Being an Architect: Questions Answered

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

I am posting this in conjunction with several fellow architects. We are a small , but hopefully growing, group of architects from around the country that are active in social media. Well all media for that matter. This effort is being spearheaded by my good friend Bob Borson of “Life of an Architect” fame. The notion here is to give a set of questions to each Architect and then in turn receive a  wide breadth of answers to those identical questions from architects at various positions, firms and stages in their careers. We all have different experiences and this should give some variety to the notion of what it means to be an Architect.

What kind of projects were you doing when you first started as an architect?

When I started the very first project I worked on was an interior renovation of a commercial space. It was slightly overwhelming at the time, but now as I look back, it was a piece of cake.  But most of my early projects were small and commercial in nature.  Since I was in a small firm, the work was varied. But within my first two years I was working on educational projects, which is where I spend most of my time these days.

How many projects can you expect to be working on at once?

As the owner of the firm it is always every project in the office. At this current time, we have about 10 projects in the office ranging in scope from small commercial renovations to new PK- 5 elementary schools. And each project usually requires the same amount of attention. This is one issue that clients do not always comprehend. Every (yes EVERY) project requires s very similar level of attention and time. Smaller dose not equal simpler. Then there are the project prospects that are not officially “in the office” yet. Those are almost always a solid two to four possibilities that require attention. And then the time spent marketing and looking for new work. So, essentially, I am always treading water trying to make sure I can stay afloat. Every once in a  while I can actually swim! 

Treading water: try to keep you head above water.

Treading water: try to keep you head above water.

How often did/do you work in a team?

Always. Daily. Every project in the office requires me and my employees to work in coordination with various consultants and engineers. I am the person who coordinates the efforts of usually 2 or three other companies to create a cohesive project. That is a large part of my job. Phone calls, emails, meetings are all part of this effort to provide clients with well-coordinated and documented projects. So I spend time reviewing documents from other teams and coordinating them with mine throughout the entire design process.

Also I may be one of the few architects that view construction as a team effort. Now this is not usually a team I get to choose, but still I feel that I am part of the construction team and it should be viewed as such and not in an adversarial manner. But that is not always the case when I have no control over the selection of the Construction companies I work with. Public sector work does not always allow such freedoms, and so sometimes, you get what you get. But I always strive to make the best of every situation and foster a “team” atmosphere.  

Architecture is a team effort! It takes all kinds.

Architecture is a team effort! It takes all kinds.

How important is an innovative mind to the company?

From my perspective it is essential. Every company needs worker bees, but every company needs creators too. And for my preferences, I want both.

 What key things do you look for in potential new hires?

Attitude, personality and ability to learn (and most likely in that order) are the top priorities for my hires.  I weigh many other aspects of any potential hire, but those three make the most difference in the long run. I want the proper attitude for working. Our office requires a certain personality type. This is from an employer standpoint and just office chemistry and morale. I want to have a fun office that my employees want to come to and want to work for.

 How important is diversity to your company?

My opinion is that it always brings more into the design. But this relates to the personality concept above. Also it really depends on what you define as “diversity”.  If you refer to race, gender, ethnicities etc., I believe that is important. But so are backgrounds, experiences, education, lifestyles, etc. Yet as an employer, I have no control over the breadth of diversity within the applicants that apply for positions I post. But for me the rule is as follows: Your resume gets you in the door. Your personal skills get you a seat in the office. 

Diversity in the workplace builds a strong team.

Diversity in the workplace builds a strong team.

How big of a role does HR play in your company?

As a small office of normally less than ten employees, I am not really sure how to define HR. Or even how to separate it from all the rest of the office workings. I am the HR department. As is everyone else’s in the office. It is every person’s responsibility to monitor HR issues. Granted it is just a part of a small office that you get to be your own HR person. I try to make the office like family. IT is something that is very important to me as I spend a large amount of time there.  And that relates back to the qualities for hiring mentioned above.

 Would you say Architecture is a field for everyone?

No. Architecture is not for everyone as a profession. I truly believe it takes a special kind of personality to do this job. Architecture requires a certain set of skills, and honestly, not everyone has them. Now that is not to say that the field of architecture takes only one kind of person. But there is still a common thread among those in the profession. I also think it takes a certain set of specific skills to be successful. And not like the “Top Five Skills of Every Successful Entrepreneur” kind of skills. Successful Architects have a special mix of technical, personal, management, and creative skills that separate them from many other successful professionals.  (This question could be its own post)

 What is the best asset in your company?

We are small, flexible and on the forefront of technology in the profession. That is the real asset in my opinion. It is very important for me to stay on the front edge of technology. That is basically how we create, deliver, and maintain our business. I feel that is the largest asset of my company. Many small firms such as mine do not invest as many resources into technology.

Also the most appropriate answer here would be my employees. But those change over time, so I discounted them only for that reason. Any company is only as strong as its employees. And I take pride in all of mine. They are all the best of assets.

 Describe your best employee in one word?

Inquisitive.

 What style architecture do you love most?

I love Modernism.  And for me that is a span of say early 1900’s to around its decline with the mid-century modernist movement of the 1960’s.  There are just so many spectacular feats of architecture in the “modernist” style. Yet it would most likely be a different definition for each architect.

 

We are just starting this idea and using the hastag #ArchiTalks to hopefully gain some momentum and help others understand what we do as Architects. It should be a great dialog and one that I hope will continue for some time into the future. Today is the first step. As several of the other responses are being posted around the internet, the links below are those that have already posted.

This list will be populated and updated as others continue to contribute today.

 

Bob Borson – Life of an Architect (twitter @bobborson)

“Being an Architect”

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (twitter @ArchitectMM)

“Q+A with a Small Firm Architect”

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (twitter @enochsears)

“Life As An Architect”

Jes Stafford  – Modus Operandi Design (twitter @modarchitect)

Ask the Architect

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (twitter @EntreArchitect)

“11 Big Questions” EntreArchitect.com/Episode37

Jeff Echols – Architect of the Internet (twitter @Jeff_Echols)

“11 Frequently Asked Questions About Being An Architect”

Nicholas Renard – Cote Renard Architecture (Twitter @coterenard)

“Answers from this Architect”

Evan Troxel – The Archispeak Podcast (twitter @etroxel)

Eleven Questions About a Career in Architecture

 

– Andrew Hawkins, AIA

 

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