Wednesday, July 16, 2014

So...what sort of architecture do you specialize in?

You know the drill. You are at a cocktail party. The idle chitchat. The inevitable "So what do you do for a living?". Invariably, when I tell people I am an architect, they follow with, "So what do you specialize in?". I'm always somewhat at a loss on how to answer this. Because I don't specialize.

I'm a generalist. A generalist who's worked on a lot of really different types of building projects. From really simple to mind numbingly complex. From very small to pretty damn big. From straightforward to convoluted. From easy peasy to bureaucratic nightmares. From tens of hundreds in cost to tens of millions. From residential to commercial to institutional to government projects. I've worked with couples and corporations. Non-profits and very much for profits. Little old ladies and captains of industry.

So if I don't specialize, I can't be good at what I do, right? Because if I were good at something, I would keep doing it again and again and become an expert, right?

Niels Bohr, the physicist said, "An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes which can be made, in a narrow field." Frank Lloyd Wright famously said, "An expert is a man who has stopped thinking." 

I choose to keep thinking (and occasionally making a mistake), because the projects we do are enriched by the knowledge and wisdom we've gained over the years doing all these different kinds of projects. In the end, they are all architecture. While projects can have components that are unique to them, a door is a door, whether it is in an airport or a church or a home. The first may need to be automatic opening, the next commodious, but easy to open, and the last warm and inviting. If all I had ever done was airports, I might think bi-parting automatic doors were just the thing for the entrance to your home.

An you know what? We like variety. We like new challenges. Doing the same thing over and over is one of the conditions of insanity. And we like to think of ourselves as sane. So our practice has resolutely focused on doing different kinds of buildings.

But we have specialized one thing about our practice. Service. You see, working with all these different projects and clients clarified the one thing that matters to all of them, the quality of the service the architect provides. That's why we stress things like listening well to our clients; doing our research; checking and re-checking codes, ordinances and documents; clearly conveying information to contractors; and building effective design teams. I'm proud of the service Gorman Architects provides its clients. Service its clients love, right along with their building.

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