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Architecture’s Two Cultures II May 10, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, identity, pragmatism, technology, transformation.
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2 comments

Not everybody agreed in my recent post that architecture’s two cultures are “high design” and “high delivery.”

But there was a consensus that there is indeed a rift in the profession.

A split that starts with the way we are trained.

I taught architecture from 2001-2007 in the graduate program at The School of Architecture at the University of Illinois Chicago.

An ARE refresher course, a Professional Practice course and the Integrated Building Science/Design Studio with Dan Wheeler FAIA.

For all the prep work it entailed, and the marathon 4-hour classes, I especially loved teaching this last course.

More importantly, I believed we had discovered the Holy Grail that would successfully bridge education and practice.

I was wrong.

In 2006-2007 Sarah Whiting served as visiting critic and at the school year’s end, she presented her observations of the school to the faculty.

Which boiled down to this: it was neither fish nor fowl.

Neither known for design nor technology, the school, in her eyes, fell something short of either.

There are a number of ways the faculty could have reacted to this information.

East coast elite academic theorist frowns-upon industrious Midwest architecture program,

Was how they chose to take it.

Her comments played to the low self-regarding intellectual underachiever in every Midwesterner.

The faculty took it hard and were faced with a choice:

Don’t even try to be all things.

Pick one and run with it.

Director Robert Somol soon after came on board and brought with him a culture change.

Taking sides

Integrated Building Science/Design Studio was a tough course and made demands on the students. No doubt.

Stretching their design and technology chops at one and the same time, the pressure took a toll on its students.

That said, their design projects were both innovative and real, the outcomes admirable.

But with their new director the direction was clear:

You can’t be both great and real.

Choose one.

Choose great.

Because real’s not our brand

Cool won out over cool + buildable in school.

Just as cool wins out over cool + billable in the profession.

I personally am looking forward to when the pendulum swings back toward reality, as it inevitably does every 10 years or so.

When style goes out of fashion.

I plan on heading-up the integrated design program when it does.

You’re invited to stop by to sit in on the design reviews.

We’ll be inspiring future architects who are needed by the world, not just by other architects.

The school got rid of these courses because they didn’t fit the brand.

And what is the brand?

High design.

Architect, what is your brand?

World, what is our brand?

What we talk about when we talk about integrated design

One year, after an end of year graduate design jury, I was asked by my fellow instructors to select from the 60 student’s 30 projects what I believed to be the strongest design.

My first mistake was going first.

Given the combined, integrated building science/design studio make-up of the course, I selected a project that I felt was the best from both perspectives:

Strong design/strong buildability.

The project was good, even excellent, on a number of levels; and it had integrity.

It was a project that, if built, would have improved the world in some small way.

That could not be said of every project.

Wrong answer.

The 3 other instructors, in cahoots, selected a pure Miesian jewelbox – a project that, to anyone outside that room, would be hard-pressed to distinguish from a dozen others.

But the consensus was telling:

What we talk about when we talk about integrated design is style.

Say what?

In the May 2011 Architect magazine is an article entitled A New Theory War?

The fact that the title ends with a question mark will prove telling.

“If academic debates over style have quieted,” the subheading reads, “a divide persists between the proponents of practice-based and theoretical instruction. Two prominent educators argue the respective merits of these approaches.”

Or do they?

Ted Landsmark, President of Boston Architectural College (BAC,) wrote about practice in Learning Through Experience.

Anthony Vidler, Dean, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union wrote a piece on theory entitled Thinking About Architecture.

It becomes almost immediately apparent that something went awry in the execution of this article.

The fact that the two are arguing for the opposing side may have something to do with it.

Or the fact that these educators are supposed to be debating how much importance theory should have in a curriculum,

Except nobody appears to have bothered to tell them that that was the assignment.

Read the article.

Whether a typographer’s mess-up or editor’s oversight, the practice piece is more theoretical than the thinking piece.

And vice versa.

In the practice piece, Landsmark – who is supposed to be speaking about practice-based instruction – provides us with a veritable shopping list of the latest buzz words and smorgasbord of cited sources and unnecessarily complicated explications.

There’s mention of “design thinking,” “theoretical constructs,” “students…working in empirical contexts” to “reverse the degradation of our ecosphere.”

The word “architect” or “architecture” doesn’t occur until the 4th paragraph.

Where is “building science,” “building technology,” “professional practice,” “collaboration,” “integrated practice,” “integrated teams”?

The piling-on of terms doesn’t answer the question:

Does practice-based learning have a prayer against design theory?

In comparison, Vidler’s piece is vastly more practical and practice-minded, well-reasoned and balanced.

And his was the theory piece.

“There seems to be little argument that practical wisdom holds a necessary place in the curriculum,” opens the second paragraph, putting an end to any doubts.

And any reason to continue reading.

With this article there was an enormous opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses, benefits and challenges, of the two cultures.

And how together they might lead to the architect’s renewed leadership position in the industry.

And that opportunity was squandered.

We’re left hanging with the question, unanswered.

And – as with the integrated studio tossed aside in favor of the brand – a sense of loss for what could have been.

If only we had chosen what is real with what we know to be great.

 

In Search of another Type of Architect January 29, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect types, BIM, change, collaboration, essence, identity, the economy, transformation, transition.
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23 comments

It sometimes seems as though there are two types of architects: those doing architecture and those leaving comments online.

Lately, a number of my own comments left at various sites seem to stop the flow of the discussion thread.

They’re conversation-ending comments.

Is it me? The equivalent of my comment’s breath?

Is it something I said?

Or is it my Type?

I believe the best commenters (and architects) play well with others – they reference each other’s comments, build on them, politely beg to differ.

And they politely beg others to respond.

Their comments move the discussion forward.

Mine seem to just sit there like a ton of bricks. Anchoring the discussion the way a chunk of concrete anchors wiseguys at the bottom of the lake.

As though to say, um, thanks for sharing (not.)

Take for example this comment that I left at AIA’s new flagship publication, Architect Magazine.

The article is entitled “A Difficult Character” about how, when a leadership consultant reviewed the Myers-Briggs tests of 100 architects, he discovered there really is an “architect type” — and maybe a difficult one.

The big finding of the article is that the most frequent type among the architects was ENTJ — extraversion, intuition, thinking, and judging. ENTJs accounted for a whopping 31 percent of the architects that the consultant tested, despite the very low frequency of the type (estimated at 1.8 percent) within the general population.

The article is well-written and engaging. I just thought it was strange that it didn’t acknowledge earlier research that seemed to contradict – or inform – its findings.

So I said as much in my comment:

Posted by: randydeutsch | Time: 1:26 PM Wednesday, January 19, 2011

When Donald W. MacKinnon conducted his famous Myers-Briggs tests on architects in the 1950s and 1960s (published in In Search of Human Effectiveness) he found the vast majority of successful, self-actualized, creative architects to be ENFPs. Our apparent transitioning from FPs to TJs over the past half-century raises two questions: 1. Had architects with less pedigree (read: success, esteem, creativity, self-actualization) been tested 50 years ago would they have likewise exhibited a preference for ENTJ? and 2. Our organizations, profession, industry and world all demand a greater ability to work collaboratively, in an integrated manner: perhaps we would be better off with ENFP’s perception and empathy – two qualities in high demand (and, it appears, low inventory) when working on collaborative, integrated teams?

Is it possible to report your own comment as offensive?

That comment hit the ground with a major thud and pretty much put an end to what had been an otherwise interesting and energized online discussion.

You can still hear the echoes in the corridors of online comments everywhere.

The irony, of course, is that my comment was pure ENTJ: technically accurate, flawlessly judgmental, completely logical,

And not at all what the discussion needed at that moment.

It lacked perception and cooperation.

What was needed at that moment was a classically ENFP response: one that exhibited empathy.

One that perceptively, and collaboratively, worked well with the commenters who came before – to assure that there would be commenters who came after.

Soul Searching for another Type

Type Talk, along with Please Understand Me, are the 2 best books I have come across that describe the different personality “preferences” or types.

Type Talk’s chapter headings pretty well sum up the essence of each type:

ISTJ Doing What Should Be Done
ISFJ A High Sense of Duty
INFJ An Inspiration to Others
INTJ Everything Has Room For Improvement
ISTP Ready to Try Anything Once
ISFP Sees Much But Shares Little
INFP Performing Noble Service to Aid Society
INTP A Love of Problem Solving
ESTP The Ultimate Realist
ESFP You Only Go Around Once in Life
ENFP Giving Life an Extra Squeeze
ENTP One Exciting Challenge After Another
ESTJ Life’s Administrators
ESFJ Hosts and Hostesses of the World
ENFJ Smooth-Talking Persuaders
ENTJ Life’s Natural Leaders

Architects, by and large, are natural leaders. And leadership is something we could use a great deal more of right now.

But when you dig down a bit into what makes ENTJs who they are – what makes them click – largely has to do with their need for control.

And control is not something in great demand today.

In fact, it may go a long way to explain some of the frustration of architects who are unwilling to collaborate – whether by sharing their BIM models, participating on integrated teams or even sharing their work and responsibilities with colleagues.

Work, more and more, is occurring simultaneously – requiring lateral thinking – not in a linear fashion.

And that hurts.

And is incredibly draining. All that psychic energy spent trying to get such an unseemly and messy world to line up.

Architects have long been order makers – not order takers.

But life more and more is unpredictable and unrelenting.

Architects are a bit like Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer in the cinematic animation Fantasia.

We can’t help ourselves from wanting the world to stand on command, in some orderly way.

But nonetheless can’t seem to mop quickly enough to hold back the deluge.

Which reminds me of a favorite quote from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:

“I felt that I wanted the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever; I wanted no more riotous excursions with privileged glimpses into the human heart.”

Architects who show a preference for ENTJ want the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever.

And you know, the world is just not cooperating.

Can ENTJs become ENFPs?

The short answer is: Yes.

Long ago, when I first took the Myers-Briggs assessment, I had been assessed as an ENFJ.

But not long after I noticed that many of the world’s most creative architects were ENFPs.

So I wanted to become one myself.

I put myself through a crash course of sorts. One of the things I did was to catch myself when I was passing judgment, to stop, take a deep breath, and substitute a more general – and hopefully helpful – observation or perception instead.

I tried to show more empathy than criticism whenever possible.

In fact, for years I taught a segment of a graduate level professional practice course where I purposefully assisted lifelong ENFJs and ENTJs who wanted to become ENFPs.

When I retested I was sure enough an ENFP and have remained one ever since.

Except for the times I revert, such as when reading through a great discussion thread and I feel compelled to leave an ENTJ-type comment.

It’s that part of me that wants the world to be in uniform and at a sort of moral attention forever.

And you know, I may be collaborating, but the world’s just not cooperating.

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