Inspiring Success in Business, Leadership and Life for Small Firm Architects

What Do Architects Do?

Editor’s Note: Peter F. Gaito, Jr. AIA, NCARB is an architect at Peter F. Gaito Architects, Engineers, Planners and the current President of AIA Westchester + Hudson Valley, my local chapter here in Westchester County, New York. The following is a re-print of Peter’s monthly letter to the chapter shared here with his permission. I thought it was a great reminder on how to succeed when speaking about architecture when speaking with non-architects.

I’d love to know what you think. Please share your thoughts in the Comments section below.


Gaito 2-1-2015

How to Speak About Architecture When Speaking with Non-Architects

It has been a busy and snowy winter during these early months of 2015 and I trust that we will all remain busy throughout the year on many exciting new (and maybe revived) projects. I know that you are always prudent in keeping up with the latest and greatest architectural products, systems, and codes, as architects are in the continuous practice of thinking, drawing and arriving at solutions for clients. However, writing, speaking and presenting our thoughts to non-architects and the media, unfortunately usually take a backseat. It is with this general salesmanship and verbal communication where we most often struggle.

Whether we are presenting our projects to an owner’s selection committee, a planning board or to a newspaper reporter, our words often fall upon untrained ears.

We are all very well versed in describing the intricacies of our buildings; the way the sunlight transforms a space, the perfect spatial flow of one room into another and the use of local, durable, and hygienic materials. But when it comes to the simple explanation of “what, why and how,” we often find it difficult to convey the project’s essence in a few simple words that a non-architect can easily understand. The non-architects’ inability to understand a project stems not from a lack of words spoken, for most architects I know are very clever wordsmiths. Rather, their inability to understand a project is often caused by the architect failing to boil down the plethora of items that comprise a project into a few simple sentences.

We believe that people want to know all of the technical highlights and clever design ingenuity which led to a project’s creation. I am here to report that sometimes, people just want to hear the straight explanation.

Architecture discourse needs to be spoken in two separate ways; (1) in a plain spoken language to non-architects and members of the media and (2) the way we speak to other architects, engineers and planners. The latter, like math, often contains statements consisting of two parts: the hypothesis or assumptions, and the conclusion. “If A, then B” or “A implies B”. The conditions that make up “A” are the assumptions we make, and the conditions that make up “B” are the conclusion. The former, consists of the majority of people who just want to straight talk in order to comprehend the success of a project, its site and its team players.

“What Do Architects Do?”

I recently attended a leadership round-table in Albany for Chapter Presidents hosted by AIA New York State. In addition to the general overviews, tips, legal advice, and ways to better engage the board and chapter members, AIANYS had a featured speaker who was a former news anchorman and a current professional communications professor.

It was eye opening, insightful, and very funny.

He kept asking us “what do architects do?” and one by one, various architects tried to explain it, without much success. A few people offered what we all thought, were clear, exact explanations of our profession. Yet after each explanation, Mark reported back with a variety of honest and humorous responses, “That’s nice, but I still don’t know what you do”…“Stop- way too complicated”…“Interesting but you lost me after the first sentence”…

He all made us think that day.

Think about how to be better advocates for our profession. Think about how to win more clients and think about how speak to the media about our projects.

Here are 4 tips I learned that day for being a better communicator:

1. Know what the media wants.
2. Be plain spoken and passionate.
3. Have proof handy.
4. Be your own media outlet.

I wish you much success in 2015 at the drawing boards and with speaking to the press.

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