“Citizen Architect” is a phrase that – if you are in the field of architecture – you hear a lot. I typically associate those words with the movie “Citizen Architect: Samuel Mockbee and the Spirit of the Rural Studio” because as far as I am concerned, Samuel Mockbee has set the bar for all architects when it comes to using our skill set to benefit the greater society at large.
There are certain moments that I can recall when I learned of something that has fundamentally changed who I am as a person – moments that made me both feel wonderful and terrible at the same time. The first moment came in 2001 when I learned of Samuel Mockbee when he became a MacArthur Foundation Genius. I’ll come clean and admit that prior to that moment, I didn’t know who he was or why he received this particular award. And since I don’t like to feel ignorant, I went and found out exactly who he was and why he deserved this recognition. I challenge anybody to find out for yourselves if you don’t already know his story and that of the Rural Studio program, and not feel wonderful and terrible at the same time. “Wonderful” for seeing how it is possible for 1 person to make a difference, and “terrible” because you haven’t done anything that is making a difference … or at least enough of a difference (you can always do more, right?)
A second moment came when I listened to Cameron Sinclair – one of the founders of “Architecture for Humanity” as the keynote speaker at the 2013 AIA National Convention in Denver. Cameron was an engaging and frequently amusing speaker, and he spoke passionately about the realities of practicing architecture and how an unbelievably large section of the world has no access to affordable housing … that there remains a massive disconnect that exists between the educational process of an architect and the practical need of individuals around the globe. Again – wonderful and terrible. After listening to Cameron that day, I left feeling excited … about going back to my hotel room and curling up under the desk for awhile. Here were people literally changing the world and what exactly was I doing?
Taken directly from the advocacy section on the American Institute of Architects website:
“The Citizen Architect uses his/her insights, talents, training, and experience to contribute meaningfully, beyond self, to the improvement of the community and human condition. The Citizen Architect stays informed on local, state, and federal issues, and makes time for service to the community. The Citizen Architect advocates for higher living standards, the creation of a sustainable environment, quality of life, and the greater good. The Citizen Architect seeks to advocate for the broader purposes of architecture through civic activism, writing and publishing, by gaining appointment to boards and commissions, and through elective office at all levels of government.”
In other words, if you are an architect, you should try to get involved and do good stuff. That’s a bit more to the point and happens to be one of my “philosophies” (I’ll admit that I didn’t realize that I had “philosophies” and I’ll also admit that I am finding it hard to actually write that I have “philosophies” … and not just because philosophies is a hard word to spell.)
I’m going to finish things by looking at a few quotes and allow them to help convey the message of today’s post.
“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him … We need not wait to see what others do.
The quote above from Gandhi seems to be particularly relevant to my take on today’s post. The change he is referencing isn’t about personal transformation – Gandhi is telling us that only by people working together with vision and consistency can real change be made. I truly believe this sentiment to be true and think that getting involved is important.
Back in the very early www.LifeofanArchitect.com days, I asked my friend (and now business partner) Michael Malone to write a post for this site, and I asked him to write on “volunteering”. Here is an excerpt from that post:
Giving Back : Why and How (April 2010, Author: Michael Malone)
[…] The second track is more ominous, tragic actually, and it gets to the root of why many of us feel unappreciated and alienated from society. A great deal of architectural education is about seeing the world through a lens of aesthetic sensibility and how to take what we see and insert strategies that bring balance and harmony. The awareness of the environment, both natural and built, is hyper sensitively present in most architect’s day to day perception of the world. This is the same world that is often messy, un-ordered, visually ugly and disregarding of the aesthetic values our profession holds dear. By extension, it leads we architects to feel we have a better path, a path that we know and you should all be following; taken to an extreme it can make us elitist and at its worst cynical. Architectural schools are often staffed with educators who are ill at ease actually practicing in the “real world”. They find refuge in academia with its impressionable young students eager to learn what they have to say (since their prospective clients were not interested). Being taught a profession at the hands of those who have never been active in it themselves is a hallmark of our educations.
When we get out of school and begin to work, we have to live and practice by the norms and standards of society and to do that I’ve found the best thing is to be a part of it. Be active in your kid’s schools and sports and PTA. Join boards and groups at your church, teach Sunday school, sing in the choir. Be active in your local or state AIA chapter, sit on committees, and assume positions of leadership. Take a risk, meet your friends and peers, give more than you think you have time to, and then give more. You will find yourself and your place in the world around you, and surprisingly, you will find clients and opportunities that may lead to opportunities. You are your own best marketing tool and there is no way to show how hard you can work, how well you are organized and the enthusiasm you bring to tasks than through volunteer work. When someone needs an architect you will be the one they think of and the one they know, personally. What a thought!
In his article, Michael has taken the approach that volunteering is not only good for society, it’s frequently beneficial to you in a real and measurable way in addition to all the feel good opportunities that can possibly come from it. This of course makes sense since Michael has been a small firm business owner for more than 25 years and can easily look back and make all the connections between doing the right thing and having good things happen in return.
You Should Say “Yes” More Often (June 2014, Author: Bob Borson)
To get back the title of this post, almost everything on this list above is a result of me saying “yes” to something when I had the opportunity to say no. Sure I’m ridiculously busy but I realize that saying yes has led to so many other opportunities that have been good for me personally and professionally, that despite the overload of work, I still have a hard time saying no. Attitude counts for more than people think and I believe that if more people rolled up their sleeves and said “yes” when someone asked them for help, we would all be a lot better off. It’s easy to say no because you’re too busy, but we are all busy. Put yourself in the shoes of others and think about what it means for someone to ask you for your help. Somebody thinks that you know something that can improve the situation, they think you have a skill that can solve the problem. Somebody thinks that you have something that can make things better …
That’s pretty cool isn’t it?
Rather than spending time focusing on all the things you aren’t doing, use that time to say “yes” more often.
I am an ardent supporter of saying yes, all you have to do is read this site and imagine me sitting on the couch writing articles and preparing graphics rather than jogging around the block. That’s right, I am going to pin my recent (last 5 years give or take another 5 years) weight gain on this blog. #dedication
Weight gain notwithstanding, the truth of the matter is that I actually believe that the time I spend writing these inane articles provides something of value to the general public as well as other architects, would-be architects, want-to-be architects, almost-were architects and used-to-be architects.
So, this is the 13th entry into an ongoing monthly series called “ArchiTalks”. Typically I provide the topic for the participating group of architects to talk about and we all publish our thoughts and articles on the same day – with the idea that we can highlight the differences and nuances that distinguishes us as individuals as well as point out the shared similarities that tie us together. I will admit that I didn’t actually choose today’s topic; I doubt I would ever choose to write about how awesome I am at volunteering (despite all evidence that supports that I do, in fact, love talking about how awesome I am) … bottom line, without some extreme care, this topic can come off the wrong way and turn what should be a feel good 5 minutes of your day into a “why I’m better than you” 2.5 minutes of your day, and who wants that?
Say “Yes” to something today –
Here is a listing of other architects – scattered all over the planet – who have participated in this months topic. I think you will find some inspiration in many of these posts, something to get you energized and ready to say “yes”.
Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Inspiring a Citizen Architect
Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
We are the Champions – Citizen Architects
Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Good Citizen Architect
Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
small town citizen architect
Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: The everyday citizen architect
Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
What Does it Mean to be a Citizen Architect?
Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
Citizen Architect: #architalks
Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect)
Architect as Citizen
Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
How Architects Can Be Model Citizens
Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
My Hero – Citizen Architect
Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Meet Jane Doe, Citizen Architect
Amy Kalar – ArchiMom (@AmyKalar)
Architalks #13: How Can I Be But Just What I Am?
Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Help with South Carolina’s Recovery Efforts
brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Senior Citizen, Architect
Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Tara Imani – Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1)
Citizen Starchitect’ is not an Oxymoron
Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture (@mondo_tiki_man)
Citizen Architect – Form out of Time
Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
[cake decorating] to [citizen architect]
Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Citizen Architect #ArchiTalks
Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Citizen of Architecture
Daniel Beck – The Architect’s Checklist (@archchecklist)
Protecting the Client – 3 Ways to be a Citizen Architect
Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Courtney Casburn Brett – Casburn Brett (@CasburnBrett)
“Citizen Architect” + Four Other Practice Models Changing Architecture
Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Citizen Architect: The Last Responder