Architects and engineers may be short-changing themselves and allowing others to underestimate their work by not focusing on human engineering. By all means, the architectural and engineering design behind the Eiffel Tower is a true masterpiece.
An open lattice structure made up of four massive arched legs set on masonry piers which curve inward until they meet in a single, tapered tower, the structure is justifiably renowned worldwide.
So too are other design feats, such as the Taj Mahal and our own Sydney Opera House.
Yet innovation and imagination extend beyond the famous. A browse through past winners of Australian Institute of Architect Awards, for example, displays accomplishments such as the 104-unit Common Ground Sydney building which helps address the chronic housing shortage and houses tenants (many homeless) in a building which is indistinguishable from regular units and apartments and Kuala Beach Shacks, which combine the class and comfort of a hotel with the ‘casualness’ of a laid back beach shack.
As those who create the spaces in which we live, work, play, learn, heal, eat, socialise, exercise and relax along with the infrastructure which delivers our transport, water and energy designers are fundamental to our society and economy. Almost no sector could operate unless the buildings and structures (and machinery and vehicles) had not been first designed by architects and engineers.
Yet whilst many architects and engineers deliver excellent work from a technical perspective, one commentator in the United States says many have not been taught or are not aware of a critical set of abilities known as human engineering.
Ashraf Habibullah, president & CEO of Computers & Structures, said that to get the best out of their businesses and careers, architects and engineers need to learn and understand how to lead and inspire others.
According to Habibullah, a lack of understanding about human engineering is costing designers. Financial success within the design profession, he said, is about 15 per cent attributable to one’s ability to apply technical knowledge. The other 85 per cent is about leading and inspiring those with whom we interact.
Partly as a result, he says designers are not adequately compensated for the services they provide. In real estate, he says agents can generate up to 15 or 20 per cent of the selling price of a building simply to sell it. Architects, he says, are lucky to derive just 10 per cent of the project value as revenue whereas engineers are lucky if they can secure even one per cent.
“You just look around as to how much money other professions make,” Habibullah said. “In many cases, it’s rather a sham.”
“You talk about real estate agents. With all due respect to real estate agents, when they sell a project, they end up getting anywhere from 15 to 20 per cent of the selling price to sell it. And they can sell it 10 times during the life of the project and sell it again and again.
“Architects are lucky to get 10 per cent only once as the design team. Engineers are lucky to get one per cent. Their work is so essential. Without them, there would be no social infrastructure. There would be no buildings, no fridges. All of the stuff which works inside buildings is because of them.”
According to Habibullah – who is presenting about human engineering at the BILT/ANZ conference in May – people have a fundamental desire to feel valued, appreciated and inspired. Where this happens, they buy into your vision and do whatever they can to help it come to pass.
In fact, this involves learning about different chemicals in the brain and how these impact behaviour. All positive emotions, he says, essentially start with a chemical reaction. By learning how these work, you can understand the strategies needed to activate positive sentiments from others.
Habibulllah says applying these principles can have an impact. In his own company (a technology company), he has had people who have stayed for 35 years as a result of believing in the vision. By contrast, he says the Facebook staff are lucky to last three years.
He says the work of architects and engineers is not afforded its due recognition and many feel underappreciated in regard to what they do.
He would like to see a paradigm shift within the profession with a focus upon human engineering and the psychology behind leading and motivating others.
The impact, he says, can be significant.
“When you believe in something and you get out there and talk about it passionately, they will believe what you believe. When it comes to their belief, they will do what you want them to do without you even asking them,” Habibullah said.
“They will pay what you deserve not because you are asking for it but because they believe it.”