Thinking (i.e. deep thinking) is a regular occurrence as you all know. During a day trip to visit a favorite professor from first year architectural school (1986-87), I thought about mentors and what makes a good mentor. So add this to the twelve million articles out there on mentoring with my own think|architect twist.
Currently, I am not in an official mentoring relationship with a student or young architect, but teaching is a natural extension of my personality and attitude about architecture. Therefore, I’m going to share a few thoughts about how one might (or ought) to approach it.
Listen – Everyone is different and before one delves into a diatribe about their views of the profession and how everyone ought to approach it, listen. This means not talking. It also means asking questions that will entice a young professional to share personal thoughts and goals that will lead the mentor to knowing how to better approach this relationship. Despite my strong opinions that I love to habitually share, it is essential to withhold suggestions or advice until one knows a bit more about the mentee. Eventually it’s OK to talk.
Promote – If one is going to be in this profession and accept the role of a mentor, one must be a regular promoter of this profession. No one wants to listen to an old guy ranting on about all the evils and injustices about architecture and how one might have failed to take risks or failed to establish goals and pursue them. Complaining rarely accomplishes anything. Following someone who promotes their profession and is active in some capacity in making it better is someone to listen to and emulate.
Share the legacy – Face it, architects have been practicing a basic way for a few hundred years and have generally represented architecture in the same way for centuries. Technology has and is changing the way we depict, conceive and illustrate our work, but a young professional must know history and how we got here. They must know the fundamental means of representing space such as plan, section and elevation. Be conversant in it. The graphic language we use is universal and remains our basic means of understanding a three-dimensional object or space. After all of my years of teaching, I hold strongly to this view. Learn how to express an idea with a pencil or pen. It’s vital.
Support the future – Young professionals will practice architecture differently than how I learned to practice and how we practice architecture today. It has to change. It ought to change. To be a good mentor means supporting new modes of thinking and new modes of approaching architecture. This doesn’t contradict my former point, but compliments it. More and more tools are at our disposal and the current generation in school or coming out of school understands the world quite differently than me for instance who has been practicing for over twenty-five years. They’ve always had the internet, computers and a comfort with digital tools. Why not use them? Digital fabrication will become the norm, BIM will be yesterday’s CAD very soon and building performance is a moving target.
A good mentor is approachable, appealing, and ageless. It is that person that everyone wants to listen to and talk to as well. It can be you; make yourself available.
Don’t hide. We’re looking for you.
photo 1 credit: By William Blake – http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/blake-age-teaching-youth-n05183, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=24411698
photo 2 credit: Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1197015