jump to navigation

Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail February 23, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, architecture industry, books, change, employment, essence, identity, optimism, questions.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
11 comments

I’ve been thinking about the state of our profession.

For anyone who belongs to an online social media group the subject has been hard to avoid.

And from the number of commenters in discussions it would be fair to say I am not alone.

These discussions tend to present an exhaustive laundry list comprised of complaints and recriminations that run their course until someone steps-up and wisely says something along the lines of

  • “You get out of it what you put into it,”
  • “Be the change you want to see in the world,” or
  • “Ask not what your profession can do for you, but what you can do for your profession,”

The thread soon runs out of steam but pops up again on another site and starts over again.

Rinse, repeat.

Victim mentality

It would appear that some of us never tire of describing the infractions we’ve been victims of and injustices we’ve experienced at the hands of our chosen profession.

Uprising anyone?

Most of the threads boil down to a wish list of what our profession can do for us:

  • Stop everyone who is not a building architect from using the name architect
  • Advocate on our behalf by informing the general public who we are, what we do and why what we do should be valued
  • Clear up any misconceptions that others have about us (that we are wealthy, that we only care about the way things look, that we control project outcomes, wear black, have unrealistic expectations)
  • Give us job security
  • A direct return on investment
  • Tell us – and everyone else – when we’re doing a fine job
  • Only take legislative positions that align with my own
  • Serve refreshments at professional programs
  • Charge us $75 annual dues (like the other guys)

That’s not what professions are for. That’s what Santa Claus is for.

If we were to go back and reread the comments, between the rants and unrealistic demands – if one were to listen carefully and read mindfully – one can discern a voice of reason and compassion: constructive, positive, hopeful.

So much so that one discussion commenter recently concluded:

“I think the comments here are a great foundation upon which to rebuild the profession of architecture.”

Amen.

That’s a good start.

Bowling alone together

While some pay dues in exchange for a very expensive magazine subscription – and so they can call themselves card-carrying members – today most don’t see themselves as belonging to a profession.

They belong to communities, groups and tribes.

In Tribes, Seth Godin defines a tribe as a group of people who are connected to

1. one another, 2. a leader, and 3. an idea.

Godin – like some of the more thoughtful voices in the group discussion threads – encourages readers to find their Tribe, step up, and lead.

So, what distinguishes a profession from a tribe?

A number of qualities and characteristics can be attributed to professions.

Professions, unlike tribes, regulate membership – as opposed to communities and networks that socially certify.

Professions gather skilled practitioners by seeing to it that they’ve acquired and maintained specialized training.

Professions put service to society before personal gain (spouses might add, to a fault.)

Professions encourage a private language be spoken amongst members.

Again?

It’s all part of the body of knowledge considered inaccessible to the uninitiated.

And one of the things that makes a profession a profession.

Witold Rybczynski earlier this month chastised architects for their private language in A Discourse on Emerging Tectonic Visualization and the Effects of Materiality on Praxis, Or an essay on the ridiculous way architects talk.

But that is what professions do: enable and foster professionals to talk to each other as professionals.

I am not saying that we ought to deliberately obfuscate and waylay the public (or use words like “obfuscate” and “waylay” when becloud and befog would do.)

But one way we reinforce our community is by talking to each other in terms familiar to ourselves (and a select few inebriated hangers-on of the 60’s and various sundry academics.)

Of the categories – individuals, teams, organizations, profession and industry – profession feels like the weak link.

There was a time we aspired to serve in professions. Stanley Tigerman asked in the introduction of his fine book Versus, in 1979; Growing up he’d hear his mother say:

My son the doctor, my son the lawyer. Why not, my son the architect?

Nobody would think of asking that question today (and not only because at least 40% of the time it would be addressed to My daughter the architect?)

Because we don’t think in terms of entering professions so much as careers.

How can we have a profession without shared memories, books, references, memes?

Who remembers (or still reads) Peter Collins comparing law with the profession of architecture in the brilliant book, Architectural Judgment, where Collins returns to law school so he might compare the two professions with firsthand experience?

Anyone?

$3.97 for a used copy (call me and we’ll discuss.)

What can we do for our profession?

“What is difficult about this moment in the history of the profession is that the field is moving in so many different directions at once. Changes are occurring in the structure of architectural firms and the scope of their services, in the goals of architectural graduates and the careers they are pursuing, and in the nature of architectural education and the responsibilities of the schools.”

Thomas Fisher wrote this in “Can This Profession Be Saved?” in Progressive Architecture, 17 years ago in February 1994. Read it here.

The title of this post – Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail – invokes the professions, rhythm and cadence of author John le Carre’s spy novel: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

Derived from the English children’s rhyme “Tinker, Tailor,” this group of professions had another variant:

“Rich man, Poor man, beggar-man, thief; Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief.”

Doctor, Lawyer, Architect, Fail. What does this title say to me?

Our professions cannot fail us. Only we can fail each other.

What we can do for each other and for our profession is really quite simple. So simple, in fact, it’s worth asking why we aren’t doing some of these things more often.

So, what can we do for our profession?

  • Show up
  • Share our knowledge, stories and insights
  • Help each other
  • Listen to one another
  • Look for opportunities to improve our world
  • Be accepting and inclusive of others
  • Respect each other
  • Celebrate each other’s accomplishments
  • Mentor our fledgling members
  • Be authentic
  • Laugh more (make office Nerf N-Strike battles mandatory)
  • Give back
  • Give others a reason for wanting to become an architect
  •      

Now it’s your turn, by leaving a comment: What could we be doing more of for each other and for our profession? What one item would you add to this list?

Image courtesy NYTimes

Advertisements