Thursday, July 16, 2009

World 2.0 - Regenerating Our Way Out of the Crisis

Face it. The world changed last September with the dramatic fall of the world economy. Many of us lost jobs and/ or homes and livelihoods in the worst cases, or went on reduced salary, experienced furloughs or other creative attempts at financial triage to keep organizations afloat. It hasn’t been much fun and it isn’t over yet. The building industry and the architecture profession have been hit very hard due to the drying up of traditional credit and financial markets to fund project construction. Clients reconsidered or shelved projects, or put them on long-term hold determined to wait out the current crisis. The ripple effect on our business has been telling and heart breaking. I’ve heard unconfirmed reports at least 30% of architects are out of work in the greater Boston area for example. Closer to home many firms in Vermont have downsized significantly, radically transforming themselves to respond to the economic crisis and continue in business. But there is an upside to this challenging present, it’s believing in the power of regeneration.

Recently a friend of mine, Danny Sagan, a designer with his firm Terra Firm and Associate Professor at Norwich University in Northfield, VT, said, (and I’m paraphrasing) “Finally the gravy days are over where people can make money out of thin. We have returned to a place Americans are good at; dealing with adversity and challenging times. Business people in the near future will earn success the old fashioned way, through hard work, street smarts and perseverance.” I could not agree more. The competition for what work is available is intense with at least triple the usual amount of interested firms actively seeking projects. In order to win work firms must stand out. What does this mean then? Does one give up and close up shop in the face of such adversity? Or rather, rise to the occasion, be innovative and inventive in redefining your message and business offer?

Let’s seek the innovative path. If you can’t meet and surpass the clients requirements and establish yourself as a leader with a clear message and value, it will be very hard to keep the doors open. We must work smarter than ever before. Why not ask Nature what she would do? I think she would say think about the concept of regeneration. Biologically speaking regeneration is the restoration of new growth by an organism or organs, tissues etc. lost, removed or injured. To regenerate means to re-create, reconstitute, or make over, especially in a better form or condition. This idea of rebirth, albeit in an improved form, points to a future with promise and optimism.

Looking into Charles Darwin’s theories on evolution and the idea of successful adaptation of some species at the expense of others who diminish into extinction offers a stark message. Survival and success directly relates to the ability to adapt and respond to changing and often puzzling environments. What would nature do in our place? What are the adaptive actions you can take with your business? Why not examine in our case the architects’ traditional roles and activities on one hand and compare that to a pressing short list of societal needs and demands. Does our traditional way of doing things mesh with the new realities before us. What’s out of balance? What are we missing? Find areas needing restoration of balance to the system and you are on to societal need to focus upon for your services offer.

I identify four keys areas; water, energy, atmosphere and increasing organizational effectiveness in this changed world, which are out of balance. The first three are well-documented diminishing natural resources and the last deals with organizational behaviors and interactions. I believe as an architect I can work together with our customers and team member on the first three easily. The fourth is linked to the others but is at the heart of organizational success. The smart design must be able to help their customers create buildings which radically conserve and take care of water, energy and air resources. They must also be able to create designs which naturally allow organizations be the most effective at the work they need to do and nurture employees and key stakeholders along the way. This doesn’t mean using formulaic design approaches but reaching into the well of innovation together. By using integrated and regenerative design approaches to develop unlikely yet effective solutions, the architect and designer can strengthen their value offer. By looking deeply together at the nature of the work at hand, needs of workers and the workplace through this regenerative green lens, valuable design solutions can be developed while also conserving resources such as water, energy and our atmosphere for future generations.

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