Teamwork is just a word we like to use

William Caudill encouraged a new approach to architectural practice in his book, Architecture by Team published in 1971. His philosophy was beautifully captured in a bio by Randle Pollack originally published by American School and University in 1983 upon the inauguration of an annual citation in his name.  “Of all the giants in 20th-century architecture, Bill Caudill (1914-1983) more than anyone believed people were more important than buildings. This belief distinguished him from his contemporaries — all of whom, like Caudill, left indelible marks on the architecture of our age. But where they were concerned with form or function, or ‘less is more,’ Caudill’s concern was with people. It was the simplicity of his words and the unvarnished humanism of his beliefs for which he was most widely admired.”

The firm he founded, Caudill Rowlett Scott, eventually became one of the largest and most successful in the world and its rise (and eventual demise) were the subject of a 2001 retrospective conference at Texas AM University. Katherine Logan, reporting on the conference in Architecture Week in May of 2001 observed “… it became clear that what was unique about this firm was its emphasis on people: CRS saw teamwork, client involvement, and professional growth as critical to the creation of architecture and the success of the firm.”

While many of us have embraced the concept of architecture by team, the crushing pressure of the current recession on the architectural community has rekindled our once latent scarcity mentality. Our underlying lack of confidence in ourselves and our profession has re-emerged as we lay off or are laid off. The urge to hunker down is overwhelming.  And while we may hold onto the possibility of teamwork with our few remaining clients, our enthusiasm for working collaboratively with other architects is fading quickly; our willingness to embrace the larger design and construction community a distant memory.

Jon Cooper, a former colleague with a biting wit, loved to debunk the often over the top claims of architectural marketers. He just knew that one day the phrase “Quality is just a word we like to use” would summarize the entire profession. I am more concerned that “Teamwork is just a word we like to use” is more accurate. And by teamwork, I mean the interactive, engaged, iterative, collaborative and creative problem solving that architects at their best are capable of.

Most of us have a deep seated and (hopefully) non-debilitating lack of confidence that produces a constant drag on our ability to think and act creatively.  For architects this lizard brain can be exceptionally powerful. In times like these our fears can easily overwhelm us. If we let them someone or something else will emerge and take our place. This is the time to stop clinging to what “should be” and open ourselves to “what is possible.” Now is the time to draw a new map, to redefine ourselves, our practice and our profession, and to be the highly sought after leaders who can guide the world into the next economy.

Were Bill Caudill alive today he would be drawing a new map, not pining for the glory days of architectural practice, whatever those were. And he would remind us that this new work of changing the world is a collaborative activity, inclusive and connected.

For today take a look at just one assumption you have made about what it means to practice architecture and ask yourself if it is driving you forward or holding you back. If it is holding you back, consider giving it up or “renovating” it so that instead of pulling you under, it supports you and the creative work you were created to do.  Your grandchildren will thank you.