Minority Report: What Drives Success in Architects? January 31, 2014Posted by randydeutsch in books, career, education, employment, survival, the economy.
Tags: AEC industry, AIA, Amy Chua, architect, architecture, construction, contractors, Daniel Pink, Drive, engineers, intrinsic rewards, motivation, NCARB, New York Times, Tiger mom, Triple package, What Drives Success, work-life balance
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There’s education, training, taking the exam.
Retaking the exam and licensure.
Then, once you’ve become an architect, it’s hard to remain one.
And there are so many forces that seem to work against you.
The economy. Fickle clients. Work/life imbalance. The hours. Competition…
I don’t need to spell them all out (because you know them all too well, and Roger K. Lewis has done so here.)
So what does it take to succeed at architecture?
To become and be an architect?
In the airport returning from the AIA 2014 Emerging Professional Summit in Albuquerque, I came across an article in The New York Times, What Drives Success?
The article was written by Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld, husband/wife professors at Yale Law School and authors of the forthcoming book “The Triple Package: How Three Unlikely Traits Explain the Rise and Fall of Cultural Groups in America.”
I want to focus on one point: What the author’s call the Triple Package.
About a third of the way through the article they write:
It turns out that for all their diversity, the strikingly successful groups in America today share three traits that, together, propel success.
The authors then go on to describe each of the three traits:
The first is a superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality. The second appears to be the opposite — insecurity, a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough. The third is impulse control.
The article – and the book it is based on – talks about cultural groups – not professions – but hear me out.
Let’s break out these three traits:
- superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality
- insecurity — a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough
- impulse control — the ability to resist temptation
Wouldn’t you know, these traits not only – as the authors state – describe successful ethnic, religious and national-origin groups, but they also accurately describe architects.
Let’s look at the traits one at a time.
Architects have a superiority complex. They’ve survived the tribunal of education, studio culture, and finding, negotiating and doing projects. They have design thinking and other transferable skills that everyone’s clamoring for on their side. They represent both paying clients and a non-paying one: society-at-large. They’ve put in the time and paid their dues. You would think architects have a right to think highly of themselves.
Architects are insecure. As a profession, architects justifiably feel insecure when compared with other professional groups such as doctors and lawyers, who appreciatively are paid a great deal more for the time they put in and the work they do. Architects are beholden to owners who – on a dime – can stop projects that are progressing in their tracks for reasons having to do with actuaries and their pro forma – things architects know little about. Architects are engaged at the whim of an economy that they can’t influence and have little chance of predicting.
But how can architects be simultaneously superior and insecure?
Let’s look at the first two traits:
superiority complex — a deep-seated belief in their exceptionality
insecurity — a feeling that you or what you’ve done is not good enough
As the article acknowledges:
It’s odd to think of people feeling simultaneously superior and insecure. Yet it’s precisely this unstable combination that generates drive: a chip on the shoulder, a goading need to prove oneself.
Many people who work and/or live with architects will recognize them in that description.
So how does impulse control fit into the mix? Again, the article:
Add impulse control — the ability to resist temptation — and the result is people who systematically sacrifice present gratification in pursuit of future attainment.
The only architects I know who suffer from impulsiveness are those who are impulsively driven to work harder and longer to achieve more.
Looking at impulsivity in another way: Knowing that it can take years before they see their designs built, architects have no trouble passing the Marshmallow Test.
The article’s authors go on to admit a truism that could not apply to architects more:
We know that group superiority claims are specious and dangerous, yet every one of America’s most successful groups tells itself that it’s exceptional in a deep sense.
Architects, deep down, know they are exceptional.
In fact, I recently posted this in another blog acknowledging as much:
Recognizing that nothing incites a non-architect’s derision, ridicule and ire swifter than to start a sentence “The architect is uniquely qualified to…” here are six qualities that make architects ideally suited to lead collaborative, integrated teams.
That’s Architectural Exceptionalism: which states that architects are unusual (check) and extraordinary (check) in some way and thus do not need to conform to normal rules or general principles.
Others are taken-aback when you point out that any group is exceptional in any way, as I learned myself, when several readers contacted me about the post above suggesting I substitute the word facilitator for the word leader.
One advised me: “No one wants to hear that the architect is the leader.”
Are architects a minority group?
We’re in agreement that architects are in the minority.
Architects, of course, make up a tiny fraction of the AEC industry.
There are 1.5 million employed engineers in the US.
The number of architects licensed in the United States?
Three quarters of these (74%) practice in architecture firms.
In fact, there are as many construction companies in Texas and California as there are architects in the US.
And there are 7,316,240 construction company employees in the US.
So, architects are in the minority.
But are architects being in the minority the same thing as being a minority?
Can architects explain their success in terms of their minority status?
These success traits very well may have implications for a more diverse profession.
But the question remains:
Is it possible that part of what makes architects successful is that they see themselves as a minority?
Let us know by leaving a comment below.
8 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming An Architect January 16, 2014Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
Tags: 2014 aid emerging professional summit, AEC, aid, architect, architectural education, architecture, architecture profession, architecture school, careers, emerging professional
I am so excited to be able to participate with you in the 2014 Emerging Professionals Summit in Albuquerque next week.
If for some reason I am not able to attend, there are a few things I would want you know – a few things I learned along the way to becoming and being an architect.
1. If you want to design buildings, design buildings
I actually learned this about writing. The best way to be a writer is to write. If you want to write, put butt in seat and write.
The same holds true for designing buildings.
I was fortunate to be given the opportunity early in my career to design buildings.
A large firm I was working for at the time made me an associate of the firm.
But there were only so many design positions. If I were to continue working at the firm, I would be a technical architect.
So I said thank you and left the firm to work at a firm that had a strong design reputation.
Then I left that firm and thereafter, associated with that strong design boutique, was given the opportunity to design buildings for a living.
I have been a designer ever since.
The world today gives you so many opportunities to design.
So, if you want to design, design.
2. You can reinvent yourself at any time
There’s nothing wrong with being a project architect or project manager. These are worthy career tracks, and in the case of being a PM, has a greater career longevity than being a designer.
But I asked myself, at the end of my life how would I feel knowing that I hadn’t designed buildings?
While acknowledging that everyone is different, this thought made me feel empty.
I knew then I would not be following the dictates of my personality if I decided to spend a career in architecture as anything but a designer.
So I chose design. And by that I mean I dedicated myself to designing buildings.
I took a cut in salary at the design boutique, and worked way too many hours.
But I saw it as an opportunity to reinvent myself.
Like going back to school, this short commitment to a professional transformation has paid off for nearly two decades.
And I can see now, looking back, that my life would have turned out very differently had I not taken this less trodden path.
3. Anyone can be a designer
As with anything worth doing, you just have to really want it.
It isn’t so much about talent as it is about listening.
Knowing what it is that your client – or your manager or you boss – is looking for.
And then using the resources you have available to you – including tools, processes, consultants and teammates – to help you deliver the results.
All the talent in the world will get you nowhere if you can’t discern what it is others are looking for.
When you present your designs, what you’re saying is, look: I heard you.
And that’s all people really want: to be heard.
The greatest gift you can give others is to show them that they’ve been heard. That you’ve listened.
Then, once they’ve been heard, if you have a better idea – show them.
They are much more likely to see what you see if you first show them that you heard what they said.
I grew up in a cookie-cutter split-level home in the suburbs outside of Chicago. We didn’t know any architects. If I can be a designer, anyone can.
4. You can see your designs built
For the longest time, the most important thing for me – besides my family and my health – was to wake up each day and design.
Design, but not build.
If you want to see your designs built, then you will spend time designing your buildings in such a way that they are buildable.
You will make the ability to put buildings together on equal terms with the ability to design.
Otherwise, you’ll be a paper or digital architect.
But not an architect who builds.
If you want to see your designs built, you have to be excited about discovering cost-saving, value-adding, waste-reducing ways to see your designs built.
If you can be as excited about putting buildings together as you are about designing buildings, you have it. You have what it takes.
5. You can make a killing in architecture
This is probably the greatest myth in our profession.
That you can’t get rich being an architect.
It probably helps if money isn’t important to you.
Money was never important to me. It is part of the reason I went into architecture.
People – your boss, co-workers, clients – recognize when you’re not in it for the money.
You do what you do because you love it.
If you don’t love it, get out.
Or take a vacation, take a break, and see if the feeling has passed.
If you can’t wait to get out of bed because you have the opportunity – the privilege – for one more day to be an architect, then money probably isn’t your first concern.
Which is good.
Because the universe will recognize this and make you bloody rich.
I will never forget the time, years ago, when I was first offered $100,000 to design buildings – to do the thing I loved – for a living.
I showed my wife the email with the job offer and said “watch this.”
And before she could stop me from doing something stupid, I replied to the email asking for $10,000 more.
We sat in silence watching my computer monitor for what seemed like an eternity.
It was thirty seconds.
When the reply said “sure. OK.” Deal.
Rule of thumb: If someone is willing and able to offer you a $100,000 salary they probably don’t care if it’s $110,000.
You don’t make over $100,000 in architecture because it matters to you.
You will make over $100,000 in architecture only when it stops mattering to you.
Money is still not important to me. But it is important to my family.
And so, like going to the dentist twice a year, I make sure it’s covered.
Don’t give it any more attention or energy than that.
6. You can open an office without any clients
One of the gifts of being an emerging professional is that you don’t know enough – haven’t been around enough – to be scared away from doing unwise things.
Like opening an office with no clients.
I remember when I announced to my colleagues that I was opening a firm, one took me aside and asked: “Aren’t you scared?”
At the time, it seemed like such an odd question. Scared of what?
OK, I learned soon enough. Who knows, perhaps had I known what I was getting into, I might not have made the leap.
But call it naïve or fearless, I opened my firm without any clients.
And by the end of day one I had three.
How? By putting myself out there.
Before launch, I hired a graphic designer and designed professional looking letterhead and an announcement.
And sent the announcement out to everyone I knew.
I got out of my office and, wouldn’t you know, while putting gas in my car, I heard a voice – a former client who, having received one of my announcements, asked if I would be interested in doing some work for him?
It’s all about putting yourself out there. You’ll find if you put yourself out there, people will meet you halfway.
Make it easy on others to find you .
7. You can teach and practice architecture
Before I graduated grad school, I went into the dean’s office and said there was something weighing on me:
Will I be able to practice architecture and write plays?
At the time, I couldn’t imagine being an architect without also being a playwright, and I wanted to know if there was a precedent for this, if this was possible?
The dean said: “If you want to do both, you’ll do both.”
And so, for the next dozen years, I was a playwright writing plays (some won awards and got produced) while being an architect.
I took that same thinking – if you want it badly enough – and applied it to teaching architecture.
And so, for half a dozen years, without any teaching experience, I taught in Chicago while running my own practice.
So, how do you get your first teaching position if you haven’t taught?
8. You can do anything if you have a sponsor
Join the local component of the AIA.
Participate in committees, attend events.
You not only benefit from exposure to interesting subjects, but as importantly – others see that you are someone who gets involved.
If you volunteer and serve, you’ll do so because you care about the profession; about the environment; about giving back.
The thing is, someone will notice you. It may not happen right away.
But one day, you’ll get a call to serve on a board, to organize an important event, to rise within an organization; to teach at their university.
Someone has been watching you.
When this happens, turn off your iPod and take off your earbuds.
You’ve been sponsored.
People will see that you have time – you are the sort of person who can create time – to do something outside of the office.
And they will push you a little, by presenting you with opportunities.
This person is your champion. They may not be your mentor, but they’re no doubt your sponsor.
Most emerging professionals don’t want to make decisions because they feel it limits their options, and in doing so, closes doors.
But in one’s career only so many doors will open for you in the first place.
You need to be there – and recognize – when it happens.
And when it does, ask yourself if you are truly interested in where it might take you.
If you are, well, go through the door.
I have seen it many times – and have experienced it myself.
The way you get your first teaching gig is to show up and get involved in the AIA or another worthwhile organization like Architecture for Humanity.
It won’t be long before you feel that hand on your shoulder.
Or you get that email or the phone rings.
And if you care about something, don’t be afraid of showing your enthusiasm. Enthusiasm helps. There’s not enough of it.
Being an architect is the best job in the world
Think of it like this. You are given so many days on this planet.
How do you want to go about spending them?
Being an architect is like the spacesuit you are given.
Only you get to choose which spacesuit to wear while you’re here.
I can think of no greater way to live on our planet than to have a position where you can act on it, change it, grow it, improve it.
But this is something I suspected all along. I hope you come to find this is true for you, too.
Wear your spacesuit well.
Architects 2Zebras Top 10 Posts for 2011 December 31, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, BIM, books, career, change, education.
Tags: AIA, architect, architects, architecture, influence, knowledge, Michael Graves, Myers-Briggs, Richard Foqué
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Architects 2Zebras ended 2010 on a down note and readers let me know it, many of whom came to Zebras expecting positive, uplifting posts.
Not walks down reality lane.
You made it clear: there are plenty of reminders of how hard it is out there for architects and no one needed reminding.
You needed encouragement, resources and guidance.
I heard you and responded with a year’s worth of what I hoped would be more helpful posts.
Here are the ones you responded most positively to.
Thank you for sticking around, engaging and helping to make this another great year at Architects 2Zebras!
A response to an article 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.
In Princeton in the ‘80s, I twice lived in – or next to – Michael Graves home and office. Here’s what it was like.
This post received a very strong response, in part because – despite the title – its message was ultimately positive and empowering for architects.
Ask not what our profession (and AIA) can do for us. Ask: What can we do for our profession?
Re-titling it turns out is no longer just for cars. Architects, in an effort to distinguish themselves in a competitive market and work environment, have started to call themselves different things.
Architecture’s Two Cultures (AND a Crucial Third)
In-depth review of Building Knowledge in Architecture is a new book and lifesaver by architect, educator, researcher, scholar and poet, Richard Foqué.
Letter to a Discontented Architect March 9, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, creativity, function, identity, optimism, problem solving, survival, the economy.
Tags: 81 Reasons, architect, blogging, comments, content providers, cyncism, discontent, irony, sarcasm, sincerity, skepticism, Tikkun Olam
Healthy discontent is the prelude to progress.
Thanks for writing – now it’s my turn. I know it’s particularly hard out there right now and it’s hard for even the most diehard optimist to come up with the words you need to hear without sounding either glib or out of touch. But I understand your restlessness and discontent with your situation and may have a suggestion or two on how you might turn things around for the better.
First, let it be said, to be discontent – with our profession or the built environment, with your lot in life or the lot you’ve been given to work with, the cards you’ve been dealt and position you’ve been put in, the state of the economy or the way government is handling it – is a natural, healthy state to be in. Like stress – it is a critical part of what it means to be human and, to a point, our dissatisfaction with the way things are keeps us focused, energized and motivated.
As an architect, you in fact need to remain discontent for as long as you can stand it. For to be discontent means you are alive, have a pulse, blood is running through your veins – all good.
You just need to be sure you are discontent with the right things.
By nature a discontented lot – architects look at what is and envision the way it can be. They not only create the built environment but see their interventions as improving the world around them – both the natural and the manmade. Yes, you heard that right. Most architects believe and have it ingrained early, that their work actually improves upon nature. Consider that! Most wouldn’t bother doing what they do if that wasn’t the case.
Architects are a discontented sort. They don’t like the way empty sites just sit there – so they look for or create opportunities whereby they can fill it with something. They don’t like the way existing buildings go underutilized – so they propose new uses for them. They don’t like the way others design their buildings – so they improve upon them by proposing their own. They don’t like the way clients stingily give them one building at a time to design so they go ahead and give their clients – for free – a value-added master plan indicating the unasked for, strategic placement of backlog for years to come! They don’t like the way developers maximize the gross area to reap the maximum reward irrespective of what needs there might be, so they propose buildings that meet the needs while making more efficient use of the site.
Architects improve upon whatever they see. They are always looking for ways to make things better – to the chagrin of our clients – even when they don’t necessarily need improving. They don’t like the way things are done and – action-oriented, creative, energized as they are – they do something about it.
That is why it is important to remain discontent – and sustain a perpetual state of restlessness – for as long as you can. For architecture – and becoming an architect – takes a long time. And you need to be there for it.
Discontent with those content
It’s a strange, contradictory and even a bit snobbish truism that architects who are content with everything are held in lower esteem by peers and even seen by some as sell-outs. It implies a serious lack of critical judgment, ignorance and worst of all, curiosity. Strange and unfortunate, but true.
To be content with something is seen as a sign of weakness. If you are OK with something it either means you have no values, you have no guts, you have no morals, you are too easily pleased, you’re a push-over, you’re ignorant or you have no ideas of your own. You’re made up of lesser stuff. Not up to snuff, there’s a place for people like you and, well, it’s not with us.
There is a great deal that needs improvement in our world and contentedness implies self-satisfaction when there’s still much work to do. Always is. As though to say, to be dissatisfied is to be alive. I’ll have plenty of time to be satisfied when I’m dead.
This is just to say I understand your discontent with your situation. You put in a lot of work and expended a lot of energy to make your way through school, to land your first positions, only – you say – to be handed this.
The Art of Being Discontent
So be discontent. A little discontent is fine and to be expected – this is what we are and who we are. Its par for the course for architects as we make our way through school into our careers as designers and custodians of the built environment to be a bit disgruntled with what lies in store or just outside our window or within our purview.
We need to be a bit discontent to be motivated to put up with all we have to put up with on the road from concept and visualization to realization of built form, whether we’re designing our careers or buildings.
Buildings made from contented architects would be a little bland. The world does not need more blah.
That said, choose wisely the things you are discontent about. Know the difference between supportive, constructive words and a rant. Less screed, more helping each other to succeed.
Criteria for healthy discontent
The allure of skepticism is its exoneration from obligation: if nothing works properly why try? If everyone is insincere why be honest? How can we trust when deceit is rampant, when cultural heroes are routinely toppled? – Baruch Epstein
But also like stress, like anything taken too far to excess, discontent turns into something vile and largely unhealthy to the body politic, and starts to appear less as a natural and understandable dissatisfaction and more like sarcasm and cynicism. Discontent becomes unsustainable as an operating procedure – bitter to be around, alienating, undermining our very efforts at communication and progress. Discontent becomes dour, corrosive and regressive – adding little but bile to the conversation. When like that you become disbelieving in the very possibility of sincerity of human motives.
Architects and cynics alike design and build protective walls to stand behind and contain. Skepticism and irony, sarcasm and cynicism are merely barriers to protect the deeply emotional expectations architects have for themselves in these uncertain times. This is entirely understandable – it’s scary out there. And yet, it may seem that without cynicism, architects have no place to hide. But as enclosures go, cynicism is the drafty, unsustainable, energy-wasting kind. Don’t go there.
As important as it is to be discontent – it is just as important to not be cynical. Cynicism will eat away at you. Know the difference between cynicism and sarcasm, discontent and skepticism. Only the latter two will serve you well. The former will make you dispassionate; you’ll come across to colleagues and clients alike – however unintended – as snide and angry and obtuse, standing in the way of the very progress you profess to perpetuate. Go on ridicule sincerity – when sincerity stands in your way of accomplishing great deeds.
Building designers – and for that matter bloggers and others who start and contribute to online discussions and forums – are content providers while, dissatisfied consumers of these have largely become discontent providers. Before adding your two cents, ask yourself these three things. Is, what I’m about to write nurturing? Is it growth promoting? And does it work (for others?)
If not, perhaps it doesn’t need to be said.
This criteria, it would seem, doesn’t allow for humorous, ironic and sarcastic responses and asides. Bringing more humor into our lives is always welcome. The question again is one of intent: is the jibe intended to hurt or to help? Because right now, we – as a profession, as colleagues and co-creators with one another – need a little less sarcasm and more support.
As you may know, I recently posted “81 Reasons Why There Has Never Been a Better Time to Be an Architect.” Unabashedly optimistic, positive, uplifting – and asking for trouble. An outpouring of responses followed. Most of the positive ones were lengthy, while those less enthralled identified themselves with just two initials, posting 3-word screeds as though to say it wasn’t worth the time and effort (i.e. what is?) So, perhaps understandably, yk wrote “this is a joke, right?” and kh commented “Feel good fluff,” some more mean-spirited than others, one implying maybe I wouldn’t be in this situation “if your posts were more concise.” One comment perhaps spoke for everyone else: “I’d trade all 81 reasons for work.”
While contrarian views such as these are targets for concision, some of the comments that were left were downright accusatory, as though to say: all things considered, you really ought to be less content. You ought to be less happy and a whole lot less optimistic.
Architects comment on industry forums angered at the fact that they cannot call themselves architects while unlicensed technologists can. Standing on the sidelines back against the wall, design architects are deciding whether to bow out or wait out this dance. Cynical? Absolutely. Sneering? Sarcastic? To be sure. But also fearful. They’re afraid. Very, very afraid – about their future, about the fact that their hard fought education – not yet paid for – may have been for naught. That the initial inroads into the profession was at best a misfire, spent on the sidelines or behind the scenes cleaning-up other people’s mess. And yet, and yet we needn’t worry until we start to see the language of fear verge toward the language of anger. And this seething anger is, I’m afraid, something we are starting to see.
The content of discontent
There’s an inherent optimism in an architect’s discontent, as though to say: “I don’t like the way things are and I’m going to do something about it.” In this way, the act of architecture is one of healing. Tikkun Olam – repairing the world, healing the earth. There is always the initial recognition and awareness that something is wrong that needs to be righted, something is broken that needs to be fixed.
One fallout from the current economy is that under- and unemployed architects are subjected not only to the prospect of having less work but having seemingly less opportunity to make positive outcomes from their critical stances. In addition to the indignities of our current state, we remain discontent without the apparent creative outlet or opportunity to introduce change. To right what has been wronged.
But to believe this is wrong. We can tap into and turn our natural abundance of discontent toward the improvement of so much in our world that needs fixing. It may not be the occasional fire station, student residence or library for the near term. We will have to find other subjects in need of our healthy discontent to address in the interim.
A prelude to progress
Thomas Edison said that discontent is the first necessity of progress.
What are the right things worth being discontent about? Here are a few important things to consider:
- Global warming: Improving the environment while using less energy
- Education: Teaching future designers and architects what they need to know to succeed in the future
- Our future as designers: Explaining the value of design to the unaware
- The natural environment: Explaining the real meaning of sustainability to those who can do something about it
- Sprawl I: Identifying ways to contain sprawl and present them
- Sprawl II: Devote yourself to the improvement of our suburbs
- The profession: Create a viable, win-win value proposition for architects in the age of BIM and IPD
- Stubbornness, stagnation and unwillingness to change: Become a change agent for those unwilling to change
- Construction: dissatisfied with the amount of construction, time and money waste and want to do something about it
- Collaboration: with the way team members withhold information and work at odds with each other
- Professional organizations: want to feel that members are better served while helping to serve yourself
- Value proposition: frustrated with owner’s expectations about how/how little design professionals are paid
I’m sure you have a list of your own. If not, this is the time to take note.
What are some of the things that we shouldn’t bother being discontent with?
- Trivial things, minutia
- Things we have no control over
- Situations that wouldn’t be improved despite our intervening and attention
In these cases, they need a whole lot of care from someone else – namely themselves.
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. George Bernard Shaw
The world needs you even if clients or employers don’t seem to right now. As an architect you have always had two clients – a paying one and, in the public-at-large, in building users and surrounding communities – a non-paying client.
Now it’s your turn. So go on – be discontent, dissatisfied with your situation. Turn it toward positive results. Turn – this negative energy toward something constructive and productive.
Turn – the collective frustration into a major rebuilding effort.
Turn – your anger into something productive.
Turn – your frustration into improving the profession
Turn – your experience into something helpful and positive
Turn – your attention to what needs fixing
Turn – your unending creativity toward building up rather than tearing down
Turn – your words around and ask what you could be doing for your community, for your industry and your fellow professionals in need – right now.
This may very well indeed be the winter of our discontent. If so, use it to improve one small corner of the world. And then get out in front of it. Our good works aren’t a bastion against anything – but rather a backdrop for what, ahead, is sure to be more a promising time of it. Together – if each of us takes our one small place – we will in time create a better world and lives for ourselves and for those around us. And that is nothing to be discontent about.
Ten Ways to Face the Decade like an Architect January 8, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, change, creativity, optimism, possibility, problem solving, the economy.
Tags: Ambiguity, architect, decade, design thinking, details, flows, prototypes, system thinking, thinking like an architect
Many people say that they would have liked to become an architect but for the math or drawing requirement – areas where they felt they were weak. While sketching and crunching numbers remain important parts of what an architect does, with technology and others nearby to help out, these skills have become less critical with time while other skillsets, mindsets and attitudes have come to fore. The irony is that architects to a great extent don’t do the very things that might have kept you from pursuing this career in the first place.
But luckily that need not deter you from thinking like one. Architects are trained to face seemingly intractable, unsolvable problems with a set of tools and mindsets that are readily accessible by all.
So, at the start of a new decade, let’s turn our attention to how architects approach problems – so that we might do the same in our own lives, at home and work, in our schools, neighborhoods, cities and the world at large.
What can we learn from the ways architects think that might help us improve our lives and the world?
Architects see the Big Picture – how often have you worked on a team when most of those involved focus on their own special interest areas, in silos, seemingly unable to see how their viewpoint impacts others? Architects are trained to understand their client’s, user’s and neighbor’s issues and circumstances and come up with multiple solutions that not only solve the problem for all involved but do so while successfully addressing multiple constraints brought about by economics, the site, user’s needs, resource availability, politics. In other words – architects determine the consequences for their paths of action and decide accordingly. Architects are often characterized as focusing on objects and things – at the expense of all else. But in truth what separates the architect from others is that they see everything as a system, the object of their assignment as either a contributor or inhibitor of the various necessary flows within that system. In the end, you may walk into the physical library or school that they designed, but to them it’s all part of a much larger, largely invisible, network of flows.
Architects focus on the Details – specifically, the Divine Details. How so? Architects believe that opportunities for discovery and creativity come from focusing on the details. Architects say, after Mies, “God is in the details” while others might say “The devil is in the details.” Architects are optimists – we have to be – in order to work on the front ends of projects, to visualize and imagine them one day existing despite so many obstacles in their path. Non-architects more often opt for the devil version, where solutions break down when you examine them closely enough. You can see this most often when someone in a meeting offers to play the “devil’s advocate,” determined to kill whatever promising idea is in their path by death-by-detail. When it comes to details, go the God route.
Architects believe in Reciprocity – Sees the big picture in the detail and the detail in the big picture – keeping things whole, a hidden wholeness, all of a piece, keeping chaos at bay, providing meaning and purpose, when elements refer to a larger whole relate, appear less arbitrary, justified in their existence. The house is a city and the city a house. Architects address the big picture and the details at the same time. Their work is organic in this way – where every part is of the whole.
Architects Synthesize – as much as they are sometimes labeled as head in the clouds, impractical dreamers, architects always have at least one foot in the ground because they know if they are ever going to build what they’ve dreamed-up every idea and suggestion needs to have a corresponding answer in the real world. Architects only take to the air knowing that the goal is to land safely. They take part in digressive thinking knowing that sooner rather than later they need to return from their excursion – where they gather information and explore alternatives – to solid land with ready answers in terms of gravity, dollars and sense.
Architects like Ambiguity – they’re even comfortable with ambiguity. The architect has a lot thrown at them in the early stages of a project – a lot of unknowns – it’s pretty difficult to juggle all those balls especially if you’re the sort who needs to hold onto a ball or two while the others are in the air. Architects are trained to keep the balls in the air for as long a possible while a solution makes itself known. Yes, many have a reputation for designing for too long, but truth be told, just as often the architect is delaying the materialization of a solution while still gathering critical information from stakeholders as well as shareholders. Bean counters tend not to be so comfortable with ambiguity. This calls on another skill of the architect…
Architects Manage Expectations – architects today are expected to work quickly, efficiently and expertly all at once. But as every architect worthy of her name knows, you can have it free, now and perfect – pick two – but not all three. I can lower my fee and get it to you sooner – but the quality will suffer. Or get you great detailing and quick – but it’s going to cost you. Knowing this – and because architects can see the big picture well into the future – they need to temper expectations. They do this subtly, casually, along the way.
Architects remain Flexible – stuff changes all the time. Architects know they need to roll with the punches. I used to design buildings, no matter how large and complex, by coming to a solution rather quickly then holding on to my hat – and my breath – as the design went through the veritable spanking machine of the process before coming out the other end a building. If 80% resembled the way it first started out, I deemed it a success. This is no doubt – like bungee jumping – a game for youth and not recommended for those faint of heart. Today, older and wiser, I recommend keeping a vision in one’s mind while allowing for other possibilities as information is gathered and feedback provided and realities set it. Neither way is foolproof – and both can lead to great results – but the key lesson here is not to approach situations with preconceived ideas, lest you repeat the last one you did in a new situation. Each site and situation, client and opportunity, is unique and deserves the architect’s full display of resources.
Architects Prototype – not stereotype. Architects, as designers, love to make models and sketch – they do so to test ideas out quickly and inexpensively before going to the big show. As rigid as some architects may come across when it comes to their limited wardrobe palette, architects seldom zoom in on one solution, even if they know intuitively beforehand that it is the right solution. Why? Because the right solution may not be the best solution for those involved.
Architects Facilitate – meetings, presentations, discussions need someone who both belongs to the group and at the same time –simultaneously – can stand apart. Architects always keep the goal in mind and in doing so keep the topic moving forward. They design and present knowing that they are leading the client down a path. And once the client has taken their first step on that path, everything that is said and offered ought to move the story forward. No diversions, no distractions. Sure, architects take flight of fancies as much as anyone. But all know if these flights are to end in real results – they need to have both feet on the ground and place one in front of the other until they arrive at their mutual destination.
Architects Help – most architects will tell you if they weren’t able to practice their chosen profession any longer and were given the choice would opt for one of the helping fields – medicine, healthcare, therapy. As a service profession, one would conceive this to be a natural outcome – serving others is what they are in business to do. But what is perhaps less well known is that architects when they build – whether they are working on new ground-up construction or renovating existing buildings – see themselves as repairing what is broken. They’re repairing and maintaining the manmade and natural world. Much the way doctors see what it is they do.
So, what can we learn from the ways architects think that might help us improve our lives? What in other words are the takeaways? Draw your own conclusions – here are some of mine:
- When working on an assignment – don’t let yourself get buried by the details. As yourself how this specific task relates to the larger whole. If it doesn’t – then creatively find a way that it relates or propose a way that it can.
- Don’t focus on the task you’ve been given as an end in itself but rather as a way of fixing or repairing an existing system, fabric or situation
- When in a discussion or meeting, mindfully zoom out to see what is being covered in its larger habitat or situations; then zoom in to the close-up detail level to see if a solution can be found there – or an overlooked problem revealed
- The world is in a state of flux – in terms of politics, the environment, the economy and much more. See to what extent that instead on fixating on a stance or solution – how you and others around you might benefit by your becoming more comfortable with the idea that things are unsettled and might remain that way for some time. What are some things you can do or yourself to approach and respond to events in a more flexible way?
- You may be in business to produce the next widget – but even so, try to picture what you do as a service that is performed to help others in some way. To do so will result in your performing your work with more of a sense of purpose and meaning. Ask yourself: What is the problem in the world that my product fixes, repairs or maintains?
- See your individual decisions as part of a larger system – one that flows both upstream and downstream. Before realizing any idea by pursuing it, test out your course of action by determining the potential consequences for each course taken – who is impacted and why.
- The next time you are confronted with a problem of some weight – test out your response on paper first, building a miniature prototype of your answer or solution before taking it out on the road for a spin and exposing it to scrutiny. This will help you to see the benefits – as well as the flaws – before others do, and will help you to see your treasured idea through their eyes.
- When it comes to the details – go the God route. In other words, use details to allow you to see things as a positive opportunity – as opposed to providing you and others reasons and excuses for not pursuing a trend or goal.
Today, Be Your Own Architect November 21, 2009Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, identity, management.
Tags: architect, Be Your Own Architect, DIY, identity
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Despite alarmingly dwindling reserves of architecture books – not to mention privately owned bookstores – it seems for the past 20 years, no matter where in the country, every Barnes and Noble Architecture and Design book section contains at least one copy of a decades-old book.
This book is invariably entitled, Be Your Own Architect.
The book is no doubt part of the late 80’s or early 90’s DIY movement. Had I ever bothered to look at it, the blurb on the back jacket is sure to ask something along the lines of: Why engage and pay a professional when you can do it yourself? An illustrated guide showing prospective home buyers just how easy it is to design homes to fit their exact needs while saving thousands of dollars in architectural fees…
It’s all part of American’s long held desire for independence. First from the British, more recently from architects.
Besides, who needs design professionals cluttering up their kitchen?
I have never taken a look at this book on any of the hundreds of visits to the bookstores. As an architect, having designed and built my own house, I have already made that rite of passage (and, yes, saved on architectural fees.)
But still, for some reason, the book’s title never ceases to capture my attention. Those four simple words spanning across the book spine subtly means something different every time, depending on the emphasis given to each word:
BE your own architect.
Be YOUR own architect.
Be your OWN architect.
Be your own ARCHITECT.
What is it about the title? Could it be the word “Be” – that faintly Buddhist word, implying what you are – right now – in the here and now, as in another famous book starting with the word “Be,” Ram Dass’s Be Here Now
Or perhaps it’s the directness of the word “Be,” as in the Army’s admonishment, Be All You Can Be.
With this ever-changing, always in flux, mercurial, game-changing, technologically challenging world, the thought of just standing still while the world spins by must be appealing to some.
How appealing it would be to merely Be, allowing everyone else to chase that RFP.
To be, or not to be an architect: that is not the question so much as this:
How can I best use this time to once again be the architect I was meant to be?
Your own. As in, not somebody else’s, architect.
Not someone else’s idea of what an architect is – what it means to be an architect.
Nor someone else’s need for whom they need for you to be. Architects are by training – and nature – multifarious when it comes to their interests, abilities and talents. None other than Vitruvius himself expected architects to be creative and apt in the acquisition of knowledge, a good writer, a skillful draftsman, versed in geometry and optics, expert at figures, acquainted with history, informed on the principles of natural and moral philosophy, somewhat of a musician, not ignorant of the law and of physics, nor of the motions, laws, and relations to each other, of the heavenly bodies.
If the architect doesn’t know herself, it is easy to see why. It may be that going into school architects have an inflated and misguided idea of their own abilities and who they want to be – before reality settles in, and the nefarious need to please professors (before the need arises to please bosses and clients, parents and spouses.) For some, they were last their own architects in school. Or they left their ideal of their own architect soon thereafter, upon entering the workforce, dealing with deadlines and others’ impressions of who they are – or need to be – for the project or for the firm.
When were you last Your Own Architect?
This recession has had a profound effect on many lives for those working in the profession and industry, as well as those who work with, live with and depend upon them. No doubt the effect has been felt as undeniably negative by many, not the least of all economically. But there is at least one way in which the current downturn can be seen on the upside, and that has to do with the opportunity the current situation offers you to come into your own, to touch base again with who you are, the architect.
When work was bountiful and time fleeting with deadlines repeatedly looming, we may have been our teammate’s architects, our manager’s architect or belonged to our bosses and their perhaps understandably narrow idea of who we are and are capable of. We were our colleague’s architects, the profession’s architects, architects belonging to everyone – consultants and clients, regulators and gatekeepers – everyone’s architect, but one: Your Own.
Own it. Take ownership of it. Take custody of it. Be responsible for your own condition.
Use this time wisely. Get back in touch with what it once meant for you to be an architect. With who you are, deep down (it’s still there, dormant, latent perhaps, but looming.) Listen to the dictates of your Being – of who you are and have always been.
If not now, when?
For here’s the rub: No matter your financial condition, no matter whether you like the situation that you find yourself in, no matter your outlook on life, the economy or the profession, IT WILL NEVER BE EASIER TO BE AN ARCHITECT THAN IT IS RIGHT NOW.
Many currently – whether out of frustration, financial demands or both – are considering leaving the profession or jumping ship altogether for safer harbors in other seas. It is widely known that even in good times 50% of those trained as architects wind up successfully working in other fields. But unless your situation is dire, you owe it to yourself, right now – today – to recall, and recollect, who it was you once wanted to be. Because you’ve been so busy for so long being everybody else’s architect you’ve neglected to be the one architect you are and were meant to be.
Today, be your own architect.
Regaining a Sense of Self August 9, 2009Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, change, identity, the economy, transformation.
Tags: architect, films, identity, identity crisis, media, self
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Today’s New York Times has a front page story on the science of identity that has me thinking about how easy it is to lose a sense of yourself at this time – in summer but also in history. When it comes to identity the media has been focused almost exclusively on identity theft and much less so on the subject of our social identity – the roles we play and how we see ourselves in relation to others. In the midst of August – especially this particular August – with a recession reversing gears and uncertain signs of recovery ahead, it is easy to consider the possibility of an identity crisis.
Summer months in particular often relieve us of the social roles that we play: we shed our work clothes as we do our social identity or cultural identity. Just think of Congress or the Supreme Court justices on summer recess, donning swimsuits in lieu of robes and dress suits. Summer challenges our social and cultural identities – our professional identities – at a time when we are already feeling the stress and strain of reduced hours – or relief altogether of our workday duties.
As for myself, I have been spending most of my waking hours this summer – when not at the office – writing my book, “BIM and Integrated Design” (Wiley, 2011) and besides the isolated sustainable hotel design or infrequent master plan, not designing as much as I might. An architect is someone who designs buildings, right? Is an architect an architect when they are writing? Or going to the movies?
It seems that even in the media architects are in a perpetual state of becoming. A recent article noted “When screenwriters give a hero a career, it’s often architecture. Think Walter Pidgeon in Mrs. Miniver and Adam Sandler in Click. When Matt Dillon attempts to impress Cameron Diaz in There’s Something About Mary, he pretends to be an architect.” More recently we’ve seen several trailers for upcoming films with an architect in the lead role, not to mention the current hit in theaters, “(500) Days of Summer,” where Tom is an aspiring architect with a day job writing copy for greeting cards. “The public perceives architecture as a career for creative, free spirits who nonetheless earn good money while designing cool new buildings,” and yet the article concludes that “there’s a Grand Canyon of difference between the screen and reality.” This gulf is the very same one we ourselves feel – between architects portrayed on screen and the architects we are. Take that even further – architects we aren’t when we’re on vacation, on furlough or not practicing due to unemployment or by choice.
By the time they graduate from college, architects should be well-prepared for the identity challenges of multiple role-playing. The AIA’s Richard Hobbs believes that as many as 50 percent of the nation’s architectural graduates now work, or soon will, outside the profession. Consider this: Half of your classmates are doing something else entirely. It’s no wonder that for the 50% that stick with it and practice architecture within the profession must from time to time regain a sense of who they are – in terms of what they do. So to answer the question “When is an architect not an architect?” the best answer is probably one that finds the architect isolated from colleagues, not attending conferences and social gatherings, working alone or not working at all; going after work that doesn’t match their profile and tap into their core competencies; with each passing day living without the small but vital reminders – a coworker passing along an image found online, seeing a building that touches you somewhere deep down, an article that connects with you on some level that you can identify with – of who we are and why we do what we do. That is when an architect is least of all an architect. It is then that you know that you need to return – as so many are returning right now to school or to work – in order to regain a sense of self so that we might help others – through the work we do and the buildings we design and build – do the same for themselves. What are you doing right now to regain and strengthen your sense of self?
Architecting a Brighter Future July 14, 2009Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, creativity, problem solving, the economy.
Tags: architect, Big A Architect, little a architect
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