I must admit that my blogging has been a bit lax lately… about two weeks since my last post. Although I plan to continue a minimum of one post per week (and hopefully 2 or 3 per week), I blame my aloofness on my re-entry into the real world.
After wrapping up my thesis three weeks ago, I immediately began working full time for an design/develop/build company about an hour outside of Chicago. Although this has kept me physically detached from my blog, I think about what to write next on every train ride to and from Libertyville… so I have a mental backlog of writings.
I have struggled with how to write about this endeavor, because I do not want to use this blog as a platform for just promoting or talking about our projects. So it took some time for me to figure out how to breach the subject that I am essentially working for a “developer”.
A month or so, I was having lunch with my old friend/architect/colleague/nerd Brad. When I told him about this new adventure out in Libertyville, he laughed and put a dagger right in my heart by saying that I was selling out. I was taken back a bit, because at no point had that thought ever crossed my mind; although I am really good at always telling myself what I want to hear.
I quickly retorted by saying, “no… going back to a Chicago architecture firm would be selling out.” He did not disagree, but needed further clarification on how building houses out in the suburbs was not selling my soul to the devil.
There are two important books that helped to justify my decision and explain my position to Brad. First, The Art of Innovation, by Ideo’s Tom Kelley; and second, Built to Last by Jim Collins. In The Art of Innovation, Tom Kelley writes a fantastic chapter on the importance of building “Hot Teams”. Hot Teams are the heart of Ideo and critical to innovation.
I have been indirectly working with the developer John McLinden since last year. Once he read my thesis proposal and my blog, six or so months ago, we started having some very dynamic conversations about the future of housing, and what architectural design can, and should play in it.This conversations led into a real proposal about what I can bring to Streetscape development and what they can bring to the world of affordable design.
After starting working with John and his crew full time, three weeks ago, I realize now that he has been building that Hot Team. At the core, there are four of us. We all have very different backgrounds, expertise in different fields, and differing personalities. We are all driven by a common core ideology, a passion to succeed, and an ambition to do things better. We all have specific expertise, all while our roles overlap. At the same time we all highly respect each other and are not afraid of conflict. John has, and continues to build our Hot Team, and I think we can do great things.
With regards to Built to Last, this book really supported my decision through its insistence of the importance of a company’s core ideology. I have defined my professional ideology as “to allow everyone affordable access to good design.” After the last few weeks, I believe it is fair to define Streetscape’s ideology as “it shouldn’t be so g-d difficult to build good homes for good people”. This completely parallels my thoughts and passions; meanwhile I have had trouble finding an ideology anywhere close to this in most architecture firms.
Lastly the real reason this move makes sense for me is that I believe, to truly make a difference in housing, you need control. As John says, “you have to own the shop.” Most architects make websites and monographs only for other architects. They are rarely taking their genius, intuition, and expertise to the end-user. As the developer, however, we are taking the design and delivery directly to the consumer and we can control the process the whole way. IT’s the old WWDHD. (What Would David Hovey Do)
I would not say that I am selling out. I would not even say that I am doing the “if you can’t beat them join them.” I think that to truly engage architecture in mass housing, we need to step out of our homebuilder/developer/architect/engineer/contractor/client labels, and create a new entity and image for home delivery.
Housing2.0 is not about selling architectural homes on the internet, its about redefining the process so that the end-user has a say and affordable access to good design. And that is exactly what we are doing at Streetscape.