Are Architects Oblivious to Employee Suffering? The four syndromes.

Are architects oblivious to suffering when it comes to work practices and workflows in their firm’s and studios? Are employee well-being and flexible work-life balance practices ingrained in the way that architects manage and organise their offices? Paid maternity and paternity leave might be a case in point. I am not so sure how well architects are getting across these issues in Australia; maybe, just maybe, architects are getting there a bit?

However, I am prompted to write about this because of a few recent stories, from the front-lines of architectural practice. I have framed them in the form of syndromes as many of them seem to persist in studio culture. If you witness all four of these syndromes in your workplace maybe it’s time to get out. To help I have tried to offer a few counter suggestions of how you might act if you are faced with these kinds of syndromes.

At a broader level Negotiations is indeed something I would like to see taught more of in Architecture schools. The best design architect I worked with, who shall remain nameless, was also great at negotiations: pragmatic, modest, yet tough when required with an innate sense of negotiation timing.

How else do you get real architecture and great designs built? By being a prima-donna-baby? Certainly not by thinking your design is great and you don’t need to negotiate. Or worse still imposing your giant design ego on the design process without a clue about negotiating.

S1 Silence when we forget to pay you.

Yep, a middle-sized practice that forgets; to pay its employees for a month. Pays monthly then very little or no communications with the staff for an extended period (WTF, like 3 weeks). Eventually, practice leaders say there is a stuff up with their accounting system and tax payments, and as a result, the staff weren’t paid.

Apparently, the real reason the practice itself has not been paid is a result of poor agreements with clients and an inability to manage cash flow. I think more architects should use debt collectors.

Counter with: No-money No-workee. Try and say that and you will be surprised how good it makes you feel. And you can easily find another job. Besides, why work for arseholes who don’t pay their staff or their architects.

S2 The rubber band syndrome

If you are competent, you will get piled on with lots and lots of work. Until you snap. The project work keeps coming. You keep saying yes. You put your heart and soul into that work because, unlike your supervisors, you are ethical. They will keep piling on the work until you break. It’s a tactic of bullies. Eventually, all the responsibility, the extra hours, the so-called “all-nighters” will make you snap. At its best, you might just get angry with someone at its worse you will have a mental breakdown or worse still an aneurysm (Perhaps we need to ask just how many How many architectural employers will cover your sick pay after the snap).

After you snap, your employers will blame YOU the victim. Believe me, I know.

Usually, people have worked outside of the award or their employment contracts, if they exist, and the best situation in this instance is to make sure you have good legal advice when signing employment contracts.

Counter with: Post-Snap always good to get a bit of legal advice and a legal letter to your employers outlining the situation. Call out the bullies, and that will usually get you out of being blamed as a victim. But, maybe not.

S3 Fruit and Veg Market syndrome

This syndrome is particularly devious and fundamentally manipulative. But it is very very prevalent. I once saw an architect I worked for at the Vic Market in Melbourne. He was shopping for fruit and vegetables and going from stall to stall, picking up each individual fruit and mango, examining it and then putting it down. Eventually, after a few stalls, he selected the Mango he wanted. This was the mango that seemed just right: for the moment. But he had picked up and tried and examined a lot of mangos along the way.

When I saw this, it dawned on me that this was how this person treated staff. Pick them up and pick them out from the other mangos, give them an attractive job a role or position, turn them around and about, and then as soon as the mango picker has extracted some worth its time to discard.

Don’t be a MANGO in the hands of a fickle and clueless director or manager. I am never going to fall for that one again.

Counter with: When you get picked as the Mango make sure your rules of engagement—and exit mechanisms–are discussed, outlined and clearly written down.

S4 Drip Feed Syndrome

This one is about incentives and many of you reading this blog will realise just how familiar it is. Too often potential clients and even real clients employ this on architects themselves with a promise of future work or benefits. Your employers are unable to offer the correct wages for your knowledge and skills so they will provide you with incentives here are a few of the more common ones.

•We will make you an associate.

• We will give you a great project to work on.

• We will provide you with more experience.

• We will give you a permanent job.

• We will actually pay you.

Drip, Drip Drip and Drip.

Counter with: Point out and highlight the drip each time you get a drip. And try and negotiate for real and authentic incentives in exchange for measurable outcomes.

All of the above syndromes have implications for the employee. For the person who is not in a position of authority or power. The student, the recent graduate, the intersectional employee or even the really experienced older architect. Many architectural employees have invested 5 to 7 years of education, and more years, in architecture to only then be caught up in a global, yes global, system of callous disregard. Usually, a disregard associated with the teeth-gritting masculinities of the pedigreed architectural tough guys.

In each of the above syndromes, the well-being of the employee involved tends to be ignored. I wonder what it is in the design studio system that breeds such callousness? I wonder what it is about the system of pedigrees and architectural stars that also produces such callousness? What is it about the architecture schools, especially those run by architects, that seem to replicate these syndromes within them?

So two questions remain: Are the most successful architects the ones who are best at exploiting the talent? And are the most successful architects the ones that can exploit the talent while being oblivious to the suffering and well-being of the architectural talent they exploit. All I can say is architects need better skills and managing the people in their firms and across their institutions.

On a positive note we should all be more like Cardi B.

Architects and Risk: The personal connection.

Thank you for all those who have completed the Surviving the Design Studio: Global Research Survey. The results and comments so far have come from all over the globe. It has given me much food for thought and the results will be shared here as blog post, or two, in early March. I would like to thank everyone for the comments and certainly the next research Survey I conduct will be better again. In the meantime we are rushing to prepare the Practice subject for the beginning of semester at MSD in two weeks.

tom_oliver_payne_robin_hood_gardens_brutalism-8.jpg

The Myth of the Digital Superhero

For most architects the drive of the architect to be a digital superhero, a creative celebrity, or a young Instagram genius, obviates and perhaps erases the necessity to focus on risk mitigation. But, regardless of the efforts to fashion a stable, if not stellar, identity in the vain hope of surviving financially, the overwhelming focus of attention for both employed and self-employed architects is risk mitigation. This has a personal dimension.

Yes, like most architects when I hear or read the word “risk”, my eyes glaze over and I think about hopeless project managers and all those risk matrix forms we sometime have to fill in the workplace. Like everyone I ahte thsoe cheesy Risk Management powerpoints.

For the majority of small practices and employee architects managing project risk appears to be dependent on the procurement path that has been chosen for any individual design or project. Yes, of course, managing project and design risks has been inculcated into architects since architecture school. But sometimes, like the dmeolition of Robin Hood Gardens, everyhting goes pear shaped.

Risk and the everyday life of architects. 

But, there is another aspect to the predominant approaches to managing risk in architecture that has, I think,  been overlooked. Whilst rarely stated project risk, the risks managed by architects as they undertake projects, and the risks they must manage in their everyday lives are linked; individual architects and small firms are required to manage their own personal financial risks in the face of volatile cash flows.

More alarmingly, given that the majority of architects either work in or a part of small SMEs project risks can easily impact on an architects individual economic circumstances. These risks may include:

  • The architect being sued for perceived or actual negligence.
  • Insolvency as result of not recovering client fees.
  • Insolvency through individual mismanagement; either time or financial management.
  • The need to use individual resources to rectify a design or construction error.

To reiterate, all of the risk events can connect to and impact individual and personal circumstances. But small firms often have few resources to manage the risks they face. They are often locked into cycles of inadequate fees, over work and conflicts in their work-life balance.

Fighting Risk

v1.jpg

Arguably, in Australian risk management is only partially inscribed in the competencies that determine architectural education. Yes, many of the architectural associations, wherever they may be in the world, have tried to plug the risk management gaps with professional development programs. In other words, the first response, the fighting response, has been  to build capability and knowledge about risk management.

 In a study of risk management practices in UK SMEs including architects (64 small practices and 49 medium practices) noting that risk regulation frameworks have been extensively studied and proposed. Yet, it was found that there is little understanding of how these frameworks are implemented in SMEs. The studies suggest that the resources required to adequately manage risks, in particular to implement risk management techniques, was often prohibitive because it was “unrealistic for SMEs and beyond their capability and affordability.” Despite this limitation he concluded that small firms required appropriate organisations structures, tools and organisational culture in order to implement effective risk management in order to gain competitive advantage.

Fleeing from Risk  

Recently in a discussion in an architect’s office it was put to me that in some ways architects have run away from risk. It was stated that in some respects architects had actually de-risked their practices but done this in a way that has given away ground to our competitors.

Because of a lack of resources individual architects have not resisted, and perhaps been complicit in the de-risking that has come about as result of external factors including: competition from project managers, disintermediation across the practice life-cycle and the increasing  availability and lower costs of digital tools. We have to stop doing Trash-for-Cash-Jobs. 

As architects we are best able to manage design and construction risks. But too often we perceive ourselves as the victims, of clients, developers and contractors.

3081684_img_7367

The personal dimension

But as suggested above, risk for many architects also has  personal dimension. This is often missed in the risk management literature. In the UK in 2009 a study of architectural job satisfaction, found that:

“20 and 40 percent of respondents are dissatisfied with their rate of pay, practice management, promotion prospects, working hours and opportunity to use their abilities”

In contrast self-employed architects appeared to experience better occupational well-being. In contrast self-employed architects had more satisfaction because they had more flexibility and control over their workflows. However, there were issues for these architects, particularly in the area of job security as well as greater conflicts in their work-life balance.

In another similar UK based study focused on architects similar findings are confirmed. However, these researchers point to the:

 “a seismic shift in industry culture is required in order to address issue around flexible work practices, effective time management and workload planning⁠.” 

Mental Health: the real risk.  

 

Another area of personal risk for the architect is in the area of mental health.

In a landmark survey of existing research commissioned by the NSW registration board and the ConNetica.

There exists a dearth of research around the mental health concerns facing architects, when students, when seeking employment, and when employed.”

But perhaps, more importantly, As the study states in this conclusion:

“The perception of architecture as a profession that is male dominated, that involves excessively long study hours and intense commitment during education, and excessive work hours and intense, often isolating, project focus in practice, suggests there are elements in the profession’s culture that could be contributing factors in mental health concerns. Whilst research to date has addressed the mental health of students (with some addressing architecture students specifically), There also are concerns in regards to women in architecture, given that it is considered a male dominated industry, and that their mental health may be at risk as a result.”

Architects, as a profession, need to think about risk in both deeper and broader ways. But it also makes me think that in Australia we need an Architects Benevolent Society. 

Robinhood images are from Deezeen and the Architects Journal 

ARCHITECTS VS. TRUMP-LIKE CLIENTS: Rising Up Against The Alien Overlords Known As Client.

As we start to get into 2018 many of us can see that Trump would be the worst kind of architectural client. But sadly, many clients have Trump like tendencies and this is a real problem for most architects. It is a particular problem for those architects who have to deal with clients with the resources to do large projects. Please note: I am always available to run a client education or design thinking workshop for your most evil and Trump-Like clients. 

Architects, apart from having to deal with Project Managers, without any idea of the complexities and nuances of design thinking, architects also have to deal with that other group of evil alien overlords: Trump-like clients.

Emotional Domestic clients

maxresdefault.jpg

An Emotional Domestic Client 

Don’t get me wrong many clients are great, supportive trusting and generous in their relations with the architect. But many clients are problematic to the architect for a number of reasons which I will explain below. For small architectural projects, in particular residential projects client emotions can and tend to run high. In some ways this is understandable if the client has had no previous experience of building procurement or you are ripping off the back of their house, usually their largest asset, in order to make it better. In my experience domestic clients tend to flip out the most just after the demolition stage, or during framing stage prior to anything else being installed.

Large project clients

But my remarks here are directed to those architects with larger projects and clients. These are the clients who should know better. But, often they don’t and I want to outline some of the pathologies at play here. By larger clients I mean large companies, large public institutions, state or federal governments, not for profit agencies with turnovers exceeding not just millions, but hundreds of millions and even billions of dollars. There large projects spun out of these entities might include projects related to urban infrastructure, health or education.

7 Characteristics of Trump-like Clients 

lead_960.jpg

I met a friend over January for a coffee who is a project manager in one of the larger entities. This person trained as an architect and then pursued a career in Project Management. By the end of her latte she had quickly outlined the characteristics of the dysfunctional, Trump-like Clients often found in these large organisations. These clients may be individuals, the may be CEOs, senior executives, line managers, so-called project managers with responsibilities, or worse still a committee of so-called stakeholders.

1. Dithering

Firstly, the dysfunctional client is always meddling. Mostly the process is additive. Adding a bit to the design here and there, a new material, a new subsidiary design concept, a new function, a new bit of technology, an increase in space allocation or a new stakeholder to be thrown into the project mix.

Sometimes this process goes back and forth, they alien client adds something and then takes it way in the next minute. These clients are not able to trust architectural expertise and will add and subtract things depending on who they have just spoken to.

These clients think that by doing this that they are actually managing effectively: But, they are not. These clients tend not to be able to cede control to others (until things go wrong of course) and the often have no overview or strategic insight into project timing or processes. They think that adding and subtracting in this way is about “refining” the project.

Dithering is time wasting and corrosive to a projects overall design strategy. With lots of client dithering, a project can bit by bit, end up being something completely contrary to its initial strategic intent.

In these situations architects need to assert control and get the client’s over-control  out of the project process as far as possible.

2. Indecisiveness

static.politico

All projects have time and cost benchmarks. Despite myths to the contrary most architects have the benchmarks firmly stuck in their heads from project inception. In order to meet these decisions, decisions need to be made in a timely fashion.

Client indecisiveness, for whatever reason will slow things down. Often it is the result of procurement and design ignorance combined with the fear of being seen to do the wrong thing

Where there is more at stake for the client, for example a domestic client, decisions can be made quickly. For line manager or a senior executive in a large organisation, direct incentives do not apply because the projects outcomes will not impact the manager’s personal finances. Indecisiveness can easily be covered up by managers in large organisations, but it is essentially destructive to a project, if not self-destructive to the entity sponsoring the project.

Architects need to communicate clearly to clients when indecisiveness impedes project time and cost outcomes. This can be difficulty when it means telling your client that their own indecisive practices are screwing things up. But, if you don’t you are being set up to fail. 

3. Managing up

There worst and most dysfunctional of the clients are the ones that don’t really care about the project. In fact, they are more interested in managing up to their own overlords. What matters is not a great project but how this project is perceived. In other words, how project looks, both as a process and as an end result, to other client overlords is the most important this.

These clients don’t really care about effective client or stakeholder consultation, they don’t care about design (even though they say they might), they don’t care about effective and sensible project processes and workflows, they only care about how it looks to their own networks and political masters.

These are truly Trump-like clients Some of these client types are really more interested in the projects ability to be promoted across social media, once the project is complete, or as I recall in one instance, the executive manager more interested in hosting a dinner for their own managerial networks, to celebrate the project’s completion. Despite the fact that the manager had little to do with the building’s genesis or design.

Smart architects will use this syndrome to extract design leverage out of a client. Amoral architects will just go along with it out of political necessity.

4. Too many stakeholders

susana_core_group_and_key_stakeholder_meeting_in_eschborn_germany_18th-20th_of_april_2013_8674293921-1-e1517367526795.jpg

Too many stakeholders with no decision making governance in place. Stakeholder management and processes often ill defined. Without proper project governance and a process for managing stakeholders everything becomes a meeting; where nothing is decided and no leadership is exerted. Everyone feels good at the end of these meetings, they feel like they have done something. But actually they have done nothing.

I once pitched for a job which had 13 people on the selection committee. I should not have wasted my time and in the end no-one got the job because the committee couldn’t decide. There other extreme is when the managers make a pretence to “consult” with stakeholders but then make autocratic decisions. Usually the autocratic pathway leads to organisational resentment once the project is complete. Often it is the architect who then bears the brunt of post-occupancy dissatisfaction.

Effective client excellence means having effective and authentic organisational leadership. It means having an idea how to govern and consult with stakeholders and make decisions.

Architects need to be sure that they are dealing with the right stakeholders and this project is being managed by the organisation authentically. 

5. Turf war warriors  

Clients who don’t have the leadership ability to negotiate between different parts of their organisation. There extreme of this is those clients who use the project to gain organisational territory or power over other organisational groups and networks within the organisation. This usually has an impact on the resourcing an organisational entity can give a project. It may mean that as a result of territorial disputes and Architect is denied vital information that is vital to integrating design and construction elements as the project proceeds.

Architects need to make sure what the lines of project reporting and governance are in place between different sub-groups or organisational silos in an organisation. Architects need to be clear at the outset that they may need to gain information from across the organisation.  

6. Blame gamers

1_2a1_lcnxke63sx37cg-2bq.jpg

Architect Post Blame-Game

The client or the clients are so busy blaming each other that nothing gets done. The  extreme of this is that the Trump-like clients are so worried about cycles of blame, or getting, fired that they are not willing to take design risks, or risk anything. This really distorts the architects risk management process.

As an architect caught up in the vortex of blame eventually the cycle will come to you. There is no easy solution to this one. 

7. Zero Design and Procurement Knowledge

It’s great when the project manager is an economist, or has background in accounting and management consulting, or nursing and health and really now idea about urban design, architectural design, or bottom-up community development and consultation.

So, maybe worse still, are not the evil clients who know very little, but the ones who think they know about what architects to do, because they did their own house renovation once, or they have allied degree in maybe civil engineering or construction management.

Procurement pathways and options these days can be very complex. Making the right decisions about procurement in the early stages of a project is vital. There current community and political controversy over the Apple store at Federation Square is a case that reinforces this point. Clearly, for such a project, a procurement and decision-making process that was both lacking in transparency and did not build in community consultation, was bound to explode in the face of the Trump-like project sponsors and clients.

Time consuming as it is: Architects need to constantly communicate and educate clients about the entire process. Be wary of the clients who think they know stuff. 

Finally: What Architects should do ? 

The difficulty for architects when faced with these larger evil clients is then having to explain and communicate, in other words educate, to them the intricacies and risks involved in the complex process of making great architecture. Arguably, that’s why we need to have negotiation and organisational leadership skills as a core competency in our national competency standards. Or, as a post professional development option.

Not only do architects have to face the challenges of designing great architecture but they also have the challenges of educating and working around evil clients. Many, architects do these things all the time and as a result their design and project leadership skills are often more effective and authentic than the large clients they serve.

Surviving the Design Studio: The 2018 list of what Architects should do over XMAS.

Happy New Year (well, almost anyway). 

As much as I love architecture studios it can get pretty soul destroying sometimes. Yep, being in, or running, an architect’s office can be gruelling, demanding and kind of boring as well. We all long for the Elysian fields far away from the towers.

img_3713.jpg

For small practitioners it’s all about the desperation to survive, running from one builder or client induced crisis to the next, spending your time doing taxation admin and forgetting to send out the invoices or contribute to your super.  All of which you have to do whilst juggling the kids between child care, schools and sport. Nonetheless, most practitioners spend their time thinking about how they can lead better and better serve the community and their clients.

For architectural employees the low pay, the long uncontrolled hours, the peer competition and rivalries, the bullying and pressure, not to mention the outbreaks of workplace harassment and discrimination. Amongst this studio horror most architectural employees and recent graduates spend a lot of time thinking about the relevance of the profession and their place in it.

So when the holidays come along no matter how brief they may be its good to do a few things that will rejuvenate. Doing these things will actually help you answer the big questions of how to lead better and how to make your own place in the profession.

The following hints are designed to rejuvenate your creative and design orientated problem solving skills. These tips will help you rejuvenate and also help you to get a real life outside of architecture.

1.Watch an actual film or two

Thor Ragnarok 

Mountains May Depart 

Roma 

2. Make a film 

Yep, go on a road trip and make a film. Do your own drawings and cartoons and turn them into a film. You can even make something with a few powerpoints. Be polemical.

3. Ride a bike around your city. 

Last September I rode all around London and it was great.

4. Listen to really weird Music 

The more twentieth or twenty-first century the better. Go for a bit of Stockhausen or Henri Denerin. In my town I go to the Salon at the Melbourne Recital Hall it is a great place to hang out and listen to music.

5. Get your social media act together

Kardashian style bathroom selfies aren’t really going to make your career. Think of Insta as a way to select curate and distribute ambiguous images. Check out my instagram account @archienemy.

IMG_3996

6. Explore and get obsessed with the latest fashion or fad until you get sick of it. 

Craft beer has been my great discovery this year. Now I am sick of it. I really don’t think I will change careers to become a craft brewer.

7. Make your own public art in your neighbourhood then snapchat the results. 

If you need more ideas check out my 2016 and 2017 posts on this subject. Have a great break.  Over the next month I will be posting the most popular: Surviving the Design Studios from 2016 and 2017. Thank you again for your support and a special thanks to all of all you who have alerted me to the numerous typos here at Surviving the Design Studio! 

Mental Health, Burnout and Architects: Starting the conversation

RUOK day has come around again in my peripheral part of the global architectural galaxy. Recently, I met an architect who was having a few really bad weeks in her practice. She said it was the worst time she had ever had in practice. After a series of particularly gruesome negotiations and risk management issues she decided to take, what is known as, a mental health day.

Survey Invite for Architecture Students

Anecdotal evidence suggests that there is a widespread issue regarding mental health the both for practitioners and students. If you are an Architecture student reading this you might like to complete our survey.  We are investigating how undergraduate and postgraduate students’ experiences of psychological wellbeing and distress relate to other aspects of their university experiences. Understanding these relationships is important for supporting students to develop strategies that enhance their wellbeing and overcome experiences of distress. The survey link is here.

The Stress Factors Practicing Architects Face 

No matter how hard architects try to manage risk it doesn’t take much in practice, for things to go awry. In the last year I have been witness to some of these things:

  • A builder who misrepresents his financial position because he is not getting paid on another project.
  • A  bullying project manager who can’t make decisions on prestigious government project and then blames everyone else for time delays
  • A client who moves in and then vociferously complains about every detail despite extensive prior consultation.
  • The bad advice from the product manufacturer combined with sloppy installation resulting in the necessity to replace all the floor coverings.
  • Every minor planning ambiguity or skirmish that architects have to deal with.

All of the above situations is enough to put extreme pressure and stress on any architect, regardless of how experienced they may be. Running and directing an architectural practice can be gruelling. No matter how big or small your architectural practice, or even if you are a student of architecture being an architect can take a real toll on your mental health.

Speaking from my own personal experience burnout is common factor amongst architects and academics.  I came to the conclusion that the “grin and bear” it school of working, doesn’t really help anyone. It is too easy to sweep a culture of out of balance work practices under the carpet. Run for the exit if you here your overlords telling you to “man up” or just “just grin and bear it” or it “is what it is” when unreasonable work expectations are made and you start to burn out.

Contributing Factors

In some practices staff are subject to long hours, relatively low pay, entrenched cultures of discrimination and worse still bullying. To what extent are these issues systemic? I guess, no one really knows as there have been few studies looking at these issues and the mental health outcome of architects (there is a PhD there for someone). Some of the contributing factors in regards to mental health and architects as noted by RIBA recently are:

  • Lower pay relative to other professions
  • A culture of long hours
  • Adhoc career pathways
  • Gender and other forms of discrimination.
  • “Boom’ and “Bust” workflows
  • High personal investment in the actual work
  • Lack of union protection
  • And a working environment where HR support is not a part of the working landscape

This is not to say that every architectural practice is exhibits all of the above attributes. But architecture is hard enough any way so why make it worse?

Discrimination

But, it also needs to be said that all of the above is relevant to those architecture students and architects who experience discrimination as a result of their sexuality, gender identity or ethnic differences. (You can read some of my thoughts on this here). Thankfully there are more, although not enough, community support groups for these people than there where in the past.  My previous blog on some of these issues can be found here.

For me personally, that many of the problems, is because of an entrenched culture that gives primacy to the architects as singular genius with loyal followers. Slowly but surely, architects are waking up to how much this has damaged our profession. Anyway here a few points for your consideration:

1. A Few Online Resources.

There are lots of online resources these days so here are a few.

In my country RUOK day is coming up and this can be found here.

There are plenty of online resources in Australia Usually a good place to start. Some of the resources again the ACA is on top of things here.

The AIA in Victoria currently has a health in the workplace module.

Tim Horton’s the NSW registrar’s article about this is also worth reading here.

2. You are not invincible.

We all need help sometime. For younger architects, it is easy to think you are invincible. But like everyone else life events, for example grief, can easily take their toll. So, don’t be afraid to seek help from a trained psychologist or counsellor.

In Australia, you can start to find someone who might be able to help at this link. There are also plenty of places where you can go to for immediate and urgent help such as Lifeline if you are having an immediate personal crisis.

3. Getting a coach or mentor.

As architects, we need all the help we can get. No matter what kind of practice you lead or are in it is really important to develop your own support groups or find yourself some mentors further up the food chain. One great group is EMAGN and also the young architects group in Victoria. There are also various groups for small practitioners around.

If you are in a position of leadership, or decision-making is crucial in There is also a lot to be said for getting a career coach. Leadership and Decision Making is not taught in architecture schools so executive coaching may help you develop and fill the gaps. The best design leaders are the ones that are reflective and can evolve.

4. Take a Mental Health day

Yep, just go for it. Turn the smart-phone off. Get out and party, or shop, or as suggested by the blog image go for a spin down the freeway. Go for the Yoga thing. Sleep in or hang out with the Baristas. Do nothing. Go to Burning Man 2018 as my friend did in 2017.

Sacrificing your mental health for architecture does not really help anyone. As a local, regional and global community of architects we will be stronger if we start to have this conversation. As a profession, no matter our roles or where we are situated, not talking about this stuff is toxic to architectural culture.

Surviving the Design Studio: Symptoms and cures of design jury anxiety.

Archigram and Anxiety

I am pretty busy this week (conference paper writing) and mid-semester crits are looming at my graduate architecture school on the periphery of the global architectural system. So I thought it timely to republish this blog from last year.

The above Archigram image is mean to soothe even the most anxious architecture student.In fact whenever I get tense or uptight about architecture I pop out, have a cup of tea, and look at a  bit of Archigram. They were a pretty relaxed bunch of dudes. (doods being the operative word). In fact Peter Cook’s recent exhibition at the Bartlett has just closed last week celebrating his 80th. Rumour has it that somewhere in the archive of the 1960s there is a picture of PC in a kind of Emma Peel Avengers style PVC jumpsuit. I would give my back teeth to see that and it would it would make a great paper on taste-making and gender in the architecture of the 1960s. Of course such a paper would have to discuss Reyner Banham’s rants about Jane Fonda in the Barbarella film. There is a it about it here. Maybe those smart-arse and well funded researchers at Princeton should examine this stuff.

Cookie and the other GUYS in Archigram never really got too anxious  as they were all to busy playing footsies with the girls under the table, drinking tea, and smoking huge spliffs. Not surprising that the girls in the back row never really made the club.

Looking at Archigram projects, and following in their anxiety reducing practices,  may be one way to cure anxiety. But Anxiety is one of the most debilitating things that can beset you prior to the design jury or a crit. It’s hard enough being an architecture student. No money, long hours, and the struggle to learn a complex discipline. Pre-design crit anxiety can be crippling. It can certainly stop you from working effectively and it can prevent you from communicating your ideas and what you have done effectively in the actual crit. You are not alone almost every architect or architecture student has had to face this anxiety.

The Looming Deadline 

Of course, it is worse if you are approaching a project deadline or the end of semester. It is worse if you do not think that your tutors, or the client group, or a consultant, is not on your side. It is also worse if you feel that maybe you haven’t done enough work and it is even worse when you are earnestly struggling to build your skills, design confidence and resilience.

I am writing this from a number of perspectives. Firstly, as someone who knows what it is like to be anxious about a studio crit or a meeting. But also as someone who is on the other side as a critic who has seen the anxiety of architects and architecture students. As a young design tutor straight out of my cultish architecture school I was a somewhat fierce and unreasonable critic who developed a reputation for making students cry and jumping on models. Thankfully, after 30 years those people have forgiven me and I now realise how reprehensible and disgusting my earlier behaviour was.

There are of course a number of things you can do to manage the situation and manage your anxiety before that terrifying crit or design jury. Here are my suggestions:

Sympton 1: Thinking the worst

 Your imagination can run wild, you can think that the worst will happen. You will be cut down by other architects, the client or jury members, and you will be humiliated amongst your peers. I suffered from this and it can be debilitating. Don’t replay in your imagination the worst things that people might say to you.

Cure: Remembering most critics are interested and want to help.  

Thinking that the worst can happen is never good. I have been in and seen some pretty bad crits in my life. But, nowadays days these are extremely rare. Most design jurors and critter people in the 21st century are a pretty decent lot. Find out from your tutor who they are and do a bit of research. Usually, they are attending because they are either a convenient friend of your tutor or they have some kind of special expertise that is relevant to the studio.

They will probably not tell you that your work is appalling or rip the prints of the wall or jump on your model. It is unlikely they will belittle you or humiliate you.

They will tell you what they think and usually they try to be honest. Mostly, they will be interested in what you have done.

If you feel anxious before the crit try imaging the sort of interesting questions they might ask you. Make a plan for what you will do before the crit and what you will say. Don’t just turn up and wing it. Be prepared. Making a plan of what you will say and even practicing it in front of a mirror before hand will help you minimise your own anxieties. In other words, imagine them asking you the questions you want them to ask. Imagine the crit going well rehearse what you a going to say using this formula set out in my previous blog.

Symptom 2: Over work anxiety, 

 Anxiety feeds off overwork. Not enough fun or enough rest will fuel it. After my own architecture thesis I went camping on a river and just sat in a camp chair for about ten days and did not move. I was so burnt out from overwork. This can happen to anyone no matter how old you are. I have known student’s who haven’t stopped working hard since high school. At some point they discover they need a break because they are really burnt out.

Working all night will fuel pre-crit anxiety. Not getting enough exercise will make you more anxious. Or just have a rest or go out and play with your friends. There is no point working and working and working and getting so tired. If you are tired before the crit your anxiety will be harder to manage.

Cure: Have fun and get balanced.

If it gets really bad go for a walk. Go to the pub. Go shopping. Go out with friends. Sometime you can overdose, and burnout, on a design project or a studio or even a course. Read this.

Be mindful, try meditating, there are some really good apps you can get that will lead you through some great mindfulness exercises.

Symptom 3: The best friend of Anxiety is procrastination.

I might have said this here before on this blog, but procrastinating, by deferring the activity of design and design gestures, will only make your anxiety worse. Designing is a labour intensive exercise (especially if you are using a computer). Putting it off only means you have to do the same amount of work in less time. Designs are not made and fully formed in the brain and then exactly transferred to the computer or paper or the physical model. If only we could do this life would be so much easier. Designing takes time.

Cure: Work constantly.

Reading, researching, writing little notes, thinking while drinking that batch brew or Aero press coffee, going to the fridge and eating, web surfing and Google searching are all the fabulous ways to defer the actual act of designing. The problem is designing is about either physical or digital drawing and the sooner you start the better. You will be less stressed if you work constantly throughout the studio and avoid procrastination. If you do feel stuck get help or advice from your tutor to get unstuck.

Symptom 4: The other people are always better

 There will always be someone in your studio who seems better, smarter, more creative and more like one of those over-confident alpha-male architects. Thinking this is real recipe for anxiety. You will always be your own worst critic and these other people will always seem better. I mean who needs design tutors or guest critics when you are so good at demolishing your own design thinking and ideas?

Cure: Run your own design race.

It’s best to solve your own problems rather blaming others or being focused on your fellow studio members. Run your own race. Believe me you will actually end up doing better. Focusing and comparing yourself to others is waste of energy. They will always seem better and if you think like this your anxiety will easily be fuelled.

Symptom 5: Critical negativity

Also, don’t compete against yourself. Know when to give yourself a break and when to be critical of your own judgements. Too often I see students tied up in knots and paralysed by their own critical negativity. As designers we need to question. But we don’t need to question every single tiny thing related to a building design. The worse architecture schools on the planet are the ones who promote this kind of claptrap critical negative method.

Cure: Remember there are no right answers

Sometimes it’s often better to design something, anything really, even if you think it might be “wrong”. The alternative is always to be searching for the “right” or correct idea and that is an ideal that doesn’t exist. Or after you have developed an idea for a while in your design its thrown it out and everything else with it. Because it is not correct. I see a lot of this. To develop design confidence and resilience you need practice in developing a design.

Symptom 6: Don’t kick the cat; or anyone else for that matter.

This is a rare, but not uncommon, symptom of anxious students. People and indeed architects under pressure who get extremely anxious sometimes release that pressure by lashing out at their pets or others. Please don’t kick your dog or cat when you get anxious about the upcoming crit. It is also really good idea to not lash out or blame your tutor, or your fellow classmates, for your anxiety. Usually your design tutor is trying their best to guide you and get you through.

Also, speaking from experience, your tutor will not think highly of you if you do this. I am usually relatively understanding if someone lashes out at me when they are under pressure during the studio. There is not a lot I can do when it happens. But, as a tutor it is not pleasant and usually it means that after the studio is finished I don’t really want to have much to do with the lasher-outer type.

Cure: Don’t bottle things up and build ongoing relationships.

Instead of lashing out talk to your tutors and your peers about your fears and anxieties. You might find everyone, tutors included, are just as worried as you are. Try and remember that after the studio has finished the most important thing you can do as an architecture student is to retain and have a continuing relationship with your peers and those who have taught you as an architect. Each studio is an opportunity to build your future professional networks.

Symptom 7: So maybe you haven’t done a lot of work and that’s why you are anxious.

 Yep. You realise there is only two weeks left in the studio and the deadline is looming. You are definitely going down the tubes because you did not do enough work earlier in the semester. You are running out of time. You have been too busy having fun or you haven’t really been thinking about the time. You are not sure how you are going to actually get everything done. Even if you work all day and all night you think that you are going to fail.

Cure: Get help

Symptom 7, along with just about everything symptom above, is best cured by getting help.

Tell your tutor your predicament. Most tutors will be sympathetic. Most tutors want you to pass and even if they recognise that you have done no work they will still help you. But to do that you need to get their help and you need to be honest and realistic about what you need to do. Talk to your friends try to enlist their help as well.

Finally

If of course your anxiety is becoming to much of a burden you may need to get help from a counsellor or your GP. Most universities and architecture schools have avenues and contacts that can help you overcome anxiety. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to think you can just push through and ride out the anxiety. It’s a lot easier if you always get help and remember that you are not invincible. The most important thing to remember is that you are not the only one to ever feel anxiety prior to a design crit.

It could always be worse imagine if it was Cookie and his crew you had to present to.

Surviving the Design Studio: Symptoms and cures of pre-design crit anxiety.

It was RUOK day in my part of the world last week and this got me thinking. I also spoke to a friend who told me how much she dreaded crits in architecture school. Anxiety is one of the most debilitating things that can beset you prior to design jury or a crit. It’s hard enough being an architecture student. No money, long hours, and the struggle to learn a complex discipline. Pre-design crit anxiety can be crippling. It can certainly stop you from working effectively and it can prevent you from communicating your ideas and what you have done effectively in the actual crit. You are not alone almost every architect or architecture student has had to face this anxiety.

Of course, it is worse if you are approaching a project deadline or the end of semester. It is worse if you do not think that your tutors, or the client group, or a consultant, is not on your side. It is also worse if you feel that maybe you haven’t done enough work and it is even worse when you are earnestly struggling to build your skills, design confidence and resilience.

I am writing this from a number of perspectives. Firstly, as someone who knows what it is like to be anxious about a studio crit or a meeting. But also as someone who is on the other side as a critic who has seen the anxiety of architects and architecture students. As a young design tutor straight out of my cultish architecture school I was a somewhat fierce and unreasonable critic who developed a reputation for making students cry and jumping on models. Thankfully, after 30 years those people have forgiven me and I now realise how reprehensible and disgusting my earlier behaviour was.

There are of course a number of things you can do to manage the situation and manage your anxiety before that terrifying crit or design jury. Here are my suggestions:

Sympton 1: Thinking the worst

 Your imagination can run wild, you can think that the worst will happen. You will be cut down by other architects, the client or jury members, and you will be humiliated amongst your peers. I suffered from this and it can be debilitating. Don’t replay in your imagination the worst things that people might say to you.

Cure: Remembering most critics are interested and want to help.  

Thinking that the worst can happen is never good. I have been in and seen some pretty bad crits in my life. But, nowadays days these are extremely rare. Most design jurors and critter people in the 21st century are a pretty decent lot. Find out from your tutor who they are and do a bit of research. Usually, they are attending because they are either a convenient friend of your tutor or they have some kind of special expertise that is relevant to the studio.

They will probably not tell you that your work is appalling or rip the prints of the wall or jump on your model. It is unlikely they will belittle you or humiliate you.

They will tell you what they think and usually they try to be honest. Mostly, they will be interested in what you have done.

If you feel anxious before the crit try imaging the sort of interesting questions they might ask you. Make a plan for what you will do before the crit and what you will say. Don’t just turn up and wing it. Be prepared. Making a plan of what you will say and even practicing it in front of a mirror before hand will help you minimise your own anxieties. In other words, imagine them asking you the questions you want them to ask. Imagine the crit going well rehearse what you a going to say using this formula set out in my previous blog.

Sympton 2: Over work anxiety, 

 Anxiety feeds off overwork. Not enough fun or enough rest will fuel it. After my own architecture thesis I went camping on a river and just sat in a camp chair for about ten days and did not move. I was so burnt out from overwork. This can happen to anyone no matter how old you are. I have known student’s who haven’t stopped working hard since high school. At some point they discover they need a break because they are really burnt out.

Working all night will fuel pre-crit anxiety. Not getting enough exercise will make you more anxious. Or just have a rest or go out and play with your friends. There is no point working and working and working and getting so tired. If you are tired before the crit your anxiety will be harder to manage.

Cure: Have fun and get balanced.

If it gets really bad go for a walk. Go to the pub. Go shopping. Go out with friends. Sometime you can overdose, and burnout, on a design project or a studio or even a course. Read this.

Be mindful, try meditating, there are some really good apps you can get that will lead you through some great mindfulness exercises.

Symptom 3: The best friend of Anxiety is procrastination.

I might have said this here before on this blog, but procrastinating, by deferring the activity of design and design gestures, will only make your anxiety worse. Designing is a labour intensive exercise (especially if you are using a computer). Putting it off only means you have to do the same amount of work in less time. Designs are not made and fully formed in the brain and then exactly transferred to the computer or paper or the physical model. If only we could do this life would be so much easier. Designing takes time.

Cure: Work constantly.

Reading, researching, writing little notes, thinking while drinking that batch brew or Aero press coffee, going to the fridge and eating, web surfing and Google searching are all the fabulous ways to defer the actual act of designing. The problem is designing is about either physical or digital drawing and the sooner you start the better. You will be less stressed if you work constantly throughout the studio and avoid procrastination. If you do feel stuck get help or advice from your tutor to get unstuck.

 Symptom 4: The other people are always better

 There will always be someone in your studio who seems better, smarter, more creative and more like one of those over confident alpha-male architects. Thinking this is real recipe for anxiety. You will always be your own worst critic and these other people will always seem better. I mean who needs design tutors or guest critics when you are so good at demolishing your own design thinking and ideas?

Cure: Run your own design race.

It’s best to solve your own problems rather blaming others or being focused on your fellow studio members. Run your own race. Believe me you will actually end up doing better. Focusing and comparing yourself to others is waste of energy. They will always seem better and if you think like this your anxiety will easily be fuelled.

Symptom 5: Critical negativity

Also, don’t compete against yourself. Know when to give yourself a break and when to be critical of your own judgements. Too often I see students tied up in knots and paralysed by their own critical negativity. As designers we need to question. But we don’t need to question every single tiny thing related to a building design. The worse architecture schools on the planet are the ones who promote this kind of claptrap critical negative method.

Cure: Remember there are no right answers

Sometimes it’s often better to design something, anything really, even if you think it might be “wrong”. The alternative is always to be searching for the “right” or correct idea and that is an ideal that doesn’t exist. Or after you have developed an idea for a while in your design its thrown it out and everything else with it. Because it is not correct. I see a lot of this. To develop design confidence and resilience you need practice in developing a design.

Symptom 6: Don’t kick the cat; or anyone else for that matter.

This is a rare but not uncommon symptom of anxious students. People and indeed architects under pressure who get extremely anxious sometimes release that pressure by lashing out at their pets or others. Please don’t kick your dog or cat when you get anxious about the upcoming crit. It is also really good idea to not lash out or blame your tutor, or your fellow classmates, for your anxiety. Usually your design tutor is trying their best to guide you and get you through.

Also, speaking from experience, your tutor will not think highly of you if you do this. I am usually relatively understanding if someone lashes out at me when they are under pressure during the studio. There is not a lot I can do when it happens. But, as a tutor it is not pleasant and usually it means that after the studio is finished I don’t really want to have much to do with the lasher-outer type.

Cure: Don’t bottle things up and build ongoing relationships.

Instead of lashing out talk to your tutors and your peers about your fears and anxieties. You might find everyone, tutors included, are just as worried as you are. Try and remember that after the studio has finished the most important thing you can do as an architecture student is to retain and have a continuing relationship with your peers and those who have taught you as an architect. Each studio is an opportunity to build your future professional networks.

Symptom 7: So maybe you haven’t done a lot of work and that’s why you are anxious.

 Yep. You realise there is only two weeks left in the studio and the deadline is looming. You are definitely going down the tubes because you did not do enough work earlier in the semester. You are running out of time. You have been too busy having fun or you haven’t really been thinking about the time. You are not sure how you are going to actually get everything done. Even if you work all day and all night you think that you are going to fail.

Cure: Get help

Symptom 7, along with just about everything symptom above, is best cured by getting help.

Tell your tutor your predicament. Most tutors will be sympathetic. Most tutors want you to pass and even if they recognise that you have done no work they will still help you. But to do that you need to get their help and you need to be honest and realistic about what you need to do. Talk to your friends try and enlist their help as well.

Finally

If of course your anxiety is becoming to much of a burden you may need to get help from a counsellor or your GP. Most universities and architecture schools have avenues and contacts that can help you overcome anxiety. Sometimes the worst thing you can do is to think you can just push through and ride out the anxiety. It’s a lot easier if you always get help and remember that you are not invincible. The most important thing to remember is that you are not the only one to ever feel anxiety prior to a design crit.