Architect as extrovert

Architect as extrovert

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Many new architecture firms get founded by a duo of architects with a complimentary skill set.  They call one the “Practice Partner,” whose job it is to run the business and court new clients.  The other is called the “Professional Partner,” whose job it is to actually do the architecture.

Presumably, the Practice Partner has people skills because she must deal with personnel issues within the office and sell the firm to clients.  Presumably, the Professional Partner, therefore, doesn’t.  He keeps his bottom in the seat and his head bent over the drawings and/or computer screen.  He talks to the clients once they’ve been hooked, for the purposes of figuring out what they want, but isn’t expected to be an extrovert.

One thing that surprised me the most about the real-life practice of architecture is that, in fact, it does require us to be extroverts.  Throw out your stereotypes about the wimpy architect in the bow tie, or the broody artistic architect in his lair!  If you are to be good at architect, you must learn to seek people out and talk to them.

It’s due to one simple fact: Modern buildings are too complex for the architect to do it all.  We are not the artist/master-builder anymore. We are now the nexus of a network of people, and the one who must tap all those people at just the right time.

It turns out, the security consultant isn’t going to call you up when it’s time for his input.  You have to seek him out.

It turns out that when two other team members aren’t getting along, they aren’t going to inform you.  They’ll just stop working.  You won’t even realize it until a week or two have gone by without movement on an issue unless you are proactively calling people and asking for updates.

In previous firms, I frequently heard what can only be described as belly-aching.  Whining about how the client isn’t doing this or that.  The mechanical engineer isn’t responsive.  Or my favorite: Some variation of, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.  I don’t even know what the chain of command is in my project.”  Believe it or not, I even had a colleague who sat two desks from his boss and complains bitterly that his boss hasn’t bothered to give him a performance review in two years.

Wow.  You sat two desks away from him for two years and complained that he’s ignoring you?  This is not a problem I’ve ever had in my entire life.  That’s because I’m an extrovert.

Why am I known as the one person who can get an issue done when it’s languished in all over hands?  Because I’ll call everyone and his mother (read: assistant), twice a day, until it’s done.  Also, I’m more organized that most people.

Why do people ask me to deal with certain “difficult” consultants for them? Because I’m the one who will listen to *certain* people rant and yell about something, while filing my nails, and then when they are done I will tell them I absolutely know what they mean–yes, it’s totally ridiculous–and nonetheless I’m going to need that by Friday or all hell will break loose.

Why did I advance faster than my peers?  Because I ask questions all the time.  I’m not afraid to ask a dumb question because my self esteem is intact.

Don’t be afraid of people.  You can’t be afraid to pick up the phone first, and follow up with a well-written email.  For instance, I once had a colleague who was just terrified of the client.  He thinks his client is dishonest and sneaky, and just waiting for a reason to fire the firm.  He won’t ask any questions for fear of angering the client, so he cowers at his desk waiting for something to happen.

To contrast, my attitude is that if someone really is a sneaky, bad person, I’d rather it come to light sooner than later.  Usually, people aren’t bad; they’re busy and there’s been a misunderstanding.  But if they are bad, it’s better to waste less time in finding out.  So ask the tough questions.

To keep this messy network of people rolling toward the end goal, you have to:

  • Know every player and their idiosyncrasies
  • Never be afraid of anyone (at least fake it)
  • Know what you’re talking about
  • Ask the dumb questions
  • Get a headset because you’ll be on the phone all the live-long-day

This stuff is true in every phase of the project.  There is never a moment in architecture when you aren’t collaborating with other people, which means being brave enough to ask for what you need. Reference boiled architecture