Posts Tagged ‘Role Models’

As I sit here next to the ocean I can’t help but think about the fact that the ocean is never the same; the water is constantly moving, but therein lies it’s constancy.  The same can be said of generations, mentors, and the intentional transfer of knowledge.

My first professional mentor was my grandfather who practiced architecture (and ran several related businesses) in Charlottesville from the late 1920s until the late 1970s.  It was he who inspired me at the age of six to pursue the profession that has occupied me to this day.  As one might expect, he introduced me to floor plans and taught me two point perspective drawing.  Fast forward about eight years and he introduced me to the various dimension lumber sizes on the family lumber yard where I had my first job.  On another occasion, he came out to the warehouse with a steel manual and introduced the beam diagrams and formulas in those pre-calculator days.

A few years later, I was introduced more thoroughly to structural design by my future father-in-law who taught structures in the University of Virginia School of Architecture.  This allowed me to bypass introductory statics and strength of materials at Virginia Tech.  During those years in Blacksburg, there were a few professors that I considered mentors.

I was later introduced to specification writing by Thomas R. Wyant, Jr, AIA, CSI who had me writing specs about a year out of school.  He also unknowingly inspired me to join CSI, which brings me to the real subject of this column.  Mentorship involves the intentional transfer of knowledge which is arguably the most important function of CSI.

it is through attendance at CSI events and participation in the CSI Certification Program that knowledge of construction processes and documentation is transferred to the next generation of construction professionals who would otherwise miss the opportunity to learn.

CSI is the one place where architects, engineers, constructors, suppliers, manufacturers reps, and other diverse construction professionals represented in its membership can sit down at the table and talk openly and in a non-confrontational manner about their experiences.  We can’t help but learn from one another.  At some point, down the road, there will be a situation in our careers that will prompt a memory of a conversation that took place at a CSI gathering and perhaps also a phone call that will borrow from the experiences of our colleagues within the organization.

I can’t speak often enough about how my membership has more than paid for itself over the last thirty-one years.  If you’re a construction professional and not a CSI member, I would strongly recommend that you join.  If you are a CSI member, by all means bring a young professional to your next chapter member.  You will not regret it.


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I have been asked the question “What one piece of advice do you wish that you had received as a young professional?” multiple times in recent years.  I struggled with the answer to this question, because I was blessed with several great mentors in my years as a young professional.  The advice I received was sound, and I gained a great deal of technical knowledge in the process.  Clearly their advice helped me to become the professional I am today.

The bit of advice that I was missing from my early mentors was that no one ever told me that TO BE A LEADER IS TO SERVE.  Got that?  To be a leader is to serve others.

It took me years to learn this truth.  As a youngster, I pictured a leader as something of a drill sergeant; telling others what to do and how to do it.  Through the school of hard knocks, I learned that being a leader often means leading by example.  In order to do so, one must lead by doing.

When we chartered the Central Virginia Chapter of CSI in 1990, I was in the midst of raising a family.  During the pre-charter meetings hosted by then Institute Director Byron Dickson, I realized that if I expected an organization that benefits me to exist, I’d better be willing to assume a leadership role, and became the first treasurer of the chapter.

Fast forward about 15-20 years and I watched my three daughters take on leadership roles in the organizations to which they belong.  I did not deliberately teach my children to be leaders, but as they say, your children don’t do as you say, they do as you do.

Somewhere between my misguided high school days of envisioning a leader as a drill sergeant and the time I was participating in CSI leadership, I figured out that in order to lead, I must be willing to work hard and be of service to others.  To this day, that knowledge has served me well.

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I’ve seen a fair amount of twitter traffic over the last couple of days regarding the documents that are handed to specifiers by architects. The principal complaint has to do with lack of detail in the drawings.  This is in step with complaints I’ve heard (and sometimes uttered) over the years about unprepared graduates coming from our architecture schools.  I was once one of them.

I’ve stated before in this forum that I was more fortunate than many in that I had an excellent mentor in Thomas R. Wyant, Jr., AIA, CSI. He filled in the many of the gaps that my professional education left void.  He also introduced me to CSI.  Tom paid attention to detail, both in terms of the documents we produced and in terms of the constructed result of our work.  For the 30 years that my practice has existed, I have made a concerted effort to pay this forward.

In spite of our best efforts, however, there is no such thing as a perfect set of construction documents. So the sketchy sections that initially go to the specifier should only serve as a conversation starter.  An experienced spec writer will see immediately what is missing and start asking questions.  It is this dialogue that results in details being fleshed out.  Assuming that there is enough time in the owner’s timetable for this conversation to take place, the construction documents should be adequate to allow the project to be built.

That said, we need to be educating all of the parties to the construction project – including the owners. Owner’s expectations should be realistic in terms of both budget and timing.  The A/E should be able to have enough time to produce the documents and make a reasonable profit in the progress.  Likewise, the contractor should have adequate time and funds to do his/her job appropriately; again at a reasonable profit.  In the end, the owner should have a facility that meets his/her needs that also provides an environment that is functional and meets the needs of the end user.

It boils down to communication, which is essential for a successful project. Such communication is possible through a common language which is facilitated by CSI formats and proper use thereof.  Individuals who hold a CSI certification or certificate will be well versed in the use of the various formats and will benefit the construction team on which they serve.

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I’ve spent this week on the Outer Banks of North Carolina for a week of R&R. While walking the beach, I’ve observed how the forces of nature have left their mark.  There are water marks left at high tide and ripples in the sand deposited by the wind.  The fiddler crabs left myriad tiny footprints in the sand as have the marine waterfowl.  Multiple animals deposit their shells on the sand following their passing.  We are admonished to leave only footprints and take only memories as we leave.

Like the natural forces on the barrier islands, those of us that are design professionals are obsessed with leaving a mark. Hopefully that mark constitutes a beneficial impact on the community that is the world.

We need to leave functional infrastructure, architecture that provides shelter, and somehow with both of these, we need to leave a beauty that users and observers will appreciate. Easy to think of this from the standpoint of monumental architecture, or a Golden Gate Bridge, but something as utilitarian as the Herbert C. Bonner Bridge that connects Hatteras Island with the rest of the US has a certain beauty in the rhythm of the pilings and the stantions that support the guardrails.  The built legacy should survive us and benefit society for generations to come.

In the process of creating the built world, we have a far more important obligation to leave an intellectual mark with the younger folks that work with us through the intentional transfer of knowledge. This takes place through mentoring, networking, associations, and certification programs.  Experienced professionals such as myself need to make certain that when we leave our professions that we don’t create an unfillable void.  Our professional legatees need to be ready step in and fill the space.  It is our obligation to make certain they are.

Likewise, we have much to learn from the younger professionals in our lives. They are full of energy and new ideas.  New ideas are worth our time, attention, nurturing, and even of our championing.  Pay attention seasoned professionals, as your young colleague may provide the idea that makes something work in a new and wonderful way.

So a quick memo to my younger colleagues: I want to spend time with you.  You have the capacity to make me better, and we can make each other better.  The best place to find me on a first Tuesday is at a CSI meeting.  In that venue, we can both learn something new.

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Last Friday, I ran into a couple of old friends at a pre-bid meeting. As the conversation progressed, the topic of Thomas R. Wyant, JR, AIA, CSI came up.  Tom was my first employer after I graduated from Virginia Tech in 1979.  He was a client to my friends who are a surveyor and geotechnical engineer respectively.  We reminisced for several minutes about him.

While Tom was not the easiest individual to work for, I probably learned more about the profession of architecture from him than any other single person. In this vein, Tom was an expert in the technical aspects of putting a building together.  He was very particular about how we detailed things, but would let us draw things up as we saw fit.  On a daily basis, he would make the rounds in the drafting room and would look over our shoulders to review our work.  If we could justify what we did, he would say simply, yeah, that’ll work, and go on to visit with the next drafter.  If there was a problem with what we did, he would help us to solve it.

Probably the most important thing Tom did for us was to introduce us to specification writing, arguably an unusual thing to do with a couple of first and second year interns. He taught us to use MasterSpec and SpecText and in doing so, indirectly taught us CSI SectionFormat.  Also, in using both master systems, he demonstrated that at that time, some sections of each were better than the other.  In so doing, he gave us the opportunity to exercise some critical thinking about which component or system was more appropriate for the project(s) at hand and how best to communicate the information to the construction team.  I cannot think of a better way to mentor.

Tom is also responsible for my joining CSI, although he was never aware of it, as I joined five years after I left Tom’s firm. In this regard, he led by example.  Through him, I learned that CSI is the place to go for building information.  His mentoring led me to connections with literally thousands of experts nationwide.  For that I will always be grateful.

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I’ve spent the last twenty-four hours or so in Colonial Williamsburg and the experience provokes the following thoughts:

There is a certain order to the Colonial Era architecture.  The details that aficionados cherish today had a practical function.  For example, the Flemish bond masonry walls were so designed for structural stability.  The fact that responding to the forces of wind and gravity produced a beautifully ordered pattern is somehow lost these days when Flemish bond is specified for brick veneer.  It still is beautiful, but is a caricature of its original function.  The same is true of the elegant proportion and detailing of such mundane elements as the dormers above a steep shingled roof.  Siding was installed on a slope parallel to the roof surface because it was easier to flash and wouldn’t absorb water into the end grain as it would if installed horizontally.  The ogee crown mouldings would throw the water clear of the siding.

The same sense of order applied during colonial times.  Everyone who owned property was saddled with the responsibility to be a part of the local militia, and from the ranks of the property owners, legislators were chosen.  This was the price one paid for being a citizen of the Commonwealth.  The premise was that citizenship was worth the sacrifice of leadership.

So it is still, that everyone who is a member of an organization should be willing to lead it.  I find that organizations that are failing are failing because leaders are burning out and other members are running from responsibility.  This is a reaction I fail to understand.  If an organization, a community, yes even a state or nation will fail if we don’t step forward to lead.  We have a responsibility to do so.

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Over the last ten years I have had the opportunity of serving on The Construction Specifications Institute’s Awards and Certification Committees.  As a long time member of CSI, I recognize that in any volunteer organization, the only pay the members receive for service to the organization is when their accomplishments are recognized.

This is the reason for the existence of the CSI Honors and Awards Program, and to some extent the CSI Certification Program.  The H&A Program provides recognition at a national level.  CSI Honors include Distinguished and Honorary Membership plus Fellowship in the Institute.  The Awards Program includes recognition for such accomplishments as distinguished service, advancement of CSI, academic accomplishments, specifications writing, communications, construction technology, environmental stewardship, and other areas of recognition.  Institute awards are presented at Construct & The CSI Annual Convention.

The program is not limited to Institute awards.  Most (should be all) chapters give awards around the end of a fiscal year to recognize the accomplishments of their local members.  Even something as simple as a certificate of appreciation for a job well done is important.  Make certain that your members feel appreciated for all the hard work they put in, but don’t stop at the chapter level.  As I became involved beyond the chapter level in CSI, I realized that the folks receiving awards from the Middle Atlantic Region and the Institute were ordinary folks like me who were doing extraordinary things.

That said, take the time to recognize your peers and colleagues.  On September 14th, The Construction Specifications Institute will recognize member’s accomplishments at the Honors and Awards Gala at Construct 2012 in Phoenix.  Lists of award recipients and members slated for elevation to Fellowship in the Institute are available at www.csinet.org .

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Everyone seems to be talking aboutAmerica’s fall from greatness these days.  Given the state of politics, this is understandable.  I have to disagree,Americais still a great big family.

 I found myself traveling Interstate 81 as Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  As we traveled, we encountered convoys of utility crews fromMississippi,Tennessee, andKentuckyall heading northeast to be in position to jump on the anticipated massive power outages.  As a family comes together in times of crisis, so do we as a nation.  If this isn’t evidence of greatness, I don’t know what is.

 Now if our politicians would put aside partisan ideologies and recognize that we are all Americans before we are liberal, conservatory, Republican, or Democrat.

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I first realized my calling to the profession of Architecture at the age of six.  I am pleased to say that I was inspired to do so by my grandfather who practiced architecture here in Charlottesville from the 1930’s until shortly before his death in 1981.  Having a role model such as he was essential to my development as a professional.

Likewise, in CSI, I have a particular set of heroes, mentors if you will, who have been influential in my development as a member of this organization.  All of these individuals would probably wish to remain anonymous, so I won’t mention them by name.  They may not even realize the magnitude of their influence on me.  What is important, though, is that they have always made themselves available whenever I had any sort of question or problem.

In the years since becoming active in CSI, I have had the privilege of having a number of members coming to me for advice on various matters relating to how to do CSI and sometimes, why to do CSI.  I can only say that the influence of my own mentors is spreading to so many more people as I pass on that wisdom.

I have often said that as an architect, I intend to leave a positive mark on the physical landscape that will survive me.  In CSI, each of us has the opportunity to influence the process of creating and sustaining the built environment through the transfer of knowledge.  This transfer can take place as part of the mentoring process, but more commonly, it takes place in the form of the networking that takes place at the monthly membership meetings.  In this sense, through service to this organization, hopefully I am leaving a permanent, positive mark on the professional landscape.  If I am successful at this, then every single one of my mentors will have done so as well.

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