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A Journey of Transformation

Kenneth Jay Hirsch, AIA
Hirsch Architects, Inc., Boca Raton

While in high school, I took an aptitude test that predicted my career path. At that moment, I chose to be an architect. I had no role models, virtually no one to look to for advice, and no one to mentor me. I was shy, introverted, and intimidated by my prospects for the future. My greatest strength was a drive to succeed. Even though I grew up in a poor family, I had the determination to work my way through the University of Southern California School of Architecture and establish myself as an architect. After a series of moves and a new family, in 1973 I found myself in south Florida with the opportunity of starting an architectural practice.

By 1982, I had stepped into a leadership role in the local AIA component. This was the beginning of my transformation as an architect interacting with the community. The local architects in Boca Raton initiated a community-design charrette with the faculty and students of the University of Florida School of Architecture. To my astonishment, I saw architects listening to animated residents, elected officials articulating their dreams for the downtown area, and faculty facilitating the process. The charrette was a breakthrough for me. I wanted to become a facilitator but had no access to express it.

It was not until 1989 that the access to the facilitator role appeared. It was during a business leadership retreat keynote address, where the speaker expressed the possibility for a 200-year vision. The Boca Raton charrette looked out only 20 years. The thought of thinking about 200 years captivated me even though I had no verbal tools to express the enlightenment. After taking a workshop offered by the keynote speaker, I discovered a body of knowledge that had been blocked from my consciousness. It was no longer about buildings, design, or urban form; it was about interacting with other human beings.

My Organizational Development training emerged from several diverse arenas. A two-week church leadership training program was a journey through a structured methodology of facilitating a vision for an organization and creating measurable goals. Another week-long corporate training program gave me tools for team building, focusing on personal wants and identifying breakthrough strategies to overcome obstacles. A third “vision to action” training program pulled many of my fragmented experiences together into a comprehensive professional discipline.

I took the real estate collapse of the early nineties as an opening to explore visioning as a consulting service. I offered to facilitate visioning workshops for organizations that sensed their transforming nature. As a regional volunteer for a national church facilities program, I developed a two-day visioning workshop where the congregation expressed its own 20-year vision, an empowering process for the participants. The Florida AIA board of directors agreed to a two-day visioning workshop that to this day has had a profound effect on those who experienced it.

In 1995, my next training milestone occurred when I enrolled in a cutting-edge professional coaching program. In a national seminar at the International Coach Federation, I came face to face with the distinctions of consultant, facilitator, and coach. The consultant is the one with the answers, the facilitator is the one that administers a process, and the coach helps break through where you are stuck. I discovered that architects can leverage the outcome of community projects by using the skills of consultant, facilitator, and coach.

My experience in working with communities has revealed something puzzling: some leaders have no vision. There is joy in helping people express their vision. The expression of a vision for 200 years is becoming commonplace. It’s not about what it will be; it’s about what you want it to be. Expressing what you want for the future influences the choices you make today.

My vision is to expand the global possibilities for visioning. What has taken me 40 years to learn could be condensed into a curriculum for all built-environment professionals. Future leaders will be skilled facilitators empowering others to express their vision of the future. I challenge all architects to express what they want for the future and to have that vision prominently placed as a daily reminder of where they are headed. The larger the vision, the more powerfully it pulls you into the future.


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