Why Architects should Blog

Bob Borson —  May 5, 2014 — 43 Comments

I was asked to be the Master of Ceremonies for the AIA Austin Design Awards ceremony, an event that took place last Thursday evening (May 1st). I immediately agreed when asked because it’s a big deal to get asked, but as the event came closer and closer, I’ll admit that I started to actually think about what it was that I had actually agreed to do. While I don’t suffer from stage fright, I do suffer from “looking like an idiot” fright. I graduated from the University of Texas at Austin and this event was most likely going to be filled with ex-professors and old classmates of mine. Looking stupid is bad enough, it normally happens in front of a bunch of strangers … but doing in front of a room full of people I know? That would be bad …. worse than bad … it’d be “more bad”. 2014 AIA Austin Design Awards Celebration MC Bob Borson Despite my trepidation, I decided to do it anyways. There was a packed house that night, I’m told that there were 280+ people on hand. I decided to take this opportunity to talk about why I think it’s important that architects blog – or at the very least, talk to others about what it means to be an architect and why we [architects] think it’s important.

I recorded my speech here in case you wanted to hear it – I wish I had thought about it ahead of time, I would have tried to record it live – the laugh track might have helped. Just hit play and you can follow along down below ~

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So I’m Bob and the reason I am here, my claim to fame, is because of the blog that I write – Life of an Architect. I like to think that I’m a good architect but the truth of the matter is that most of the people who know me, know me through the internet … which sounds kinda creepy. But since that’s my current claim to fame, I thought I would take a minute here and talk about it just a little bit.

It’s been over twenty years since I graduated from UT and if you had asked me then where I thought I would be in twenty years, I don’t think I would have had an answer for you. I only had three goals when I graduated; the first was that I wanted to make $100,000 a year. I chose that number because it seemed outrageous to me at the time, but also because I thought it represented success, which somehow meant that I’d made it. My salary upon graduation turned out to be disappointing $22,000 that year but luckily, things have improved for me in the last two decades. The other goal I had for myself was that I wanted to have a project that I had designed make it in to an architectural history book – now that’s a lofty goal. In the years after graduating, I amended that goal to simply getting my work published. My third goal was that I wanted to buy a jet ski. Well, I never did buy that jet ski … in fact, I’ve actually never ridden a jet ski and looking back, I’m not sure why I made that goal. I was able to achieve the other two goals, turns out they weren’t as difficult as I had originally imagined.

So where does Life of an Architect fit into all of this? I started that site as a creative outlet in 2010 when things around the office where I was working got a bit slow. I took it as a chance to learn something new and without really thinking about it, I just sort of jumped in and starting talking. I say talking because what I do isn’t really writing, that’s an insult to writers, it’s simply writing down what I would say to someone if they were standing there with me. I’ll admit that my biggest fear in the beginning was that I would be exposed as an idiot – which I think is a justifiable concern on most days. But what I’ve learned in the 4 years since I started, is that more people think like I do than not. People – all sorts of people – like what we “architects” do, many think they want to be us, that being an architect is cool. When people find out what I do for a living, I frequently hear “I wanted to be an architect, but [dot dot dot]” I tell people “It is cool, you should have become an architect, you’re totally missing out – whatever it is that you do, this is better.”

One of the objectives that has evolved on my site is the idea of creating transparency into what it means to be an architect. I want people to understand what I do as an architect and why I think it’s important. It’s hard to appreciate something if you don’t understand it. Understanding leads to appreciation and appreciation leads to value. The more people I can get to understand what I do, the better it is for all architects. This is now the main reason why I continue writing my blog.

Last year over 3 million people came to my site to read what I had to say. Remember, this is the site of a regular guy who hasn’t made it into the architectural history books … or bought a jet ski. Imagine what would happen if someone with real architectural talent was talking to 3 million people?

I have two sisters; both are slightly older than me and on paper, they are both doing a lot better than I am. My oldest sister is a lawyer, she’s licensed in 3 different states and she’s doing pretty well. My other sister, the one that’s only 18 months older than I am, was made President of a company whose annual sales exceeded a billion dollars a year when she was only 38 years old.

And then there’s me … What have I done? I have a blog.

But … it’s a good blog. It’s an “over 3 million people a year” blog and I think it’s important. It gets people talking about what architects do, it’s fostering appreciation for our craft, it’s getting young people excited about becoming an architect, and it’s making older people regret that they didn’t become an architect. I think everyone in this room should be writing a blog, or at least trying. While it’s not easy, it’s important for architects to talk to other people about architecture and what we do, and it’s important that we recognize architects who are doing outstanding work. Which brings us to why we are here tonight …

2014 AIA Austin Design Awards Celebration MC Bob Borson

So there you have it – the reason why I continue writing this blog. Everything I do on the site here is intended to provide some sort of insight or education. On the slight chance that I write something that is neither, just let me apologize in advance.

And if you happen to have an extra jet ski laying about collecting dust, just give me a call. I’d be happy to let you give it to me.

Cheers, Bob AIA signature

  • http://www.balberarchitect.com David Balber

    It’s refreshing to hear an architect talk about himeself and his craft with a laid back style. Most architects I know (most of the time myself included) tend to have a more intense style. Good stuff Bob keep on keepin’ on! :)

  • http://www.chemionix.com/ Roger King

    Indeed the Blogging for Architectural purpose is must as they are the great resources and sharing them would really hep in people to get more ideas.

  • http://www.jaroszarch.com/firm.php Zeb Jarosz

    Great one, every architect should have his/her blog to show his/her colors and ideas

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  • Graeme K

    You mentioned that your blog is getting young people excited about becoming an architect; I’m now weeks away from completing my final year in architecture school in Scotland and there have been many late nights and moments of doubt throughout. Stopping by your blog has on many occasions inspired me to keep going. Thanks :)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Hi Graeme,
      I am extremely happy to hear this – I myself have moments when I am tired and would rather be doing something else and when I learn that something I am doing is of benefit to others, that’s where I find my own motivation to continue.

      Enjoy the last bit of schooling that you have left, good luck in the future, and I hope you find yourself in a job that you find rewarding.

      Cheers

  • http://mikedailystructuralengineer.wordpress.com/ Michael T. Daily

    Excellent blog. You mention transparency of the architect and I like that about your blog. But then there is the mystery of the structural engineer (of which I am). I am inspired to get off my seating part do what I have been intending to do and blog. By the way, I did get that motorcycle (equivalent to the jet ski).

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      and you’re still here to talk about that motorcycle – good for you! I make a lot of fun at the expense of structural engineers, none of it is true, I just like doing it.

      I try to avoid getting too technical in the posts I write, I just try to paint an overall picture and point people in the right direction. I would think blogging engineers would go crazy without being really, really specific – it’s actually one of their better character traits :)

  • http://businessofarchitecture.com/ Enoch Sears

    A great call for talking and sharing…I guess you could call this your first podcast episode.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      we could but it wouldn’t be accurate (not that I care about that though, why start now)

  • AlmostJane

    Bob, since you don’t think you actually write, but just write down what you’d say in person, it was great to actually hear you “voice” a post. You sound better than “Siri” or any of the multitude of mechanized “voices” out there these days. PS – I think I detected a very small [and pleasant] tincture of a Texas accent.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I normally deny having a Texas accent but considering I was born and raised here, I probably have a very small tincture of a Texas accent.

      Glad you liked the post, maybe I’ll start reading future posts as well.

      • AlmostJane

        Oh, you should totally do that! Start a whole new trend in blogging. The narrated blog. Very visionary. :>)

      • Paul Gerber

        The accent wasn’t as animated or pronounced as I anticipated! Not even one “ya’ll”!! LOL

        It’s an important message to get out Bob. It seems the public has forgotten what the architectural industry brings to the table…and I dare say sometimes the industry itself forgets what we bring to the table!

  • http://www.hawkinsarch.com/ Andrew Hawkins

    Not sure I have ever seen you in all black my friend. Ever! Such the Architect look.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      It was my way of disappearing into the waitstaff should things go wrong. Turns out the waitstaff was exclusively attractive college-aged young women so, you know … that didn’t really work the way I had planned. They kept offering me a chair.

  • Alexandra Williams

    You are the bomb, both in the written and spoken sense. Your sisters are probably seriously envious.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      they are envious of my superior upper body strength …

      Thanks for the kind words, you are too generous (but let’s keep it that way)

  • lancotf

    I didn’t get to listen live, but will later. The written portion sounds fantastic and makes me jealous I wasn’t a part of the audience. I’m sure it was great!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I think it was well received, which made me happy. I had written something else entirely but decided to change it on the drive to Austin so I dictated the final version into my phone and typed it up when I made it to the hotel. I presented about 5 hours later – I suppose I like adding as much pressure on myself as is humanly possible!

  • Kane Hadley

    Great post Bob.

    As a non-architect looking from the outside in I love your site. In looking for a way to communicate to the public the love architects have of their work and the value they bring to their community your blog has given me invaluable insight.

    I used to think the only thing an architect did was draft a pencil sketch of what was going to be built. Now I know a little better (just a little!) and can appreciate every aspect of the architect’s life and service when I look for an architect myself in the future.

    Thanks again for letting the community take a look into your world!

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks Kane – that’s the reason I’m doing this … that and the groupies.

  • http://www.swaindetailanddesign.com/ Cheryl

    Favorite line: “Understanding leads to appreciation and appreciation leads to value.” Congrats on the honor of speaking…I’m thinking you got a few laughs ;)

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      I think people laughed where I thought they would … it might have been a bit heartier than I expected when I confessed one of my goals was to get a jet ski. Apparently, wanting a jet ski when you’re 24 is hilarious.

  • Miguel Rivera, FAIA

    bob, you did a good job in Austin, thank you for coming and your blog

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thank you Miguel, it was my pleasure to be there – Austin is always a great host city and I always leave thinking “why did I ever move away from here?”

      • Kerry Hogue

        when my wife and I graduated we wanted to stay in Austin. At the time though we did not feel that squirting katsup at McD’s was what we went to college to do, so we moved away.

  • Ollin Trujillo

    On point as usual my creepy Internet friend!
    I totally agree about the understanding=value part. Congrats on being asked to MC. That’s a big deal.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Thanks – except in my speech, I’m not the one that’s creepy … at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

  • Kerry Hogue

    so is the 63 chevy yours?
    when I graduated in 1976, I also had goals. The first was to get a job, since it was a nasty recession at the time and many of classmates were not getting jobs. I did get a job upon graduation. Lucky. my second goal to pass the ARE on the first try. I did. I studied for three months straight though and I was not a fun guy. ask my wife. Back then, you were successful if you made your age in salary. I wanted to do that by the time I was 30. I did that. When I graduated I was 23 and my first job paid about $8,000. So I had a long way to go.
    Now my fourth goal was to build a hot rod. That took me a bit longer, but I do have it. Not a traditional hotrod, but a 65 mustang with serious go fast goodies, nothing stock.
    Bob, I always enjoy your blog. it was interesting to read of the goals you had when you first started out. It surprises me how many young people cannot verbalize goals, either short term or long term. Goals are important in personal and professional development. Most successful (provide your own definition) people have then and make the commitment to achieve them.

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      Goals are definitely important. I probably should have had the goal of getting a job (the economy was pretty bad in 1992 as well) but it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t. When I was a little older, I didn’t officially make passing the ARE on the first try a goal, it was more of a necessity since I was 30 when I took it. Luckily, I too passed it all on my first try.

      I grew up in a non-car culture and don’t really know the slightest thing about cars – although I think the idea of restoring a classic automobile sounds to be just about the coolest hobby I can think of. One of these days, let’s go to lunch … you can drive.

      • Kerry Hogue

        Cars have always been an interest since I was young and I listened to my father’s stories. Of course cars with power are better! Lunch sounds great.

  • scott fleming

    I have considered blogging for years but it is obvious how much effort it takes to do it well. I’m not ready for that kind of commitment.
    Bob, please tell me that is your ride behind you. Maybe an architect and their vehicles post is in order?

    • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

      It does take a lot of work, but other than the occasional family conflict, I would tell you that I generally don’t regret it in the slightest.

      Architects and their rides – does sound intriguing but unfortunately, most of the architects I know don’t have very interesting cars (although I do know a few).

      The one in the picture above – I am told – is a 1963 Hardtop Chevy Impala. As sweet as it is, it is not mine.

      • Pablo

        Most of the cars would be black Volvos, I would imagine. When not driving the “family car” I have a ’91 3000GT-VR4 waiting for a little TLC. Congrats on the MC.

        I think you should only blog if you have something interesting to say and an interesting way of saying it.

        • Kane Hadley

          I would love it if more architects blogged. If I listen for a while everyone always has something interesting to say. In fact writing in your natural voice feels more welcoming to me (maybe not others) than trying to impersonate an “interesting” or “professional” voice.

          Being an architect in itself is interesting and having a blog lets me know a bit about you before coming to you when you’ve got a spare moment so I don’t bug you in the middle of your busy week.

          Looking forward to reading about your experiences!

        • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

          Part of this is about finding your voice and sharing your passions. If you talk about the things you are interested in (or find interesting) normally that will translate into something worth sharing. At the very least it can be the pea that gets pushed from the top of the hill – throw something out there and let others help carry the topic and conversation. Frequently the comment section is the most interesting part of a post that I’ve written.

        • Kerry Hogue

          I actually do not know of a single architect that owns a black Volvo, or for that matter of any color…

          • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

            I haven’t known any either … I did know one that had a Saab (which as black) close enough?

          • Kevin McLaren

            Checking in as a Texas architect and fellow UT grad (1983) – one who, years ago, drove a Saab convertible and, until my daughter wrecked it, a black Volvo. Guilty!

          • Bob

            Cars driven by architects as an interesting blog post? 2002 Toyota Tacoma double cab – silver (I AM in Vermont after all)

          • TX Architect in LA

            In a past life, I remember one owning a Volvo. It wasn’t black, but he definitely drove one. Nickname, “Freddie”.