The Best Architects think like Children

The Architectural profession is interesting. The stereotypical architect must be able to draw, is great with math, has a big ego, does not listen to their clients, wears funky glasses, and is rich. The reality is an architect needs to understand building science, listen and hear really well, act as a mediator, act ethically, balance multiple projects at once, have thick skin and accept criticism well, and if their lucky will make enough to pay the bills this month. Architects have a mystic to them that other professions lack. There are professional organizations and magazines that continue to push the idea of high design that is beautiful before functional, that creates a statement rather than fulfills a need, that if you have to ask then you cannot afford. Then there is the reality that only very few architects design those buildings that make the covers of magazines. Many architects are sitting at their desks worrying about a flashing detail at the top of a parapet wall – can the builder get this right in the field, did I include enough information, will they think it is too complicated, will it really work? Architecture is about the details, wonder, imagination, problem solving, and again LISTENING. The best Architects think like children when they are designing. All things are possible and the solution just needs to be found. So be the best Architect you can be, follow these tips to keep thinking like a child:

1. Don’t be afraid to fall down and get bruises

Children know they are going to fall down if they run too fast but that does not stop them. They might need a hug or a bandaid to make them feel better, but this is what allows them to explore freely and learn without hesitation. Architects need to take on their projects with this same approach. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, explore new options, and to be wrong. As Albert Einstein said “You never fail until you stop trying.”

2. Don’t listen

Well listen to your clients wants and needs, but then interpret them into the solution they are asking for rather than the solution they think they need. In most cases they will thank you for showing them there is a better way, in some cases they will fire you and hire an architect that does what they say…

3. Make new friends everywhere

One, you never know who will need your services so always look for opportunities to build relationships and to help others. Building community will benefit you as well as everyone else that wants the best for the community. Two, you will need help to make your designs work. Having a network of people who you can count on for answers is critical in being a good architect. I have no idea how an architect that is not an active member of the Construction Specifications Institute can get the answers they need from people they trust on any topic in the construction industry. Networking is the key in our industry for survival, but this is one organization that I know I cannot live without and would recommend you not hiring architects that are not involved in it.

4. Keep your blankie close by

I don’t know many architects that carry a blankie to work, but I would be interested to hear from any that do.. What I mean here is keep your comfort zone close by, but be willing to venture out and test the waters around what you already know. Watching my daughters deal with stress is always a learning experience. Frequently they go get their blankie and that makes things better. They continue to learn and grow by experiencing the situation, but want that added level of comfort by their side just in case things go wrong and they need it. As architects our clients are paying us for our past experiences, but if that is all we give them our projects will never grow, evolve, improve, or enhance the status quo.

5. Take a time out

This is the hardest thing for me to do. We all need down time to recharge our brains to allow us to function at the top of our game. Don’t be afraid to take time off from working to learn, grow, and relax.

6. Be an artist 

As an architect, you get to express your artistic freedom in design. Sure it may be limited to a minor detail as clients usually know what they want (they just don’t know how to draw it and make it work), but you have to be creative to be successful. Architects might not be the best freehand artists in the room (some are) but they need to keep their hands free to be able to create the best solutions.

7. Cry

Sometimes you fall down, you get called names, you get beat up – allow yourself to express the disappointment that you experience. Design is a very emotional exercise and every architect puts their heart on their sleeve when they hand off their designs to their clients and to builders. The builder is almost obligated today to say “well this is going to cost too much” or “why in the world did your architect do THAT?” Some people will like your work, some people will call you a sell out for simply adding white columns and red brick to an over sized house aesthetic that is being used as a commercial building… You have to be willing to accept that not everyone will like what you do and those people will never hire you. You cannot win them all over, so cry, feel bad about it, then move on to the next project.

8. Speak your mind

There is nothing better than the words of a child. They see the world in such a pure and innocent way and are not afraid to point out the obvious without regard to the political correctness of it. An architect needs to be tactful to avoid being fired on the spot, but must be open, honest, and blunt with their clients. Sometimes a square peg just does not fit in a round hole.

9. Have Fun

Remember, there is no other job in the world that will let you hear someones dream, draw it on paper, and see it get built. This is the greatest profession in the world. There will be stress, criticism, hard times, tight financial times, but in the end architecture is FUN.

10. Always remember to say your prayers at night

An architect has the huge responsibility of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the general public, their clients, and future inhabitants of their projects. Can you even imagine the level of stress I felt when the earthquake shook 90% of our projects. My first thought was “did we design to resist that” me second was “I hope nobody got hurt.” With every heavy wind, snow, rain, earthquake, tornado, frat party, piano purchase I think about the level of care and attention I need to make with every detail I design. Water damage is slow and deadly to a building. Something that was right today might be rotted tomorrow. We hold a huge amount of responsibility on our shoulders so say your prayers that you don’t make a mistake, take your time to get it right, and hopefully you will be able to sleep tonight.

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