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.

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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.

Daily Prompt: Share the Love

Tell us about another blogger who has influenced your own online journey.

image courtesy of treehugger.com

image courtesy of treehugger.com

I’ve actually talked about this before, but recently I’ve had conversations with other architects about their “favorite” architects. I’m always a little surprised that so many architects out there in my own “bracket” (i.e. age and level of professional development), if you will, are still so drawn to the Starchitect class for their role models in the profession. I had always assumed that we’d grow out of that after college, but it seems this assumption was incorrect.

In college I was always drawn to the work of Le Corbusier, Mies van de Rohe, Richard Meier and even Daniel Liebeskind. What drew me to their work was the simplicity, experimentation and honesty of structure and form. Though in Liebeskind’s case it was the sheer insanity of his work that was amazing.

And even after college, at the beginning of my career I continued to try and emulate these architects in my work. I quickly learned that the flashy Starchitect class of architecture is just that – flashy. It’s pretty. It’s shiny. It gets attention. But there are more important questions to ask when deciding what is and is not good architecture. Anyone can be a good designer and get their picture taken. There’s enough software out there to turn any idea into a great image. It takes real experience and real talent to be a great architect. And the great architects that I know and love are not on the covers of magazines, they don’t give national news interviews. Hell, you may not even know who they are or where they practice.

Below is a short list of the few architects that I truly look up to. Not because their work is flashy or shiny or pretty but because it’s GOOD. Their work is thoughtful in terms of design, client needs, construction and budget. They’re not all bloggers, but most are. I hope you’ll check out their work and appreciate them as much as I do.

Bob Borson – Life of an Architect
Lee Calisti – Calisti Architecture + Design
Jason Fisher and Greg Beere – Content Design Group
Nick Renard – Cote Renard Architecture
Keith Palma – Cogitate Design
Aaron Ruby – Ruby Architects
Robert Swinburne – Swinburne Architects

Daily Prompt: Impossible Things

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” – the White Queen, Alice in Wonderland.

The White Queen - Alice in Wonderland

The White Queen – Alice in Wonderland

Come down the Rabbit hole with me, won’t you?

1. Clients will never negotiate your fees because they believe in the value of your work and the expertise you bring to a project.

2. Clients will always tell you to set your own schedule and take as much time as is needed to put together a well thought out and complete set of construction documents.

3. It’s ok to be a little over budget. The client will still build it the way you designed it. Refer back to #1.

4. The contractor will never try to substitute cheaper, inferior products for the ones you specified because, like the client, the contractor values your work and the expertise you bring to a project.

5. The contractor will read your drawings and specifications and build the project as designed.

6. Architectural practice is exactly like studio.

Feel free to add your own to the list.

Daily Prompt: Comfort Zone

PigeonHole2

What are you more comfortable with — routine and planning, or laissez-faire spontaneity?

I don’t always adhere to the “letter of the law” when it comes to these daily prompt posts….and today is no different. 😉

As architects and design professionals it is easy to get comfortable, to stick with what you know, to take the road often traveled. By this I mean it’s easy to stick ourselves in a category and never venture beyond our self-imposed bounds. And in years past, this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. If you got a few similar projects, you quickly became very good at a select market sector. And if you did good work for those clients, word spread and suddenly you’re the “strip mall guy” or the “urgent care guy” or the “hospital guy” or the “residential addition guy”, so on and so forth ad nauseum. But if history teaches us anything it is that a good thing can not last forever.

Businesses, any business, that do not position themselves to adapt and grow or change with the times will fail. It is no longer a matter of “if” but rather “when”. Architects, design professionals and architecture in general are no different. I even venture to state that Architects are not meant to be pigeon-holed into any specialty. We are Master Builders, and this is our calling. It is not our calling to be hospital designers, or home designers, or mini-mart designers. An Architect can do all of these things once the right team has been assembled. And that is the way it should be.

So, I challenge all my fellow architects and designers out there, stop pigeon-holing yourself. Get out of whatever comfort zone you’ve put yourself in, or been put in by others, and get out there. Design something different, design it well and more clients will come. Our specialty should be architecture. Period.

Daily Prompt: 180 Degrees

Tell us about a time you did a 180 — changed your views on something, reversed a decision, or acted in a way you ordinarily don’t.

In the field of architecture, you lead two lives. These lives are not simultaneous, nor do they overlap. There is an order to them – one must come before the other. And the former will not prepare you adequately for the latter. These two lives that we lead in architecture are education and practice.

Eichberg Hall - Architecture Studio - Savannah College of Art and Design

Eichberg Hall – Architecture Studio – Savannah College of Art and Design

In education we are taught how to design, how to craft space and light, solid and void. We are taught the precedents of history and then taught to ignore them. We are taught that anything is possible, though leaving out the two most important factors to that statement – Time and Money. We’re taught that anything can be built with a miraculous material called Anti-gravitonium, glass in a universal building material with magical structural properties, and polished cast in place concrete is the only acceptable opaque material that can be formed in ANY shape conceivable…again, irregardless of Time and Money.

In education we explore the sometimes completely unrealistic limits of architectural design and theory. Our imaginations are stretched beyond their limits and sometimes beyond the limits even of Hollywood. We come to think, after years of this experimentation, that life beyond academia will be “just like studio”.

That life abruptly ends day one, minute one of our first internship. Our life takes a 180 and we crash headlong into the face of practice. The practice of architecture is not even really a 180. It’s more like you used to live on Mars. Now you’ve come back to earth where things actually have to make sense, fit within budgets and schedules, be buildable, and most importantly they have to stand up. Because in the real world where cyanoacrylate is not your major joining compound, buildings really do have to work, to stand up. Otherwise they will, and do, fall down. Usually with people in them. And that’s bad.

an architects office - life of an architect (looks way too clean)

an architects office – life of an architect (looks way too clean)

Our life in architecture begins with education. This life quickly dies upon graduation and is reborn in practice. This, for me, is real life, real education, real architecture. These two lives are not simultaneous, nor do they overlap. There is an order to them – one must come before the other. But in practice, this is where the real fun begins.

architects, competition and professionalism

Dominate-the-Competition

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.