First, Be Promiscuous May 25, 2015Posted by randydeutsch in architect types.
Tags: architects, architecture, architecture school, architecture students, commencement speech, graduation speech, University of Illinois, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
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Architect and educator Brian Vitale, AIA, Principal and Design Director at Gensler, Chicago spoke recently at the Convocation Ceremony of the 2015 graduating class of the School of Architecture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. A graduate of the program, Brian’s speech was truly memorable and inspiring, and he was, as always, generous in sharing the transcript of his commencement speech.
Thank you! Thank you, for that humbling introduction and to Director Mortensen for the invitation and privilege of addressing the class of 2015. It is absolutely surreal to be standing here addressing you all in an auditorium that I freely admit to having fallen asleep in one too many times as a student, which given my invitation here today apparently did not matter. So thank you again for this honor and allowing me to get that off my chest.
I would also like to congratulate and more importantly thank the faculty. Though a lot has changed over the past 22 years when I was last a student here, many of you haven’t, and for that I am grateful (and surprised, quite frankly). You have played an instrumental role in my being asked to deliver this speech and I am sure, once this class catches up on the sleep that you all are responsible for depriving them of, they will all eventually appreciate you to. Your dedication, patience and wisdom often go without formal appreciation, but know your influence on us all (even if you all don’t realize it yet) is beyond measure.
To the parents, family and friends, you also deserve to be congratulated, because for all the pride that you feel and deservedly so, it was your sacrifice, your friendship and your unconditional support that has made this all possible, oh, and the beer money, let’s not forget about that. And if they told you that the money was for “model materials” at a place called the “art coop”, they were lying, that place does not actually exist.
Now, to the class of 2015!! Congratulations!! You are the most recent class from a school with one of the longest histories. You all have worked incredibly hard, you have made it through the infamous weeding out year, you have survived many all-nighters, difficult juries, and countless toxic fumes from a panoply of adhesives; your day is finally here! And make no mistake, you all are the stars of this event, far outshining me, which would lead you to assume that you have the best seat in the house, but your vantage point is not as clear as mine, blurred with concerns and nervous about the unknown. What will my first position hold, what kind of firm will I work for, will I be a success, and how hard is that damn A.R.E. exam? The view from where I am standing is much clearer, for I get to look out at you all, and know what the future holds for you, the possibilities that lie ahead and the raw potential that you all are about to capitalize on.
Well, 22 years ago, I was sitting in the same place that you all are, receiving my Bachelors of Science in Architectural Studies otherwise referred to as a “BS” in Architecture, really. My experience at the University of Illinois was invaluable and had unknowingly prepared me for my eventual career. (So you should all take comfort in that). Throughout these years, I have been recognized with both personal and project awards, I have been published in magazines and books, I have been exhibited in museums, I have had the opportunity to teach and have traveled all across the world collaborating in the design of buildings and working with some of the world’s most amazing people. At this campus alone I have been a visiting professor, built a building for the world’s fastest supercomputer, and now this. This school and its amazing network was my foundation and has served me well, and it will for all of you.
In preparing this speech, everyone tells you to share with the graduating class the path to your achievement; I would rather, however, tell you what I wish I would have known before I started….so you can make your own path. So I want to share with you 3 principles. Some will seem counterintuitive others obvious, but all are crucial to the way architecture is and will be practiced. After that, I have one simple request, and it won’t be to “fail” or “take risks” or “change the world” (I mean for god sakes, do those things), but rather something very simple but I believe incredibly powerful and will change the trajectory of your careers.
But first, here are a few musings:
First, BE PROMISCUOUS:
Now parents, before you try to usher me off the stage, what I am asking you all to do is be promiscuous with ideas, concepts, spaces, program, and the people that you have sitting around the table collaborating. Create hybrids, live in the middle of those Venn diagrams we are always drawing, mix it up, then re-mix it, because that is where real innovation comes from.
In Maria Popova’s review of “Dancing About Architecture” she cites the author, Phil Beadle as focusing on creativity’s combinatorial nature, quoting,” We create the new not generally through some mad moment of inspiration in fictionalized accounts of ancient Greeks in baths, but by putting things together that do not normally go together; from taking disciplines and seeing what happens when they are forced into unanticipated collisions.”
Now when you work in this manner, please be prepared for some push back, as many of the firms that you will be employed by will be practicing architecture like it was 1995 and will not understand what you are trying to do, they might even tell you that “you can’t do it that way”, I am here to tell you to stop listening to those people immediately turn around and carry on.
Second: Give up the ownership of ideas:
I know this may be counterintuitive, because if not for our own ideas, what do we have? “More” is the correct answer. You must worry less about being the initiator of ideas and focus on being the connector of them. Steve Jobs said, “Creativity is just connecting things”
In order to do this, you must always invite more voices to the table rather than less, and make sure they are varied voices, not from a singular point of view. We at Gensler work this way every day, my job at times is more of editor rather than initiator. I will freely admit it takes courage to do this, because at its core, its process means that you have no idea where a solution is headed, no preconceived notions, there is no certainty from having formulated an answer before the process even begins (which gets harder the longer people practice) but that is precisely the point. Voltaire said, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.” You have to trust the process and then hang on for dear life.
THREE: BE CURIOUS, Really curious:
Throughout your career, you will be looked upon for answers to problems posed to you by clients, your colleagues, and society. As you progress in your career, you begin to rely on your perceived knowledge to answer those very questions. “This is how we did it last time” can be valuable to a point (like not touching fire a second time), but ultimately, in the case of architecture, deadly. When Picasso said, “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” He was making this very point. We often lose that discovery trait as we gain experience, we stop looking, and we create Best Buys. You must question relentlessly, test and re-test, train yourself to act in this manner and maintain the curiosity of a child for rest of your life and you will always arrive at innovative answers.
AND NOW MY FINAL REQUEST:
A student that had attended an event that I was speaking at recently asked, “What do you attribute your success to?” or as I took it to mean from his inflection, “How the hell did you get to be where you are?” And admittedly, I did not have a great answer; hard work, dedication, late nights, an incredible amount of support and some God given talent was my answer. But as I pondered this question, I began to remember a couple of similar events in my career, which I will share with you before I leave you with my request.
During my first week of High School, you can all remember that, I was brought in, with a group of my peers, to meet with our appointed guidance counselor. We sat around a conference table in an uncomfortably small room and listened to Mr. Sime speak about High School, future careers and how to be social, but not too social. When he was through with his speech about this new academic endeavor, he posed a question to the group, one whose content I don’t remember (and is not important to the story). What followed was typical, awkward teenage silence, everyone trying very hard not to make eye contact as if that would help in this incredibly small room. I was sitting at the head of the table (where I like to sit), opposite of Mr. Sime and decided to speak up. I answered the question, and his response to my answer was, “Brian, you are going to be successful because you had the nerve to speak up, to answer a question when no one else wanted to, to be the first brave enough to share your opinion”. Many years later I confirmed with Mr. Sime that he did this every year with every new group of freshman and that he really didn’t care what the answer was, but was instilling a life lesson to the group.
Fast forwarding a number of years to my first position after Grad School, it happened again. I was the most junior member at Booth Hansen, a well-known Chicago firm led by Larry Booth, one of the Chicago 7 architects as they were known. Within the first couple of weeks of my employment there, an all office design review was being held in the basement during lunch with the client present. The project was presented, and it seemed to me like very little thought went into it, and that bothered me enough that I mustered up the confidence to speak out and suggested different ways to think about the project. I remember Larry Booth agreeing with me as well as the Client and then Larry asking, “Who are you?” Later that day I was called into Larry’s office, which was pretty cool especially for a young kid like I was, and he was asking me a lot of questions and began sharing with me things he had been working on and books that he had lying around. Afterward, I noticed that I was being treated differently not only by him, but by everyone, people noticed me and asked my opinion of which I was always happy to give. What had happened, by contributing unexpectedly is that I had created an immediate value. Soon thereafter, I was assigned to projects that Larry was working on, presenting with him to clients and becoming a trusted designer. I was now being exposed to opportunities I would not otherwise have been exposed to, I was seen differently by others; my career path was changing and I capitalized on it.
Now I have been focusing on the number 22, the number years that have passed since I was sitting in your seat, because it is also, for many of you the number of years that you have been on this planet. Let me assure you that these years go by in a blink of an eye. So to the Class of 2015, what I am simply requesting of you all as you enter your next venture is to speak up, immediately, let your voice be heard, now, and begin contributing to the dialogue of your firm, community and beyond, as soon as possible. Don’t be intimidated, don’t be shushed, and most importantly don’t think that you are not ready to contribute, I promise you that you are, I have seen it over and over throughout my career. And when you do, it will open up opportunities for you that would otherwise pass you by. Your time is valuable and precious, the profession is changing and it needs your skills, the profession needs your talent and the profession needs your voice now more than ever before. It is now time to turn the tables and let us begin learning from you!
Congratulations, again, Class of 2015, we are expecting great things! Thank you.
Tags: AEC, AIA, architects, architectural education, architecture, emerging professionals, EPs, innovation, problem solving, professional practice, t-shaped people, wired to care
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Recognizing that it is artificial and arbitrary to clump any demographic into a group, generally speaking, EPs bring a lot more than energy and imagination to the table.
Emerging professionals have a lot to offer firm leaders.
That is, if firm leaders would only take notice.
What gifts can EPs offer more senior architects and firm leaders?
Here are five that have made a difference in my life:
1. EPs are Wired to Care
EPs can help cynical, skeptical and burned-out architects to care again.
To care about people: building owners, users, neighbors, constituents.
About the environment.
And about design.
They may not always express it, but firm leaders who deal with clients, legal and insurance matters often need your enthusiasm and interest in the work you’re doing to remind them why they stay in the game – and why they’re in the game to begin with.
You remind them of who they once were – and soon hope to return to being.
You’re the thread to their former selves.
2. EPs are Collaborative T-shaped People
Not T for Technology.
But as in broad knowledge and deep expertise.
EPs, curious types, certainly bring their range of interests to the office.
Absolutely. Though not the old school form of expertise – acquired slowly over time.
Or whom to ask.
EPs recognize that things change so quickly in our industry that to dig deep into any one area can be a death knell for an upstart career in architecture.
And, over time, with experience on a range of projects, they do acquire deeper learning in a variety of areas.
EPs can help senior architects see the value in their becoming more T-shaped, less pigeon-holed into one task, skill-set or area.
But as importantly, firm leaders need to hire T-shaped practitioners – because things do evolve so quickly – not word-for-word matches to their job ad specs.
And who better than EPs to serve as examples of the new model for firm hires.
3. EPs are Change Agents
EPs – compared with more seasoned architects – are fluid, flexible and nimble.
And so, they inspire normally risk-averse architects to invite change.
To not be afraid of it.
Never satisfied with the status quo, EPs know we – as a team, firm, profession, industry or planet – can do better.
And won’t settle for less.
EPs hear what they are asked to do – and if they’re smart – they do it.
But then something happens.
They offer something different.
Often something even better. Something we hadn’t considered.
We, in management, are counting on EPs to do this – even if we don’t explicitly ask for it.
Especially if we don’t explicitly ask for it.
It shows you’re thinking.
It shows you care.
It shows that you listened – then offered an improvement that no one else had considered.
Yes, if we decide not to go with your idea, we hate having to say no.
My ideal day is one where I can go from morning till night without having to say the word “no.”
So don’t make me say no.
Make your idea so intelligent, well thought-out, compelling and great that we have to say yes!
Change is a gift you give us. We make a promise to ourselves – and our profession – every year to innovate more.
Sometimes innovation gets lost among more bottom line goals.
EPs help to keep the promise to innovate alive (thank you.)
4. EPs are Courageous
Whether from naïveté or boldness, EPs can help seasoned architects to be more technologically courageous.
They don’t know to be frightened, to be afraid of risk.
When a senior architect walks by your monitor and says “how is that going to stand up?” – trust me – there’s a way to make it stand up.
We are grateful you tried to do something that we would have shied away from.
If it’s a worthy idea, we’ll help find a way to get it to stand up.
Thank you for attempting to do something with architecture that we are now sometimes too afraid to try ourselves.
5. EPs Seek Meaning
Meaning is one of the greatest gifts EPs give to seasoned architects.
Not only do EPs expect their work to be meaningful, but by their giving importance to work/life balance, they remind Boomers (some still single or divorced) that placing work first before all else is not the only – or best – option.
We see you having a life and say “oh, just wait till things get complicated!”
We may complain that EPs should have a more singular focus on architecture.
But the truth is, you have the answer, not us.
You have your values in the right place, not us.
If only we learned that lesson sooner!
EPs are all about adding meaning.
For their work to be meaningful.
For finding shortcuts and templates to minimize the busy work and maximize what is important to them.
Like using your core competencies for a greater portion of each day.
Using your brains, not just your fingers.
We used to think that way – and have come up with excuses (did I just hear myself say Architecture is first and foremost a business?!)
When making payroll, meeting clients demands, is now front and center.
Meaning takes a back seat.
Then you send us a link to a film about another firm – one that places meaning first – and our eyes well up.
We know we can do more and be more.
And we have you, EPs, to thank for reminding us.
Now, let’s turn this around.
Naturally, EPs aren’t doing all the giving.
They must be getting something in return.
So what, besides a paycheck, warm Aeron chair and beer Fridays can architects and firm leaders offer EPs?
Here are 5 Gifts Emerging Professionals Receive from Seasoned Architects.
1. Seeing the Big Picture
Architects see the big picture.
Emerging professionals sometimes need help seeing the forest from the trees.
EPs (rightfully) don’t trust forests – or long-term plans.
EPs become long-term employees, for example, not by making 20-year commitments but by showing up one day at a time.
EPs have a hard time seeing where it’s all leading.
Architects recognize time horizons and building cycles.
I’ll never forget when a senior architect told me, years ago, that hotels and hospitality have a seven-year boom/bust cycle.
Put that in your iCal.
Firm leaders can help EPs see the big picture – and have a responsibility to do so.
2. Comfort with Ambiguity
Times today are uncertain.
And architecture is filled with uncertainty.
Will the client accept and support the design direction?
Will neighbors and constituents vote in favor of the building’s height?
Will the developer be able to get a loan so the project can move forward?
If you’re thinking piece of cake, you’ve been at the game a while.
Not everyone has the perspective you have.
So share it.
Just don’t make it sound patronizing, condescending, or like old wise architect speaks!
Architects are comfortable with ambiguity and uncertainty.
EPs? Not so much.
Firm leaders can help bridge this gap (so do it!)
3. Systems Thinking
Senior architects have the perspective and experience to see individual acts in a larger context.
Because they see the big picture, they have an easier time helping to keep things whole.
Firm leaders can show EPs how their seemingly isolated, individual decisions can impact the bigger picture.
And how everything in architecture can be thought of in terms of flows.
(Or perhaps this is something EPs already know and just aren’t articulating?)
4. Lateral, not Linear, Thinking
Seasoned architects don’t complete tasks sequentially.
You would think that the multitasking generation would do this as well.
Due to their experience and perspective, architects know they can look at assignments from many vantages simultaneously.
Think of architect Cesar Pelli who could think through every pro and con in his head, anticipating every consequence for any course of action, then make a decision.
Call it an ability or insight, this is a gift that senior architects can share with EPs.
5. Architecture as an Art + Science
Architects know that every decision – every architectural act – is a combination of art and science.
They may come across as conservative, gravity-bound and risk-averse.
But they mean well.
The reality is (there they go with reality again!)– we balance art with science every time we venture into making architecture.
As boring as it may appear, architects know your brilliant idea won’t mean a thing if it can’t stand up, hold water, shed water and be accessed, serviced and maintained.
One participant in the upcoming AIA 2014 EP Summit shared the following:
I’m always learning from the emerging professionals. They seem to teach me more than I teach them!
What do you say?
Does this match your experience? Do you see any missing? Which – if any – would you change or add to?
Let us know by leaving a comment. Thanks!
A Handy Toolkit for A Great New Integrated World January 14, 2014Posted by randydeutsch in BIM, books, change, collaboration, education, IPD, technology.
Tags: AEC industry, Andrew Pressman, architects, architecture, BIM, CAD, collaboration, designing relationships, IPD, profession, renee cheng, routledge, team failures
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Collaboration is a must-have.
In an industry not known for it’s warm relations, AEC practitioners need to build their relationship muscles as they enter this great new integrated world.
The AEC industry has a productivity problem – one that has grown worse in the past half century.
It was hoped that technology – first CAD, then BIM – would add value and reduce waste for building owners – our clients – but that doesn’t seem to be the case, as indicated by Paul Teicholz, Professor (Research) Emeritus, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering Stanford University, in Labor-Productivity Declines in the Construction Industry: Causes and Remedies (Another Look.)
In other words, if BIM cannot save us, what will?
The answer is collaboration. Working together, strategically, earlier in the design process and ever more effectively – together with technologies such as BIM – will assuredly increase productivity in our profession and industry for the first time in over fifty years.
So, how best do we go about collaborating?
I have written about Andrew Pressman and his enormously prolific and influential writings for architects before.
Here, I would like to introduce you to perhaps his best, and most important, book.
A review of Andrew Pressman’s new book, Designing Relationships: The Art of Collaboration in Architecture
You know it is going to be a great book when the formidable Professor and Head of the School of Architecture at University of Minnesota, Renee Cheng, pens the Foreword.
First, a quick overview: In Chapter 1, Pressman explains,
This is more than a simple guidebook; it challenges the status quo—and the reader—to think critically about collaboration, and to change the design process from project inception to completion.
Anticipating that some readers may ask why collaborate?, the book opens with a rationale for collaborating.
The author also explores Why have architects been inherently non-collaborative and provides many relevant reasons.
In Chapter 2, alternative collaboration models for architecture are introduced, including managed collaboration and an integrated approach.
Chapter 3 provides examples of and precedents for traditional collaboration in practice, and touches on the art of being a good team member.
The next chapter importantly discusses the role of collaboration in technology. It is to Pressman’s credit that he doesn’t shy away from the subjects of building information modeling (BIM,) and integrated project delivery (IPD,) both enablers of collaboration in the profession and industry.
The book, short in length but long on useful information, closes with case studies, including the best (and worst) practices, team failures, strategies for design excellence on large projects, and views from a crossover career: architecture to construction.
You can see more of the book’s contents here.
Designing Relationships is the type of book that cites a multitude of relevant sources in support of its theme, even if some of the sources are surprising for an architecture book. Take this quote by John Cleese of Monty Python fame, who – as Pressman explains –
captured the essence of a collaborative process in the following vignette.
The really good idea is always traceable back quite a long way, often to a not very good idea which sparked off another idea that was only slightly better, which somebody else misunderstood in such a way that they then said something which was really rather interesting.
Some of my favorite quotes include:
It takes a team to realize projects of scale or complexity. There may be a prominent and aggressive project leader, but it does indeed “take a village.”
“Collaboration does not curtail the architect’s overarching vision. Collaboration becomes a medium that makes the vision possible.” – Michael Schrage
Think like an architect. The conventional wisdom about integrated project delivery is to stop thinking like an architect, i.e., do not emulate the cliché Howard Roark control freak. No, no, no! Rather, keep thinking like an architect—design and maintain control of the process.
This is the sort of book that can be read again and again, each reading eliciting different responses. My second reading of the book provoked a number of thoughts on my part. Here are just a few observations that arose from having read the book:
- One ought to be wary of definitions that include everything as collaboration
- The team leader needs to be a seasoned facilitator, equal parts intuition and intelligence
- Is managed collaboration like a managed care: HMO vs. IPD as a PPO for design?
To this second bullet, Pressman writes:
The leader can be the facilitator for the session but also the designer of it, ensuring appropriate engagement and accomplishment in accordance with the distinctive role of each collaborator, and of course, the agenda.
A typically excellent insight – the book will challenge many of your preconceived ideas and thoughts about how architects ought to practice.
The book – which reads more like an engaging conversation than a non-fiction book – will have you writing in the margins and asking questions of yourself, your colleagues or classmates – and the profession – throughout.
Andrew Pressman FAIA in his new book Designing Relationships offers general axioms that support traditional collaborative dynamics, or in other words, eleven counterintuitive and provocative statements promoting collaboration in architecture, and a great deal more.
What the book boils down to is a penetrating and immensely valuable toolkit for design professionals who are weary of – or wary from – working on teams.
This is a book that every emerging professional needs to read. I will definitely make it required reading for my university students.
Pre-order your copy here.
About Andrew Pressman FAIA
Professor Emeritus at the University of New Mexico, and Lecturer at the University of Maryland, leads his own architectural firm in Washington, DC. He has written numerous critically acclaimed books and articles, and holds a Master’s degree from the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.
Andrew Pressman FAIA has authored several books, all classics:
Designing Architecture: The Elements of Process.
Professional Practice 101: Business Strategies and Case Studies in Architecture
The Fountainheadache: The Politics of Architect-Client Relations
Architecture 101: A Guide to the Design Studio
Architectural Graphic Standards, 11th Edition
And, as Andy Pressman, he co-authored what was, prior to Designing Relationships, my favorite of his books (I wore through two copies):
Architectural Design Portable Handbook
Portions of Designing Relationships are based on previously published articles by the author. Pressman has also recently authored several important, extremely well-written articles, all published in Architectural Record
Integrated practice in perspective: A new model for the architectural profession
Good leadership helps practice, the profession, and society
Creating a firm culture that supports innovative design
It’s a very good time to develop your firm’s collaboration skills
Professionalism as a State of Mind December 19, 2013Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, education, employment, essence, principles, survival.
Tags: AIA, architects, architectural education, architecture, profession, professionalism, professionals
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@Architect1122: AIA will be emerging professionals, now or later.
Erin Murphy AIA, the Director of Emerging Professionals at AIA National in Washington, DC tweeted back:
@erinmurphyaia: I argue this point every day.
Because I teach large undergraduate and graduate architecture lecture courses at a major state university, I get a pretty good look – at least number-wise – at the future make-up of the profession.
And what I see concerns me.
It’s not their intelligence. Most are very smart.
Nor is it their work ethic. They clearly work hard.
And it’s not for a lack of talent that they got into a competitive university.
What concerns me is this:
Being a professional requires an independent mindset.
In this age of collaboration, to be a professional means one has to think for oneself.
That’s not to say that they cannot seek advice. In fact, having people and resources you can turn to is a critical part of practice.
When starting a firm, for example, it’s important to line up a support system including a banker, management consultant, accountant or bookkeeper and an attorney.
And yet, to be a professional means not to be swayed by outside forces.
Architects cannot, for example, take kickbacks from contractors.
In fact, for an architect to receive payment outside of the client and still be considered independent, they should never accept a finder’s fee, share contractor’s profit or accept rebates from suppliers or manufacturers.
For an architect to be considered independent, they shouldn’t receive payment outside of the client.
There are other factors that distinguish the professional. Academically, an attribute of being a professional involves knowledge that is more than ordinarily complex and is an intellectual enterprise.
Being a professional means that one will apply theoretical and complex knowledge to the solution of human and social problems.
And to be a professional means that you will pass your knowledge to novice generations.
What concerns me about the current crop of students is this:
For them, being professional is conditional.
If you give me an A, I will like you.
If you make the assignments a breeze, I will give you a good teaching evaluation.
Give me what I want, and I will acknowledge you outside of class.
I will tell you what is important to know and what is not. Not you.
Here’s the thing:
Professionalism, like your mama’s love, is unconditional.
You have to love what you do and act from that passion.
You have to think for yourself and not be swayed by outside forces.
Each week, I had my professional practice students write a journal entry on the online blackboard course site.
I’d ask them to provide feedback on a guest lecturer’s presentation or a reading we had discussed in class.
Then I’d read each and every one.
Most of the students thought that these journal entries were a waste of time – and told me so.
I actually believe they were incredibly important indicators of who will and will not become valued professionals in the years to come.
Many of the journal entries told me what the student thought I wanted to hear. For example, in order to reach the minimum word count, they usually repeated the question or questions, and unnecessarily provided background information – the equivalent of throat clearing before getting around to a speech.
I warned them in class about providing “boilerplate” content – information one could find online or elsewhere without much effort.
Most ignored this advice.
I told them what I was interested in was their opinions. Their points of view. I wanted to hear about their experiences – and what they believed in.
The students who did this grew exponentially from the earliest journal entries to the last.
They were able to express themselves in writing. They were able to incorporate content that they had learned from other courses, or from experiences outside of school.
Others merely phoned-in their entries. They showed-up at the online site, usually at the last minute, as though to fulfill an obligation – one that was obviously not as important as the other demands on their time, especially design studio.
I saw reading 82 journal entries each week for 16 weeks – 1320 essays in all – as a gift.
It gave me a perspective into the future of the profession – like looking into a crystal ball.
Some of what I see concerns me, but I also like a lot of what I see as well.
I wish I had a dozen openings in my firm because I would hire at least that many students based on their journal entries alone.
Based on their writing, logic and critical thinking, based on their ability to articulate their feelings, communicate and care, we can rest assured that our profession – and the AIA – will be in good hands in the years ahead.
The others who merely showed up – they will have to decide what is important to them.
My whole contention in my professional practice course is that you cannot act one way at one time and act another way at another time.
As an architect, you’re more slab stone than laminate or veneer. Who you are on the outside is who you are inside.
Being a professional is something you take with you – it is the way you carry yourself and handle yourself not just in class, or in the office, but all of the time.
Whether you think someone is looking or not.
One day, I accidentally double-booked my calendar and didn’t sync my iCal. When my student showed up for his schedule timeslot, I apologized and told him I had another meeting I needed to go to, and asked if we could reschedule?
In my experience, there are students who handle this situation graciously, and others who will make you feel like a total heel.
The first type of student is, in my opinion, well on their way to being someone others will want to work with. Their level of maturity and perspective – their ability to suppress their disappointment, and to think in terms of the other person’s needs – is what distinguishes them.
They place long-term relations above expressing immediate feelings.
I will want to work with them because I know that I will continue to be imperfect and make mistakes in the future, and will want to work with people who are understanding, who handle the situation maturely, reschedule and move on.
For our profession and industry to thrive, we’ll need to send the message that to be a professional, you’ll need to do more than graduate from an accredited program, put in office time and pass an exam.
To be a professional means to behave in a way, even when alone, as though someone else is watching.
Because someone probably will be.
Bridging Gaps That Don’t Reside in Building Skins December 6, 2013Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, career, change, education, management, transformation.
Tags: academia, AIA, architects, Architectural Record, bridging gaps, career transitions, change, detailing, educators, joints, practice, SAIC, speaking
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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.
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.
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.
Architect 2Tweets – The Week in Tweets May 28, 2011Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architect types, architecture industry, books, career, collaboration, creativity, employment, identity, management, sustainability, technology, the economy, transformation, transition.
Tags: architect Barbie, architects, architecture, CONSTRUCT, construction, retweets, tweets, twitter
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Take a look. Click on the links to find articles, websites and other resources.
If you are not a Tweeter, by browsing the list of micro-posts you will get a good idea of how I use it. And if you like what you see, follow me on Twitter @randydeutsch
Online Attendee Registration Opens Early June for @CONSTRUCTshow Free Exhibit Hall Admission & Discounted Education Packages thru Aug 11
The Architect of Flowers http://amzn.to/jrXJCh ‘Dreamlike and ethereal’ stories
Insurer: Payment delays, fragile construction industry conditions mean more building subcontractors go out of business http://bit.ly/lPLWWQ
The first warning sign that a project is in trouble. Sometimes it even begins before the project does http://bit.ly/aRY7fp
Model of San Francisco, made with 100,000 Toothpicks, began in 1976 – 3000 hours later http://bit.ly/juD4iK
Renter Nation: Since housing meltdown, nearly 3 million households have become renters. 3 million more expected by 2015 http://bit.ly/kUt51j
“There’s nothing off-putting about sustainability. Find someone who is in favor of purposely ruining the future” http://bit.ly/lV2GcG
THE construction industry, regarded as a barometer for economic activity, is now a volatile, unpredictable barometer http://bit.ly/jCwYcp
Why crumbling of America’s transportation infrastructure is a good thing, according to developers http://bit.ly/f6l6Cp
In a modern day Dark Ages with the potential for another great Renaissance? The 21st Century Renaissance http://bit.ly/a2wPeb
Polymath, Renaissance person, Multidisciplinarian (!) – Why we all must become one http://zd.net/kRoKem
To compete in a knowledge-based economy business leaders need to reinvent themselves as innovators in services http://bit.ly/ixxU24
Connections, James Burke’s iconic BBC series on the history of innovation, free to watch online http://j.mp/fcppDy
How Do We Know We’re Doing Things Right? Part I January 18, 2010Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, change, collaboration, pragmatism, problem solving, questions.
Tags: architects, architecture, Atul Gawande, construction industry, contractors, profession, The Checklist Manifesto
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In the face of the unknown – the always nagging uncertainty about whether, under complex circumstances, things will really be okay – the builders trusted in the power of communication. They didn’t believe in the wisdom of the single individual, of even an experienced engineer. They believed in the wisdom of the group, the wisdom of making sure multiple pairs of eyes were on a problem and then letting the watchers decide what to do. Man is fallible, but maybe men less so. Atul Gawande, from The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right
Things have become increasingly complex in medicine, in technology and no doubt, for architects and others in the design professions and construction industry.
New technologies, new work processes, new codes, new materials and systems, new energy requirements, new priorities –there is seemingly no letting up of the complexity.
Architects pride themselves in being comfortable with ambiguity – but there comes a time when neither pride nor patience serves them or anyone else well professionally.
So what’s an architect to do?
A Focus on Checklists
MacArthur Fellow Atul Gawande, gifted surgeon, New Yorker staff writer and esteemed author of Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance (“A masterpiece,” Malcolm Gladwell,) Complications, and now, The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right, in the chapter entitled The End of the Master Builder turned his scalpel on the architecture profession and construction industry. And what he discovered is quite astonishing.
The Checklist Manifesto grew out of a New Yorker article about the surprising impact of basic checklists in reducing complications from surgery.
Things have gotten pretty complex for architects and the construction industry and as Gawande writes “we need to make sure we apply the knowledge we have consistently and correctly.”
It has been years since I read a book so powerful and so thought-provoking…The danger, in a review as short as this, is that it makes Gawande’s book seem narrow in focus or prosaic in its conclusions. It is neither. Gawande is a gorgeous writer and storyteller, and the aims of this book are ambitious. Gawande thinks that the modern world requires us to revisit what we mean by expertise: that experts need help, and that progress depends on experts having the humility to concede that they need help. – Malcolm Gladwell
The book has a number of simple but powerful messages:
- The volume and complexity of knowledge today has exceeded any single individual’s ability to manage it consistently without error despite material advances in technology, training and specialization of functions and responsibilities.
Gawande explains the challenges associated with the exponential growth in both the complexity and volume of information and the inability of expertise alone to manage that information successfully. Gawande informatively distinguishes between simple, complicated and complex problems – where complex problems are like raising a child or designing and constructing a building. He tells us that a simple checklist can help us keep things in order. He writes, “Since every building is a new creature with its own particularities, every building checklist is new, too.”
- Despite demonstrating that checklists produce results, there is resistance to their use
From the book: “Despite showing (hospital) staff members the benefits of using the checklist, 20% resisted stating that it was not easy to use, it took too long and felt it had not improved the safety of care. Yet, when asked an additional question – would you want the checklist to be used if you were having an operation – a full 93% said yes.” In the book Gawande discusses two main types of checklists, characteristics of what constitutes a good checklist and some potential challenges of the approach.
- If you are acting on intuition rather than a systematic process, this book will cause you to pause in your tracks and seek a more disciplined approach
Gawande writes: “In a world in which success now requires large enterprises, teams of clinicians, high-risk technologies, and knowledge that outstrips any one person’s abilities, individual autonomy hardly seems the ideal we should aim for. …what is needed, however is discipline…discipline is hard – harder than trustworthiness and skill and perhaps even than selflessness. We are by nature flawed and inconstant creatures. We can’t even keep from snacking between meals. We are built for novelty and excitement, not for careful attention to detail. Discipline is something we have to work at.”
Some revelations from The Checklist Manifesto
- You should develop and implement a process checklist for critical processes and decisions
Gawande explains how the construction industry operates in a world that has become overly complex to accommodate the traditional Master Builder at the helm, where a sole architect once controlled of all details of the building process. Hence, the Death of the Master Builder (the subject of Part 2 of this post and the title of a presentation Atul Gawande gave at the New Yorker Festival this past October.) Architects and contractors are able to accomplish this, he learns, through the use of multiple checklists.
- It takes more than just one person to do a job well
We’ve been hearing a lot of late of the days of the architect working alone have long passed. Collaboration has become a buzzword in business circles, not just in the architecture, and for good reason. As Gawande writes in The End of the Master Builder, “the variety and sophistication of advancements in every stage of the construction process had overwhelmed the abilities of any individual to master them.”
- A team is only as strong as its checklist
–by his definition, a way of organizing that empowers people at all levels to put their best knowledge to use, communicate at crucial points, and get things done, according to Bartholomew, Senior Books Editor at Amazon.com
- Busy people, caught in the complexities of life can change their ways and can produce better outcomes by using a simple checklist.
Architects of course have had checklists at their disposal. The AIA’s D200 form is a color-by-numbers step-by-step guide that hand-holds you the way through the design process . But it’s necessarily a false comfort – as Gawande makes clear.
I have resorted to using checklists – but clandestine, hiding them in my file or side drawer – embarrassed that I was unable to trust that I had kept every step, action, question, material, system, deliverable in my head and needed to rely on a list, as one does when food shopping.
The 1995 AIA D200 checklist lays out the architectural design process step by step in a color by number format where all you need to do is connect the dots and voila! You have a building. The architect has the comfort of knowing what to do, when to do it, and what to look out for down the road.
According to the AIA, the D200™–1995, Project Checklist is a convenient listing of tasks a practitioner may perform on a given project. This checklist will assist the architect in recognizing required tasks and in locating the data necessary to fulfill assigned responsibilities. By providing space for notes on actions taken, assignment of tasks, and time frames for completion, AIA Document D200–1995 may also serve as a permanent record of the owner’s, contractor’s and architect’s actions and decisions.
A checklist of this sort acts as a back-up system – where I look like a hero when we get to that part of a meeting and someone says “anything else?” and I list 3 or 4 items than no one else had thought of. Don’t thank me. Thank the AIA.
Who needs scenario planning when you have a time-proven list of what to expect in front of you?
“The truly great don’t have checklists”
But architects pride themselves on keeping everything they need to know in their head. Having to rely on a checklist is a sign of weakness to some surgeons – and no doubt to architects.
Besides, as Gawande mentions, checklists aren’t cool.
As Gawande writes: “It somehow feels beneath us to use a checklist, an embarrassment. It runs counter to deeply held beliefs about how the truly great among us – those we aspire to be – handle situations of high stakes and complexity. The truly great are daring. They improvise. They do not have protocols and checklists. Maybe our idea of heroism needs updating.”
We don’t picture architects Herzog and Demeuron with a checklist. But that is probably because their staff keeps them under wraps and out of sight. But no one doubts that they keep them.
Gawande points out in his book that each project by nature of being a one-off is unique and so no one checklist will serve.
This is true – anyone who has resorted to one of the checklist books – Fred Stitt’s Working Drawing Manual, Pat Guthrie’s Cross-Check: Integrating Building Systems and Working Drawings, or Guthrie’s forthcoming 688 pages 4th edition of his The Architect’s Portable Handbook: First-Step Rules of Thumb for Building Design Publisher: from McGraw-Hill –
can attest to that. They are at best cursory, sometimes random, skipping around from reminding you to put in flashing to reminding you to submit for permit.
These field guides, handbooks and lists, by addressing the technology and science of building, give the design professional the false feeling of safety and security – they’re no substitute for covering your tracks by looking things up and crossing your T’s, nor for direct communication with your fellow project teammates and collaborators.
As one reviewer put it, “As in all of his work, Dr. Gawande latest book brilliantly reminds us all of the huge value of getting the human interaction side right to accompany the advancements in science and technology that his (and other’s) field of work has witnessed. It highlights the inadequacy of technical expertise when not joined by an equal (maybe greater) emphasis on strengthening our relationships with those we work with and care about.”
Anyone working with complexity and readers already familiar with Gawande’s previous books, Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance and Complications: A Surgeon’s Notes on an Imperfect Science, will find The Checklist Manifesto no less an informative, entertaining and thought-provoking book.
Rescue a Life in this, Our Time of Need December 12, 2009Posted by randydeutsch in architect, creativity, environment, the economy.
Tags: architects, assist, help, self-reliance, support
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Architects are seen by most as self-reliant. They don’t need anything from anyone, except perhaps a patron or a client now and then.
Self-reliant. Self-confident. Self-controlled…
With their designer duds, dressed in black. And the eyewear… Not exactly a warm and fuzzy image that comes to mind. Perhaps explaining why “Have you hugged an architect today?” mugs and bumper stickers are rarely seen.
So, when asked when the last time is that you did something nice for an architect? Your answer is probably along the lines of…?
I recently put this question to a select few colleagues and contacts, these were some of the responses:
- An architect? Aren’t there others – the underprivileged, the bereft – that require our tending to first?
- What? I give so often I’m starting to show symptoms of gifting exhaustion.
- When is the last time someone gave to me?
- If I give – then I will have less and I need everything I have for that rainy day.
- Yes, I know of a job opening and nearby – but I’m not about to tell them. I’m saving it for myself.
As my wife has long observed: architects just aren’t nice to other architects.
It’s primarily an image problem. As victims of rampant stereotyping, we know that what motivates us is to leave the world a better place than the way we found it. It’s just that we don’t often extend to people what we intend for the environment.
Since you’ve taken the time to read this post take a moment to ask yourself: Are you your colleague’s keeper?
Are you your former student’s keeper?
Your mentee’s keeper?
Are you your LinkedIn contact’s keeper?
If you have benefited in the past by the unseen hand of others, then your answer is indeed, yes.
Do you owe it to someone to help them out in this time of need? No. You don’t.
You owe it to yourself. To give at this time. Even if you don’t readily feel as though you have a lot to give right now.
For giving is a two-way street. What goes around comes around, especially if you live in a part of the world with a favor economy.
Part of the problem, no doubt, is gifting exhaustion, volunteer and philanthropic burn-out. Part of the problem is that with so many in need it’s hard to know who to help first – so we don’t help anyone. We tell ourselves at least that’s fair. I will unilaterally help no one, so no one, so to speak, is at a disadvantage.
But that’s a cop-out. We have deeper reserves than we allow ourselves to believe. Especially architects – resourceful to a fault, walking talking human Swiss Army knives. We can give – of ourselves, our time, our contacts, insights and creativity. It only requires refocusing our attention for a few moments.
And it only takes one.
Think for a moment: Who do you know – in the profession or industry – that’s in a position to help someone else? In this economy. Right now.
Don’t concern yourself with why they should they help someone they don’t know – especially when there are so many they already know that require their attention and assistance. For one reason: Because they know you. And for an abundance of other reasons:
- Because you have stayed in touch with them over the years.
- Because you are connected in some way – through school, past history, and organization.
- Because they want to do good by you.
- Because they may owe you a favor.
- Because they have secretly admired you and would extend themselves to help you out if given the opportunity. Because they are looking for an opportunity – any opportunity – to act from their higher selves and by your calling on them are helping them out.
- Because they have long wanted to help you out – but never found the chance or opportunity, didn’t know in what way, or because you never came across like you needed their help.
Well – that day has arrived. If not for yourself, for someone else you know who is in need. Extend yourself selflessly, perhaps even anonymously.
Recall those who have helped you out – with a letter, a call – at a magic moment that turned things around for you. This is such a moment. If not now, when?
Every architect knows an architect in need
- A colleague
- An out of work architect
- A former student or colleague
- An architect online – on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter – you suddenly see their status change; their past outweighs their current status
What can I do to help out an architect?
- Write a recommendation – unprovoked, proactively, as a gift
- List a nice, kind thing you can do for a fellow architect
- Have an out of work architect work at an empty workstation in your office and learn Revit – using tutorials
- Ask around and identify a part-time position outside the field for an able and willing underemployed colleague
- When I had my own firm I would secure a position elsewhere with a comparable architecture firm for an employee before letting them go. They had the option of accepting the position elsewhere. At the very least, I’d offer to serve as a recommendation for the candidate – and do a reasonable job talking them up. Without veering from the truth, architects can accomplish as much selling of their former employees and colleagues as they do selling their designs.
Why is this an issue? Why now?
- The economy, banks not lending, developers unmotivated to move forward with their own cash; too much inventory already out there to absorb
- We are not kind to, nor supportive of, one another; all too often of late it is every person for themselves
- It’s as though a sign of professional pride – as in a fraternity, hazing, treat the upcoming class cruelly, because you were treated that way and so on into perpetuity – to treat our fellow architects poorly
- One last issue why we are experiencing this as a problem is this: some believe that since professors haven’t been keeping up with advances in technology and practice that students upon graduation are unemployable – that they have to rely on practitioners to provide them with the skill sets they didn’t learn in school. No mechanism, as one architect put it recently, to keep our professors “tuned-up”, so to speak, on the emerging trends in our profession and trained to teach these aspects of our profession. As another online commenter stated, graduates are under the impression that their place of employment would teach them what they needed to know
- There’s the perception by some of the AIA having gone AWOL (some want to rename the AIA the MIA.)
There is a great deal we can do for ourselves – be proactive, network, keep up with colleagues outside the office, contribute to your alma mater so that they will be there for us in our time of need .
We are architects. If we are not for ourselves, who will be?
The Talmud may seem like an unusual place to look for wisdom on this point, but I cannot imagine better words than these two last thoughts to carry within as we support our fellow architects:
He who carries out one good deed acquires one advocate in his own behalf.
Living in the Margins May 6, 2009Posted by randydeutsch in creativity, marginalization.
Tags: architects, marginalized, margins
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Today many people – not only architects – are feeling marginalized and when the word appears of late in the press it is often negative in connotation: “I was made marginal by my boss;” “the marginalization of newspapers;” and the like. To be marginalized is to be denied power, and – for many groups – this powerlessness can result in deprivation and even extermination. So marginalization is a serious concern. But as we learned from the Dodo, the marginalized in nature as well as in society often have no one to blame for their self-extermination but themselves.
If architects these days are feeling particularly marginalized – sidestepped, overlooked, underappreciated – it may well be because when architects meet to talk they talk to themselves in a language that only they can understand. And when they present their ideas they too often do so with drawings that only they can read. They flee from risk whether on the construction site or by “fleeing up” to the heady heights of design where they don’t have to be accountable to anything as mundane as gravity.
Marginalia (plurale tantum) is the term normally used for notes, scribbles, and enthusiastic editorial comments (“How true!!!”) made in the margin of a book. Book margins are where we write some of our most inspired thoughts, relate to authors, co-write and co-opt authorship, our way to participate in the creative process of reading by writing – a form of analog hyperlink to the self. As in this from Billy Collin’s poem, Marginalia
Sometimes the notes are ferocious,
skirmishes against the author
raging along the borders of every page
in tiny black script.
Other comments are more offhand, dismissive –
“Nonsense.” “Please!” “HA!!” –
that kind of thing.
I remember once looking up from my reading,
my thumb as a bookmark,
trying to imagine what the person must look like
why wrote “Don’t be a ninny”
alongside a paragraph in The Life of Emily Dickinson.
Like Endora (Agnes Moorehead) in Bewitched, perched indelicately atop the raised panel kitchen cabinetry, observing from the perimeters, remaining without, looking in, architects – like all artists – try to keep one foot in the midst of things while standing on the sidelines, stationary and scot-free. We can’t make up our minds whether we’re masters of the Big Picture or Keepers of the Godlike Details – so we’re accomplished at both. Architects are not constructors but rather observers of construction. We are indeed arcontours, living in the outskirts, like the proverbial dog in repose stretched across the threshold of the open door: in or out? Living marginally – how many architects these days are just getting by? We’re at heart outliers, in search of a way in. Benched on the sidelines, as much by our own volition as by circumstances, we so badly want in. (“Let me in!!”)
For many of us we’re living marginal lives in marginal times and, you know, we really ought to be enjoying it more. I’m of the mind that if architects have gradually lived on the margins they must be doing so for a reason. We must be getting something out of it – otherwise, why bother? So what then is the payoff?
I believe our payoff is this: it is here, on the margins, that our best ideas are found. It is here, away from the pressure of commerce, where we think best, and in doing so, live perhaps a little more deeply. It is here on the outskirts of business that we enjoy the panoramic views of life stretched out from a distance before us. To me at least margins represent places of opportunity, where we can allow ourselves to unfold. It is no coincidence that a book as great as The Great Gatsby was written, in edit, largely in the margins. Our thoughts, ideas and ideals are indeed overflowing and where else – but in the margins – can they overflow? If paragraphs are cities then margins are like greenbelts – inhibiting sprawl yet at the same time in themselves contain – effluvious, fertile – worlds within. Just like ourselves.