This is the transcript from EntreArchitect Podcast Episode 229, Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Architecture.
Mark R. LePage:
Earn 20 percent profit on your next project. We will show you how. Download our free course. It’s free. Our free course profit for small firm architects right now at EntreArchitect.com/freecourse. My name is mark our lapage and you are listening to EntreArchitect podcast where I speak with inspiring, passionate people who share their knowledge and expertise all to help you build a better business. As a small firm entrepreneur architect, this is Episode 229 and this week I’m speaking with an architect, writer, podcaster, and so much more. He does so much more. Duo Dickinson and we’re speaking about artificial intelligence and the future of architecture.
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Duo Dickinson. Welcome to EntreArchitect podcast. It’s great having you here. Let me introduce you to our audience here. Graduating from Cornell University in 1977, Duo Dickinson opened his own practice in 1987. Duo currently sits on five not for profit boards and about 20 to 30 percent of the work at his office is dedicated to pro bono or at cost work for not for profits, totaling over 150 projects for over 30 organizations over the past 30 years. His work has received more than 30 regional and national design awards and he’s recently elevated to fellow at the American Institute of Architects. His design work has been published in more than 70 publications, including the New York Times, Architectural Record and House Beautiful, and is the architectural critic for the New Haven Register and a feature writer at the Hartford Current Media Group has blogs Saved by Design has received over 75,000 views and is growing and he has written eight books. His latest book, A Home called New England with Steve Colepepper was just published just this past November. Additionally, on top of all of that, he hosts a radio series homepage on WPKN radio in Connecticut. He’s the Co founder of the Congress of Residential Architecture, also known as CORA. he’s taught at Yale College and my Alma Mater, Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island. He’s currently on the faculty of Building Beauty, Ecologic Design and Construction Process at Santa Ana Institute in Sorrento, Italy, as well as their cochair of their American Advisory Board. So Mr Dickinson, you are one busy man. A lot of things, a lot of influence on the profession, getting a lot of content out there. And so I love having you here. I want to know a little bit more about you and where you came from. And so let’s dive into your origin story. Go back to where you discovered architecture and what inspired you to become an architect and give us a story from that point to where you find yourself today.
Well, I grew up not far from where you are now in Westchester County really a madmen upbringing. I’m older than you, so my parents were of the greatest generation and they, for whatever reason parents did in those days, shipped me up to Buffalo, New York for high school where I played football and was an okay student. And at one point because I was quite driven, I said, well, my favorite things to do are history and English so I should figure that out. And I qualified to be part of the University of Buffalo’s summer program for high school students where I took two senior level courses, one in history and one in English and loved them. It was one of the greatest summers ever because I was working on like a madman to play football and I was taking these courses and it was really quite wonderful.
And I got along very well with the professors. They were really interesting people and I asked them pretty directly, you know, this is after my junior year of high school. So I was 16 years old. I said if I were to take this, which was either English or history to its highest level, what would I be doing? And they both said the same thing. You get a PHD, you go, you will hopefully get a job in university if you were okay and you were published and did stuff, you would end up having a job where you’d be teaching or advising other PHD students. And I would go, so in other words, I would get a PHD to make more PHDs, they basically said yes. And I just was a total buzzkill for me. And I went, no, I can’t do that. Especially, 16, and it’s like, hmm, that’s not the rest of my life.
Not only that, you know, I was kind of crushing it on the football field and it was very active in a lot of things. And I’m going like, you know, I can’t say I couldn’t do this nonproductive, non end result thing, process thing, not a product thing. And I was lying in bed and I looked at my libraries in the moonlight and looking at the library. And the library basically had a lot of architecture stuff in there. And I said, well, you know, when I went to sleep at night, really my whole life, I’ve thought about how a chair gets made or a roof gets put on, you know, when I was 16 I was thinking this way, said, okay, so I’ll go to architecture school. And so back then, you know, the bachelor of architecture degree was it, that was the professional degree and the master’s was for teaching people.
Well now you know, there’ll never be another, a new school that offers a bachelor of architecture degree. Now it’s all about masters and some people are saying that the professional degrees should be a PHD. I just went to Cornell because it was the best school in the country. And I got out in four and a half years because I had no money. So I doubled up. And then I went in deep sea, scallop fished for a few chores to pay off my academic debts. And then I wrote four or five architects across the country and one of them said yes, and I went to work for Louis Maykel in Guilford, Connecticut, but struck up a great and abiding friendship with Turner Brooks and also Antwan Predoc. There was another guy who was really nice and so it’s been it’s been 40 years really since I sort of jumped in and got licensed as soon as I could possibly be licensed.
So I’ve been licensed for I think 35 years and are more and had my own firm for about 31 years. And I’m a building guy so we’ve built over 800 things and I’m in about 20 states, budgets from #100 a foot to a thousand bucks a foot. And for very wealthy people and for people that have literally zero money. If there’s one thing I would leave you with, that would be the priority of bandwidth of multi valence. A polymath practice is to me the highest calling, not the hyper specialized technician or even a mercenary approach to architecture. I think basically for me, the self generating energy comes from the fact that dealing with so many different scenarios and being a part of helping them be better by making things.
I’ve got four or five full time employees always have, when there’s a boom, I take on a couple more that are kind of contract employees, when there’s a bust, I keep them on and make a lot less money. We are not big building architects. I mean a big job for me, I’m starting a job right this on Tuesday that will be perhaps a five or ten million dollar job and that’s a huge job. This little from the. We do have over 50 jobs in the office at any given time, but that’s kind of a canard because of the 50, 20 or 30 or active, you know, five or 10 or finishing up in some minute way in five or 10 haven’t really started yet. They range. They used to range back in the boom times a decade ago where we had over always have three or four very large houses that we were doing.
Now we’ve got one or two and we would have a bunch of smaller projects, but we probably have more simpler projects now. So the average project size has gone way down. The fee has stayed the same. I mean I basically raised my rates for the first time in 12 years last year and it was one of those decisions too. I just sort of had to do it because there was a point at which somebody that worked for me since I bill by the hour, was on the verge of being billing out at a higher rate than me. I think I gotta have a higher rate than him. I’m older than him. We just worked by the hour too, I mean, other than for the not for profit work or whatever fixed fee they can get. So we don’t negotiate for them, we say, you tell us what we can pay us. And for the rest we just work by the hour and we keep track of the time and you know, so far it’s worked out. I made over a thousand payroll. So in the building that we’re in, I’m never laid anybody off. Actually, you know, we’ve had to fire some people because they weren’t as good as I’d hoped or the fit wasn’t as good as I’d hoped, but never got that crushing, you know, cancellation of six jobs in a recession. And then how the office meeting that many of us have had or heard of where you find out that one third of you are half of you or all of your gone, you know. So we’ve avoided that, I think by having direct and really personal relationships with all of our clients and a fairly diverse practice that you know, is probably more than half residential. Probably one third a not for profit and have that one third. It’s not for profit. Half of that is a religious related to churches. And the other part is mostly affordable housing.
And then we’ve got, you know, we’re doing a commercial building right now and we’ve done commercial work and institutional work as well. So we just finished the Maurice Sendak archive in Richfield, Connecticut, which is probably the biggest quote unquote dame that I’ve been involved in and we’re just finished. I mean, a good example of how this bleeds you is that we were, we did a subject called the strong center here in Madison, Connecticut, where my son played football on the field, but the field is actually not a field. It’s actually a place that’s on Long Island Sound. It faces out over Long Island Sound. And so somebody had a good idea, well, if the town can throw a million bucks at this thing, I think we can raise 2 million and, and we’ll just build this because somebody said, I’ll give you a million bucks. Well, when the crash happened, that million bucks went away and the board got together and says, should we just do this? He said, yeah, well it just takes time to do it. So we thought it would take four or five years. And so now at 11 years, we literally are finishing up today and it’s pretty nice, but it took eleven years and I got $0. So you could imagine that was quite an investment.
Mark R. LePage:
So it’s very curious to hear you say that because most of what the business gurus say is that you need to focus, you need to have a target market, you need to have a specific brand. You’re an example of a successful entrepreneur architect. What you just described is an entrepreneur architect, running a successful practice, very diverse, doing all the different types of work that you want to do with a full staff that you’ve never laid off. What would you say is, is your key to success is, what would you say your brand is when people come to you, what are they coming to you for?
Well, you know, this is indefensible and it’s also a retro grade and I can’t justify it, but a little bit of it is like with all created things, a little bit of a cult of personality. So I wrote my first book in 1983, so I’ve written eight books and, and, and some of them were actually relatively successful, not like Sarah Susanka’s book the you know, The Not So Big House, which has sold a couple million copies, you know, I’ve sold several books that have had 50,000 or 60,000 copies sold, but when you do books and you win some awards and you get press you become a little bit of a thing, you become a little bit a part of a larger discussion that people have. But as the world has changed and as the media has changed, the book’s mean almost nothing. And what ends up having worked for me at 62 is actually all the people I’ve worked with before.
So, you know, 90 percent of the business I would say, 90 percent now, is by referral direct referral. Whereas 20 years ago had more than half the work was really from the abstract promotion of your work via the media. I’ve actually never spent a penny on ads. I get asked by Houzz pretty much every week or Porch or some other place or a New England Architecture or whatever it’s called, New England Design to take out ads and I never do that. But what we do do is we do sell our services to a for silent auctions, not for profits do that a great deal. Some of those jobs have become real jobs, but what they do is they basically promote the truth that we will work for anyone. It doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter if we end up getting a job. I always go out and, and talk to the people at their place no matter what it is, and don’t charge them a dime because there is also this, I think, sad legacy of elitism that allows the profession to isolate itself from the relevance that would come if we were just one of everybody else.
Instead, you know, the line that has always promoted by the AIA and I did become a member of the AIA because the of book was and I did sell 10,000 books because I was a member of the AIA and the a came out, I think 20 years ago. The idea that architecture is about quote unquote innovation and as a lot of the people that are listening can relate to and a lot of people in the some of the blogs that I talked talked to a, there is a weird schism between the sort of elite world of academia and media and the people making a living being architects. And one is stylistically defaulting to a high modernist fine arts architecture. And the other is a more aesthetically relativistic, less concerned with innovation.
And so you get labeled if you are a building architect, a hack and that you’ll do what other people say. And that is another way of saying it’s okay not to build things. And the thing which is getting scary in the profession, it is scary is the fact that it’s becoming perfectly okay for the 3,500 graduating students who will never get a job in architecture out of the 6,000 that are graduated every year. So 55 percent of the graduates of architecture school will never get a job in architecture. Just is a fact stated in the January issue of architecture magazine by the AIA’s economists lauding the fact that we have 2,500 jobs a year for our graduating a architecture majors. And of course that means that there are 3,500 that don’t have a job in architecture.
And he was somehow thinking that was a good thing and it was also saying that it was, it was really great, and not taking into the fact that the truth is that with this artificial intelligence revolution that is affecting everybody everywhere the real problem is going to be how many architects are going to be needed in the future. I’ve had an ongoing conversation with Phil Bernstein at Yale who helped create Autodesk and is extremely intelligent, but is from another side of the world where he basically says, well, of course architects will learn how to do this and this, and this will mean that they will have careers and everything will be fine. And my take is the opposite is true that architects will actually think of this as the new CAD monkey. It’ll enable small firms like me, instead of having five or six people, to have two or three people, it’ll mean that 7 million Americans that don’t go look at Houzz now can find the latest and greatest artificial intelligence home design program and not hire even the two percent of architects that end up getting jobs, that are getting two percent of the homes in America that are built have architects.
The rest do not. And so maybe that goes down to one percent. You know, my hope would be, and I don’t know whether anybody knows this, would be that, that is that the reverse would be true, that we would have a software that would enable architects to actually expand their sphere of influence by being humanly creative as opposed to artificially simulative of creativity. I mean, the reality is all artificial intelligence is a gigantic patchwork quilt of the knowledge we already have. There’s no new knowledge in them. It’s all this knowledge that we have that we’ve put in. Then we are using it and making actually quite wonderful and actually making better buildings for more people at a cheaper price and there’s zero wrong with that. The terror, for me, it is a terror not just for architecture but I think almost worse than any other profession.
The terror is that artificial intelligence becomes its own system where you don’t even think about hiring an architect to create a warehouse, so you go to a an engineering office, they’ve got a BIM program, you pick from the catalog of the 17 stylistic things you have in the 47 programmatic layouts that are available and you then apply that to the site and the and the site tech engineer says we’re going to have to make this floor smaller and maybe we have this level has to drop and then we have to make the loading dock work this way and you ended up having this problem solving exercise, which is fantastic for many buildings and completely wrong for some buildings, for the future of our culture. If the culture needs to embrace and extend our values, and our values become artificial intelligence, then we have the values that we’ve already had and we’re done.
And my take is that there’s an enormous effort, I don’t know if you’ve seen it, but there’s an enormous effort by, I think it’s the American Classical Architecture Society, and I probably have that name wrong. I gave a talk for them in DC in November. The great effort, huge money, pushed hard in the media to essentially not rebuild the existing Pennsylvania station. But to build a brand new Pennsylvania station, but to build an exact and perfect replica of the McKim, Mead & White 1903 Penn Station. And the bizarre, ironic weirdness of artificial intelligence is the given BIM and CNC machines and all the rest to build the old building with new technology than ever. You know, that’s why Kelly Travis Church is being finished in Spain. And that’s why you can have so few architects get new jobs because even if there’s a building, boom, fewer of us are needed to make the same stuff that we’re needed 20 years ago.
And my take is there’ll be fewer than the 2,500 that’s being suggested by the AIA now because there’s not going to be more opportunity for humans doing architecture. There’ll be less opportunity for humans doing architecture. My hope would be that technology would allow more of us to do more things and charge less money. But the only way that’s gonna ever work, and this is what I love to talk to you about today, is for architecture to become relevant to the average person’s life, which today it is only in reaction, not in control. Everybody says, what a beautiful house. I had on my my radio show, Cait Wagner. She created two years ago, just two years ago, the McMansion in Hell blog. And it has captured people’s imagination almost like nothing else in design or architecture because it crystallizes and articulates the extreme overblown narcissism and terrified gigantism have an uninformed, not creative agglomeration of hopes and dreams that people have because they look at sites like Houzz and say, I want that window and I want that window next to that kitchen. And that entry is good too. And you end up switching a project together, much like the wonderful cover that Progressive Architecture had that was the same thing when there used to be a Progressive Architecture Magazine over 20 years ago. So nothing really has changed. But now with artificial intelligence, that mentality of the cut and paste, two percent of American homes now ends up being on steroids, like on steroids that are really good. Steroids without a doubt.
Mark R. LePage:
Without a doubt. But then there’s nothing going to stop it. The fact that AI is coming and faster than we think it’s coming, to look at what the big developers are doing now and building those types of houses. As soon as they have the access to the technology to be able to build more of those, to build them faster, to build them bigger, to build them clip art without any sort of design, without having to spend any money on design responding directly to the market and what the market says they want that will just exponentially grow. So the question is architecture dead? The only way you’re going to stop that from happening is to regulate it so it can’t happen, but that’s not the answer. That will be unsustainable, right?
That technology is going to happen. And so there will always be buildings that require an architects designed to be input, right? You need some sort of creativity someday maybe if we can continue thinking on this level, maybe AI also starts becoming creative, but that’s way in the future I think. What do we do in the meantime while the warehouses obviously are going to be designed this way and the buildings that don’t really need design are going to be designed this way, but what about the houses and what about the municipal buildings? What about the buildings that really create the downtowns of our societies? How do we stay relevant as architects to be able to still have control over how those buildings get designed?
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I can tell you the way that it will not work because it’s the way it’s working now. And that’s not working because we are not, we are not in the forefront of people’s minds in their daily lives. We’re in the forefront of a media’s mind in terms of what they laud and what competitions are done and what you see on certain websites and magazines. You seeking these really cool, great buildings, but it’s an object focused reality which is quite traditional in the way architecture has been focused. Where to me, the future lies is counterintuitive to that. And I can only tell you that you have to kind of almost look at the places that experience more radical failure because economic change and I’ve had some success in researching parts of their cultural lives in a way which I would call a human validation. We’ve done a fair amount of work in Vermont. Know Vermont pretty well. Vermont is one of my best friends is a state senator there for the last 15 years. The one week off, I take every year whether I need it or not, the one week I do not work, I am in Vermont, at a wonderful place. I can tell you that for the first time, well since before World War II, for the first time, agriculture in Vermont has had an uptick and it had an uptick not because they invented a new food or had a better factory or produced a cheaper thing. They just simply made a product that integrated with people’s values in a way that made it desirable, straight capitalism. The fact that if you make something that people want, they will use it. The truth is that the missing element of the most built thing, actually in the world, is the American home. We build now almost a million individual homes a year, 80,000 and goes up and it goes down. The worst year was $300,000. The best year was almost 3 million there. When you think about it, there’s no other industry on the planet where the min is one and the max is 10. That’s an enormously bizarre dynamic thing would be as if in the bus times nine out of 10 factories would close, nine out of 10 supermarkets would go away.
But because of that volatility, it shows you the level of desire that even in the worst of times they’re still building 300,000 things. Of those 300,000 things, you know, whereas once architects were involved directly, well, let me go the other way. Fourteen percent of architects listed in the firm surveys in 2006 and 2007, fourteen percent of architects said residential work is one of the hearts of our practice. Not just a house, but it’s part of how we based our firm. Now that’s not a six or seven percent, which is where it’s been for a long time before that, but still that cut the number of architects working on homes as a predominant element of their career by half. Half! My take is that’s because we were operating on an object basis. I think if you operate on a human basis and the way I think you do that for me anyway, the way you do that is that you do the work for humans that is required, that has no fee, meaning there’s no money to pay an architect to do a habitat house and I’ve done 85 habits at houses for Habitat New Haven for the last 25 years for free.
Working not as a genius architect, but working with other people to figure stuff out. Losing the idea of saving the world with some stair rail detail, but working to make it work for the volunteers and for the situations and the pockets that you’re making stuff in. If you could prove relevance to the least of us, you’ll prove relevance for the rest of us and that relevance, that meaning of having good food in Vermont or having a home you love anywhere, whether it’s a renovated home, whether it’s even just a new window in a home, belies the tradition where architects have viewed homes really in two ways. They viewed, they viewed it as either a stepping stone to quote unquote real work. As a guy said 25 years ago in a building busts in the AIA Journal here in Connecticut homes. He said, I found that homes are actually good work to have until you get real work.
And then. Then the other thing is to say that wonderful phrase, I think it was for Michael Graves who said, oh, in my office I’ve got a wonderful residential porch design and some smaller projects. And the idea was is that I can’t even begin to think of architecture as anything other than being a doctor. That if somebody shows up in the emergency room with a cut and it’s one inch, two inches long, I will not sow it up because why would I do that? It’s only one inch long and we only take two inch cuts or longer. Architects have had the same thing. They’ve had this essential bias against cheat projects, against projects for people that have no aesthetic desires that only wants to do problem solving projects that are, are important but have no aesthetic upside whatsoever. Even projects that have really no fee upside whatsoever.
Whereas if you talk to a doctor or a lawyer, even some engineers, of course they do pro bono work. Of course they do projects they know they’re never going to get paid for because they have a ethic which says, I am here to serve humans. I’m not here to serve myself. And the, and the big disconnect and architecture has been, it was, when I was at Cornell, which was, you know, like I said, very much saying to the world, we are the best architecture school in the world. And they all believed it. Is that we do not want to have anything to do with the popular culture. We want to be the people that lead all culture and then our imitated afterward by the popular culture. So we can not be relevant if we’re relevant than we are not doing our job.
And so what ends up happening is that architects end up designing for other architects they do not design for the people that are designing for and since the creation of photography. And there are several wonderful books that have been made about this, that since the world of architectural photography happened in the twenties and thirties architecture changed so that, you know, whereas before you would make something like a cathedral and you kind of know what it was and you don’t kind of where the spaces are. And it was in the, best sense of the word was called traditional because it was really based on what you knew. When architecture began to become based on the photographs that hadn’t happened yet. The idea that you would design to the angle to the, to the picturesque, compelling quality of modern architectural photography. Something happened and it took us as a group to a cultural place, much more akin to the fine artist, the painter, the sculptor of the solo violin player, the actor who was more than happy to work for free because that’s really where the market was. It was also more than happy to have no one use them rather than do something they would consider to despoil their perfect sense of what the future is going to be. Well, that really wouldn’t work for a doctor, that really wouldn’t work for a lawyer. I think we should be much more like clerics like rabbis or or priests. We need to actually connect people with what they value, with whatever knowledge and skill we have, rather than show people the way they should be by letting us do what we want to do.
When hypocrisy happens, it’s because you have disconnected where your values are from reality and the reality for most people is they use buildings things every day. The vast majority of buildings have no need or functional benefit to being innovative or beautiful or at the same time, humans really want them to be cool, interesting, delightful, efficient. The idea that you would spend more money on a house than you would ever spend on any other object in your entire life, have more worth in that house and have more liability in that house and not hire somebody with a level of expertise as the lawyer you hired to do your will or the doctor you go to when you have the flu is insanity. It makes no sense and it’s not the buyer’s fault. It’s the seller’s fault. We have not proven by our works that we are relevant to people. We have proven that were very relevant to other architects and that’s a real problem unless you want to be the first violin soloist for the metropolitan, because the truth is, you know, those sorts of architects should be there. There’s nothing wrong with the starchitect model of doing incredibly cool and fabulous work that represents five percent of our entire architecture world of practitioners, but the reality is you can be a really great architect and still work with humans.
You just need an attitude adjustment to say your clients aren’t cash machines for your ideas. Your clients are for a brief period of time. Your partner there who you care about. There’s a level of responsibility involved. That is, to me anyway, is the reason why I’ve been doing this for 40 years. It’s because you become part of deeply, deeply meaningful scenarios for people that are typically very committed to doing the right thing. Now we’ve worked for people that have endeavored to create a legacy by making something which is unnecessary for them. We actually have designed the largest house in Madison, Connecticut for a family of four. Now, you couldn’t prove to them that they didn’t want that, but because that 10,000 square foot house is about two or 3000 square feet smaller than it could have been. That’s probably where I came in and because it’s been now through three or four hurricanes with zero damage, that probably is also due to me and the engineer, but the fact that it looks pretty great really is because they had somebody like me involved and it really does look pretty great.
But I will tell you, it’ll never get published anywhere. No other architects will ever see it. It is basically one of these very cool, idiosyncratic New Englandy kind of homes that is delightful and interesting and actually compelling in some respects but doesn’t serve the purpose of the architectural photographer or the website or the lecturer or the architect who is teaching because they don’t know how to build anything. So those things are what AI is going to call the question on because the architects who don’t build anything will not be as good at making buildings as artificial intelligence. And that will mean that either you will still have, you know, 3,500 people that want to have $200- or 300,000 worth of academic investment and then become a real estate broker or a car salesman. You either want to do that or you let the profession attrit to go down to the two or 3000 jobs that I’d be there.
Or my hope please would be that the entire profession looks at itself differently and says, wait a minute, this thing will let me do more things with more people. I just have to start thinking about more people than architects. And and that’s why I didn’t belong to the AIA for 25 years. Because the truth is, when you have architects talking to architects, you get that level of self serving which remotes you from the future of our culture. And you can see that also in government and you can see that in many other aspects of our lives. Politics and religion, the minute you disassociate yourself from the core human realities that everybody experiences you become then a niche that essentially feeds on its own value system and to me that’s the short ticket to architecture simply becoming a vestige.
Mark R. LePage:
Yeah. I think that your model that you described with your firm that you talked, you said you built, you’re a cult of personality, but that’s what the reason you’re successful is because you worked really hard upfront. You said a lot of it now is referral, but it came from years and years and decades of grinding, of working hard and getting your name out there and writing books and getting published and being, being a speaker and being a leader and creating organizations and getting out there and doing what needs to be done to get noticed. You’ve created a brand around Duo Dickinson by doing that and now you’re reaping the rewards of that.
Well, I guess one thing, if there were any financial rewards, I mean the real, the real downside of this is that if you walk the talk of my model, you make very little money and that’s just the truth because, and this is one of the reasons why I feel Bernstein and I have a disagreement, the reality is most people not corporations, not institutions, most people do not hire architects because we are too expensive. The only way to make that change is by either artificial intelligence. Please, I hope this is true. Or you say, well, let me just talk to you and I will do this. I’ll give you advice and maybe even show you something that you could do. I won’t take any responsibility for it, but I’ll show you what an architect can do. That does work for many. But it doesn’t work for everyone and most people don’t even know you could do that.
The model of the cult of personality is, is, is probably true. But let me, there’s one other story which is also true, which is that a 1994 my work and me was on the cover of the New York Times Home Section magazine. It was. Itwas the Thursday issue and it was this incredibly great piece that focused on three or four of our projects all over the northeast. The author and I got along really well. We spent a lot of time together and the article was like, this is really interesting stuff. Well, we got phone calls for 10 years. This is back when you had phone calls before the Internet. Ten years we had 700 phone calls. We got, we netted 40 jobs directly. And I have not done the calculation, but it’s got to be 100 or 200 jobs from doing those first jobs for those people because they saw something in that article that said to them, wait a minute, an architect can actually do this.
He’ll actually listen. He’ll talk with me. He’s actually a human being. He’s not talking about concepts, he’s talking about how I live. Well, those things that made Sarah Susanka book so successful, those things that make Houzz have, you know, 3 million hits a week. Those, those points of personal relevancy should not be singulative or even, you know, gratuitously kind of pornographic. You know, house porny kind of stuff. They really need to show the idea that people can control their lives better if they invest time and money with somebody that knows about building things. But the problem is we have to show people that we know how to build things. I think you’ll agree that a lot of people that call themselves architects have never toenailed wall in their entire life and never could and never will. And I think that’s a little bit like having the sports announcer that’s literally never picked up a baseball bat be talking at great depth about what’s wrong with the hitter. And sure they know the abstract realities of baseball. But if you’ve never played baseball, it’s pretty hard to have credibility. You may sound good. It might enhance the view of other people that have never played baseball as they watch something, but the truth is that’s voyeuristic. It’s not participantive and the idea that you could actually have architects out there, and this is why I’m involved in the Building Beauty program in Sorrento, Italy, if you’ve had architects out there that know how to make things that see the actual act of making things part of the power of making beauty and acknowledged the fact that beauty is the reason they are architects.
If you do that, the paradigm shift happens and you know you don’t become somebody that’s a self promoter. You are a facilitator of the beauty that’s in every single person site and thing, but you’re the chancellor of that. You are the person that facilitates that. You weren’t the controller of that. If you want to give up the role of I’d rather build nothing, then build something that I couldn’t love with all of my heart. Well, you’re probably not going to change the paradigm. If the paradigm is there’s beauty in everything and I’m here to help make that beauty and the reason I’m here to make that beauty is that I kind of know how to make things so in the making of it I can make it more beautiful, especially for the person who it’ss going to end up serving. That changes the paradigm. Then the act of making becomes part of it versus the act of acquire.
Mark R. LePage:
Today we have the tools to make that so much easier. You’re talking about basically storytelling. What do architects do? How can architects make your life better? Today you did it with books and magazines and newspapers. Today we have Facebook and Instagram and and Twitter and a blog, internet sites, websites. You can build a platform that that teaches the world what we do and if we all do that as a community because the EntreArchitect community are are individuals. If we’re all doing that and creating our own platforms, teaching the world what we do and why we’re different and why AI is not going to replace us because this is what we’re doing, this is how we build, this is how we design, this is creativity we bring to the world. This is how we make the world a better place, and this is how we’re different than what AI is going to create that story replicated over and over and over and over again, hundreds of thousands of times throughout the world. We can change the way the story’s being told about architects and we can make a difference.
I agree. I do think the impediment though, and this is the conundrum, it would be one thing if you could actually say, the Great Satan is this and we must work against it. This is a battle. Well, there is no great Satan. The enemy is us. Basically the enemy is the best thing about us is the worst thing about us. The fact that we are these typically kind of can do positive egomaniacs. And believe me, I am one, so this is nothing that I can defend or laud or anything. It’s just the fact, that in a given situation, if I see something that should happen, I will be enough of a jerk to say, oh, why don’t we do that? And that’s pretty much the persona of most designers of anything, whether they’re architects or not or whatever it is.
And the truth is that thing has been channeled by the way we are taught into a performance art which involves object creation and you almost have to do that to teach, but there’s got to be a second level of teaching. These kids that go in, have to learn how to design this stuff, but there has to be not a isn’t it cool we’re building a house for the homeless at Yale University and the building program with a great guy named Alan and that is fantastic and Alan is fantastic, but a lot of these kids have to be told pretty directly. Unless you know how to make something, then you’re a poser than you are as shallow as the two dimensions on your screen. And you either want to make something or you’re going to be dealing in a two dimensional life if you want to have a three dimensional life, if you want to be a polymath, actually act like someone that eats, listens, runs, goes to meet other people and talk. to have a rich cultural basis for all of your activity.
If you want to actually present yourself as a full human being versus just a designer with cool glasses and nice shoes. If you want to do that, it takes far more time. It takes far more humility. It takes much failure. It actually takes harder lessons than simply cruising and being part of an elite. And when somebody doesn’t use you or want you or value, well they’re fools and so you can dismiss them. And so that ends up being, I think, hard for architects. And I think to be honest, it’s been a mixed bad thing. The recession and it’s only mixed because this recession is mostly still with us. The ten year popping of that bubble in 2008 crushed a bunch of firms, killed a lot of jobs, wrecked a lot of lives, but it did put an end not only to the congress of residential architecture, which is really quite vestigial now.
It did put an end to the presumption that you could essentially design your way into a new place. And that’s just not true. I think what you have to end up doing is live your way to a place where design will make it better. And that’s the trick with artificial intelligence because the truth is it’s either going to be about design or it’s gonna really be about picking things. And there’s a difference. You either got up to suspend judgment, let things sort of happen based on preference models, or you’re going to say, no, I want 17B just like on that image on Houzz. I want to get that. I want to click on that. I want to buy that from Amazon and it’s going to come next week. I will almost guarantee you that I’m going be dead sooner than you, but by the time I am dead, there will be an Amazon house and you’ll be able to go to Amazon for a bunch of things.
You’ll click a button and some subs and some and some 3D printers and some other stuff in three months, for a fixed number. You’re going to have a house guaranteed because that’s an and you will never really have to deal with a human being. You’ll have some version of a credit card or an account somewhere with bitcoin kind of stuff in it and you’ll just have this house like you have a new suit and you’ll be fine with it and it’ll be good for you. Well, that’s going to happen and maybe that takes 10 percent, 20 percent off the cost of a house. That’s great, but that will work. Maybe not for 98 percent of the people that it’s working for now, but maybe that’ll work for 20 or 30 or 40 percent of people working there now, but maybe maybe that extremity of antiseptic creation or antiseptic provision of an object, maybe that validates the power of design and creativity as it has in a fairly depressed state of Vermont where you don’t have a lot of economic activity.
You have more people spending on artisinal things with less money because they are sensing that they only have one life to live. They want to love what they have. Part of what loving what they have is they want stuff that they understand and actually sometimes help in the creation of and so that kind of thing is not going to be for the vast majority of humans. It never is there more kmarts out there than there are blacksmiths shops and the the. The reality is that there could be more blacksmiths shops. That’s all. You can actually up the percentage of our meaning if we’re able to up our relevance to more people.
Mark R. LePage:
What they did in Vermont is they built the brand around what food from Vermont is and then they told the story of how this food is being created and they showed it being created and they shared it being created and they had access to the entire world. Where we used to before the Internet, your market as an architect was your 50 square miles around your office. Today, your market is the entire world and so you can focus on building your brand, telling your story, building a platform to share that story with the entire world and now because yes, you shrink down to a specific market to a specific brand, this is who I am, this is what I do, but now you have access to hundreds of thousands of people to share that story with. If we’re all doing that, we all tell the story of architecture and what architects do and you reap the rewards of telling that story and building that brand, which is exactly what you did Deo, when you started, you told that story. You built the brand and you reap the rewards for it later. Financially, whether it’s financially or not, you’ve created a firm that has supported five people minimum for all these years. You’ve created your firm to support you and yourself and you’ve been able to tell a story and have influence on the profession. I’d say that’s pretty successful.
Success is always this weird relative thing. but the one thing which is like crack for architects is that when you do this in the way that works, stuff’s left you to look at. What is one of the more amazing realities is that you do stuff. If you do it for the right motivations, it’s not like you have a child, if the child doesn’t go to Harvard, you disowned the child, you will have a child and the child will decide to get a tattoo that you hate and you still love the child. We’ll have houses or we’ll have buildings where there things that are like, eh, but when I see them for the first time and I saw a building that I hadn’t seen in 20 25 years, I saw it and it was pretty good. It was actually an architectural record. It’s actually a pretty good little building, but I saw it. It was a gift because there was. And I had devoted a couple of years of my life to help making it happen.
But it was there. It’s not been crushed by icebergs yet. And that is the compelling message that may be lost in a time when two dimensional screen design is taking many people into a virtual place where we once were obsessed with a real analog place of this is on top of that and it does this, that produce a thing that you then can be surprised by 25 years later. I don’t think 25 years later when you find something in your hard drive and you look at it, you’re going to have the same warm and fuzzies as I did when I saw that house. I do think that architects have to sort of get over it too and say, why am I doing this? And really say, what are my motivations? Am I doing this for other architects to go to cool parties and talk about clients as if they were the enemy?
Or am I part of a of a group of humans that wants to do things so you don’t feel bad when a plumber tells you that your detail sucks. You say, well, tell me what sucks. You actually buy that openness. I think you are able to end some of the fear that people have of being ignored and ripped off by architects that are essentially doing what they would want to do anyway, but using you as the vehicle and I think that can happen, but I think one of the great things about the EntreArchitect thing that is out there is that you get right to the nub of the motivations of the clients and the motivations of the architects. And you know, there are obviously a lot of really bad motivations for consumers out there. There is true in every product, but there are also some, some bad motivations of the purveyors of the service as well.
And so part of the really cool thing, and I think what EntreArchitect does is it lays things bear and without trolling and without snark and without being a jackass, you can actually say, well, I did this. What do you think? Some people say, ick, and some people will say, wow, that’s cool. And that level of openness and universality you were talking about that ability to now present what you do on a huge open and free plane of for everybody to see that has disempowered the architectural media to a point where it’s proliferated now to 10 or 20 really superlative diverse sites and treated magazines from four or five down to two and I think you’ll see that control of projection only increase. I’m hoping that the diversity of ideas happens and the informality happens. I mean, one of the things that I say in that piece I wrote about for Architizer last week was I had a full on one hour meeting with one of the editors at one of the magazines.
It was filled with great ideas, great thoughts, great everything, and it really was great in terms of what I do, but also what they do and wouldn’t this be great and let’s do this thing together. And literally without exaggeration, not one word response after I left, not a single syllable. And you look at that and you say, well why is that? And then of course I get the magazine. I read the magazine, I look at it, it’s wonderful magazine. There are many different things in it and I realized that for whatever reason I literally represent anti matter to them because whatever I would publish or they would publish of mine, whether it was an object or a writing or, or whether we did a conference together or whether we put a book together. I mean these are all the ideas that you’re presenting and we were having and it was really pretty cool.
I represent the sort of interpersonal value that makes people in media feel that we could literally go under their head, that we actually connect to the base market versus connect to the elite market and that the people that buy the magazine would understand that they’re there for everyone else. That’s not a great place to be if you’re in traditional religion. You know, I’m on the Mission Council for the Episcopal Church in Connecticut. We essentially we are the board that runs, you know, a nominally dying mainline Protestant sect and we have an incredibly great bishop and the reason why he is an incredibly great bishop is because he says boys and girls, let’s face it, you know, Christendom as we knew it as the central thing is over. It’s over. It’s what we have as a vestige that is proceeding with momentum that was created over the last hundred years.
But it has no future path because it’s only dealing right now in the ritualistic memory of its former importance in people’s lives. Well, you could make the same case for architecture that basically artificial intelligence comes to the fore. A lot of what architects offered is simply going to be taken off the table unless like the bishop and me and other people in that little religious world offer up is, wait a minute, you’re only going to church really, really if you’re left going to church because there’s something about that that means something to you. And there’s a higher order of value there than just having brunch or going to the soccer practice or watching CBS Sunday Morning. There’s something which is really important to you. That’s why you’re investing the time. What is is that and how do we take those values and project them into places that haven’t experienced that before?
Well, it’s the same thing with architecture. It’s more like relevant spiritual fulfillment and less like shopping on Amazon. And that is the lesson that architects have to learn because it’s a messy, difficult, threatening, not getting rich way of dealing with things and you have to feel that same level of devotion that that bishop has, as I have, so that you can actually for go immediate gratification with the longterm eye on the prize of why you became an architect to begin with, which is to make beauty. And if you just think about it, I’m just here to make beauty, that’s the mission. I’m not the mission of. And a style is not a mission. I’m a point of view is on a mission. Even getting rich is not admission. If you look at it in this way that there’s a greater cultural reality of beauty that you want to manifest and you are the agent of that, you will create your own value if you persist. The biggest way to persist, by the way, this is a hard thing to say and it’s defendable. You have to be good. You have to not screw up. You have to. If you screw up and it just grew up, learn and do better and you have to not be defensive, not be self congratulatory. You can never accept a compliment and say, I know. Never. You have to say, well, that was good. Let’s try this better next time. If the attitude is I’m king of the world we’re over, let’s go together and make this place better. There’s a future.
Mark R. LePage:
Yeah, I’m an optimist. I am. And I know you are. And I see the change. I see it happening already. I see it in the EntreArchitect community. I see it outside of the community. My generation, the next generation, absolutely your generation, many, many converts. It’s shifting from the the starchitect and the object to making the world a better place through one project and another at a time and I think the idea of making and creating and your hands in the dirt and working hard upfront to what we do is also shifting. And I think that especially the young architects, if you put in the hours and the hard work way up front and not worry about the money, just do what you do and share your story and build your brand and work hard. Give, give pro bono work away to the right people and do the right thing. It will come back and it will end and you can become a wealthy architect as well, but that shouldn’t be your goal. But if you build that brand and become known for something that you do the best you can do it and better than anybody else and you share that story, the projects will come to you and the money will come to you and the business will come to you. I see that shift. I see that shift happening, I see that the openness and the honesty and the transparency within our profession happening, sharing with one another. I see that happening. I think AI is coming it well. I don’t think it’s coming. It’s coming. It’s here. And I think the saying, you know, that we’re going to fight it and we’re going to, that’s not going to be the solution.
The solution is to embrace it. What can you do with it to make what you do better? What can you do to create your architecture better? If you can design and use AI to create your CDs, why would you not do that? You know, so it, it’s coming and the technologies around that are coming. We need to adjust and embrace it and control it. if we let other people control the technologies that are, that we’re going to use, we’re going to be in trouble. Due we’re way over here on time, which I love. I would love to have you come back to continue this conversation and we’ll have you come back many, many times because they think that, that I love hearing your points of view and it gets me excited to hear what you’re saying. before we wrap up here, I want to, I want you to share one thing that a small firm architect can do today to build a better business for tomorrow.
There really is only one thing and this is a horrible thing to tell people because it’s not defined, but it’s true. You do good work. You do good work in the way you’re talking about which is you solve problems. You don’t promote ideas so you have to get yourself out of the scenario, listen to the context and all of the inputs that are around you. Honestly, think about the options. Give the people the options, tell people that when they want to do this, that will work this way and it will cost this much and it will do that. You could also do it that way and it will cost this much and do that thing. Give people the kind of options that will enable them to know they have control and trust that their intelligence is such that you don’t have to keep anything from them or even promote anything.
You have to basically say, your desires this another way is this another way is that. Actually my desires that but here are these things and you’ve got to be mature enough, open enough, thoughtful enough to go through the work of providing all those options so that people can then feel that you’ve given them plans that they would not have without you as opposed to an alternative reality which they could buy like buying a new car. So the one rule is do good work and that doesn’t mean getting published. That doesn’t mean making the perfect design. That means actually seeing the project through the site’s eyes and through your client’s eyes because you’ll always be seeing it through your eyes, but if you can get site and client and you all in conversation, the project will ultimately be better. It might not win an award, but the project will be ultimately better, but there will be award winning designs in amongst the stuff you do.
Mark R. LePage:
On the web Duo is DuoDickinson.com. That’s the website so people can check, check them out, check you out there. The blog is SavedbyDesign.com, so you can go check out all the writing that that do. I was doing an active contributor at the EntreArchitect community on Facebook, so EntreArchitect.com/group to join us. Duo’s giving his input there as well. You can find Duo everywhere on social media. Just search Duo Dickinson. Just search from there and you’ll find them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram too. Is there anything else that you want to share before we wrap up here?
Well, I just wanted to throw something back at you, which is that it is only through things like this that things will change and your role in creating this is one of those pivotal times when a challenging situation becomes a facilitator of the future of our culture. So I’m saying to you, thank you because without you taking initiative to do this, it was a pain in the patootie. Let me know. I know this, it takes time, effort, energy to do what you’re doing without your ability to do this. change would happen without our ability to have a sense that we have a role in it. So thank you.
Mark R. LePage:
You’re welcome. Thank you for saying that. Duo that means a lot to me. That’s why I do it. And it’s why I keep doing it. So I appreciate those words. Thank you for joining us here today on EntreArchitect podcast and for sharing your knowledge with the community.
So there you go. Duo Dickinson. What a wealth of knowledge this man has to. Oh, thank you very much for hanging out with us in this Episode and if you liked this Episode, this is definitely wanted to share this packed with information packed with, ideas about where we are, ideas about where we’re going as a profession. This is the one to share EntreArchitect.com/Episode229. Go share it with a friend. You know how to do it. Social media, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, email it. Tell a friend around the corner. Share it now and download our free course profit for small firm architects right now. EntreArchitects.com/freecourse and start earning 20 percent on your architectural projects. EntreArchitect.com/freecourse EntreArchitect.com/freecourse. My name is Mark Arla Page and I’m an entrepreneur architect. I thank you for being here. I encourage you to go build a better business so you can be a better architect. Love, learn, share what you know. Thanks for listening. Have a great week.
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