Architecture in the Time of Corona
By: John Wright, AIA, LEEDAP
Associate Principal, Spiezle Architectural Group, Inc.
Architecture, by nature, is a social practice and a highly people-oriented profession. It takes many talented individuals coming together; bringing their unique experiences, culture, knowledge and passion to create the built environment around us. While projects can have a single leader or be driven by a small group, it takes a much larger team in order to produce the work and execute a plan. This includes architects, interior designers, landscape architects, and an array of engineers and consultants – and this makes up just one piece of the larger puzzle that is the design and construction industry. The process to translate a vision into built reality requires collaboration and cooperation. This was typically evidenced in group meetings, informal gatherings, team research, conversations, and presentations. In person, and at the same table, was the standard. What happens now, when the rules change and our ability to gather is taken away. How do we continue forward?
Most will say that technology is the solution, and we agree that it is, to a degree. But at the very heart of the practice must remain our humanity, and our drive to improve the world and community around us. At Spiezle, we were quick to adopt a work-from-home policy. With VPN, Anydesk, and BIM360 services installed and tested, coupled with the accelerated integration and broad distribution of a Zoom meeting platform, we quickly set up our new offices in spare bedrooms, living rooms or sprawled across dining room tables. We are working around partners, pets, children and possibly other relatives. We have settled into our new normal.
While we are well supported and working from home was thoroughly planned, this transition was not easy at first. The abrupt changes, along with the uncertainty of the state of the world, led to some frustrations and increased tensions. We had all the necessary technological tools, but something was still missing. Then, something amazing happened: we began to adapt. Inherent to the nature of designers and creators, we viewed the situation as a challenge. We were quicker to phone colleagues or set up group Zoom meetings to reach out and check in with our clients. We learned to communicate more effectively because we were forced to, and we developed new routines for continuing to deliver the highest quality of product to our client.
Admittedly, some aspects of the new process appear questionable and break with what had been considered normal up until recent days. Nervously glancing around during a project walk through to make sure no one else is around, gatherings in large circles in open spaces, and parking lot drop offs of packages and envelopes, which would have previously appeared suspect, have become a new norm. Our clients are operating at various levels and in diverse ways, and through direct and consistent communication with them, we have come up with creative, albeit non-traditional, ways to service them.
We’ve also offered our services to help in any way that we can in the pandemic, including offering our talents to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and are currently working with a healthcare system to convert an abandoned warehouse into a field hospital to alleviate the stress on the local hospitals. Our colleagues are volunteering throughout their communities to provide support and comfort. We are finding ways to help each other within and outside of our homes, and while separated from one another, it somehow still feels like we are doing it together, as a team.
By going deeper in our work during this challenging time, we’ve truly learned how important it is to engage more with each other on a personal level. We have laughed about each other’s choice of Zoom backgrounds (tropical beach and outer space being the two current favorites), and the occasional pet or child peeking into the virtual meeting frame has become a welcomed sight. We have sent well-wishes of health and safety with every email, and we now more frequently call to check in to see how our colleagues and their families are adapting to this strange, new reality. We’ve swapped recipes and shared insights for stress management. We’ve heard countless stories of our colleagues stepping up and helping their local communities. We’re looking out for each other in a variety of ways, using a blend of new technology and old-fashioned compassion.
As an Employee-Owned company, we’ve known from the beginning that each one of us plays an important role in the continuing success of our Firm. A positive takeaway during these times that it’s reminded us again how essential each and every person is. The strength of being an employee-owner has propelled the company to do whatever is needed to adapt to and overcome the situation. In a world filled with isolation, where our colleagues are scattered across the region in makeshift offices, our Firm has found ways to work alone together. Our lessons learned from this pandemic will shape our company, and the industry as a whole, in the months and years to come. This adaptive and resourceful approach, taken in the face of adversity, will allow us to grow in new and important ways. We at Spiezle are working to make the best of the current situation for clients and for ourselves, and we will overcome this challenging time, together, as one team.