Monday, November 12, 2012

The most unexpected skill you'll need as an architect

I mentioned last week that as a project architect and manager, I don't do a lot of drawing or rendering/photoshopping anymore.  (Though to be fair, my Photoshop skills were never terribly strong in the first place.) What I do more than anything is communicate, or more specifically, write.  I write a lot: emails, memos, meeting notes, more emails, RFP and proposal text, code documents, redlines on drawings, and still more emails. I tracked my writing word count for a week, and my typed word count alone clocked about 1,500 to 1,800 words a day.  That's between two and three pages a day of single-spaced typing.  

That's right--I write the equivalent of a college essay every day.  And I'm not even an English major.

You get to move from plain-old-architect to project architect/manager for a variety of reasons, chief of which is that you have some kind of design or technical skill--great with space planning, design, or construction detailing or codes.  But also among those skills is that you have some sense of what is entailed in good communication.  Writing and speaking that is clear, succinct, and respectful is good communication. Rambling, fudging, and accusing are not evidence of good communication skills, and those traits in writing and speaking can hold back a brilliant designer or someone with strong exterior envelope design and detailing skills.

Having done stand-up and improv comedy, I'm comfortable speaking to a group, and I'm (usually) good at thinking fast on my feet and coming up with an appropriate reply. My writing is often where I shine, though, and that's because writing, unlike speaking, leaves a record.  My words disappear into the air, but my memos live in a client's records, and my emails sit in a consultant's inbox with either dignity or repugnancy. My typed words can provide the clarity the design and construction team needs, or the thanks and respect that a consultant craves, or the explanation and CYA that my firm requires. My writing can be used to either protect my firm (or my client) or get it in trouble later.  My writing is the footprint of my firm's professional standards, which can help us gain or lose clients as much as our service can. And yes, spelling and grammar still count. If I'm not careful enough to check my emails and meeting notes, what makes anyone think I'll check my drawings too?  My design skills say that I've been an architect for a long time, but my spelling and grammar say that I also went to college.

So while my design skill may be the basis for my promotions, my writing and communication skills are what make the iron-clad case for me to run a project and to have authority.  Good writing is part of the proof that I won't abuse that authority and that I acknowledge the power that comes with it.  

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