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The stairs at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Image by AshleyLaurenPhotography

The stairs at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Image by AshleyLaurenPhotography

I get asked a lot of questions; so I answer them. That’s what helpful people do. I like to be helpful.

After a while, the more attentive of the helpful people start to realize that they get asked the same questions over and over. Thus begins the proliferation of the FAQ or Frequently Asked Questions section.

A while back Mark R. LePage asked the question: “How did you find your first job in Architecture.” Maybe you read my story over on Mark’s Entrepreneur Architect site.

If you haven’t read my story, check out Three Lessons from the Streets.” I think you’ll enjoy it. Hopefully you’ll learn from my early mistakes.

Today, Bob Borson (you know, the Life of an Architect guy) asked several of us that play on the Social Media for Architecture playground to answer some of the FAQ’s that he gets.

The others in the sandlot this time are:

and of course …

So what are the questions? As I go through these maybe you’ll remember when someone asked you the same question. Or maybe you’ve asked the question yourself. Don’t forget to add your thoughts in the Speak Your Mind section below. I’d be curious to know what your answers are.

What kind of projects were you doing when you first started as an architect?

As I look back to when I graduated from college and began work for a large firm in Chicago, I realize that I’ve been really lucky. We had a bit of a disjointed project portfolio. Our bread and butter projects were food distribution plants (imagine a giant, tilt-up concrete box). Yep, worked on one of those! But we were also the Architect of Record for a number of projects like Helmut Jahn’s United Terminal at O’Hare (didn’t work on that) and Josef Paul Kleihues’ Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago (Worked on that. In fact, I’ve got a good story about Architects, napkin sketches and the stair in the photograph above if you ever want to hear it). And we were the designers of a number of award winning projects like the North American Headquarters for Quest International (worked on that).

How many projects can you expect to be working on at once?

I think that depends on your office culture, your position in the firm and the firm’s work load. Right now I’m working on 6 at varying stages and intensities. ONE 10 STUDIO is a small firm where we all play some role in almost every project. I’ve also been in offices where I only had one or two tasks at a time.

How often did/do you work in a team?

It is impossible to work in our field without being part of a team. If you’ve ever heard that “nothing is impossible” this is the one exception to that rule. I don’t care who you are, what you do, what size firm you’re at you cannot and will not work alone. Now having said that, I guess if you are the client, architect, builder, financier AND code official for a project; if you’re going to draw everything, dig the foundations, lay the block, bang the wood together, pay for everything out of your own pocket, inspect everything and make all the approvals then yes, you can work alone.

How important is an innovative mind to the company?

Have you ever heard the old adage about reinventing the wheel? Well, no Architect ever heard that … EVER. Let’s face it, architecture is a creative field. Even the most systems laden and process oriented firms (which are usually run by Engineers) have to innovate. We innovate when we design. We innovate when we figure out how to meet our deadlines with the resources at hand. We innovate we’re looking at how we’re going to market our firms. We innovate when we imagine what our firms will look like in 5 years. Show up with your thinking cap on!

What key things do you look for in potential new hires?

Firm culture is a big deal to us. We start by looking for skills that fit our needs and will be valuable as we continue to work and grow. The trump card is personality though. We’re not looking for any specific personality. We’re looking for a personality that will mesh well with our current office dynamic. You don’t have to be like me (or anyone else in the office) you just have to be a good compliment or contrast (as long as you’re not the oil to our water).

How important is diversity to your company?

Is this a test? Diversity isn’t something that we talk about. Believe it or not, in this day and age when almost everyone has a profile on some social network, we almost never get a resume that includes a personal photograph. If your skillset matches our needs and you’re not our oil (see above) you’ve got a good shot. I don’t see a day on our horizon where we will say “Hey, let’s hire a woman today or let’s hire ___________ (insert your favorite race, color, religion, national origin here) today” just to meet some arbitrary diversity quota.

How big of a role does HR play in your company?

We’re a small firm. Everyone wears lots of hats. We don’t have departments. The only reason I’m sometimes called the Director of Construction or the Social Media Director is that sometimes you have to provide bios when you’re chasing a project and you have to say something about what you do. If resumes and portfolios arrive when we’re looking for someone we usually gather around a computer when someone says “what do you think about this one?” As far as other typically HR duties like benefits, etc. those are usually split among all of us with the final responsibility falling on our Principal.

Would you say Architecture is a field for everyone?

No. Let me ask you a question (or 6):

  • Are you a great communicator?

  • Are you an excellent problem solver?

  • Do you have the eye of a photographer?

  • Are you a good negotiator?

  • Can you juggle?

  • Do you have unnaturally thick skin?

If you answered “No” to any of these, think twice. By the way, 4 or 5 of these probably won’t be covered in your normal course work in college. If you can imagine getting excited about reading a job description that included all these things then go for it. Architecture is a creative, rewarding field that triggers romantic, often iconic ideas in most people’s imaginations.  

What is the best asset in your company?

I’d have to say that our best asset is our balance; our balance of personalities; our balance of project types; our balance of structure (architecture + construction). Our goal is to always play to our different strengths which hopefully will always balance each other.  

Describe your best employee in one word?

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. No? How about “Responsible”?

What style architecture do you love most?

I would say Modern (whatever that means), or Contemporary (whatever that means). I want all Architecture to be of its time. I have 4 rules:

  1. Proportion it correctly.

  2. Detail it well.

  3. Have a major Moment and a minor Moment (point and counterpoint if you will).

  4. Surprise me.

As I said before, this post was instigated by Bob. The hope is that this will be the first in a series and that anyone and everyone will join in the process. A working title for the project is “ArchiTalks.” If you’re interested in joining in the fun for future posts leave a comment in the Speak Your Mind area below and I’ll make sure you’re including on the email chain going forward.

My goal is to start an open dialogue and let Architect of the Internet be a forum where we can all learn to have success in the business of architecture through Social Media.

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About Jeff Echols

Jeff Echols is the creative Storyteller for Award-Winning architecture firms and the Social Media Campaign Manager for industry professionals. He is a graduate of Ball State University with over 20 years’ experience in the marketing departments of firms ranging from three to three thousand employees.

Jeff spends countless hours studying, developing and implementing strategies for insuring marketing success for Architects and other business owners in the online arena. He documents the good, the bad and the ugly in Social Media at Architect of the Internet and speaks about Conquering Social Media in venues ranging from the Board Room to the Convention Stage.

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