Collaboration Across Generations

March 6, 2019

In the recent panel discussion involving experienced designers and emerging professionals at Design Connections, Patrick Burke, AIA and Austin Crowley exchanged their respective viewpoints. The audience appreciated their insights and complemented how the culture of Michael Graves Architecture & Design brings different generations of designers together as one team. Here is an excerpt from the conversation. 

ModeratorWhat is your experience with mentor/mentee relationships and what do you think is important?

Patrick: For better or worse, we all rely on our own experiences about how an architectural practice works. When I was an emerging professional working in an office in Chicago, the senior partner mostly stayed in his private office and shared his knowledge on a need-to-know basis. With him, we draftsmen felt that we were just doing a task and had no context for decisions. There were two other partners who sat in the open office with the rest of us. As they explained project decisions to us in detail, we learned about architecture and felt part of the conversation.  I run my studio like those partners, gathering my staff around to tell them about a meeting or trip, or set up the context for the design work. This way, they can more easily understand what makes a 5-star luxury resort different from a 4-star business hotel, for example. And, beyond the project, what you need to know about working in one country or culture versus another. This of course applies to local customs but even effects the definition of a building type: a mall in Asia is night-and-day from one in America.  I want the people on my team to learn how to make good decisions that incorporate many disparate and sometimes conflicting factors.

Austin: Since not everyone can travel to our firm’s projects, it’s invaluable to get Patrick’s detailed downloads after every trip. I’m personally invigorated by sitting in an open studio with designers of varied backgrounds and experiences. The transparency of decision-making means that I’m fully engaged as a team member on the projects I’m working on.  That’s amplified by the indirect learning that occurs by overhearing about projects that I’m not working on.

Moderator:  You’ve just described how the experienced designer mentors the emerging professional. What do the older designers learn from the younger ones, especially since they’re likely more versed in technology and social media?

Patrick:  For someone who still draws by hand, I was initially just grateful for the younger designers’ knowledge and ability to put project information into the computer so that it can be manipulated and turned into renderings. However, with more sophisticated tools, the several generations of designers in our firm are now collaborating more directly in design and adding their ideas to the design discussion.

“However, with more sophisticated tools, the several generations of designers in our firm are now collaborating more directly in design and adding their ideas to the design discussion.”

— Patrick Burke, AIA,
Michael Graves Architecture

Austin: As a co-founder of the firm’s “tech team,”  I have been able to weigh in on visualization and collaboration tools that make the design process faster and more effective for everyone. It’s no longer the case that a sketch was turned into a CAD file and then developed into a 3D model that would be rendering for many hours. We’ve cut some steps out of the process. Since we go so quickly to three dimensions in programs such as Lumion, the design team starts to visualize the building or space quickly and can see new possibilities right away. Basically, we are now designing in three dimensions and everyone — no matter the level of experience — is a participant.

Patrick: This is truly a collaboration in the best sense, and the result is rewarding for all levels of staff.  It’s also exciting for our clients.

Austin: We are also using digital collaboration tools like Bluebeam® Studio to their best advantage.  It’s so easy to mark up a drawing in real time, color code which consultant is making the comment, and sharing it out to the team. This is an efficient tool not only during design but also during construction documents and construction since it simplifies communications and tracks comments in plain sight for everyone to use.  It has helped me learn about the technical side of architecture in addition to design.  Though technology will continue to gain complexity and transform our industry however, we need to remember to think like designers, not computer programmers.  This is especially necessary for the younger generations entering the profession.

“Though technology will continue to gain complexity and transform our insdustry however, we need to remember to think like designers, not computer programmers.”

— Austin Crowley, AIA,
Michael Graves Architecture

ModeratorHow do you build camaraderie among members of the staff?

Patrick: While gatherings, games, drinks and meals are all good for team culture, I have found throughout my career that genuine, long lasting camaraderie comes from working together to achieve common goals. Working hard and succeeding in accomplishing difficult things as a team develop strong bonds.

Austin: Because camaraderie is such a part of MGA&D’s culture, whether we’re socializing or enmeshed in a project, it helps build bonds across all generations and lets us younger ones into the conversation.