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    CALL FOR COMMENTS: Panel discussion on the future of the profession

    Nicole Fichera Nov 9 '11 9

    Hello Archinecters!

    So in recent news, my boss, David Hacin, has been selected as the guest editor for the March issue of ArchitectureBoston magazine--and he's enlisted me as his right hand in putting the magazine together.

    It has been so much fun so far. I love writing and editing and refining ideas, so this is right up my alley. David, like me, is an optimist, and he wants to use this issue to look critically but optimistically at the future of Boston and of the profession.

    We are focusing on a theme of Change, but in a very specific sense: looking forward without looking back. It's a phrase that's been in my head a lot lately [and the title of my first post on this blog]

     

    CHANGE: LOOKING FORWARD WITHOUT LOOKING BACK

    Here's what I originally pitched as the concept:

    Discussions of change and newness in Boston are often characterized by self-conscious references to the past: terms like ‘Boston Brahmin’ bring to mind a stodgy, brick-loving city of conservative naysayers. We get wrapped up in our own stereotypes, in what we lack that other cities have, in defending and criticizing ourselves before we even start to say anything.

    We propose shedding all of these references for an issue which focuses on looking forward without looking back. We love our city’s history, but this issue needs to celebrate the fast-moving, multi-generational, diverse, dynamic, inspiring, innovative community that is here right now, and is continuing to grow.

    We have a unique problem: we have the talent, the high concentration of forward-thinking designers, the wide-ranging portfolio and the academic energy. All we have to do is overcome our own grumpy modesty and be excited about our own vibrant community. Boston is a thriving and influential city. Let’s embrace that.

    The world, the profession, and the city are changing. We have the chance to redefine ourselves on our own terms—in terms of what we are now [not in terms of dated Boston stereotypes]. What are those terms going to be? What agendas are we setting for ourselves: as a city, as a publication, as a profession? Forget where we’ve been. Where are we going?

     

    So that's the brief. Looking forward without looking back. We've got a bunch of great articles lined up, but for today I'm going to focus on one of them, because I'm looking for some feedback.

    I included this quote by a well-known marketing and brand expert at the beginning of the post: "It's not possible for the world to hold a meeting to decide your value. That decision is all yours." Challenging perception is the way to real change. What do we want to be as architects, as city-dwellers, as thinkers, as citizens? How do we define our own value?

     

    THE FUTURE OF THE PROFESSION: YOUNG ARCHITECTS PANEL DISCUSSION

    For one of the features in the magazine, I am going to be running a panel discussion that's very close to my heart: the future of the profession as seen by young architects.

    Right now, I'm refining the topics of conversation. I'm going to include them below, and I'm hoping that you'll take the time to comment. Am I missing questions? Any reactions? Could something be pointed in a different direction? I want to know what you think.

    Why did you want to become an architect?
    Sure, this question is a bit cliche. But I know that the answer is different for my generation than it was for generations past. I want to know the new answers.

    Importance of licensing + architecture that doesn’t need to be registered
    I want to know what young architects are thinking about licensing. There are so many implications for licenses: exclusivity, achievement, legitimacy, cost/benefit [especially in terms of time required to get the license]. And there are lots of project types that don't require licensing, or you can get someone to stamp things for you. But maybe that stamp is still an important signifier.

    Do you have to build buildings to be an architect? If not, what is the line?
    I like this question, because when I look at the websites of young architects, I often don't see any "architecture". I see graphic design, photography, installations, competitions, essays, sculpture, paintings and diagrams. So are we architects if these are our portfolios? What does it mean for architecture if the definition stretches in this way?

    What are the new architect stereotypes?
    This goes back to the Google Images search I posted. We can agree that many architecture stereotypes are antiquate: blueprints, T-squares, maybe round glasses and bowties. So if we could remap that Google image search--what would be in it? What are the new stereotypes? What do we want them to be?

    Is our profession ‘glamorous’? Should it be / do we want it to be?
    This question is potentially controversial, but I think it's an important one to ask. Despite the long nights of CAD and modelmaking and the long days of submittals and punchlists, our profession can be pretty sexy at times. Architects find their way into pop culture whenever a screenwriter or author needs someone to be smart and sexy and interesting--enough seriousness, enough artsiness. And related professions, like interior design, can be extremely glamorous. It's FUN to make beautiful places happen, to go to parties and be in magazines, to be recognized for your hard work.  How do we feel about that? Do we want more or less?

    Collaboration with non-traditional business partners
    This is one of my favorites. I love to think about what a firm would look like as a partnership between and architect and a lawyer, or an architect and a manufacturer. Are there partnerships that you think are ripe and interesting? Is this an idea that would never work?

    Two parallel professional lives: Working for someone vs. working on your own projects
    This is a reality for many young architecture professionals. Where do you get your greatest satisfaction? Do you work at a place that does amazing work, but you need to do renovations for your parents' friends to pay the bills? Or the opposite--are you in a job that supports you financially, but work on competitions and side projects to keep your creative juices flowing?

    Career tracking and professional development
    This is a topic I became interested in through my work in the nonprofit sector with Foster Skills. I am an Ambassador for the Young Nonprofit Professionals Network, which is a group that focuses on providing professional development opportunities for nonprofit employees. With many nonprofits and startups, the structure is horizontal, people wear many hats, there is no support staff, and the HR department is nonexistent. In this kind of unstructured environment, it is difficult to get a clear sense of where you're going--and whether its worth it. This is also the case at many small architecture firms. How do we feel about that? Are we responsible for finding our own mentors and opportunities? or should our offices perhaps be supporting us more in this capacity?

    What kinds of firms make you want to work there?
    When you look at a firm's work or website, what makes you say, 'What I wouldn't give to work at that place..."? Sexy projects? Tasteful graphics? A thoughtful mission? A clear focus? Educational opportunities? A person that works there? Or something different altogether? These are the kinds of answers that I know employers are interested in hearing.

    Integration of design process [designer-developer, design-build, soup-to-nuts design]
    Redundancy and bureaucracy are frustrating for everyone. And as I wrote about in this post, the closer you are to the decision maker, the better the project is for all parties. So why not be the decision maker? Why not be both developer and architect--buy the property, design it and sell it yourself at a profit, making your own value engineering judgments along the way? or why not design something and build it yourself, so that your client's fee is not being split in so many directions between design team and contracting team? I know there are logistical issues with these scenarios, but there are firms doing both with great sucess--is that something young architects want more of?

    Sustainable practices in the real world, and making a difference
    In my experience, a lot of young architects are a little tired of hearing about green this and LEED that. But sustainability is still a concern for many people--how are we thinking about that? What are our definitions of sustainability? Is it solar panels, or reductionism, or flexible use and durability? or does it go further, into economics and perception and education and attitude change? What paths do we want to take toward changing the world for the better?

     

    PLEASE: FEEDBACK!!

    So those are some ideas...but I'm hoping you have comments, concerns, questions and more ideas! I want this panel to bring new ideas about the profession to light, to a place where we can look objectively at their possibilities and flaws. I'm looking forward to hearing what you all think.

     

     
    • 9 Comments

    • randydeutsch
      Nov 9, 11 1:51 pm

      Hi Nicole,

      Great opportunities - putting a magazine together, using social media to garner comments from the community. Glad to see you're making the most of it, while having some fun along the way.

      In your initial post you wrote that you are interested in 1. alternative modes of architectural practice and 2. ways one can apply an architectural education to other non-traditional career paths. Why not use the panel to further investigate your interests by shaping two - related but dissimilar - questions along these lines? I have to believe many others are equally interested in these subjects.

      One suggestion: once you've gathered comments and suggestions, pare them down to the most essential and ask them in a way that is provocative. Panelists are asked the same questions over and over - best to put your spin on them. Maintain a longer list of questions should time allow; but the goal ought to be to have the panelists respond, in depth, to a few key questions, rather than respond breezily to a lengthy list. Keep up the great posts!

       

      Stephanie
      Nov 9, 11 2:13 pm

      Hello Nicole, thanks for the opportunity to answer your questions! I hope it's not too long...

      1. I wanted to become an architect because I wanted to change systems with design. That's not just my post-graduate self looking back either. I have always been a critical person; critical of institutional systems and infrastructure, industry and education. I thought that I could use design to bring new ideas about how these systems operate in the world.

      2. I graduated in Europe, where the licensing and registration procedure is very different and less complicated. When i graduated, I became an architect, not an intern architect, junior architect, or whatever the term is these days. If I ever go back to Canada I will probably make an effort to get my degree certified, but I don't plan on practicing there so I probably won't go through the tedium of mentorship, internship, and testing.

      3. I don't think you need to build buildings, but implementing projects (whether they be landscape projects, urban public spaces, pavilions, urban furnishings, etc.) should definitely be a part of practice. I've never understood the concept of non-practicing architects in academia. I think if you want to take a less practice-based approach, you should be called something else.

      4. Architects don't sleep and they don't make any money. I feel like architects take pride in these things, which they really shouldn't. It's shameful the way graduates will accept unpaid or low-paid internships… and the firms that offer these internships show that they don't really value creativity.

      5. My old boss told me that there are only three things you need to know to be an architect: cutting, gluing, and coloring. I think our profession is like a glamorous kindergarten. We get to be creative but in a productive way. We get to touch on so many other interesting fields and meet all the wonderfully talented people who inspire others with their photography, graphics, art, craftsmanship and vision. I think we have a little more fun even when it's stressful. And we definitely drink more champagne then the average professional.

      6. I would love to collaborate with almost ANY other business. One of my early goals for designing systems was to come up with a waste re-use and remediation scheme between industrial producers in oil and gas. Of course, first they would have to admit to actually producing waste…

      7. Ideally I'd like to work on my own projects. But first I'd like to get experience in the framework and structure of a firm that already has some established design processes and procedures. In Europe you don't really have to make a choice between being creative and making a living because architects are really involved in so many more projects then in North America where it seems like small offices are mostly relegated to residential renovations.

      8. Horizontal structures seem more conducive to creative work because everyone has expertise and experience and their own interests to contribute. I don't think your goal as an architect should ever be to 'move up' some predetermined hierarchy. I just want to gain experience and learn, and feel like I can freely contribute. Putting labels like 'junior architect' or 'intern' when some people have had 5 or 6 years of experience is pointless.

      9. I admire firms that have a sense of humor; firms that have a simple and well laid out website; firms that have a blog or try to create a connection with the world and community around them. I get scared of firms that have serious looking old guys in suits. I also try to avoid firms that have a visible imbalance of men and women. The projects obviously have a lot to do with how I perceive the firm. You can tell the difference between firms who genuinely integrate ecological design as a foundation in their projects, and those that slap on terms like 'sustainability' after the fact.

      10. I have never known what 'soup-to-nuts' means. If any integration should occur it should be in the education phase. Other creative disciplines work on real-life projects straight away (graphic designers making CD covers, business cards, posters for shows, etc.) We live in a completely shielded world with no constraints. That is pointless. If we worked on real projects with real parameters to begin with, we probably wouldn't need to bridge so many gaps later. I don't think design-build should be a specialty, it should be normal.

      11. Some architects pride themselves on meeting the 'standards' for green building design. We shouldn't meet the standards… we should exceed them. Everytime. Always. No questions asked. Sustainable and ecological practices should be so commonplace that we don't even discuss them anymore. It's not a point of pride if you make sustainable projects… but it's pretty disgusting if you don't. 

      Best of luck with the articles :)

      Stephanie

      Nicole FicheraNicole Fichera
      Nov 9, 11 2:57 pm

      Randy,

      I like that idea--return the focus to the initial two points of exploration. I will keep that in mind as I'm pulling my thoughts together. Great suggestions on structuring the panel discusison. Much appreciated--I will keep you posted as this progresses.

      Nicole FicheraNicole Fichera
      Nov 9, 11 3:25 pm

      Wow, Stephanie! What a thoughtful, rich response.

      I love this: "We live in a completely shielded world with no constraints. That is pointless. If we worked on real projects with real parameters to begin with, we probably wouldn't need to bridge so many gaps later. I don't think design-build should be a specialty, it should be normal."

      Exactly.

      mleitner
      Nov 10, 11 6:54 pm

      Hi Nicole, great opportunity and great thoughts. One idea for you:

      How about you give your first question a little focus and spin:
      What impact did you want to make when you set out to become an architect?
      After all architects are visionaries. They take on their profession because they waned to make a difference.

      Then, to explore how the profession and our world has changed, you can then follow up with a second question:
      What are the most important ways architects can contribute to our society and built environment today?

      Best, Martin

      Nicole FicheraNicole Fichera
      Nov 10, 11 7:08 pm

      Martin,

      I love the refined focus on the first question. It's interesting, because it's even a sort of modern way to ask the question: impact. My boss said he wanted to become an architect because he loved to draw--a totally different ball game than making an impact. And your second question should hopefully elicit some very specific responses.

      Thanks for your feedback.

      ariana
      Nov 12, 11 9:30 pm

      Great post, with many great thoughts...

      Congrats and good luck to you and your boss!

      EllaStelter
      Nov 16, 11 11:29 am

      I love the idea of a discussion and analysis about the future of the architecture, especially for young folks.  I don't want us to become a "lost generation"!

      Why did you want to become an architect? 
I wanted to become an architect for the same reason I wanted to found Nestiv ( http://nestiv.com ).  I love problem solving.  There are so many different types and scales of issues to address in architecture.  This is also why I prefer projects with specific goals and constraints- it is energizing to me.
      Do you have to build buildings to be an architect? If not, what is the line?
Yes, but that isn't to say you can't take the skills you learned studying architecture and apply them to other design issues.
      What are the new architect stereotypes? 
I suppose the old one is they wear all black, silly glasses, and have no sense of humor, and are more focused on impressing other architects than their clients.  The new stereotype, unemployed maybe?
      Collaboration with non-traditional business partners.
 Architects need to break out of our traditional business models, they aren't serving anyone well.  We could learn a lot, and expand our scope and profit through partnerships. 
      Career tracking and professional development
. I don't work a traditional architecture job, but have been involved in professional and non-profit organizations, namely USGBC.  This has helped me greatly, putting me into contract with some awesome people who have been willing to help with my professional development.  For example, our previous chair acted as my mentor, allowing me to finish off my remaining hours of IDP.  They have also offered valuable advice.  If your office doesn't provide support, or you don't work in an office, get involved.  People are often willing to help you if you are willing to help others.
      Integration of design process [designer-developer, design-build, soup-to-nuts design]. As mentioned before, I am all about investigating new ways to do the business of architecture.  We need to widen our scope, make ourselves more relevant and help educate the community about the value of good design.  We should aim to get architects involved in the construction of every building, and every building type.  Despite the horrible economy, if we are bold, there is huge potential for growth. 
      Sustainable practices in the real world, and making a difference. 
I love the title of "From a Cause to a Style".  Sustainability is our new cause, and it is what will push architecture forward and help make us more relevant.  The idea of giving it a hard definition rubs me the wrong way.  Architects should challenge themselves and use sustainable design to inform and inspire their designs.  It shouldn't be something tacked on at the end, that would be quite tedious, not to mention less effective.

      jeffry_136
      Nov 18, 11 2:43 pm

      Liz, Looking foward to the next issue.  Some responses to your queries below... hope it helps you to zero in.


      1) WHY - I wanted to be an architect because I love architecture.  Sometimes it really is as simple as that.  At that point, when I had first recognized these inclination, I had very very little idea what architecture was.  Fifteen years later I'm still discovering what this thing is that I love so much.  That is exciting and precisely why I would choose it again and again and again.

      2) LICENSING - Licensing of architects IS important because I respect the right of the public to have buildings designed by capable and responsible professionals.  If there is a hesitation among young architect's I think it may be more aimed at professional organizations like the AIA, NCARB, and sub-orgs like the BSA.  I got my license 3 years out of school but I am extremely hesitant to join a club.  I don't want or need those identifying abbrevations trailing my name around.

       

      3) BUILDINGS - Architect's deal with buildings.  Again, it's as simple as that.  There are many other things that architect-trained-individuals can and will do but at the end of the day it is essential that the words architects and architecture be associated with buildings.  This is simply to provide a robust definition to the discipline notwithstanding the acknowledgment that we are a rather cable and creative group and when times are rough we can eek it out through a host of alternative/tangential endeavors.

      4) STEREOTYPES - Hollywood will always have the sterotypes and they will proliferate for their own ends.  In general architects are more stylish and fashion forward... but this is simply about their affinity for associating 'taste' with 'value.'  The stereotype of the architect as a rich and influential god-like figure may not be as accurate as it once was, but if we (the young architects) are offended by this it may simply be that somewhere in our architectural souls we desire that possibility.

       

      5) GLAMOR - It's a lot of work for very little fame.  Is that glamorous?  I think that a more apt adjective would be mysterious.  We revel in the mystery of what we do.  Nobody understands it, and again while sometimes that is presented as a negative reflection of the discipline I think we secretly enjoy our secrecy.

      6) COLLABORATION - Bring it on.  It's always fun to think about an architect partnering up with a lawyer... its obvious how the architect would benefit... but practially speaking what would the lawyer do all day long?  Collaboration IS a rather trendy and contemporary buzzword... young architects are smart enough to understand the limitations and values of different kinds of collaborations.  We want to take AND give.

       

      7) MOONLIGHTING - It is exceptionally difficult for a student who is used to doing really creative work in the school to adapt to the conventionality of being an employee working on a professional project.  It is very very very rare for anybody, no matter how amazing they are, to make it through the first 5-10 years after school and still have architectural ambitions.  So some do work on the side in order to continuously stoke the creative flame.  Some do work in the hopes of it paying off by relieving them of the necessity to work for someone eles.  Some do it just because they cannot help themselves.

      8) CAREER - Architects are by nature a projective bunch.  We think and fantasize about the future.  Difficult things to deal with in a profession that has very loosy-goosey methods or allowances for moving up the ladder.

      9) FIRMS? - The one's that pay.  We got bills! 

      10) INTEGRATION - The future of making buildings must surely be different then it was last week.  Experts are emerging for all kinds of particular specialities related to the production of buildings.  BIM was not so long ago thought to be the dagger that the architect would yield in their conquest to regain supreme authority... and then contractors figured out that they could build a BIM model much faster and cheaper than an architect.  There is a consultant for everything.  For a normal project, integration is a given and architects need to redifine our role in this integration and we need to exert its value.  For all that the specialists can do better than us not a single one of them can make architecture.  We should be comfortable in stating that.

      11) SUSTAINABILITY - It just is.  We should all be doing it and young architects like myself don't understand what all the fuss is.  When ADA was introduced did the discipline have a 10 year fit over what that meant in terms of form/philosophy/theory.  Every couple of years when the codes are rewritten does anyone make buildins based on the changes.  When Title 9 was enacted in the U.S. did some private organization create a point system to measure the quality/quantity of the women's lockerrooms that needed to be added to university athletic facilities?  These are all, including sustainability, natural and good progressions in the history of humanity.  Sustainability is more talk than substance unfortanetly which is why the conversations will continue.  It has to run its course.
       

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We live in uncertain times. Let's use the uncertainty to redefine the way we are valued and the way we measure ourselves, to create the context for the change we want to make.

Twitter: @NicoleFichera

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