Ask early, ask often

I’m writing this blog entry as a reminder to myself… ask early, ask often. I’ve been working for several years now and I’d like to think that I have my feet under me on most projects. I’ve seen several projects through from start to finish and I’ve been exposed to most aspects of project development. But there are still so many things that I do not know. These range from technical information that would inform drawing and detailing to the specifics of a relationship between the firm and an owner. And for all those things that I don’t know, I need to ask. The asking can be done with anyone, even myself at times; the point is simply to question and better understand what I am about to do.

Architecture is a generalized profession, to put it crudely, we are jacks of all trades, masters of none. We became architects because of our curiosity, because of our desire to make special places and to understand the steps required to create those spaces. As a profession we need to have a working knowledge of a broad range of fields to better integrate them together into a cohesive whole. The ability to see things at a larger scale and understand the various places for each part is one of our profession’s greatest strengths and potential weaknesses.

As organizers and facilitators, we need to thoroughly understand the quantities we are dealing with. There are interests at play; cost, relationships, program, technology, that are all competing for our attention. How we order these interests will impact the success or failure of a project. Understanding these interests is a matter of questioning. There are resources and people at firms that we can turn to for answers or guidance for each and every problem on a project. Beyond that there are websites and professional organizations (shameless AIA plug) that provide a wealth of information about the specifics our business. For every question I have, there are 10 architectural interns who have dealt with the same problem and are willing to help, either within my firm or in the broader community. This isn’t to say that the answers will be simple but the help is there if we ask for it.

The holes that we can dig and then jump into through a basic lack of understanding are staggering in their depth and difficultly to get out of. But perhaps worse than those holes is how we get into them, a lack of questioning and taking advantage of the resources around us. A lot of difficulty and crisis can be prevented by asking early and asking often. Simple wondering out loud ‘how am I going to do this?’ or ‘how has this been done before?’ is enough to get the wheels turning and problems solved.

There’s nothing wrong with taking the bull by the horns, but it’s critical that both the bull and it’s’ horns are known quantities and that there is a direction to take the bull once it’s under control.

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