient and profitable.

That’s a bridge worth crossing. And as designers, we ought to be able to span it with panache.

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