14 August 2010

Designers and Writers

I was invited by Peter Weingarten, who - with Steve Weindel - leads the architecture studio at Gensler San Francisco, to participate in a recent retreat. I was reminded in the course of it that design and writing have in common a vast diversity of methods, as many as there are individuals engaged in both tasks. Reading Paris Review interviews of writers, I'm often struck by this. By the time they make it to that august journal, writers are pretty clear about how they work and how it relates to what they write. I work as an editor, and most of my "for hire" writing is done with teams. This is more like design in the studio than most of the writing that the Paris Review describes. In a studio context, there's likely to be a way of working that drives most projects. Finding the right team isn't just a question of personalities, but also of feeling at ease with the tempo of the work. Some designers are purely iterative, so almost useless on fast-burn competitions. Others excel conceptually, but are bored stiff by the details of implementation. Good firms help sort this out, but the main burden is on the individual. When I joined Gensler, I shocked the person who hired me by saying that it would be a mutual waste of time for me to be the director of communications. I'm just not cut out for that role. I can direct from an editorial standpoint, because that's a reviewing, mentoring, and influencing sort of role. My nature is receptive, I think, rather than creative. As my friend Julie Bartlett once put it, "Give John a sentence or two, the germ of an idea, and he can turn it into an essay." A separate subject, also relevant to designers, is how to figure out which projects fit best.

Praise for Kenneth Caldwell

One of the pleasures of life is to read new work by my writer friend Kenneth Caldwell, including his wonderful blog, Design Faith; articles for Architect's Newspaper and arcCA, like his recent review of Design on the Edge, the anniversary publication of U.C. Berkeley's College of Environmental Design; and other pieces like the Barry Elbasani interview he posted on ArchNewsNow, originally written for a monograph on Elbasani's firm, ELS. It was at Kenny's urging that I wrote a polemic on the 555 Washington Tower for A/N, picked up by ANN. His input, along with that of another attentive reader, helped me shift its focus to the larger issues that the tower proposal raised. Kenny also got me started reading the Paris Review, which I recommend especially for its interviews with writers. Like me, Kenny worked as an architecture firm marketer. We both continue to write "for hire," so what we write on our own account is from the heart, I think, reflecting our lives and interests. Kenny is more often on the road than I am, camera in hand. Now we get to tag along.

10 August 2010

Article for ZweigWhite

I'm writing an article with Ed Friedrichs, ex-god of Gensler, and Amanda Walter, a Bay Area-based communication consultant, previously with AECOM and EDAW. It will look comparatively at three or four models of AE/AEC organization from the standpoints of clients, owners, and employees. We're writing it for ZweigWhite, where Friedrichs is now chairman. Look for it sometime in the fall.