Hot Enough For Ya?

Consider for a moment the above inquiry. It is merely a simple (if not terribly creative) tactical question, designed to engage a prospect in conversation. Think about it for a minute—even if you don’t use the phrase yourself, have you ever seen it fail to evoke the desired response? Me neither.

There’s a similar phrase that’s been circulating through the design and building industry for the last few months; it may sound somewhat different, but, in reality, it’s pretty close to prodding about the weather. The question is “Are you staying busy?” What a layered and peculiar question that is! Is there anyone who would actually answer, “Well, no, not really; things are so bad I’ve pretty much decided to just take the rest of the summer off.” I’ve heard a lot of people think that thought out loud, but no one ever says that as the answer to the staying busy question.

In truth, I have a few close acquaintances who were let go from their positions earlier this year, some with generous severance packages. Some of these folks were actually able to pause for a bit, take a breath, and evaluate their direction and intentions. Bully for them! What I believe they will do, when they re-engage in the industry, is come back more than fully re-charged and really chomping to get things done. I’m looking forward to it.

By comparison to the rest of the economy, our industry has done some things in a pretty similar manner. By that I mean that every firm I know has reduced staff and other (ahem) related expenses to keep the doors open during these lean times. However, I must say I don’t really know of any shop that has closed down completely. Boil all this down and what you get is the realization that, as with so many other American industries, we in the design and construction trades have been doing more with less. Sometimes a lot less.

Looking back over the last quarter, my memory suggests that perhaps May or June was the darkest of the dark—the time when, due to the lack of new business coming through the door, there seemed to be more opportunity to start or refine in-house research and development projects, build the network, and maybe catch up on required learning units and, of course, mix with others in the industry. While we all did this, we continued to trim expenses, as noted above, so that many of us are operating with very high octane teams, ready to spank a quarter mile like a Daytona dragster.

 “Out there” in the industry, there’s plenty of simmering going on. Folks have moved on from one organization and grouped with other “move-on-er’s” from former competitors to form new entities that are absolutely stamping and snorting to get back into the race. Developers, after all, as I’ve heard noted, need to be doing a deal in order to feel vital, and to survive.

All around us, the rules of the game are in flux. Many have asked if the recession will stall the efforts to produce more “resource sensitive/high performance building” type projects. Not on your life! At least here on the left coast, the concept of enhanced environmental management through design is gaining steam, not losing it.

In short, for those of us blessed to still be at what we were doing when the bottom fell out, this is no time to rest. It’s pretty much the opposite, really: we’re trying to do what we used to do with fewer resources, in less time, for less money. We’re honing the world’s finest tactical teams to leap on and devour the next opportunity.

Brothers (and sisters), brace yourselves. This is going to be an autumn like you haven’t seen in a while. May the force be with you.

(Daniel Gehman is principal at Thomas Cox Architects. He can be reached at