This was a debate I needed to get out of my head. Empathy, passion, determination, sacrifice are good things.
Nevertheless, I’m going to share a story of current project where my strong feelings were real and perhaps relevant, but it was far more important to lay them aside to lead my clients to their goal. Duty or responsibility outweighed emotion. Prior to sharing that story, I am going to briefly vent. I’ll explain the connection later.
Honestly, I am weary of the crying in the media or in person, with relentless postings on social media – everywhere I go, unhappy people spend a tremendous amount of energy in the release of emotion rather than channeling this energy into productivity. I see people in far worse circumstances around the globe that have no ability or rights to voice their degree of unhappiness, but use what little productive energy given them to merely survive. Silence achieves nothing, but action is louder. Now, as I stumble off my soap box, let me share a story about a current project that relates to my rant in my own head.
Our story starts with the rehab of a turn-of-the-century (not this century) building that had seen many prior lives, but had been vacant for a decade or two. You know the type. Old buildings require not just lots of money but lots of love to restore them, adapting them to meet current codes. This often requires several sticks of dynamite, but better than brute force were good minds and common sense as we worked through this project of renovating what will be an extensive and sizable investment. After a lengthy design process and stack of construction documents sent for permit review, we found ourselves staring at a rejected code review with a few points to address, yet one that had no solution despite an earlier informal “green light.” I was faced with a dilemma that even the plan examiners admit had no better solution than the one I offered versus the plethora I had explored with them. They still wouldn’t approve it. Rock…me…hard place.
In my world as an architect, I occasionally hear the general public, a few clients and many random people walking on the street, complain about the code process being too difficult, too restrictive, too this or too that and often disparage a cross section of people in the process. Granted, it frustrates me at times (most times), not because I don’t believe that the intention behind it is unnecessary, but I feel compelled to be able to find reasonable and affordable solutions for my clients, and the absence of that challenges my abilities and adds to my frustration. With no other solution available, I’m faced with having to apply for a variance through a process for which I’ve never needed to do, while explaining to my clients that it could take more time and more money (no additional fee and no guarantee) for me to take them through this process. This causes sleep disruption and uneasiness. Throughout this process, I never argued or fought with the city, the plan examiners or the code official because although frustration builds and emotions leak out, I don’t find that to be professional or productive to the goal. I find that the only way to properly address these issues, is to do the work, be prepared, be thorough and follow the process.
We prepared a lengthy presentation for a variance board hearing, to share the constraints and difficulties of our issue and to answer anticipated questions of why an alternate solution did not exist short of the demolition (i.e. using C-4) of a sizable portion of the building. This required careful editing and explanation through a lengthy letter, point by point outlining what the code literally says versus conclusions that were being made by the text, while distinguishing the difference. It seems self-evident that sticking to the point and avoiding rabbit trails, staying on-topic with conviction (without anger) during the presentation were contributors to why we were granted a variance. Following this milestone, we resubmitted all the proper paperwork, three new sets of drawings and approval was given in a timely fashion.
When we talk about our client’s best interest, we ought to avoid “professional gossip” and eliminate this from our day-to-day conversations. True leaders set aside their own personal differences and seek the betterment of others. What that looks like in a professional setting is understanding that the rules are in place, they are not going to change, there’s no requirement to like them, in fact acceptance or agreement is irrelevant, but we follow the regulations in place. Creativity allows one to work within boundaries, strive to seek solutions and work with civility when reasonable solutions evade us. How we speak of that process in front of our clients is important as we promote architecture. I don’t think we need to be fake or pretend we have no feelings, but the constant bashing of the process or belittling of key individuals is not only unhealthy, it’s unprofessional. There are ways to share our opinions and feelings without breaching ethical standards or professional values.
As a fellow architect reading this, you might understand the challenges I described and what it takes to be a true leader today. I think there are fewer and fewer around – the real ones are harder to find because they’re not talking, they’re doing. They’re not in the limelight because they’re too busy helping someone else. Those are the people I wish to be like