I can remember having a conversation with a senior real estate leader of a major tech company about a design challenge they were facing. This was about ten years ago, after having earned my MA in Organizational Design. Earning that degree was an intense two-year process and throughout it I saw so many connections between the organizational and design worlds, as I had practiced as an architect for thirty-some years. It was clear to me how applied design thinking, systems thinking, and grounding in the theory and practice of leadership and organizational culture could inform the design of campuses, buildings, and workplaces. I understood how the design process could be used as a vehicle to simultaneously surface organizational dynamics, challenges, and futures and so naturally, I thought I could help. I proposed a consulting engagement. 

Her polite but clear response was that, yes, these topics were very important to her organization, but they would never go to an architect for this work. This, and subsequent chance conversations with MBAs who were excited by their discovery of design thinking principles, served as my motivation to dig deeper about what was missing in the traditional design world.

Doors close and doors open

I entered the profession in the late 70s, as the sun was setting on the primacy of architects in the design/build space. Over the arc of my career, I’ve seen the rise of project management and real estate advisory firms and the continued marginalization and commoditization of the design community. However, something has changed – profoundly so.

We now find ourselves in a VUCA world: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. Accelerating, systemic change has rendered accumulated expertise – using past knowledge to solve present problems – unreliable, and in many cases, unhelpful.

Today’s change is vastly different. It challenges one’s mindset, sense of self, and our long-held beliefs about the world around us. Clients are no longer clear on what they need to do. Meanwhile, professionals can no longer be confident in the relevance of what we’ve experienced and learned up until this point.

Why us and why now?

There’s an opportunity for those of us in the design process – starting with a client and a blank slate and ending up with a fully realized built work – to bring what we do into a larger arena. One in which everyone comes together to create outcomes we’ve never seen before, resulting in solutions that speak to a new set of global problems our organizations are currently facing. This process changes how we move forward by:

  • Making the intangible visible and therefore malleable  
  • Exploring multiple possibilities to understand what’s optimal
  • Reconciling complex contexts with a multitude of correlated systems requiring thoughtful and artful integration
  • Engaging stakeholders and users to understand the nature of their work together, which they will tell you is morphing before their eyes

The shift of what’s required of us is that we begin to think beyond buildings; to see that what we’re good at has far broader applications and that we have something unique and important to contribute.

Not all solutions to the problems that matter require buildings, but they do require a design mindset. In this, we have a chance to restore the role of the Architect and our relevance in a rapidly changing world.

Leave A Comment

  1. Chris Jofeh September 2, 2022 at 8:00 am - Reply

    Bryan – well said! I have been trying to say something similar when I lecture to architectural students, but you have said if far better than I have done.

  2. admin September 11, 2022 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    Thanks Chris – I’m sure that your observations shared with future practitioners are on point. Good to hear from you. LA was ages ago. Cheers.

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