Can we separate our personal feelings from our job or our practice? Should we? What part should our emotions play into our chosen vocation? We are merely offering a service in exchange for payment after all. Right?
I cannot be impartial on architecture, and I certainly cannot be neutral on local architectural issues that affect my community. Concerning my work and the day to day happenings of my practice, I tend to be ensnared by the occasional sensational moment. Day to day events, disorganized contractors, inexperienced clients or bad-mannered inquiries can wreck a day or a week. The latter just happened, and I’m not sure it’s over yet. I’m also my own worst enemy.
It is hard to let it go.
One might find it quite common among solo-practitioners and even small firm owners that we are not only extremely committed to our profession but emotionally connected to our handiwork. It’s a part of us. I would guess it is how most architects think (or feel).
Before we go down this path, I do not infer that those who work for larger firms are not troubled by the same dilemma. Nevertheless, I come from the obvious bias of a small firm point of view and many who have shared similar thoughts with me. Consider that adequate a sample size for semi-accurate statistics.
Why is this? Like any good blog, I’ll posit three points, but I must keep my stories a bit anonymous for discretion.
First, it has to do with my name. I covered this topic years ago, but I’ll repeat it – the only thing I own is my name. Attached to it is a reputation and an association that I trust is positive, and that conveys responsible, thoughtful and thorough work as an architect. We know it is much like a garden that we produce and tend to through the years. When weeds threaten, we must react.
Last week I ran into a person who is a tenant in a building I designed (who also happens to be a former client) who shared how his HVAC system is inadequate for the office size. I wasn’t the HVAC designer (nor my consultants). Being connected to his project, I wasn’t relieved until he mentioned how my client (the landlord) suggested that I would have said: “I told you so.” They both acknowledged that I had no part in it. I sighed in relief. Being connected to nuisance issues causes doubt when a referral arises.
Second, it has to do with probability., My firm may not complete many projects per year, but relatively I manage many at a given time. Am I correct in thinking the likelihood of having a relationship conflict is much higher when one has so few projects per firm, but an elevated project to manager ratio? Perhaps that’s not very precise, but it feels that way. If I am carrying three or four projects at a given moment or in a month, any strife, conflict or even disappointment upsets the ratio. An unhappy day turns into a miserable week.
We are working to finish a project that is long overdue (by we I mean the contractor). As we work to that completion, a couple of sub-contractors have been obstinate. One suspended resolving an issue for months which forced me to accept his bland solution (long story). Another is so busy that the delay gives rise to questions that should have been answered four to six months ago, leading me to fire off “that email” that we’re told not to send. Relax, I read it more than ten times, but off it went. I had to clarify the ripple effect of his poor communication. My client was blind copied and thanked me for looking out for them. The vendor apologized, but my client still waits for the completion of their project.
close to home
As a small practitioner, the possibility of my work being located close to my office is quite probable. Operating a practice in my hometown not only affects my name and reputation, but it also touches my private life with my family. I wonder if I was designing a building in another state if my personal feelings would play less into this picture — you know, the out-of-sight, cliché.
Strangely, it appears an out of town person will be developing a project near me that many know I started years ago but never completed as my client ran into financial trouble and sold the building. I’ll limit my narrative, but a work situation has not made me this angry for many years. My interest to work with the new owner soured overnight when I observed how unethical people behave without flinching. After deleting multiple sentences that would have extended this story, I need to end this one here.
Perhaps it’s me, one prone to sensitivity when it comes to my work. I find I’m incapable of reacting dispassionately to comments or behaviors of others when my name, reputation or worse, my family might be at risk. This is the peril of a creative field. How can I create something from myself and not have any feelings or emotion towards it? How can I watch people behave unprofessionally or unethically without a sudden rise in adrenaline?
The moment I stop feeling is the moment I begin to die. My work means more to me.