Architect practice and community

As I continue on my journey to build a practice and move out on my own I have been looking around and thinking about what I want the future of my practice to look like. Do I want a big office with lots of interns and architects working under me or do I want a small modest office with one or two trusted partners working with me to produce quality work? Or even still does my practice more reflect a partnership with other architects that I can collaborate with on multiple project types that may or may not be in my wheelhouse but that I can lend and draw support from? In short is a big office better or worse than a community of professionals working together for the greater good of the community and city at large?

For ten years I have worked under some of the best and brightest and most talented architects in Jacksonville, Florida and Little Rock, Arkansas. I’ve watched and I’ve learned and I’ve asked questions. I haven’t wasted my time nor have I wasted the expertise and wealth of knowledge that has surrounded me for a decade. And what I see is a profession in desperate need of an overhaul. Not just a “repositioning” but a fundamental change to thinking about professional practice in architecture. The “good ole days” are gone. I don’t believe we will see a return of a time like the early 2000s where money flowed out of banks like milk and honey and everyone got fat and happy with too much work and firms grew to sizes in the hundreds of employees. There has been a shift in my generation. We have seen what huge overhead costs and fat office spaces can do to the profession. Hell, most of us have worked in those offices and seen them crumble.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to build a practice that can’t take on small projects because they aren’t profitable enough. I don’t want to build a practice that can’t adapt to an ever changing economic and social climate. I don’t want to be the only guy steering the ship either.

So what’s the answer? What does an architectural practice in the 21st century look like? Small. Agile. Collaborative. Focused on the clients. Focused on building communities.

r | one studio architecture will be a firm dedicated to reaching out to other architects, not in competition, but in collaboration to build a community of architects of like mind that can come together on specific projects to offer a broader and more experienced team of professionals to better serve our clients across markets and regions to provide superior service and design to shape the future of our cities.

And in this I’m looking for architects interested and of like mind to start building those partnerships. Not just in Arkansas but all over the United States. Contact me and let’s see how we can work to build a better world.

sole architecture practice – looking forward

Lee Calisti and Keith Palma have both come out with their top 10 reasons being a sole practitioner rocks. Keith even one-upped this by posting his top 10 reasons being a sole practitioner kinda sucks. I’d like to do a little bate and switch and turn his negatives into positives with my:

Top 10 reasons I’m looking forward to being a sole practitioner:

1. Lunch and Learns
Not only do I get to choose the products and materials covered (no more roof flashing presentations thank you) but I get to call up my fellow architect peers and set up group presentations on topics that actually matter to my practice.

2. No big firm resources
Big firm resources don’t apply to small firms. The books, magazines and other resources that apply to my business are either free (most trade magazines) and online ( or are specific enough that I’m willing to go out and spend $60 on a book that won’t just sit on my shelf and collect dust. Small firms and sole practitioners actually use resources that are in their libraries.

3. No one to bounce ideas off of
See item #1. It’s time we stopped perpetuating the idea that we sole proprietors are in competition with each other and instead foster relationships with one another in order to share resources and even collaborate on projects to share workloads. I’m already starting this locally.

4. I wear every hat
In my office I control the quality of the work that is going out the door. I am the intern and the modeler and the receptionist and the office manager and the architect. My success and my failure is entirely up to me.

5. I have to buy trace, scales and sharpies
This simply means that I don’t have to go hunting for that ONE roll of white trace among the thousands of yellow and sepia rolls that no one wants to use. Why? Because I don’t buy the yellow or sepia rolls. My scales don’t walk off to another desk so I don’t lose the scales that I’ve had since college.

6. No intern.
I’m not ready to train an intern. I’m definitely not nearly patient enough yet. This is DEFINITELY a good thing. At least for now.

7. No friday morning breakfast delivery
But I can get together with my other architect buddies at a local breakfast dive and shoot the proverbial s**t. See item #3.

8. No annual holiday party
But I can take holiday vacations whenever I want and for however long I want. Especially if I have a laptop as I can just take work with me and my vacation suddenly turns in to billable hours and a tax write off. SCORE!

9. Firm retreats are lonely
Unless your firm retreat is a week long camping trip with your family in the mountains of Arkansas. See item #9

10. No room for advancement within the firm
You’re already in the top spot. How much more awesome do you need to be? O_o

So, there you have it. Got lemons? Make lemonade. Boom baby! 🙂

Daily Prompt: “Hey, Norm!”

Is being “normal” — whatever that means to you — a good thing, or a bad thing? Neither?

Norm, from Cheers

Norm, from Cheers

Normal: conforming to a standard, usual, typical or expected; the usual, average or typical state or condition. Basically normal is BORING. There are a lot of normal architects out there. They are stuck in the typical way of doing things, the standard method of practice. This is why so many architects either fail or fail to succeed and grow. If you don’t position yourself to be ab-normal and move with the times you’ll never be as successful as you could be.

Architecture is, and always has been, a service profession. To paraphrase Philip Johnson, “architects are prostitutes”. We are in the business of selling ourselves and our services to our clients. For decades this has been fairly easy. Economic times, for the most part, were robust the last 30 years or so. But, in an age when the gap between those leaving the profession and those entering the profession is getting wider and wider, we can’t afford to keep on keeping on. We have to grow, change, be flexible and adaptable to almost any client need.

“Normal” is no longer an acceptable business practice model. This goes not just for the types of clients we take on, but also for how we practice. We need to develop a business and practice model that is more tailor-able to a multitude of project and client needs. The days of suit and tie architecture are all but over. And it’s about time.

Daily Prompt: Green-Eyed Monster

Tell us about the last time you were really, truly jealous of someone. Did you act on it? Did it hurt your relationship?

Image Credit - Monster's Inc.

Image Credit – Monster’s Inc.

Jealousy is a common emotion in architecture. Architects, by definition, and sometimes more so than doctors or actors, are egomaniacal whores seeking more and more attention and recognition. And, yes, I speak from personal experience. I used to think Architects were the first, last and only line of defense against evil contractors and ignorant owners who were only out to destroy the work of those select and elite few of us in the architectural profession……yeah, I was that guy.

And so, fueled by my bravado and entitled superiority, I ventured out into “the real world” of architectural practice. I was quickly stuffed into a cubicle that looked NOTHING like my college studio. I had no drafting table, no chip board, not even a friggin sharpie! I had a computer and a telephone with buttons I had never seen nor heard about and knew even less about what they did. But I held on to my ideals and my utopian view of the profession. I was “an elite”. This of course led to a deep jealousy for not just other architects in town (and all over the world for that matter) but even for other architects and interns in my own firm. Why were they working on the fun projects? Why were they talking to contractors and engineers and going out to the job site? Why am I stuck in this cubicle instead of in an office next to the partners?

This view didn’t last long. Luckily it didn’t last longer than my employment at that firm. One of the quickest lessons I learned was how dangerous jealousy and envy are when not properly directed in a constructive way. In the beginning I was jealous for my own recognition and reward. I thought that these were my projects and that my personal success was directly related to how many people clapped me on the back with an “at-a-boy” for the amazing work I had done. This attitude isn’t helpful. To anyone, anywhere, anytime. So just don’t do it.

Instead cultivate a healthy jealousy for your work as it serves your clients. Be passionate about their desires and wishes for their project. It may be your name on the drawings, but it’s their name on the property. When you put yourself in a proper frame of mind and channel your passion and your jealousy in a constructive manner, you’ll be amazed by how people around you will respond, especially clients.

architects, competition and professionalism


Envy is the ulcer of the soul.” – Socrates

I came across this quote while scrolling through my blog feed and was almost struck dumb by the enormity of it’s implications. For years I’ve talked about the need for architects to be more organized as a community, to work more diligently at building up the next generation, to be more involved in local activities and generally to simply promote the profession in a positive light. I don’t think it ever occurred to me that the biggest problem and the most difficult hurdles to get over would be envy, and her evil sister, pride.

I’m not sure why this never fully occurred to me before, but looking back at my career I’ve seen first hand the territoriality of architects and their work. And not just with other architects whom they are in competition with, but even with employees. One friend of mine, when he left one of the last firms he worked at before hanging his own shingle, was nearly threatened with a lawsuit because a potential client was going to follow my friend rather than stay with the other firm. I remember thinking at the time “how ridiculous is this?”, but thinking back now, it’s a pattern of confrontational behavior that has always been in our profession.

This envy of others leads to an attitude of “well, I should have gotten that project because we’re more qualified…blah blah blah”. This continued attitude leads to more of the same and eventually becomes a competition of pride where architects begin puffing themselves up more and more and taking cheap shots at their competition in this race to try and get more projects than the other guy.

All the while we don’t realize that the client is in the middle of this game, and they see what’s going on. They see the bravado and the chest-pounding and wonder why they need to put up with this crap just to get a building designed. I wonder the same thing.

If the profession is ever going to move beyond this sad state of affairs in a global marketplace we have to rekindle the sense of community and collaboration that we felt early in our careers and even during studio. When we are able to work together we all do well.

vacation and vallidation

That’s right! I’m back! The family and I had an awesome vacation visiting family in Kansas City, MO for 10 days. Not only did I get to actually get to take some real time off from work, work and work, but I got to hang with some really awesome people and spend time in a city that has embraced it’s urban center. If you’re following my instagram you’ve seen the photos, mostly of my kids and their shenanigans.

While there I didn’t JUST take really awesome pictures of my awesome kids doing awesome stuff and generally just being…you guessed it, AWESOME, but I also got out in the city and even gasp the suburbs to take a look at the local architecture and get a better feel for how things work and where things are. And as I’m exploring, and interesting notion was validated for me – a city does not work without the cooperation, collaboration and investment of it’s officials, citizens and most importantly ARCHITECTS.

There will be much MUCH more about this in future posts. So stay tuned.

manic monday – architects and bloggers part II

Last week I talked about a question that was asked of one of the students in the UF critique – “who is your favorite architect”. And I posed the question of why we immediately gravitate to high profile starchitects instead of the local or regional “good ole boys/girls” who do exceptional work, but perhaps aren’t on the cover of ArchRecord or Dwell. I even gave a list of some of my favorite local architects as examples of those deserving of recognition not only for their work, but also for their contribution to our profession.

This time around I want to give a huge shout out to some not-local architects and designers that I admire and follow. Again, these are architects that not only produce work that, in my opinion, is noteworthy, but also contribute in a significant way to the profession as a whole. These are my “starchitects”, if you will.

lee calisti architecture + design

life of an architect – bob borson

coffee with an architect – jody brown

build, llc

vermont architect – robert swinburne

There are many, many more that I could list. I’m sure most of you, even those of you ON this list, could add names of architects that have impacted your career, your practice, or just your daily life as a professional. And this is exactly what I encourage anyone reading this to do – add an architect, designer or firm of your own starchitect. Be sure to add a link to their site so we can all find them without digging through google. 🙂 Time to stop looking to Mt. Olympus for inspiring figures and look around the corner.


collaborative architecture

Since before the word “coworking” made its way into my vocabulary, I’ve had a desire to create a collaborative working environment for architects – a CO-ARCH space, as it were. The goal of this space, this alternative practice, has always intended to be run by 2 or 3 core people or partners with floating desks/offices that could be either rented or leased monthly/yearly. Ideally there would always be at least one space free for a new collaborator to come through.

Fast forward to today and coworking has permeated every facet of modern entrepreneurial life. We’re also in a time when architecture is going through a fundamental shift in the way we practice as well as the kinds of clients we go after. So, I have to think that now is the time that Co-Arch can take a foot-hold in a community of like-minded creatives and flourish. “Competition” is always the first road block that pops to mind.

And it’s almost always the first question that other architects and designers ask when I talk about this concept – “how does it work when you bring your clients into an office with other architects and designers milling around?” And this is a wonderful point to make. Because in this economy, and even before our current recession, competition among architects has always been fierce. Look no further than any moderately profiled design competition and you’ll see the cut-throat nature inherent in the architectural spirit. “Ego” is our best ally and our worst enemy. It is our ego that pushes us to take chances with clients, to push the envelope with engineers and consultants, to dare to say “make it work” and mean it. The ego has also marooned us on an island of our own making where we constantly fight for even the most mundane projects and fees. All in an effort to keep practicing the art and business of architecture.

Co-Arch is about more than just the business of architecture, however. It’s about the profession. The question of how do we compete with competition is simple: Co-Arch is not for those looking to further themselves so much as they are looking to further the profession of architecture, to do good work with like minded individuals who share real passion for the art of architecture, and make some money at the same time.

Co-Arch is only for those architects, designers, and artists with a true collaborative spirit; a sense of purpose in sharing their knowledge and expertise to help others in the profession, both young and old. The idea that “this is my project” should be left at the door. After all, one of the first hard learned lessons in architecture is NONE of our projects are “our” projects. They belong to the client. We are simply providing the vehicle by which our clients realize their projects. Getting beyond this first truth is at the heart of a collaborative practice. By operating under this blanket of serving the client rather than serving our own career we can much easier skip across the aisle and enlist the help of other architects and designers on a project by project basis to best serve the client and the profession as a whole.

The idea of Co-Arch has come from nearly a decade in practice observing what I think to be a detriment to the profession and to our built environment. Co-Arch is what I see as part of the answer, a necessary step towards better architects, and more importantly better architecture.

If anyone would like to talk with me more about this idea, please contact me or post your comments, and lets keep the conversation going.

generational legacy – #LetsBlogOff

“What stories from the generations that preceded you are the stories you hold close?” – LetsBlogOff Team

Westminster Palace and Big Ben

The real meat of this week’s LetsBlogOff is legacy, or an inheritance, a bequest, a heritage, an impression that you make on the world after you’re gone. What images immediately come to mind when you think of architectural legacy? The Parthenon, Acropolis, Pyramids of Giza, Sphynx, Empire State Building, Burj Khalifa, Taipei I & II, Monticello, the Capitol Building…I could go on and on and I’m sure most of you out there have more than a few rattling around in your head as well.

But what about the architects and designers that were behind these monumental works of architecture? What goes into the making of truly lasting and inspirational architecture especially in a modern world where styles, tastes, hell even national borders are changing almost daily? Can there still be a architectural legacy to leave behind or will all our works, no matter how grand, at some point face the wrecking ball, or worse – some other not-so-talented architect/designer screwing it up with an addition or remodel?

I don’t really know the answers to any of these questions, and for me, each question only leads to another question, and so on. But as I look around at the modern architectural profession and even just in my own built environment I see a LACK of legacy, a lack of inspiring work. There are exceptions, to be sure. The Gherkin, no matter your personal taste, is still an impressive piece of architecture and is even beautiful in it’s own way. But these exceptions to the general rule are becoming to few and far between. In 80 years when our generation has passed, what will our children and grandchildren look back on as our overwhelming contribution to the profession and to the artistic and architectural expression of our age? Will they say “you know they sure knew how to build some strip malls back in the day”, or will they say “look at the wonderful foundation they’ve left us to build from”. Currently I’m betting on the former, but I’m hoping for the latter.

Burj Khalifa - Dubai

We’re at an amazing point in human history where we have the technology and the ability to change the face of our world for many generations to come. Much like the Egyptians and their pyramids, or the Catholic church with her Cathedrals and buttresses, or the Bauhaus and the Internationalists with their Machine for Living. At no other time do I think that architects have the power and the responsibility to do something different, something better, something that will leave a legacy for the next generation to be proud of and build from, not cover up.

What will your legacy look like? Join LetsBlogOff and tell your story.

Passion in Architecture

The other night, instead of going straight home to work on the expanding list of side projects that I have going, I headed down the block to the Main Library for a series of presentations given by 10 “experienced” (read “the old guys”) local architects sponsored by AIA Jacksonville. Topics ranged widely, as you can imagine, but mostly focused on the architects’ body of work and their contribution to the local architectural community. The format of the presentations was to pair up a senior architect with a junior architect/intern. The goal being that the intern would help the senior architect to craft their presentation and in the process learn (hopefully) something from someone with a full career of experience. This of course got me interested immediately and I was paired with John Zona, a local architect of some renown who recently completed his personal residence which will eventually be a Net Zero masterpiece of modern sustainable architecture. I know this because I got a guided tour of his home and office – amazing!

Metropolis – 1927

Anyway, the title of his presentation is Passion in Architecture, during which he talked mostly about the more practical nuances of running a boutique architecture practice like “take what you can get when you can get it or someone else with less talent will”, or “always get a retainer – don’t fund your client’s projects”. But a larger topic that lay beneath the more practical words of wisdom in the presentation was this notion of passion for the profession. And anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes with me in a bar knows I have a real passion for architecture. It’s annoying I know, but I make no apologies…just ask my wife. 😛

And I began to wonder, what does it take to maintain a passion for architecture? We’ve all been stuck in the ruts of everyday practice – the contractor’s phone calls, the consultants’ phone calls, the uncoordinated drawings, the incorrect submittals, the non-paying clients, etc. It can weigh you down if you’re not careful. So, how do you maintain that same passion that we all shared in college, in late night studio design sessions where the tracing paper, chip board and super glue were flying and the ideas and inspiration seemed endless? Once we’re “out of the studio” and into the real world business of architecture what keeps us going? I can only answer for myself personally, but I imagine my sentiments are mostly similar to those out there who truly love architecture:\

Metropolis – 1927

It’s in our DNA.

In short, we were built for nothing less than to practice architecture, to create, and to dream of a better world through building and construction, or even just theoretical design.

Metropolis – 1927

We’ve all been caught in the doldrums of the day to day. Or if you haven’t….well…just give it time. And in order to maintain your passion, hold on to those ideals, seek out opportunities to make each project great, even in the smallest way. Don’t give in to the “I just work for my client” attitude. Take ownership of your client’s projects. After all, it’s your name on the drawing. Might as well make the finished product something you can be proud of.

Keep your passion in architecture and pass that on to a new generation of architects.