The process of writing How to steal like an architect last year, a series of 10 articles based on Austin Kleon’s How to steal like an artist, made me consider other lessons learned over the years. What further lessons would I teach my younger self, given the opportunity?
12. Tomorrow is defined by what you do today
The inestimable Glenn Murcutt has said that an architect’s future is defined less by the projects he accepts than by those he doesn’t.
Let me illustrate this advice with a story:
A young man is starting out in life as an architect, running his own studio. His passion is for designing environmentally-friendly family houses and hopes fervently to make a future name for himself in that typology. However, of greater immediate importance the young architect must eat, must pay his mortgage, pay his bills, clothe himself. So he grudgingly accepts a commission to design a simple factory for a wealthy industrialist. The fee is good, but the project is mindless. Perhaps the industrialist, happy with the young architect’s work on the factory, will give him another project to design – maybe even his own house. But the industrialist does not. Instead, he tells his industrialist friends about the excellent job the architect did on the factory. With no environmentally-friendly houses on the horizon, and bills mounting up, the architect has no choice but to accept the inevitable factory projects that come his way. 20 years later, the architect is an expert in factories, wealthy because of it but unhappy.
With word of mouth playing such a large role in defining any architect’s marketing strategy, you cannot underestimate the influence your current activities will have on those of your future. The projects you are working on now are your greatest marketing devices – they are combination billboard, business card and testimonial. But they are also proof of expertise – a happy client will give you a better recommendation than one you could ever fabricate yourself, but it is common sense that they will only recommend you for the same work you did for them.
So choose your projects with care. Chase the ones you want and have the courage to say no to those you don’t. And when you win a project, design conscientiously but market shamelessly.
Tomorrow is defined by what you do today.
As I learned from Steven Covey – begin with the end in mind. Tough challenge when the bills mount up and it seems so easy to just take on a project.
When you’re a young architect, without a family to feed or a mortgage to pay, you’re perfectly positioned to make those tough decisions. It will be much harder to change the direction of your life later, once you’re established and financially bound to the machinations of a capitalist economy.