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Negativity in Architecture

JonathanLivingston

How do you cope with it? I found it was easy to sit with a critique during school because I had put 100% into a project, late nights went above and beyond. So when someone had a valid critique it was useful and appreciated, and the invalid or small inconsequential comments were easy to brush aside. (That material choice, graphic style, any number of subjective things a juror chose to opine about) I had given my all, it is what it is and I will be better the next time around. 

Fast forward a decade and a half into an architectural career. I can't give 100% all the time. The inconsequential comments seem to affect me a lot more. I feel guilty when someone points out something missed or incorrect. After all, I went home at five o'clock, I didn't work through the night. Remember that time I checked archinect during the day instead of working harder? If I had worked harder maybe I would have caught that error. I just had a client tell me they were "shocked that a professional would forget to add outlets under the sink for a garbage disposal in a house" like I was some kind of idiot for missing that. That's a small example.  But after years of it, and an ever-increasing culture of "I know how to design" and "I could have been an Architect" seems to be making it worse.

On top of that the older I get the more I know can go wrong. The more I worry. The more I find myself thinking about what could go wrong, and focusing on it. Sometimes it's what makes me a good architect but it has also colored my outlook on a lot of life. at times made me feel like a pessimist. focusing on what's wrong in life, just like each client, supervisor, and plans examiner does with my work. 

It has contributed to depression, and difficulty maintaining motivation. I need to find a better way to cope with the negativity. My default is to work harder, so I can feel confident I have given my best and that's all I can give. That's not sustainable. Maybe it's just the nature of professional services, everyone hires an architect to deliver the perfection that they cannot. Sometimes I think about how much more pleasing life would be if I could just sell a widget and be happy. Not have to carry this weight of service, expectations, and constant high performance.

Tell me how you cope with the negativity in the profession?  

 
Jan 26, 21 12:24 pm
Non Sequitur

I've said this a few times to staff and contractors: "Nothing is so important that it can't wait until tomorrow."... even if it's on fire. Clients appreciate good and careful work rather than rushed work even if it takes an extra day or so.  If they don't, then it's time to look for better clients/projects, it's not time to bend over 7 times.

   

Jan 26, 21 12:37 pm  · 
10  · 
x-jla

It’s a 2 part question. 


First part has to do with the firm not providing sufficient time to do 100%.  Maybe sit down with them and explain that 100% should be attainable within the confines of a normal schedule


Second part is mental.  You need to accept that you will make mistakes, and that these mistakes are not reflective of your worth, but probably more so of an unsustainable office culture.  I’m definitely not saying to blame others, but just understand that you can only do so much with what they are giving you to work with. It’s definitely a hard thing to deal with when you have high expectations for yourself, and you are being rushed and having to sacrifice quality.  We shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality for sanity.  Accept this type of criticism, that may come a a less refined point, is a necessary part of the process under these constraints.  In a perfect environment you may achieve 99.9% before critique phase.  In this imperfect environment you may achieve 95% before critique phase.  So, utilize their energy to makeup 5% more Post critique rather than 0.1% post critique. 

Jan 26, 21 12:47 pm  · 
2  · 
proto

"architecture is not an emergency" - proto, 20th/21st cen philosopher 

Jan 26, 21 1:12 pm  · 
8  · 
citizen

I'd amend the thread title to Negativity in Life.  We experience it in our field in certain ways, and others do differently.  ("I'm shocked that a professional would misspell a name on an important contract," or "enter the wrong figures into a financial document," or "not catch a precancerous mole.")  These things happen.  Sometimes they're missed, other times pointed by someone who's shocked! that someone made a mistake.  We apologize if we were at fault.  Where we can, we try to rectify.  Where we can't, we chalk it up.

Longer term, what we do mentally (and dare I suggest spiritually) with these occurrences is up to us.  It helps me to remember all the times I've done something right, even though nobody seemed to notice.  Or the mistakes others have made and somehow survived.  Or the pattern of conduct among those make it a hobby to flag others' errors.  

For me, it can take some time to process and let go of a big blunder, especially if it's widely known.  This doesn't happen overnight.  I'll still cringe in the moment.  But the small stuff I let go of quickly, and am working applying that to bigger stuff when it happens.  Because it does, and will.

As for others' negativity, that's their choice, and way beyond my control.

Jan 26, 21 1:15 pm  · 
5  · 
citizen

^ Right there... grammar error. Slight cringe. In the old days I'd've emailed Archinect begging to be let in and correct it. Now... meh.

 · 

It's architecture, not curing cancer.  

Do your best, strive to improve.  In the long run it doesn't matter enough to sacrifice your well being.  

Jan 26, 21 1:30 pm  · 
3  · 

It's architecture, not curing cancer? It might make it worse, but curing probably not.

 · 
apscoradiales

JonathanLivingston ,

You need a vacation or a break from the job.

If it wasn't for the virus, i'd recommend a trip to Vienna or Rome. Maybe you should hop in a car and drive around mid-west, and west USA for a few weeks or couple of months. Highway 90 from Uvalde, TX to Van Horne is a real  nice, peaceful drive with many places to stop  by and contemplate life's events. You should try it.

Jan 26, 21 1:32 pm  · 
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Rusty!

Big part of my work is constant QA/QC of junior staff work so that we don't end up with curtainwall painted with "Benjamin Moore Eggshell". But this effort is always framed as a learning experience. When it comes to obvious omissions it's always phrased as "we need to add/select xyz". This extends to senior staff as well. It's OK not to know everything or be on top of everything at all times. We are a team and should behave as such. I have little no conflict with anyone. When I do see conflicts between others it's almost always conflicts of interest. So make your personal happiness your priority. And defend that interest.

Not sure what to tell you about contractors and owners though. It's a relationship that needs constant nurture, so if owner is rude to your face, that relationship has already been rocky for a while. "shocked that a professional would forget to add outlets under the sink for a garbage disposal in a house". "We are hardwiring the disposal. Not getting a refurbished plug in unit from Walmart" Blank stare. This is where your skill to bullshit (and you've been learning to BS since school days) really comes in handy. 

Bigger problem would be if you are really not into this profession at all. Doing something you don't really want to be doing and then being criticized on top of that is the worst feeling in the world. 

Jan 26, 21 2:27 pm  · 
3  · 
whistler

Managing expectations is a big part of the process, ( another thing they don't teach you in school ) Expectations of clients, budgets, staff, authorities.  Having a clear understanding of what can be achieved is something which I am challenged with everyday, but if I don't have those conversations projects and emotions can go sideways in a hurry.  I do find though that when you have those conversations early everyone gets dialled in right away and that is  a very, very successful first step in meeting goals and objectives for a project.  If they are realistic from early on, the project can be way more successful as deemed by those involved. It doesn't mean it will be on the cover of a magazine but the project will be successful on its own terms.  Not every project is a home run, sometimes a standup double is just as good and maybe just as purposeful.

Jan 26, 21 2:42 pm  · 
2  · 

I just had a client tell me they were "shocked that a professional would forget to add outlets under the sink for a garbage disposal in a house" like I was some kind of idiot for missing that. 

I've also had to remind myself of this, like when I accidentally told the mechanical contractor to install a duct run in a place it ended up preventing the garage door track from being installed: Architects are responsible for tens of thousands of decisions on every project. It's not shocking that a few of them will go wrong or be missed. The garage door guy thought I was an idiot, but he was only responsible for about 20 decisions to my 50,000, and I had already gotten 49,980 of mine right.

Jan 26, 21 3:41 pm  · 
14  · 
Rusty!

On big A projects this is called clash detection and contractor gets a fee to perform this service. From Architect's side, you are to make an effort to minimize such clashes, but it's inevitable and part of the process. MEP, amongst these three letters, is responsible for 99% of clashes.

3  · 
Non Sequitur

99.8%

If it's any consolation, I don't even really know what a garbage compactor is (I can, however, deduct what it does tho).  Never used one, never even seen one in the wild.  This a US thing?

1  · 
Rusty!

Garbage Compactor is a repurposed ice Zamboni. After retirement from Ottawa Senators it flies to Florida and it eats garbage and doesn't move.

1  · 
SneakyPete

A garbage DISPOSAL is something under the sink (one company is the insinkerator) which grids pieces of food into small enough particles that they won't clog your drains. Or, in bizarro America (where I once owned a house) it's where the owner ground up every piece of food that wasn't eaten into a paste that proceeded to fully clog the pipes, resulting in yours truly getting a nice face bath in month old food when I cut out the clogged waste line in the crawl space. (pipes sloped up, to boot)

4  · 
SneakyPete

In other words: fuck garbage disposals.

 · 

I like your description better SP

1  · 
Non Sequitur

Excellent explanations.

 · 
bowling_ball

Garbage compactors are also a thing. Like a dishwasher that crushes your crap. I've never seen one in the wild...

1  · 
JonathanLivingston

Haha yes, small things that don't seem that important in the big scheme of a design. but to a homeowner or client, they carry such immense weight because that's how they experience their space.... every night after dinner we grind the trash down the drain.... everynight.

 · 
JonathanLivingston

Donna, Thank you. "The 20 decisions to my 50,000, and I had already gotten 49,980 right" really hit the nail on the head. The negativity is that it's all this focus on those 20 while the 49,980 go unnoticed. Especially in the day and age of Revit where something simple might require a bunch of work such as creating a custom parametric family only for the conversation to be focused on the fact that it is the wrong color, or after all that work and decisions a change of mind and away you go making the new family only to turn out a bill larger than expected. It just wears on you and the technology is certainly not helping.

3  · 

It DOES wear on us! Be kind to yourself.

1  · 
square.

this is such a good observation. my fear is this is only getting worse, as we keep adding more and more technology, i.e. consultants, to buildings, which have to be managed by us. this trend isn't sustainable; i wonder what/when will be the breaking point, or if architecture will continue to operate in the same way until all we do is manage things. which, btw, is a historical trend found in many other industries and professions such as manufacturing; we're just behind for a lot of complex reasons.

i think this has at least something to do with the negativity in the profession, which unfortunately imo is on a trend towards being less enjoyable- my partner, not an architect, always says she's never met a happy architect. sigh.

 · 
JonathanLivingston

Technology has a lot to do with it. Especially moving towards BIM. The work and problems that we solve (the 49,980 decisions) seem to be further and further obscured from the actual deliverable, and the public perception that technology should be making it easier is not exactly true. Easier perhaps when you finally have a well-established system but also always much much more complex. There is more obscured knowledge, more embedded decisions.

2  · 
quasi-arch

I've been trying very hard to take architecture less personally. I try really hard to get things close to 100% in CD's so that we avoid all of the pain in CA, but often there isn't time/budget or everyone will insist on kicking the detail can down the road (ugh). Especially in CA, I try to be as objective as possible--that's one of the things I do (or used to?) enjoy about CA. If the client VE'd it but it meets that VE spec, then so be it, even if I think it will look terrible.

Invariably though, CA is when you'll discover you've made a mistake, and it's always a bit painful to reconcile if it's truly your fault. Sometimes you can be super thorough in your drawings, 3 rounds of submittal review or shop drawings, and it will still be installed incorrectly (or you get the classic contractor, "oh, we didn't price that"). That's when negativity really hits for me, like I've wasted all of my time anyways. In the end, as long as it's not a legal liability issue, I just try to chalk it up as "who cares." Still stresses me out though!

Jan 26, 21 4:01 pm  · 
1  · 
On the fence

Increase your errors and omissions insurance.  

Jan 26, 21 4:37 pm  · 
 · 

I think a lot it for me has been mental and having supportive mentors/supervisors/employers. Perfection should never be the expectation. 

One of the first projects I was working on I detailed something with the stairs incorrectly and it was caught by the fabricator or something. I felt absolutely terrible and I was afraid it was going to come out of my paycheck or something to pay to correct the error. PM was like, "Forget about it. Mistakes happen and documents are never perfect." That has stuck with me. I probably would have come away with a completely different attitude about it all if he'd been a jerk about it. 

Now I point out other people's mistakes, and it is so much more fun to be on the giving rather than receiving end! I'm mostly joking as there is still the stress of feeling like you have to catch all the mistakes before a project goes out the door. I also try to be that supportive supervisor/mentor and not make anyone feel like they're a failure for making a mistake. No one wins that way.

Jan 26, 21 4:57 pm  · 
8  · 
JonathanLivingston

EA I think what you point out is a big factor in my perception of these issues. I never felt that I had an interested mentor. Getting IDP hours approved was like pulling teeth, and I have had experiences where I was asked to work "off the clock" to correct mistakes, or been thrown under the bus for issues because I was willing to take ownership and responsibility for projects. Taking responsibility led to increased opportunities but also increased stress. Years later I'm starting to realize how heavily I carry that responsibility and trying to find ways to let some of it go without sacrificing my work ethic. A supportive and collaborative team would go a long way, the majority of the work I do currently is on my own.

3  · 

Good mentorship is key IMO at creating good architects and future firm leaders. Unfortunately, I've seen too many teams where instead of a good leader taking ownership of the mistakes, they just throw others under the bus and it creates a very toxic work environment. Hoping you can find a better balance.

 · 
JonathanLivingston

Thanks all for your responses. I really appreciate this community. 

Jan 26, 21 7:24 pm  · 
5  · 
archi_dude

There is a book called "The Subtle Art of Mot Giving a F@$%" I would give it a read. It's not actually about not caring but about strategically saving your stress and worry for things that actually matter. 

Jan 27, 21 12:03 am  · 
1  · 
midlander

I once double counted a field in an excel table leading us to design a garage about 30 spaces short for an apartment tower project. oops! it got picked up in SD and had no meaningful impact on anything but I was so embarrassed and afraid for my job when the client noticed the numbers didn't add up.


But my boss just shrugged it off and we fixed it while going through other design revisions. Mistakes are part of the process, and if they get built into the project then there wasn't enough process.


for things like garbage disposal outlets maybe you could put together a checklist to discuss with clients and use to review the drawings. it would show them you are thinking ahead and give them a chance to consider any other assumptions they have which you might not be aware of.

Jan 27, 21 8:50 am  · 
 · 
tintt

I roll past the mistakes. Or try to. Had an intense client meeting yesterday and forgot to pick my daughter up from school. Oops. Had an intense client meeting a few days ago and drove the wrong way down a one-way street immediately afterwards. I chalk it up to being blonde. I hope the client wasn't looking out their window to see their highly educated "genius" architect drive the wrong way down the street. Pulled up a detail I did months ago that I thought I pulled all the errors out of, still found another error. Screwed up the sf calc on a messy addition project. Fessed up to it and fixed it, reducing the footprint of someone's project. That one sucked. I often drive myself nuts trying to proofread everything 4 times. Can't do that. Have to be ok with being human.

Jan 27, 21 9:05 am  · 
 · 
SneakyPete

I haven't been formally diagnosed, but I've been told I likely have dysthymia. It might explain why I'm the person in the meeting pointing out the problems and issues as opposed to getting excited about the project. Why I don't want to put in the effort even though I know I should want to, since this is a field where, from time to time, I get really excited about the projects and when it happens it's like someone opened a window and I realize there's a sky and sun out there. Why I can explain, in very persuasive language, why young people definitely should become architects but then feel nothing but antipathy about the profession as it concerns me. Why I am endlessly proud of the projects that I have helped bring to completion but never tell anyone about them because I don't want to seem to be bragging. None of my friends, save one or two, even know what I have done.

Didn't know where to put this. Don't know if it's appropriate here.


Bad day.

Jan 28, 21 1:11 pm  · 
10  · 
Non Sequitur

Nothing is inappropriate in your comment. 

Not sure how it is elsewhere, but today happens to be national mental health day in canada.

1  · 
citizen

I relate to at least half of what you report, Pete. Thank you for this gift, because that's what it is for me when when folks disclose some of their stuff on here. It helps to not feel so isolated.

^ And timely that you added that item, Non.  I was going to propose a Mental Health Central thread.

5  · 
Wood Guy

Citizen, you've suggested that a few times--if you don't start one by tomorrow, I will. ;-)

3  · 
SneakyPete

I was going to put this in one, but couldn't find one, and didn't feel like it was my place to make one.

 · 
citizen

Procrastination on big stuff is one of my issues, WG. But if you need a spot-on, funny gif, I can do it in nanoseconds; much lower stakes.

1  · 
Wood Guy

Believe me, I'm the king of procrastination! Isn't that what this forum is mostly for? LOL. If it's not stepping on toes, I think we're overdue for a mental health thread.

3  · 
mightyaa

FYI; The legal standard for 'standard of care' is not perfection and never has been.  Additionally, I've got a few references I use that essentially state ANY set of documents will result in 2-4% of additional construction cost resulting from errors and omissions. (Put that in contrast with how much you are contracted for...) Another thought to consider is standard of care is essentially a decisions made by any of your peers in same or similar situations. My job (expert) is also a lot easier; it is simply easier to locate the problem in hindsight.  

Basically, everyone is human and regularly makes or forgets something. Don't beat yourself up. We tend to remember our mistakes a lot more than what we got right. "Doctors bury their mistakes, Architects plant ivy."


Jan 28, 21 5:32 pm  · 
3  · 
quasi-arch

This is a good reminder about the standard of care that I've been thinking about. Perfection is indeed difficult to achieve. Keeping this in mind as today's CA disaster has just rolled in (and it's only Monday!)

 · 

If the Owner/Client and Contractor truly wanted to end up with the best designed and built project they would have a less confrontational attitude and just tell you that an outlet under the sink is needed for a garbage disposal.

But get this just because you have an outlet does not mean a garbage disposal will be able to work, it has to be allowed in your city, it has to fit (deep sinks don't work) it has to be positioned for ADA access if it is an accessible space. So there are a bunch of things to figure out, if your contractor was committed to executing a good project and not racking up change orders then the conversations would be different.

I like to establish rapport with contractors when I can because their input is essential for a successful project.

If negativity is an issue might I suggest not doing high end/custom single family residential, this kind of work is way too personal for the clients and anything that goes wrong escalates to a level 11 crisis be it a missing outlet or some variation in the handmade bathroom tiles. Sometimes these high net worth (real or imaginary net worth) clients will never stop calling you because they spent so much money that they feel entitled to use and abuse you. Also the wealthier the client is the less likely they will pay in full.

Over and OUT

Peter N



Feb 8, 21 10:51 pm  · 
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