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The Next Thing…

July 25, 2017

A recent world wide economic study noted that America as a whole has lagged behind most of the world in getting over “The Financial Crisis.” Duh. I know folk in Boomlet places – San Fransisco, the northwest, maybe even Boston – but for most of the rest, just like the red ocean of the Electoral Map, it’s an odd time.

Humans have multiple epochs in their lives: childhood, high school/college, mating, spawning, life with kinder, life after they leave: as our average lifespan gets longer we have more expectations than gratitude. Pretty normal.

But this last decade has been nuts.

Especially for anyone in the building industry. The “irrational exuberance” of the first decade of the 21st century OD’d and we are still in the detox mode.

In this maelstrom some in the U.S. wanted to “Make America Great Again” – we are all seeking a metronome – even a normal boom-bust cycle. If a 3 year boom was followed by a 3 year bust, we would be into our second Boom after The Big Bust – but we are still in the Sargasso Sea of Cultural Ennui.

So dinner party conversation hits the Trump Iceberg, where those finding hope in him find enraged disbelief by those who see the oddest human ever elected president. Similarly, when architects gather, the “haves” in the buiding zones are chest out getting what they deserve. The rest, the most, talk of “new expressions” or delight in surviving.

For my little office, just like in every other bust, we laid off no one, met every payroll, and still have over 50 projects. But we are down one or two employees, the project budget is perhaps 40% less than in the insanity of infinite appreciation expectations and I make the same I made in all the other busts – not much. But it’s been 8 years…

The jobs are smaller

But some are exquisite

And after getting about 10 new projects in the last few months, it’s clear people still want to create their home: but with less dollars flowing I am asked to go places and thus talk less. But I write more – even a book in the fall and maybe another in a year.

But with fatherhood more advice than protection, and no more tuition payments to make, somehow I am drawn into the realities of dealing with a legacy of Faith for those children.

The issue is not change: this always has been and will be because humans cannot leave well enough alone. We try new things: I bought a banjo I never played. We surf on the moment: some of tried to give the boom in house creation some perspective and share the potential for value before implosion. Those efforts failed.

But fewer have the Faith that binds all of us to a greater reality than our video viewing. Careers are stepping stones because the profession you commit to has fewer places that commit back. More marriages either do not happen or are simply voided. We have less connection.

We connect less with what is around us that is not on a screen, but more we are less connected to a thoughtful past or a verdant future. We are, mostly, living for the next thing. In response we are asked to enter more and more passwords to vouch for our connection. It is harder for we who have no family. Beyond my parents being dead, they were distant at birth and distracted from their children and thus their children from each other, let alone connected to their own siblings or their offspring.

When the disconnected are set afloat in a disconnected era, it’s not pretty. Being in a disconnected profession, the island is in foul weather, I can attest that the island not part of a tropical archipelago.

What is left to all of us is hope, as the uncertainties of driverless Uber cars, BIM softwear eliminating the human work that helped create hundreds of thousands of architects, and a bizarre mode of national discourse make for cyber distractions and binge watching.

And when we are left holding the bag of hope, and that bag has no Faith in it except our sense of unrequited entitlement, it’s not a comfy decade. Might I suggest what got my little firm through the the other 3 (shorter) busts and drives almost all my clients: the sense of gratitude?

While we have less, we have. While there is uncertainty everywhere, uncertainty lacks the buzzkill of a sealed fate: we are sentient, and reactive. The dye has not been cast. While the InterWebNets are choked with bile and despair and cheap co-opting: we grow weary of the noise.

The Next Thing is out there. It is as unanticipated as the InterWebNets were 20 years ago. Presidential terms end. People are devoted to creating places of joy, not fortresses against dark doom.

There is Faith, even without all the trimmings.


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