architectural reinvention

As we continue listening to the talking heads decry one economic disaster after another, continually speculating on when we’re going to hit the bottom or when “the recovery” will solidify, etc etc ad nauseum and now heading into a presidential election *bangs head on desk* are architects and designers positioning themselves for reinvention?

By this I mean, are architects looking for new ways to market their services; looking for new clients; looking for new project types to branch out into; looking to add deliverable services for existing clients; and looking to create meaningful partnerships with peers and contemporaries in order to strengthen and embolden the profession?

In my experience, the answer seems to be drawn down generational lines. By this I mean, there are those of the “old guard” who are either nearing the winter of their careers or are in a position of leadership with sufficient work behind them that they are comfortable exactly where they are and have no plans to change their tact anytime soon, if ever. Then there are those, like myself and many others, who are at the beginning and middle of their careers and see opportunities for a new way of practicing architecture. There are obviously exceptions to both rules, but lets stick with generalities for right now.

This first group, those comfortable in their professional bubble, unfortunately are in some of the highest leadership positions of the firms that we all deal with or work for. And in my experience getting these architects to “push the envelope” or “get out of their comfort zone” is akin to jumping out of an airplane with no parachute – the liklihood of surviving is “small”… :-\ The bright side here is that, largely, these architects are on their way out of the profession. That is, they are less likely to be active in the profession and those moving up the ranks into new leadership positions. This is a good thing.

BECAUSE it is allowing those like me in the beginning and middle of their careers to take a look at the profession as a whole and look for ways to improve, change and make better a system that has largely stayed the same for some time. And architecture, as a profession, needs to change. Many have already seen this and are adapting to a new way of thinking, streamlining their businesses, taking advantage of things like coworking, telecommuting and, of course, “the cloud”.

What is all this innovation, adaptation and reinvention leading to? It’s leading to architects coming together as a community again to build not just better buildings but a better, faster, more efficient and more adaptive profession; one that fosters learning across all levels of experience and expertise in ways never seen before. We’re seeing it happen locally, nationally and even worldwide where, thanks to faster internet connectivity and digital data storage (the cloud) architects can work together and build relationships not just across state lines but on different continents and across multiple disciplines simultaneously.

This is an exciting time for architecture and for architects. Where do you find yourself? Are you innovating your practice? Are you seeking out new talent to collaborate with, learn from and pour into? Or are you stuck in the old way of carrying on in your own local circle, comfortable, stable, stagnant? What are your opinions, outlooks, advice, criticisms and praises? I want to hear from the profession (that means you…yes you, the one in the desk chair reading this). So speak damn it! 🙂

9 thoughts on “architectural reinvention

  1. Innovation, adaptation,reinvention and out of the box experimentation for professional reinvention is really a front burner issue for contemporary architecture practice anywhere in the world. The breath taking speed of change in every facet of our lives makes this an imperative for the profession-especially for the upcoming generation.
    I think Jerrmy is doing a great work at sensitizing the global community of architects in this visionary approach in re positioning for viral architecture practice. Keep the flag hoisted

    • Thanks for your comments. I agree that this is becoming a pivotal issue for the profession. If we can’t rethink our “bunker” mentality when it comes to work and practice, our profession is going to eventually fail. Cheers!

  2. I’ve stated on many occasions that I couldn’t agree more with this post. However, based on other posts that I have written, it is often difficult for small practitioners to devote time to reinvention when we are wearing so many hats. My best time to think and re-think what I am doing is at the conclusion of a project or a major deadline push. As I start the next big push of a project or even when I make the first doodle for a project I have to ask myself the questions Jeremiah is asking here. I do spend a fair amount of time fostering new relationships and getting my voice heard so that I am open and ready to new partnerships. I want to be more pro-active to see the profession improve itself. If more of us thought this way, we could challenge each other and hold each other accountable. Maybe we could even partner on a project.

    • Lee, I have to actually disagree with you about smaller practitioners. In my opinion, the small practitioners like you and me, the one or two man/woman firms are in a prime position to push this kind of thinking forward. Not only that, but in many ways we’re FORCED to push this idea forward. Here’s what I mean:
      Small practices, in order to compete effectively have to not only be competitive in price (which isn’t hard when you have very low overhead), but they also have to be competitive in time. In order to do this we are put in a position where we can not afford “employees” (insurance, taxes, etc.), but we can afford “consultants”. This is where these partnerships and relationships become important to the success not only of smaller firms but also of the profession as a whole. Because we may not always use the same “consultants” on different projects we are unknowingly building and fostering new and lasting relationships within our profession; we’re teaching, we’re learning and the clients are getting a streamlined architectural product that is pulling from some of the best talent their city has to offer.
      “Winning!” 🙂

      • Actually we do agree. My point was simply we need to FORCE ourselves to practice as you stated. It is easy as a small practitioner to get caught up in the many things we have to do daily (design, draw, accounting, market, client and contractor contact, take out trash…), that we could believe we are too busy to think or work as you stated. I completely agree that we can afford consultants and can team up with selected talent for each project. We could put together a star team of specialized talent to address the specific project needs and/or locale. In other words, you and I could team up on a larger project either here in PA or in FL and use our specific skills together to bring more value to a project. I simply was stating that our diverse responsibilities cannot get in the way of thinking how to practice better. No excuses…simple.

  3. Aha! It’s more clear now, Lee. I’m glad we agree completely on this point. And, I’d DEFINITELY want to partner up on some projects in the future. I’m actually working in that capacity with a local architect friend of mine on several projects right now. It’s amazing (even though I’m basically working two full time jobs, plus teaching) to be part of a growing and upcoming community like this. Like I said above, if we can get out of the “bunker” mentality of “these are my projects – no pouching!” and realize that we can all better serve our clients and architecture in general by collaboration….oh what a sweet sweet dream that would be.
    Imagine for a second a collective of architects in multiple states, working in multiple disciplines, on multiple projects pooling together to create the very best product for a client. Imagine you’ve got a project, say a single family home. You’ve got other projects ongoing that need attention as well. You design something, the client loves it, you hand it off to me to create a set of design development drawings, the client loves it again, you send it back to me to make some changes and move on to SD. You take the drawings back, put your own stuff on them (we’ve all got a certain way we like things) and suddenly with a little collaboration you’ve taken a project through two phases with very little expense of money or time on your part. You’re happy, the client is happy and I’m really happy. 🙂
    I could go on and on about this….but you know that already. Great comments as always Lee! Cheers.

  4. I’m on a lunch break reading frenzy, and while I only had time to browse the comment section, it seems we’re of a like mind here. I’m just now venturing into the land of the entrepreneur, and as I establish architangent as an actual company, I’m constantly thinking f new ways to reach my goals. My ADD certainly helps me come up with new ideas (though sometimes unrelated), but I have to take the time to focus them and include them into an action item schedule so that they get done in a timely way. I’m definitely facing the obstacle of using my own resources versus hiring out for portions of it. I’m trying to balance the need for oversight and product quality control with the fact that I’m only one person with limited time (and limited capital at this point). I haven’t quite decided which way I’ll do things, but its the fact that I never stop thinking about it that will get me there eventually.

    • Brinn, thanks for the comments and good luck as you continue your journey into entrepreneurship. It’s terrifying and exhilarating at the same time. While I’m not nearly there yet (being fully self-employed), I’m still on that path with my goal within sight. For me, what has kept me moving forward on this is not so much focusing on getting clients, but rather building relationships with other architects who either run small firms or sole proprietors. They, to me, are the ones that are going to usher in this “reinvention” that I talk about.
      For instance, I have an architect friend who was laid off from a large firm 2 years ago and faced with….well faced with not one single prospect he simply struck out on his own with 1 client he was lucky enough to bring with him. In the last 2 years he’s managed to do most everything on his own with some help from interns (we’re both adjunct professors at a local state college), but lately I’ve been working with him on a contract basis when things start to pile up (and believe it or not they are piling up).
      This is where a successful reinvention can take place simply, quickly and on a local level. Architects working together on multiple projects for multiple clients under multiple licenses. It’s basically a collaborative practice by default. You save time to hunt other work, you build relationships with peers, you save money on taxes and insurance and everyone works to produce a better product for the client because we’re pooling from multiple talent sources. And so far it’s been an amazing experience even though I’m tired as hell from basically working 2 full time jobs.
      Good luck! 🙂

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