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Category: Design

The Architects Who Finish Other Things

There are going to be quite a few architects I’ll be interviewing for Creative Finishes project, and I already know that the most interesting of them will not being doing what architects seemingly are supposed to do. They’re using a specialized set of talents in more general ways, not building buildings but interacting with the built environment and anything else that require their design skill set. So many architects are smarter than they realize, and especially smarter than what the educational institutions and professional organizations know. Architects can do other things. I just wish those directing and creating the occupation of Architecture knew that or even admitted that.

Back in 2010, I met Maia Small, who is both architect and educator. She had recently launched a Tumblr site (now gone, apparently) of Architects of Other Things. It was a marvelous list of all these people who got an architectural education and then went on to do other things. The training for architecture is incredibly applicable to the broader world but the world of architects seems to be getting smaller and smaller, app by app eating away at what used to be their realm.

This was a big issue for me while on the AIA board. They were obsessing over the parts of the occupation that will inevitably be automated and almost ignoring those talents that cannot be automated. While on the board, they increased the number of HSW (Health, Safety, Welfare) credits necessary to maintain licensure. I have no issue with an architect’s skill in measurable things being at sufficient competence. Like most people, I want buildings to stay standing up. I just don’t care about buildings that stay standing but are boring. I wanted less HSW, more poetry. I wanted Architects to be more interesting, and thereby their buildings be more interesting. Someday, machines will be more than capable of making boxes (machines for living, as the arrogant phrasing went) but I’m thinking they’ll be less capable of making beautiful buildings. No one is going to love boxes made by machines – and as I heard Cameron Sinclair, co-founder of Architecture for Humanity, “The most sustainable building is a building that is loved.”

Finish with 40 Enemies

A special effects friend and I have had many conversations about Creatives and the creative process, but upon shifting the conversation to the idea of how Creatives finish, this comment stood out as an effect of successfully finishing: “You create 40 enemies.” In a reasonably tight knit community, your success pointed out to those forty people their failure to complete. It became a mirror that said every time they looked: “You didn’t finish it.” The big caution here is that so many people talk about their creative projects, to the point where that’s the most creative part of it. The story becomes the impediment because it becomes so perfect that no rational person could fulfill it.

Like the crabs in the bucket notion, do you sometimes stay back with friends, preferring to talk about the things you say you’re going to do rather than face the real loneliness that’s often necessary in both the production phase as well as in the after effects? It’s been said that “Success leaves clues” and I suppose that it’s also true that “Success loses friends.”

Like many of the Creatives I’ve been talking with, he also used deadlines – and in a specific case, he did it by announcing it to the Internet. He posted what they were about to release and made the rest of the team mad, because all of their reputations were now on the line. By external expectations, they had to get it done or the pain was going to be big.

So much of creative work is not finished as much as abandoned. Yet, it’s emerged from the conversation that there’s an awful lot of projects that aren’t so much abandoned as they are set aside. If kept, they serve as signposts, inspirations and sometimes a parts supply for subsequent projects.

Finally, he said that successful creation involves a bit of self-talk: ”You belong here.” He’s doing cool stuff and sometimes he finds a fair amount of intimidation because of the people who are also in the room. Like most of us, he can recall the line from the Radiohead song Creep: “What the hell am I doing here?” His self-talk is that he does belong here. He thinks back to his various and wide successes – and he has to recall those in the context of sitting in that room.

I’ve found that many creatives have a bit of a self-esteem problem, but really I think that’s a misnomer. Because of the successes that many of these people have, the issue isn’t low self-esteem, it’s humility – and that’s should never be a problem in it’s proper context. As G. K. Chesterton has offered, people wrongly doubt their plans when in fact they should doubt themselves. When there’s no self-doubt, there’s often madness. The purpose of humility is to know your place in the universe. Your place in the universe is to use your talents to create things. When you combine ambition with a measure of humility you can create great things – and that’s a bit of heaven.