Where are all the Architects?

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How NOT to draft a detail. No line weights, notes a mess and no hatching.

There are architects and then there are Architects. If you don’t know the difference than you are in the former category. I aspire to be included among the latter category. And I will tell you why.

For the last 5+ months I have been working for a large corporate firm in the downtown area. It’s an old firm, the second oldest in the state at nearly 100 years since the doors opened. One would think a firm with that level of prestige and a resume that includes some of the most significant buildings in the city would not only be on the forefront of technology but would also have standards in place for the production of quality, well coordinated and beautiful architectural drawings.

At least that is what I had hoped when I came here several months ago. It didn’t take long to realize that not only were there no standards in place but the production staff and the project architects seldom inhabit the same air space. Hence very little oversight and even less coordination. Add to that “mentorship” seems to be a dirty word, so the staff ends up doing “whatever Revit’s default” happens to be.

To say it’s frustrating is an understatement. Soul crushing is a more apt descriptor. I’m not a senior architect. Barely into my mid 30s, but I’ve worked for a number of “seasoned” Architects that taught me the value of my architectural documents as not just a tool for construction but also as a marketing tool and even as a piece of art unto itself. Drawings MATTER. The information matters; what it looks like matters; and how it is organized matters.

If you think it doesn’t, you’re an architect.

If you take great pride in your work and the finished product that is sent out of your office then you’re an Architect.

Where have all the Architects gone?

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A well detailed wall section – line weights, well-spaced notes and clear hatching.

daily prompt: naked with black socks

Are you comfortable in front of people, or does the idea of public speaking make you want to hide in the bathroom? Why?

Finally, a daily prompt question I can relate to. Lately they’ve been more about writing creative stories and….well, this is an architecture blog, not a creative writing blog. BUT today, we’re talking about being naked….wait…no, we’re talking about public speaking. Yeah, we’ll go with that.

When I started college I was shy. No, seriously. 😐 I wasn’t the outgoing, energetic, ever-positive guy I am today. I was a major introvert. Anyone who has ever seen the inside of any architecture department in the WORLD knows introverts have two options:

A) drop out and teach high school art classes

B) become not-introverted REAL quick

I chose option B. It wasn’t easy and it took the first 2, almost 3, years of college before I really came out of my shell and took hold of this whole public speaking thing. And it wasn’t entirely by choice. At SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design for those who don’t know) you gave a presentation in most of your architecture courses at least once a week. Every other class at least once or twice a quarter. It was serious trial by fire, sink or swim, pick a metaphor.

So, I went from being terrified of speaking in public, even small group settings like my studios, to ENJOYING public speaking and presenting my work, or just talking to people in a crowded bar. And this is incredibly important in practice because, as an architect, you have to be able to speak clearly, calmly and confidently about yourself and your work to clients, engineers, consultants, product reps, board members, city officials, review panels, public hearings…the list goes on. You either get good at it, if you’re not already, or you will most likely find yourself behind a desk until you do.

Daily Prompt: Four Stars – A Review

Write a review of your life — or the life of someone close to you — as if it were a movie or a book.

I sincerely LOVE criticism. I’ve always welcomed anyone and everyone to critique my work. After all, it’s the only way we get better, no matter what we do. Now, I don’t always take the advice given, nor will I always agree with a particular critique, but I will always try and evaluate what someone offers to determine if it’s of value to my work or not.

This, to me, is something sorely missing in modern academia. We’re all so focused on not hurting a student’s feelings that we fail to properly teach and criticize and push them forward to greatness. Architecture, especially, is not a forgiving profession. Our work is judged, criticized, reviewed, and even butchered from all fronts. Clients, other architects, engineers, planning officials, building and zoning codes, contractors, sub contractors, magazine and newspaper journalists, etc. If you can’t handle “tough love” in college, how much less prepared are you going to be in practice when your boss rips you a new one for not properly detailing a stair or bathroom? Or better yet when you think you’ve come up with a stellar design for your new residential client and they hate it and tell you so. Loudly. Criticism should be sought after, you should pursue it as an architect or designer.

My wife put it perfectly the other night. She was a ballet dancer most of her life and she said, “my teacher used to tell me that criticism was a blessing. Because if your instructor isn’t criticizing you, it means they’re not looking at you.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be criticized and get better at what I do rather than be invisible.

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: Elevator

You’re stuck in an elevator with an intriguing stranger. Write this scene.

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What immediately came to my mind when I read today’s Daily Prompt was “The Elevator Pitch”. You hear this phrase a lot in those professional development courses and all the leadership and sales seminars that dot the calendar year after year. The gist is you’re in an elevator with a stranger. That stranger is a potential client. What do you say in 30 seconds or less that will grab their interest and make them want to hire you, purchase your product, whatever? It can be incredibly stressful to think about, especially for architects. I mean, really, what the hell does an architect DO? Most architects couldn’t tell you in 30 minutes, never mind 30 seconds. But I’m going to give it a shot. So, here is my “archi-vator pitch” (that phrase is now copywrite by me).

Note: do not ride up and down the same elevator all day trying to either a) practice your archi-vator pitch or b) try using your pitch to get clients. people might get the wrong idea if some creapy guy/gal is spending all day in an elevator.

Alright, in 30 seconds or less, the pitch should go something like this:

The elevator doors open and a unfamiliar person steps on riding up a few floors down from where you’re headed.

Architect: “Hey there. Good morning/afternoon/evening. How are we doing today?”
Always smile and make the first move by engaging them in a simple greeting. Make eye contact.

Victim New Friend: “Hey there yourself. Not too bad. And you?”
It’s almost universal that the average person will at least return a salutation with the same right back. This now opens you up for real conversation.

Architect: Hey, can’t complain. Headed on up to meet a client to talk about their house/office renovation/general archi-project. It’s a good start to the day.

New Friend: “Oh, so you’re an architect? So what exactly do you do for your clients?”
This is an ideal situation. Most times you’ll need to find your own way to work this into a simple and quick conversation.

Architect: Well, more than just providing drawings to a client in order to build a project, it’s my job to be an advocate for my client. In short, it’s my job to make sure that my client’s wants, needs, desires and budget are all met on a project. Plus I get to make sure that not only does their project function the way they want, but also that it is a solid investment for them in the future, whether that means resale or adapting a building to a new use.
This is my own “short version” of a pitch. Yours should be tailored to what you think you do best and bring to the table for your clients.

New Friend: “Man, that’s fascinating. I imagine you really love what you do. I’ve never really thought about hiring an architect before. My wife/husband and I usually just try to find a good contractor for small additions and renovations.”

Architect: “Well, here’s my card. The next time you think about doing some work on your home/business give me a call and lets talk about it.”

New Friend: “You know I just might do that. This is my floor. Great talking to you.”

Architect: Same to you. Take care.”

Architects are service providers. By default we have to be people people. We have to be able to engage anyone in conversation and show almost immediately why we’re valuable. This is key to the success of any business, but more so for architects. And you’re pitch is your first impression. It should be genuine, unrehearsed and above all confident.

“everyone’s a critic”

According to Google (i.e. the answer for everything), the phrase “everyone’s a critic” was quoined on the award winning show Frasier (one of my favorites) and it’s an awesome phrase because we are all critics. We all offer our own two cents (or buck fifty, if you’re me) on any number of subjects that we probably shouldn’t. This is no different in architecture and studio critiques.

Recently I was at the U of A (University of Arkansas – Go Razorbacks!) taking photos and verifying some field measurements at what is currently the Architecture building. When I was done, and this being my first time to the campus, I decided to be a Nosey Parker and peek inside to see what was what.

And, as luck would have it, there happened to be a midterm critique getting ready to start for a number of the studios (SCORE!). I quietly mozied around the peg boards for a bit, raising a queer eyebrow at some and giving the patented archi-nod to others as I waited for the first reviews to start. The projects, I could tell, were in the early stages of development. There seems to be a growing theme in archi-academia to focus on and create a building shell before fully investigating the building program. I find this incredibly annoying, but hey, it’s not my class, so whatever. :-\

I happened upon one set of projects just as the jurors were sitting down and decided to start here. The students were in Studio 6, which I assume is somewhere around 3rd or 4th year. As they began their presentations, first giving the broad strokes and trying to build up to something, I remember thinking back to my own studio years and commenting personally on how far I’ve come since those first awkward presentations to today. That confidence in our work that is key to any successful presentation really can only come from experience.

This sentiment was evident when I snuck over to the 5th year students who were giving their presentations at the middle of their final year. Presentation styles were much different. Much more relaxed, confident and composed.

All in all, I was impressed with the work (if a little annoyed at the over-use of the laser cutter for model making – CHEATERS!!). I really wanted to just pull up a chair and see if I could make someone cry, but I resisted. Maybe next time. 😉

I shot a few photos of some of the works. Enjoy.

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Daily Prompt: Houston? Come in, Houston

This is like 3 days late….but whatever. :-\

How do you communicate differently online than in person, if at all? How do you communicate emotion and intent in a purely written medium?

When you think of “architecture” or “architect” the first things to come to mind are most likely your favorite or most often seen buildings, rolls of drawings, or Keanu Reeves from that movie The Lake House. What probably doesn’t come to mind is a guy in a suit standing in front of a projector screen giving a presentation to a group of old white guys or at a construction site with sleeves rolled up arguing with a contractor about one thing or another. But let me tell you, this is much closer to the truth.

The first and last thing we do, as architects, is communicate. It is the first and most often used tool in the Architect’s repertoire. And we’re not talking just verbal communication here either, though that is incredibly important. We must also communicate visually with hand sketches, models, drawings, specifications and even random, insane looking hand motions.

And how you communicate, whether via email, speech, drawing, sketching or frantic waving of hands, is just as important as the information being communicated. There needs to be a consistency in your delivery. If you’re all over the place and can’t keep things moving smoothly then chances are you’re not getting a ton of call backs or referrals.

At the end of the day an Architect needs to be consistent in their communication, no matter the medium. And we should be ever improving ourselves in this skill in order to provide better service to our clients, build more solid relationships with engineers and contractors and ultimately aid in building a better world for future generations.