The Art in Craft

I wanted to be an artist for almost as long as I could remember- way before it ever occurred to me to be an architect.  And, while I found the process of building models to be rather hateful (not to mention somewhat perilous), I made my peace with it during those hours spent in studio, learning the zen of making several light, carefully precise scores instead of trying to rip through a material in one slice.  My love of art made preparing presentation drawings for a crit as much fun as design, and I experimented with a different style and even different media for each project.

However, we no longer practice architecture as a craft, but as a concept. From my very first internship, I was drawing on a computer, except for those rare moments when I could do a hand rendering for a presentation.  I found myself expressing my creative side more digitally too, migrating from drawing and painting to photography and quickly on to digital images that I could manipulate on the computer.  I still valued the handmade, though, and would export these images to craft items large and small, but now for more utilitarian instead of purely artistic purposes.  It was kind of fun to be able to meld the 3-D world with the added capabilities of digital. Then I had kids and sick parents and barely had time to keep up with life.  Handmade cards morphed into store-bought ones and if I couldn’t find it off the shelf, I didn’t bother with it.

This year, I have decided to make a commitment to art and craft as a means of reclaiming my own identity.  I made a painting for the first time in more years than I care to think about with my husband as part of a fun exercise (he needs to get back in touch with his inner artist too).  Then I decided to design and make our Christmas cards this year.  While I love to dabble in graphic design, what makes these cards special is the fact that the artwork is a painting I commissioned from myself.  High art, it’s not.  Craft and artistic expression it is.  Best of all, I had a lot of fun making it.  It is a digital painting, but created using painterly techniques one stroke at a time. Once the cards were designed and printed 3 up on a page, it was time to cut them out.  I used an X-acto blade for the first time in way too long and found it surprisingly satisfying.  This tool, one the bane of my existence, then a secret weapon for all kinds of crafty undertakings, had lain at the bottom of my art bin for years.  Scissors, while nowhere near as precise, had become the lazy substitute.  I took an odd pleasure out of having to get out my cutting mat, precisely line up an edge with a steel ruler, and once again make the series of scores that result in a precise cut.  It was mindless yet mindful all at the same time and I realized how much I missed this kind of work. 

Challenge yourself to a greater expression of your creativity and to bring out your inner artisan in the coming year.  Not just for your life as an architect but for your whole creative person.  The art of craft is something not to be lost, even if we move seamlessly between digital and 3-D life to invent new processes. We are not virtual beings, but physical ones who do our best work when we don’t forget how to translate the ephemeral and conceptual back to the tactile. 

I wish all of you a happy and wonderful Christmas and a 2012 filled with possibilities.  Please leave a comment to share your aspirations for cultivating more creativity in your life in the upcoming year.

The Architecture of Wellness

As architects, we seek to inspire those who move through the environments we create.  It’s also our job to understand how the space will be used and create elements that support that use.  The last leg of the stool, a part we often overlook, is the need to make buildings that support wellness.  Even architects who design healthcare buildings often forget about this one as they work to meet many other challenges related to budget, program, operational  and code requirements.  Maybe it’s because wellness is such a slippery term.  Much like the term “green,” “wellness” is often bandied about, a buzzword that makes some aspect of a product, design or organization sound like it’s good for us. So how do we know if it really is- much less translate that into design elements?  I have been thinking about this issue for a while and even found an interesting website devoted to defining wellness complete with helpful questionnaires. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that true wellness is multidimensional and positively impacts our physical, mental and social state of being.  With that in mind, I have also observed that, as a profession, we kind of, sort of, dip our toe in the waters of designing for wellness.  We embrace sustainable building standards, evidence-based design, lean design, even socially conscious strategies.  However, these are just quantifiers.  Building blocks of the wellness leg of the architecture stool, but not enough as stand-alones.  True architecture of wellness must incorporate all of these measures, but spring from a much deeper intent.  I have listed below some additional more global considerations:
Design for the whole person

I have been in some buildings that gave me a headache.  Not in sick building syndrome terms but in the quality of lighting, colors used and claustrophobic environment.  Some work spaces are so dreary, my heart goes out to those who have to toil there daily.  It might not seem like an obvious connection, but many studies across various industries confirm that the way someone feels in a space, can affect their performance.  Quality of life should never have to be suspended by any building user.  I like to ask  myself as I work on a design: ”how will this make people better?”  Thinking about small details that contribute to wellness like the degree of control someone has over their physical environment, ease of wayfinding, ergonomics and proximities that facilitate their activities pays rich dividends.

Wellness is a journey not a destination
We never stop having to actively cultivate wellness.  As architects, we need to respect the fact that wellness is a process and support through behavioral cues things that will help those who live work and play in our buildings to make life-enhancing choices.  What if there were walking paths and outdoor areas of respite?  Stairs could be prominently located while elevators are tucked away.  Interior finishes could provide a marker of distances traveled during the day, break or relaxation rooms could feature relaxing color and material choices and subdued lighting.  Nature could be introduced through atria, patios, roof gardens or outdoor landscaping.  Acoustics could be appropriate to the setting and activities.  These al seem pretty obvious, I’m sure you’ve read countless articles on the subjects, but what have you done to actively introduce these issues as design concepts in the predesign phase of your project?

Design for diversity
We all know that building types have different types of users, but within each user group, there is also diversity.  Create a profile of likely building occupant and work with your clients and colleagues to “test run” your design ideas using  a scenario based on each profile.  For example, how is the experience of your building different for a 30 year old nurse vs. a 55 year old nurse?  What do different demographic groups need from the spaces?  You might be surprised at what you learn.

Telling a Story: the Art of Presentation

The idea is complex, but the explanation must be clear, simple and concise.  It's all your clients will listen to.  The art of storytelling is something that most architects never learn.  Instead, during our education, we model pompous intellectualism, poetically making nonsensical archispeak statements while wearing black turtlenecks.  Of course in studio, there often is no client and no real story, only our personal filter for solving the assigned problem.  In practice, our client becomes our audience and whether we are auditioning for the part, or holding a design meeting, we can never forget to perform for them. 

We all love a good story and clients are eager to pull up a chair and hear your take on them and their project; they want an introduction and a plot line that builds suspense and, of course, a good ending.  They are looking to be drawn in, yet are prepared to tune out, doodling, checking their mobile device or just staring off in the distance.  You have to be compelling and your points have to be memorable in order for you to lead clients deeper into the understanding of the solution or even the design process that you are proposing.  There is no project or idea that can't be distilled down to a very simple explanation of just a few sentences that convey its core premise and purpose.  The few minutes you spend presenting an idea can form the basis of working relationships and the direction of a project for months or years to come.  Tips to get it right the next time you tell a story:

Set the table
Getting right down to business in a presentation is jarring.  Your audience of busy people not only have their own agendas for this project, but they also have heads swimming with all kinds of other information related to that last email they got, how to prepare for this afternoon's meeting, who will pick their kid up for soccer practice tonight.  If you launch right into things, the emotional uneveness of your audience will affect their ability to absorb and respond to you.  On the other hand, if you warm them up with an introduction and build to the purpose of today's meeting first, you will have a calmer more centered group of people reacting to consistent data regarding the project (not their individual agendas).

Don't overqualify

I have seen people so concerned about being misinterpreted that they break the continuity of every third sentence to explain their exact choice of words.  This is beyond irritating to the person who just wants to hear your thoughts already and reserve judgement for later.  If you find yourself doing this, you probably haven't set up what you need to say properly in the first place.  Either that or you are using words that are so inflammatory or ambiguous that they require a parenthetical explanation.

Play the emotional card
The most jaded skeptic still can be touched by building an emotional connection to an idea.  The passion you bring to a presentation extends to the rationale used for every idea you are trying to convey.  Lists of ideas are boring, connecting ideas to deeper more basic and universal human needs is interesting.  Nobody cares that you juxtaposed orthagonal elements or aligned with the city grid.  They do care that the entry to the space creates a ritual that helps tie the cardinal directions to the process of beginning and ending an experience cycle in their building.  It might be really cool that your lobby functions as a sundial, but have the sunlight illuminate things related to the use of the space and you have a design element that is a keeper even during value engineering.

The best piece of presentation advice is to be yourself and speak as if you were telling a story.  Stories create a personal connection, allow you to relax, be more informal and most importantly, allow even the grumpiest critic in your audience to relate to you.

Jump: A Vertical Path to Design Genius

I remember as an architecture student treading through the crushing hours of work thinking that once I graduated and started work, that things would be easier.  "Once you leave at the end of the workday," I reasoned, "you're done."  Oh how misguided I was.  But not for the reasons you might think.  Sure, clients can be unpredictable and deadlines can loom large.  But really, it's about the quest to improve yourself that keeps the line between work and life so fuzzy, even occasionally unbalanced.  I recently listened to an excellent presentation by Joshua Foer for the 99% entitled Step Outside Your Comfort Zone and Study Yourself Failing about the pitfalls we all encounter in our quest to do great things.  Certainly none of us sets out to be mediocre.  However, the day to day effort of meeting deadlines and being productive can leave no room for visionary thinking.  Unless you make room, that is. 

Foer talks about what separates experts from the rest of the pack and how reach beyond something he terms the “OK Plateau,” that place where we are good enough that we can put ourselves on autopilot regarding a set of tasks.  It was this OK Plateau that I was misguidedly longing to reach because I felt overburdened and overwhelmed by the challenges of architecture school.  But life on the Plateau is, well, boring.  The prospect of an entire career of that is bleak beyond words.  If you are feeling discontent with your career, it’s most likely that you’ve been stranded on that Plateau a little too long, for whatever reasons.  It’s time to jump:

An architects work is never done
No matter how many awards you win or celebrated you become, you are only as good as your last project.  True experts never allow themselves to get in a rut, they constantly challenge themselves to push beyond their comfort zone and explore new aspects of design, whether is experimenting with new materials, technologies or paradigms. They earn new credentials and don’t need AIA or State licensure requirements to seek out continuing education.

Find mentors for your whole person

No one is an expert in the exact same set of skills as another person.  Who you are, the unique perspective you bring to being an architect, needs to be nurtured as much as your more stereotypical skills.  This is why you need to cultivate expertise in all the facets of life that spark your passion.  Get in touch with your inner polymath.  What dimensions can an architect who is also a potter, sculptor and master chef bring to a project vs. one who is a hiker, photographer and karate blackbelt?  What about one who is also a certified nutritionist and has a degree in psychology?Scientific evidence has shown that you actually feed you creativity by indulging in a diverse set of interests.  A trip to the art museum, or the football stadium,  will do more for your next project crunch than spending four more hours hunched over your computer drawing.  It makes you far more interesting at cocktail parties, too.

Take yourself seriously

Architects are often accused of being pompous, looking down their over-designed glasses with disdain at the mere mortals they suffer to have around them who “just don’ get it.”  That’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about really believing that what you have to offer the world is so important that you never stop finding ways to make things better.  Don’t just design because it feels right, prove that it is right, never stop researching and testing your ideas about how people use space.  Study the people, the micro-culture, the tasks they perform, the preconceptions you all are bringing to the problem solution that you should question and perhaps throw out.  Finally, just like any good science experiment, never stop analyzing your outcomes. What worked (and how could it have worked better)? What did not perform as expected and why?  What new problems emerged through your design solution?  If you need to bring in someone else to help you evaluate your performance do so.  This can be as simple as inviting another member of your firm to do a postmortem for you, or as complicated as hiring and outside expert.  Then, listen to their criticism and use it to make yourself an even better architect.

True experts do not fear failure, they fear stagnation.

Getting Out There: Keys to Being Published

So you’re flipping through the latest copy of a design mag and you pause to look at a project and think- “I could do that. Actually, I DO do that.  How come I’m not in this magazine?”  Good question.  Talent is but one facet of fame.  Doing good work and hoping to be recognized via a “stumble-upon” strategy is therefore a very poor marketing strategy.  In case you don’t happen to live in New York, Chicago, Miami or LA, network with influential industry movers and shakers, and have exceptionally famous clients commissioning you for seminal projects, you will need some help getting discovered.  Save the spiel on how you don’t care about such shallow things as recognition- that’s archispeak for “I want to win awards and get published but I don’t know how.”  Do read on for some tips from my friends in the business of sourcing and writing about architecture:

Be a compelling source
Publication writers are always looking for a story that will resonate with their readers. Whether it’s a design issue, technology innovation or insight into the practice of architecture, how has something you are doing changed the equation?  Even something you have attempted and failed may be a more thought-provoking story  than the firm that plugged along successfully with the status quo.  Remember, being “good” is not the same as being “interesting.”

Be source-able
You don’t need a PR agent to tell your story.  Too many architects believe that they can be passive, letting some guru outsider observe their genius and turn that into a press release that gets actual press.  What they need to be doing (as I have advocated in many, many previous posts) is clarifying their vision and purpose as a firm and developing a mission statement for each project.  Not only will this help clients to be on board and the design team to stay aligned with the project goals, but it differentiates your firm- its product as well as processes.  Now you can write a press release, or social media blurb that really says something and that allows architecture and design media writers searching for a particular topic stream to notice you. You may even get attention from more unlikely sources that deal with very broad (say New York Times) or very niche (say green urban planning) markets.

Be a source that’s sorted
Take some time to compile a list of all the publications that cater to what you do.  These can be local and regional publications, or national broad-based and niche magazines.  Get a copy of their editorial calendar.  If, for example, you know that Architect is planning to feature healthcare in its October issue, time your press release about your paradigm-shifting ED to coincide with their schedule so it doesn’t get lost in the shuffle or tragically just miss the cutoff for that year.  Tailor any press releases to align with the individual flavor of a publication.  Consider different angles like highlighting building materials, design process, client management, or technology in order to be relevant to them.  It also helps to be aware of what has been featured previously.  If your project or topic is too similar to one that was published in the last two years, it’s not likely to garner much interest; but if you can build on the theme and present a new twist, or can tap into the overall goals of the publication itself, you might just get some traction.  A lot more traction than a generic broadcast of a press release.
Please share your publishing experiences: what worked, what didn’t and what you’re about to try next.  Here’s to seeing all of you in print soon!

Technology and the Built Environment

It surrounds us and yet we don’t even think about it.  Until something goes wrong, that is.  I’m talking about the ubiquitous presence of technology in our hyper-connected wired world.  This is way more complicated than remembering to program space for the ever-expanding IT room, or having the electrical engineer on your project sprinkle data outlets throughout the plans.  Serious technology, the kind that sophisticated buildings require to operate every day, involves everything from the energy management systems (EMS) so critical to sustainable efforts to security systems and even inventory/supply management.  It requires the stuff we don’t see, buried into walls or hardware devices and the stuff we do, like touch screen room controls.  If you, like most architects, are leaving these critical issues up to equipment vendors to install prior to building occupancy,  it’s time to start realizing the role that technology can play as a design driver.  I invited my colleague ans sustainable technology expert Raymond Kent, Principal of Sustainable Technology Design Group, to weigh in on how to better integrate technology design into building design.  Raymond is an award winning technology design expert, and rock-star of the information technology world, who also has architecture experience.  He has published numerous articles, written books, and guest lectured on sustainability and technology design and co-chairs the Technical Advisory Committee for the STEP Foundation.

What exactly is sustainable technology? 
Designing technology in a way that reduces the plug load side of energy consumption.  The Department of Energy recently published its first report showing that anywhere between 10% and 50% of building energy usage comes from power loads.  The wasted energy from standard approaches to technology design can often offset any energy usage being reduced through LEED measures.  Right now, the LEED system does not deal with this issue, but it’s an important enough factor to achieving net-zero and regenerative buildings that InfoComm, BICSI, and CompTIA, three major forces in the technology and AV world, have formed an organization called the STEP Foundation.  The STEP guidelines will include items such as IT, security, life safety, basically all low-voltage industries.  As co-chair of the STEP technical advisory group, I’m working with industries to take the STEP process from generic to specific so that there will be recommendations for security AV, etc. that we are planning on taking through the ANSI/ISO standard process.  This will create a total facility management system for owners that allows them to significantly increase their building performance while also reducing their carbon footprint above and beyond LEED.

How does your expertise inform or even drive the design process?

A lot of architecture firms struggle with the fact that they are not just designing brick and mortar.  When AV systems and controls are applied later, they often look tacked on and clash with the building aesthetics.  You’ll see plates on the walls, cables, speakers.  It’s important to think about the needed connectivities and networks early on in the design process.  Things like computers, lighting design. sound systems and AV can be as much as 30% of the construction cost and failing to consider this during the planning stages of a project can either mean the Owner has to compromise their technology, or that the design team will have to value engineer elsewhere to cover these costs.  What architects lump into soft costs, clients are more and more expecting to be part of base services.  Because architects are not trained to consider these things as part of building infrastructure, having a technology consultant on board as part of the design team is critical to the success of almost any kind of project.

So, how does an architect know when it's appropriate to have a technology consultant on the job?

Not every job will require a dedicated technology consultant.  However, their input can make a big difference to the success of your design.  I suggest that designers form relationships with technology consultants so that they can bounce ideas off of them and get advice on the level of involvement appropriate to the project type and Owner expectations.  Many times, the Owner is not voicing these ideas early enough and asking the right questions can save a lot of redesign later.  Even buying a couple of hours of time to review a set of schematic drawings can make a huge difference on the quality of the project.  A change in lighting alone can totally change the feel of a space.  An electrical engineer is not a lighting designer and is not trained to provide this level of expertise.  Architects need to realize that a Technology consultant can also help them program and layout a facility.  They can assess the situation and point you in the right direction.

Will we ever be truly wireless?
No. Security is a big obstacle.  Bandwidth is also an issue.  There is not a viable means for transmitting a wireless signal, so many factors can degrade it.  Content will always exceed capabilities.  Although power is not the issue because there are wireless power sources available, there will always need to be wires or fibers to provide some type of physical transport.

That being said, there are some great technologies that have emerged such as Audio Video Bridging (AVB) a new open protocol that is being adopted by prosumers.  AVB allows switching of an audiovisual and control stream to multiple devices so something you are watching on your phone can be transferred to your home TV when you arrive via your network for example. It works by sharing and accessing data quickly and efficiently in the cloud or other connected server system.  AVB will allow someone to arrive at a destination and download a presentation from the cloud right to the room’s projector and use their tablet device or phone as the remote.

What effect will handheld devices have on infrastructure?

Huge, huge, huge.  I see a day soon when my tablet computer or phone will become a room control device.  What you can do is so powerful.  The ability to operate remotely is unparalleled and will just continue to grow, but the power needs to be managed sustainably.  Right now, these devices use lithium batteries.  Lithium is a very scarce resource that is not always ethically mined.  It has to be extracted from other materials and it takes thousands of tons of earth to produce ounces of lithium.

Will the nature of how we use and perceive space change because of technology?
The boundaries of space are going to continue to blur.  How we work and commute will make us more efficient and collaborative.  However, everybody needs to have a home base and spot to center themselves.  The need for solitude and focus won’t go away and if we lose that, we are missing the point of innovation.

What is your biggest piece of advice for owners and architects about technology?

Owners really need to think about what they are doing in a space and do their homework about the kinds of things that will happen.  They need to involve the end users  to find the synergies and efficiencies in what people are already doing and bring this to the design team so that the logistics and costs of these ideas can be considered along with the rest of the project.  Most people are familiar  with AV from their local retail store.  Commercial grade equipment costs a lot more but will perform and last for you in a way that the retail stuff can’t.  Architects need to trust the technology consultant and not second guess them - your technology will perform only to the quality of the information you provide.  When project needs are clearly understood upfront and everyone is transparent about costs and budget, your technology consultant will give you a project that will perform at a great price.

Mentoring and Modeling: What Architects can Learn from Montessori

Both role-model and tutor, mentorship is an awesome task.  We all want a mentor, and certainly flatter ourselves that it would be great to mentor someone else.  But what does that really mean?  Having sent my daughter to Montessori school, one definition I would offer is the concept of re-teaching.  According to the precepts of is founder, Maria Montessori, teachers are guides and classrooms are set up with children at three different grade levels.  Children master a skill by having it introduced by the teacher an then re-teaching it to their peers.  Passing on their newly-acquired knowledge enables the child-teacher to learn as much as the one receiving the lesson by reinforcing the previously learned concepts.  What a beautiful thought: to teach is to learn.  Through learning comes mastery, through mastery comes confidence, and through confidence comes leadership.  And so it is with mentoring.

We are all learners

Whether apprentice or master, we never stop learning.  Implicit in this is the idea that everyone has something to teach.  Even that intern. By drawing out the knowledge of the person you are mentoring, you help them to better understand themselves, what they know, and what matters to them. This allows you to coach them in pursuing activities and professional roles that will lead to their fulfillment.  It also allows the mentor to get a better understanding of his or her own professional values, and to question established ways of doing thing by asking “why.” Learning is a lifelong mission of acquiring knowledge and categorizing it in a way that makes sense and is useful to us. Growth and change are requirements for relevance.

Mentoring is not a relay race 

So often, we view mentoring purely as knowledge sharing, a ritual passing of the baton from one generation of architects to another.  That assumes that the mentor has all of the knowledge and power and that their career path is the “right” one.  It also assumes that our profession is static and that knowledge handed down will always have value. Especially in today’s culture, career paths are highly individual.  Mentors should be guides, asking questions not imposing rules. 

Mentoring is multi-directional

There is a common myth that mentoring requires a level of experience or specialized knowledge.  At some fuzzily defined point, we “cross over” from being mentored to mentoring.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Why do you think there are so many executive career coaches?  We all need an outside party to help us view ourselves from 35,000 feet and take stock.  Someone to challenge us and help us set new goals.  We grow by teaching others, learning from them and seeking out new knowledge and paths for ourselves.  No matter where you are in your career path, you should seek out mentorship.  The AIA has some valuable resources on its website for helping you make professional development and learning a key part of your firm’s culture.

In your career path, who has inspired you?  Who can you work with today to get that kick in the pants to keep on growing?  Who can you reach out to, drawing out both their passion and purpose and your own?  Please share your experiences both as a mentor and being mentored.

How Agile is Your Space?

There’s a Lowe’s commercial that depicts a woman dashing around and adapting her space to various life stages just by ripping away one surface, rolling up another and (my favorite) sliding back a wall to reveal new French doors.  While it would be beyond cool to have buildings adapt to change that easily, the commercial did get me thinking about all of the ways we can design for adaptability and flexibility that we either shy away from like emerging technology, or don’t pay enough heed to such as good planning strategies. Especially when designing a building that will continue to grow as well as adapt in use over time, like a hospital, agility is a crucial feature.  But you already know that.  The next step is to actually make that a priority in your next project:
Build yourself a cushion: Design to provide pocket shell space surrounding key growth areas to allow departments to expand without major renovation having to take place. There’s nothing worse than the unfortunate addition of ten thousand square feet or so on a single story to accommodate the urgent growth of a department.  That bump on the side of your building will just create roadblocks to future, master planned (ahem) expansions.  Also look at ways to organize the department to expand capacity through utilization and operational changes before you have to consider more built space.
Balance the peaks: Speaking of organizational strategies, it’s already common within a department to have flexible space, such as surgery bays that can be used for either prep or recovery.  But what if you thought about departments less as silos and more as all part of the same set of resources? Those same perioperative bays could become an observation unit or ED overflow after surgery volumes dwindle down in the late afternoon. 
Cluster for conversion: placing related functions together can allow spaces such as an interventional room to be converted to an OR easily in the future if volumes change.  Again, this challenges prevailing notions of department and silos and requires thinking more about properties of a space and patient flows.
Modularize the Master Plan: Think beyond today’s project, even if you are just dealing with the need to expand one department right now.  Immovable, difficult or expensive to relocate items such as structure, vertical circulation, shafts, stacked IT, Data and electrical rooms should be kept to the perimeter to allow maximum flexibility within the floor plate for reconfiguration.  Also think about circulation as part of a master plan- expansion should extend the route, not distort it or create dead ends that are confusing to navigate.  Modularized construction allows technology and infrastructure to be plug ‘n play, easily extendable and expandable. 
Recalibrate your metrics: Too many organizations measure performance and outcomes by department, reinforcing competitiveness and policies that make one department’s numbers look good at the expense of another’s.  Unless your goal is to have competition within the facility equal to or greater than the one you have with other facilities, this is a problem. Foster a more team-based, collaborative approach by setting institutional goals, not department based ones and challenge staff to determine ways they can work together to achieve them. 

What does this have to do with design?  Well, maybe one day soon, architects won’t be designing emergency departments, surgery departments and interventional departments, but instead patient intake areas that will route patients through a series of procedures leading to either their admission or discharge.  Maybe one day there will only need to be one access point for patients where they can access all services conveniently.  Maybe form can follow flow, not just a presumed set of functions.

Inside the Architecture Firm: Designing a Leadership Culture

Intuitively, we know that our inspiration and creativity are our greatest strengths as architects.  We are innovative and able to transform a lot of diverse, even contradictory, information into a cohesive design.  This talent unfortunately leads us to believe that we have a broader skill set than we actually do.  We think we are graphic designers, marketing gurus and, one day, emperors of our own little kingdoms otherwise known as the design firm.  The reality is that leadership in our profession is largely untrained to actually run a business and motivate/promote workers.  Will your tenure at any given firm (even perhaps your own) ultimately be beneficial or soul crushing?  This blog has dealt with architects' tendency to undervaluing our work and sell out to "make a sale."  In this installment, I wanted to focus on how we sell out inside the office by accepting certain stereotypes of character and leadership.

I presented this dilemma to Lisa Petrilli , CEO of C-Level Strategies, Inc., an expert in Visionary Leadership. Visionary leadership is something I think particularly resonates with our profession because it parallels the design process so closely in terms of being about big ideas, clarity and communication. Lisa graciously agreed to answer some questions specific to leadership in architecture, but I would encourage all of you to visit her site and learn more about her consulting and strategic planning services, as well as to take part in her Leadership Chat twitter series held each Tuesday evening.
AM: There has recently been a lot written on personality types and leadership temperament.  I appreciate that you make a case for introverts in your work, when so many push for extroverted leaders.  In particular, I am referencing a recent article in Architect magazine and other articles that push the ideal personality as being ENTJ.  I don't agree (of course, I am an INTP).  While ENTP may fit a stereotype for an architect, it is not necessarily an ideal temperament.  Is our profession in danger of rewarding some of the more aggressive and ego-centric characteristics of this personality type and even encouraging those who don't share this personality to model its characteristics? 
LP: I don’t actually think there is an “ideal” personality type for any role, including architects.  Although 31% of the architects who took the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator with Robert Gaarder were ENTJs, as he points out in the comments, “The distinguishing characteristic was that they were already in leadership positions or aspiring to be leaders.” I believe this impacted the results to a large degree.

I also think what’s more important than the particular personality type is an individual’s awareness of their type, and the implications of their type in regard to strengths and weaknesses. For example, introverts love to immerse themselves in the world of ideas, which must be a tremendous advantage to an architect.  At the same time, architects need to work with clients and become fluent in the world of action – which is generally easier for extroverts.  This pushes introverts outside their comfort zone, and beyond their preferences.

I think successful professionals understand the importance of moving beyond their comfort zone, and are willing to do so as needed and appropriate.  Sometimes, depending on the person, this requires deliberate courage.  This holds not just for the introvert/extrovert scale, but for the other personality preferences as well.  Those who leverage their strengths (their personality type preferences) and have the courage to move beyond those strengths to meet all the needs of their role, will stand out regardless of their profession.

Big buzzwords in architecture firms are a "studio environment" meaning that there are few offices and workstations are relatively open to one another, and the idea of being a "flat firm."  What are your thoughts on promoting true collaboration and dealing vs. an almost natural human need to form hierarchies and award titles?

LP: I think the vision and culture of the firm determine which approach is best, and I don’t think they need to be mutually exclusive. In many industries having a particular title is important when the executive goes to meet with partners or customers.  Titles can also serve as forms of recognition as well as prestige in specific industries.  At the same time, companies that use a hierarchy and titles can also have cultures that promote a very deep commitment to collaboration in their approach to the work.

I think companies that break down silos and encourage collaboration can be extremely successful.  But it all goes back to the vision of the company and its culture.  As long as employees fully understand and are committed to the company’s vision and supporting strategies,  their particular role and how it fits into the greater vision, and how they will be evaluated and rewarded, they can succeed regardless of the design of their workstation.

AM: Many architecture firms have two parallel leadership structures:
Task based: Intern, Project Architect, Job Captain, Project Manager, Project Designer, Senior Designer, etc.
Title based: Associate, Senior Associate, Principal, Associate Principal, Vice President, President, CEO etc.
This is a bit schizophrenic as there is not necessarily a correlation between the two.  It also speaks to the diverse backgrounds and leadership experience that a person with the title Senior Associate, for example, might have. If that person is also a Project Manager, then he or she probably knows how to coordinate teams of people both inside and outside the office and to work with clients.  If that title is awarded to the IT person, however, the same skill set may not be present. Is this a good system and how best should it be implemented?

LP: The way a company organizes its talent is one particular strategy that should be designed to support the achievement of its vision.  If the organizational structure helps to clarify roles and responsibilities and to move the company toward its vision, then it’s working.  If the organizational structure confuses roles and responsibilities, prohibits individuals from fully executing their roles, limits their ability to achieve success, prevents clear messages from being communicated and makes it more difficult for the company to move forward, then it needs to be changed.

AM: Not every firm provides leadership training or mentoring, in fact, that is the exception to the rule.  As a result,  there are firms led by Principals who take employees for granted, offer no professional development opportunities, and generally create a sink or swim cutthroat work environment.  Further down the food chain, there can be Project Managers who can't lead a team or play nicely with their co-workers.  What advice can you offer to an architect to help them determine whether they are in a healthy or toxic work environment based on a few quick leadership assessment guidelines?

LP: I don’t think an architect, or any professional, needs leadership assessment guidelines to know if they’re in a toxic work environment.  If their gut tells them they’re in a toxic environment, that’s ultimately all that matters.  If someone believes they’re in a toxic environment, it’s difficult to convince them they aren’t.

What they have control over is what they do about this situation. The first thing to do is determine why, specifically, it feels toxic, given different people interpret this word and feeling differently.  They should ask themselves:
1.   Is my role in the organization clear and do I have support to fulfill my role to the best of my ability?
2.   Do I have opportunities for visibility in the organization commensurate with my responsibilities as well as desire for growth?
3.   Am I recognized for my accomplishments?
4.   Do I get credit for my work?
5.   Do I feel valued?
6.   Am I receiving constructive feedback that enables me to grow in my role, and praise in equal if not greater amounts?
7.   Is there a formal review process that provides clear direction for growth and advancement?

If these essentials are not in place, then ask for them.  Sometimes leaders become immersed in their own roles and lose sight of these essentials, especially if the company does not have strong policies and processes in place.

If you ask for these essentials and the answer is, “no,” or if you’re told “yes” and there is no follow through, then be honest with yourself about your options, what’s important to you, and where you want to give your time, talent and loyalty.

AM: Why is leadership important to creative professionals?  Many would argue that it's all about talent.  How can firms better train their leadership at all levels?
LP: Leadership is so much more than titles, levels and how we define our roles.  It’s about how we live our lives.  True leaders recognize and reward leadership qualities in people regardless of where they sit in the organization.  True leaders also have a strong, compelling vision that fosters growth.
For companies to thrive over time there must be a continuous effort to recognize, encourage and reward leadership attributes in their people.  Doing so leads not only to financial growth, but to personal growth, which furthers loyalty and productivity and fuels the cycle of opportunity!
Ultimately, we need to design our firm structure as carefully as we would any project.  We need to implement good integrated team strategies and value the input from staff at all levels.  Just as clear vision in a project process helps clients to get on board with an idea early on and embrace its power to transform the way they use space, so must we cultivate a leadership process that empowers everyone to make a difference as well as to clearly see whether they are in the right culture to advance their particular career goals.  Please share your thoughts and experiences either with leadership or as a leader.

Buddy, can you spare a design?

Are you an idea-hoarder?  Do you hold back waiting for the most opportune project or presentation to share your best thoughts?  Worse, do you withhold your creativity for when you’ve locked into a contract? Perhaps the urge to compete is hardwired into us as a survival mechanism.  We see the world of design as a finite pie and feel that somehow maneuvering to prevent others from getting a piece means there will be more (or any) left for us.  I even had a boss who once said, “it’s not so much that we win the job, as that others lose.” 

I don’t even know where to begin on the shortsightedness of this kind of red ocean thinking.  What it really shows is a lack of belief in the compelling power of your ideas. Fear that they might be pirated away and someone else will profit from your inspiration. Instead of talking about ideas, we do what I like to call defensive marketing and attempt to show a prospective client how much we outrank the competition via any number of self-serving metrics.  This is your wake up call: they don’t care. Since your competition is probably making the same unfavorable comparisons with you, all praise or criticism become neutralized.  Clients will really select an architect based on their ideas, including those that can positively affect their processes and bottom line.

Ideas are valuable, but only when they are shared.  What you are sharing is your ability to listen, gather and synthesize information and creatively interpret it to make an environment:
Your ideas are what differentiate you
1.  They are the personal connection that shows a client that you get it
2.  They are what showcase your individual personality and likability (a very underestimated criteria for architect selection).
3.  They speak to your culture and work process more than any marketing lingo ever could.

Your ideas inspire your clients to dream bigger

1.  They ask clients to question their own assumptions
2.  They make someone think differently about a problem
3.  They help to define a problem in a clear, concise way (and maybe even shed light on the fact that the client is trying to solve the wrong problem).
4.  They show what is possible.

Your ideas grow, stretch and multiply when you share them
1.  They are a renewable resource. No matter how many ideas you share, your mind will make more
2.  They create a flow of energy and creativity that grows in value
3.  They are the key to access old markets run by old ideas
4.  They enrich us by expanding our inspiration, reach and vision

Don’t hold back. Creativity and innovation is not a zero sum game.  There is always room for change and improvement. When you hoard your ideas, no one can benefit from them, not even you.

Obstacle or Opportunity?

You did it!  This is week nine, the final installment in the Breaking Points and Turning Points Novena.  Thank you for taking this journey and exploring the issues that affect your very identity as an architect and creative person.  This week, we focus on recognizing what are often considered necessary evils as the true roadblocks they are and eliminating them from our path.

Way up there on my list of thoroughly annoying turns of phrase is the application of the word “challenging” as a euphemism for everything from the truly problematic to the downright irritating.  It is my belief that people who use this term are tying to force themselves to be relentlessly positive in the face of a negative situation.  In other words, they don’t know the difference between an obstacle and an opportunity. 

Yes, there are times (daily) when we have to suck it up and deal with life’s messy surprises, but we shouldn’t have to deal with permanent or recurring frustrations as any kind of rite of passage.  In your quest to find and enriching and fulfilling career as an architect, there are only a few true rites of passage.  I have separated them into three groups:
The Quantitative Rites - the attainments - are the prescriptive things you have to do to be considered an architect from a literal perspective. All architects complete these rites.
1.  Graduate from an architecture program with a professional degree
2.  Qualify, through proper work experience, to take your licensing exams
3.  Successfully complete exams
4.  Maintain license in good standing, including continuing education

The Qualitative Rites
- the judgements- are the milestone achievements that gain you recognition in the eyes of your peers, clients and consultants.  Most successful architects complete these rites.
1.  Specialize in an area of design
2.  Publish or have articles published featuring you or your work
3.  Receive an award for design or professional merit
4.  Be sought out for your expertise and asked to participate on a board, committee or panel

The Influential Rites - the impacts -are the transformative moments you have where you bring your knowledge and experience to bear to positively influence the world around you.  Only truly great architects complete these rites-but all of us could-if we stopped viewing obstacles as challenges and wasting our creative energy.
1.  Inspire someone to see the world differently
2.  Contribute, through design, to the welfare of others
3.  Mentor others to help them achieve their fullest potential
4.  Be a voice, through supportive environments, to those who cannot or do not know how to request what they need
5.  Advocate, through the person that you are and the way you live your life, all the ways that design does matter

Notice how none of the rites of passage involve any of the following “challenges” I like to call the Seven Deadly Sins of Architecture:
1.  Endure abuse by clients, co-workers or superiors
2.  Manipulate clients, co-workers or superiors
3.  Overstrategize every action in an attempt to stay one step ahead
4.  Seek credit and recognition for accomplishments
5.  Blame others (even when deserved) for unfavorable situations or outcomes
6.  Overpromise or overcommit to projects, organizations or events
7.  Undercut perceived competition both in and out of the office

That’s because none of these things make us stronger or better in any way.  They frustrate and aggravate us and suck up all our creative energy. Far from being challenges, they are obstacles (many of them self-created) and the sooner you recognize them as such, the sooner you can overcome them and focus on your true architectural Rites of Passage.

I recently saw a photo of the destroyed Berlin Wall spray painted with the statement “We are the wall.”  Nothing could be more true.

Because Someone Had To: The Flawed Thinking of being a Trouper

In the last three weeks of our novena, we are focusing on transformation. Last week we looked at our career path and how to make the necessary adjustments to achieve maximum potential.  In week eight, we do the same for our work process.

At my old firm, there used to be a mantra uttered by the staff whenever confronted with an impossible situation.  “Get ‘er done,” frazzled architects and interns would say, as if a results-oriented approach would make the crushing deadline, impossible budget, or demanding client seem less overwhelming.  The objective was to hunker down and focus on the most streamlined path possible to meeting the objective, then put your nose to the grindstone and crank it out.  There was a certain pride, even, in the ability to be uberproductive in the face of such odds.

How many times have you found yourself faced with a problem for which you were ill-trained, understaffed and poorly equipped and just muddled through and made up a way? Woe to anyone who dare criticize the final product, means, or method, so proud are you to have accomplished the task.  If you feel like an innovator in situations such as these, you’d be right, but only in a can’t-see-the-forest-for-the-trees kind of way.

You feel proud of yourself for accomplishing something in a jerry-rigged half-assed way- because someone had to.

Perhaps it is our experience of studio instruction, where professors try to avoid placing too many parameters on the task at hand in order to encourage individual exploration.  We are just a little too comfortable as architects with working with an ill-defined problem and making the best of it.  A lot too willing to make sacrifices in order to get the job done (hello, all-nighter mentality). The trouble is we are diverting our creative energy to dealing with procedures instead of devoting it to design.  We make managing the schedule and the budget the design problem, not the design issues.  We’re rewarded for this flawed thinking when the metrics of success for a project are: 1. On Time and 2. On Budget and the people assessing our performance have taken those two measures completely out of the context of design.  It’s time to realize that being a trouper means only that you were willing to be put in a box and not complain about it.  What kind of team player does that really make you?  How to break free:

Don’t accept the premise.  Dealing with impossible design parameters is exciting, challenging and opens the door to innovation. Dealing with impossible demands from clients, co-workers and bosses is draining, stressful, and leads you to keep recycling the same solutions over and over again because you know they will work.  Do not confuse the two. 
1.  Schedule, budget, and aesthetics are interdependent variables of the design problem. They are not design problems in and of themselves. 
2. Use the pre-design phase to determine design parameters that will meet schedule and budget goals.  3.  Stay focused on the design problem, knowing that these are addressed. 
4. Start saying no to the things that aren’t about solving the design problem.  These things are not only distractions, but they affect all of your variables, therefore compromising the design itself.
5. One you define the problem to be solved, don’t dilute your efforts by allowing others to introduce new problems.

Always take time as a team to revisit the view of your project from 35,000 feet.  This helps everyone understand the goals and big design ideas and stop obsessing about the details that are actually off the reservation.  It's easy to get distracted by concerns crises that seem critical to one or more team members, but responding to panic with panic sends the project off on a tangent.  Instead, ask how a given change in direction or new area of exploration will help meet the overall goals.  If it doesn’t, then it’s a waste of time and money.  How’s that for meeting those on-time/on-budget metrics?

The Possibility of Transformation

In the last three weeks of this novena, we will move beyond our exploration of the limitations that are placed on us by others as well as ourselves.  The focus of these last posts will be on transformation and leveraging of strengths. 

As architects we have to believe in the ability of things to be transformed. An empty parcel of land becomes a building, an old building gets a new lease on life, an interior space is remodeled for a whole new use.  What we do is centered around seeing possibilities in existing circumstances and bringing about a change that goes beyond what our clients can imagine.  Tell us something is impossible, and we view it as a challenge to find a solution.  This is an amazing talent.  Too bad we don’t see it that way.  It’s time to start designing your career and bringing to bear all of the same creative skills you would to a creaky old building on a difficult site.  Be your own next project.

The pre-design analysis
Before you begin design, you collect information, determining all of the parameters and possibilities, schedules, budgets, delivery methods.  Take that same analytical view of yourself (see week five post Be your Own Stage Mom, if you don’t know how to get started).  Do your own mini-report that includes:
1. An assessment of your existing conditions, including strengths and weaknesses.  Don’t editorialize, just state the facts. Include a list of opportunities available and required improvements.
2. Benchmark the careers of others you admire in order to collect baseline performance measures
3. A definition of the problem, including goals and objectives.  Note: this is not a proposed solution- just a definition of what you want out of the finished project (your career).  Make your own career space program and schedule so you can begin to understand the magnitude of the task at hand and what things are the main vs. ancillary “spaces”.  Don’t be afraid of making big bold moves or determining that some existing career element just doesn’t work in your new plan and needs to be “demolished.”
4. Make a bubble diagram of your problem so you can start to identify relationships and critical adjacencies related to your program elements.
5. Code check: are there credentials you should be pursuing?
6. A test fit of how your problem, as defined can be addressed. Design options help clients see opportunities and doing the same for your career path helps you see what’s possible as well.

Design build phase
Now that you have your big idea and goals in place as well as a good handle on the parameters in which you will be operating, it’s time to get to work. 
1. Plan. Using all of the elements you identified, create a blueprint of how things will work.  Just as with a building, you will discover ways to combine program elements, circulation routes and guideposts will emerge and you will likely find that you need to add program elements.
2. Visualize in three dimensions. A building shouldn’t be the result of an extruded plan.  Neither should your career.  Allow the particular choices you have made about implementing your goals to add to the richness of your career design, informing you about further opportunities and really giving you the opportunity to create the form that follows the function.
3. Detail.  Embellish your career design with details that support and reinforce it.
4. Monitor implementation. You can get too caught up in the process of implementing your career design and lose sight of the purpose.  Revisit your goals often to make sure that your efforts stay on track.

Post occupancy
Your career is a work in progress.  You will never stop needing upgrades and remodels, even some radical demolition from time to time.
1. Conduct a post-occupancy evaluation.  What’s working and what isn’t?  Survey others to see if they can see your vision.  The best strategies are the ones that are easy to explain and that other people can understand.  Note: this doesn’t mean that you should avoid the unconventional or stop taking risks, just that your strategy is clear and trackable.
2. Measure your performance results every year.  Assess how well you are doing at meeting six month, one year, and five year goals as well as whether you want to add, remove, or change goals.

You can have the career YOU want, you just need to envision, design and implement it.  Thanks to your wicked skillz as an architect, you already know how.  Nothing is impossible.

Livin' Large

The topic of week six of our Turning Points and Breaking Points Novena is being open to opportunities that can lead us in unexpected and exhilarating new directions.

Life is what happens to you while you are busy making plans.  No matter how much you think you know, how hard you have worked towards a specific outcome, there is often a curveball.  That’s a bad thing only if you lock focus on how you didn’t get what you thought you wanted, aka the conventionally defined career.  Convention, being the gross generalization that it is, mostly proves inadequate to achieving fulfillment. I asked Raul Barreneche, a friend and fellow graduate of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Architecture, to share the story of his very unconventional journey as an architect to inspire all of you to see beyond your limits and start grabbing those brass rings. 

As a student, Raul’s writing talent led him to be an editor of the architecture journal at CMU. Professors encouraged him to pursue writing as well as traditional practice but, like most of us, he had every intention of working at an architecture firm. Raul didn’t go through college thinking, hey, maybe I’ll be an editor for a major architecture publication, and travel the world writing about culture and design.  He didn’t plan to freelance to major magazines published on architecture and design (Architecture, Architectural Record, Metropolitan Home, Dwell, just to name a few), or to publish seven books and have his own interior architecture practice.  But he also didn’t let the plans he did have at any given time get in the way of being open to these opportunities as they presented themselves along the way. The funny thing about taking risks, though, is that you stop being willing to settle.  That’s when you realize that your next great opportunity is probably right in front of you, but you have been too afraid to see it, much less make it happen. 

If you are comfortable, you are probably complacent
Architecture magazine needed an assistant editor and Raul decided to take the amazing opportunity in front of him right out of college.  Some might fret that they were taking too much of a departure from actually working as a practicing architect.  Raul just took the leap. “What excited me about the opportunity to write instead of go right into architecture practice was that I could see that architecture could be limited as a profession by so many things. My first job writing for Architecture offered so many amazing opportunities at that point in my life- my assignments allowed me to travel all over the world, interviewing some of the most famous architects about their work, ones I’d idolized in school,” says Raul.  Although he progressed from Assistant Editor to Associate Editor; then Senior Editor; eventually Executive Editor, “I decided it was time for a change after working there for almost seven years. It’s important to see the glass ceilings and the limitations of where you are.  Don’t stay so long that you go stale.”  Raul took another huge leap eleven years ago when he left his position at Architecture and became a freelance writer.  “Going freelance allowed me to be a Contributing Editor (for Travel + Leisure and Interior Design) as well as write for may other design publications, doing twice as much work and making more money than I had in my old job.” Then he was given the opportunity to co-author a book for Rizzoli.  The editor liked his writing so much, they optioned him to write a book on his own.  That first book, Tropical Modern was inspired by a trip to Brazil.  Raul just published his fourth book with Rizzoli, the Tropical Modern House in early 2011.  Additionally, he authored a series of three books, New RetailNew Museums, and Modern House Three, for Phaidon as part of their idea series.  But there’s more.  Raul was approached by a friend a few years ago about designing interiors.  While initially inclined to turn the offer down because he hadn’t practiced up to this point in his career, he decided yet again to take the risk.  That job led to others and to the establishment of r. Ltd. Design, his New York City interior architecture practice.

Cast a wide net to catch a broader range of opportunities
Another secret to Raul’s success has been his network of people and depth of life experiences.  “I am always conscious of other things happening around me in order to avoid getting stuck in too narrow of a position.  If you collect experiences and are open to the opportunities all around you, it will serve you at some point later,” he observes.  “At this point, I’m spending about 50% of my time doing interior architecture and 50% freelance writing. If I’d been in any one camp, I would have dealt with more hardship as markets and economies fluctuate.  For example, striking out as a freelance writer as I did eleven years ago would be a much tougher proposition today.”  Raul is enjoying the dual aspect of his career on both the critical and producing side of the architecture fence.  While he didn’t take the obvious path, he is now practicing architecture as he imagined he would all those years ago, but he is also doing so much more.  His office contains both a drafting table and a desk, so he can move easily between both worlds. He also never stops consuming design and architecture, often leveraging information gained on a personal trip to later propose as an article or idea for a book.  “My work is very fluid, encompassing art, design, architecture and sometimes even travel and leisure.” 

Having a great creative career isn’t about pursuing money or fame.  It’s about enriching yourself by being immersed in the people and places around you and saying yes to the things that interest you even if they don’t seem directly connected to your career goals.  Once you stop worrying about what you are supposed to be doing, it’s amazing how life manages to bring you to exactly the right place.