professional practice

New Year, New Business

New year, new beginnings. I am excited to announce the launch of my own architecture practice in Austin, Texas.  Watch this webspace - Architecture By George is officially open for business! I have submitted my resignation at work and I am wrapping things up in the chapter of my life titled 'employee architect'.  Over the last 16 years, I've had many titles - Intern, Architectural Intern, Intern Architect, Project Manager, Project Architect, Lead Architect, Senior Architect, Director of Architecture, in that order.

As fancy as the title "Director of Architecture" sounds and is, and as many opportunities, responsibilities, and authority it has given me, I slowly realized that it came with a price.  The stress of directing so many projects and so many people was sapping all my energy.  And my time!  As I've written before in another #Architalks post Work=1/3 Life, my work was consuming me.

I recognized that this was not a sustainable situation.  Or a very enjoyable one.  I was at the top of the ladder and the horizon looked grim.  The forecast was 'overcast with a 100% chance of burn-out'.

Worse, I was missing out on my kids.

After some extrospection of the architecture profession, a lot of introspection, conversations with encouraging friends and family, I came to a conclusion.

That, if I want* to practice architecture for the next 25 years, do all the things I want to do, and live my life to my fullest potential, I would have to launch my own architecture firm.  That would give me the freedom to pursue my interests; have control over my time, to be involved in my kid's day-to-day lives; and wake up each morning with purpose.

*Read this #ArchiTalks post to see why

What now? I want to reignite my passion for architecture; shed the husk that developed through being the good employee; put all my talents and skills to use (not just the ones that an employer wants to use); find inspiration and joy in the work; connect and share with my community; learn and grow, always.

I have worked in the custom residential market for a long time.  I have always found great pleasure in meeting new people (especially those who are different from me), and learning about them.  Being able to design solutions for their ideal way of living and define their sense of home is an incredible honor and an opportunity.  It's also a favorable time to discuss and impact their future health, comfort, energy-use, life-style, and their legacy.

I have titled myself Principal Architect at Architecture By George.  But that's a joke, because my role will be that of Business Development Manager, Social Media Administrator, Marketing Director, Office Manager, Web Designer, Graphics Designer, Blogger, Content Creator, Designer, Chief Building Scientist, Energy Analyst, BIM Manager, Render Artist, Project Lead, Intern, Production Team, Spec Writer, etc.  At least, for a while.

Is there a title that covers all that?  "Small Business Owner wearing multiple hats" just does not have a zing to it.

The B word  Notice how I said "New Year, New Business"!  If I was doing this a few years ago, I would have said "New Year, New Firm".  Subtle? No!

I owe thanks to the preachings of my friends Enoch Sears at Business of Architecture and Mark R. LePage at EntreArchitect, who emphasize the things that are significant for success as an architecture business.  They have posted numerous free resources, shared their knowledge, connected people, and started important conversations - things that will strengthen our profession as a whole.

I also found Eric Reinholdt's book, Architect and Entrepreneur: A Field Guide to Building, Branding, and Marketing Your Start-Up Design Business (Volume 1), to be incredibly helpful. These resources have been great for mental preparation, as well as creating the long list of things that need to be considered, in order to launch an architecture business.

I've been fortunate to work at architecture firms that were run well, by owners who were mindful of the business side of the practice.  I fully recognize that that allowed me, as an employee, to do what I love to do (practice architecture), get paid, and stay employed during the recession.  But I also realize that grounding will ensure that I will never get paid like a lawyer or an engineer.

As I crunch the numbers for launching my own business, I understand the low salaries, why there was an emphasis on efficiency over creativity, production over creation, and all those long hours, in these firms.  The margins are slim, the work is tedious, the profession is undervalued.  I sincerely hope that I don't fall prey to that mode of operation.



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Architecture daily - more discovery, less creativity

Many of my non-Architect friends (some* of who went to Architecture school with me, but no longer practice architecture as they had the good sense to pursue a lucrative career) carry the impression that architecture is a field of  creativity - a profession where the creative genius roams free and untethered; that imagination is the agenda for the day; that if inspiration does not strike, there is no need to go into the office. Kind of like design studio back in architecture school - headphones, coffee, hoodies and jeans, trace paper crumpled up in the trash can, sketches all over the drawing board, books showcasing the works of celebrity Architects stacked high on the floor, large windows with sunlight bathing the room, yet a wilting plant on the window sill, budding architects lost in their computer screens ... you get the picture! Certainly, when I think of other creative professionals like musicians, writers, artists, or even other designers, I am guilty of the same perception. Are they encumbered by the mundanity of an 8 to 5 office structure? No, their creative juices flow whenever their genius strikes, might be the middle of the night or middle of a shower/ run/ swim or whatever they are in the middle of in their care-free life. Thereon they work relentlessly (in their pajamas, of course) like a madness has taken over, until the work has reached its pinnacle, whereupon it is presented to the world so everyone may appreciate the stroke of genius.

While there is a small nugget of truth in that notion, the reality of everyday practice of architecture is, I'm sorry to say, not so footloose and fancy free.  On the contrary, we labor each day investigating, exploring, discovering, questioning, drawing. Always discovering through drawing. What reveals itself when you cut that section? How tall is the space at this intersection of roofs?  Does that look proportional? What does it look like in plan view? Finding answers. Does this fireplace come in an 8' length?  Who will manufacture this custom door, and how much will it cost?  How far can I cantilever this beam?  Where can I buy this rubber membrane?  Where in the code book does it say so? But also important, asking the right questions. What exactly do you like about this picture?  Are you aware that doing "x" means getting rid of "y" which is actually a nice feature? Some answers only lead to more questions and you chase many rabbits down many holes, sometimes only to discover that the client does not have the budget for it.  And some answers bring the project to a grinding halt, such as a crippling discovery that a WQTZ (Water Quality Transition Zone)zone covers half the site meaning that our design concept and scheme went out the window.

What I am trying to say is that there is only a limited creative genius when there are real world constraints. Don't get me wrong, challenges often present opportunities for amazing design solutions that are truly inspiring. But creativity is a process and architectural creativity is a process of discovery.

There are days when I go into the office and all I do all day is review shop drawings, field questions from builders, troubleshoot consultants, and there is only problem solving. Then there are days when I can focus on architectural design. And then there are other days when the creative juices flow freely, unconsciously, and without effort,  sometimes when I am in the shower at the end of a long day of discovery, and it's just like poet Ruth Stone described her inspiration (to author Elizabeth Gilbert) -  it comes without announcement, rushing through me at a high-speed, in fullness and such vivid clarity, and in that moment I know this is genius. Then it passes almost as fast as it came to me and I fear that I will forget, and the idea will escape me, and I will be left empty.

Sharon George

*okay, I should say most, because really I've not made too many friends since those days