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Today, Be Your Own Architect November 21, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in career, change, identity, management.
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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.

BE

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
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.

ARCHITECT

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.

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Regaining a Sense of Self August 9, 2009

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, architect, change, identity, the economy, transformation.
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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?

 

Aspiring Architect

 

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?