It’s amazing that people can still meet “face-to-face” using technology like FaceTime, zoom, Teams, Skype, WebEx, Go to Meeting, etc. We didn’t have this during our last economic crisis, 11 years ago, or 19 years ago after 9/11. Our firm has a daily check-in FaceTime call for all staff. It helps us feel more connected, understand what each person is or should be doing, and get into the swing of real work.
As a part of my series about the things we can do to remain hopeful and support each other during anxious times, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leslie Saul.
With a background in architecture, interior design, and painting, Leslie brings an artistic and logical approach to problem-solving. In over thirty years of professional practice, Leslie has been responsible for designing more than eight million square feet of space. Founder of Leslie Saul & Associates, her company has been providing architecture and interior design to people who Work, Play, Age, Live and Learn for over 27 years.
Thank you so much for doing this with us Leslie! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Ifounded my eponymous architecture and interiors firm over 27 years ago. We have survived many short recessions, one long and scary economic meltdown of 2009, and now, we are going to survive this unprecedented new health scare and economic crisis. Let us not forget the thousands of other bad things that happen. I think that we could use a little positive thinking to help us overcome these challenges.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead, from 1943. I read it when I was thirteen, in 1967, and I probably didn’t understand most of it. However, I loved that an architect had the power to transform a city. I really don’t remember much of the novel, but I remember thinking that I should become an architect. By the time that I was in high school, I had decided that architects were too mercenary, and that I wanted to be a real artist, alone in my garret studio, painting full time. When I was accepted into Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), I deferred for a year. After being somewhat on my own for a year, I realized that I was a people person who would not be happy by myself in my painting studio (ironic, as I write this from my work from home isolation). I also had seen so much bad, unfriendly architecture that I thought that perhaps I could make a difference in people’s lives by becoming an architect. When I returned from Israel and Europe, I transferred my major to architecture.
Another book with a big impact on me more recently was Yann Martel’s Life of Pi, from 2001. This book was impactful as this boy uses fantasy (a tiger in his boat) to overcome his reality (alone at sea for months), yet it feels so real as you read. This idea of making something magical and epic that can help someone overcome a horrific incident may be part of my desire to make architecture as vehicle for making people’s lives better, and as motivation to return to painting.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. From your perspective can you help our readers to see the “Light at the End of the Tunnel”? Can you share your “5 Reasons To Be Hopeful During this Corona Crisis”? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
- It’s amazing that people can still meet “face-to-face” using technology like FaceTime, zoom, Teams, Skype, WebEx, Go to Meeting, etc. We didn’t have this during our last economic crisis, 11 years ago, or 19 years ago after 9/11. Our firm has a daily check-in FaceTime call for all staff. It helps us feel more connected, understand what each person is or should be doing, and get into the swing of real work. We did our first meeting with a client by zoom, showing design alternatives, and review materials selections. Although I was skeptical, it was surprisingly successful. Another zoom meeting had parties connecting from all over the region. Each person had different knowledge and skills, and we had the entire brain trust involved in the “meeting.” Fantastic!
- People are reaching out to us after a month of radio silence. Either they are feeling more optimistic, or they understand that now is a good time to plan, even if construction is stopped in some places, or they just love building things and want to do something fun while they remain isolated from their former lives, friends and family.
- The World has not come to an end. Apple opened all its stores in China. The virus can get under control. Maybe it can happen here, sooner rather than later.
- Despite the lack of preparation nationally for a health crisis/pandemic, good old American ingenuity is coming through. An interview with the President of the Hospital at the State University of New York at Stoneybrook was fascinating. She asked the Engineering Department at the University to work on developing a face mask/shield that could be produced with 3D printers, and they did! She asked the Chemistry Department to figure out how to make gallons of hand sanitizer, and they did! Our supply chain has been interrupted, but maybe we can solve these problems rather than just complain about it.
- The Boston Society of Architects (BSA) is creating cross-specialty teams to convert empty buildings in Boston into temporary hospitals. My firm has volunteered to be on a team. We have also volunteered to help do some planning for a cat shelter in Boston. If we are not busy with paying customers, let’s use our skills to help others! People understand that doctors, nurses, assistants, volunteers and administrators work in hospitals because they want to help people. Did you know that most designers and architects do not do design work just to make beauty, but because they want to help people? I always think about a Venn Diagram popularized by Charles and Ray Eames, a husband and wife design team, probably most famous for the Eames bentwood lounge chair, still made and still sold (check dwr.com for more info). The Eames’s diagram had three interlocking circles: one for the client’s interests, one for the designers’ interests and one for the community’s interests. When the circles overlap, the project will be a success: for the client, for the designer, and for the community. Architects who stay in their own circle will not be as successful as those who actively seek to meet the needs of the clients and of the communities. Green, sustainable, resilient design is a good stand-in for the community’s interests when working on a project whose community is not easily identified. Successful architects assemble teams with skills in Engineering, Technology, Science, (STEAM). We also try to add another important skillset: empathy. We want to make the world a better place for the people who use our spaces.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
Walking outside in the sunshine always makes me feel less anxious. Acting always feels better than sitting and waiting. I think that the anxiety we all feel is not just about waiting and not knowing when it will all end, but also because we feel like we have no control of the situation (besides protecting our own as well as others’ safety with lots of hand-washing, not touching our faces, and staying home).
What are the best resources you would suggest to a person who is feeling anxious?
Our office came up with a list of 5 things you can do (more list-making), to feel more in control of your own little piece of the world. By using the time that you used to spend commuting, you can get organized, think long-term and plan:
- Make a list of work projects from home that you never get to because you are too busy, even though they are important long term.
- Think about what would improve your space, operationally or physically. What would make your job easier/more efficient or space more pleasant? Whether you work in an office, restaurant, retail store, senior center, multi-family building, school/university, library, hotel community center, religious building — there are always projects worth planning.
- Make a list of house and garden projects that need to get done this year or next.
- Make a list of all of the ingredients you already have in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer, then create menu options. Pretend you’re on the Food Network’s Chopped. Extra points for creativity. This is a good time to start a “healthy eating” initiative.
- Prioritize your lists by importance/urgency.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
I was very lucky to have a mother and father who believed in me. Here are two of my favorite quotes from them:
My mother always said, “write personal notes” to recognize and to thank people. She said that no one must do anything for you, so it is your obligation to appreciate them when they do, and to acknowledge other’s achievements because it’s an opportunity to feel happy for someone else. Don’t just make your life all about you. She led by example, and I try to do that too. It’s so important to recognize and appreciate the people around us.
My father always told me, “It’s good to pay taxes because that means that you made money!” He said that the government cannot be funded by rich people alone, that the collective power of the middle-class taxes brought us all the government services like roads, bridges, courts, social security, healthcare, and a safe country. Then my mother, a pacifist, would pipe in that taxes also fund wars that we don’t need to be involved in (she was referring to the Vietnam war at that time).
Over the years, I have written countless thank you notes and congratulatory notes. I have also paid many taxes, some years more than others. The funny thing is, I think it works! Sometimes when we do for others, we feel better than we do when doing something for ourselves.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
We will get to the end of our collective Tunnel faster if your readers could think about planning a project now with architects or designers who will care about them as we do! Remember, an hour of planning can save countless hours that are spent when working without a plan.
What is the best way for our readers to follow you online?
Feel free to reach out by email to [email protected]
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!