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“I’m not paid to be a role model. I’m paid to wreak havoc on the basketball court.” – Charles Barkley

Those that know me personally would probably revise Barkleys’ quote to:

I’m not paid to be an architectural mentor. I’m paid to solve the clients’ design problems, provide clear and concise construction documents, and be profitable while not compromising the client/project goals.” – Keith

Truth is, as an architect I provide mentorship whether or not I consciously choose to or not. If someone seeks me for mentorship, I will assist wholeheartedly. I’m blatant that my ‘style’ of active mentorship is along the lines of ‘tough love;’ I don’t baby sit nor hand hold. That’s a waste of my time and does nothing to truly educate the mentoree. For those that don’t actively want to be mentored, it happens anyway via redlining their work and participation in meetings, site visits, etc. So what is mentorship, mentorship is:

1. Figuring out the best way to achieve a given a task/end goal. It’s not being given a task/end goal and every step/process along the way to achieve such.

2. Looking for, and experimenting with, steps/processes to follow to achieve a particular goal; asking a lot of questions. It’s not being told the steps/processes to follow nor is it looking to ask one specific question in hopes that answer catapults you to the end goal.

3. Presenting various solutions/information for review and discussion. It’s not presenting a single solution and asking “Is this what you wanted?”

4. Reviewing/red-lining your own work prior to having someone else review- if you can find your own mistakes, chances are you won’t make them again. It’s not simply handing your work over for others to find your mistakes/omissions.

5. Learning and learning how to learn. It’s not about being definitively told what to do and most importantly, not being told specifically how to do it.

Keep in mind; this occurs while I (or your mentor) keep a loose ‘tab’ on you. It sounds a bit harsh and even vague, perhaps it is. You’ll be allowed to err, but not in an abysmal manner to the project/client. The end goal of a successful ‘mentorship’ is an individual who can think for themselves and not rely on others to decidedly inform them of all they need to do.

Learning and growth are stagnated when one is sheltered in their comfort zone and need to be instructed on every task and how to achieve. If that’s your belief of being mentored, congratulations you’re on your path to being a draftsperson. If that’s what you want, fine, they will always be needed in the AEC profession. However, if you want to be an architect, you’ll need to be able to think for yourself and not rely on others to explicitly inform you of your tasks/means/methods; the quickest way to achieve such is through mentorship.

 

Design On,

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* This post is part of the ArchiTalks series in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect selects a topic and a group of ‘blog-ing’ architects all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s topic is ‘Mentorship’– to read how other architects interpreted the topic please click the links below:

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
This is NOT Mentorship

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Mentors, Millennials and the Boomer Cliff

Mark R. LePage – EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect)
Influence

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
ArchiTalks: Mentorship

Collier Ward – One More Story (@BuildingContent)
Mentorship

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
teach them the way they should go: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Bad Mentor, Good Mentor

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
The Top 3 Benefits for Architects to Mentor and to be Mentored

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
I’ve got a lot to learn

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Gurus, Swamis, and Other Architectural Guides

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
The Lonely Mentor

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Advice From My Mentor

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Mentoring with Anecdotes vs. Creating a Culture of Trust

Samantha R. Markham – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
Why every Aspiring Architect needs SCARs

Nisha Kandiah – ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Mentorship : mend or end ?

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
My Mentor

Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
5 Mentors that are in my life

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Mentorship

Gabriela Baierle-Atwood – Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
On Mentorship

Ilaria Marani – Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)
Mentorship

I never had any great desire to become a sole-practitioner architect; it came out of survival instincts. The economy was bad and my daughter likes to eat and have clothes. So a few fees here and a couple of forms there and I had my legal entity to officially practice architecture. I was off and running to secure my own work. ** cue wavy dreamy sequence*** Ah, that was 2009… seems like yesterday… but I digest. I know, I know sounds awesome… well for the most part, it is! So what are my top +10 for being a sole practitioner, here you go:

+1. I get to resolve all the ‘bad’ issues that arise- it’s the best learning experience.

+2. No random principal comes to me at the 11th hour saying “I’m not sure I agree; let’s give this scheme a try.”

+3. I can refuse projects that aren’t a good fit.

+4. I rise and fall… I get credit for both!

+5. I get full authority on creativity… as well as veto power!

+6. I can go mountain biking or mow the lawn whenever I have to clear my head.

+7. When I take pens and trace from the office, no one knows but me… shh.

+8. All my days-off for vacation requests are approved.

+9. I’m in control of where my practice goes… such as my design value menu concept.

And the final, and best reason I enjoy being ‘da man’…

+10. It allows me to be more actively present in my daughter’s life, attend martial arts classes, field trips, volunteer at school, etc.

With all the positives, much like everything in life, there are also negatives to being a sole practitioner. However, the majority of negatives can be resolved relatively easily. Here are my 10 for being a sole practitioner:

1. When I have a lunch and learn I have to buy lunch and be the teacher.

2. No big firm resources- books, software, supplies, etc.

3. No one to bounce ideas off of or offer constructive criticism (Facebook and Instagram comments don’t count).

4. I’m the architect, receptionist,  business development guy, PR department, admin department, good cop, contract writer, AR/P department, educator, bad cop, night cleaning crew, IT guy, intern, model maker, lackey, CAD/BIM manager, CA guy, marketing department, general whipping boy, spec writer, etc.

5. I have to buy trace, scales, and sharpies.

6. No intern to pass grunt work off to mentor.

7. No Friday morning **insert favorite breakfast here** paid for by others.

8. Nobody to foot the bill for the annual holiday party.

9. Firm retreats are extremely lonely.

And the final, and reason I don’t like being a sole practitioner…

10. No room for advancement within the firm unless I take a pay cut and demote myself first.

Much like a battery, in order for things to run well you need both a positive and a negative. As long as the +/- tend to weigh slightly more to the +, it’s most likely worth doing. It’s tough working on your own and it’s not for everyone. There are days I question it. However, if you do go this route it will be extremely rewarding!

 

Design On,

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Would you trust Art Vandelay as an architect? Maybe. After all, he did do the Guggenheim and it didn’t take him that long. However, I doubt you would trust him as an architect. Why? Credibility.

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If you aspire to be a respected architect and deliver successful projects, your credibility is crucial- especially knowledge about construction. Early in my career I was well respected by clients, and most importantly, contractors on the job site. Did I have this from being the greatest designer? No. Was it that I sported a goatee? No. Were my Construction Documents really awesome and legible? No, I mean yes, but No. Was it that I was an expert code guy? No. Was it that I dressed well? No. It wasn’t any of these. What it was can be attributed to three experiences:

1. As a child, I learned a lot from my dad- he was a master carpenter and cabinetmaker.

2. In high school, I worked at a real lumber yard, not a big-box home improvement store.

3. In college, I was a laborer for a residential construction company.

How did these foster my credibility?

1. My dad taught me the basics of construction and materials. Sounds simple, it is, but you need to know the basics. From an early age I knew what a 2×4 was vs. a 2×6, a screw from a nail, etc. It meant I could talk to contractors intelligently.

2. Working at a real lumber yard broadened my knowledge of materials and how/where they were used. In addition, it gave me a basic understanding of material costs.

3. This construction experience underscored the fact that what is on paper gets built, but not necessarily built as it is drawn. I learned how things actually go together and the construction scheduling process.

You’ll be surprised at how much of your past will impact your future as an architect. These three experiences afforded me knowledge which instilled in clients and contractors a sense of trust that I knew what I was talking about. It’s hard to get projects built. However, it’s extremely difficult to get projects built the way you want them built. If you’re taken for your word, and are knowledgeable and correct, your project has a better chance of being successful. Having credibility as an architect is a crucial ‘tool’ for the success of a project.

However, construction knowledge isn’t the ‘end all’ of credibility, although you must at least have a basic understanding. An architect can offer credibility in other areas- codes, sustainability, project management, detailing, construction management, etc. On the flip-side, having no credibility whatsoever can ruin the best of all projects. On a lighter side, your credibility may be suspect if you…

a. Think a 2×4 is 2″ by 4″

b. Think lines on your drawings are just that, lines

c. You felt ignorant when asked if a beam was upset or not, you had no idea beams had feelings

d. Think those changes won’t cost that much

e. Can’t draw a legible revised detail on site on the back of a 1/2 torn Subway sandwich wrapper using a carpenter’s pencil

f. Don’t want to walk the site because it’s muddy

g. Forgo a pre-construction meeting because there’s nothing to talk about because nothing is built yet

h. Are asked why there is no cricket indicated on the roof plan, your response “Cricket? (covering phone and turning towards colleague), “I think the contractor has been drinking, cricket, that’s an English baseball sort of game… He doesn’t know what he’s talking about, we should have selected the cheaper guy!”

Are you a credible architect? If so, why do you think you are and how did you get to be such? What tips do you have for future architects on establishing their own credibility?

 

Design On,

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* This post is part of the ArchiTalks series in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect selects a topic and a group of ‘blog-ing’ architects all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s topic is ‘Dear future architects…’ I chose to discuss the credibility of an architect– to read how other architects interpreted the topic for ArchiTalks #19, please click the links below:

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Dear Future Architects: A Confession

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/dear-future-architects-you-need-to-hear-this/

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Dear Future Architects: 4 Perspectives

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
dear future architects

Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel)
Dear Future Architects

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Dear Future Architects: 3 letters

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
future architects: #architalks

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)
Dear Future Architect, Listen Here

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Dear Future Architect — Remember Then

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“Dear Future Architects,”

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Dear Future Architects..

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Dear Future Young Architects… Please Quit Screwing Around!?!!

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Dear Future Architects: Don’t makes these 4 Mistakes

brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Dear Boy in the Plastic Bubble,

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Dear Future Architects

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Dear Future Architects, Be Authentic

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Dear Future Architects…

Anthony Richardson – That Architecture Student (@anth_rich)
Dear Future Anthony

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Dear Future Architects, Do Your Thing

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Dear Future Architect,

Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Dear Future Architects, Don’t Forget to Treat Your Clients with Respect

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
Dear Future Architects…

Jared W. Smith – Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
Dear Future Architects…

Rusty Long – Rusty Long, Architect (@rustylong)
Dear future architects, never lose your optimism

Adam Denais – Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch)
Dear Future Architect, a Letter to My Younger Self

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Dear Future Architects…

Ken Saginario – Twelfth Street Studio ()
Dear Future Architects…

Please Note: the part of the architect will be played by me, Keith. For protection, the partygoer’s real names will not be used.

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I would say at least 99.99% of my readers have delivered, received, or overheard the following conversation at a party:

Partygoer1: “Hey Partygoer2, you should talk with Keith, he’s an architect… you guys have a lot in common.”

Partygoer2: “That would be great. I did take some art classes in college, although I wasn’t very good at math.”

Partygoer1: “Keith… Keith… psst KEITH!”

Keith: (with a blank stare looks up from the nacho platter) “Oh, hey… Partygoer1, how are you doing?”

Partygoer1: “You know, I can’t complain… well I could but nobody would listen” (roars with laughter and makes pistol gestures with both hands)

Keith: (attempts to laugh but can only muster a look of insanity)

Partygoer1: “Keith, I’d like you to meet Partygoer2. You guys have a lot in common.”

Partygoer2: (extends arm for handshake)

Keith: (confused, air-gestures a hand shake while retaining a beer and nachos in hands…looks even more crazed) “Hi Partygoer2. Partygoer1 says we have a lot in common. Are you in architect or related to the profession in another capacity? (Thinks to himself, or better yet, “Do you have oodles of disposable income and would like to hire me?”)

Partygoer2: “Well sort of… I took a few art classes in college. I always thought it would be the most awesome thing ever to be an architect and draw all day!”

Keith: (disparity overcomes his demeanor) “Well, actually…”

Partygoer2: (cuts Keith off mid-sentence) “Seriously, how cool is it to draw all day!

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The rest of the conversation is a blur to me. I’m sure I said some really compelling things. However, all I recall hearing was “Draw blah blah blah… draw… art… blah blah blah… failed math… blah blah blah.” I can hear you saying, “Keith, this is just another opportunity to explain what it is an architect does.” You’re right, and I did the best I could. Further, I did turn it into something productive- I came up with a list of what I do on a typical day. The next time a conversation like this arises, and it will, I will have laminated (nachos can be messy) copies of the list to distribute. What a typical day for me as an architect entails, a list of ‘stuff’ I do:

1. Read through 37 or so emails…hmmm BIM/CAD software for $19.99… what could be the issue?

2. Wrote 2 contracts… revised 2 contracts.

3. Selected colors, Bright White for the wall and Brilliant White for the ceiling.

4. Prepared a PCCE.

5. Spoke with a contractor about the bid forms he received.

6. Phoned the printer to find out why the drawings that were supposed to be here yesterday aren’t here today.

7. Spoke with plan reviewer, he won’t approve a pedestal building design because he doesn’t think it meets code.

8. Read section 508.2 of the International Building Code- as it pertains to a pedestal building.

9. Re-read section 508.2.

10. A publisher phoned and inquired if I would pay to be in their book…um, no!

11. Re-read section 508.2, I’m positive. I’m correct.

12. Phoned the International Code Council (ICC) to discuss section 508.2 of the IBC and persuade them to make the correct interpretation.

13. Established architectural fees for a renovation project.

14. Re-explained to GC his responsibility for reframing any/all soffits if he doesn’t submit a mechanical system layout drawing for review prior to install.

15. Laid out the framing plans for a new house (sort of counts as drawing, + ½ point for drawing).

16. Sketched bathroom option (+1 point for drawing).

17. Ordered office supplies.

18. Reviewed contractors request for pre-fab fireplace substitution.

19. Prepared/sent invoices.

20. Spoke with the ICC rep, he stated he agrees with me and will issue an interpretation.

21. Sketched/forwarded a detail clarification per contractor’s request (+1 point for drawing).

22. Review/red-line set of CD drawings (sort of counts as drawing, + ½ point for drawing).

23. Researched Cumaru wood decking.

24. Unjammed printer. Jammed. Unjammed.

25. Worked on SD floor plan sketches (+1 point for drawing).

26. Prepared an RFP for structural services.

27. Phoned a client to explain to them, delicately, why their idea won’t ‘work.’

28. Confirmed zoning and setbacks for a property.

29. Responded to plan reviewer comments.

30. Met with utility company rep to discuss possible water service line upgrade.

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Tallying the points, we have drawing at 4 points and all other stuff an architect does on a typical day at 26 points, or 87% non-drawing. Even if you’re not good at math, the winner is clear.

As an architect I draw, but I don’t draw all day every day. There is an abundant amount of ‘other stuff’ that we as architects do that has nothing to do with drawing- it’s what separates us from being a ‘designer’ or drafter. It’s worth noting, that much like an Oreo, the ‘other stuff’ can also be ‘double stuffed.’ As an architect, I strive to make my clients experience enjoyable and buffer them from the vast amount of decisions a project requires- such that they can focus on what is drawn– that’s what an architect does all day every day.

 

Design On,

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Later that night I did draw a bath, but there is no way I’m counting that as drawing! Originally posted September 13 2012, edited/revised per date above.

It’s that time of year again and there’s a new crop of architectural graduates who are about to begin searching for their first job as an architect. This time of year brings with it resolutions, goals, renewed passions, reflections, and resumes… lots of resumes inquiring about employment. I try to respond to every inquiry I can- sorry to those I haven’t. This year has been no different. However, lately the resumes I’ve been receiving have a reoccurring ‘theme,’ one which is quite disturbing. Inquiries such as this:

“I’ll be graduating soon and I’m just looking to gain experience, no need to pay me.”

Or

“I’ve been out of work for a while and I’m just looking to gain experience, I’m willing to work for no compensation”

Or

“My employment proposal would consist of me actually working in your office without being paid. I know that sounds crazy, but I think your firm and I could benefit greatly.”

Yes, it’s crazy and No, neither I nor you will benefit. Unless you’re independently wealthy or all your bills are allowed to be paid via Monopoly money… wait… no. Under no circumstances should you work for no payment (pro bono work is a different post). The message you’re sending is that you don’t value your skills/experience and that they’re of no value to someone else. If you have no value, you’re of no benefit to me. If you’re just looking to gain experience by not being paid, you’re on the path to a bad experience. You may as well state “I want you to teach me for free so some other firm can benefit.” You’ll leave as soon as a firm offers to pay you. Benefit to me, I don’t think so.

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There is no benefit to me. If I’m not paying you what obligations do you have to me for valuing your work? What incentive do I have to teach you anything, I’m not investing in you or your skill set. You have no obligations to me. If you’re not compensated for work you do, what does that say about how you value yourself? Why would you ever work for free? What’s in it for you? An employer who allows you to work for no compensation is not invested in you, they’re using you. I don’t see any benefit for you. I don’t care how much experience you think you’ll gain, don’t do it. Do you really want experience from an employer who doesn’t value you? The answer is no. You want a firm that is willing to invest in you. When you invest a return is expected, a return with interest- interest in you.

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Yes the AEC profession is a tough one to be in- if you can’t find employment use your time to enhance your marketability. Learn new software, brush up on current building codes, enhance your knowledge of software you already know, etc. Follow firms you like via social media- join in the conversations, express interest in their work, and ask questions. If you’ve been out of work or are a soon to be graduate, what have you been doing and figure out how to take those experiences and market them as a valuable asset. Have you started a blog, learned a new skill, have a new hobby, etc. Market your skills and experiences as valuable, and to their fullest extent. Because honestly, the inquiry’s I receive about working for free don’t get considered by me. You don’t value yourself so what value should I have for you, harsh, but it’s true. Get out there and sell yourself, and by sell I mean you expect to be paid to play in the AEC profession.

 

Design On,

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* Originally posted February 05 2014, edited/revised per date above- No, I’m not hiring… but hope to be soon