Category Archives: production

optimistic or pessimistic?

Currently architects are stuck in a time of flux between optimism and pessimism.  Indeed it’s hard to be cheerful about the current state of our economy and even more difficult to muster up a pleasant outlook for the future.  The economy is almost a constant topic on most of the blogs that I read.  I’ve seen questions posted from students wanting advice about getting into the architecture profession, from those in the profession wondering if they should bail, still others simply shouting out frustrations at the wind and anyone who will listen, and who can blame them?  Each day listening to the news brings a renewed sense of near hopelessness at our elected officials who seem hell bent on destroying the economic prosperity of our country.  Banks and car companies have been bailed out and allowed to continue trudging along with their old and inefficient technologies and even sometimes criminal practices while rail and infrastructure projects all over the nation are being placed on the chopping block to make room for more social entitlement programs that only inhibit growth – solid investments in our future are being dashed in favor of pork barrel spending and wasteful government services.

So is there any optimism to be had?  Will we ever dig ourselves out of the sorry state of affairs we currently find ourselves?  The turmoil in Egypt puts this all in a unique perspective.  For years they have lived under an elected dictatorship that has squandered the resources and talents of the populace and a breaking point was reached a week ago.  Now the citizens are demanding their country back, demanding a leadership concerned with growth and prosperity not with greed and government largess.  Is this any different than the situation we currently find ourselves in?  I don’t think so.  The only difference I see is we have lulled ourselves into this state of apathy, where we’ve allowed ourselves to be put in a similar situation but without any pride left to stand up and fight against the establishment.

I’ve read that we (architects and building professionals) need to remain fixed on the “bright side”.  The bright side being the fact that we’re working and not living in abject poverty like a majority of the worlds’ population.  Is this true?  Should we simply be happy with what we currently have instead of working to make things better?

In the words of my British compatriots I say “bollocks” to that.  Architects are the ultimate innovators, we are constantly thinking of things in new ways and finding new uses for old materials.  But there is only so much that we can do when our hands are literally tied behind our backs by government idiocy and the total lack of vision on the part of 99% of our clients out there.  And there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of advocacy going on on our behalf either.  Sure there is a significant Advocacy/Lobbying arm to the AIA at the State and National level, but are they lobbying our best interests or are they simply lobbying big government and social change?

In the last 7 years of my practice I haven’t seen a lot of positive change in legislation for architects.  Our fees are steadily decreasing because we aren’t allowed to pool together and discuss how our fees should be structured unlike nearly every other profession on the planet, including doctors, lawyers, mechanics, dentists, insurance companies (health and auto), etc.  Why are architects shoved into the back of the drawer on this issue?  Why is it legal for everyone else, but illegal for us?

All of these questions (and yes I’m aware of the staggering lack of answers) leads me to believe that architects do truly represent an optimistic profession because we are so angry and discontent with the current state of affairs.  It is this anger that is driving us ever forward toward something better – toward a tomorrow that is more responsible, more prosperous and more sustainable.  So, to all my architect friends out there, raise your glass, raise your hand and raise your voice.  Talk may be cheap, but without solid ideas no action will ever take place.


i teach and i do

I love that old saying “those who can’t do, teach”.  I actually do AND teach.  For the last two years I’ve been teaching Autocad (from intro to advanced) at a local community college in St. Augustine.  But, this semester, I get a new challenge – teaching Principles of Architectural Design – a.k.a. “hand drafting”.

This is VERY exciting for me.  I first started learning hand drafting, technical drafting, in my senior year of high school.  It was something I took to naturally and really enjoyed.  This was critical to my early success in college.  As you can imagine though, architectural education in the last 10-15 years has mostly centered around computer aided drafting, instead of hand drafting – technology makes the world go round after all.

I began learning autocad in 1999 with release R-12 and have followed each new release since (pushing 12 years experience with autocad now), but hand drafting was still what I was more comfortable with, so most of my projects were done by hand.  This included plans, elevations, perspectives, renderings, etc.  As I moved through my studio classes it became increasingly difficult to continue producing hand drawn graphics for my critiques, so I was forced to hone my skills in CAD and other 3D platforms to more rapidly produce final products for critique.  I began thinking, even back then, that the art of hand drafting was being lost in education and became convinced of this when I began practicing in early 2004 and realized that I would probably never again do any hand drawings as an intern.  In order to survive as an intern I had to ramp up with CAD very quickly, and I did.  But I still maintained my drafting table/sketch books at home.

Hand drafting and sketching are invaluable tools for an architect/designer or someone wanting to practice in the field.  Hand drafting teaches you in a tactile way how to visually represent a building with 3 dimensional qualities in a 2 dimensional medium.  With CAD you use color to represent line weight (i.e. depth and drawing hierarchy), but if you don’t understand what line weight really is how can you accurately draft what you’re tasked to?

So, it’s going to be an exciting semester.  I plan on torturing my students from the very beginning with lettering – OH THE HORROR!  😉  It’s going to be so much fun to see the completely defeated look on their faces when they realize the work that goes into a quality hand drafted architectural drawing, and additionally that they can’t yet reach that bar of quality.  But in the end, I hope, they’ll have a greater and more profound understanding of the HOW of architectural drafting, which in turn will make them better at computer aided drafting and will lead to much less frustration in my other classes.  😛

2010 in retrospect – top 5

They say hind sight is 20/20, and they are correct.  Looking back on something gives us the “what would I have done differently” perspective on any given thing that we choose to reflect on.  Nothing can escape this desire, not even architecture and the architectural profession.

So what has 2010 taught us?  Are there any great lessons to learn or are some correct that we are simply still in a downward spiral with no clear course back towards prosperity?  Personally I think there were many lessons learned in 2010, but in a desire to keep this a short blog post, here are my

top 5 lessons I’ve learned as an architect in 2010

Architects are seeing the need to focus more on providing education and guidance to their clients rather than just providing a service in order to collect a fee.

As clients find less value in the typical services that an architect offers, architects are finding ways in which to add additional deliverables thereby increasing the architects value to the client.

With Builders and General Contractors continuing to market themselves as Design/Builders and push Architects out of their own market, the quality of construction will continue to decline and unfortunately further the clients’ perception that the architect is irrelevant.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be pushed out of our own market by not defending the quality of our work on behalf of our clients, thereby giving more power to the contractors to demean and devalue our work.

Even in a down economy, Architects can not afford to reduce their fees to the point of virtually working for free in a competitive market.  We need to stand by our product and the value of our services (no different than a doctor or lawyer or mechanic)  and, if necessary, tell clients to take a walk.

This last, and most important, lesson may seem extreme and some will even say “well, that just means someone else will take the job for less money”…I say let them.  In VERY short order clients will see they got just what they paid for, or what they didn’t pay for, as it were, and will come to see that the little extra they would have paid in fee would have saved 10’s of thousands in cost later.

In an extreme economy and in extreme situations, it’s time for those worthy of the title “Architect” to stand up and be noticed by the profession and by clients as well.  My goal for 2011 is to try and work towards reversing some of what I’ve talked about above.  Architects are not just a necessary part of the construction process, but we are the first part of that process and we should all work to elevate ourselves to that position.

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