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

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

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

And by that I mean, at all.

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

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

Not so much.

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

Or I should say, that the attendees gave.

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

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

The Culture of Caulk

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

Until that November day.

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

The session description starts off thus:

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

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

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

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

Still about caulk, right? It continues:

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

Uh oh…

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

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

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

All Detailing is Joints (apologies to Patrick Moynahan)

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

And the need to bridge these gaps – through architecture.

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

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

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

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

What Gaps Require Spanning?

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

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

One such gap is between academia and practice.

Do we agree that it needs bridging?

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

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

The article offered remedies:

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

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

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

Gaps We Need to Bridge

Other gaps need addressing, especially those between:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Architecture’s Two Cultures (AND a Crucial Third) May 1, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, BIM, books, collaboration, essence, function, pragmatism, questions, sustainability, transformation, transition.
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Architecture today exhibits a clear dividing line between the haves and have-nots.

Between us and them.

It’s not a matter of who’s on top and who’s on bottom – one being high and the other low – for they are both high-minded.

High-minded, that is, about different things.

The Two Cultures was an influential lecture, given just over 50 years ago this week, by scientist and novelist C. P. Snow about how the breakdown of communication between the “two cultures” of modern society — the sciences and humanities — was holding us back from solving the world’s major problems.

Architecture’s two cultures, similarly, can be best described as “high design” and “high delivery”.

In other words, architects devoted to architecture as art, and architects devoted to serving clients.

This model owes something to Weld Coxe, founder of the service professions management firm The Coxe Group, who passed away last month.

You can find a clear description of their model, published 25 years ago, here.

For simplicity’s sake, I am clumping together service and delivery, for they have one big thing in common: a client.

For some this might be likened to clumping together Vitruvius’ commodity and firmness and pitting them against delight.

Whereas, for high art (paper architecture, etc.), while patrons are welcome, they aren’t necessary.

Versus

It’s almost impossible to describe the two cultures without making a value judgment.

Innovators vs. Perpetuators of the status quo.

Ideas vs. Things.

Form vs. Function.

Thinking differently vs. The standard of care.

Sophisticated urban architects vs. Prosaic suburban architects.

AIA members vs. SARA members (or any other so-called alternative-AIA organizations.)

Local office continuing education events sponsored by USG Corp. vs. Outlier office sponsored industry events by Big Ass Fans.

The Architect’s Newspaper vs. Architect magazine.

Dwell and Domus vs. House Beautiful and Fine Homebuilding.

You get the idea.

In fact, it was a magazine that got this whole discussion rolling.

At the AIA Committee on Design Knowledge Community, an architect started a KnowledgeNet discussion thread last month concerning the Record Houses 2011 magazine issue.

The argument boils down to one word: elitism.

Record Houses, the argument goes, is elitist.

Exclusive, exclusionary and undemocratic.

Various voices chimed-in, leaving messages that, generally, complained the houses awarded year after year exhibit poor construction decision-making.

Or are uncomfortable to live in.

Or aren’t code-worthy.

Or don’t use construction best practices.

Or are unsustainable.

Or they leak.

In other words, their comments seem to say, “they may be art but I wouldn’t want to live in one.”

Several mentioned that these high-design homes perpetuate the image of the architect as designing for themselves, for each other or to receive awards and recognition.

Anything, really, but for what the world needs from a home today: shelter, safety, solace.

That Record Homes, if viewed in a doctor’s office by a non-architect, may leave the wrong conclusion of what we truly stand for as a profession, of where our true interests lie, and of what we value and believe.

In defense of the Record Houses issue, one architect admitted liking one of the houses:

“Do I design this way? I don’t have the client, the budget or, let’s face it, the talent.”

Another added:

“There are some beautifully resolved and detailed houses in the article, why the hate? I will argue for the issues of safety in public buildings but to use that as a metric for the merits of design for a home is misplaced…”

One counterpoint sums up the opposing side’s argument:

“Great architecture should be based on more than art alone. Otherwise it is sculpture.”

Architecture’s Third Culture

Just as CP Snow’s Two Cultures were welcomed by a Third Culture 20 years ago, so are ours today.

Snow’s Third Culture was a group envisioned as “curious non-scientists who could bridge the gap between scientists and humanists.”

In 1991, literary agent John Brockman wrote an essay entitled “The Third Culture.”

Architecture’s Third Culture could also be best described as a bridge.

One that can bridge a gaping hole between design and construction.

Architecture’s Third Culture would bridge the gap by removing the “vs.” between the two sides.

Replacing “vs.” with an “and.”

Today, for the world we face, we need to do both.

We need to be both.

Both/and. Not either/or.

For a world in need we, as architects, need to be more.

Because the world needs more.

And we have what it takes – as individuals, teams, firms and profession – to rise to the occasion.

We cannot afford any longer to stand apart.

To emphasize one side over the other.

Or ignore one side altogether.

Yes, the world needs beauty as much as it needs our services.

We need, today more than ever, to integrate our predilections and capabilities and stand together as one profession, however diverse we may be as individuals.

And we can start by dropping the divisiveness.

Replacing “vs.” with a simple “and.”

Architecture’s Next Destination (AND)

Call it the Yes AND movement.

We commit, here on out, in our work and in our lives, to address both ideas and things.

Both form and function.

Technology and process.

Academics and practitioners.

Design and construction.

Both thinking differently and exceeding the standard of care.

Beauty and sustainability.

BIM and integrated design.

To creating sophisticated, urban places and the revitalization of the suburbs.

To belong to – and volunteer at – any organization of our choosing.

Despite our schooling and training, which may have emphasized one over the other.

What we ought to have been doing all along.

Improv Wisdom

It’s like the old improv “Yes And” game.

The game represents a vital rule of improvisational theater:

Never deny your fellow actor.

Take what you’re given, whatever line you’re fed, and say “yes and…”

Be willing and able to accept the ideas the other person conveys.

Then, it’s your turn to add to the scene.

This improv principle is known as “Yes And.” Here’s how it works:

At the beginning of the scene, Character #1 will begin by establishing setting and plot.

Character #1: What a terrible time to be an architect!

Following the “Yes And” method, Character #2 will accept the premise and add onto the situation.

Character #2: Yep and the boss said we don’t get no salary until this model is coordinated.

Character #1: Yes and ain’t he the meanest cuss we’ve ever worked for?

Character #2: Yep and it’s made me think about leaving behind this cowboy life and headin’ off for bluer horizons. (Learn more about the method here.)

Seated with the project team, someone tosses out an idea that troubles you.

Never deny your teammate. You respond by saying, “Yes and…”

Don’t like what the client has given you in the way of a program, schedule or budget?

Never deny your client. “Yes and…”

Don’t like what the economy has given you?

Never deny your circumstances. “Yes and…”

Or the site. Or the budget. Or the schedule.

Yes And: Not either/Or.

Yes And: A Collaborative Attitude.

Yes And: Architecture’s Third Culture

Yes And: Architect’s New Direction

Yes And: Architecture’s Next Destination

This is the message we want to be making to others.

Do you agree?

Watch for Architecture’s Two Cultures (AND a Crucial Third) Part 2