I’ve stated on several occasions that this blog is more for me than it is for anyone else. I’m as real as I can be on purpose… no matter the response. After a week of coming up short professionally (which to me is the same as personally) in so many ways, this one is definitely more for the writer than the reader. After a few weeks of disappointing client expectations, missing project design schedules, being caught up in the never-ending cycle of permit bureaucracy, and struggling to determine a direction of personal leadership… I feel the need for a public self-reminder as to why I do this. Consider this a blog or mission statement of sorts. In some ways, both can be true. Either way, know this is as a proclamation as to why I will struggle, overcome, and look forward to the trials ahead. In some ways, this is the declaration of every small business owner trying to do the best they can. In other ways, it’s simply the words of one man letting you in on a mind of doubt shrouded with a persona of confidence.
In architecture school, we ask many questions (which coincidentally are the names of books)… “what is architecture”, “why buildings fall down”, “why buildings stand up”. At the time, these questions were asked of theory with a level of fact and reason as the response. I mean… they are literally the name of books, not conversations. Now that I am nearly twenty years removed from those initial questions, have built a firm from nothing, and am in general considered to be a competent adult… the personal question of “why” comes up more often than I think it should. In the evening of writing this, I am at a celebration of architecture in Arkansas. A toast to the leaders of our profession and many of the great works they’ve accomplished. On this same evening, I received a Friday 6pm text from a client questioning my honesty because I didn’t fulfill an expectation that I had every intention to meet. It is on this evening when I really question… why. Why do I do this? Why did I grow the firm? Why am I setting expectations that are in many ways unachievable? While the answers are complicated, it is also as simple as… because I want to help people and build up the community around them.
A couple times a year, I get a chance to get away for a few days and have a chance to refocus. I do my best to set aside the texts, calls, and emails, and actually try to figure out my next steps. Sometimes it’s a refocus of purpose or a chance to shape my thoughts for a particular cause. The point of this year was a couple of days away to quiet the chaos. This instead became a time where I was bombarded with every reason of why I shouldn’t continue the path I’m on. Don’t get me wrong, I really do love our clients. But in many ways, some clients simply aren’t achieving the purpose we’re here for. I’ll refer you to my last blog post about “A Renewed Vision”. Here’s the introduction from that post…
“I’m a person that likes having a big vision for things. I have high expectations that I rarely meet. I set goals that seem to stay just out of my grasp. I have milestones along the way where I can look back and see that I’m at least headed in the right direction. At the same time, I’m a person of planning where details are essential. Because of this combination, I’m many times well over my head in any number of categories. I take on too much. I tend to push the conversation instead of letting it play out naturally. I have high expectations on those around me. I’m the three-ring circus juggling act while walking the tight rope without a net kind of person.”
For M R Designs, my full intention is that every project we take on should serve a very distinct purpose. It should be beneficial not only to the client, but to the community it serves. As architects and designers, we should be passionate about it as well. Instead of hurrying it through the process, we should explore the full possibilities of how design excellence could make a difference for the client and user. We’re going to grow our team where each member is striving for a purpose of why they are here. We’ll help people. We’ll grow communities. We’ll hopefully do some good along the way.
For project SOUTH ARchitecture, we’ll be looking at development within our existing cities and towns in South Arkansas. We’ll be building up existing communities, existing urban areas, and the people groups historically displaced/associated with these areas. We’ll ask the hard questions and make people (and in some ways ourselves) uncomfortable as to how we’ve gotten to where we are. The projects we look at will not be high to middle income single family housing. The projects we look at will not be new residential developments on the outskirts of town. We want not part of the intended or unintended result of “build elsewhere”. We want to address the “missing middle” where I feel we can do the most good and be the most challenged. This is the purpose of this work.
This renewed purpose and focus of why we do what we do won’t sit well with all out there. Ten years ago, I was told that a firm may purposefully choose that some projects simply aren’t a good fit and would turn them down. When I was looking to building a business, I didn’t understand why you would turn work away. Over the last year, I’ve started to understand that statement more and more. Not every project is a good fit no matter how profitable it may seem. “We’ll pass” isn’t a personal condemnation. It’s a simple statement that the project expectations simply don’t line up with our design ambitions. Some won’t understand that and that’s okay. I can live with that. What I can’t live with is taking on more projects with over-personalized “good intentions” and then continue to fall short. We will be better. I must do better. As I’ve stated before… we chose quality and purpose over the juggling act.