Ruth Slavid talks architecture

Work with people you like – freelance post 4

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on January 1, 2013

It may sound hopelessly idealistic to say that you should work with people you like, but it certainly makes life easier. So this is my rule number 4:

Work with people you like – or try to like the people you work with.

I’m not being ridiculously Pollyana- ish about this. I suppose you have to start by liking people in general. If you are a real misanthrope then perhaps freelance journalism is not for you. There is certainly one editor I work for who always commissions by email. On the odd occasions I call her (because there is something too complex to deal with by email) she sounds vaguely affronted that she has to speak. And it’s not just me – a friend who has worked for her has had the same experience. Perhaps it’s good she isn’t a freelance.

There are a couple of reasons why getting on with the people who commission you is a good idea. You are likely to be happier. And after all, if the main work of freelancing involves sitting staring at a computer, then your social contact is limited to the people who commission you and the people you interview (plus the all important people you meet as you market yourself – I’ll deal with that later). So you will be much happier if you like them.

If they like you, then they are more likely to give you work – faced with commissioning two people with equal skills/ knowledge, who wouldn’t rather deal with somebody they like? And the better you get on, the more constructive conversations you are likely to have. These conversations are really important to you when you are freelance, as you no longer get the feedback that is available in an office, or the general banter about the issues of the day which can kick off ideas or produce the nub of a feature. The general conversations also allow you to discover who has which contacts, which may be useful at a later time.

If this all sounds very calculated, it isn’t meant to be. Getting on with people, and finding mutual interests, is one of the most enriching things in life. And if you can be helpful to them or they to you (swapping information, leads etc.), then the relationship feels even better.

And after all, getting on with people is easier when you work for yourself. You aren’t stuck in an office with people who can grow to annoy you. You probably don’t have to deal with people at the time of day you most dislike (I will never forget the non-morning person who, when greeted with a cheery ‘how are you’ responded ‘Why are you asking?’). However successful you are, you will not get the volume of calls that come into a busy editorial office, and will avoid most of the really irritating ‘have you received my press release’ calls. Putting up with cold calls for mis-sold insurance and spurious accident claims is a small thing, and I am not suggesting that you like those people.

But we can’t like everybody, can we? No, but I suggest that concentrating on just disliking one or two people (and let yourself really hate them if you wish), should free you up to be generally nicer to the rest of the world. 

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Like what you do – freelance post 3

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on December 30, 2012

Yvonne Courtney took me to task on twitter yesterday for saying that freelancing was all about money. She was quite right, I probably didn’t phrase it very well. What I should have stressed is that there is a straightforward contract in which the freelance exchanges their services for money, and that this simplifies what you do immensely. But it certainly makes life a lot easier. So here is my next rule:

You cannot always do what you like, but make sure that you like what you do.

I don’t quite know how to get to this point, except that if you are thrown into the world of freelance you should certainly make sure that you have chosen an area of work that gives you pleasure. If you liked your work already, carry on. If not, find something different. 

For me, the great pleasure of freelancing has been the opportunity to write so much more. When you are in a pressurised staff job, you have to be sensible and farm out the work that could be done by others – and all too often that is the writing. Now, writing is one of the things that people pay me to do, one of the skills that I can offer (or sell if you prefer). 

When I was first made redundant, I wondered if I should embark on a course of study. But in fact the range of things that I have researched has felt like an ongoing CPD process, an intensive educational process which has meant that, for the moment at least, I do not feel the need to study formally. 

So yes the satisfaction comes from the job itself, from the intellectual stimulation and from the knowledge that you are doing the best you can. And of course from the people. But I will write about that another time.

How is freelance different? – freelance post 2

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on December 29, 2012

There are of course some elements of freelance life that are obviously different from being in employment, but actually the changes go beyond those.
Being freelance is not, I discovered, just a matter of not having to go to the office, not having to wear work clothes everyday, and being able to choose when to take a holiday.
Relationships change entirely. Offices, however much people like to talk about ‘flat organisations’ are essentially hierarchical. Everyone, except the boss of bosses, has a boss. And a lot of people are not in the position they would like to be in. There is therefore a lot of jockeying for position, of people trying to look good compared to their peers.
Call me naive but I didn’t realise how much this would change once I became freelance. And it comes down to one thing – money. When you are freelance, you are providing a service in exchange for money. It is one of the things that I disliked in advance about the idea of freelance life. I preferred the idea that one did the best job one did out of loyalty, professional pride, team relations and a belief in the product (magazine). And that at the end of the year one received one’s salary, but the two weren’t intimately related. Which was why, although receiving a bonus was nice, it always felt a little cheapening as well.
Freelances of course just work for the money. But I found that that was liberating, not demeaning. Because it changes relationships from the hierarchical to being one of exchange. I will do this job for you because you need me to. And in exchange, you will give me money. it does not feel to me like a relationship of the employed and employer, but like an exchange between equals. Which was why I was very comfortable, from early on, taking commissions from people who had previously worked for me.
In that sense, although not in every sense, being freelance is much less stressful.

Hijacking myself to talk about freelance life

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on December 28, 2012

I know that one of the biggest crimes in blogging is not to keep up to date and, mea culpa, I have not updated this blog since May. One reason is that I have been blogging elsewhere and paid to do it. And it is hard to put architectural thinking (ranting?) on the web in two places at once.

The other reason is that I have been too busy. Busy enough that I thought about doing a series of posts on freelancing on the fourth anniversary of becoming freelance, which was at the start of October, and have only just got round to it. 

We are now in a quieter time, and I thought that I would write the first in a series of posts about what it is really like to freelance in architecture. So, still ‘talking architecture’, since my freelance work is all on architecture and related topics, or maybe more ‘talking talking architecture’.

There are a lot of things that people tell you about how to freelance, some true some less so. And other things that you discover for yourself. So here are some ‘rules’ and my view on them.

RULE ONE Never say no. The thinking about this is that you never know what will be available next. As one friend said ‘The abyss is only ever two weeks away’. My instinct is never to say no. After all, clients can be divided into two groups – the new, who will never come back if you say no, and the established, who may get fed up with you if you say no.

So mostly I say yes. But I have discovered some occasions on which it is right to say no.

* I said no to the job that would be badly paid, of low prestige and no fun. Why take work like that?

* I said no to work that I felt would compromise me. Like most freelances I am happy to write for PR agencies and commercial clients. Sometimes it is clear that I have done this, and sometimes it is hidden, even from the ultimate client. Both are fine. But some people have asked me if I would write a feature for them and then pitch it to magazines. These magazines are my potential clients and would no longer see me as able to write dispassionately for them (wrong of course) if I were also pitching like a PR.

* Say no if you would do a really bad job. This is likely to be because you really can’t cope with the subject (but you should of course be able to write about anything) or more likely that you really don’t have time to do justice to it. It is relatively easy to say no if someone rings and says could you write this by tomorrow, since most clients will understand that it may just not be possible. More difficult if you have simply taken on too much work, and know that you can’t cope. In that case, be upfront, be honest, try to help the client to find someone else and make it clear that you will be available next time – and make sure that you are.

The pleasures of Hooke Park

Posted in Uncategorized by ruthslavid on May 1, 2012

Last week I went, to my shame, to Hooke Park for the first time. Having seen images of the projects, read about them and even written about them, I had never actually seen them. The three buildings, designed by ABK with Frei Otto, and by Cullinan, were fascinating byways in construction. Using timber thinnings, they were intended to kickstart a new way of using material that otherwise would have been wasted.
That didn’t happen, but the buildings, a fascinating mix of the rough-hewn and sophisticated engineering calculations, are fascinating and admirable.
I particularly liked Cullinan’s accommodation building.

Decoration or desecration?

Posted in streets by ruthslavid on March 28, 2012

This building in King’s Cross wasn’t anything special, just an anonymous part of the streetscape.
But, according to the Kings Cross Environment newsletter, that wasn’t good enough for its owner Tony Megaro. He wanted a bit of a wow factor for visitors coming out of St Pancras – and he has certainly provided that.
He said, ‘When you go to Barcelona you see all the coloured tiles and things like that. I think in this country we tend to be a bit conservative…it’s an impressive building, not an ugly building that we want to camouflage.’ But Barcelona’s tiles work with the building not against it. Imagine this as a light show – it would be great. But do we want it forever? I think not. Seems we are stuck with it though.

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Glass buildings may have a future

Posted in glass by ruthslavid on March 27, 2012

Might there still be a future for the glass building? Amongst all the pronouncements that the glass building is dead because of environmental considerations, there is one manufacturer who is determined to prove this is not the case. Step forward Fraser Haran, chief executive of the Westcrowns Group. His company sells glass, so he is pretty worried about its disappearance.
He thinks he has come up with the answer though. Just add Lumira. This is the magic stuff sold by Cabot Corporation. It used to be called nanogel, until they decided that this was an inaccurate name that was starting to feel a little creepy. It is a fantastically good insulator, working differently from any other insulation (it is all about the nano-pores, not nano particles apparently) and is also translucent. Hence Haran’s interest.
He came up with the idea for using Lumira simply sandwiched between two glass panels. It would do away with the need for multiple layers of glass and for special coatings, so should actually be pretty affordable.
Haran is aiming at the retrofit market, and is investing in some serious research before making the much bigger investment in manufacturing. We are told now that buildings should be no more than 35 per cent glass. Haran wants the other bits. ‘I’m not competing with visibility,’ he says.

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Hitting the heights of education

Posted in Extreme Architecture, Uncategorized by ruthslavid on March 22, 2012

I love this story about an architecture student who put his design to the most extreme test possible. Andrew McCarthy was taking a master thesis on architecture in extreme climates (love this subject, I wrote a book about it) and as part of his work designed a tent. He didn’t just design it, he also made it (even though) he had never sewed before). And he didn’t just make it, he took it to the top of Aconcagua in the Andes, the highest mountain in the western hemisphere.Image

In a place notorious for its high winds, he suffered winds that were worse than the average – and his tent survived. 

There is a great tradition of architects developing temporary shelters.Most famously,  Charlotte Perriand, who worked with le Corbusier, developed a portable hut that she and several friends carried up a mountain. McCarthy may have a great future ahead of him. 

Underground movement in Naples

Posted in transport by ruthslavid on December 5, 2011

I was sent a press release showing this new metro station in Naples, at Università, with designs by Karim Rashid, using Corian. My last experience of the Naples metro was of people walking across the tracks to get from one platform to the other, because they couldn’t be bothered to use the long way round. I wonder how much things have changed? Perhaps Naples is the only city where the students show the greatest discipline.

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Cool LED lamp

Posted in lighting by ruthslavid on December 2, 2011

At the new SCIN gallery last night, designer Jake Dyson talked about his CSYS lamp, a beautifully designed LED desk lamp with lots of technical innovation.
Dyson was particularly concerned about cooling the LED in the lamp to achieve maximum life, and went for the heat pipe technology used to rapidly cool electronic components. His heat pipe is then contained in the arm of the lamp, and he calculates that, with 12 hours’ usage daily, the LED should last for 37 years. The mechanism is beautiful – the arm not only slides forward and back, but also up and down.
The SCIN gallery is a wonder too. Not just a great library of materials in the basement, but all sorts of great makers exhibiting, from established companies such as Burlington Slate to a new company importing wall tiles made from coconut shell waste. These are surprisingly lovely to look at and, with multiple indentations, should have interesting acoustic properties.

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