Inspire a Shared Vision: Architect as Leader

I was on Twitter earlier in the week and noticed that AIA National is looking for architect bloggers to write about “architect as leader”, to help expand on the AIA 2013 National Convention theme of Building Leaders. So… what does Architect as Leader mean?

The First Rule of Architecture School is Don’t Break this Rule

I write about some wild stuff. I talk about monetizing BIM through micro-transactions via Augmented Reality. I tell you that printing your drawings is a waste of time. I call people dinosaurs. I daydream about self-driving cars and wonder what kind of Architect I am. One could argue that over my three years of blogging I went from focused (just writing about ArchiCAD) to slightly less niche-oriented (writing about ArchiCAD and some broader BIM topics) to off the rails. Or maybe just heading off the rails. I still find an excuse (crutch?) to mention BIM in most of my posts.

But look again at those various posts. What’s the bigger theme? What’s the underlying form that I’m seeking? It’s to imagine the future; to untangle what might be; to explore what could be; to not be constrained by rules. We were always told this in architecture school, weren’t we? Follow the Rules! Oh but don’t follow the rules. Well our professors couldn’t TELL us to break the rules because then we’d be following the rule of breaking rules… Instead we had to be told to accomplish Thing A and then do Thing Q on our own. If we were good students and did Thing A, our jurors would complain “oh that’s great and all. You did a fine job interpreting the brief, but why did you do Thing A instead of Thing X?” It was only once we realized that the initial question was merely a starting point that we started to succeed. The deeper lesson of all those years of schooling wasn’t about interpreting the question, but challenging the question and returning something bigger than was asked for.

Now I will Crush Your Soul

Practicing architects have real clients with actual needs. Ignoring client desires, constructability issues, costs, codes, etc. is a very poor way to run a business. As such school and practice have competing and antithetical pressures and requirements. We need to bring that fire and otherworldliness into the professional realm. We need to merge the two.

Inspire a Shared Vision

Anyone can design a building. Anyone can talk about construction. The typical architect probably knows less about putting together a building than the average contractor. The IT guys know more about technology than us. The sustainability consultants know more about energy usage than we do. We aren’t the mythical master builder anymore. Everywhere we turn, there’s someone who knows more about the specifics of our trade. We are surrounded by specialists and experts. Everywhere we look there are rules that if we try to follow, we lose. Because just like in school, following the rules is the way to second place. Or maybe third. But architects are trained to think differently. We are taught (often via fiery trials) to find a vision for our work. And to be leaders, this is what we must do. We must look beyond the mundane and inspire a shared vision. Whether our passion is for sustainability, materials, technology, art, communities, we must look to the future and declare “You don’t exist yet. Therefor there are no rules and requirements. Thus this is what it will look like, why it will be that way, and how it will be.” And maybe we’ll be wrong. Maybe we’ll fail. Maybe we’ll be told no. But through persistence; through always chasing and sharing the unbuilt; through exploring the yet to be imagined; through looking at the grander patterns, we get a little closer to moving the rest of the AECOU industry to a more beautiful and prosperous future. Anyone can build. Architects need to dream and inspire.

Abdication is not an Option

I should stop there, but I’ll give one quick example. Look at all the discussions on BIM. Who’s controlling the conversation? It’s contractors, consultants, engineers, and software companies. It’s rarely architects, and almost never design architects. And what’s happening with BIM? It’s being touted as a boon for construction and operation. It’s being hailed as the collaboration and coordination panacea. Where are the the voices proclaiming it as the greatest design tool? As the solution to other problems with the built environment? As the answer to all the questions that don’t even exist yet. Architects: inspire the shared vision.

To keep track of everything I’m writing, follow Shoegnome on Facebook and Twitter. And while you’re at it, the RSS feed is a great way to never miss anything either. Also to read other architects’ thoughts on the topic of Architect as Leader, you can find a list of other posts here.

Bonus point: the title and theme of this post is one of the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership presented in Kouzes & Posner’s The Leadership Challenge. If you’re interested in leadership, read this book. I read it as part of the AIA Minnesota Leadership Forum and my wife read it as part of her MBA program at the Carlson School of Management — University of Minnesota. It’s incredible.


  1. Liz O'Sullivan April 25, 2013
    • Jared Banks April 25, 2013
  2. Larry Fredlund April 25, 2013
  3. Pingback: What Emerging Architects are about to inherit December 10, 2013
  4. Justus August 3, 2014

Leave a Reply