Living Large and Small: Trading Hummers for PUMAs Ain’t the Whole Story #blogoff

Some of my friends on twitter have this cool idea called a blog off. We each post on the same idea, which today is about living large by being small. We include a list of each others’ blogs at the end. Fantastic Idea!

The Problem of Big

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It’s possible we began thinking bigger was better when we decided bigger meant richer, more powerful, successful, cool.

Size meant status. (Please save me from becoming too graphic, ok?) Bigger houses, bigger cars, bigger tv’s, even bigger meals. And bigger bodies, and bigger med bills.

This problem of size is a modern living problem, I think. Pioneers didn’t build too big; they were naturally frugal. Who wants to chop extra logs to build or heat a cabin? And the windows were mercilessly tiny – good for security, no doubt, but who can live without BIG glass? And the Great Depression, World War II – they saved gum wrappers and built Victory Gardens. No wasters among them.

Then came the hippy generation, free love and rock n roll. Wearing blue jeans and peasant blouses, car-pooling in VW vans to Woodstock, the long hair generation knew all about earth living. You might say they were wasted, rarely wasteful. Every little seed pod was treated like a royal gem.

Then we blew it. About forty years ago, houses, cars, cities, meals, waistlines, you name it, everything just grew. And grew. And grew. Why? Only answer I got is: Because we could. Pretty damn lame in hindsight. It’s sort of the Wal-Mart philosophy, right? Save more by buying more. Actually might mean you spend more because everything is supersized. But those unit prices dropped to the basement. Wow, look what I got for xyz dollars. Smart, right?

Now it seems the bill is coming due. And the thing about size as a yardstick for life – someone always has something bigger!!

Why Small?

Here’s my theory.

  1. We got too big. Doh!
  2. We saw environmental limits – generally, smaller is greener.
  3. Our keenest inventions are shrinking. 20th century – skyscrapers, highways, dams. 21st century  – gaming, Iphones, nano-tech and bio-tech.
  4. And then there’s this pesky never-ending down-for-the-third-count Recession that has put a strain on most everyone’s bank account. We must conserve.

In other words, small is cool. Big is ugly. Out with hummers, McMansions, and sprawl.

Now we want to be small. But… what’s small?

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Small people? Really, I am very small human – five feet and under 100 pounds. In that big rocking chair, Lily Tomlin outdoes me. In other words, small is relative. Alice in Wonderland figured that out with those magic cookies. First that room fit; then it didn’t. Next to Shaq, everyone is small.

In other words, if we can play with size so readily, does small or big really matter?

Yes, it does. It matters because we got too big, consumed too much, and now we have to craft a strategy, an image of small that means beautiful. Small that we love, small that we identify with, small that ignites our dreams.

Is it possible to dream small and believe it’s big?

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Here’s some cool small:

small cars, small apartments, small houses, small towns (I love that vid). Part of American spirit is Small Town USA. Now we are making an entirely new era of small streets, smaller houses, and certainly smaller yards with New Urbanism.

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So what is wrong with small?

There is such a thing as too small, for example those coffin hotels in Tokyo.

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There is small without purpose – this

chair’s too small; these shorts don’t fit.

Small can mean efficient. Or it can be another word for scrimping, miserly, and small mindedness.

And it can mean dying, as in a town that used to be 150 people and became two. Except the husband died; now it’s just one. And one person running a town can be a bit sad. The Town of Me.

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Too small is a lot like too big. Someone’s always going to dream something even more mini, micro, nano, quark-sized. You cannot win at this game; it’s a loser. Because the idea of “how much” is a function of deficit thinking. One pie with a missing piece; you just can never fill it up.

Welcome to Quality. Yup, it’s a value. When you say something’s better, you’re talking values. Values are one thing to you and maybe different for me; it’s what you care about, what matters to you. So you can’t say how much until you know what’s better, what you value.

If all you care about is size or quantity, then stick with bigger or smaller, how many, how few. Otherwise, let’s think about a boundless variety of delicious pies.

A lived-in fit

Now I think we have to scrap the whole idea of size. It’s not about small or big; it’s about fit. We need the best fit. And fit is more than size, it’s also of the right kind, the characteristics that suit your needs, your particular ideas of your life.

We have to think about the kind of place. Ok, we have to know how much as well, but I really want to know how well it fits, and then I can say how big or small it needs to be. Imagine a builder’s model kitchen and a boat galley do the same thing, one perhaps clumsily and the other with optimum craft. Better design creates efficiencies. How much comes after how well it suits its purpose.

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In fact, it’s not the fit on day one; it’s the lived-in fit. The fit for all seasons and uses, my good moods and bads, my favorite moments and my security gaps. The place that enlivens me and protects me from the cold cruel world. Where I have my finest and my worst moments; where I am more of myself, relaxed and inspired, a safe haven for soaring ideas. For me, a home is my outer skin that holds me and my family into one larger embrace. My lived-in place supports intimacy and freedom.

Before figuring fit, we start with our wants and needs for today and the future. Then we build to that. Rather than specifications of monster sizes or teeny tiny efficiencies, think in terms of elegance and quality, richness in purpose, what matters most.

Because I’d rather have the most elegant, sustainable home that fits my aspirations and habits and those of my family. A house of my dreams is not too small, or too big. It’s just so, a lived-in fit.

Here’s my friends who also wrote about living smaller.

Veronica Miller at Modenus, A Small Life is Good, but Slow Down to enjoy it! 
Paul Anatar at Kitchen and Residential Design
 Is Living Smaller the New Living Large?  

Richard Holdschuh at Concrete Detail, Small is Beautiful but Relativity Rules
Nick Lovelady at Cupboards Kitchen and Bath,
Is Small Really Realistic?

Rufus the dog at Dog Walk Blog,How Much Does it Cost You To Exist for One Hour? Size Matters
Becky Shankle from Eco Modernism,
Is Living Smaller the New Living Large?
Saxon Henry’s Chair Chick,
Living Small (and Getting Shagged!)

Sean Lintow’s The Homeowner’s Resource Center,Building Smaller, Is it the Next Big Thing?

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Tree-eagle-_romerostudios

 

Architectural Photographer’s Mantra: Andy Marshall’s (@fotofacade) Beautiful Book (and My First Vlog)

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Watch on Posterous

Welcome to my first attempt at a video-blog. It’s a trial and I hope the beginning of many more. 

I want to thank Andy Marshall for sending me his elegant book, “Andy Marshall: The Architectural Photographer’s Mantra.” (That link sends you to an online flipbook version.) It’s filled with his stunning work, embellished by pithy phrases describing his philosophy. Through reading, you gain appreciation for architecture and see cities in a new light. It’s a real prize.

 

I won this book in a fun little contest sponsored by Masco Salvage and Andy, broadcast on twitter. In celebration of their work on the Walcot Arts Trail, they posted an image of a heavily worn wooden sled-like contraption, which I correctly identified as a threshing board. Thank you both for the contest, well done.     

 

Andy (@fotofacade) is one of my favorite people on twitter. I am most appreciative of both the book and kind note, which arrived safely in Kansas City. Thank you, Andy!

 

I have been contemplating videos for a bit (truth be told, I bought a flip cam a year ago). While I am not yet comfortable in front of the camera, I hope to make more videos because they are easily accessed. It opens up a whole new world for architecture and urban ideas. 

  1. Walk-throughs of places or buildings under construction or completed.
  2. Conversations with people who create cities including architects, owners, futurists, community advocates, and so on.
  3. Comments on significant ideas that get my ire up or inspire me. 
  4. Book reviews – I read several every week, and I find my reviews just don’t get written. 

It’s a more personal way to share ideas, I think. And can become quite spontaneous – I hope.

 

Do you think it’s a good idea? 

FTF Architects, New Media, and New Brains: #AIA2010 Highlights

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Here’s one paradox of online friends. I know an incredible community of people via social networks. Now, thanks to the generous tweets during AIA2010, I realize I have far more reasons to actually BE at the convention.

I experienced an oddly compelling separation anxiety. Why wasn’t I there, dancing in the street with Tabitha Ponte @designstudio26 and Susan Welker @ladyaia? How did I miss @stevemouzon’s presentation? Or Mike Plotnik @somechum, Ned Cramer @architectmag, and Marc Kushner @architizer’s panel?

In other words, paradoxically, online engagement makes real life ftf meetings more essential. Next year in New Orleans, I’ll be there. A tweet up, anyone?

Best Session 1 – Dan Pink
Two sessions stood out via tweets. These sessions just so happened to begin and end the convention. Some folks weren’t there yet on Thursday at 8 and others were gone by Saturday afternoon. Too bad.

The convention formally opened with Daniel Pink’s keynote Thursday. I own several of Pink’s books so his topic “The Role of Right-Brain Thinking in a Modern Economy” grabbed my attention. “People need to teach children to think like an architect.” Well, what self-righteous architect would argue with that? He suggested the US economy should be concerned about Asia, automation and abundance. By abundance, I think he means watch out for scarcity thinking. There’s not just one pie to divide up; make more pies. To take advantage of our right-brains, we need to think in terms of design, stories, and symphony.

Best Session 2 – New Media 
At the Saturday afternoon New Media panel, the dynamic trio of Mike Plotnik @SomeChum @HOKNetwork, Ned Cramer @Architizer, and Marc Kushner @architectmag covered all the bases– architecture firm, print/online media, and architects’ social network.

  • Ned Cramer @architectmag says that online media tries give the feel of the print experience, its materiality. You can see that’s their goal in Architect Magazine’s page-flip format; it even mimics page flipping. To avoid the sins of pure eye candy (as much as we architects appreciate gorgeous buildings), they balance culture, technology, practice, and design.
  • Marc Kushner @architizer set out to create a new model of information exchange for architects. They want to be what LinkedIn can’t be for architecture – a purely open sourced network. I would say Architizer operates a lot like a wiki; part firm brochure, part resume, part architecture culture, part social. The amount of material is exploding.
  • Mike Plotnik @SomeChum of @HOKNetwork made the statement that stuck most in my mind: social media should be more about sociology than technology. Isn’t that true about architecture and urban design too? Shouldn’t we be considering a human approach?

Mike described HOK’s process of setting up HOKLife in 2008. Because of a dearth of prior architecture models for social blogging, they visited the new media lab at the University of Virginia. HOK’s site now has what he refers to as a “living room AND a family room;” meaning the formal marketing portion and the blogging portion. He sees the two merging in the future. Their social media component has helped “solve a true business challenge,” that is, recruiting new talent.

His final thought: “It’s important not just to be on social media nodes, but to have a point of view.” You bet it is. That’s always been true about architecture. I’m seconding that.

[Mike recently invited me to write the first guest post for HOKLife, an excellent experience for me. including a couple of new friends.]

Architects Social?
With social media, we have to express our philosophy in words AND in buildings. In a social world, people can judge our words better than they can understand our architectural designs. We lose the mystical veil of expertise and have to simply talk with people.

I’m hopeful we can make the shift to the new sociability; are you?

See you in New Orleans May 2011? I’m thinking about a social tech session. Who would you want to hear? What should we cover?

Gratitude and resources:
Photo credit @liraluis posted “one of the more innovative booth designs” http://ping.fm/Ir4PL. Let her explain that one. It confused and amused people all week. Hint: Rhino modeling.
Daniel Pink’s Keynote — thank you Susan Welker @ladyaia and @archaerie!
New Media Panel – thank you @stevemouzon, @GinaRMiller, and @Architizer!
You can see handouts online: http://tinyurl.com/244vj8x (Thank you, Heather West @heatherwestpr).
I was intrigued by WorldViz’s booth on virtual reality, always looking towards next innovations.

Architects, Cities, and Virtual Reality at #AIA2010

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Thanks to the WorldViz booth, architects at the American Institute of Architects Convention in Miami can experience virtual reality through heads-on display goggles. I have extreme virtual/augmented reality envy! (thank you Lira Luis @liraluis for the twitpic!)

Virtual reality creates a whole new world – such as Second Life. Augmented reality overlays digital images and data in the real world.

We will love these functions, I think. Imagine the things you can see on your computer screen but now they will appear as overlays in real life. Eventually, the headset will be smaller, lighter. In the future, you’ll just wear glasses or contact lenses.

So don’t imagine wearing a clunky headset when you visit a job site. That  s purely 2010.

I did a presentation for London architects and engineers on augmented reality; here’s my slideshow  . Notice there’s several ways to experience augmented reality, from using mobile apps to heads-on display. There’s even rooms where the images create the sense of space, they surround and envelop you. For instance, your body actually believes going down stairs.

Yesterday, Design Observer   featured a two part article titled “Sense of Place: A World of Augmented Reality.” It’s a theoretical look at the changes AR makes to our understanding of cities.     

BTW, I have more than a passing interest.  I am researching and writing a book on social tech, architecture and cities that will feature augmented reality. Already people are using Layar and other apps to change their experiences of cities.

How soon will we be using it in our offices? Good question.

WorldViz says it’s today. Universities look to be a target market with discounted pricing. Large firms and early adopters can jump in.  

Think of VR/AR as more than a presentation tool – it’s an experience. We can involve people instead of making them spectators at our table. Truly, a technology to celebrate.

Image Credit: Lira Luis @liraluis twitpic at AIA convention

Architects, Designers, Planners, Are You Change Agents? Lessons from KCMO School District

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Perhaps you’ve heard of the Kansas City Missouri School District’s decades of struggles? This spring, the district leadership shocked the nation when they announced the closure of twenty-one schools. Despite dozens of desperate public school districts in America, none ever closed 21 schools at once. The last students walked out this week.

Eight of the closed schools are mine. Around twenty years ago, my architecture firm designed, renovated, or added to eight schools now closing (8 others are still in use). A sad day indeed.

Where Architects Messed Up
In the 1980s under a deseg order, KCMSD adopted a theory of magnet schools to curb the tide of white flight. Create buildings that match the suburbs with unique programs to attract white students. Does that make sense? The district spent one billion dollars in capital improvements.

They didn’t ask architects to think strategically. We were technical experts and designers, not experts at learning environments in the broader sense. Not offering was our fault; not being asked reveals the limits of our siloed profession.

Human-Centered Design Process
We shape buildings and then they shape us, right? It’s Churchill’s famous quote.

When we design, build, and use an environment, we participate in an ongoing interactive process. Imagine a constant state of design; we change the place, it changes us, and so on. So long as we engage with a place, it remains relevant and vital. When we stop, it dies, becomes a relic, an historic artifact.

Buildings are relatively straightforward to construct; difficult but we know exactly what it takes. Communities are not; they’re dependent upon the right mix of people sharing enough commonalities to cohere. Building excellent cities means we know how to develop both synchronically. If we want to be consulted on comprehensive decisions, then we must think beyond technical and design issues. We have to think full spectrum in terms of integrated holistic systems, cultivate our beliefs, and articulate persuasive narratives.

Are You A Change Agent?
To create human-centered solutions, the most important questions you have to ask are not “What to build?” but “Why build?”

1. Who is being served? Who should be?
2. Are you trying to build a legacy or serve an immediate need? Which dominates?
3. How will your work transform the community? The neighborhood? The city?
4. Are you building a completed project or will it grow with the students and community?
5. Are you leading the process or performing a duty as requested?
6. Does this solution figure into larger learning systems? And larger community needs and beliefs?
7. Is the solution student-centered, community-centered, building-centered?
8. How will you define excellence and failure? How long will you wait to claim victory or defeat?
9. How risky is the solution? Does it meet, stretch expectations, or redefine ideas?
10. Are you willing to make mistakes? Does the community allow mistakes?
11. Will you challenge their beliefs and assumptions?
12. Are you prepared to share your beliefs about learning, education, city and community building? Can you articulate excellence?
13. Do you care about the long-term future of the community? And the building?
14. What does the solution say about the students? The community? You?
15. How will the story of the project be told?
16. Who cares about what? Who cares about whom? How does your solution address, extend ideas of, cater to or engage these constituents and their affiliations?
17. How do you imagine the future in five years? In twenty years? Does that match, stretch, or diverge from the community’s?
18. How will your solution change the students’ lives? How will you know?
19. Are you prepared to grow and change with the project? What ideas are you willing to shed? Are any absolute?

Why Build?
Frequently architects move directly into programming using a linear process, missing out on the overall question of “Why Are We Building?”

Have you been asked to imagine ideas before there’s a defined building project? Have you developed knowledge and articulated philosophies beyond technical and design domains? Are you considered a trusted advisor regarding social systems, cultural beliefs, political alliances? Or the larger issues of learning and education? (Fill in the project type.)

Are you engaged in the community and/or project type so that others will seek your advice early? What do you and your team bring to the table?

In short, what questions are you asking?

So Long, Old Friends
Goodbye to: Moore Elementary 1916, Pinkerton Elementary 1931, Woodland Elementary 1923, Franklin Elementary 1961, Longan Elementary 1955, Kansas City Middle School of the Arts 1993, Douglass Early Childhood Center 1952, and Fairview Alternate School 1957. Best wishes in your next life.

Kansas City and its most beleaguered neighborhoods inherit a gaggle of empty buildings. If folks focus on vitality and communities, then these buildings again become relevant.

Trust: The New Golden Handcuffs | Life at HOK

Mike Plotnik, HOK, invited me to be the first guest blogger on HOKLife. Here’s the verbatim post. Thanks to Mike and HOK for sharing their incredible platform, one of the most socially engaging architectural sites.

I invited Dr. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, FAIA, an accomplished architect, educator, researcher and blogger, to share some insights on the value and potential of online communities like ours. Prepare to be inspired, challenged and enriched…

Intro

How do you build your professional reputation? There’s an old way and a new way.

In the old way, you work for a star firm, build expertise, cultivate relationships, get recognition, awards, advancement, grab a couple of friends, and bolt for the door. Voila, the birth of a next-generation firm where you can spread your wings, design, lead, and develop your expertise.

The cost to the mother ship is enormous. They lose their best people. Project knowledge vanishes, as do friendships, clients, and projects. In short, the most talented people outgrow the firm. In the old way, influence was finite.

There’s a new scenario developing. You can see it at HOKLife. While inside the firm, you build your own brand. You express your views using the firm’s resources. Your brilliance appears on Google, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. People come to HOK specifically to find you, ask your opinion, and seek your expertise. Your influence can literally extend globally; you are limited only by the strength of your ideas. When your influence grows, so does HOK’s.

From HOK and Me to We’

Paradoxically, by giving you freedom to express your ideas, HOK increases the stickiness of its network. Trust is the new golden handcuffs. You stay with a company because they allow you to directly shape that collective persona. Rather than a monolithic top-down message, HOK becomes an aggregation of many voices and moves the relationship from the firm and me, to we. Those voices bloom every day on HOKLife and change the public face of the business.

Freedom of expression generates greater resilience for the firm and breeds a new type of brand, more inventive and diverse through multiple voices. While HOK benefits by drawing more deeply on the resources of individuals, each blogger gains the HOK presence which lends immediate credibility. The public, including clients, experience the vast levels of knowledge and resources that comprise the entire organization.

HOKLife offers a megaphone to cultivate stronger bonds with the firm’s most precious resource – you. It’s a gamble. Yet I wager that no field benefits more from high-performing social technologies and open leadership approach than the design professions. Because each firm member is a professional expert, it generates a competitive advantage previously constrained by the limits of specific project roles. Digital territory offers every person infinite free space for engagement and consequently influence.

Models for Social Engagement

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I recently met one of the leading social technology analysts, Jeremiah Owyang of The Altimeter Group. He identifies five organizational models for social engagement: centralized, organic, coordinated, hub and spoke, and holistic or “honeycombed.” From what I see, HOK works as a coordinated or multiple hub and spoke model. People from Hong Kong to St. Louis across disciplines and interests contribute. Most comments come from inside, with a few external comments on blogs and Facebook. Those blog posts and comments begin the conversation.

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HOKLife may evolve to the holistic “honeycombed” approach. Each employee is empowered to experiment. The social portion of the website grows according to each action and becomes the firm’s voice. The result is a seamlessly integrated engagement between employees and clients. Eventually, HOK’s website can merge with LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and other networks. Known as a Freemium business approach, general research knowledge is shared openly to grow influence while clients pay for customized design services. The industry, HOK, and you as an influential expert benefit.

Building Influence and Trust Communities

In some ways, websites didn’t do professional design firms any favors. They set the stage for static sites centrally controlled which freezes social potential. At one time merely having a web presence represented a leap of innovation. Not now. It’s the difference between walking into an empty room versus a room full of engaged people.

Rather than merely broadcasting, social technologies enable dialogue and let the site ebb and flow based on the energy of the conversation. The visitor’s experience shifts from an online brochure to an ongoing roundtable discussion. Firms who still believe in the brochure model will be left behind.

In the new social engagement model, clients and the public don’t visit just to become familiar with HOK. People return repeatedly as though it’s a combination of coffee shop conversation, resource library, television broadcasting, and newspaper stand. You create a must-stop location. While building careers and reputation, you’re cultivating relationships and developing communities based on trust. When people want an expert opinion, they will come to HOK to find you.

What’s Next?

HOK people already blogging are brave scouts; you opened new territory. Here’s some thoughts about your next opportunities to expand your influence and relevance.

  1. Comment, comment, comment. Create a commenting frenzy that builds high quality dialog. That energy and vitality will attract others to the table.
  2. More firm leaders join the conversation by writing and commenting on others’ postings.
  3. Highlight particularly vital conversations so others join in.
  4. Find your clients online; share information at those sites.
  5. Link clients and colleagues to specific blog posts and conversations.
  6. Expose projects on the boards or under construction, which truly are social as much as they are technology.
  7. Think in terms of: what do our clients need to know? What keeps them up at night? Write about that.

The work that HOK does is thrilling; you plan, design, and build cities every day. A website can have the energy and vitality of a job site or design studio. When people begin to frequent the site simply to engage and find expertise, HOK will have a valuable asset. So will each committed person that built it. Using HOKLife to engage people and blur the boundaries of the firm brings richness and experience unique in the design and planning professions.

Instead of bricks and mortar storefronts, the new geography is digital; space is free. Consequently, time becomes the most precious commodity. Can you attract the attention of influencers? Moreover, can you gain their trust? You attract people through intriguing ideas; you capture their hearts and minds by developing real relationships.

Resources
Owyang, Jeremiah. “Four Laws of Social Business.” Presentation Slides from Smash Summit, May 2010. (image source for social engagement models)

More Links at http://delicious.com/cindyfw key words: socialmedia, socialmediabiz, twitterstories

Image credit: Cadenhead, Rogers, Rcade. “Newseum: Do You Trust Blogs.” Uploaded 19 Feb 2009, Flickr Creative Commons.

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Dr. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, FAIA, LEED AP, founded and operated an architecture firm for 20 years before merging it with another design firm in order to shift her focus to long-term strategies for designing and building cities. Example projects are Kansas City Downtown Civic Mall Master Plan for 60 blocks of the central business district; Kansas City, Missouri Police Department Facilities Master Plan; Charles E. Whittaker United States Courthouse Interiors; and the Ilus W. Davis Park, a civic park in downtown Kansas City. She teaches in the Graduate Program in Futures Studies at the University of Houston as an adjunct professor and at the University of Kansas. Frewen Wuellner is currently writing a book on how social technologies are transforming the ways we use and build cities. Web site: http://urbanverse.posterous.com; Connect at Twitter and LinkedIn.

 

Dear Architecture Grads: What Matters Most?

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In my blog post last week titled “Dear Architecture Graduates: Be Ready, Relentless and Lucky,” the first item is strategy. To get a job particularly during the Great Recession, you have to first think: what matters most to me? And then act accordingly, regardless of that dreaded fear of the unknown. Bold choices bring richness you never imagined.

What are your priorities? What will you trade today to get something better later?

In hindsight, I used six factors (money/job, architecture, intern, location, firm, role) as building blocks - see the sketch. It’s more flexible in practice than it appears. I added one more- see below. Here’s how those choices looked in real life.

Hindsight History – A Very Brief Version

Right out of school, I scored my main goal - an architecture internship – by forfeiting my location. In The Kansas City Star, no architecture firms were advertising thanks to a recession. Instead, there’s an ad: “Architecture Graduate: Will work for free. Call Tom 555-5555.” Desperate times. Tom motivated me. 

At the same time, The Wall Street Journal posted an article that said western Montana had a construction boom and an architect shortage. So I hightailed it 1400 miles to Hamilton, Montana and the Bitterroot Valley.

Job 1 – Money, Architecture, Intern. First day, I landed a job. It was far from ideal. Ok, it was actually a bit strange.

Job 2 – Plus Firm, People, Role. After two months I got a job at a firm that I admired in Missoula, Montana. I got maximum responsibility working with people I admired and liked.  

The seventh factor: People You LikeIt sits between Firm You Admire and Role You Seek. Initially I thought Firm incorporated People, but realized you can like the people and not the firm. 

Job 3 – Plus Location, Minus Firm. Just as I moved home to Kansas City, another recession hit. A large EA firm that was expanding their architecture arm hired me to lead an historic rehab in Brooklyn. Great role, project, and people.    

Job 4 – Plus Firm, Minus Role. I finally landed a job at a young hip design firm, once again trading off a choice role for another priority. Back to the drawing board, literally.

I didn’t attain a great role again until I started my own firm. That is another story, brought on by, yes, a third recession. Rolling recessions shaped my life, my views – and what we built, who we are today collectively. The Great Recession is shaping yours.    

What I Learned That Might Help You

You make the best situation out of what you have, based on your priorities. That’s how it works, I think. Make some choices no one else would. Be daring. You are far more flexible early in your career, less tied to location, roles, even industry. Use it to your advantage.

During difficult times, a more detailed breakdown of your priorities may help you see value in smaller wins. Like getting any job. Or paying the bills. Always think in terms of trades.

Start today with: What matters most?

Dear Architecture Graduates: Be Ready, Relentless, and Lucky

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A couple of months ago, I wrote a piece for my mid-career architect friends who had recently lost their jobs, titled “Dear Unemployed Architects: You’ve Been Given a Gift.” With it, I got lots of gifts back and not all of them flattering. Taught me a few lessons.

Extra time is not a gift for recent grads; you achieved a milestone and then fell into the abyss of no jobs. So my article made you angry; I apologize. Since then, I have been pondering how to help newly minted graduates find jobs, knowing that the odds are stacked against you.

 

You are in a tsunami, or actually two. There’s the recession, which is a depression for construction (25-30% unemployment) plus the industry is seeing large scale changes with permanent job shifts. It’s stunning.

Knowing that context doesn’t help you get a job. Maybe it will help you get more creative, take bolder action, be quicker to adapt. You need to be more prepared than anyone else, relentlessly persistent, and lucky – at the right place at the right time with the right answers speaking to an open mind.

Some people will get jobs. You want to be one of those. That’s your job right now. Position yourself to be one of the few, not one of the many. Make forward actions every day.

 

Here’s a few ideas. They fall into job searching, surviving, and the long view. It’s a long list… by no means complete. Take what fits you.

  1. Plan your priorities. What matters to you? Location, firms, project types, your role, the people you’ll work with, multi-disciplined firm, money? What must you have to survive, and what will you forfeit for now?
  2. Investigate firms as though you were becoming a partner. Get everything you can about their work, clients, people, recognition, other offices, philosophy, history. Craft your resume and letter to fit the kind of work that they do.
  3. Make your own very simple letter head, card, and portfolio cover. Be consistent and clean. While it’s the content that counts, we are designers. Clean, simple works.
  4. Better to show three great projects than ten mediocre ones. Edit and create good stories.
  5. Select your projects and stories to fit a particular firm’s interests. For example, if they do hospitals, use hospital projects or at least institutional projects. Research their project type and talk about key issues. Treat your submission and interview like we do marketing RFQ’s.
  6. It’s your story. Tell it well, compelling, dramatic, true, highlighting your best moments. Have very short versions, and also more detailed responses.
  7. If you have a sense of project types or methods that you are intrigued by or that you think will have more work, then become an expert in trends and case studies. Write up your findings and begin blogging about it. Find firms in that area.
  8. Unlike any prior generation, you can research and establish your identity online. And form architectural networks. Use it extensively and creatively. More on this down the list.
  9. Know recent case studies in BIM, green building, Revit – the big three that will get you a job now. Be conversant. Publish ideas online, become an expert.
  10. Potential growth areas (beyond the big three – BIM, Revit, and green tech): prefab, laboratories, research facilities, shared or community facilities, security of all kinds, health, aging, renovation, historic preservation, mixed use, public spaces, various high tech materials such as nano-tech, digital integration such as signage, rfid, sensors, smart grid, ubiquitous computing. More tech sends you to certain types of AE or EA firms. In KC, engineers are the first hiring because they are involved in the stimulus package ARRA money. It may not be your first choice, but you will meet wonderful people that can influence your career and be friends for life.
  11. Work in related fields like interiors, suppliers, contractors, planning, landscape, community development, government, corporate, facilities management, and so on. Many have architecture departments. It will help you get an architecture job later or you might find your calling in these related fields, some which have stronger prospects than general architecture consulting.
  12. Make quick speeches – 45 second responses – for major questions. Your best projects, best teachers, why you chose this field, what projects or architects do you like, where you see yourself in five or ten years, what are your special talents, why do you fit this job. Essentially: What will you bring to my firm?
  13. Be active on Architizer and key groups on Linked In.
  14. Be creative with online tools, witness this google story.
  15. Build an online presence – perhaps more critical than a resume. Share ideas, develop relationships, ask questions. Update daily; it’s a commitment.
  16. Make videos and podcasts. Post links to your network.
  17. Find people that can help you; look for their online or real time activities and be there.
  18. Go where the people go with whom you want to connect. Do not sit back.
  19. If your resume isn’t working, ask what didn’t catch their eye. Ask to see a good example but be thoughtful about asking. If the moment doesn’t seem right, don’t ask.
  20. Be persistent. Keep your name in front of them. Be succinct. Don’t linger.
  21. Know what projects are being planned in various cities. Cast a wide net. Find out who is pursuing them. Send your resume etc to those firms.
  22. Move to North Dakota. Really.
  23. If you are traveling, go places that you hear have work. Always look for work.
  24. Don’t limit to just firms who are advertising. Work will pick up and you want to be the one. Try to get a sense of the firms that have new projects on the horizon.
  25. Our interviewees talked with their future co-workers, who always gave their opinions the moment the door shut. Know who they are too, as much as possible.
  26. Be nice, charming if possible, and humble. You’re new. They earned their spot.
  27. If you have friends with jobs, keep in contact, let them know how you are doing and what new stuff you have developed. And ask about jobs, projects, other firms.
  28. Do not let three days pass without posting useful information to your blog.
  29. Ask everyone what else they would do, who they would call, if they were looking.
  30. Do not sit at home. Go to the library, café, museum, park. Learn ideas, it will trigger new thoughts.
  31. Be flexible, adaptable, in every way. Keep your priorities in order.
  32. Be frugal. So much material exists on living cheaply. Draw on your friends and family and offer something in return. Do work for people, take care of things for them. Share costs. Give what you have to get something back.
  33. Many AIA chapters allow new grads to join for free for a year. Become active. Get to know people. Keep your ear to the ground and find out where you would like to work.
  34. Visit at least one architect’s office every day. For places you really want to work, keep on the regular rounds – say once every couple of weeks. Otherwise, make it a new place every day. Stop in, say hello. Ask if the person you know is available. Just checking for possible jobs. Stay under 1 minute. If you have some idea for them, even better. Drop it off, with your resume, business card, and a note attached. Blend face-time with online time.
  35. Learn to communicate in words, written and verbal. Join a toastmasters group or equivilent.
  36. Be more places, try more things, with clearer answers than the next ten people. Or next 100. It’s the Olympics of job searches; leave no rocks unturned.
  37. Be able to say state your strengths in under a minute and be compelling. Tape it and listen back or try it on someone. It’s no fun but you’ll improve through practice.
  38. Be flexible with your approach but not in your priorities. Get the best deal that you can given the landscape. And then make it into a gold mine or move on when you can.
  39. Blog about local projects and events. Take pictures, show progress, make comments. Document changes in the city, photographs, stories.
  40. Blog about happenings in the architecture and design communities. Same deal – take pictures, make comments. Encourage people to use you as a broadcaster.
  41. Write book reviews; post on Goodreads, your blog, twitter, linked in, and facebook.
  42. Volunteer at community events. Be seen. Get to know people.
  43. Mentor others. You have more benefits than you might realize. Highly educated, with drawing, design, and construction skills, plus recent college experience. Share it with people younger than you. Or older.
  44. Look for mentors. They may be on twitter or be your neighbor. Take their advice seriously, think about it, and ask for more. They will like you for it. We all know it’s tough.
  45. Ask your AIA to assign a mentor or grow one from the people you meet. Make arrangements for regular conversations, on the phone or FTF.
  46. Be observant. Always think: what does that mean for new buildings, my career?
  47. Find out where there are jobs and in what industries. Think if there is an architectural component. Will they be building, remodeling? Bird dog it.
  48. Keep in touch with your university weekly.
  49. Draw. Paint. Make music. And yes… blog it. or sell it if possible. You are building reputation, improving your skills, and staying motivated.
  50. Imagine your whole life. Here’s a futures method for seeing further down the road from a wonderful futurist, Verne Wheelwright.
  51. Sell stuff on Ebay, Amazon, or Craigslist etc. Avoid debt. (Easier said…)
  52. Help your neighbors. And as one commenter said, do not be afraid to make money. Just make sure it’s clear when you are offering a favor and when you are looking for paid work.
  53. Become a commenter on urban or community activities. It’s not hard to be outspoken, but it is hard to be effective. Comments online are frequently worthless. Not on the NY Times. Some brilliant commenters – learn from them. They rank the comments. Become a highly ranked commenter.
  54. Walk the streets, document, create commentaries, a typology or ranking.
  55. Remake your space. Then do it again. Become versed in distances between chairs, required space for various tables and chairs, the shapes for walking, sitting, etc. Go to public spaces and see if theirs are effective. Then… yes, draw it and blog it.
  56. Make found art.
  57. Plant, grow stuff. Help in a community garden. Fresh food and getting dirty uplift the spirit.
  58. Link music to architecture. Art to architecture. Arch and interiors, signs, colors, streets. Study it. Write your thoughts and theories about it.
  59. Create a group of like-minded friends or unemployed neighbors. Chat regularly.
  60. Stay in touch with your family and friends – they are no doubt concerned about you. And they may have ideas, they may be a good shoulder or sounding board.
  61. Add education if you can afford it and have an urgency. Study something that you care about and makes you unique. For me, that’s strategic planning and communications. It took me 25 years to be ready for that. What is your special interest? So many areas outside the construction world go hand in hand with architecture. Economics for example. Business of course. Animation, environmental studies, public admin, education, journalism, art, law.
  62. Copy George Plimpton. He famously experienced high profile jobs, then wrote bestsellers about them. He boxed, played pro football, did stand-up, performed a high-wire act. Get a temporary job in one of the places you might later want to design. A sports venue, a library, a school, a shopping center, a hospital, public housing, and so on. You will forever own hands-on expertise.
  63. Or frequent these places and get to know patterns. You may never have the time to really do this again. Document it, and yes… make white papers, post them on your blog.
  64. Go work in Haiti with Cameron Sinclair’s Architecture for Humanity – if you can afford it.
  65. Go to New Orleans - last I heard they don’t have enough architects or builders. Find out who got federal money, what firms are working on it. Apply there.
  66. Journal. Keep some of it just for yourself. It’s one of the best lifelong habits and proven to make your career more focused and life more inspired.
  67. Exercise. If you’re not in shape, get there. If you are in shape, keep doing it every day. It boosts your energy, attitude and mental abilities. Stay positive.
  68. Be in touch with your spirituality. Develop your beliefs. Meditation in any form keeps us steady and happy. Plus good ideas come when your mind is alert.
  69. If you are getting interest, but no jobs, then ask why – very politely. Ask who might need your skills. And shine up your work next time, even if you just rearrange the order.
  70. Never take the same material to two job interviews. They will know it. You and your work will look tired. You need to be fresh, ready to work tomorrow. Even if you just change the order of projects, wear a different shirt, renew your ideas every day.
  71. If you are stuck, if days and weeks are going by with no bites, then change what you are doing wholesale. Change your approach. Rewrite your story. Practice out loud. Find a ready audience to play act. Record yourself. Improve your story.
  72. Write down everything that happens in your interviews. Think what went well and what didn’t. Be better next time. (These are marketing skills; marketing is like looking for a job every day, except with better resources.)
  73. Try to find out who got jobs and why. See what you can learn. If you can talk to these recent hires, see if they have any other leads that might make soon.
  74. Be nice to whoever you talk to in the firm, including the front desk person. They give more information after you leave, count on it. Even if it’s just a smile or a look, people tune into these small gestures. It all matters.
  75. Don’t wait; keep moving, because it’s your life and you want to spend it well. I believe that jobs where you serve people – like retail, libraries, hospitals, and restaurants – aid architects in learning how to read people. Very useful skill. Do that while you’re looking for a job in the industry.
  76. Be persistent.
  77. Don’t give up. There may be no better advice.
  78. Continually re-assess. Be sure that this is what you want to do. Don’t be afraid to try something else.
  79. Don’t get stuck on the word architect or designer. Deconstruct your skills – CAD, codes, rendering, model-building, construction, observation, documentation, analysis, history, building technologies, presentations, team building, community development, foreign languages. What are your skills?
  80. Teach English in China or some other country. Teach English as a second language in US; learn some other language. I guarantee long term value.
  81. Read my other list - there’s ideas for inspiration and rethinking your life.
  82. Read the comments – the first few hated it and you might relate.
  83. Read the later comments – they gave tips, links, and stories about their positive experiences.
  84. Keep your finances orderly. Get a delay on loans if possible.
  85. Take daily walks. There’s a lot of research about why walking is healthy. For architects and designers, there is the added value of being part of the environment, the streetlife. Make notes, sketches, photos. Create an album of your observations.
  86. Go to planning commission, municipal art commission, economic development, and school board meetings, even public auctions of real estate. Those developers may need some help. More than that, you will learn the process of building and running cities. And yes, please, blog it. It’s your opportunity.
  87. Don’t complain. And if you must, do it privately in your journal or while taking a walk – by yourself.
  88. From an unemployed friend: you might feel the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Be aware of these stages and take care of yourself.
  89. Get help before you need it desperately, whether emotionally or financially.
  90. Draw or paint every day. Steven Holl does.
  91. Listen to music every day. Daniel Libeskind does.
  92. Dance. With or without someone else.
  93. Hang out with positive people. That might be your regular friends, your 90 year old neighbor, or your kid sister. Or your priest. Moods are contagious. Avoid negative people. Cynicism is also contagious. Breed positive ideas.
  94. Use humor. It recharges a beaten spirit. Along with running, meditating, yoga, sleep (but not more than 7-8 hrs) and helping someone else. All work like a charm.
  95. Start a business. Every business started somewhere. You can build things with just a business license. Think about it. Do odd jobs. Team with your friends or unemployed colleagues (who might become friends) to do larger projects. I sewed tablecloths and napkins for a new restaurant. Ask around.
  96. Stay focused on why you are here and what really matters.
  97. Write me if you need encouragement or ideas. Twitter works @urbanverse.
  98. If your first option doesn’t work out, have a second option before you let go. It’s called wing walking. When traversing two wings, hang on to the first one until you’re clearly secure on the second.
  99. Check out Bob Borson‘s Ten Reasons to be an Architect and Ten Reasons to Not be an Architect. Do you relate to these lists?
  100. Look at my delicious links on jobs (56) and on architects (126). Eight crossovers. Try searching the whole list for unemployment too. and inspiration.
  101. Try to keep perspective – see yourself in the future. This time in your life will be very important. It’s a watershed era. You will think about it when you’re 80.
  102. When you get a job, help others. Return to your college, tell your story. And yes… blog about it. No matter if it’s what you wanted or not, it’s an unfolding. Make your story.

Overcoming huge difficulties makes life more poignant. Friendships from this time period will always seem more vital and deeply connected. You will be co-survivors. There is nothing small about this recession for architects and especially for recent graduates. You may send 100 resumes without a response. Don’t despair; just find a better way, change the formula to favor you.

Get used to a career in a field experiencing sweeping change. We are retooling the industry. It’s a double tsunami – the recession and massive changes. You need to retool and keep retooling. It’s going to take your full attention, agility, and some luck. Luck in terms of being at the right place, talking to the right people who are paying attention. Best way to increase your odds – sling more mud and be more strategic.

 

Yet you have some advantages. You are a digital native. Working in CAD and online is second nature to you. Your elder colleagues will depend on you for that. We have always talked with new graduates about design and theory because we know that colleges focus on those aspects. Now we also will rely on you for technological skills. And a sense of the new social world. Show people how it’s done.

 

Failure is allowed early in your career with minimal penalties. Play this card strategically. You will be able to chalk it up as experience. Celebrate any and every small success, accomplishment, and lesson. Don’t fear failure; learn from it.

Mastering the architecture profession is a 10-20 year process. Five years out, you will know all the parts except the business and management, but you need many more trials of design, construction and working with clients. By ten years, you’ll have seen most cycles and be able to adapt.

As hard as they may seem, learning BIM, Revit and green building take far less time than mastering the full profession. Concentrate on one or all of these. Each is perhaps 2-6 months of study or experience. Practice every day. Perhaps some firms will open their training sessions to you. You might ask. Or get the AIA to form a program with the firms. They are also looking for ways to keep you in the profession.

We want younger architects to remain committed to the field. We need another generation. So you have some leverage. Think how you can explain – very quickly and in a most compelling fashion – what you bring to a particular firm. Have excellent evidence of your skills. You will find work.

That’s my best random thoughts for surviving a deep recession; it’s lengthy and yet not comprehensive. If you want explanation, please ask. Or if you think this list is a complete waste, say it and why. Someone may learn from your comments – like me. Do you have other ideas for job hunting? or useful stories? If you got a job, please share how you did it, what was the key?

 

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons by Martin Pettitt “Wing Walking Display Lowestoft Air Show,” uploaded 28 July 2008.

 

Design Thinking: What If We Built Cities As Prototypes?

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A lot of talk about design thinking is circulating, particularly on broader uses in organizational and social change.

I got to thinking about how design thinking is used by architects compared with other types of designers. Last year I participated in a panel hosted by the Association of Professional Futurists at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena that included people from industrial and gaming design, plus architect Neil Denari and me. Yet only now am I deconstructing how what we design affects our thinking.

Industrial designers learn from prototypes and mass produce success. In contrast, architects create each building brand new, unique to its situation.

Industrial designers* usually make products for mass production. Experimental by nature, prototypes are expected to fail initially and push boundaries in order to improve the ideas in the long run. Products are far more carefully designed and detailed because of this process. To mass produce, they have to be as finely tuned as possible so pushing hard and finding limits are critical.

The rule of prototype design is: fail fast and often.

Doing it wrong once is ok and frankly, there’s a positive kicker – you’ve found a flaw. Doing it wrong a thousand or a million times is a product recall and wildly expensive. Bad products can hurt people. Through improvements, surprises are essentially designed out, re-tested and fixed. Even final products are considered temporary. That is, eventually they will be replaced by the newer model or used as a vintage edition.

On the other hand, architects typically create one-of-a-kind solutions. The only full scale prototype is the final building; we see it for the first time when it’s built. Consequently, I have always been surprised by something during construction and I bet other architects would say the same thing. Some are incredibly exciting; others are a headache or a missed opportunity. Once people move in, they come up with even more lessons.

Failing is penalized with the fear of enormous penalties.

There’s professional, legal, financial liabilities. People can die or get sick. Cities are diminished. Clients can sue. The entire planet gets damaged.

Instead we try to learn from drawings and models. But representations lack in reality, the experience of material space. It’s a system fraught with danger that ultimately does not allow us to test and improve through fast and frequent failures. We move onto the next project, wiser from that experience but not necessarily sharing our newfound knowledge in any systematic way.

What Can Architects Learn from Industrial Design Prototyping?

Why can’t we build buildings, neighborhoods, and even entire cities with more finesse and refinement? If you look at a car or a computer, the attention to detail is astonishing (although not always in a good way, but that’s not my point.)

We are approaching a time when prefabricated and preengineered buildings will likely become a greater part of the urban fabric. Are we prepared to learn from industrial designers about how to use prototypes to improve our work?

If we can’t always build prototypes – many projects will remain uniquely constructed – then maybe we can learn from each other?

Think of each building as a prototype for others. A supply chain of building knowledge that creates each project as a prototype for others. Call it a learning chain that makes an entire network of lessons learned.

While we haven’t had the tools and metrics in the past, BIM and social media are changing that.

Rather than building a project and moving on, we can readily share data on building systems, costs, and lessons learned. Each building, street, or district become prototype designs with clearly measured efficiencies, narratives of experiences, and definite contributions to the city. Every project builds on the rest.

1) To create more regionally distinct, sustainable cities, track the architectural characteristics, environmental qualities, local materials, and building technologies into a design database.
2) Develop metrics to demonstrate how efficiencies and environmental qualities improve the bottom line for businesses in terms of productivity.
3) Over time, we will develop greater knowledge, using one completed house or building or detail to create a more refined version next time. The database and our collective intelligence will grow.

Eventually, if we interconnect our ideas, knowledge, case studies, lessons learned – our individual experiences – we could have a connected brain of information that would improve our work, our buildings, and our cities in a continuously interactive process. Building users, owners, contractors, and designers can contribute to the virtual database. Over time, a virtual twin will emerge where we can experiment, fail, and try again.

Rather than a rigid, dead city, we make one very large, continually tweaked prototype – granted, a city makes a truly gigantic model.

Resources:
Excellent references on design thinking: The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley; Change By Design by Tim Brown (both of IDEO).
Architizer is essentially creating a design database that is completely open source; a BIM database would tie together all planning, building design, and construction fields.

*Designers specialize in all types of objects from architecture to products, games, vehicles, clothing, furniture, graphics, web sites, and so on. I use industrial designers as a general type and the one most closely related to architecture.

Dear Unemployed Architects: You Have Been Given A Gift

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[Dedicated to former Kansas City Chiefs players who were cut and are playing in today’s Super Bowl. Congratulations! Clear proof that getting fired was a gift.]

When you lose your job, you feel crushed. And if you don’t find a new job quickly, the idea that your plight is anything short of a life disaster may seem even more ridiculous. Losing a job, and especially with the prospect of being out of work for an extended time period, wrecks your pocketbook and your sense of self-worth.

In short, losing your job is one of the worst experiences of your life. I agree.

Yet what I believe has really happened to you is that you have been set free. Free from going tomorrow to a job where you wonder if you’ll be there another day or a month. Free from the headaches of a project, chasing new jobs for the firm’s marketing efforts, and fearing disturbing discussions behind-closed-doors.

Your time is now your own. And that is quite a gift.

Furthermore, your freedom comes at a time when the architecture profession is battered from all sides. In short, trends and society have not favored architects. We all know that.

In the worst economic decline since the Great Depression, architects are the most out-of-work profession in America. A small field of only a couple of hundred thousand people at best, 50,000 are out of work. (New York Times). Some locations are facing over 40% unemployment.

It’s bleak. But that’s not my focus. I want to talk about freedom and what you might do with it.

Think of it as money in the bank. You can withdraw from it every day. I wager that the better you spend it, the more freedom you will find. In other words, invest in yourself wisely, generously, enthusiastically. You have struck gold.

While I don’t know how bad things are for you, I know that there is life beyond your old job. And it’s not that the firm didn’t value you. It’s that they are thinking only about money. Letting someone go means that they could not write any more checks to you.

I know it sounds strange, but as much as you might have loved that job, you can learn to love your new situation more. And you can actually do more of what you set out to do as an architect.

I’m going to share some ideas of how you might spend your time – 101 ideas but who’s counting! Some may seem ridiculous, others obvious, and still others might resonate with your current needs. Because you might be feeling shock or operating in survival mode, desperate for both cash and confidence.

Now that you have tomorrow off, your time is your own. Think about that. You have tomorrow free to do what you want perhaps for the first time in years or even decades. Because tomorrow was reserved for work, and that’s not happening. So what will you do instead? I have a few ideas in no particular order, just to get you started.

1. Take a walk. Walt Whitman credits his creativity with his daily walks around Walden Pond. It’s one of the most peaceful things you can do. Walk in nature, or walk down a treed street. If it’s cold or rainy, just dress for it.
2. Plant something green. In a pot, in the ground. It will grow as you grow.
3. Go see a movie, especially one that you would never go see.
4. Go to the highest point in the city and look around. What do you see? What would you do to make it better, fix the ills? If you were dreaming, that is. What do you think will be there in 2020 or 2030? Use your knowledge of architecture to stretch your images of the city.
5. What is your favorite architecture in your city? Go visit it. Think about why it’s special. Start recognizing the unique attributes of your place, inventory, and analyze its quality so that you become an expert.
6. Photograph your house, your street or neighborhood. Or one that you particularly love or hate. Find places that draw or repel you.
7. Go to the library. It’s a world of ideas. See what areas draw you. You are not limited to architecture in the library. For instance, I found great pleasure in children’s books about historic cultures. I imagine what kids think when they first encounter pyramids or cathedrals in books.
8. Work out. Every day.
9. Eat well. That means healthy, for wellness. You’ll feel better.
10. Meditate. Sit quietly at least 10 minutes with your eyes closed.
11. Breathe deeply. Regularly. Frequently.
12. Sing, whistle, dance or skip. Automatically uplifting, guaranteed.
13. Talk with friends and family. They are your support group. They care.
14. Go somewhere if you can afford to – you have the time. If not, go virtually.
15. Write down what you did in your architectural job.
16. Consider why you became an architect. What was different between what you dreamed and what you did? How can you aim at the original dream? Note, it might not even be in architecture; you have transportable skills if you break them into parts instead of just one idea: architect.
17. Think about times where you did incredible work, in school, at work, in volunteer activities. What was it? Design, drawing, talking with people, coordinating. Figuring out particularly tricky technical problems. Getting to work early. Working under pressure. Write all of it down.
18. What did you think an architect would do when you first contemplated being an architect, when you graduated, or when you started with the recent firm? How did it change and how did your attitude and enthusiasm change?
19. How did you spend your days? What was valued by the firm, what was ignored or even shunned?
20. Who had a job like you wanted? Think about what it was like.
21. What do you care about? Write it down. Draw it or gather some objects that represent your most important values.
22. If you were a developer, what would you build?
23. Think about your situation – why were you let go? From the day you began there – a rosy cheery moment I hope – to the last day, what was the trajectory? At some point, you fit and in the end, you did not. Leaving there really was a gift. Think about what changed – even beyond the loss of work. Are you pleased with their view of you – the types of jobs they gave you? Or were you just accepting it because it was a job?
24. Get licensed. Really. I know, Bill Gates didn’t’ graduate from college, but you did. And Orville Wright didn’t have a pilot’s license. (My good friend Gordon MacKenzie said that). If you are ready to reinvent the world as they did, then go do it. Excellent! Otherwise, chalk up these milestones; that’s all they are. Life is not better on the other side but it is a touchstone, no more “wish I had.” Live life with minimal regrets.
25. Become LEED accredited.
26. Learn to play the piano, paint, or speak a new language.
27. Get on Twitter – find me. http://twitter.urbanverse.com
28. Find the Architects Twitter League and see who else is there. Follow them. http://bit.ly/bbSKqJ Or use my Architects list.
29. Get tweetdeck or hootsuite and start making groups of people you enjoy.
30. Search some terms on twitter and see what crops up. I search architecture, cities, and LEED at all times and add temporary searches at other times.
31. Find people in those places you want to visit. See what they think of the pyramids or the Burj Khalifa.
32. Sign up to Facebook and find your friends and family, your local AIA, other groups that interest you. You don’t have to answer all those questions, just the ones you’re comfortable with.
33. Post some photos on Flickr or slideshows on Slideshare or book reviews on Goodreads.
34. Sign onto Linked In and Plaxo and find the architectural networks.
35. Sign up to Architizer and load some of your projects, comment on others. This new service is a real winner. http://www.architizer.com/en_us/
36. Learn to cook something new.
37. Invite friends over to play games. Or for coffee or beers.
38. Go bowling. Or ice skating. Or roller skating. Alone. In other words, get lost and do something you never do.
39. Offer to read or teach at the local elementary school or library.
40. Serve meals at a soup kitchen or deliver them to shut-ins.
41. Make a list of books the library should put on their buy list. Give a review of each. (We want people to know about architecture and green building. They might value us more.)
42. Pull out your old projects and figure out what you did well.
43. Invent how your projects would be different if you were deciding. Who would be on your dream team? who wouldn’t?
44. Sell some stuff. Use Ebay, Craigs List, have a garage sale, set up a booth at the mall or market, or list it in the paper.
45. Be frugal. Stretch your resources so that you can choose your destiny.
46. Offer to mow your neighbors grass or fix a fence.
47. You just reduced your carbon footprint significantly by eliminating the commute. What else could you do? Many web sites can help you.
48. Go to planning commission meetings. Or sit through a court case or a city council meeting. Improve your understanding of how government works.
49. Assess the sustainability of your house, your neighborhood, or your city. How does it compare to similar places, or to model places? what can you do to improve it?
50. Write a white paper on what your neighborhood or city could do to be more sustainable. Strive to give back energy to the grid. That’s the goal, be a producer.
51. Check out on-line city lists for quality of life, and “best of” lists. Forbes has many of these. How does your city rank? What area are most important? How can you help your city be unique?
52. Write an op ed to the paper – and then do it every month or quarter.
53. Be on the paper’s editorial board
54. Be a guest columnist.
55. Speak to the Rotary, Chamber, Lions or Lioness Clubs, the Y, and so on.
56. Read poetry.
57. Write haiku.
58. Start a journal.
59. Start a blog (you knew I’d get here, yes?) Start with Posterous if you want something easy.
60. Make comments on others blogs. There are so many great architecture blogs.
61. Draw a tree. Or a person. For architects, those are the hardest, yes? Buildings are easy.
62. Start a cartoon strip. Find humor.
63. Write a novel. Create fantasy, use your imagination.
64. Research something you wondered about and never had the time to check.
65. Go to the lowest point in your city. Photograph, draw. How is it different than the highest place
66. Think about your city in 2050. How many people? Where will they live?
67. What will climate change do to your city? Drought, Storm events. Hurricanes. Flooding. How prepared is the community?
68. Do a walkability assessment of your neighborhood. Map it. Write an opinion for your neighbors or for your city. Where are there crosswalks, shade trees and landscaping, narrowing streets, street calming, furniture, sprinklers hitting sidewalks, bad sidewalks, scary dogs. Where are the best spots (these I use for destinations on my runs.)
69. Inventory unused spaces. What could be done with them? Invent possible projects.
70. Do a Kevin Lynch style survey of the area. Get others to do it too. Landmarks, barriers, pathways, etc. How do others see your district?
71. Keep track of favorite architecture or places you want to see in the city or around the world. Make a wishing map.
72. Make a google map of your favorite places in your town. I can’t tell you what time I’ve spent figuring out what to see in a strange city. And then get home to find out they just built some incredible new school or bridge. Horrible. Why don’t we have good architecture maps with insider tips?
73. Make a video. Post it on your blog.
74. Start a new habit. Do it for 30 days. http://zenhabits.net
75. Make your goals. Tie them to your daily activities.
76. Volunteer for AIA activities. Or the organization of your choice. Go where you can leverage your expertise and meet people that want to work with you.
77. Start a new group with your friends. Agree to meet or fix dinner once a week or once a month.
78. Write your obituary. I’m not being morbid. Knowing that we are mortal – foreknowledge of death – is a uniquely human trait, quite remarkable. It’s the ultimate limitation and sharpens purpose, meaning in life. Because we die, we must use our time wisely. So hone your writing skills. Say you die in 10 years, what is your obit? Or 20, 30, 40, 50 years? Think about the world at that time. What would you want to contribute? A building or park? A new way of seeing things? A mourning family? A book, a house, or a garden?
79. Plant a garden. Harvest your own food.
80. Sell some of your produce – sketches, pumpkins, painting, stories, what?
81. If you had today to create something, what would it be? What do your neighbors need? What did your clients need? Or co-workers, or consultants, or suppliers, or contractors?
82. What are your skills? Say, technical, illustration, problem solving, synthesizing, research, design, storytelling, BIM, construction, whatever it is. Itemize it outside of the architecture profession and think who could use it? How could you use it online, developing your own brand? Fantasize about that. And then try it out.
83. Join the local social media club, find out what they are doing. Because augmented reality is up and coming.
84. Go help in Haiti, or in New Orleans, or somewhere else that is in need of architects. Don’t stay where cities are dying, unless you just love that challenge.
85. Become a member of a volunteer board, something you care about or that is in sync with your larger goals.
86. Develop deep ecological knowledge of your neighborhood and city – look back at least 12,000 years (the time of civilization and cities more or less). Think about the streams, geology, weather patterns, flora, and fauna. What has changed?
87. Take classes towards your larger interests outside the architecture field. For me, that was futures/forecasting, and communications since I felt architects were not particularly apt at verbal expression. What’s your area? Science, business, education, social science, health care? Everything links with architecture. You are making yourself more uniquely valuable..
88. Develop cultural history of your hometown and think about how the architecture unique reflects the culture and ecology of your region.
89. Look at regional cooperation and projections. How many people will be in your city in twenty years? In Kansas City, a city of 2,000,000 people – which is just about average among global cities – another 500,000 are expected to be here by 2030, according to Mid-America Regional Council. But the cities of the metro area each want those people, and are collectively planning for 5.2 million people! It’s useless infrastructure and wasteful competition. What is happening in your city, and can you make it be more reasonable? You are an architect and come with expertise. Use it.
90. Use the design process to solve other problems. – assess, research, develop alternatives, select, develop, implement. Charrette workshops, synthesizing, creativity, are all intriguing and central to business innovation. Few fields focus on creativity, while we are well versed in it. Yet, with automation, anything that can be prototyped, will be. We know something of great future value – design thinking. http://bit.ly/4kEsLn  How can you use it?
91. Develop your perspective on topics that matter to you. Write, research, and talk about them. Try http://architecture.alltop.com/ for starters.
92. Think how you can be involved in clean technology. Rather than limiting yourself to design and construction, imagine how people use cities, how behavior can be different.
93. Investigate augmented reality programs, particularly in your area. Heres my slideshow on AR and cities. http://bit.ly/1OARTB
94. Limit your activities to things that develop your life, improve your city, or contribute to big ideas, like the future of the profession or quality of life.
95. Imagine the impact of climate change on your city. How well is it prepared for flooding, drought, weather events, and so on?
96. Outline a manifesto of your ethics – the future of… your family, your profession, your city. What is important to you? What is your vision and what would you change?
97. What in your life feeds you and drains you? Does something strengthen your network, expand your knowledge, or contribute meaningfully to quality of life? If not, let it go.
98. Analyze your city’s choices: what is important based on decisions?
99. Where is the affordable housing or the blighted areas?
100. Is there any chance those disenfranchised areas will be in better or worse shape in 10 years? What can you do about it?
101. Think how closely your dreams, your vision of the future, matches or disagrees with your current situation. Then go make that future image happen.

A failure of imagination holds us back so often. You have enormous resources – your knowledge, assets, network, experiences, and most of all, your vision of the future.

For perhaps the first time, you have the ability to do something about your dreams because you have the time. Cut back expenses, become ultra-sustainable, be where things are happening. And be ready with your unique point of view. Prepare yourself to contribute.

We are living at a time where architecture as it is traditionally defined bucks the trends. It’s in decline. No doubt about it. Even with the extra 3 billion people expected to live in cities during the next 40 years, they are not knocking on the American architects doors. They are figuring out how to do things themselves, using local resources and people.

You should do the same! Make yourself useful in the new world. Because sustainable, living cities, social networks, and automation are the perfect storm for changing how we build cities. When there is change, there are new opportunities. Be ready, alert, and learn the new freedoms offered by online social networks and research knowledge.

During the greatest urbanization of all time, you have the freedom to shape a new world, starting today.

I had lunch with two of my favorite architects a couple of days ago, women with whom I worked for a dozen years and have known for close to two decades. They are both recently unemployed. Dear Friends, I hope you read this and understand that free time and deep commitment to a special cause is far more valuable than working at a place that has other things on its mind than your life and development. You really have been given a gift. Best Wishes.