WHY MANY TALENTED ARCHITECTS/DESIGNERS DO NOT BECOME SUCCESSFUL IN PRACTICE?
During the Lockdown period, it gave ample time to think about how I should take my office to the next level. Also, I was doing a post-mortem of what happened in my office and what improvements will be required after the Lockdown. It gave me enough confidence to venture into many things, moving ahead on things which I never thought about. I could go back and think about my past career and future. One has to learn from the mistakes from the past.
My failures were on the following accounts; Firstly, I never tried to build a team which I could rely on. Building a team is very important. Secondly, I never tried to have a system in the office and I realise that it is very important to have it. The struggle I made during the last few years was to bring a system so that the office can function without depending on any individual. Thirdly, I never gave importance to my health nor spent enough time with the family. All these mistakes shall be corrected to move ahead.
The main success factor of mine could be the innovation or creativity I could give to my clients. However creative you are, no client will be willing to tolerate, if you are not a professional. For the last five years, I have been trying to do this. This has been the most struggling period of my career. I had my vision, dreams and hopes. I was trying to mentor the young team I had. I have never worked in an office and I had to learn from the first basic steps. I did not know how to run an office (which my architect son told me on my face one day). When working with Laurie Baker, I was at the site always, that too only for nine months. One thing I was sure that I did not want to make any compromises nor give up on my vision, dreams or hopes.
A few hundred architects and students have worked with me during the last 25 years. So many of the promising people whom I expected to become very successful did not become so in their design careers. Why they don’t become successful is for a variety of reasons and I will try to explain in the next few posts. Even if it benefits one person, I will be very happy. I am not doing any motivational writing and you may agree or disagree with my arguments which is quite natural.
We need to EXPLORE, INNOVATE, FOCUS and CREATE.
The post will tell why less talented become successful in practice. I am not giving the usual tips on becoming successful and for that, it is better to listen to one of the motivational videos (they talk about confidence, courage, consistency, taking risks, competence etc.). I don’t have a degree in architecture nor design. I studied Civil Engineering, just managed to pass. Out of the 54 papers I had to write to get my degree, the least marks I got was for architecture and town planning paper. Meeting Laurie Baker changed my career, now I do all kinds of architectural projects of different scales.
Now let me come to the title question. Some of the professionals settle for average quality work. They might think that they will do high-quality work once they start an office of their own, but it is very difficult to make that happen. But there may be many reasons why the architects have to settle for the average quality work - the professional fees might be less, the time to do the project will be limited, the attitude of the clients might not be favourable etc. But it is important to produce high-quality work against all these odds to be successful in a career. The public is going to watch your designs and nobody will understand the circumstances or restrictions under which you designed the mediocre final product. People are watching.
Many youngsters are very talented but not skilled, Great work is more than talent, especially in the design field. But they have an attitude problem and they think they can do anything given the right circumstance, and they put the blame on having a lack of opportunities. Academic exercise and practice are different. One will have to produce excellent results against all odds. Skills are very important in this case and the more you use the skills, the better you become tuned as a professional. The earlier you develop the skills, more are the chances of becoming successful. But the thinking is different. Many of them hardly read or increase their knowledge. It is very important to ask questions. One of the biggest issues I have found with the young architects and designers is that they do not ask questions. They are very good at documenting, but when it comes to analysing, they fail. It is very important to continuously keep learning. They don’t realise that knowledge is the best weapon. They don’t plant seeds which can grow into big trees. The tendency is always to blame the situation that we do not have connections, we are not getting good projects etc. A lot of people ask me how I am getting all these kind of different and unique projects. All projects come to me as ordinary projects; it is for you to convert them into unique projects and the raw material is nothing but creativity. Let me tell you that creativity is not inborn or something which comes from the subconscious mind. Creativity is very powerful and very difficult to quantify. Unfortunately, it is sad to say that creativity is suppressed in many schools by the faculties. Many students have complained to me and the role of the teachers is to show the different paths to the students. There is no right or wrong in architecture and everything depends on the context.
There is a lack of commitment and passion in many at an early stage of the career. It is important to have these qualities at every stage of your life. Do not think that you will develop passion and commitment when you establish your own office. When you establish an office yourself, so many other issues crop up. You have a lot of ideas, but there are no projects to try your ideas. When you get projects, many compromises are made, because the reality is different. The client may not pay you the fees agreed, the contractor might not listen to you because you are young, the client will overrule you in some cases, your practical knowledge in construction is limited etc.. You have to deal with the clients, contractors and many others. By the time you get into this second stage of having projects from the first stage of not having projects, many would have made many compromises in practice and end up doing mediocre quality projects. Then your chances of becoming successful are limited. Here is where your knowledge becomes a weapon and gives you the strength. But 90% did not try to pick up this knowledge when they were students or in their initial years of practice when they were working under a master.
The first job of an architect is important. If I had not worked with Laurie Baker as my first job, I would not have reached anywhere in my career. I learnt everything from scratch since I did not have a degree either in architecture nor design. Also, it is very important that you contribute to the best of your ability in your office. I have found many people becoming only sound absorbers. You will never learn from any office unless you give back to the office where you are working. The more one knows, the more they learn. The more they learn, the more they can do. The more they do, the more the opportunities.
There is no point in blaming the tools, Many say that they are unlucky. What they do not realise is that luck favours the prepared mind. The big architects and designers did not become successful all of a sudden, because they were lucky, but by their hard work. They might have got one or two projects by luck, but to survive in a project, luck alone will not do the trick, hard work is required. The great physicist Issac Newton once said that if others would think as hard as he did, they would have got similar results. Many youngsters have the habit of giving excuses and blaming the situation. “I am a fresher, how will I know.” They will do the same throughout their career and will not reach anywhere.
I think the present generation goes after money. This problem is more with this generation. One is successful does not mean that he has made a lot of money. Out of 100 architects practising, only 5% will be successful, of which only another 50% will make money. That too happens after being successful for more than 10 years at least. It is a constant struggle. It is said that Le Corbusier lived by selling his paintings. When Louis Kahn passed away, his office ended up in huge debts. The money will come at a later period. When you go after only money, creativity takes a back seat.
Architectural offices are not factories producing drawings, If one does not realise this fact, one will become obsolete when another firm comes up. One of the trends I am finding in India generally is that one firm which is doing well goes down after 10 years. I don’t know why this is happening. Most of the foreign architectural offices get to their peak when the principal designer is above 60 years old. Frank Gehry did Bilbao museum when he was 60 plus, Le Corbusier designed Chandigarh in his 60s, IM Pei did some of the most famous projects in his 70s and 80s, Laurie Baker did most of his projects in his 60s and 70s. Why do most of the Indian architects retire by the time they are in their 60s. Architecture is a creative profession and unlike sports, it takes so many years to be successful. There is no short cut for hard work, which have to be applied in the right direction.