The Edge: The Patron Saint of Architecture

September 10, 2013 9 min read

Mazzi Head Shot

Novedge: Tell us a bit about who you are and what you do

Angela Mazzi: I am an architect, career coach, author and feng shui consultant. Connecting all those dots creates a picture of someone who is creative, and passionate about the power of design to make a positive difference in the lives of everyone. I believe that great work starts with inspired people and a great project process that captures all of the different actors in the environment. I practice full time as a healthcare specialist at GBBN Architects and share my insights on The Patron Saint of Architecture, my website. While I do occasionally do feng shui consults, I mostly apply this knowledge in my project designs. I have been amazed as I study feng shui to see many parallels with the evidence based design movement and am planning to write my next book on the ways that this ancient concept plays out in observable ways in the built environment.

Novedge: What's the story behind the title of your blog?

Angela Mazzi: At the time I decided to start my blog in 2010, I was working in a very toxic environment and actually felt depressed by the way that the owners of the firm were making me work on projects. Instead of helping our clients to have the best space possible, we were working in a way that set us up to be waiting on them, just taking orders. We were missing the opportunity to take the leadership role in helping them to achieve an innovative and responsive design. The blog was a little experiment with getting my ideas about the importance of design to well-being out there. I knew that many of my colleagues were having the same issues I was and had traded in their passion and enthusiasm for resignation. I never accepted that premise.

Angela_Mazzi_Career Crisis

The name came to me once I had the intention to start the blog. A patron saint is a guardian as well as an advocate. I wanted to create a resource for architects and other creative professionals that would help them stay inspired. The Patron Saint of Architecture is an online mentor, a little bit of cheerleading, a little bit of tough love, and a little bit of good solid advice on working with clients, avoiding the competition trap, being an effective leader, and how to approach projects in a way that empowers your client and paves the way for great design. I've had fun with applying elements from my Catholic faith into the blog. Decoupled from actual religion, these practices are a useful way to invite in clarity and purpose. For example, each year I do a novena, which is a series of nine posts centered around a particular meta-issue. In religious practice, novenas to patron saints are made by the faithful because they are seeking divine guidance around a particular issue in their lives. I saw a direct correlation to bringing his kind of focus to our careers, which are an extension of our lives! 

I have also extended the brand to career coaching because I saw such a need both from my community of followers and from just observing issues within creative professions in general. In April of 2013, I published a book entitled Career Crisis to focus more tightly on the theme of doing meaningful work that you love. In June of 2013 I did my first teleseminar series on career issues. It was an exciting format and I am going to be offering the series again in fall of this year. I am just about to launch a whole new expanded website that will make it easier for people to access all of these offerings.

Novedge: What matters most to you in design? 

Angela Mazzi: Aesthetics are cool. However they need to also be meaningful. The best design is design that actually makes the lives of the people who use it better. You can't get there if you don't understand how to draw out information (and it's about way more than asking people what they need). I am a closet sociologist/psychologist and I really love understanding how and why people behave the way that they do in a space. When you can get to that level, you now have a real purpose behind the project that will drive the design.

Novedge: What is a recent project that you worked on?

Angela Mazzi: This is a two part project for the Cancer and Blood Diseases Institute (CBDI) at Cincinnnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, the number one pediatric center in the country.

Angela_Mazzi_CBDI Infusion

Because the program has grown and they also needed to add an adult care function (due to the success in treating childhood cancers, patients are surviving longer and other hospitals can't treat these rare pediatric cancers), the existing clinic had to be moved out from the fifth floor to make room for a new inpatient unit. These project represented an opportunity for CBDI to create a strong identity and get spaces that responded to the unique care needs of their patients: months-long and repeated hospital stays followed by frequent hours-long visits to the clinic, where the patient may receive infusions, procedures, or care from a multidisciplinary care team that needs to be able to collaborate on the care of patients.

Angela_Mazzi_CBDI Clinic Entrance

As part of my medical planning work, I introduced a process called Evidence Based Design to the project. What this means is that we took a lot of time at the beginning to do observations of existing spaces, surveys of staff and goal building exercises to get a very clear understanding of the needs but also the big idea opportunities. Then the design process began, with our decisions supported by research precedents as well as our hypotheses about what design moves would best achieve the project goals.

Angela_Mazzi_CBDI Inpatient Corridor

You will notice a lot of bold color, as CBDI really wanted to create a cheerful and uplifting environment. You will also see how the design de-institutionalizes a medical setting. Individual doors are set apart, each room has a unique color scheme, and the inpatient floor rooms are treated like a neighborhood, with each room being a studio apartment (with lots of extra storage and things that the patient can customize, like LED lights) and multiple destinations for play, visits or just getting a different perspective on the world.

Angela_Mazzi_CBDI Inpatient Room

Angela_Mazzi_CBDI Inpatient Social 1

Angela_Mazzi_CBDI Inpatient Social 2

Angela_Mazzi_CBDI Waiting

In the clinic, introducing a table and chairs in each exam room helps the patient feel more normal and has spurred physicians to also sit at the table to talk with the patient, something that has made the experience of seeing the doctor feel more comforting and personalized to the patient and their family. The clinic saw its first patients in January 2013 and the Inpatient unit was occupied in July 2013.

CBDI Exam Room

CBDI Inpatient Destinations

Novedge: What software do you use?

Angela Mazzi: I work primarily in Revit to design. Our team at GBBN Architects has created planning components that allow me to use the program even when I am in the early stages or a project, blocking and stacking to translate program and other needs into spatial adjacencies. I also use Powerpoint a lot because I can do diagrams with it and have an instant slide show in the process. I like to create presentations, especially in the earlier phases of a project to make design meetings with user groups more like storytelling sessions. I also do a lot of hands on exercises like value stream mapping or user profiling to really engage them and dig deep enough to understand the real problem that the design needs to solve.

Novedge: What is your approach to career coaching? 

Angela Mazzi: Creative people are notorious for being do-it-yourselfers. Therefore, they often don't realize that they are having career issues until things get really bad. Even then, it is often hard for them to realize that they can't fix it themselves, so they can become resigned to suboptimal career paths and ways of working. My coaching process involves understanding the history of their situation (because behavior patterns and limiting beliefs are cumulative, even cultural) then engaging them in exercises and activities to help understand what really motivates them. Once we establish these two baselines, the disconnect between what someone wants to do and what they are actually doing emerges. Then comes the fun part: helping them break past all of the limiting beliefs that are holding them back from following that path. I firmly believe that we make time for the things we really want to do and excuses for everything else. That's why it's so important for me to help architects to fearlessly pursue their dreams and leverage their talents, instead of using "busy-ness" as a crutch to play it safe. The world does not need another mediocre building brought about by a dysfunctional design process that sends the message to architects that they are on a path to obsolescence. Good design is never a nice-to-have, it is essential to quality of life. By helping my clients recognize their talents and interests and create long and short term action plans, they find their career "sweet spot" where they can work at their highest potential and really see that they are changing the world for the better. I also have a variety of plans (because I know the creative mind's reluctance to admit it needs help) including a very affordable Quickie session which lets you just buy an hour of my time to explore an issue or two. However, I highly recommend the investment in a 90 or 120 day program, because not only can we get a lot of breakthroughs, but I can work with you over time to implement a plan of action. As a coach I not only support what you are doing, but hold you accountable to make progress, which makes a huge difference in getting results. I serve creative professionals suffering from career burnout or stallout, who struggle with insecurity about their abilities and indecision about what will make them happy. I help them rediscover their passions and optimal work style and work with them to create targeted action plans for success on their terms.

Novedge: In your experience, what are the biggest challenges architecture professionals are facing today? 

Angela Mazzi: The biggest challenge we are facing is that we are still tethered to a project process from fifty years ago. It’s not about keeping the building as we know it, but rather making the building into what we need it to be. Architects need to stop reacting to conditions they are given and start asking more questions to define the right problem to solve. Thinking differently about problems and their solutions, is necessary and so is being able to qualify everything in terms of the value it brings. We need to embrace the opportunity that comes with change instead of seeing change as a threat. I believe that technology will change the way we understand and use space. Things will become more collaborative and distance will become less of a factor in the composition of teams. There will be more synergy between people to tap into each other’s knowledge and talent. At the same time, we need to manage the information stream so we are not overwhelmed by it. We also must recognize that there is an even greater need for sensorily rich environments and connection to nature cultivate regenerative design and wellness.

Novedge: If you could go back in time, what would you say to your younger self before embarking in your current career? 

Angela Mazzi: I would have advised myself to "own it" a whole lot sooner. While I knew from the time I was still in school that I loved exploring the socio-cultural issues around design, I did not know how to turn that into a real area of expertise. I was naive enough to think that everyone valued these issues. I also believed that I needed to work my way up and spent too much time hoping that the leadership in the firms I worked for would recognize my strengths and talents and help me cultivate them. Sadly, that kind of mentorship is lacking in our profession (hence the whole blog/coaching thing). So I would advise my newly minted architect self to aggressively seek out a mentor/coach, instead of passively hoping one would show up, to be more clear with employers about what I expected in terms of career opportunities (timetable included) and to LEAVE if I wasn't getting those needs met instead of thinking that I just needed to keep working harder and accomplishing more things peripherally. If it seems like it's asking too much to want to play big, you are working for the wrong people.

Angela's blog is chock full of advice, read it here. And connect with her on Twitter and Facebook.

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