Design Power

I recently read and loved this post.  It really gets to the heart of the power we have as designers, especially architects, if only we will believe in ourselves and innovatively and fearlessly use our abilities to problem solve.
quoted from dinet
Design thinking ... carries a conviction that there is always more than one way to solve a problem

When Green Isn't Enough

Sustainable healthcare design is a strange beast.  It's not just about saving energy, but about providing a better quality of life for the users of the building.  A handy source for melding the two is the Green Guide for Healthcare, which acknowledges some of the distinct issues facing sustainable hospitals, and begins to take it one step further, weaving in elements of evidence based design (EBD). Other sources I like to consult are Practice Greenhealth, Healthcare without Harm, and the treasure trove of information on EBD that is the Center for Health Design.  Emerging mateirals such as the UL Environment hybrid standards and CSI's new GreenFormat also can help filter through a wide range of data in multiple formats. 

The best way to pursue sustainable goals is to understand that most of what they are working to accomplish can either lay the foundation for or amplify other goals that an Owner aalready has.  By taking the time to identify and codify Owner Project Requirements (OPR), they can be matched to green goals.

Being sustainable as a matter of conscience or energy savings is nice, but healthcare organizations should view it as a prerequisite to meeting their infection control requirements, staff retention goals, and patient satisfaction plans as well as a tool to improve the overall outcomes for cases.  When you look at green measures through an EBD lens, you get a whole different game plan for your project.  As my diagrams below illustrate, there are parallel paths for both sustainable and EBD strategies, which helps strengthen the argument for any measure that satisfies both aims:

These diagrams illustrate sustainable strategies (some linked to multiple LEED credits) and parallel EBD strategies with outcomes listed for both. As this comparison shows, many sustainable strategies also lead to direct EBD gains-a win/win/win result for your project.

Integrating EBD and sustainability into the project from the planning and conceptual stage encourages Owners to select strategies that support and inform their design goals for the project. To get you started on the visioning path, consider these strategies:
1.  Stepping back to look at the big picture from a “whole building” point of view
2.  Master planning infrastructure not just buildings- systems expandability
3.  Making bold moves for big results
4.  Incorporating redundancy and reliability into the sustainable plan

Go forth and be life-sustaining, not just sustainable.

Measuring Distance with Time

Metrics are a funny thing.  There are all kinds of units out there to measure mass, volume, length, duration, ratios, rates.  And there are all kinds of ways of processing these numbers to make judgments about things like returns on investment, energy efficiency, job performance, throughputs; and determine things like status and rank.  Healthcare institutions live and die by numbers every day.

But what kind of metrics do we have for emotion?  For perception and understanding? As architects, we bridge the world of what is measurable and what is felt.  The spaces we create have to facilitate performance, and also provide the kind of intangible benefits that are linked to people feeling better about their surroundings, and therefore functioning better within them. We obsess about the design of space in three dimensions, but often forget there are other dimensions like time, light, sound and smell.  People move through space and experience it in the context of the time of day and seasons. They also experience space within the context of their own lives.  Someone who is mentally debilitated by disease may view a sound, odor or pattern as disturbing.  Someone who is harried and stressed out may become frustrated in an environment where they cannot immediately find their way to critical destinations.  Someone who is afraid can easily become overwhelmed by the scale of a building.  Someone who is physically compromised can be agitated by loud noises and glaring lights.

We navigate this world with our senses.  Our environments influence how we feel, then think and act.   As a first step, think about just one of these dimensional variables, that of time.  Use it to generate a whole different kind of metric- a metric of experience.  Is a corridor 10 minutes long?  What does it feel like to move through a space for that length of time?  What if you have a sore hip or are in a wheelchair or have a young child with you?  I hope that you will encounter many revelations as you move down that path.

Design and Our Emotions

I recently watched an episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive and was struck by the fact that the physical environment created by the hoarders was a reflection of their mental anguish.  It was not so much that these people felt the need to collect or save materials as the fact that they had no way to mentally process all this stuff and they just kind of abandoned it in piles.  The same quantity of stuff in files, display cases and storage boxes all cataloged would not seem nearly so pathological.  Why? Because if the stuff was organized, the person would have a psychological handle on what they actually owned.  They would have control over their environment and the things within it.  
When we feel in control of our environment, we feel in control of our lives. This of course led me to think about how we as architects can help people to have control over their environments and help them make sense of the rituals of their lives as well as their supplies and posessions. Our space and our place in the world, whether at home, at work or in the places we go for entertainment, goods, services or healing, needs to reinforce not just who we are but who we want to be.  Our surroundings can reflect our emotional state, but they can also do just the opposite and influence it.  We are consummate consumers, on the acquisition warpath seeking the next thing to bring quality of life to our lives.  It is not things but meaning we seek.  Maybe all we really need to acquire is a meaningful sense of place.

Are You a Brand or a Commodity?

It’s easy in this economy to adopt a “whatever it takes” approach to getting work. Believe it or not, this actually can cost you projects because clients are looking for a team who can meet their needs, not just undercut the competition. If you have been going after any RFP that moves and buying jobs, stop. Right now. You might think, “What if I don’t do these things, and my competition does, and I lose the work?” You should worry about what would happen if you do these things and you win it.

You will have just reduced your practice: expertise, resources, and professional judgment to a commodity. No one values a commodity. No one has “commodity loyalty.” Commodity work is demoralizing. It is all about spending the least amount of time to get the most marginally acceptable and cheapest design. It is antithetical to our whole purpose as architects and frankly, makes us obsolete. Do enough of this work and you have a portfolio that only lets you continue to downward spiral. If you aren’t contributing inspired, designed solutions, what purpose do you really serve?

The same goes for the firms that give away their services, producing good designs and being attentive to clients, but at a huge loss just for the privilege of doing the work. Their desperation makes them a doormat. If you really look at these projects, they are filled with unnecessary compromises and lack true integrity because the architect did not command the client’s respect. Post mortems on these projects often show a great deal of time (and un-billable hours) spent like a dog chasing its tail pursuing every little whim and without any real control of the process of design.

I am not advocating arrogance. Nor am I recommending an approach so high minded that you essentially offer your clients a take it or leave it ultimatum. I would suggest that you do some very honest soul-searching. What do you really want to achieve in your practice? Has this deep seated reason for being been communicated to your staff, consultants and clients? Do they believe in it too? This core belief is your brand. It is unwavering in good economic times and bad, project type to project type, project delivery method to project delivery method. Your brand should be the rationale behind every decision you make, large or small, internally and externally.  It is what makes a client excited to work with you and motivated to collaborate as a team to produce an inspired design solution.

Know your brand.
Don't take actions that compromise your brand out of desperation.
Believe in your brand. 
Be amazing.

How Was Your Stay?

First, a confession: I do not specialize in hotel design. I design, research and program healthcare projects. While hospitals have certainly tried in recent years to embrace the aesthetics of hotel design to create a more welcoming and less institutional environment, I think that the synergy between these two archetypes goes far deeper. More than imitation, this is a fusion spawned by recent trends in healthcare that creates an opportunity for both industries:
Trend 1: A hospital stay does not make you “all better”
Patients admitted to hospitals are sicker than ever before due in large part to the fact that so many procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis. You need to have had a significant illness, catastrophic accident or major surgery to qualify as an inpatient today. Simultaneously, hospitals have come under pressure from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services as well as insurance companies to shorten lengths of stay. Discharged inpatients therefore, may still be in a precarious state of health.
Trend 2: Both caregivers and patients are getting older.
The increase in the elderly population is also a factor in the ability of a discharged patient to function at a very high level upon discharge. All of this places added burden on the caregiver(s), who may themselves have compromised health.

Trend 3: Consumers are driving the healthcare marketplace.
Patients and their families are realizing that they have choices. They are demanding convenience, access, responsiveness and amenity from their healthcare providers. Many hospitals are beginning to provide concierge service to VIP patients. Additionally, families often want short term child care, reference libraries, and better food choices. 

Trend 4: A greater emphasis on wellness and prevention has emerged
Many healthcare systems are now offering alternative and complementary therapies such as massage, yoga and acupuncture. They are also expanding campus design to include things like on-site walking or fitness trails, and community education rooms within the facility.

Many major hospitals are served by nearby hotels, including some franchises directly owned by the healthcare institution and located on-campus, and I see an opportunity do more than provide accommodations for families during a hospital stay or a convention venue. As a building type, hotels are consumer oriented and focused on the total guest experience. Designers of hotel environments as well as their clients understand the value of positive distraction and captivating guests during their stay.

As healthcare clients shift their focus from purely functional spaces to ones that incorporate evidence-based design strategies, the connection between the environment and the health of patients and performance of staff is undeniable. Market trends have also necessitated a re-evaluation of traditional business models and rethinking of the spectrum of services provided. Healthcare design teams are working with owners to create spaces that are relaxing and comforting, perhaps even inspirational, instead of clinical. Collaboration with hotel designers could produce inspired hybrid architecture that also results in construction and operational savings for both due to the ability to share spaces and create operational efficiencies. Hotels already know how to offer excellent amenities that can seamlessly integrate with the goal of a healthcare institution such as wellness services and alternative therapies for both patients and families, in spas, gyms and grounds, venues for educational an community classes, and possibly even providing a transitional environment for discharged inpatients who may not be fully ready to return home. An inpatient room and a hotel room are not that dissimilar after all.

Contagious: The Role of Infection Control in Design

At first glance, this seems like a REALLY dry topic. The overly-technical kind you gloss over when reading a magazine or skip out on attending at a conference. But, before you give up on reading this post, consider: who wants to see their hard work in design ruined by the unsightly application of hand sanitizer dispensers, or the failure to really think about the visual clutter that hand washing sinks bring? 

Compliance with their infection control policies are no laughing matter. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid will no longer pay for charges to treat patients for hospital acquired infections (HAI). Additionally, The Joint Commission, who accredits many hospitals and ambulatory care facilities, looks for compliance with infection control standards during their facility inspections. Can good infection control practice be supported through design decisions?
It can if you work with staff, including the infection control director and materials management folks instead of leaving decisions up to the facility to figure out post-construction. Employ evidence-based design strategies and don’t forget to follow-up post-occupancy to see how they are working:

1. Out of sight is out of mind- sinks that are not conveniently located in the main path of travel into and out of patient rooms, exam and procedure rooms or treatment/recovery bays are not likely to be utilized. Study the flow of staff in their existing space and talk about the steps they take before entering and leaving the patient zone. 

2. Create visual cues to help remind staff to use the sink- use floor patterns, ceiling treatments, lighting or contrasts in finishes to call attention to the sink area. Positioning the sink in the patient’s line of sight can also keep the patient aware that the proper measures are being followed by their caregiver.

3. Don’t forget about the accessories. At every sink, is a dispenser for paper towels, and soap, trash disposal and possible space for a sharps container or glove boxes. Place these to avoid creating visual clutter- but don’t get too clever. Over-designed custom casework that doesn’t consider the process of caregiving often goes unused. For example, cabinets for glove boxes are abandoned in favor of boxes placed right on the counter the first time someone needs gloves and can’t find them instantly. Also, materials management often negotiates contracts with paper towel or soap companies and the ugly plastic dispensers are often part of the deal. Work closely with the hospital to develop a policy for these items or you may find a soap dispenser on the wall right above the countertop mounted one you designed. Give it a couple of years, and there will be a different plastic dispenser made all the more resplendent by the holes in the wall left by the previous one’s removal. 

4. And then there’s waste disposal. Staff usually loves a big open container for regular and/or red bag trash because it doesn’t need to be emptied too frequently and is easy to access without contaminating a countertop or cabinet surface. As these do not contribute to providing a patient-centered design environment, work with department staff and housekeeping to explore alternatives for containing and stowing waste. Options can include using smaller containers, or ones purchased based upon their ability to blend in aesthetically with the design. In some cases, where large volumes of trash are not likely to be generated, it may be possible to use containers that can slide under a counter or pull out from a cabinet like a drawer.

The patient experience and outcomes are affected by things we often fail to truly design. Far from being boring, thinking about infection control issues may be the most important decisions we make.

The Liability of Expertise

I recently read Presentation Zen, a great book by Garr Reynolds, and was struck by his discussion of the zen concept of the Beginner’s Mind. The beginner’s mind is not judgmental therefore it dares to question norms, to ask why not? The argument goes that as we acquire expertise, our thinking becomes more rigid and we are more apt to categorize, marginalize and apply overly rigid ideology or process to our work. Especially in the creative world of architecture, this is a liability as it precludes innovation and fresh thinking. It also can cause us to disregard ideas brought up by our client if they come across as “too amateur” So we live in our ivory towers, our silos of specialization. And it’s boring. For us and for our clients. However, we have mutually pushed the design process to this point.

Seen that recent request for proposals? If you haven’t done at least 50 projects EXACTLY like the one that is planned, you can forget being considered (oh, and with the exact same team if possible please). And then there are our attempts at business development that involve seeking out niche markets and super-specialization. A creative, innovative design is a happy accident in this climate, when it should be the number one goal for the whole team. It's time to abandon the red-ocean thinking that pervades our industry and think a bit more about alternative strategies. I am not saying that experience is irrelevant, or that there are not some very highly sensitive building types that require expertise in order to ensure that they are compliant and functional. But, when we let mastery of the rules drive the bus, it’s like failing to see the forest for the trees. Instead, let your experience be what leads you to ask the broader questions, instead of accepting the status quo.

During the planning stage of your project, ask:
1.Who is using the space? What specific needs do they have?
 2. What are you really trying to achieve with this project?

3. Why this project? Do you really need more space, or space that is organized differently? Are there other overall issues with the campus or facility that should be solved first?

4. Where are supplies and materials coming from? Distributed to? What is the flow of patients in the space?

5. How do things need to operate? Does this need to be a separate function (departmental silos), or could a better solution involve combining uses and bringing a larger spectrum of services to a single location on-demand?

6. When will you know you have solved the problem?

Getting Better

Healing is all about time and space, the ability to seek treatment, be open to therapies,medications and procedures.  As architects, we can create the environments in which healing takes place, whether it be a hospital, ambulatory care center, or a place of respite that someone can seek out like a public garden or urban park.  Because, as evidence increasingly shows, healing is entirely dependent on one's state of mind.

Reducing stress and providing inspirational environments creates a context conducive to healing.  Some facts related to evidence-based design and biophilic research from the work of Roger Ulrich that are good to keep in mind for your next project:
  1. Natural light is critical.  Exposure to daylight, especially direct sunlight, increases levels of seratonin, which has been shown to dramatically reduce depression, pain levels, and improve outcomes.  Avoid creating spaces that are cast in perpetual shadow by the building configuration.
  2. Views of nature have been found to reduce stress and neuropathic pain.  The view can come from a window, interior landscaped space or artwork, although the most effective views were those that provided grand vistas.  Abstract art was actually shown to increase stress.
  3. Effective use of the site is important to provide outdoor areas for patients, families and staff to use.  If possible try to provide access to the outdoors at multiple levels, including roof gardens or sunken gardens at basements.
  4. Good acoustic control to mask unpleasant noise (carts rattling, staff talking amongst themselves) and introduce calming sounds like water or birdcalls.
Healing is a process.  Many patients must return again and again to complete a course of treatment.  Aside from not feeling well, just knowing that you have an illness causes stress as one deals with fears regarding the outcome, side effects of medication or testing/procedures to be undergone.  The buildings they approach should be welcoming and regenerative environments, not ones that will reinforce feelings of dread.  Positive environments encourage a positive experience, which also helps patients to lead healthier lifestyles in general.  After all, no path to wellness can succeed if a patient does not embrace and follow it.

Generational Marketing meets Design

Effective design comes from the ability to know your audience and speak their language.  If you don't effectively communicate, you won't effectively define the problem. Different generations of building users have different values, expectations and needs.  Attracting and retaining quality staff and satisfied building occupants requires providing them with quality environments.  Try working with your client to assess the demographics of the building users and look at these tips in the chart below from the Generational Targeted Marketing Corporation to target programmatic elements or design features that might resonate best.  You may discover that providing  amenities like on-site childcare, fitness center or convenience services can make all the difference, or that better break rooms that allow staff to get off-stage and decompress in a stressful work environment keeps them motivated and happy.  There's nothing better than knowing you designed a building that people find enriching to occupy.

Generation  9/11 (2001-Present)
  • Generation 9/11 values fitting in with their peers.
  • Overprotected during their formative years: at home, because of the rash of kidnappings and Amber Alerts; at school, because of school-shooting incidences; and in society, because of terrorism.
  • Will tend to be risk-averse and therefore conformists as adults.
Generation Y
  • Influenced by their brand-conscious Boomer parents.
  • Attracted to brands at an early age and remain loyal.
  • Associate brands with companies that stand behind their products.
  • Brand names also important for peer recognition.
Generation X
  • Market Savvy
  • Demand an honest, straight-forward approach.
  • Expect you to deliver on your marketing promises.
  • Burn them once, lose them forever.
Baby Boomers(1943-1960)
  • The busy generation.
  • Often juggle kids, spouses, parents and jobs, so anything that makes their lives easier or more convenient will appeal to them.
  • They do not have time to read lengthy marketing efforts.
  • Capture their attention in seconds, or lose them.
Silent Generation(1925-1942)
  • Once financially conservative, they are now willing to spend money on themselves.
  • Feel it's now-or-never time to splurge on that big-ticket item.
G.I. Generation(1901-1924)
  • Avid readers
  • Prefer sales by mail because customer service standards have fallen.
  • May have trouble with transportation, so catalog sales are a natural fit.
Source: Generational-Targeted Marketing Group, 2007

Biophilic Design: More Than a Distraction?

When you first started your architecture education, you were no doubt exposed to concepts tying the built and natural environments such as the chambered nautilus, bi-lateral symmetry, golden section, and of course Le Corbusier's Modular Man.  It seemed like cracking the code of nature would give some kind of magical solution to any design problem.  Then you probably forgot all about that stuff as you began a career and had to deal with real program requirements and code constraints.  Nature-inspired design is back, and this time its about more than just proportion or organic shapes a la Bruce Goff. It's also more than just putting up some twinkly LED lights in the ceiling or an illuminated photograph of a natural scene to simulate an outdoor view.

Incorporating evidence based design principles, biophilic design looks to meld the materials, process and cycles of nature into architecture.  It links our health, job performance and well being directly to the built environment. Design that takes into account natural processes and cycles feels better to inhabit. And now, it has evidence behind it.

In his popular book Biophilia, Edward Wilson, a biologist and social researcher describes a connection that humans innately seek with other living things.  The deep psychological connections that we have formed with nature influence us in primal and subconscious ways.  As behavioral psychologists began to study biophilia in greater detail, the applicability to healing environments became evident. Roger Ulrich has shown direct correlations between connections to nature and reductions in pain and depression, both of which lead to fewer complications and faster recovery. His work in particular seems to indicate that the most beneficial type of stimulation comes from evoking nature, as in artwork, or through actual exposure to nature itself. The growing amount of research into the impact of biophilic concepts on the built environment has included work with actual patients and hospital staff, such as the Ambient Experience created by Phillips, focused on building systems that provide a multi-sensory environment for patients, families and staff.  

This seems intuitive.  However, what exactly to implement in each type of space you are creating is not.  Your game plan:
  1. As part of your space program, create a column for what you are trying to promote in each space.  In corridors, you may want to promote wayfinding and reduce noise; in staff work areas, reduce errors; in patient rooms, promote healing; and reduce stress in procedure rooms.  
  2. Look at existing research on what will best produce the desired effects in each space.  For example, stress and anxiety contribute strongly to high pain levels.  Views of nature create a  positive diversion that helps to keep people focused on things other than pain or anxiety and promote healing.
  3. Brainstorm as a team about ways these effects can manifest themselves in each space- can you provide views to a landscaped area?  Should artwork of natural landscapes be a focal point? What about lighting and acoustics?  What opportunities are there to get natural light, especially sunlight, into the space?  Can the space adapt to the time of day or season?  Are there opportunities to actually bring nature inside through plants or water features?
  4. Determine how you can measure the results of your strategies and incorporate them into your evidence-based design plan.
Why does it work?  Some speculate that reducing anxiety is all about distracting people, but I think it goes further than that and taps into a primordial state of balance that helps inhabitants to feel calmer, more focused and invigorated.  Being in a biophilic environment is enriching and by stimulating our senses, we stimulate the soul.  

Risk-Taking Isn't Reckless

Great design can't happen unless you are willing to take a risk.  BUT- taking a risk ups the likelihood of making a mistake, and in an Owner-led process of design, mistakes can be judged so harshly that we often prefer to stay where it's safe.  Obviously this "safe approach" benefits no one, yet we are running for cover as fast as we can.  I recently read an excellent article by Barbara White Bryson and Canan Yetmen for Design Intelligence on Leading with Exuberance that zeroed in on this issue. The article discusses the importance of having a collaborative process and the difference between cost and value (both popular topics of your Patron), but an interesting twist that they introduce is the idea that risk-taking is associated with feeling safe

Yes grasshopper, great ideas are not necessarily born from a maverick, devil-may-care state of mind, but instead emerge from the energy that comes from being able to interact and share thoughts.  However, being able to speak unedited and voice true opinions is a double-edged sword.  So is proposing an idea for which there is no precedent.  That's where the authors argue that the risk comes in.  They urge project teams, from the owner on down to stop the blame game.  Because innovation comes from straying from the tried and true, the likelihood of failure is also increased.  When the team can look constructively at the failure and learn from it, a mistake can become a gateway to valuable ideas and amazing solutions.  The authors further argue that the true source of failure may not lie in the team members, but in the process itself.  Processes that are faulty (many of them widely accepted industry standards) often lead to problems and it is these processes that should be attacked and amended.

Sounds great on paper.  How do we put this concept into action?  
  1. Show the way.  During the proposal and interview process, and certainly at the initial meeting with the Owner, talk to them about innovation and how you can work together to achieve it.  Use inclusive terms like "we" and "our" to refer to the project and the team. Structure design meetings as interactive brainstorming sessions instead of presentations.
  2. Get everyone involved. Encourage department staff s well as leaders and administration to speak up.  Conduct field observations and surveys of user groups.   If the contractor is on board early, structure time for their input on means and methods or cost/benefit analysis as part of every team meeting.  Use the resources of the entire team to look at ideas in terms of life cycle costs not just project costs.
  3. Never stop asking "what if?" You've heard that the only bad questions are those that don't get asked.  Never accept anything as unchangeable.  Everything can be improved to better adapt to the unique circumstances of the project.  Challenge the team to criticize and comment on every idea.
While the status quo may be comfortable, not taking a risk on innovative ideas may ultimately  be the biggest gamble of all for you and your client. 

Design in the Age of the Prosumer

Ah, the good old seems like there was once a time when clients trusted their architect implicitly and accepted their design and recommendations with little pushback.  It it just you imagination, or have things changed?   If you feel like only a necessary evil on your projects, you're not alone and you're not paranoid either.  Access to information has led to the rise of what has been called prosumerism, a term first introduced by futurist Alvin Toffler that implies that consumers are well informed, experienced and confident enough to challenge the producer of what they consume.  There are many variations on the origins of this word, from professional consumer to producer-consumer.  I like to think of it as proactive consumer,  This merger of professional and consumer roles leads to marginalization of the corporate producer (in our world the architect) and threatens to reduce our services from value-added to commodities. Some prosumer trends that have arisen and thoughts on how to use them to the project's design advantage:
1. Hiring of in-house professionals like registered architects and engineers to oversee and manage the work of the contracted design team for a project.  The in-house professionals often complete smaller projects without seeking to hire outside help.   
TIP: The insider is your friend.  They understand your point of view. Work with them and collaborate on strategies and they will be a trusted advocate at your next meeting with the rest of the team.  Remember, part of their job is to make sure that you are doing yours, so including them in the process allows them to report back favorably while shutting them out leads to critical comments when they review the set at the end of a design phase.
2.  Development of standards for room design and finish types/colors/materials.  These prototypes are the result of considerable time and effort on the part of the owner and changing them is not usually welcomed.
TIP: There is no such thing as one size fits all and every prototype has some capacity for adjustment to project-specific needs.  Having in-depth discussions on the rationale for each element in the prototype or standards can go a long way towards understanding where a proposed change makes sense and where it doesn't. Standards can help a client to establish a brand identity and level of quality without having to go through the process of reinventing the wheel for every project.  Additionally, it can take certain sticky design issues off of the table with user groups.  This is a case where the spirit of the law will trump the letter of the law, so do your homework before presenting different approaches and work within the framework.
3. Requirements that certain criteria or standards be incorporated into the design (like sustainabiity measures) in a defacto manner without acknowledging impacts on schedule, budget or fees.
TIP: For the most part, it's exciting not to have to sell a client on adopting a good practice, but boy are you both about to get some sticker shock if the right approach isn't followed.  You are designing a building, not baking a layer cake.  Before the first design meeting, maybe even in your proposal or the interview, you need to make it clear to your client that the old rules of project management and approach are out the window.  The square peg will not fit in the round hole.  Show them your true level of expertise by discussing precisely why these requirements will lead you to approach the project in a way that is smarter and better.
4. Rise of alternative project delivery methods to get things built faster.
TIP: Many architects bristle at the introduction of more chefs in the kitchen, from the Owner's Representative, to the Design Builder, to the increased legal implications. What actually happens, if you allow the process to work, is that we are making other parties more accountable, which takes some pressure off of us to spell out every little thing on drawings and develop painstaking details for every joint and drain.  Have you ever looked at a set of drawings from 40 years ago and been surprised by how thin the set was?  Go back 80 years and there is even less detailing of the functional stuff.  Those old drawings showed design intent, not how to fasten screws. Means and methods is something that should be the contractor's problem.  We had ourselves painted into a corner of over-detailing to avoid liability.  See this as a liberation.
I think designers can welcome the emerging prosumer in their clients because we can also show them that their patients/users/customers are prosumers too.  Everybody can use some good design to get a competitive edge.

Our Clients, Our Family

I was recently struck by how similar the process of dealing with a client is to parenting a child.  This statement is not meant to be derogatory, but to help architects think about the fact that we are leading our clients through a process that is as much about building a relationship as it is about design.  I attended a seminar a few months ago at my daughter's school that focused on how to be a leader as your children learn.  One component drew from the work of Dr. Becky Bailey on Conscious Discipline.  What I loved about this was that Dr. Bailey incorporates science about how the brain works into strategies (evidence-based design if you will) to help parents work more effectively with their children.  
Too often on a project, architects allow ourselves to slip into the role of the child and give up our leadership of the process for fear that the client will not want to work with us if we don't let them drive.  Just as unhelpful is an attempt to make both parties equal in an attempt at promoting collaboration.  How can we "parent" our projects without coming across as overbearing or making the rest of the team feel that we aren't listening to them?  

I like the idea of re-framing the architect-client relationship by utilizing Conscious Discipline techniques, primarily the idea that the struggle is the growth.  Instead of accepting a conventional schedule and meeting cycles, we, not our clients, need to take the initiative and structure a process that engages our client and allows listening and learning to occur.

Professions like architecture, medicine and law are called practices because we can't be held to a standard of perfection.  We can only be expected to apply our knowledge in the best possible way to solve complex problems for which there may be multiple answers and no clear indicator that a solution has been reached.  Too often, we meet with clients, gather data, then go off to design.  We forget that design is a cyclical process of trial and error and instead only present a highly edited "best of" solution to our clients at the next meeting.  This just perpetuates the expectation of perfection and creates a feeling that decisions have already been made.  We shouldn't be surprised to then find the client acting out like a rebellious teenager if they don't agree.  Instead, we need to open the process up and allow it to be more interactive.  Mistakes are opportunities for learning.  Encouraging our clients to disagree leads to negotiation.  Negotiation  leads to more thoughtful solutions where everyone has ownership and the kind of project team we all want- one big happy family.  
What's your experience with the process of struggle and growth on a project?

Why Bother?

I was recently asked why this blog was not more focused on "real" design issues, did not include many images and kept talking about all kinds of business stuff.  My answer is that you don't need all that to be inspired.  Inspiration is rooted in knowing yourself, believing in your ideas and sharing them with others.  In the design world, there are plenty of print and digital publications covering who's who and what's cool, but none of them address how to effectively structure projects and communicate with clients.  In other words, how to inspire them with your ideas.  

So many architects I know have become "corporatized" and somewhat despondent because they feel that in order to please their client that they can't challenge them.  They stop being creative and lose their spirit.  At the same time, the client is afraid to take risks because they don't understand how a different point of view can work.  This creates a vicious cycle of projects that follow all the rules, but lack true innovation

In the Catholic church, patron saints are protectors, guardians and guides.  It is my hope that by sharing ideas about how to approach, manage and communicate design ideas that I can help others to realize that great design is always possible no matter what the project size or type. 

Cheaper, Better, Faster: The Case for Entreprenurial Marketing

The increasing pressure to design and construct buildings cheaper, better and faster can seem like the surest path to a landscape of mediocre, throwaway buildings.  Architects prefer to look at projects as a factor of the dependent variables quality time and budget, explaining to a client, that meeting a low budget might compromise quality and perhaps argue for building a better, but smaller design.  Those relationships are weakened by market forces such as fewer resources or shorter client timetables to effectively launch a project and build, maintain or increase their market share. Clients demand that they want it all and want it now.  And there's a business theory for that.  Called Entrepreneurial MarketingLen Lodish, a Professor at the Wharton School of Business argues that smaller businesses need fast results with minimal investment.  Even the largest institutions in our industry operate much like small businesses, which is why I find this idea so compelling.  

To help get inside our client's head, let's focus on making the business case for ideas:
It's hard to focus on the long term when you have an immediate need that will likely exhaust your capital budget.  That's why so many large institutions look like they have tumors of one story buildings growing out of them and are a wayfinding nightmare. Schedule and budget concerns may be non-negotiable, but your client didn't hire you to smile and nod your head.  They hired you to think about the problem in ways that they can't.  As long as you have truly listened and respected their concerns, presenting a less literal solution than the one they asked for will gain their respect and produce a better project. 

There is also an implicit assumption on the part of the client by playing its safe, they know what they will be getting, and that the project will proceed more quickly and cost less.  Looking for proven solutions, they may be a little hesitant to explore innovative design practices, cutting edge research or sustainable tactics.  Or, they may  require integrated project design or minimum LEED certification without really understanding what is involved.  

Innovation does not have to come at a premium, and sometimes, the payback on implementing a cutting edge technology , unconventional method or research makes its own compelling argument. Architects are not necessarily known for their financial wizardry, but by presenting a strategy in terms of its return on investment, the conventional understanding of cost, schedule, and budget are transformed.  design time frames can become more elastic, with more time spent in pre-design and schematic design in order to brainstorm and then vet options as a team.  When we view a building project over its lifetime, the way that the problem is framed and eventually solved becomes more dynamic as well, leading to what the client wanted to achieve most- value.

Is Your Ocean Red or Blue?

Have you ever thought about how architecture is practiced?  Why so many architects are just not very collegial with one another and our professional organizations serve more as a source for legal documents, status, and continuing education instead of as a true collaborative resource?  Maybe you just naturally assume that you have to compete, after all work pays the bills.  Our profession has accepted the premise of a business strategy called Red Ocean (think blood in the water),  that assumes at its core that we can only win if everyone else losesOur work becomes a product or commodity and offering more of it for less is the only way to stay ahead of the game (sound familiar to how we undercut our fees and lose money on jobs to keep or get a client?) 

A more recent strategy to emerge turns that premise on its head.  Called the Blue Ocean strategy, it asks us to rethink the idea of beating the competition and instead examine that for which we are actually competing.  In other words, is the prize really worth it?  Are we decimating ourselves just to win?

By looking at who we really are and what we really want to do; we can, according to Blue Ocean thinking, define a new market that we can serve with the full force of our individual talent and passion.  It seems almost too good to be true.  I am transported back to my days as an idealistic student full of dreams and ambition, not the soul-crushing professional environment that awaits said student ideologues.  

Of course, there is a catch: you have to actually be innovative (and not too risk-adverse either). In a Blue Ocean paradigm, the focus is on the value of what we have to offer and finding a market that is actually seeking that value.  No building industry, creating niche markets requiring hyper-specialization is not the point, it's about innovation.  Innovation that also takes into account utility, price and cost in an attempt to make competition irrelevant.  That's something that we have a hard time with, because we want to keep designing buildings, and so do all the other architects. Also,blue ocean is an ideal that may not prove lasting. Mohammad Jamil of the Change Management Community is his article "Red and Blue Ocean Strategy" argues that the two strategies are in fact interdependent and cyclical, with blue oceans driving innovation, which in turn drives the red ocean competition that will eventually spawn more innovation.  I think that what matters most is that we realize that we are not constrained by the "way things are" and instead start asking a lot more critical questions:
  1. What are you really trying to achieve and why?
  2. To whom will it matter?
  3. Can you abandon old habits and dependencies?
Stop swimming with the sharks and chart a course to peaceful waters.  When survival isn't the primary issue, it's amazing what you can achieve.

The Design and Construction Game: Whose side are you on?

The built environment has many factions- team Design, team Owner and team Construction.  Recent trends in sustainable design and evidence based design require buy-in from all sides and a cooperative effort to carry concepts through into completion and operation. The rise in popularity of design-build and integrated project delivery attempts to balance responsibility and risk more evenly.  

Can we really transition successfully from an "us vs. them" mentality?  Or are we hardwired to struggle between achieving design goals, achieving profitability goals and achieving operational goals?  We are living through a paradigm shift that is both neutralizing our individual silos and adding responsibility to our effort.  But with this come a greater opportunity to stop competing and start collaborating.  Can we all be on the same team and realize that these goals are mutually dependent, not mutually exclusive? 

Hopefully the real winners are team End Users.

Speaking in Tongues

Us polished, professional design-types know the drill.  We package our work into slick presentations and try to sell our ideas to those non-designers our clients.  I have actually sat in a room as a series of options was presented, each one poked holes in until the final (architect-preferred) option was presented to the client as a fait-accompli.  A feat of logic, that if they had any sensibility they would now understand was THE solution.  The ONLY solution.  Of course, the client liked the first option.  What ensued was a sickening display of professional arrogance that played out over several weeks as the presenter refused to acknowledge the validity of the client's preference.
The people that use a space or live in a neighborhood know more about their needs that we ever will.  What they don't know how to do is design buildings.  What we need to do is to learn how to listen.  We take everything that our clients say to us literally, instead of drilling down to find the deeper meaning.  We don't ask the right questions at the beginning and try to overlay our opinions about how they should work on them.  Someone who says, "I want green," may, upon further discussion turn out to just want a more natural palette.  Or they may really mean that they like green.  Or, they may have noticed that green had a positive effect on their patients.  You need to know the difference, as well as why they are making this request in order to design a responsive and successful environment for them.  It is not our job as an architect to speak the language of design, it is our job to use design as the medium of translation.

Feel the Passion

Does your attitude need an adjustment?  When you feel demoralized and cranky about design opportunity (or lack thereof) in your current project, or the client or co-workers on your team, try feeling- passion.  When you truly love what you do and are excited about it, that excitement creates a whole different energy- one that is about creativity, possibility and opportunity. To find the love, start seeing the glass as has full:
  1. Know who you are and what you stand for as an architect.  When you know your strengths are are excited to share them with others, that inspires them  to draw on their strengths too.
  2. Every job is an opportunity.  You can win an award for designing a bus stop that truly enriches the lives of those who use it and pass by it every day, or you can complete projects with price tags in the hundreds of millions and hate what you do.  It's all in how you frame the design problem and whether you are excited to make a difference.
  3. Keep your cool.  We all know the meaning of pressure- last minute changes, under-performing consultants, problems that don't seem get resolved smoothly.  Don't take it personally, and don't let your stress make you that person that everyone is afraid will bring a gun to the office one day.  As long as you work quickly and proactively to identify what is going wrong and create a plan of corrective action, you will be the  hero that  calmly led the troops.  
  4. Be impeccable.  Pretend that someone is videotaping you and will send a copy of the tape to all of your clients and co-workers.  Actions taken out of expediency often lead to regrets later.  Make the best possible decisions you can with the information available to you at the time, and you will always be respected and able to defend your actions. 
  5. Keep a constructive outlook.  There are no bad ideas or bad people, just less optimal solutions.   Every idea has some merit and deserves to be talked through.  You may find a germ of usefulness in even the most off-base  suggestions.  Being receptive to ideas informs you of how others are thinking and the process of how they work.
Above all, believe in yourself and what you do.  If you still find yourself being dragged into a cesspool of negativity- then its time to use that passion in yet another positive way, by walking away- gracefully.

Money Makes the World Go 'Round

Yeah, no one really likes to think about money- being materialistic offends our design sensibilities.  BUT, nothing gets built without incurring cost to both design and construct.  And if there is no money to operate the facility, that isn't going to help much either.   Fortunately, most healthcare projects have donors.  Donors can actually be a powerful tool if you can involve them in the design process and really get them excited about the ideas that are the basis for the design. The dreaded grim reaper that is value engineering can be kept at bay for more cherished ideas if they have a dedicated source of funding and if said source is really excited about seeing those ideas in action.  I have worked with thrifty hospitals who gave naming rights to every room in a new dapertment just to keep the design features they wanted in the project in a time of major construtcion escalation.  But to realize the bigger ideas in their full glory, start working from the beginning with your client to pull onboard some donors whose personal experiences/links to the organization will be a goof fit for your project and design approach.    They may even be able to bring some greater insights and buzz to what you are trying to accomplish. Cha-ching!

This Woman is my Hero

Robin Guenther is so amazing, both interms of innovation, design and research.  She owned her own firm in New York city and was so successful that Perkins + Will acquired it and made her a principal.  She has authored several books and also pioneered new strategies to incorporate sustainability and different design/practice models into the way that architects approach healthcare projects.  When I have heard her speak, I am blown away at how she manages to address things that I am just starting to think about and then takes them to the next level.  And if you have been following this blog at all, you know that I care about how projects are structured and the process of design to near-obsession levels.  I have participated in discussion groups with her and found her so receptive to the thoughts and ideas of others, which I also admire because the hallmark of a true leader is humility, not arrogance.  This is what I aspire to as an architect, to teach and to lead in order to build spaces that enrich people's lives.

Oh, and I also have always admired Laurinda Spear for being a powerful designer, leader of one of an influential inernational firm, and being an amazing product designer all while raising six children. 

Are You an Outlier?

What does it take to be truly innovative?  The most succesful innovators actually redefine the staus quo and move the bar for the rest of the design world.  These outliers and their seemingly fringe ideas catch on and displace  established expectations and ways of doing things.  They find a way to create new synergies between things that previously seemed unrelated.  They define issues that others just worked around as actual problems and work to solve them.    It's always a risk to be an early adapter because you might ride that wave head first right into the sandbar  but, really to make a difference as architects, we need to embrace our status as outliers.

Tricks in the Trade

For anyone out there who wants to hang out their own shingle and not have to answer to anyone else's ideas or lack thereof regarding design and management of projects,  you'll want guard against becoming like the company you just left.  Psychology Today had a great article recently that focussed on exactly how our visionary spirit can get us into trouble.  Recognize anyone?

Can You Transcend Your Genes?

We've all heard the nature/nurture debate (nature seems to be winning by the way). But genes are not destiny.  I have always believed that you can make what you want for yourself, out of yourself.  To segue back to design, this poses the question of what, really, is talent?  Is it the ability to be a trend-master who can constantly be provocative, or the expert who becomes so well-versed in a specialized arena that they are sought after?  Can anyone get there?  Is is more about networking and marketing than what you have to offer (provided of course that what you have to offer is reasonably competent and interesting)?

Design is at its best when it reflects clarity of purpose.  Mirror that clarity of purpose in who you are as an architect and you realize that you have a distinct voice.  Now go yell unabashedly from the nearest mountaintop!