Theodore Ferringer Jr., Associate AIA, LEED Associate is a nationally recognized emerging leader in architecture who works, resides and advocates in Cleveland, Ohio. He is a Designer and the Business Development Director at Bialosky Cleveland, and among his professional leadership positions, he serves as the 2016 Chair of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) National Associates Committee.
We recently checked in with Theodore to get his advice on the must-have skill sets of those involved with the design and construction of buildings. Here’s wha the had to say:
Can you tell us about Bialosky Cleveland and your philosophy on architecture and design?
Bialosky Cleveland seeks to create meaningful solutions that are innovative, responsive, enduring and beautiful across multiple project types and scales. With over 50 employees encompassing Architecture, Planning, Interior Designer, Environmental & Graphic Design, and MEP Engineering, Bialosky Cleveland is one of the Midwest’s most successful architecture firms, evidenced through awards that honor the firm’s practice management, design excellence, and commitment to the community.
What excites you about how architecture/design/urban planning is evolving right now?
It depends on what day you ask! Personally, I am have always been drawn to the role that architecture plays in conjunction with cultural and demographic changes in society. Globalization is resulting in an America, along most other countries, that is more diverse, younger and aware of the world. This in conjunction with rapidly changing technology creates a fascinating situation of both opportunities and challenges for the architecture/design/urban planning field to stay relevant.
My background spans a youth spent summers in construction, in conjunction with an education that focused on architecture and urban design that allowed me the opportunity to spend a year in total living aboard. Day to day, I split my time collaborating with our leadership on business development efforts, while also working on design projects with a variety of clients. I am an adamant generalist. My belief is that firms who see long-term success and relevance require a variety of focuses, both market, and sector, to remain nimble, flexible and adaptable in a rapidly changing world. While firms need a variety of individuals with personal specialties and proclivities, on a business level, the most successful pracitices, long-term, are those that create a clear value proposition for their intellectual and problem-solving skills, not their ability to do one thing and one thing only really well.
What excites me is the continued recognition of working with clients who recognize and value this, and who see our firm and architects in general as capable of providing significant value and service beyond delivering a set of construction drawings for bidding and permit.
What are the most interesting news, trends and/or innovations you are following in your field right now?
While I am as excited as anyone over emerging project delivery models and how rapidly changing technology from BIM to 3-D printing is creating new possibilities, I am most passionate about the increasing focus of architects on social issues.
Architecture is an inherently political act – anyone who says otherwise is probably a playing politics! It is my belief that architects have an obligation to assist society in a multitude of ways beyond the 9 to 5. Examples are programs like Architecture for Humanity, Public Architecture’s 1%+ Pro Bono project, and someone like Alejandra Aravana winning the Pritzker Prize and curating this year’s Venice Biennale shows that architects can and need to be leaders engaging with environmental, political and economic issues will continue to rise as leaders, not just in the profession, but within their larger communities.
What skills or background are you looking for in the people you are hiring today?
Generally speaking, if you are a good teacher, you can teach anyone how to produce construction drawings. It is not as easy are critical thinking and problem-solving skills, the ability to be a leader, effective communication skills, empathy and emotional intelligence. Those who clearly showcase those skills tend to rise quickly to the top during the hiring process.
What skills would you like to see more novice architects, engineers, designers and contractors bringing to the table?
Novice is a poor choice of nomenclature. Emerging Professional is much more appropriate. As someone who identifies as an EP, being confident in their ideas, while being cognizant of knowing what they do not know and that there may be many things they do not know they do not know. Architecture and construction have never been more complicated or required more technical aptitude across a boarder range of issues than today. And it will only become more so in the future.
Traditionally, knowledge and wisdom were held by the most senior professionals. With these changes, often the most junior staff know the most about both the possibilities and challenges of technology, product techniques, etc. One must balance this with the understanding that your mentors and senior professionals have years of wisdom.
Understand the amount of collaboration, compromise and challenges in building – see it is an opportunity, not as a hurdle holding back your personal genius. Have as many mentors as possible. Research, read and engage with as many colleagues as possible. Have a life outside of your job, but understand what you do from 5 to 9 can make you significantly better from 9 to 5. It is a lifestyle, not a job. There are not very many mid-level architects in firms who are 60.
Over time, the AEC industry is a constant survival of the fittest. You have not “made it” when you get into school. You have not made it when you are licensed or become a PM. Never stop growing your skills. You do not want to find yourself on the wrong side of the game in the next downturn. Make yourself as valuable as possible to employees and clients. Know your values and stay true to them. Learn as much as you can about business and marketing. Speak up the front of groups as often as possible. Learn how to talk to people one on one. Find out how to run a meeting and a phone conference. Learn that communicating with a colleague, a consultant and a client are three very different things. Communication, both written and verbal, is the most valuable skill. If you struggle to communicate with other people or do not enjoy it, find a new profession.
What professional opportunities do you see available in your industry to contractors who are willing to continue their education?
I can speak much better to this for architects/planners/designers, but for contractors, learn as much as you can on the building sciences within your trade. Learn about the history of your trade. My father is a mason turned one of the country’s best blacksmiths (Seven Pines Forge), and he always preaches the need to know the history of the trade or craft you practice. Learn the craft of your trade – and see it as such. Learn enough about design to help the team meet the design intent of the project without sacrificing budget and schedule. Learn as much as you can about using emerging technologies to improve project delivery and workflow. Moreover, like the prior question – figure out how to be the best communicator you can be.
From your perspective, where do you find the biggest need for more skilled contractors?
All trades. I am in architecture because my father was a mason. He is now one of the best blacksmiths in the country. We need to see those working in construction trades as honorable and desirable professions – and that one need not go to college to go into to, and one should not be looked down upon for it. He never went to college and knew at the age of 16 he wanted to be a mason. He knows more about the building sciences of his trade and craft than most architects and engineers.
I am not unconvinced that I have many colleagues who grew up in white collar families who got into architecture or engineering, not because they love design or engineering, but because that was the socially acceptable way for them to be a part of the construction industry. That is wrong. If your real passion is being outside, building with your hands – good grief, do it! We need more people who are willing to learn the building trades.
What do building professionals risk by not continuing their education?
Your professional relevance. The more diverse your skill set and knowledge base is the more valuable you are. It is as simple as that.
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