Traveling is an important part of the foundational makeup of any architect. The act of being exposed to different cultures, climates, materials, and spatial solutions is an ongoing life adventure that typically feeds our creative process. The pandemic has made traveling difficult for just about everyone but that doesn’t mean we aren’t going to talk about it anyways. Welcome to episode 91: Architects and Traveling.
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How can you Travel So Much? jump to 1:39
My situation when it comes to traveling is fairly unique – at least for most architects. There are three major considerations as to why I get to travel the way I do:
- In my early married years, my wife had a job that required her to travel someplace for work every single week. and as a result, she accumulated a mind-boggling amount of frequent flyer miles, hotel and rental car points. The vast majority of traveling we did for years was a direct result of cashing in on my wife’s travel schedule.
- Due to this website, I have traveled a considerable amount of traveling for lecturing or speaking engagements, coupled with excursions I go on as a result of being seen as an influencer within the AEC industry – something that I realize few people have the ability to capitalize on that sort of thing.
- Lastly, my wife and I both work and have good jobs and we only have 1 child, which I am acutely aware helps when planning travel adventures.
When I was a child, my family rarely traveled and it wasn’t until my 5th year of architecture school that I finally left the country in a meaningful way. After I studied abroad for a semester, I realized that I had now been to more countries than I had US states. You might think that this is the reason I travel now but the reality is that it was my wife that really got this pattern of yearly traveling established.
With the pandemic slowing everything down, I thought I would reminisce and take a look at the places I’ve been starting in 2017 and looking through 2019. Each colored dot represents a year with 2017 = green, 2018 = red, and 2019 = blue. Just missing these dates were additional trips to China and Ireland, as well as a trip to Israel.
How do you Prepare? jump to 13:09
Andrew typically takes at least one trip a year into the wilds of Colorado where there is little to no connectivity. As the owner of the business, he concedes that there was initially a fear that he was concerned that the place might be burned down once he returned … which thankfully was not the case. Once he learned that he could actually leave the office and things would be alright, he was able to disconnect and focus on settling down and enjoying his time away from the office and the workload.
I haven’t been able to find that sort of peace when I am out of the office. Things are a little bit different for me know that I have a small army of people at my disposal
When Andrew and I talked about how we plan our vacation, Andrew was convinced that I would be hyper-focused and organize my days by the hour and what will be taking place, and that he would be pretty loose at how he plans his own trips. The reality is that Andrew is far more organized than I am because he at least thinks about where he wants to go and what he wants to do. I don’t plan one iota of my own vacations – I leave that to my wife. She plans everything and simply asks me if that sounds good – which I almost always think does sound good. he knows that I will wander off at some point and do what strikes my mood and that I don’t like sitting still in one location for too long.
(If you really want to see what a Borson itinerary looks like, this is about as good as you are going to get: Post Vacation Hangover)
The Value of Traveling for Architects jump to 19:05
There are the obvious benefits of traveling which are connected to detaching from your work-a day life and recharging your creative batteries by not focusing on tasks and deadlines.
The specific benefits for an architect traveling is in creating a larger mental library of how problems are solved by people in different cultures and climates, where different materials are available, the craftsmen have different skillsets, and the considerations from the public-at-large trend towards using materials in a specific manner.
Recharging Your Batteries jump to 25:37
We all need to recharge our batteries, and I am no exception to this rule … but despite the number of trips that I take, half the time I get back from vacation feeling like I need another vacation. Does anyone else feel this way?
I enjoy my trips but I think I am about to conclude that I need my breaks to be a minimum of two weeks in length in order to force myself to accept the fact that I am not going to be able to solve any real work problems if they come up. I also think that vacations need to be long enough so that you don’t feel like you need to cram something into every possible moment for fear that you are going to miss out on something because your time is limited.
This December I took a 10-day trip to Helsinki and basically did just about anything I could that was not related to architecture. Despite being surrounded by Alvar Aalto buildings, we did not make a trip to visit a single one of them (besides, I did that just two years ago when I was last here). Instead, we walked through the city center, went to outdoor Christmas markets, went dog-sledding and played with huskies, and went on a 4-hour “hunt” to find the Northern Lights. It was freezing cold and exactly what I needed … however, jumping into the 36° Baltic Sea after taking a sauna was more fun than needed, and if you were wondering, 96% of my body handled the water temperature just fine.
Places that Architects Should Visit jump to 37:16
If someone were to ask me “Where should I visit if I wanted to immerse myself in Architecture?”, my list is basically made up of a very large city in just about every developed country. I suppose there is some Western European bias to my list, especially looking at the places I have chosen to visit over the last several years, but it is something that I am aware of and presumably, I’ll start to do something about that. For example, in the handful of cities I rattled off in the podcast none of them was even in the US – but for the record, Chicago is my favorite US city for architecture and I’m not sure anyone has any ammo to come at me for that opinion.
I will also concede that Paris is the only city where I have heard from multiple people, that visiting there changed their life and put design and architecture on their radar screen as a potential career choice. I am quite sure that there are other cities that would inspire people to become an architect, but Paris seems to be the place. Andrew thinks Barcelona would be another city that would inspire people to a career in architecture.
Are there activities you would like to travel somewhere to attend? jump to 41:51
Andrew and I didn’t spend much time talking about this section and to be frank, I really just put it in the conversation because I want to go back to Germany with friends and family and go to Oktoberfest again. I went back in 2018 and I didn’t think it would be possible to have that much fun. In fact, I had such a good time that I am almost afraid of going again because I don’t know how it could ever live up to my expectations. Maybe I just caught lightning in a bottle. If anyone has been more than once, I’d be curious to know how your return visit went.
Through the eyes of a Child was a post I wrote back in 2011 about an experience I had with my daughter Kate (who was 5 at the time) and we were in Paris going through more museums than any 5-year-old can be expected to tolerate. Andrew and I spent a few minutes talking about this post and the ramifications this trip has had on every family vacation that has occurred since.
Also, at the end of this segment I mentioned some goofing off I did while we were at Santa’s Village and I did not care to do any more shopping with my family. I went out exploring stuff (as architects will do) and I ended up entertaining myself childishly once I found out there was a webcam on the premises shooting out a live feed. If you want to play a round of “Where’s Waldo
but with me in the titular role of Waldo, just click here.
Would you rather? jump to 52:48
Would you rather take an all expenses paid dream vacation every year for a month or have the job of your dreams?
I am an avid believer that you need some bad to make the good actually seem like it’s something good. Now the scale of the bad can be interpreted as something just not good, rather than something that is truly terrible. To that end, I like my job – enough to feel like I don’t need to seek out a different job in order to achieve my dream job. However … it’s not so perfect that I don’t really love the idea of leaving it all behind for a few weeks. Andrew and I both feel like going on a vacation is the way to go and the fact that it’s a month in length mean’s you are there long enough to behave as if you live in that location. You no longer feel the need to program and schedule your every move and now you can move at a slightly more pastoral pace.
However, the one takeaway from this entire response to this question is the moment where Andrew tells us that he would like to be a toy designer.
091: Architects and Traveling
I think I have spelled out the reasons why anyone should take time out of their daily routines and go do something amazing. For some, sitting somewhere peaceful with a good book is the way to go – something that is low effort, serene, and calming. I’m just not wired that way and most people who do what I do for a living are more like me than not. We travel to places to see and do things. Don’t get me wrong, I like to mix in a little swim-up bar (okay – a lot of swim-up bars) but I need something else to keep me occupied. Visiting new places, meeting new people, experiencing something out of ordinary – out of my ordinary, is my definition of a relaxing vacation that recharges my batteries.