The process of writing How to steal like an architect last year, a series of 10 articles based on Austin Kleon’s How to steal like an artist, made me consider other lessons learned over the years. What further lessons would I teach my younger self, given the opportunity?
19. Sting like a bee
The design of great buildings, of any building, is not an easy road. You need to fight for your ideas and your designs, fight for them through every hurdle. There is no guarantee that your clients, or the allied professionals and tradespeople with whom you will work on every project, will share your vision. Be it unwittingly or otherwise, they will make decisions that compromise your work and leave you with one of two choices: you can choose to float like a butterfly and fold the compromise into your design, or you can choose to sting like a bee and fight for its purity.
Floating like a butterfly is easy to do, expedient. Stinging like a bee may be the difficult choice, but it is the right one.
You will need to stick to your guns at every stage, survive opportunity after opportunity for your project to be compromised. Learn how to reshape your singular vision to fit the paradigm of the person you are trying to convince. Learn how to speak the languages of the town planner, the builder, the engineer and the client – all have a unique set of priorities, a unique way of viewing the world. If you can speak to them in their own language they might just come to believe in your vision and, hopefully, protect it as much as you do.
Frank Lloyd Wright was a charismatic master of this. S. C. Johnson said this of his experience working with Wright on the Johnson Wax building: “At the start of the project, Wright was working for me. In the middle, we were working together. By the end, I was working for him.”
Sting like a bee.