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: Tourist Trap

What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved, or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?

“Place” is an interesting word for Architects. It means so much more than a location, a position or even a destination. “Place” is what we create. My own favorite places are almost always churches. I was never terribly religious growing up, and I’m not religious now, though I do have a strong faith. But churches, especially old well built and well designed churches always fascinated me. Two of my favorites to visit are The Cathedral Basillica of Saint Augustine in St. Augustine, Florida and The Cathedral of Saint John The Baptist in Savannah, Georgia. These two places spring to mind because I spent most of my adult life in both Jacksonville, Florida (very close to St. Augustine) and Savannah, Georgia (attending SCAD).

What is always so striking about buildings like these is the immediate sense of “place”, or the feeling that you have entered not a building but a living, breathing thing that has life to it. Many architects, I’m sure, can attest to buildings feeling “cold” or “impersonal”. These are not “places”, these are merely buildings that serve a function and are usually torn down in less than one generation.

Real Architecture creates “place”. Real Architecture creates a building with purpose, with meaning, with an animus that lasts long after we are gone.

Cathedral Basillica of Saint Augustine, St. Augustine, Florida

Cathedral Basillica of Saint Augustine, St. Augustine, Florida

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia

Daily Prompt: Elevator

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

2011-08-12-Elevator-Pitch

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.

the brighter side of Sandy

1029_SR_SANDY

As the eastern seaboard was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, I remember thinking back to all of the hurricanes I had sat through, and a few I had surfed through (a small salute to a seriously misspent youth) and all of the destruction over the years, some big but mostly small. But mostly what I thought of may be considered a bit morbid to some, but being a “glass half-full” kind of guy, I thought “man, this is going to be huge for architecture and construction”.

I know, I know. You’re thinking “but dude, this was horrible. It was a travesty. Lives were lost and some lost everything in flooding or fire.” And that is all true. And my heart goes out to those people and their families and I sincerely hope that the rebuilding effort is swift and as uncomplicated as possible. But, there’s my point. “The rebuilding” is important.

Natural disasters, while terrible and devastating can bring incalculable opportunity in the rebuilding process. Take Joplin for example. Almost an entire city destroyed in a single day by one massive tornado. Rebuilding will go on for years, but the citizens and the leadership are using this as an opportunity to make their town something better. The same opportunity is there all over the northeast in areas hit by Sandy.

Imagine, instead of just rebuilding what you had or taking your insurance money and buying some other house that isn’t quite right, take that money and invest in a home or an addition that truly suits your family. Or even better use the opportunity to redesign, rethink and rebuild an entire community. Here is an article from the Huffington Post that talks about some of these opportunities.

The point here is, even in the face of tragedy and destruction, there are opportunities for good. Sometimes things must be torn down in order to take a more critical look at how we can make our lives better through architecture for generations to come.

Daily Prompt: what’s love got to do with it?

We each have many types of love relationships — parents, children, spouses, friends. And they’re not always with people; you may love an animal, or a place. Is there a single idea or definition that runs through all the varieties of “love”?

Love, being both a noun and a verb, is defined as: (n) an intense feeling of deep affection, and (v) a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone). And this is a hyper-analytical way of looking at love. Really love is anything that grabs a hold of your passion, your drive, your will and leaves you with no alternative but to pursue it no matter what.

I remember sitting in my college orientation for the architecture department. They gave us the typical line “the person to the left and right of you will not be there at graduation” blah blah. My graduating class was about 72, I think (architecture only). I believe we started with maybe 80. The point is we all had a passion for what we were studying, what we were learning. We understood at 18 and 19 years old that there was nothing that could take the place of architecture.

I’ve long joked with my wife that I’m married to architecture and she’s my mistress. Keeps things fresh. 😉 But the reality is architecture is my mistress. It’s the thing that I can never give up, no matter what. I stay up late reading about architecture, designing, thinking about how buildings work, thinking of new ways to create an experience for the people and families that will use the buildings I design. There isn’t a moment of the day that goes by that I don’t think about the building arts in some way.

To put it very mildly, I love architecture. And after 10 years of practice and half way to my license I can tell you with absolute honesty that I love it more today than I did 10 years ago. That may sound corny, and some have even told me outright that it’s absurd, but it’s no less true. As the old saying goes, if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. And architecture is one of those professions that, if you don’t love it, really love it, and enjoy the guts and the grit and the not-so-shiny parts then it will eat you alive.

I’ve seen other architects get so bitter and jaded and just nasty about architecture, but yet they just keep on trucking down the road. Eventually they either burn out or just move on to something else….like banking or janitorial work….or you know….something. O_o

So, what’s love got to do with it? In this business, you bet your ass it has everything to do with it.

Daily Prompt: Art Appreciation

Do you need to agree with an artist’s lifestyle or politics to appreciate their art? To spend money on it?

In college I had a professor who told us constantly that we were not allowed to “hate” architecture. We could discuss any design faults, including and not limited to color, views, form, construction details, lack of construction details, human scale, etc. We were even encouraged to find these things to discuss and even took a couple of walks around Savannah during class to view and discuss some of the larger buildings.

Drayton Tower, Savannah, GA

Drayton Tower, Savannah, GA

One in particular was Drayton Tower. It’s awful. I never liked that building. Still don’t. It’s a typical mid-century modern tower with some retail on the ground floor, a few offices, I think, and apartments the rest of the way up. It’s a rectangular tower that faces the cardinal directions with one long facade facing due south. It’s all glass. O_o

To describe this as a fundamental design flaw would just be a waste of time. Over the years they tried to combat the fact that they essentially built a huge glass oven by installing tinting on the windows. It’s green. And has faded to different colors over the years and been replaced, etc. So you get a patchwork effect. Then the tinting didn’t really work as well as hoped so they installed large blinds and then beefed up the hvac system…typical stuff. It’s still Savannah….in summer….in a big glass oven.

BUT all of that to say, it’s significance as a piece of architecture for the city is incredibly important. It was the first multi-story building of modern design in a very historic city. It was also the first high rise to be built in the city with central heat and air thank God. And, for better or worse, it has become a part of the urban fabric of the city. It’s iconic for all its failures and successes and should be appreciated for both.

Architecture, like Art, is so often in the eye of the beholder. Some architecture, like art, speaks to us in a profound and visceral way while others we pass by every day without a second thought. Architecture, like Art, is not necessarily good or bad. It’s personal. It’s up to you the beholder, the user, the client, to determine how architecture makes you feel and respond accordingly. Just don’t say you hate it. That’s a useless emotional response that has no hope of creating a conversation.

Earth Day, Architecture and being “Green”

Yesterday was Earth Day. The one day a year when people all gather round, plant trees, pick up trash that they themselves threw on the ground just the day before and generally get all “green” and junk. Even my son, who is 4, announced to me, when I asked what he did at school, that he saved the world from the litter bugs. I love my boy. He has such a simple and profound way of stating things.

But what I wonder is why is this not a part of our daily routine? I myself try and take a biblical perspective on “saving” the earth. We were put here on earth as stewards, as caretakers. God said for us to “go into the earth and subdue it”. We are meant to be lord and master over all. With this comes great responsibility, with which we have failed miserably in my opinion.

I recently read a tag line for another blog that “sustainability” as a term is dead and now considered redundant in architecture. Meaning that “of course” we’re designing to a higher “green” standard…..But the reality, I think, does not match the sentiment. In generations past there was no choice but to be “green” and “sustainable”. Buildings HAD to last more than a lifetime. Building HAD to be constructed of local materials. Buildings HAD to respond effectively to their surroundings and climate. Buildings HAD to work WITH nature, not against it.

Today, our buildings are disposable. Today, our buildings are lucky to last 50 years. Today our buildings still consume more fossil fuel energy in construction and operation than most any other source. This is a gross failure on our part. If you’re not, at minimum, designing each and every one of your projects in response to site specific conditions, you’ve failed. You’ve failed your client, your project and your community.

Even a strip mall can respond to site specific conditions to take advantage of daylighting, cross breezes, rainwater collection for toilet flushing, etc. These are inexpensive, or even free, ways to allow a building to work with it’s site rather than against it. On top of this we need to add better quality materials and more thoughtful construction detailing. The point is not to make sure water and air stay out, but rather to deal with the certainty that when air and water get in, how do we deal with it.

Buildings used to breathe. Let them breathe again.