Developing a retrospective of 30 years of work

Origin Stories

“The Grateful Dead had their breakthrough at Ken Kesey’s acid test parties. Superman was raised by George and Martha Kent. Hewlett Packard started in a garage. We hear origin stories all the time. They’re magnetic enough that we write books and make movies about them. Here’s the thing: The only thing they have in common is that they are all different. You can’t reverse engineer success by researching origin stories. You can’t follow the same path as those you admire and expect you’ll end up in the same place. Everything worthwhile has an origin, but those origins aren’t the reason that they are worthwhile.” (Posted by Seth Godin on May 04, 2014)

In fact, sometimes the origin story has no bearing at all on the current business. But in the case of architects, as with engineers, you are only as good as your last project, and your name will stay good so long as your buildings or structures stand up. Mining engineers build mines that have lives that are sometimes longer than the careers of those who designed and built them. Architects’ projects stand as visible testaments to their  style and skill – or lack thereof – until they get demolished or rebuilt.

The 30-year track record of an architect

Leon Krüger, owner of the eponymous architecture firm, had been so busy for so long he had given no thought to documenting his projects, until the market crashed. All of a sudden, he had to bid for work, compete against other, larger firms. Red Pennant was tasked to bring his past work into the present. The solution was to undertake to research, curate and tell the story of 30 years’ worth of work which consisted of the architectural design of more than 120 medical, scientific, commercial and hi-tech facilities.

Not surprisingly, his designs over the decades matched the phases and styles in Architecture around the world. The initial concern was that his portfolio might be like “the curate’s egg” – good and bad in parts. Fortunately, it was all good, even amazing, and beautiful too. The re-identification process started with an updated logo, and included new stationery, presentations, news releases and website.

The main product was a presentation overview of his thirty-year career. Everything worthwhile has an origin, Leon Krüger Architects too. But those origins aren’t the reason that his work is worthwhile. It is worthwhile because it is good – because it is a testament to functional elegance in design.

Above: A video of the firm’s projects, initually made in Keynote and recently re-produced in iMovie.

Comments

There are a few lessons learned from this experience:

  1. RECORD YOUR WORK
    If your livelihood depends on projects that you execute, it is critical to record your work in every possible way – photos, videos, plans, diagrams, drawings, etc. Once what you have worked on or built is handed back to the client, it is out of your hands. In due course, buildings get pulled down, mines get closed, conveyors get abandoned, designs get altered or nature takes over. If you don’t record your project, it will be lost. It took great effort to find photos of Leon Krüger’s buildings since he had not bothered to build up a collection of documentary images.
  2. VARY YOUR MEDIA
    Be wary of putting all your eggs in one basket by just using one medium for your promotions
    . When this documentation was being developed, there was no online video makers like Biteable, and the only option for a glamorous look and feel was Keynote on the iMac. Nowadays, Keynote’s functionality has been degraded to the extent that it is no longer possible to save a presentation as a replicated movie. Different versions of the software make the transitions and animations impossible to export. Best advice is to rely on at least one medium that will not become unusable: – paper.
  3. CONTEXTUALIZE
    When you have a long track record to document, remember that you fit into a larger timeline – the history of your profession, or industry or even area of work. This is particularly true for engineering. There is always context – everything you do has context. Describing things within context gives it greater significance. You might not think your project has any significance, but you are part of the bigger picture, and you must remember to tell that story. Leon Krüger had, I think, almost forgotten about the impressive diversity of architectural styles that he had designed in, until we developed a presentation that literally showed the similarities between the buildings he had designed and major Modernist architectural eras – from the International Style in the 1940s, through Googie and Deconstructivism, to Blobitecture in the early 2000s.

 Client comment – Leon Krüger, owner

“I had a lot of fun, and learnt a lot about myself and my business during the process. I also managed to structure my past work history, and now possess a tool to maintain it properly.”


About the header: One of the facilities designed by Leon Krüger, Republic Observatory, Phase 1, Sutherland, Northern Cape – home of the SALT – Southern African Large Telescope

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