Professional Practice 101
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Professional Practice 101

A Compendium of Effective Business Strategies in Architecture

Andrew Pressman

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  1. 338 pages
  2. English
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eBook - ePub

Professional Practice 101

A Compendium of Effective Business Strategies in Architecture

Andrew Pressman

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About This Book

Professional practice courses often suffer from a boring reputation, but there's nothing dull about this updated, cornerstone edition of Professional Practice 101, which renders accessible the art and science of contemporary architectural practice. With its unique focus on links between design thinking and practice, this third edition brings an inspiring and fresh perspective to the myriad issues involved in successful architectural practice. The process of providing architectural services in today's constantly evolving practice environment must be just as creative, intellectually rigorous, and compelling as wrestling with design problems.

In this new edition, packed with invaluable advice from leading experts, Andrew Pressman bridges the knowledge and experience gap between school and practice covering topics such as:

  • Ethics, social responsibilities, and obligations to the environment

  • Design firm types, culture, and leadership

  • Financial, project, and time management

  • Service and project delivery; leveraging emerging technologies

  • Entrepreneurial business models and business development

  • Legal issues, including AIA contract document analysis

  • Collaboration and negotiating with clients and stakeholders

  • Practice-based research

Students and early-career professionals will discover the fundamentals they need to launch their careers as well as more sophisticated strategies that will allow them to thrive as their roles evolve and they assume increasing responsibilities.

This engaging, comprehensive primer debunks the myth that recent architecture graduates have little or no guidance to prepare them for business. Professional Practice 101 is a learning tool that will readily deliver the knowledge and background for success in current architectural practice.

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These are incredibly crucial—and in my somewhat biased view, exciting—times for an exploration into the nature of professional practice in architecture. Dramatic changes in the way practice has been conducted in the past couple of decades require students and practitioners alike to develop new models and ideas and build on the old ones in order to flourish. Some of these recent changes (which are discussed in subsequent chapters) include volatile economic trends, innovations in technology, globalization of architecture, new project delivery modes, the role of research in practice, diminished responsibility and authority of architects in the construction industry, and the rise of specialization.
But first some basics. Get licensed! It is an important milestone to become a professional architect, regardless of whether or not you decide to go into traditional practice. The credential can be a valuable admission ticket to numerous career tracks. Discussion in this chapter about the three Es of architecture—education, experience, and examination—describes the foundation for becoming an architect. And “Designing your career” illustrates how you can apply the skills you’ve learned in school to optimize and distinguish initial work experiences.
As noted in the Preface, practice topics are linked to the design process to illustrate how strongly design and practice are interrelated, not just to inform design decisions but to apply design thinking to project and firm management, marketing, and so on. It will be clear that to create beautiful and responsive projects that are profitable, architects must be well versed in design plus the full range of practice issues. “The Ten Commandments of Architecture” together with open letters from well-known architects and educators in this introductory chapter epitomize how common sense, design, and practice should ideally all intertwine to produce works of architecture. The remaining chapters are envisioned to provide the framework for doing just that.
Critical thinking and inquiry may well begin with a rediscovery of what it really means to be a professional architect—a concept easily eroded while striving to launch a successful career. This concept of professional attitude is an essential guide for formulating behavior—the role, expectations, and obligations of a professional—in addressing the challenges architects now face in myriad practice situations.


The essay that follows (Supplement 1.1) is intended to define the “professional attitude” alluded to above, and to suggest ways to implement it. Since this attitude cannot be written into a contract or legislated, it falls upon our shoulders as professionals to enculturate ourselves toward generating and sustaining a moral perspective. Perhaps moral imperative is more to the point. The essay shows that this element is as important as the art and science that an architect or any professional brings to the client and asserts the importance of an “ancient sacred compact”1 in which another human being is embraced. The importance of this aphorism is best captured by Bernard Lown, who has discussed how an allegiance to the tradition of morally embracing another is not only at the heart of being a professional but the source of courage in dealing with the “pervasive uncertainties for which technical skill alone is inadequate.”
SUPPLEMENT 1.1 Dr. Peter Pressman is a graduate of Northwestern University Medical School. He writes and does research in Maine and in Southern California with The Daedalus Foundation.
I am a doctor. I think it is a great job, not simply because it involves the field of medicine but because, at its best, being a doctor is being a professional. What then is a professional? The answer is difficult, since we have come to use the term to describe anyone who does anything a little better than average, but, in fact, not everyone is a “real pro.” Very few among us, even those who are credentialed members of the great professions—law, medicine, and of course architecture—are, in fact, real pros. So, what is a professional? To paraphrase former Associate Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart (who was struggling to define pornography), “It’s difficult to define, but I know it when I see it.”
We can do a little better than Justice Stewart, but with the caveat that a consideration of being a professional is ultimately a highly personal matter, and it is likely that the conception and the way of being will be constantly modified and perhaps reinvented over one’s professional life. Having said all this, let us begin to get at the more universally accepted foundations of a profession and then work ahead to the beginning of the private and idiosyncratic elements.
First, the classical notions of profession always encompass some large but circumscribed body of specialized information and discipline. Mastery of this material and associated skills requires a relatively long and standardized period of education, training, and apprenticeship, all of which is regulated by an association of already accomplished members of the profession. Intrinsic to this classical material is the service ethic; the professional exists to serve others who do not have a similar extraordinary background and calling. These foundation notions are reasonable and, I suspect you will agree, not particularly provocative or illuminating. By the aforementioned description it can be argued that most of us—not everyone, but most of us—are “real pros.”
To better articulate the meaning of being a “professional,” it is necessary to dissect the potentials that are buried in the foundations and then project them upward in three dimensions. One element of professionalism has recently been described especially well as the “hard work of great teams” in the local setting; such teams of professionals are dedicated to ongoing, collaborative, disciplined, and practical learning, and they are committed both to educating the public on advances in their field and to drawing appropriate distinctions between what is merely intriguing or interesting and what constitutes meaningful progress.2,3 Thus professionals conduct research that improves the quality of their interventions, and they report their findings not only to their colleagues but also to the public.
Another dimension of being a “real” professional involves the character of the relationship between the professional and the client or patient being served. This relationship has been affected by waves of social change, by the stresses of the fiscal environment, by the impact of exploding technologies, and by a climate of legal and philosophical hypervigilance, yet great potential remains inherent in it. Despite the press to further stem the already diminishing authority of professionals, to preserve the autonomy of those being served, and to integrate third-party control of resources, a real professional never, ever forgets about the caring relationship he or she must develop with the one who receives professional service. This caring relationship can still exist and contain a core of altruism, trust, and virtue.4 It may be the combination of capacity to act in some highly expert and efficacious way in conjunction with caring that begins to properly complete our articulation of the meaning of “professional.”5
I am suggesting that what distinguishes an “expert” from a “professional” is the sense of urgency about helping that the professional possesses and nurtures. This sense serves as a kind of antenna for receiving the call for assistance from our fellow human beings who need help now.6
In sum, I highlight an essay by W. E. Gutman that appeared in the Wall Street Journal.7 Gutman describes his father, a consummate professional, who happened to be a physician:
He was incorruptible. He had no time for sophistry, no patience for equivocation, no room for shaded areas separating right and wrong. Compassion was his guide, his patients’ health and welfare his sole mission and reward
. [He] devoted his career to deconstructing aphorisms. He was the magnificent misfit lesser men do not have the courage to be.
Physician, lawyer, or architect—let us all consciously set aside some energy so that we can strive to be a little courageous, a little misfit, and real pros.


One of the factors that distinguishes architects from other participants in the construction world is the conception and production of high-quality design. And one of the main issues of practice is the full realization and delivery of that design. Thus it should be evident that design and practice can and should be—must be—inextricably linked. This is such a crucial linkage that I decided to address it in the following way.
I asked three individuals, each of whom was both a renowned educator and a practitioner, to write an open letter to young architects, responding to the following questions:
  1. What are the most significant practice issues that influence the design process? How should recent graduates view these issues to support and even enrich design solutions?
  2. What should students be thinking and doing while engaging projects in the design studio to better prepare for professional practice?
  3. What advice would you give to an emerging architect to promote the transition from design excellence in school to achieving design excellence in practice?
The responses to the above questions often yielded valuable digressions; rather than press the superstar practitioner-educators to stick with discrete answers to the questions, I elected to preserve the timeless wisdom they spontaneously offered.
Charles Gwathmey

The importance of design

The most significant practice issue that influences the design process is your commitment to the idea of discovery within the context and constraints of the problem. Preconception and replication are the curse of an uncreative process that will ultimately produce solutions that are known and unprovocative.
It is essential to view constraints as a positive reference for interrogation and invention, rather than as a limitation.
I believe the design discovery process must be holistic and composite, that one must objectively analyze and prioritize the various elements that will impact the solution. The design process is not a linear diagram but a composite overlay, where formal strategies, circulation, structure, sequence, plan and section, site and orientation, and schedule and budget are all investigated, tested, and refined concurrently. Only then is the essential creative editing process meaningful or possible.
Students should objectively assess their passion for making the art of architecture. This passion cannot be about money, efficiency, or expediency. It can only be about a kind of commitment to creating vital and enduring, memorable and aspiring works that affect the perceptual and intellectual speculation of the experiencer. Design is an insidiously conflicting process, because unlike a painter or sculptor who is the creator and the executor of a private vision, the architect relies on the client/patron who is speculating on an as-yet-unseen or unrealized vision. Therefore, the role of the architect invariably becomes both pedagogic and psychoanalytic as well as creative, causing continual contradictions and conflicts between the ideal/idea and the reality.
Commitment to one’s ideals is a prerequisite. Compromise is an unresolvable alternative. Thus the student to become architect, the architect to be always student, must commit to the idea that the creative process is as gratifying and rewarding as the manifestation and the moments of recognition. Otherwise the rationale and the justification are problematic.
My advice is to work for an architect whose work you admire, and to realize that the time invested, though somewhat different from the school experience, is critical to the continuity of your growth and maturation.
Also, if a design opportunity arises, no matter how small or “insignificant,” no matter your “lack of experience,” take it, relish it, commit to it, and most importantly, take the risk. Without fulfilling the obligation of risk, you will neither grow nor learn. There is no failure in a continuous process of discovery. There is failure only in accommodation and compromise.
Mr. Gwathmey paints in broad strokes a picture of just how design and practice are not only closely linked but at best driven by each other; they are mutually interdependent, one unable to exist without the other. Gwathmey’s piece also makes it almost poetically clear that creativity is demanded in all phases of professional practice and not limited to design. When done right, design and practice may even be synergistic; that is, together they yield a product greater than the sum of the forces that led to its development.
On a personal note, I especially appreciated Gwathmey’s caveat about seizing every opportunity no matter how small and no matter how ill-prepared one may feel. Gwathmey calls upon us to seize the day and make the most of it.
Mario Salvadori

A daring piece of advice to young architects (from a nonarchitect)

You have just obtained, after years of hard work, a degree in architecture; whether an undergraduate or a graduate degree makes little difference either ...

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