We get asked a lot of good questions here on the show – they come up in the comment section, they are emailed to us, and sometimes we get stopped at conventions and panel discussions. Some questions come with enough frequency that we select them for mass consideration – which is the point of today’s show. On the list for discussion today includes, but is not limited to, management, design process, career skills, and architectural cocktails. Andrew and I answer your burning questions where almost nothing is off-limits … Welcome to EP 133: Ask the Show 2023 Spring Edition
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Today we are answering your questions – I believe that this is round 8. I have to admit that I like these shows more now than in the beginning. They were always interesting to me but I guess we’ve done enough of them to where we are finding a balance between typical architectural-type questions and the “what color underwear” am I wearing type questions … which for the record is sky-blue.
So let’s get into it. I think most people know how this works but in case you don’t, people submit their questions through any myriad of delivery mechanisms and if we choose to answer their question on the show, we try and show them some appreciation can giving them a shout out and a link back to their Instagram page. Moving forward, we might have to pivot off of Instagram and start sharing people’s Discord handles.
So let’s get to it – so in no particular order other than how I typed them up, the first question is:
Andrew: For me, I typically start with designing in section when it comes to the building. Of course, if we are starting with a pure blank page, then I will start with site and context understanding. I will work on how the building will be sited, oriented, etc. Those are some of the very first aspects I look to resolve. When it comes to the building itself, I always begin with some section of the building that I feel will be one of the most impactful based on the program. I am a firm believer that section is about architectural space and plan is about programmatic organization.
Bob: I typically start with the plan when I am working on residential projects, but I will concede that I am thinking about certain moves and spaces the entire time. There is a certain economy that comes when thinking about the moves you are making at the ground plane – the narrative of how a space – or series of spaces – is experienced from an arrival and departure standpoint. There is clearly a different thought process that goes into this based on the size and scale of the project, but both start with some sort of horizontal resolution before I start going vertical.
Advice to people, early in their architectural career, pursuing licensure and beyond? jump to 9:05
Question submitted by private account – Joshua Brown
Bob: I’m not entirely sure that this question is just about getting licensed, but I think this is an important first step. I am a believer that licensure is important and that you should dedicate an appropriate amount of your energies to accomplishing this goal as soon as possible. Most of the people I engage with take too long to work through this testing period. There are 5 tests and I think the goal would be to study for 4 weeks and then take a test. If you need a break to live some life, take a week or two off before you start the process for the next test. It won’t get any easier and the act of studying for the test will make doing your job a bit easier AND it will make you a more viable candidate in the market.
I also think that people should get involved in professional activities outside of the office. Not only will it make you a more well-rounded individual, but you’ll also make friends, establish connections, and typically make the world a better place through your involvement.
*the post I mentioned at the 11:56 mark can be found here: The Best Advice I Ever Received
Andrew: As far as licensure, I think you should get it done quickly, but not as fast as Bob proposes. I think your exams should be wrapped up in a year’s time. It should not take any longer. Simply get it done. It does not need to “hang over your head” for longer than necessary. After that is completed, which is the “goal” for your education; there are a few other actions I would advise. Be involved in “things” within your office and outside your office. The other thing I would recommend is to spend as much time on construction sites as possible. Learning how buildings actually get constructed and built will have a large and useful impact on your ability to design and create architecture.
Andrew: My response here is essentially NO. There are some innate skills that will help you succeed in the profession, but those are somewhat limited. You can learn almost everything that you need to know about the profession and the skills required to work in architecture. I think one of the innate skills that is important is having the proper attitude to be in architecture. I cannot place a name on that “attitude” but there is one that I think helps you persevere in the profession. I am not saying that in a negative way with regard to persevering, but it is just a mindset that seems to work better.
Bob: I agree with Andrew on this as far as you can learn whatever you need to be an architect – but there are certain skills that come easier than others, and if you are hanging your hopes and dreams on a singular aspect of the profession of architecture, you might have some additional hurdles. For example, everyone can learn how to design, but there are aspects to that process that some people just get and for others, they will need to establish a set of rules and processes that will assist them in getting close to where they want to be. I will also add that the majority of people I now work with do not see themselves as designers, but more critical thinkers and problem-solvers. That is absolutely something that you can not only learn but excel at doing.
Do you have some pointers for architects who are transitioning to management roles? jump to 28:00
Question submitted by private account – Luke van Leeuwen
Bob: I definitely have some opinions on this topic. Writing it out here would take forever but you can skim through topics such as “Leadership vs. Management” or “Meetings are a Waste of Time” or even take a trip down episode 89: Small Firm Mentality. To summarize some of what I talked about in today’s episode has to do with my general dislike for leadership and decision-making by committee. I am not saying that people don’t get a say and I am in favor of a dictatorial system of decision-making. What I am saying is that by developing a plan of action when a roomful of people get a say, you are distilling ideas down to the lowest common denominator and eliminating any chance of the greatness that comes with some sort of singular thinking. The transition to any sort of management role eventually comes down to managing people, workflow, and resources (which would include the aforementioned people) and endeavoring to get those people in the best place possible for them to achieve success.
Andrew: I am taking this from my experience as a person who transitioned from employee to employer. One of the most difficult lessons for me to learn was letting go. You have to learn to let go. Your job when moving into management is to work on new tasks and most likely manage people who are doing your previous role. So you have to let go of some of the tasks that you probably think were your top skills. That can be difficult for many to realize. You are in essence moving into management to be able to create more people like you. You should look at the change as a chance to create people who are going to be just as good as you were in that previous role. In a way, you are now making your replacement. So letting go of the previous tasks that you probably excel in and attempting to make many others now excel is the new task.
With design-build gaining popularity, should there be a degree that is something between CM and architecture? jump to 36:23
Question submitted by private account – David Sørensen
Andrew: There are some to be certain. The first one that comes to mind is The Rural Studio at Auburn. This program is focused on working with the local rural communities and creating projects in that context. Then there is the University of Kansas and their Studio 804. They have done commercial and residential projects and even design/built an addition to the architecture building on campus. There are several others programs around the country to find if you look. Now the consideration is that these programs may not focus on the business aspect. They seem to focus more on the tie between design and construction and possibly not the business models. Also I am not certain there is a degree category specifically, but these are just architecture degrees with a specific focus. A few more examples… the University of Utah’s DesignBuildUTAH and the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s Design/Build program. According to the ACSA there are over 80 schools with design-build programs.
Bob: I say no to a specific degree, but I think that there is definitely value to creating more coursework in an architectural degree that would include more construction coursework.
Should I push back on owners who want to VE exterior insulation or fluid weather-resistant board instead of expensive finishes? jump to 39:37
Question submitted by patch.architecture – Patch Architecture and Design
Bob: Yes. Of course, you should! You have a responsibility to educate your clients with any and all appropriate information that allows them to make an educated decision. Eventually, you have to recognize that we are in a service industry and you are being asked to provide a solution based on your client’s values, not your own … unless you build your business around those values. If the latter is the case, the responsibility falls to you to evaluate the clients coming to you and make sure that you both have values and goals that are in alignment before accepting the project.
I also have a 3-times rule that I use during these moments of misalignment. If someone wants something that I disagree with, in order to eliminate the possibility that a) I have done a poor job explaining their options, b) they don’t understand the impact or ramifications of that decision, or c) there are priorities in place that impact what challenges you choose to address, I stop pushing after working through these possible items after bring it up those three times.
Andrew: Yes. I think you should try to persuade them to be sure. I think it will be best to propose the consequences of not doing these things. How will it impact them even more in the future. Can you pull the code issue on them? Is that possible? I think it is a difficult situation and you need to tread lightly but still be firm about the situation. Communication is always an important part of our profession.
Andrew: This one is easy. Yes. The initial exam passage only allows you to work as an architect in that state. You can gain reciprocity from other states through NCARB or the individual states. But since all of the individual states regulate the licensing of architects, an exam is only for that state. But under many conditions, you can use that initial licensure to gain licensure in other states. It is possible. It may not always be easy, but it is typically possible. Find the process of reciprocity for most states here in this interactive map from NCARB.
Bob: Yes. See Andrew’s awesome answer.
Bob: I went with a classic gin martini because the clarity of the presentation and the exactness of the preparation make the difference. It looks simple, but knowledge and execution make the difference between a cocktail that has stood the test of time, or one that you pour into the corner houseplant when your host isn’t looking.
2 1/2 oz (75 ml) gin
1/2 oz (15 ml) dry vermouth
Begin by chilling the martini glass. You can do this by placing it in the freezer for at least 15 minutes before making your martini. A chilled glass keeps the cocktail colder for longer. While the glass is chilling, prepare your garnish – skewer three olives on a cocktail pick and set this aside to use as a garnish later.
In a mixing glass or shaker, add the gin and dry vermouth. Use a jigger to ensure precise measurements. Fill the mixing glass or shaker with ice cubes. Using ice is essential to chill the ingredients and dilute the cocktail slightly to achieve the desired balance. Now, you have a choice to make: stirring or shaking. Stirring is the traditional method for a gin martini and creates a smoother, more elegant result. If you prefer a slightly cloudier appearance and a more aggressive chill, you can shake the cocktail. Stirring is recommended for a classic martini.
Insert a long mixing spoon into the mixing glass and stir the contents gently and consistently for about 20-30 seconds. Stirring helps maintain the clarity of the cocktail while achieving proper dilution and chilling. After stirring, strain the mixture into the chilled martini glass. You can use a Hawthorne strainer or a julep strainer to achieve this. Drop the cocktail pick with the three olives into the martini. Alternatively, you can express the oils from a lemon twist over the drink by giving it a quick twist over the glass and then dropping it in for added aroma.
Remember that the classic gin martini can be tailored to your personal taste. You can adjust the ratio of gin to vermouth to suit your preference, ranging from very dry (less vermouth) to more wet (more vermouth). Enjoy responsibly!
Andrew: I looked at this question as a survey of the drink that I see most of my architecture colleagues drinking when we spend time together. So to me maybe it was the most “popular” cocktail is the one associated with the profession. There are two categories here, gin/vodka or bourbon/whiskey. Maybe this is because I am a gin drinker, most of the time I find that a Gin & Tonic is the drink of choice I see most often. But I was not approaching this as a drink to represents the profession, but the one that I see consumed most by the profession. So for me the answer is a Gin & Tonic. (or some variation of gin drink)
How awful is writing specs it seems like a left-brain task for a right-brain job? jump to 52:13
Question submitted by private account – horey.carrison
Andrew: It seems that the phrasing here already sets the table and even answers the question. I do not find it awful. I actually often enjoyed writing specifications. They are highly detailed and as stated very specific. The process gets into the actual nuts and bolts of the materials that will create my architecture. This process has an end. It is a task that can absolutely be finished. Yes, there is some tedium involved in the task, but it can also be somewhat cathartic. It is a definite change from the typical tasks we do in the profession as designers. So I do not think this task is awful. It is part of the process and important.
Bob: This question hurts my soul a little bit and I think the way the question is phrased is leading the jury just a bit. Pretty sure that this person hates writing project specifications, but I know that this is not necessarily the case for a lot of people. I did not hate writing specifications when I was in a small firm – didn’t love it but I recognized their value and as a designer looking for something specific, there’s no way to ignore this step.
There are a lot of project architects and managers that I currently work with who are more suited to writing specifications than they are for designing 25-story buildings … and if I gave them a choice on their preference, I know what it would be.
But to the exact wording of the question – left-brain centric people assuredly do not love writing specs.
Bob: I honestly don’t know, but I know it’s coming and if you don’t start trying to figure these things out, you will find out you are well behind the curve. I have been working in a handful of different AI platforms for almost a year and feel like I barely know anything other than that I need to know more and continuously work to leverage these tools. I attended a lecture a week ago and one of the takeaways was a simple single sentence:
“Figure out the things you don’t want to be doing and get artificial intelligence to do them for you”
That is so obvious now that it’s out there but I had not skewed my perspective in a way that allowed me to see these AI tools in this way. Within a day, I was exploring ways that I could have AI develop a plan for how I can streamline the staffing in my office. BOOM
Andrew: I think it will change the way that we take on certain tasks. It will change the way we work and the process of creating architecture. But I will say that I do not think it will replace humans in the creation of architecture. I do not think that will ever be possible 100%. I also think that the current excitement over AI is a bit too aggressive. In reality, it seems to be drastically changing the world, but it is all an illusion. What I mean by that is that the systems are not “smart” enough to replace humans. The current systems are still very error-prone and provide data and information that is false. I did some experiments with ChatGPT and it will clearly tell you that it can provide false data very easily. In fact, it states that much of the information may be false or incorrect as it is only making associations of things to provide the outcome. This could be with words, characters, or images. So it will move a bit slower than it seems, but it will impact our profession and workflow. I do not think it will make many people lose jobs, but change the way those jobs operate. The current accuracy of these systems is not present yet to a level that our industry requires. AI cannot produce elements that our profession requires with the correct level of accuracy that anyone would ensure or even find remotely sufficient. I think we are quite a ways from that type of system.
Andrew: Only once. But I will say that I did not put a lot of work into this project. It was just a normal project in the office. It was not something extremely special to me or the firm. It was the renovation of a commercial space that about 8 years after completion was torn down completely. I think that now it is a gas station/convenience store. Truly, it was not a devastating action for me. But it was very jarring the first time I drove by and saw it was gone. I hadn’t been by it for some time and so it was already the new project fully operational. I had to do a double-take to be certain that it was the correct location. I will say that I think if you are in this industry long enough, you will have projects demolished. It is just how the industry works and history informs us it will happen. So the fact here is that it is inevitable. Your projects may outlive you, but at some point, they will be demolished.
Would you rather? jump to 68:45
For today, we are going to do a Would You Rather, but this is one that I have discussed and debated for a long time. People generally fall into their answer and it seems like a preposterously easy selection … but then someone with a different answer thinks they couldn’t be more incorrect.
You are going to be deposited onto a deserted island for a period of 5 years. You have all the basic creature comforts – this is not a survivalist question – including an amazing sound system. You get to choose what music you bring but of course, there are requirements and restrictions. Your options are:
|60 Songs||7 Albums||The complete musical library of 2 artists/bands|
For me, this really comes down to two things: Quantity versus Variety. Andrew actually described me as having musical ADHD and I will concede that he is correct. I have absolutely zero issues when jumping around from genre to genre
If you are interested in playing along or want to follow my list as I work my way through my top 60, here you go: Bob’s Top 60 Playlist on Spotify
I can already tell you that this is going to be impossibly difficult for me. I have been working on this for a week and I have 13 songs currently selected, and I’m not even convinced that I want those 13. This could be a fun list to follow because it will constantly be growing and shrinking and it will absolutely reflect my musical ADHD and there will be music from all over the place.
Ep 133: Ask the Show 2023 Spring Edition
So there you go – 11 questions that cover a pretty wide range of topics and periods in an architect’s career. If you submitted a question and didn’t see it here, no worries as we keep track of all the questions we receive, and unless it was something wacky, chances are better than zero that we will eventually get around to answering it for you.
This is the last Ask the Show episode we will do this year so look for your next opportunity to come sometime next spring … start thinking now about what questions you would like to see us attempt to answer!
Special thanks to today’s sponsor Construction Specialties – they are so focused on the importance of mastering movement, that they have created CEUs specifically on mastering movement. Each course is worth 1 AIA LU/HSW and is part of the Mastering Movement Academy by CS. Visit masteringmovement.net to take this and other courses.