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Architectural Solutions to Human Problems

Archive for August, 2014

I Architect Like I Parent

Agent of hopeSo I was in a project meeting recently and the discussion was veering off on a tangent. I was letting it go until I felt that it wasn’t coming back. So I stepped in to guide the client and contractor off that topic and onto the subject of next things to be done. As I was driving home I reflected that I am not usually the bossy, take-charge guy in meetings. I like to let the discussion flow to see what solutions come out. So why was I doing it here? The reason was because that’s what my clients needed. Left to their own devices they would talk around the little things and then not be ready to move on to the next thing that actually needed to be done. ┬áPart of my role on this project, I realized, is to be the metaphorical grownup.

As I spend more time being an architect, I am finding more and more places where the skills that I am developing elsewhere in my life apply. I shouldn’t be surprised really. It makes sense that I would act professionally the way that I act personally. Previously I had thought that these skills were limited to things I learned in school, from my time as a programmer, or in my many volunteer activities. Today I added parenting to that list.

When we had kids we made many conscious decisions about how we would raise them. We put them in Montessori school to give them a foundation in learning skills. We used attachment parenting techniques. We use Non-violent communication techniques to resolve conflicts. We are, by definition, authoritative parents. Our goal is to teach our kids how to be grown-ups. So we spend a lot of time on skills, and talking about feelings, and all of that.

So how does this translate into the architecture profession?

One place it shows up is in how I listen to, and guide the conversations that I have with my clients. I honor and name the emotions. I am always seeking the unmet need that lies beneath, because once you find that, you can start to truly solve their problems. I try to put the problem on one side of a line, and my client and me on the other side, so that we are working together to solve the problem. I don’t blame. I don’t dictate solutions (usually).

But the other place it shows up is in how I manage my clients. An authoritarian architect will be demanding but unresponsive. A permissive architect will be responsive but undemanding. An authoritative architect will be responsive and demanding. I truly want my clients to not need me as much when I’m done. And that can only happen if I allow them to develop the skills needed to manage their work. Being responsive means that I provide what they need, not what I think they need. Being demanding means that I set expectations for them that I strive to hold them to.

Not every client needs or wants this. And I’ve found that with demanding clients I don’t feel as much part of the team as a service that they use. And I’m working on how to be a leading architect for my clients who need the guidance as opposed to the walking alongside architect that I am much more comfortable being.