Architects Who Blog: A grand time at AIA 2012 in DC

If you have never read Life of an architect by Bob Borson (@bobborson) or Coffee with an architect by Jody Brown (@infillnc), you are in for a treat. Visiting their sites inspires me every time. They reveal what it’s like being an architect, what we do, how we think, and what matters. I’d say they tell stories about being an architect, the culture of the profession, more than blogs about architecture.

In other words, it’s the life of an architect. Or like having coffee with an architect. Aha!

Architects Who Blog #AIA2012

Even more thrilling is the chance to present with them, as I did last week at the American Institute of Architects national convention in Washington DC. We called it: “Architects Who Blog: Connecting Online for Influencing, Educating, and Inspiring about Architecture.” Here’s the slidedeck.

Besides their passion, Bob and Jody are smart, funny, and authentic. They are in short the real deal.

Now why is that so amazing? As architects, we are visually-oriented. That’s cool, maybe obvious, and frankly it simplifies life in many ways. Being surface-oriented is encouraged. (Now I sound like Jody, whose byline is “Architecture + Angst.”)

Architects use images more often than words to express ourselves. Bob and Jody use both. Neither claims to be a good writer (although they are). They in essence write like they talk, which always draws me in. When I read their blogs, I feel like I know them. I want to talk with them, as do many others judging by the comments.

Don’t let that humble spirit fool you. They are both heavy hitters in the architecture blogging category, with millions of visitors to their sites, and thousands of followers on twitter and facebook.

What did we talk about? First, Bob Borson…
Bob showed his world headquarters (his couch), his reach (every country except Iceland, it seems), his progress over time (2 million+ visits, up to 200 comments on a post), and his topics (advocacy, career, personal, humor, community outreach.) He recreated the story of his presentation here.

Two stories stuck with me. Bob interviewed his young daughter about what her dad did for a living. Roughly, being an architect is fun because we draw and talk all day. It takes a long time to design a house, about five hours, and about five days to build it. And it’s expensive, say $300. She would like to be an architect because it’s a good job.

Bob also uses his blog for another passion, the Architect Playhouse Design Competition, an offshoot of Dallas CASA. The charity benefits abused and neglected children. He received entries nationally and internationally. His jury selected two winning submissions, and he is seeking support for construction.

Jody Brown made us laugh a lot… at ourselves

Jody is fearless. For instance, a recent post is entitled: “that awkward moment when I show you my portfolio.” This week, it’s “Shit architects say.” If he’s not killing architecture’s sacred cows, he’s at least making us laugh at them.

Jody explains that initially when he played it straight, his mom was the only reader. So he showed his true self, in all his awesome ideological snarkiness and took dead aim at the culture of being an architect. The clothes, glasses, fussiness, insular snootiness, and starchitects are favorite targets. The sillier it gets, the more I identify with it. Jody helped me see how truly hilarious we are. Need a kick? Read this blog.

Here’s two images that completely broke up the crowd, huge laughs.

According to Jody: Architects need to be part of the conversation. Period.

The crowd and how we get it done
Fellow architects who came to our presentation were the best, thank you much. Your questions were thoughtful and your prolific tweets extended our reach far beyond the convention center. I think we got as many tweets as some of the general sessions. People asked about advertising (Bob has done just enough to cover his direct costs), images (use your own or creative commons images), platforms (wordpress, but you can start at tumblr or posterous), and how we fit it into our lives.

Instagram Photo 
  • Folks waiting on us to start, via Jody’s view from the dais.

All of us struggle to find time to post. I know you have things to say. I want to tell you that it’s important for you to speak up. Architects have left too much open territory online, we are far too quiet. When we do write, it’s usually marketing or one-directional, rather than building relationships, a network, or a reputation as a clear thinker. It is now, folks, time to claim that space. We can’t just talk via design, we need to speak with our voices too.

Jody and Bob post more often and manage to write much faster than me. I’ve taken breaks twice, at great cost to my site traffic. Bob is slowing down. Jody is thinking about it. It’s hard.

I think we can do a tag team. You write a while, I’ll pick up the next stage, and some others can join in. Eventually, we will get a critical mass of architects who blog. Leave comments when you read. Your thoughts keep us writing, and make us better.

One more bonus, I’ve been saving social media sites at my diigo site for urbanverse, aia-sm. That’s over 70 links. There’s another 700 under socialmedia, 80 or so on blogging, and try key words: twitter, social networking, bloggingtips, and blogginghowto, which start in 2009. The most recent ones are aia-sm.

Closing thoughts

I can only say that the AIA convention was far richer because of my online colleagues. Seeing many of you in real life for the first time was the best reason to be there. Genie, Gena, Laurie, Neal, Collier, John, Tara, Cormac, Jonathon, Andrew, Bryant, Craig, Mark, Sybil, Susan, and so many others, I was thrilled to meet you. Especially thanks to Steve Mouzon for making the effort to come by the convention just to say hello. What a delight!

A grand week, folks… people, places, and ideas, a feast.

  • Pictured: Jody @infillnc, Bryant @turnageb, Genie @ebarchdesign, Collier @collier1960, Jonathan @mondo_tiki_man


Future of Design #futrchat follow up


Last Thursday, I co-hosted the tenth Association of Professional Futurists (APF) futrchat on twitter. Since we set up the Profuturists posterous blog, I haven’t been cross posting those chat blogs here. I should have, especially given this month’s topic, the Future of Design. Maree Conway was my co-host and Design Intelligenceserved as the first geo-host. They were simply fantastic, thank you both!

futrchat experience
In one hour, ninety people from eleven countries posted over 800 comments. Participants came from many backgrounds, futurists, foresight professionals, architects, designers, planners and emergent thinkers of all types. Big business like IBM and Cisco, media like Architecture Record and Reed Construction Data, and institutions like American Architecture Foundation, American Institute of Architects, and International Interior Designers Association came. Plus a slew of brilliant individuals.

And we had a blast. It’s hard for me to describe the onslaught of asynchronistic, collective intelligence experienced at this firehose wide-open pace. You simply cannot digest it all during the chat. Now the ebook seems very calm, orderly. and takes only a bit of time to skim. In contrast, the futrchat experience is not orderly; it’s flat-out chaotic. Yet relevant, useful ideas emerge. You can find patterns and threads. It’s a window into many other worlds through links and exchanges. And ultimately, it simply gives you insights and perspectives from so many people that would be otherwise impossible to access without extreme effort.

We covered design in the broad sense of design and design thinking that applies to objects as well as organizations and issues. One of the questions even dealt with economics – Can design shape future economics? 


Future of Design ebook

Here’s the ebook of the conversation. I generated a table of contents and list of links that were mentioned, indexed participants names/twitter accounts at the back and highlighted some of the best comments, although not all, there’s many others that are equally valuable.

You can read the Future of Design futrchat in the cool ebook format (which I recommend as a higher quality reading experience, and regrettably cannot be embedded here) or by pdf below.

Thanks to all that came to the Association of Professional Futurists futrchat. Next month’s futrchat will be Thursday 18 August 4:00-5:00pm ET/NYC; 9:00pm BST/London; Friday 6:00am Sydney. It’s open to all.

More resources
Before the event, I posted a blog about the future of design on the Profuturists posterous.
After the event, I posted a follow-up blog on the Profuturists posterous.
Previously on this blog, I’ve covered design futures.
And I have a number of links about design on delicious that are worth seeing.

Your ideas — 
If you had been there, or if you were there, what would you say about the future of design? Do designers need to be futurists, or do we even have a claim in that space? Are futurists necessarily designing? Is design innovation essential for us to survive on this planet? What do you think?

image: Seed Cathedral  detail, UK Pavilion Shanghai Expo 2010 by Thomas Heatherwick architect
Bourdeaux Water Gardens by Catherine Mosbach 

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True Green: What’s Wrong with Green Building, Sustainability, and Especially #LEED? #green #architecture


During the July #aiachat, architects sang the praises of sustainable design and green building. Kyle Lee @KyleLEED says, “Green design is not only ‘good’ but a necessity.” @tomorrowsproject says, “67% of our poll respondents say sustainable design is already synonymous with good design.”

Others cite difficulties with increased costs of construction and persuading reluctant clients. In other words, according to this group, ‘why’ we build sustainably has been answered. Consensus reached, amen to that. And then we continue to stumble on the ‘how,’ the pragmatics of execution. Increased initial costs and unwilling clients have long been the one-two knockout punches for sustainable design.

In fact, beyond the community of sustainable design experts, you can hardly miss the frequent challenges. Particularly fierce shots target US Green Building Council’s LEED certification system, the reigning model for green design.

What are the problems with sustainable design?
Here’s a brief recap of the major complaints.

  1. Poor Performance. Some buildings are not living up to their promised energy efficiencies. Legal ramifications of de-certification are flying.
  2. Credibility. The ever-present bugaboo, greenwashing, undermines the credibility of the entire green tech industry. As The Atlantic said, being green is just too easy.
  3. Conflicting Standards. The myriad of green codes, regulations, and standards such as LEED, state or city energy codes, and BREEAM confuses clients and experts. Sometimes the criteria conflict. Which should we follow?
  4. Low Standards. LEED isn’t strict enough. For instance, according to recent report by Environment and Human Health, Inc., the highest level of LEED (platinum) does not mandate clean air quality and allows toxic materials. Does LEED actually protect human health?
  5. Weak Design. Frank Gehry continues to profess allegiance to sustainability while condemning the methods, specifically LEED. Why don’t we simply let A/E professionals use their judgment?
  6. Lacks Vision. LEED doesn’t inspire designers. It fails to represent true sustainability in a holistic sense including social justice, beauty, spirituality, quality of life, and education. It’s simply a checklist, not a transformational concept.
  7. User Complaints. Most recently, people that live in LEED buildings have started their own anti-sustainability campaign.

Gives even the most devoted believer pause, doesn’t it? What happened to the magic? Where’s the spirit of enthusiasm that inspired a movement? Are we truly building sustainably? Is LEED completely inadequate? Is there a fundamental lack of public support?

How should responsible, environmentally-concerned AEC professionals respond?

From this list of attacks, I see a pattern of three significant types of problems.

  • Is LEED the best option for sustainable design? Several of the items (performance, user complaints, and conflicting standards) confront LEED. Does it need tweaks or a major overhaul? Or should we throw it out and move on to a better system?
  • Why is there a war between sustainability and design excellence? Can green building and good design co-exist? Gehry gave it air, but believe you me, he’s got a whole cadre of cheerers. Lines are drawn.
  • In terms of sustainable buildings and cities, where do we go from here? Is there support for sustainable design in the long run? And frankly, exactly what is sustainable design? (You might think I’d start here, but I’d rather jump into the middle instead, grapple with some particulars, build some context, and see how those situations influence the abstract idea of sustainable design.)

Sustainable design is after all the single most critical problem that the modern building community has ever faced. Rather than the promised upward trend of endless new technologies and progressive growth, we have discovered epic mistakes, some that are irreversible. Our buildings make people, ecologies, even the planet sick. We abuse energy, waste resources, and destroy natural systems.

So where do we start? How do we learn a new way of thinking? Watching the tsunami of environmental catastrophes aggregate, brilliant people have pondered the problem for decades. We have practiced many new ways over the past ten or fifteen years.

More than that, environmental damage represents the first massive step backward that the industrialized construction industry has ever faced. We don’t even have the patterns required for identifying, analyzing, and solving problems at this scale. It’s nothing short of a new way of living; a new way of being.

If in fact, we shape our buildings, and thereafter they shape us, are we sick too?

A True Green Series
I have my ideas. And I bet you do too. I plan to tackle this list, and perhaps a few other stray topics, over a series of posts.

I hope you’ll read, and more than that, I hope you’ll join the conversation – here or on twitter where you’ll find me as @urbanverse.

Because I sure don’t have all the answers, or know everything. I know what I know from my experiences and study. And thanks to the joy of internet and research methods, I can gather a lot of data.

I believe it’s important to open the conversation. Complaints deserve fair analysis. And I believe the more we challenge our practices, values, and solutions, the better our work.

Are we true green? Are you creating truly sustainable environments? Are we giving future generations a reasonable chance?

Hang on, bumpy road ahead.

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