QUESTIONS FROM A YOUNG ARCHITECT

There is something I mentioned in a previous post and I wanted to come back to the topic of urban sprawl…. We have all heard it and are increasingly aware of the problem we face. Gas continues to go up in price and I believe that we should see the density start to rise again in our major cities. But many of us will continue to say that the time we spend in the car and the amount we spend on gas is just part of the daily grind. I think that train of thought will begin to change, or I can at least hope that it will change.

Speaking for myself, I don’t like to waste my time and I don’t know many young people who do. Currently, I live forty-five minutes from the office where I work.  That means I spend between an hour and half and two hours in my car a day with traffic. Take that over a week, and that’s between six and half to ten hours. Over a month that means I will spend approximately twenty six to forty hours in my car, that’s nearly a week of work every month I am missing out on while sitting in my car.

Let’s say for the sake of this article we keep the math simple, and say I make ten dollars an hour. So in a month I waste nearly four hundred dollars in my time, and another two in the gas I burn on my way to and from the office. Now I realize we don’t get paid for the time we aren’t working but for this argument let’s say we put a value on our time like our employers do. So in the span of one month I will spend nearly six hundred dollars in time and resources going back forth to work.

Now what happens when I move closer to the city, and if I only lived a mile and a half from the office? What if I bought a bike and I could actually ride to work. I could save 95% of my time to and from the office; I would get exercise daily, and save a large amount of money. Now what if that six hundred a month I was spending could actually get invested in something more valuable? Now I realize I am only a drop in a much larger bucket, but what happens when the majority of those living more than 15 minutes from work did the same. What impact would that have on our cities? How much would the density rise, how much better could our cities be? Would we start to see a rebirth in our cities? What would we do with the money are spending on gas?

I would like to believe if we made our cities into walk able environments and reduced our dependence on our cars and trucks we could start to see pride take hold again and a concern for the built environment. What if we could walk to wherever we needed to go, would we stop being lazy? Could we start to see an increase in our activity? What about an increase in our sense of community? What if we started to invest in public space and the built environment, instead of our own private spaces with fences that make our boundaries very clear to the public? What happens when start to enjoy housing with a shared courtyard, a place where we can get to know our neighbors beyond saying hi at the mail box, a place for a community garden that could yield as much as you put into it? What if the amount we spend on gas goes down and we could spend it with our families, or giving back to amazing nonprofits that do incredible work, or taking a class or that trip we have been dreaming of?

What happens when we stop increasing the size of our homes? When we have a modest dwelling we begin to set priorities to what we actually need versus what we think we need. A close friend of mine reminds me that designing small means simply designing smart. I look around and have to ask, do we really live in a time of surplus? I have always thought that modesty is a good thing.  How is it that we are impressed by the square footage of our homes and not by how charitable we are, or what we are doing for the community?

I know that I have posed a lot of questions and not offered many solutions, but I hope that these thoughts and these ideas might wake something up inside of you and that you begin thinking about how this relates to your life. I feel like a hypocrite while writing about all of this, knowing that I am living in suburbia with my parents and doing nothing to change that. I know that I am just starting out and don’t have the ability to go out on my own, so I am fortunate to have the support of my family and will never take that for granted. For now I know that the drive might be long but I wouldn’t be able to make it without them in my life, a big thank you to my friends and family who are always there to support me in all that I do.

LEADERSPEAK: IS YOUR CHECK ENGINE LIGHT ON?

Have you ever been driving down the road and all of a sudden a little sport car goes flying past you? I started thinking about that car the other day after I was wrapping up a day in the office. I was picturing that car cruising along, oblivious to the fact that it was blowing a whole lot of smoke and causing a mess for everyone else to navigate through. I smiled when I passed that car pulled over on the side of the road, realizing if only they had taken better care of their car it wouldn’t have happened. For the purpose of this piece, let’s just say they ran out of gas.

I normally don’t like using analogies to make my point but this time I am going to make an exception. For the past year I have been in and out of so many offices searching for a place to start my career, just like every other recent graduate out there . Through that time, I have had the opportunity to see various offices and the character and culture of each.  This has allowed me to gain a better understanding of what an office environment is really like compared to anything my professors tried to explain. The analogy came to me when I was reflecting back over my experiences from the past several months and the thought of that little car came to mind.

I’m sure you’re wondering where I am going with this, right? Well, what I mean by that is that an engine runs on gas and oil. If you consider the oil as the collaborative and creative side of an office, while the gas in the tank as the productive side that keeps the office running, you’ll get this analogy. The point is that you need both of those to keep the car operating, so keep that in mind when you start the engine on your firm.

Think about this; if you run with too much oil and not enough gas, you just end up in a big cloud of smoke while you’re stranded on the side of the road. This means when you spend all your time thinking and playing without proper production, you just end up breaking down and on the side of the road with your thumb out asking for a ride. The opposite is equally devastating, too much gas and not enough oil, you end up going really far but burn out after that recommended oil change. What I mean is if you are only productive and don’t take time to play, then you lose your passion for what you do and quickly stop caring about the task at hand.

The right balance for everyone is different. Each firm has their own ratio that works for the culture they have created. A particular amount of oil to every gallon of gas is critical, some work better with a drop and some take it by the quart. Every firm is unique and there is no exact science to the right ratio but there does need to be balance. Finding that balance and individuals who believe in the culture of the office will keep it running smoothly and it is those firms that will stand the test of time. Now there will always be other factors to consider, but when the firm has a shared vision and believe in what they are doing they will always find a way to make it work.

THROUGH THE EYES OF A YOUNG ARCHITECT

With every profession applying the term architect to a title, what does it really mean to be an architect? It seems funny to me that for the past few months, several publications have revealed architecture has the highest unemployment rate as a degree. So I started asking questions, why would somebody want to be an architect during these times? Is the title of architect becoming just another buzz word or are we more than the latest profession in the spotlight? It took a minute to ponder, so I rubbed my eyes in an attempt to wake up and thought if I would rather be anywhere else. I knew the answer to that question before I even finished that thought; there is no other profession out there for me. Maybe I am strange but I love the long hours, sleepless nights, and more cups of coffee than any one person should drink in a lifetime.

Architect used to mean “master builder”, but what does it stand for today? Are we still considered a master builder or just simply a luxury item, when aesthetics are concerned? Now I will admit that we don’t know everything about something, but we do know something about everything. The goal of an architect should be to create sexy solutions for everyday issues, through the collaboration and knowledge of various disciplines. The critical part of our job it to be able to cast a vision on the end result of the project and develop a plan for getting there.

The key in the success of any project is communication. Our ability to bridge the gap between professions and find a solution that works for everyone is critical. An architect understands the rules of thumb and generalities of each discipline, but doesn’t have a full technical knowledge of everything. This is why collaboration is critical, and why bringing everyone to the conversation is so beneficial. We must be a leader, but in order to be a great leader we must surround ourselves with individuals that possess the strengths we do not.

A typical scene down a side street of Boston, featuring walk up housing.

Not only is the architect the leader of the design team, but they also help to lead change. With gas continuing to rise in price, I believe we will start to see the decline of suburbia. My hope would be to watch density rise and a rebirth of our cities. The days of spending hours in our cars is coming to an end. As an architect we have the ability to re-imagine our urban spaces and create places that enrich our daily lives. We must remember that design doesn’t have to be force fed to the public, but can be done in a subtle way that compliments the existing situation, whatever the conditions may be. The greenest buildings are the ones already standing, but we must find ways which facilitate the functions those buildings never anticipated.

I could not be more excited for the challenges we will face ahead. They  will not be easy, but they will begin to challenge the way we think. From the places we choose to dwell, the way we look at our cities, to the way we design our landscapes; these will be changing. It is up to us to decide if they will change for the better.