Profile: Bob Borson, AIA
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Profile: Bob Borson, AIA
If you are familiar with the architectural blog “Life of an Architect,” then you probably know its author and creator Bob Borson, AIA. The blog’s reputation as a source for information on what it means to be an architect is narrated by Borson and characterizes his daily experiences doing what he describes as “the best job in the world.” In August, Bob won the Texas Society of Architect's 2015 Award for Excellence in the Promotion of Architecture through the Media in honor of John G. Flowers, Hon. AIA. A principal at Malone Maxwell Borson Architects, Bob’s wide array of project experience encompasses large-scale commercial work, prototype retail design, historic preservation, and client-based single family residential. Bob uses his blog to communicate the ins and outs of the profession using his signature mix of humor, wit, and knowledgeable insight into life as an architect. Perhaps it is this enthusiasm and transparency of the profession that has attracted over five million readers—architects, architecture enthusiasts, and those curious or considering a career in architecture—from 237 countries and territories. We sat down with Bob to discuss his reasons for creating the blog, how architects can leverage social media, and ways in which he uses his blog to help support local organizations in the community.
You are the author and creator of “Life of an Architect.” Why was the blog created?
I started writing “Life of an Architect” in January 2010 as the result of a conversation I had with a friend of mine who specializes in the use of technology for lawyers. While having a conversation, he made a comment … in a very cavalier way that I took to mean “Come on, Bob! Everybody knows this!” However, his comment made absolutely no sense to me at the time. I started thinking about how set in my ways I had become and started worrying that I was becoming technologically irrelevant. Everything around me was changing, but it didn’t really impact the way I went about my business. I decided then that I was going to make some changes, and creating “Life of an Architect” was the first step.
When the blog first emerged in 2010, who were the targeted audience members? Has this changed over time?
Starting the blog was a learning exercise. I was doing this simply as a hands-on way to learn a new skill. I did decide fairly early on that I wasn’t going to target other architects as possible readers. This had more to do with the fact that I am not a particularly gifted writer and it was exhausting to try to write articles that presented me as this ridiculously gifted and knowledgeable architect. I’m not clever enough to maintain that charade over an extended period of time.
Do your readers and followers help shape the content of the blog? If so, in what ways do they influence?
The answer is a strong yes … and no. The people who read my site don’t directly shape the content that goes on the site. However, over the past five years I have written over 700 articles and the only way I could maintain that sort of production is to actually talk about what I do as an architect and let that dictate what I share on the site. For example, if I am researching radiant flooring for a project, I might share that on “Life of an Architect.” Depending on the questions or comments I receive, I will turn my email responses into an article rather than rewrite the same answer multiple times. In this sense, the readers often impact the content through their questions and comments.
What sets your blog apart from other architecture blogs? Are there any guiding principles?
The thing that makes my blog unique among architectural blogs is that I write in the first person and tell stories as part of the learning process. I try to make the articles show my personality. I like to think that I am an amusing person and like to help people out if I can offer value. The combination of those two attributes has made my site approachable to people with all sorts of different levels of architectural knowledge. I don’t talk down to the people who are reading my articles and I try to avoid industry jargon as much as possible. As a result, there are people from all ages and demographics who frequent my blog regularly and that is something I find pretty amazing and humbling.
As an architect, do you find that you have obligations to the city, community, and general population? How do you define this on “Life of an Architect”?
I generally stay neutral on this topic because the answer is subjective, depending on who is asking or answering the question. I think my role—and the role that my site plays in a larger sense—is not unique to me being an architect. My task as a human is to make things better; I just happen to do it through architecture.
You have used the popularity of your blog for charitable organizations here in Dallas. How has social media allowed you to help CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and bring attention to their cause?
This year, Dallas CASA will be celebrating the 20th year of their Parade of Playhouses event. I have designed playhouses for them in the past and always find it completely rewarding. Using “Life of an Architect” as a digital platform to garner attention, I decided to start a playhouse design competition on my site. I have readers from every single inhabited place on the planet and, with a simple request, I was able to get amazing projects designed and submitted from all over the world. Over the past four years, I have received over 1,300 entries from 59 different countries.
Are there other unique or successful platforms you have noticed architects using in this digital/social media age?
I think Instagram is a platform that every architect should be using. We tend to see the world differently than most people and our perspective is somewhat unique as a result. We are a visually driven profession and therefore seem able to take interesting photos as well.
Are there other types of blogs you would be interested in pursuing besides “Life of an Architect”?
No. Writing a blog—at least how I write it—takes up an amazing amount of my time. There are very few things that I feel passionately enough about to put in the same amount of work it takes to blog. In addition to writing the articles, I use only my own photographs and prepare all my own graphics, and this level of creative work eats up most of the free time I am willing to give. The other consideration that I was not prepared for was what happens when you actually achieve some level of success when writing a blog. I spend far more time responding to comments and emails than I do preparing content for the site.
You have invested much time and labor into “Life of an Architect.” What have been the most rewarding aspects of this?
While it has surprisingly turned out to benefit me professionally, the best is when you receive an email from someone who expresses gratitude for the site and shares how his or her life has been improved as a result. I initially started “Life of an Architect” simply as an exercise to learn something new and it has turned into a resource for people all over the world. I’ve had strangers recognize me and ask to have their pictures taken with me—something that I find completely shocking. People have introduced themselves and broken down into tears as they start talking about my site and the role it has played in some aspect of their lives. Their gratitude has affected me in a profound manner and has impacted my life in a way that would have been impossible to imagine five years ago.
It sounds like you are definitely busy these days. Do you have a favorite vacation or destination location?
I don’t know how to answer this question without thinking on it for a while. In fact, I am currently writing a blog on the topic. Stay tuned!
What about locally? What do you enjoy doing in Dallas when you are not blogging or working?
This might make me seem incredibly dull, but as a result of all the obligations I take on, my favorite thing to do is literally nothing. The idea of turning on the TV and lying on the couch for an extended period of time sounds fantastic. But I don’t ever get to actually do that, so for all I know I could get bored … but I’d like to find out.
What are you reading these days?
I read to my daughter, Kate, every other night—a pattern my wife and I established from the time Kate was born. She is currently 10 years old, so we read a lot of books that involve dragons. When I do read for myself, I tend to prefer autobiographies. I choose my books based on the questions I can expect to get from my daughter so I am about to start a few on Genghis Khan, Kublai Khan, and Marco Polo.
Interviewed by Ezra Loh, Assoc. AIA, with Corgan