Anticipating change means understanding your clients

A'17 Day 3 keynote

Frances Anderton (right) led a panel on the last day of A'17 featuring (left to right) Nóra Demeter, Intl. Assoc. AIA; Cheryl McAfee, FAIA; and Michael Ford, Assoc. AIA.

The final A’17 keynote session uncovers the opportunities that music, sociology, and behavioral science present architects in any client situation

On the final day of AIA Conference on Architecture 2017, a panel of innovators and a famed behavioral scientist took the stage in Orlando with a theme of "Anticipate Change," addressing what's next for architecture and design's evolution.

The panel, led by Frances Anderton, host of DnA: Design and Architecture, featured Michael Ford, Assoc. AIA; Cheryl McAfee, FAIA; and Nóra Demeter, Intl. Assoc. AIA, all speaking to the opportunities at architecture's frontier. "The theme today should be called 'affect change,' because each of these designers is really trying, and achieving, to steer the profession in new directions in terms of access and architectural expression itself," Anderton said.

"You were probably drawn to this panel by the word 'hip-hop,'" she noted, referencing Ford's nickname 'the hip-hop architect.' Addressing Ford, she asked, "To any of us not familiar with your work with hip-hop architecture, are we talking about a style?"

"It's something that baffles people," Ford responded. "When I give lectures, they come prepared to hear a gimmick. I don't believe it's a gimmick. To me, hip-hop is a voice for the voiceless. I definitely don't describe hip-hop architecture as a style [since] -isms got communities of color in trouble before, so hip-hop architecture won't be classified as 'modernism.' It's more of a new mindset: getting communities engaged who don't have a voice in the process."

Ford urged the audience to print and read the lyrics to "The Message," a Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five song that served as his entrance music, because it speaks to the sociological impacts that designers, architects, and planners have on people's lives.

"Do not build communities that inspire the lyrics you have to ignore when you listen to hip-hop," he said. "If you want to change hip-hop, change the architecture that inspires those lyrics."

"Our clients are going to change; the color, gender, and sexual orientation of our clients will change. We have to be a reflection of that, or we'll be left behind as a profession." - Cheryl McAfee, FAIA

"In terms of diversity and bringing people into the profession," McAfee said, "It's very important that we meet people in their communities. Our world and our country is only as good as we treat the least of us. Our profession has to continue to mold architects that maintain that passion, to help those who can't help themselves."

"This country is changing because the demographics are changing," she added. "Our clients are going to change; the color, gender, and sexual orientation of our clients will change. We have to be a reflection of that, or we'll be left behind as a profession."

"Discussing diversity, if you look at the composition of this panel, I don't think you could get a more diverse group in our profession," Demeter said. "At the same time, there is a very common theme: that we are all committed to the social impact of architecture. We as architects are social providers, waiting for clients to come to us, and we in turn offer a service. This has to change, in the sense that we have a much greater responsibility to turn to the policymakers. If we as architects aren't proactive, if we don't address major issues, the clients will be coming too late. We have a role in helping society."

"We have to be socially engaged and socially responsible as architects, to try and lift people up," McAfee agreed. "I have lived challenges all my life. I have lived the challenges of integration, the challenges of busing; I take those challenges as a call to act. And I think that's what we have to do as architects."

Understanding the need for power

They were followed by Amy Cuddy, renowned speaker and one of TED's most popular presenters. A Harvard Business School professor and social psychologist, she encouraged her audience of 5,000 architects and design professionals to embrace the confidence and positivity that power provides.

"When people talk about power, they think of the word 'corruption,'" she said. "Which is too bad, because there's a good kind of power that doesn't corrupt. It reveals. When you feel powerful, you stand up and do something. If you see something wrong happening, you intervene. You're more likely to see challenges as opportunities."

Amy Cuddy, a renowned TED Talk speaker, implored her audience at A'17 to embrace the power of confidence.

Powerless activates inhibition, she said. "When we feel powerless, our bodies tell us to fight, flee, or faint."

She relayed a story about feeling out of place at Princeton during graduate school and having to put together an elevator pitch for an upcoming conference. She nervously rehearsed the pitch over and over, and then abruptly ran into three giants in her field in the actual elevator. One of them turned to her and said, "Okay, we're in an elevator: Give us your pitch."

Her pitch did not go well, but it later revealed that going into the pitch with such negative feelings virtually guaranteed a bad experience. She realized she wasn't present. By feeling so much dread, anxiety, and regret, she was projecting pure self-doubt instead. And being present and confident reveals itself to others, especially important when pitching a design or a project to others.

"When I talk to venture capitalists who are pretty good at quickly judging if something will work or not, they say, 'If I sense for a minute that they don't buy what they're selling, there's no way I'm buying what they're selling,'" she said. "If you don't believe your story, other people don't believe your story."

Presenting studies on oft-ignored elements of life like posture and sleeping position, Cuddy emphasized the need to consider how environment and personal choices affect how well you come across to others. Stand tall, sleep on your back, and sit up straight when you can, she shared, because being alert, expansive, and open makes you feel better.

Most importantly, don't equate feeling good about yourself with being boastful or conceited. "Confidence," she said, "does not require arrogance."

"When people ask me how to get women in the boardroom," she declared, "I think, 'Start early.' Teach your daughters to expand, to take up space; to express their ideas; to show their strength, unapologetically."

Steve Cimino is the digital content manager at AIA.

Image credits

A'17 Day 3 keynote

Todd Winters

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