Practice makes Perfect

I’ll be running a workshop at the RSAW conference in Cardiff on 9th December 2011. The focus of the event is very much a response to the current economic climate and a broad array of speakers will address certain themes:

  • As the recession continues to bite, how are emerging architects finding new approaches to winning and carrying out their work?
  • How are the established players reacting to the new challenges?
  • Are the old models for building architectural practices out of date?
  • Do we need to look at new, more flexible ways of making design happen?
  • Is collaboration the answer?

Having discussed with the organisers what delegates are hoping to get from the event, the focus of my session will be to look at new media and growth industries for ideas and inspiration for the future of architectural practice.

Through my afternoon breakout workshop, I’ll be showcasing some interesting and exciting projects from the creative and media industries to inspire delegates to think differently about their approach and service. I’ll be sharing my experience of using social media as a powerful communication tool and demonstrating practical examples of the ways that web-based tools can save money and add value to working practice.

If you’re an Architect or if you work in practice and would like a day of inspiration, I suggest you book yourself in. It should be a great day. All the details are over on RSAW’s regional page of RIBA.

Art & Architecture

When Dean Melbourne first came to see me a year ago whilst I was in my post as Practice Manager at BPN Architects, within moments he had tuned into the way that BPN work. The practice is unique in as much as they work with artists, not because they have to, or because it will tick a box to appease the local authority or because it will give them something to boast about after it’s been built… “we worked with an artist don’t you know”… (yeah… so what?) but because they see the value in how that relationship enhances their own working process. Architecture is an artistic process in itself so the two skills form a natural bond.

We’d initially met up with the inimitable Helga Henry to discuss the opportunity for Dean to show his work at 3 Mary Street, but as the conversation developed, rather than focussing on an exhibition as the first step, what resulted was a series of life drawing classes with the practice. 4 two-hour sessions in the office, teaching everyone at the practice to draw the human form. Once the staff got over the initial shock of having a naked man in the office, it brought them back to the very essence of what it means to draw. To look at something and to respond by making a mark on paper. It was a refreshing and gratifying experience and Dean reminded the architects and architectural assistants (and admin support staff!) how powerful drawing can be.

The experience was so valuable to the practice that an exhibition of Dean’s work was the natural conclusion. An exhibition prompts dialogue – people see beyond what’s on the surface, they discuss and share ideas, they look deeper and really think. Architecture works in the same way – it’s more than what you see, it’s about how it makes you feel. Architecture is not a ‘thing’, it reaches your inherent emotional senses, just like art.

Dean’s work obviously made the 60-odd people who came to his Private View feel as good as me because the response was phenomenal – I’ve deliberately not included many photos of his work because I want you, like me, to have your breath taken away by the power of it. It’s simply beautiful.

That boy’ll go far. Go and see for yourself – the exhibition is on until December during office hours.

If I can help you develop a link between art and architecture using my skills and my network, please get in touch.

How I Network

I wrote this as an email originally, but I thought it was worth turning into a blog post because it might be useful for those who are venturing into new networks. Those who know me have said I’m good at networking – which is very nice of them of course – but what they may not know is how difficult I find it. Here’s what I go through when I walk into a room full of mostly strangers:

Networking is odd… there’s a bit of acting involved (and sometimes people over-act and it comes across as disingenuous and I hate that and can’t wait to get away from them) but the majority of people are exactly the same as you and me in as much as it’s a little forced and uncomfortable at first but as soon as you get past the initial “hello I’m blah blah….”, it’s actually fine, and easy, and you can breathe again. If I’m honest, despite having had plenty of practice, I still feel very nervous at the idea of going into a room full of people, but i’m told I’m very good at networking. Go figure?! Also I’m a bit naughty and tend to speak to the people I already know – but I think we all do that….

Now that I’ve stepped down as chair of the FFT, I won’t have to do so much hosting. Which is a bit of a relief because hosting is hard. Very hard.

Typical scenario:

Me: “Hello there, I’m Lorna….. * outstretches hand*….Um hello…. *peers at woman’s chest* er…. *squints and frowns at woman’s chest whilst trying to work out how to pronounce the name printed in tiny lettering on badge*…. erm… *mumbles something which possibly sounds vaguely like the name on the badge which, incidentally, is far too low down on the woman’s chest and is weirdly distracting*…. erm…. yes, so… ha ha… so have you been to one of our events before?”

….to which they answer simply either:
a) “no”
b) “yes”
or more often than not
c) [with a look of mild disapproval on their face] “Yes Lorna, we sat next to each other at the last event and I gave you my card……?”

The ones who do networking well are those who carefully and slowly work their way from little group to little group and cleverly manage to also include people who are standing on their own. They also remember faces and names, without fail, and that’s what I aspire to be like.

The initial opener is a tricky one too. My friend K* is brilliant, she usually starts by telling people how she managed to put her top on back to front and has just had to go to the loo to swap it back round the right way, or about the time when she threw her drink in someone lap. Ice breakers ftw! I think the trick is not to feel like you have to talk about worky stuff. The most effective networking i’ve done starts out usually just finding something in common with the person I’m talking to – and it might be music or sport or hobbies or even something you both watched on TV.

Hey, I should turn this into a blog post!

So, some tips and experiences there that might or might not be useful. Practice makes perfect I guess. Oh and smile, a lot – that helps loads.

*initial may have been changed, or may not…. oooh, mysterious….

Why Use LinkedIn?

I did a little blog post for the fbe recently (the fbe are a national built environment networking organisation). They are making a concerted effort to use LinkedIn to support their networking events, but some of their members need a little encouragement in understanding the benefits.

….but why should I use LinkedIn?

I get asked this question a lot! All the people I work with agree that the most valuable business development is about having conversations with people you’d like to work with, so in a nutshell I use LinkedIn as a way to support the face-to-face networking I do and as a way to carry on those valuable conversations. Business development begins when you strike up a conversation with someone, it doesn’t end as soon as they’ve handed over their business card. We each have our own way of following up new contacts, but LinkedIn is a really useful and convenient step in that follow-up process.

The next question I’m usually asked is: how do you find the time? Well here’s the interesting thing, I don’t spend much time using it, but it looks like I do! I probably spend 10-15 minutes a day skimming through the headlines, seeing what people are up to, sharing a link If I have spotted something interesting, seeing if I can help anyone with anything and spotting possible new connections or interesting groups to join. That’s it. Ok, so it took a little longer to create a profile, but that’s the beauty of LinkedIn, once you’re signed up, it does much of the work for you.

You can read the full post along with some hints and tips on making sure your profile hits the mark on the fbe blog.

Women In…

Tricky subject this, and it’s gone through my mind several times that I shouldn’t air my opinions so openly. Nevertheless, I’m keen to better understand the topic and would welcome an alternative standpoint. So here’s the question: Do events aimed at “Women in…” help to address the gender divide which continues to exist in the […]

Urban Design Summer School

A quick heads up and apology in advance. Over the next couple of weeks, my Twitter stream will be full of the CABE Urban Design Summer School hashtag #UDSS10. The Summer school takes place from 11th – 14th July here in sunny Birmingham and this year, has been organised by MADE. There are around 100 international delegates made up of Urban Designers, Architects, Planners and local authority representatives along with around 30 local young people keen to learn more about Urban Design.

Along with MADE’s resident Twitter users David Tittle @dxMADE and Anthony Ruck @anthonymade, I hope to get the Summer School delegates interacting online. MADE will also be tweeting on a general level via @MADEplaces.

We’ll be getting interactive by using Twitter as a way of sharing thoughts, comments and ideas over the 4 days. We also hope that it’ll be a social tool to support all the face-to-face networking that will be going on. There will be a Twitterfall projected during the event so those who can’t attend can follow what’s going on, and those in the room can follow what their peers are up to.

So excuse the hashtagging in my Tweets, or if you like, join in the conversation and connect with lots of new and interesting people!

Be2Camp Brum 2010 is go!

Be2Camp Brum 2009 was so good, Rob Annable and I wondered if we would be wasting our time trying to better it. So Rob came up with the idea of using this year’s event as a way of linking up with the new Library of Birmingham project.

This year’s event takes place on Thursday 12th August at the Library Theatre next to Central Library in Birmingham. Be2camp Brum 2010 will once again be an ‘unconference’ about social media, digital tools and the built environment, but part of the agenda will aim to explore the possibilities for the new Library of Birmingham building and discuss how digital tools might change the way we experience a 21st century library.

For more information, see the Be2Camp website, and sign up via the dedicated Eventbrite page. It’s a free event, it’s very flexible (we are very happy for people to drop in whenever it suits), we can guarantee you’ll learn lots, and it’ll be jolly good fun.