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5 Gifts Seasoned Architects Receive from Emerging Professionals (& vice versa) January 20, 2014

Posted by randydeutsch in Ambiguity, career, change, employment, management, problem solving.
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giftsThere are so many things I have learned over the years from working alongside emerging professionals (EPs), it’s hard to know where to begin.

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.

But expertise?

Absolutely. Though not the old school form of expertise – acquired slowly over time.

EPs are social learners so if they don’t know something, they know where to find it.

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!

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Architecture’s Two Cultures II May 10, 2011

Posted by randydeutsch in architect, identity, pragmatism, technology, transformation.
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Not everybody agreed in my recent post that architecture’s two cultures are “high design” and “high delivery.”

But there was a consensus that there is indeed a rift in the profession.

A split that starts with the way we are trained.

I taught architecture from 2001-2007 in the graduate program at The School of Architecture at the University of Illinois Chicago.

An ARE refresher course, a Professional Practice course and the Integrated Building Science/Design Studio with Dan Wheeler FAIA.

For all the prep work it entailed, and the marathon 4-hour classes, I especially loved teaching this last course.

More importantly, I believed we had discovered the Holy Grail that would successfully bridge education and practice.

I was wrong.

In 2006-2007 Sarah Whiting served as visiting critic and at the school year’s end, she presented her observations of the school to the faculty.

Which boiled down to this: it was neither fish nor fowl.

Neither known for design nor technology, the school, in her eyes, fell something short of either.

There are a number of ways the faculty could have reacted to this information.

East coast elite academic theorist frowns-upon industrious Midwest architecture program,

Was how they chose to take it.

Her comments played to the low self-regarding intellectual underachiever in every Midwesterner.

The faculty took it hard and were faced with a choice:

Don’t even try to be all things.

Pick one and run with it.

Director Robert Somol soon after came on board and brought with him a culture change.

Taking sides

Integrated Building Science/Design Studio was a tough course and made demands on the students. No doubt.

Stretching their design and technology chops at one and the same time, the pressure took a toll on its students.

That said, their design projects were both innovative and real, the outcomes admirable.

But with their new director the direction was clear:

You can’t be both great and real.

Choose one.

Choose great.

Because real’s not our brand

Cool won out over cool + buildable in school.

Just as cool wins out over cool + billable in the profession.

I personally am looking forward to when the pendulum swings back toward reality, as it inevitably does every 10 years or so.

When style goes out of fashion.

I plan on heading-up the integrated design program when it does.

You’re invited to stop by to sit in on the design reviews.

We’ll be inspiring future architects who are needed by the world, not just by other architects.

The school got rid of these courses because they didn’t fit the brand.

And what is the brand?

High design.

Architect, what is your brand?

World, what is our brand?

What we talk about when we talk about integrated design

One year, after an end of year graduate design jury, I was asked by my fellow instructors to select from the 60 student’s 30 projects what I believed to be the strongest design.

My first mistake was going first.

Given the combined, integrated building science/design studio make-up of the course, I selected a project that I felt was the best from both perspectives:

Strong design/strong buildability.

The project was good, even excellent, on a number of levels; and it had integrity.

It was a project that, if built, would have improved the world in some small way.

That could not be said of every project.

Wrong answer.

The 3 other instructors, in cahoots, selected a pure Miesian jewelbox – a project that, to anyone outside that room, would be hard-pressed to distinguish from a dozen others.

But the consensus was telling:

What we talk about when we talk about integrated design is style.

Say what?

In the May 2011 Architect magazine is an article entitled A New Theory War?

The fact that the title ends with a question mark will prove telling.

“If academic debates over style have quieted,” the subheading reads, “a divide persists between the proponents of practice-based and theoretical instruction. Two prominent educators argue the respective merits of these approaches.”

Or do they?

Ted Landsmark, President of Boston Architectural College (BAC,) wrote about practice in Learning Through Experience.

Anthony Vidler, Dean, Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture at The Cooper Union wrote a piece on theory entitled Thinking About Architecture.

It becomes almost immediately apparent that something went awry in the execution of this article.

The fact that the two are arguing for the opposing side may have something to do with it.

Or the fact that these educators are supposed to be debating how much importance theory should have in a curriculum,

Except nobody appears to have bothered to tell them that that was the assignment.

Read the article.

Whether a typographer’s mess-up or editor’s oversight, the practice piece is more theoretical than the thinking piece.

And vice versa.

In the practice piece, Landsmark – who is supposed to be speaking about practice-based instruction – provides us with a veritable shopping list of the latest buzz words and smorgasbord of cited sources and unnecessarily complicated explications.

There’s mention of “design thinking,” “theoretical constructs,” “students…working in empirical contexts” to “reverse the degradation of our ecosphere.”

The word “architect” or “architecture” doesn’t occur until the 4th paragraph.

Where is “building science,” “building technology,” “professional practice,” “collaboration,” “integrated practice,” “integrated teams”?

The piling-on of terms doesn’t answer the question:

Does practice-based learning have a prayer against design theory?

In comparison, Vidler’s piece is vastly more practical and practice-minded, well-reasoned and balanced.

And his was the theory piece.

“There seems to be little argument that practical wisdom holds a necessary place in the curriculum,” opens the second paragraph, putting an end to any doubts.

And any reason to continue reading.

With this article there was an enormous opportunity to discuss the strengths and weaknesses, benefits and challenges, of the two cultures.

And how together they might lead to the architect’s renewed leadership position in the industry.

And that opportunity was squandered.

We’re left hanging with the question, unanswered.

And – as with the integrated studio tossed aside in favor of the brand – a sense of loss for what could have been.

If only we had chosen what is real with what we know to be great.