Be your next restoration/preservation project

“Creativity is as much about restoration as challenging yourself,” I thought one Sunday morning while feeling utterly weighed down by a bunch of stuff I had to do.  The creative mind is just not built to slog, yet as creative individuals we often get ourselves dug in so deep with our big ideas or constant ideation that slog we do.  I posted my thought on the Patron facebook page  and twitter the following day and was a bit surprised by how much that statement resonated.  In an interesting bit of synchronicity, I also happened to read posts on three other blogs that I follow with a similar theme.  Apparently it’s been a long spring.  I know it has for me.  Since February, I have been so busy between work, blogging for both this site and Urban Times, getting feng shui certified, and general life management (taxes anyone) that I feel as though I can barely come up for air.  So in the interests of opening the collective windows of our minds to let a little sunshine in, I have listed my top six personal restoration projects:

Recognize the difference between struggle and effort
As architects, we're no stranger to long hours.  But there is a difference between the creative effort that flows from us and the stuff that feels way to much like work.  Working in "the zone" can be incredibly energizing.  Feeling oppressed by your to-do list is a depleting struggle.  When we are in struggle mode, we feel that we have to burn the candle at both ends just to keep on top of things. If you are struggling, you are working hard, not smart and you should stop that right now. 

Fun is inspirational
Sometimes your best idea for a project may come from observing a food vendor at a carnival.  Not only does having fun provide us with restoration, it also gets our brains channeled in a different way- which is the very essence of creativity.  Here's how it works:  When you are noodling a design problem, you never really stop thinking about it, it lives in the back of your mind.  When your thoughts stop flowing (struggle mode) and you try to force them, the brain gets locked into a nonproductive static loop.  When you go do something else, your mind is free to play and suddenly you find yourself seeing parallels between the problem you are trying to solve and all kinds of (seemingly) incongruous things.

Put yourself on the schedule
Haven't had a haircut in months, got a knot of tension in your neck that you've been downing Advils like candy to work around?  You are ignoring self care.  Just as a building needs to be maintained, so does your body, mind and spirit.  When we put ourselves last, we operate from a mindset of depletion.  This restricts access to our creative flow, impacting the way we relate to our clients coworkers, even friends and family.  Grumpy, energy-sapped you is not necessarily even going to want to attend that industry lunch, let alone be a networking superstar who walks away with a pocketful of business cards.  Some of your best contacts can be those casual ones, like the woman you see each week at yoga, the manager of your salon, your dentist, the mother of your kid's play date.  Seek out and frequent restorative care and activities of all stripes and take the time to invest in your relationships there.

Abolish prerequisites
Perhaps it was the experience of taking college courses that got us here.  We so often feel that we have to choose between the things we would like to do and all the required activities of life. Chores (both at work and at home) are NOT a prerequisite to any other activity.  When it comes to work/life balance it's not "either/or", but "both /and." I personally struggle a lot with this one.  I find that it helps to plan to reward myself with at least one thing a day in order to keep my energy levels up and to try and take a break and switch gears whenever I catch myself getting stuck in the struggle.    

Ditch the victim within
When you feel diminished and small, that telegraphs in your actions and interactions.  Being expansive allows you to have a positive outlook, and channel your creativity.  It also draws others to you like a magnet.  That interaction with others in turn leads to more creativity.  Walk away from Victimville, home of oppressive depleting tasks and unrecognized effort and choose to empower your efforts.  Get the help you need to slog through the tasks that deplete or depress you, be selective in your commitments, seek out and ask for what contributes to your life and career goals.  Are you doing the work of your draftsman?  Ask yourself why you feel you need to do this: lack of trust in their work (fire or train them better), perfectionism on your part (done is better than perfect), or a way to avoid your own fears or hesitations on taking on creative challenges (take the leap).  If you truly find yourself drawn to chores when faced with a big project or challenge, think about why you are subconsciously choosing to be a victim of busy work instead of giving yourself permission to shine.  Then go do something fun instead of scheduling those fixtures. 

Be outcome focused
In a perfect world, we'd all live with such clarity of purpose that every action we took would be advancing that purpose.  In real life, we get distracted.  It's a lot easier to put effort into an activity when we understand how completing it will contribute to achieving a long or short term goal. Staying result-focused helps us get through the tedious work, because we can see where it ends.  It also helps us to trim the unnecessary activities we often take on because we assume we have to, but haven't fully thought through why. When you are outcome focused, you honor your own effort and the efforts of others.

Just like a building, our figurative paint can peel, our mental light bulbs need to be changed and our air needs to be circulated to keep from breeding mold spores.  We can also find that upon closer inspection, we need a little remodel of our lives to keep on track with our higher purpose.  Take on your life as your next project without fear of bold moves- making space is what you do.

Wellness the Series: LIVEli'hoods

Enjoy the second article in a series on wellness and the built environment I am writing for Urban Times.

How much thought did you put into the décor of your living room? How much time choosing just the right paint color, furniture, accents, lighting, window treatment, electronics? Now think about how many hours of the average week you actually spend in this carefully designed oasis. If you averaged as much as 4 hours a day, that would be 28 hours. Let’s move now to a space where you likely spend upwards of 40 hours per week- the office. Chances are, you had very little to say about the design of this space and are doing your best to cope with the situation given to you. You don’t have to tolerate life in the cubicle ‘hood. Whether your problem is too little space (and resulting clutter), poor lighting, no views, poor location or any of a host of other environmental ills, there’s a fix that can immediately upgrade you to a more restorative work environment.
What’s the problem?
As in any effort, step one is to define the problem: your current work environment and how it affects you. I challenge all of you to photograph your current workspace and then spend a week logging the following:
  1. Work activity
  2. Location of work activity (ie. at your desk, in a conference room , off site)
  3. Why the activity was performed in the location it was
  4. How well the location supported the activity
  5. Your physical condition (mood, any aches, pains, colds, etc.)
Why should I care?
We’ve all rolled our eyes at the co-worker who brings in lumbar pillows, space heaters and a host of other paraphernalia, and yet is no more productive for all this gear. While, such “oversensitivity” seems self-indulgent, you may never have realized the toll taken by your work environment. Refer to your list to see just how much or how little you have to develop work-arounds related to spatial deficiencies. You will never be your productive and creative best in an environment that isn’t supportive of your well-being as well as your work activities. Long hours spent in an unsupportive environment leads to stress, physical illness, and negative thinking. No paycheck is worth that.
What do I do?
The good news is that you don’t need to quit your job to realize a life-affirming workspace. Not only do you have more control than you may think over your own workspace, but by offering up some suggestions to your boss and co-workers, you may find that there has been a silent majority longing for some upgrades and willing to make changes. A complete remodel may not be in the cards – it doesn’t have to be. Here are some basic suggestions to make your workplace a livable community:
  1. Clean and clear – The biggest drain on energy and productivity is disorganized space. Take some time to clear your desk as well as common work areas. This will save everyone time and frustration as well as remove the nagging stress of visual clutter.
  2. Fix what’s broken – Whether it’s that wobbly desk chair, a need for a keyboard tray, or a fluorescent light that keeps blinking, these “broken” environmental elements affect you both physically and mentally. Repetitive stress injuries, tension headaches and muscle aches often originate in the work environment.
  3. Introduce ease – You may have heard of Lean Design, a process for analyzing work patterns and eliminating things that waste time, money or energy. Are you constantly walking back and forth to the same destinations? Create a mini supply kit at your desk. Do you repeatedly spill your coffee because it’s in your way? Consider rearranging your desk to provide better placement of your phone and computer. Collaborate with your fellow staff to rearrange what isn’t working and perhaps to create areas like informal collaborative spaces.
  4. Let the sun shine in – Access to natural light and views is critical to well-being. Studies show that workers exposed to natural light are healthier, have fewer workplace errors and fewer workplace injuries. No windows in your workspace? Choose a screen saver that depicts natural elements, place images of nature at your desk, bring in a plant, fresh flowers or a desktop fountain. Make it a point to get outside every day to spend time in nature. Counteract the often gloomy effect of fluorescent lights by placing floor lamps or table lamps at desks and common areas.
  5. Balance and energise – You may be surprised to learn that all of the above steps, rooted in evidence based design are also staring points for feng shui. These steps will help you clear and balance energy in general and also help you set a clearer intention for what you want to achieve in the space.
However, after you have completed all of the above steps, you may find yourself with certain environmental circumstances that are less than favorable. Or, you may find that there are aspects of your career that you want to enhance. While you should consult with a feng shui practitioner for an in-depth review of your personal space energy, there are some simple remedies and enhancements that you can implement right now:
  • Sit in the power position - Your back should never be towards a door or main circulation path because then you cannot see opportunities or threats approaching. If you cannot reposition your desk, purchase a self-adhesive mirror from an auto-supply store and place it so that you can see activity behind you.
  • Regulate the energy - If your desk is at the end of a circulation path or corridor, you may often feel overwhelmed by the energy constantly flowing at you. If you sit facing a sharp corner or under an exposed beam, you may have negative or fragmented energy flowing towards you. This can be remedied by hanging a crystal or a plant at your desk to regulate the flow of energy.
  • Balance the elements – make sure that there is a variety of textures, colors and materials to represent a balance of the five feng shui elements (water, fire, earth, metal and wood) as well as to introduce more warm colors and natural materials if your work environment is too yin (lots of bright light, sharp angles, metal and white surfaces).
  • Activate - Feng shui uses a nine-square grid called the ba gua, which represents all of the different areas of our lives. By overlaying this grid on your desk, you can place objects strategically to enhance or mitigate energy in each area of your life. The bagua is always aligned with the edge of your desk where you sit (see diagram). If you have an L shaped desk, place the bagua map over the leg that is your primary work area. Then, divide your work surface into nine equal rectangles. If you are struggling in a certain area, look at what is placed here – is your trash can directly under your creativity area? Do you have a pile of unfinished projects dragging down your family and health area? If you wish to enhance a certain area, look at the diagram for some ideas. Don’t forget to use your own intuition as well, to create positive symbols that will inspire you and draw positive energy. For example, what do you want to be known or recognized for? Place a representation of that in your fame and reputation area.
Take the time to enhance your work environment as carefully as you would your home. Please experiment with these recommendations and let me know how your work life has changed. Remember – you’re making a living.

Architecture for the Everyman

A few weeks ago, I had the privilege of being interviewed by Salomé Reeves for her (x)Architect series.  One of the questions she had for me was something I hadn’t thought about all that much, but clearly should have.  Salomé asked, “Why do you think architects are often conceived as expensive accessories in the eyes of the general public?”  This question gets to the root of a conundrum that many of us have: we want to do exciting designs, but our potential client base is just a fraction of the population of people who wish to acquire, build or alter space, with only a limited subset of them committed (financially and otherwise) to high design.  I wondered: why don’t average people consult an architect more often?

The answer is probably the same as why they choose to file their own taxes instead of hiring an accountant, use online legal services instead of seeing an attorney, apply home remedies before making a doctor’s appointment, and fix their own leaky pipe instead of calling the plumber.  It’s easier, faster and more convenient to take care of things yourself instead of bringing in a professional.  Actually, if we take a look at human history, the idea of being a jack of all trades is far more prevalent than the idea of specializing.  People have been building their own homes for millenia.  In antiquity, architects, when they are so acknowledged, were very high status individuals who worked for the likes of the Pharaoh or Emperor.  Even in the age of master builders, and the emergence of the architect as a professional during the Renaissance, talents were reserved for a client base of the rich, the royal and the religious.  Perhaps the historical status of these patrons as well as the fact that works commissioned by them were intended to inspire awe has gone to our collective heads.  When we see architecture for the masses, it’s often in the form of some grand utopian vision.  It’s no wonder that the masses have soundly rejected these visions and continued to resonate with their traditional understandings of home, neighborhood and city.

The market share of the everyman requires a whole different paradigm on the way we understand design services.
People have always been able to build their own spaces. In today’s world, the developer has taken over for the do-it-yourselfer of the past. Expectations are not particularly high for space because most people don’t know what they don’t have. If your house looks pretty much like you expect a house to look and you have a nice lawn and nice decor inside, you feel good about it. Same thing with your business. A custom architect-designed home is just not something that could ever be affordable to most people - the design time alone would be exorbitant. And as an architect, we would have to take this time in order to deliver a good product.

But what if we didn't?  What if instead of looking at a traditional scope of services, and grousing that we can't do it cheaper, we instead delivered services that appealed to the affordability and convenience of the self-made project? We need to get on the other end of the innovation curve.  If we want people to appreciate our work, we must first help them begin to demand better, then find ways to make our work more available. This may mean that we create a kit of parts and some You-Tube videos about what to do with them and let people play. They’d still be paying us for a product and service, but it would be a whole lot more affordable. I also think that there would be a greater appreciation of design if people had more ability to modify their space to get it to work best for them. They’d stop settling for environments where they actually have to develop work-arounds to function and start noticing how and why other people choose to configure their space in a different way.

I have posted a poll on facebook to allow readers to weigh in on their view of accessibility in architecture.  Please visit  and let our community know whether you think we should redefine who we include in our client base and how to best go about reaching this new audience.