112: ‘Start With a Better Framework’, with Christine Williamson
A conversation with Christine Williamson, AIA.
Christine Williamson of Building Science Fight Club joins the podcast to talk about data versus wisdom, the culture of saying ‘no’ in architecture, Instagram as a platform for knowledge transfer and teaching, the reality of every building being a prototype, mentorship (or a lack-thereof) in the profession, the “Kardashianization” of social media and the user’s expectations of creators on those platforms, getting back to first principles thinking and teaching, the idea of ‘code minimum’ as an analogy of architectural education, building science for architects, and having better frameworks for learning the fundamentals of practicing architecture so one can go farther, faster.
Latest TRXL AEC/tech Newsletter
- First Principles: The Building Blocks of True Knowledge
- Christine on LinkedIn
- Building Science Fight Club website
- Building Science Fight Club on Instagram
- Awesome Framers on Instagram
- Matt Risinger (Risinger Build) on Instagram
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112: ‘Start With a Better Framework’, with Christine Williamson
[00:00:00] Welcome to the TRXL podcast. I'm Evan Troxel. This is the podcast where I have a conversation with guests from architectural community and beyond to talk about the co-evolution of architecture and technology. A little bit of housekeeping here before we get into this week's episode, this podcast has a new feature that I want to make sure that you know about.
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Okay. In this episode, I welcome Christine Williamson. Christine has spent her career in building science, forensics, discovering why buildings fail and working with owners, architects, and builders to remedy the problems. She's the founder of the Instagram account @ BuildingScienceFightClub and educational project that teaches architects about building science and construction.
She graduated from Princeton university and received her master's of architecture from new school of architecture and design. [00:02:00] She's past chair of ASHRAE technical committee. 1.12 moisture management in buildings and is a frequent lecture on building science at universities and professional conferences.
In this episode, we discuss data versus wisdom. The culture of saying no in architecture, Instagram as a platform for knowledge transfer and teaching the reality of every building, being a prototype. Mentorship or lack thereof in the profession. The "Kardashianzation" of social media and the user's expectations of creators on those platforms. Getting back to first principles thinking and teaching. The idea of code minimum as an analogy of architectural education, building science for architects. Having better frameworks for learning the fundamentals of practicing architecture. So one can go farther, faster. And some of our favorite building industry related Instagram accounts, which are also linked in the show notes.
So without further ado, I bring you my conversation with Christine Williamson. [00:03:00]
Evan Troxel: Christine, great to have you here today. I'm, excited about our conversation.
Christine: Well thank you. Thanks for having me.
Evan Troxel: If you could, give a short or long, however you want, bio, give us an idea of where you're coming from and, and how you've got to where you are.
And, know, we'll get into the Building Science Fight club stuff, but tell us about you,
Christine: Well, I am an architect. my background is architecture. I started in, in architecture school, but pretty early professionally. Before I graduated, I developed an interest in some of the more practical elements of the profession. I was working for, a really, really fantastic architect based in New York City when I was in school.
So I was still a student when working for her. Chris Benedict is her name. great architect. really neat work. And she was designing multi-family buildings for the most part. sometimes, sometimes it was gut rehab, sometimes was, it was completely new construction in New York City, so you've certain constraints [00:04:00] from being in a big city like New York as well.
and she was doing extremely energy efficient design and construction. I got to work on and do the detailing for I think the second multi-family passive house in the United States, which was fantastic. It was gonna be first, we, we construction delays, , we were robbed of the title.
was, it was really neat. And even before actually meeting passive house standards, Chris's buildings would use. 85% less energy for heat and hot water than typical New York apartment buildings. the reason she knew this and could say this was because she would look at utility bills. So these were not estimated savings, these were actual savings from looking at utility bills on completed buildings.
And that's really neat. Oh, and she was doing this for no additional upfront construction costs. So sometimes her clients didn't even request this or weren't even interested in energy savings at all.
Evan Troxel: of her services. Like this was how she practiced. It [00:05:00] was you get when you, hire her.
Christine: Exactly. was really spectacular. And of course, that's a really neat promise, right? for a student to hear. So
all this energy, no additional upfront construction costs. And she was pretty ideologically or is ideologically. Motivated on that front in that she's a very passionate environmentalist, but also has a real heavy libertarian streak and believes that conservation and energy efficiency need to make sense on the merits so absent any kind of government subsidies.
And so the way that you do that, the only way that you can really do that is by really understanding building science and construction. And it was really working for Chris that things that I'd heard about before came alive for me. It was, was wonderful job. She, um, really encouraged me and other interns to spend a lot of time in the field.
It was just fantastic. it was exhilarating [00:06:00] to see. Designs actually come to life and how messy construction sites are. And, all the craziness that goes into getting drawings actually actually built and then documenting and measuring things after the fact. It was really, really neat, exciting time for me.
And ever since that experience, I knew, so I knew throughout school, throughout the rest of my education that that's where I wanted to end up, post graduation. And really after that, I ended up as a result in more of the consulting part of the industry. So while I was doing straight up design work, when I was working for Chris, after that, I worked for a big consulting company doing essentially enclosure consulting.
so energy wasn't always a, a focus, although sometimes it was, it was more risk management. So similar in terms of the. The science behind it and understanding the practical constraints of construction. But the focus was more risk management than energy conservation. And I got to [00:07:00] work on a lot of really big projects that gave me just a lot of experience.
And I got to, to see a lot working for that, that big consulting firm. That's what brought me to Dallas, which is where I live now, but only for a little bit.
be, I loved being a consultant for that reason, that you just get to see so much in architecture. And when I was working, Chris, you I only worked on a handful of projects because it a long time to see something through.
in consulting you can see. 50 projects in a year,
you're only dealing with the enclosure. So the layers that the inside from the outside. But a, it's a really great way to learn different means and methods for different building systems. And, that was really cool.
that was the sharp turn toward building science that I took after I graduated was really in, construction. So although I am a registered architect, just actually recently I, I really put off taking those exams for as long as I possibly could.
Um, but I'm not a, uh, I don't [00:08:00] do, traditional design.
And in fact, just before we got officially started, I told you we bought a new house. I hired an architect to help me do that . Oh yeah. Cause I have way better taste than I can satisfy myself.
Evan Troxel: The burden is somebody else's
Christine: Exactly. Exactly. But um, anyway, so the focus really has been , on building science and construction , throughout my career.
Evan Troxel: When you mi risk mitigation, you're talking about water intrusion, mold, energy, all of those kinds of risks that go along with operating a building and kind of the e n o portion of being an architect? Is that what you mean by that?
Christine: Yeah, it is. it's interesting to me too that it's an area of the profession that I don't think we really. Approach in as disciplined a as we could, we could benefit. I guess another way of saying that is I think that architects and definitely owners could benefit from taking a more disciplined approach to risk management.
And what I mean by that is that if you were to talk to a developer or an owner [00:09:00] about the biggest areas of risk in their profession, in their business, they could identify probably a whole bunch of things. Now, I don't know business real well, I'm going to guess maybe a real business person would be like, yeah, that's not it.
But they could tell you like, oh, okay. So it's a big risk for us if interest rates go up or down that really affects our business or, lead time supply chain. Like they could tell you a bunch of things or HR related issues. they could identify. Areas of financial exposure that they need to be aware of and plan for.
While they could probably do that pretty well, a lot of same responsible business people probably couldn't tell you their biggest risk exposure with respect to technical failures in their
And you can always reduce your risk by spending more money, but that's not always the best option.
what we want is to handle risk really intelligently and find a sweet spot where we're making really good choices about risk. But we're not overshooting the market. We're definitely, we don't wanna undershoot the mark [00:10:00] for sure,
I find that as much as we can undershoot the mark with risk and we really can, we can also overshoot the mark and overspend in areas where, we might not need to, for example.
if you were to think, this is the only example I can think of off the top of my head. Maybe more will come to me later, let's say windows are risky in your, in installing windows, right? There's a high likelihood that they leak. Now if you're a big developer and you install 10,000 windows a year, 20,000 windows a year, a certain percentage of them leak.
some of them are gonna leak cuz they just got a bad window and some of them are gonna leak cuz of the window to wall interface. well there's a lot of different windows you can buy and a lot of different ways of detailing those windows. And what's the cost of replacing windows or, repairing stuff when there is a leak or moving a tenant, that kind of stuff.
so is there a way that we can alter the detailing to be a little bit more forgiving without moving the needle too much on initial upfront construction costs certain, at a certain point, that's not gonna be worth it anymore.
[00:11:00] Once we've removed the low hanging fruit, each incremental dollar spent it's not always gonna be worth it, right? you're not gonna a whole bunch out of that in say, Las Vegas.
but maybe that's a different story in Houston.
and we see that come a lot of different areas in construction, especially the higher risk ones.
So particularly water management related. So Plaza X are big failures, Plaza X balconies, roofs, and windows and below grade waterproofing. So those big areas, there's some trade offs to be made there. And if you can think really intelligently about it, you can, end up allocating your resources a lot better and being a lot more intelligent about what's risky and what isn't.
And the same goes for architects too, there's a lot of pressure. On architects to save costs and when is it appropriate for an architect to say no and actually walk away? And when is it appropriate for an architect to kind of work with what the contractor maybe has suggested on as a value engineered item?
And [00:12:00] a lot of times architects aren't very well equipped to make those decisions intelligently. that, and again, that runs both ways. So if you don't know a lot about something, you're safe, bet is to say no, you're safe. Bet is to be more conservative if you don't know a whole lot.
If you do know more and you have more experience, you're better positioned to say yes to a, a proposed savings.
that's one way I like to think of myself as helping architects is giving them more of a technical foundation so that they're better prepared to manage their own risk properly. Cuz their incentive structure is a little different than,
developers and contractors
Evan Troxel: Right?
Christine: they receive a lot of pressure to accept risk that they shouldn't, that's really inappropriate for them to accept.
anyway, so like to help architects be able to, to say yes more often and to be really sure when they say no, that it's, I.
Evan Troxel: When I was working at a firm, the whole risk management department was kind of a, a consultancy within the firm, right? Like [00:13:00] they would weigh in on. Contract risk, know, language, there was people who were more on the architecture side, who were doing the kinds of things that you're talking about with, know, envelope and details and, product selection and the specifications and all those things. And I think a lot of times was like, here's our recommendation, and then the design team was actually the ones responsible for making the call. Now, I'm sure they could both override each other certain circumstances, but I guess one thing I keep thinking of when you're talking about this, because I've lived that seen examples of it going both ways where it's like, we want to do something different.
And it's but this thing works. and the, whole idea of squaring up this, this is what works and this is how we've always done it. When there are new products being developed,
Evan Troxel: might not even be really new in air quotes. They might be new to me. Right. They might have been around for 20 years already. As far like the kinds of risks that you're talking about with water intrusion and energy and, thermal [00:14:00] breaks and all these such a risk aversion to trying things just, they don't know, I don't even wanna say new right anymore it's, it's probably not new.
These building products companies, they don't test the waters with products. Products are way too expensive to build, for them to test the waters with. Like, it already kind of has to be proven in some way for them to invest. the manufacturing line, the sales, the marketing, like all that stuff, they don't mess around with prototypical products for the most part.
Evan Troxel: that that, bifurcation that exists in our industry of like, are ways to address the things that you're talking about, but the industry doesn't wanna move toward them because we feel safe with these things that we already know in the areas where we practice, like regionally and things like that.
Christine: Yeah. mean, there's something to that. I think there's sort of a small sea conservatism at play there. that's not bad there's an instinct in there that's good. I use this example a lot in my teaching. It informs like a big part of my life. I think the older I [00:15:00] get, it's taken on a bigger thing in my, in my life. But, the idea of Chesterton's fence, where Chesterton, the old school philosopher, I really don't know anything actually about him except for Chesterton's fence, which is this, idea that if you come across a, a fence in a field or somewhere, before deciding to tear it down, you should understand why it was built in the first place.
And I think that is just so true and so much of life
we can, especially, when we're younger in a profession, we can have a lot of zeal to, revolutionizing things. And actually, I see it a lot in, know, especially in other industries, we're, we've got a love affair with tech right now.
And so we're talking about disruption and we like disruptors until we don't like disruptors and
Evan Troxel: Until me.
Christine: I know, right?
got, we've got a lot of disruption happening. I see a lot of disruptors engage in sort of famous failures because they tried to disrupt an industry that they didn't really understand.
and we can see this in know, smaller examples on individual projects as well within architecture. so I think [00:16:00] some of the instinct to, sticking with methods that we know work is a good one. But I also think that we really don't exercise the freedom that we have when we don't understand the principles behind
Methods so this happens a a lot we develop some sort of standard and then we forget why the standard was developed in the first place, why it works. And when you study that, and when you learn why that works, you can understand better how to tweak it or adjust it or discard it when the situation changes.
and you can't really do if you're just doing stuff out of habit, recycling old details, which I know we do. know, there's an efficiency to that. But then the downside is, well, you start to, institutionally you forget why you did something and maybe the situation isn't the, same anymore.
So we have more freedom. I get very frustrated the consultant side of the business where I think there's a culture of saying no. , I think people confuse skepticism with intelligence, so they think it makes them seem [00:17:00] smarter to be like, oh, well, uh, you know, I don't, some people say that that's okay, but I, I say no.
I say no. it makes them sound smarter. I, I was exposed to a lot of that when I was at my big consulting firm. I was also exposed to tons of brilliant people, and I, I learned a lot. This isn't a huge knock, but I think, there's a lot of different kinds of consultants and, unfortunately, or for better or worse, a big part of that culture in the water management and risk management area is to say no.
And that's what they're incentivized by as well, they're not incentivized taking the risk. every, every now and then, I would, would come across reports or drawing markups by, I hesitate to say competitors, because our industry is so big, I don't, I never really viewed me as directly competing with, other enclosure consultants for the most part.
Evan Troxel: was enough work
Christine: mean, yes, the, for the most part. I know it's not always like that in a, I just think big picture wise it's, anyway, it's a big world.
um, but I'd see some of this stuff and I'd be like, are you kidding me? I couldn't imagine leaving my clients hanging like that. [00:18:00] Where it was, well, you can't do that. You can't do that. You can't do that without any indication of what you might consider instead.
Evan Troxel: solution.
Christine: Yeah, but of course, the better you get at something, The more you can understand like, where an architect is trying to go with something or where a builder is trying to go with something and you can okay, well, what if we could get you 75% of the way there, but with, know, half the risk?
you know, anyway, opportunities emerge when you understand building science and when you understand construction
Evan Troxel: One, of the themes that's come recently on the podcast and in the work I'm doing at Tech is this idea of data versus wisdom I, I use versus this whole idea of the inundation of data and information that is out there. It's hard to make a decision for, and I the reason I'm bringing this up is this whole conversation about risk and there are people who work in these firms and I'm thinking of the people who are on that risk mitigation committee know, like, Seasoned architects, like this really nice way of saying [00:19:00] old gray-haired, have, they have battle scars. they're amazing. these are the best people to talk to. And there's this aversion to talking to these people from the younger generations because the younger generations search for stuff, Like, that's what they do. They're really good at it.
Like, let's just go look for that and that isn't just the younger generations. Everybody does that nowadays. It's just like, well look it up on, do, there's no wisdom in the things that you really look up though. And I think this is maybe where we can start to segue into what you're doing with Building Science Fight Club, but this whole idea of the, the wisdom behind the data is the stuff where the rubber really hits the there's so much almost hidden there because people are afraid to even ask or talk to the. Crustal person in the corner, that they're really missing out and this wisdom that is there. the lack of mentorship in the industry, the lack of mentees seeking out mentors in the industry, let alone the other way around.
that it's, it's kind of a two-sided problem [00:20:00] for sure. I don't know where I'm really going with this other this, this whole idea like, how do we start to bridge the gaps between wisdom and data? You do actually need both, right? You can't do it all with just one or the other.
and so I'm just wondering mean, did you see that gap? And that's one of the reasons you. May, and you, you can give us a little bit of let's step back and talk about what Building Science Fight Club is kind of set the stage. But just wondering like, what inspired you to go there?
Was it something like that or was it something else? It's kind of aligning the, your path with, the things that you're interested in, the things that you can do. know. I want to hear it from you Where, where did this all come from? and maybe we can start to address the gaps that exist and talk about teaching aspect and how it addresses this lack of mentorship in the
Christine: Oh my gosh, there is so much there.
Evan Troxel: that
so go for it.
Christine: there's so much that's interesting about don't, I don't know that I really thought about it quite in this way as I, you know, [00:21:00] so much of life you sort of fall into, weirdly, this is just weird. I think it must have been, mm, 25 years ago I heard a sermon and I can't believe I remember this part of this sermon that defined wisdom.
It was a on wisdom. And it defined wisdom. The the pastor was, um, friend's uncle. and the pastor defined wisdom as knowing what to do when the regular rules of right and wrong don't apply. And I think that is so true in so many other areas of life too. Like do we do when there isn't a clear like, well, this is what you do in this situation.
Like every building we design is a prototype. incredible. There's also this idea of, asymmetrical information. I think that's a term from economics that I'm borrowing, but I think it really applies in our industry in a lot of different ways where, when you talk about mentorship or learning from other people in the industry, the learn. isn't actually competent to evaluate [00:22:00] how good the mentor actually is, or the perspective mentor actually is . I felt this way. this happens in a lot of areas of life, but I felt this way. I, had a baby just this, is past year and I realized to my great , I don't know, dismay maybe, I'm not sure what the right word is there, that I wasn't competent to evaluate how good my doctor was.
Like I liked her. I think she was good, but it was at a point the kind of care that I was needing. I was technically a high risk mother cuz I'm, older. like, I can't read a Yelp review and know if this is a good doctor or not, or if she's gonna give me the right care. And I think that
Evan Troxel: actually knowing do that
Christine: Fair enough. Yeah. but there's just, there's a lot of areas our profession where that asymmetrical. Relationship exists. So in one area it exists in the way that you just talked about in that more experienced people in the industry, have this apprenticeship relationship with, younger people in the industry, newer, entrants to the [00:23:00] industry.
And how do we connect these two and how do we make it so that, that, you know, how does a young person in the industry know who to seek out who's a reliable source? and that's, that's really hard. And then it exists in another part of our industry too, in that how do clients know to hire professionals that are competent? again, I don't think really Yelp reviews do it, or the equivalent of, of Yelp reviews really do it. And I think traditionally in other industries, this is where branding comes in, where you'll a Kelly Blue Book type of thing or a brand has a brand reputation, and we've tried to do that in the building industry with certain building standards like hers ratings and, lead and different certification programs that both certify the professional and certify the building. But there isn't really a universal approach approach to that. most buildings don't adhere to any kind of standard apart from the building code. my, so I guess building code and licensure itself are the two most [00:24:00] prevalent standards. I think we could pretty much all agree that there's some, Big areas that aren't addressed, important areas in our profession that.
aren't addressed by like what do you do when you're, you're trying to, have Google teach you wisdom ,like you, what do you do to do that? I don't know. you mentioned building Science Fight Club. So Building Science Fight a, is an Instagram account that I run that. I started to, I guess, informally try to some of the gaps.
I, I wasn't doing this on purpose to try to, um, to, you know, change the industry or anything like that. It was a lot less grand in that. early in my career, I was spending a lot of time on job sites. I still do, and I knew that my classmates from architecture school were not. so I thought, well, you know, if I take photos of stuff that I'm seeing and mark them up and share them with my classmates, that would be a way to give them a little bit of experience and confidence in their practice that they're not learning like in front of their clients or their [00:25:00] boss. and so I was teaching stuff as I was learning it as well.
Evan Troxel: sure.
Christine: it was a way of filling some of that gap. architects don't spend a lot of time in the field. don't, they spend less time than they used to, and even in the past, they've been limited by, know, time and space and budgets
Evan Troxel: Utilization ratios
Exactly, You've got billable hours to to fulfill. so it's really hard for architects to be drawing things that they can't actually picture very well. so I started to share with friends and then it became really popular and soon friends of friends were interested in the account and it got much bigger. And, around the same time, professionally, I was making some, changes. I started teaching at, I was consultant working for someone else and, I started wanting to do more teaching, but I had a billable rate of my own, a billable rate and billable percentage that I targets that I had to hit as well. And if I was gonna take time to [00:26:00] teach, I would have to get paid what I was getting paid. to work or, you know, to go do a site visit or something like that. So I figured I liked teaching, so I was gonna do it. I wanted to do it, but I needed to get paid. And if I was gonna ask for money, I should probably be pretty good.
So I this thing that I'm doing on Instagram, I could basically use it to kind of practice teaching a little bit. so that was sort of a practice. And I, I did it for a little while. Longer. And then, um, a, I'm an immigrant and, uh, got married to an American and, I had previously been on a bunch of visas and I was finally eligible to apply for a green card through marriage.
And so I applied and this is a much more complicated story that's boring and administrative, but, um, I knew that it mean that I would have to take some time off of, um, paid work. I, they let you work, you just can't be paid. uh, gotta love Uncle Sam sometimes. Anyway, so I was here and wasn't employed and so I thought, well, ,you know, I'd never been in this position before as an [00:27:00] adult and as a professional.
So I thought, well, what if I treated teaching on Instagram like it was my job? that was also a way of addressing some problems in the teaching part of our industry that I had observed from getting into it as a practicing professional. And that is a lot of the continuing education currently in our industry is provided by, materials manufacturers and consultants. And both of those people have interests that are not quite aligned with their audience . it doesn't mean that they're bad. Often the teaching is actually very good, but on the consultant side, the temptation is to convince architects, well, this is very very hard. and I am smart. And that is why you should hire. which is completely antithetical to how I teach. My approach is, well, this isn't as hard as you think it is, and you actually know more than you realize. And here's the part of this problem. Let's break this problem down and here's the part that you can reasonably. Solve on your own. if you're, you know, 90% of the time [00:28:00] you can do this by yourself and say 10% of the time, or 5% of the time when it looks like this, well, you should go hire someone for that stuff. anyway, that's one problem. And then the second problem of course, with materials manufacturers is lying, selling you stuff. that's not always aligned. And different manufacturers do that better and worse, right. um, than others.
We've all been pretty painful lunch and learns, but I thought, what if I taught, what if I used this time where I'm not allowed to work and approached teaching as though it were, it's only thing like it were, was its own reward. This is my job. um, I'm not to market myself for consulting work.
I'm just teaching to teach. I'm not trying to sell anybody anything except the teaching
and then the expectation. I hoped that when I. Came was, when I got my green card, I would be able to integrate teaching into my own consulting work and I'd be able do page teaching. Um, I thought, well, this could be an experiment, like are architects willing to pay for their own education as opposed to doing it through
Evan Troxel: I'm wondering are they willing? [00:29:00] there's so many
it's, it's very similar to what I'm doing with this podcast, like building a resource for the industry, like you have done as well.
I mean, this is something that value. And so, my question is partially selfish, but I think it needs to be talked about more in the industry. and you said sometimes, right? it's really interesting to me how cheap architects are, that I
think I learned more from my wife than anybody, which Pay for the stuff that really matters to I have to ask, well, does this really matter to people? and so, there, there's a of going on in my own head around that but I'm just wondering what your experience is on that side of it.
Christine: I'm a few minds on this, if architects really think that they're gonna get something of value from it, they are willing to pay for their own education. Yes. I've certainly been able to do that. I, of course, also do a lot of stuff for free now I do a lot of stuff for free, cuz I like it.
So the Instagram account, it, takes a long time to do each of these posts. I do one a week and they take. generally between [00:30:00] 10 and 30 hours per post. This is a lot
Evan Troxel: like a podcast, Christine.
Christine: Yep. And actually other people are like, you should do a podcast too. I'm like, Uhuh, one is enough.
Evan Troxel: but
Christine: yeah, exactly.
Also, and an email list and a blog and a Facebook group and a, I'm like, no, no, no. Just, just the one thing. but yeah, made, it's made sense for me to do that in that, it certainly hasn't hurt my career to be more well known, I think we're so conditioned in this, media environment that we're in just culturally, just us, everybody we're taught. We're valuable as consumers, so people who who produce content, kind of work for us in a way. which an attitude I really hate. I, and it comes on Instagram where people feel remarkably entitled to your, time and expertise. some, but our culture really conditions this in us, in social media. and I a lot of people assume that I do this to promote my consulting business and therefore, I owe them something just by [00:31:00] paying attention cuz they're potential customers. And that is not true for consult. Like I do have a consulting business, but my biggest problem is telling people no.
I, I'm one person. it doesn't take A lot of projects to keep me very busy. feel very fortunate to say that, I, run the Instagram account because A, it makes me a better teacher. b I really like it. and c it hasn't hurt to be better known in the industry, but I certainly don't get paid for it.
It it doesn't pay for itself.
Evan Troxel: ways, right? you've definitely built a platform that establishes your authority in this realm and people trust you because of the consistency in the quality of the product that you produce.
Christine: Yes and no. this is something that you alluded to earlier in some of the difficulty in finding wisdom developing wisdom of, your own, in your own practice. And that is that, bizarrely. Popularity has become its own credential.
Evan Troxel: true.
Christine: I was good at my job before I had an Instagram account. and I think to a certain extent, [00:32:00] you're you did not cite popularity when you were saying that people, trust me, you were citing that, my presentation makes me credible. And that the appeal to first principles and the clarity and the, all of that stuff is, um, a good way for people to evaluate the information that they're receiving and, is this person trustworthy in this, this particular area?
I would love it if that's why I was popular, I you know, our industry isn't immune to the Kardashian immunization of, of our culture either, and. a big reason of why I'm trusted is that I'm popular and that's not a good reason , but guess I'll take it. But,
Evan Troxel: right now because that,
Christine: Yeah. on a platform like Instagram has been kind of interesting in that way as well, in that I'm teaching technical content, which is off brand the, for the platform itself. Like I've been called an influencer before, which is really sort of funny because I don't sell lip gloss.
Like this is really different. [00:33:00] This I'm in a really different business than, um, than people who are, you know, affiliate marketing for Nordstrom. it's very different. it's, it's funny of be on a platform and using
Evan Troxel: and you're not alone, right? I mean, in the architectural space in the construction space, there's a few out there and guess I'll just plug 'em real quick, there's Troy Donovan,
Christine: Oh, he's exactly who I was thinking of.
Evan Troxel: the Donny's, the Underscored Donnie's. And I'll put a link to that
Christine: and, he's done some teaching too. That's also fantastic.
Evan Troxel: and then the other I I love are like, awesome framers and rising or build and these the construction side who, man, talk about getting eviscerated in the comments. believe the entitlement in the comments. So maybe contractors who watch other contractors do work have all kinds of things to say and couch potato, know, kind of commentary. But it's, it's pretty incredible that he I guess as a contractor, maybe you just have thick enough skin to let that stuff roll
Christine: Oh, is laughing all the way to the bank on that one.[00:34:00] and he started doing this before anybody really was doing this in our industry. and people looked at him and were like, what are you doing? Cuz he'd filmed stuff like 10 years ago, 15 years ago. known, I've known Matt
for a long time and people are like, what are you doing man? And now, rock on Matt , cash, those checks. he does it a little bit. So I'm really explicitly. Non-sponsored content on my, my page. And that is not Matt's business model. Matt's an educational account, but he's directly sponsored by
manufacturers, which is not
Evan Troxel: mean, for the manufacturers, it's better to have somebody else talking about them than them. and he's providing a service.
Christine: yeah, of course.
Evan Troxel: he's educating people about the benefits of these things, again, from somebody with trust and authority because of account on social media and, going back to this whole idea of where do people get their wisdom from? I think that's what's so interesting to me about this approach on Instagram [00:35:00] as a teaching platform, on a platform that is not about teaching at all, right? It's about, it's about scrolling and engagement and, double taps and all these things. it's interesting to me that you guys have found a way to deliver something of value to so many people.
Harsh critics who, whatever, there's a are quote unquote popular, I think it's super interesting that this is where a generation or at a population of people are turning to get some of this information. Of course, it's interspersed with all the other crap too, it is interesting that there, that you found
a way to do that there.
Christine: Yeah. I wonder where it's gonna go, and I've got some mixed feelings about some sort of random thoughts related to what you just said there. first of all, the comments I try to engage, especially with the critical ones, as long as they're critical in normal ways they don't even have to be constructive. They can be a little bit rude too. Um, and sometimes outright rude if it sort of matches the type of comment that an architect might get on a job site from a real contractor from a or something like that, because I recognize that. [00:36:00] a really big part of a lot of people's struggle in their career, and definitely this was true of me, was being young in the profession and not having a lot of authority on a job site. And I would learn about something like the way something should be done, but then I'd be on a real job site and have to compromise. And I'd have to know like on this scale of, well, this is what should be done and this is being proposed. on, how far apart are those two points? And, can I move it closer to this should be done?
And if not, what's likely to happen? Like how bad is it? Is it walk off the job bad or is it just, eh, not great? being able to locate yourself on that scale and know how to answer normal pushback that you get related to budget and constructability especially, think it's really helpful to hear.
for other people to watch how someone like me will engage with comments that these people are likely to get themselves. also it's way easier to [00:37:00] get that question when you're sitting in your pajamas at the kitchen table as I am when I'm answering these, not on an actual job site. like, that's one part of sort of comment section thing. learning on social media or learning online like this, there's definitely a community aspect to it, but the stakes are really low for people and that's a real benefit. most of the learning they're getting is in front of colleagues and people that maybe that they have an otherwise adversarial relationship or slightly adversarial relationship with.
And that can be hard. that's, there's a benefit to the social media aspect. but another part of this I've realized is that the people in the comments section and the people who engage with my posts are typically not my actual customers. and that's like overwhelmingly the case.
people that I just get sort of shocked by in real life where I'll meet people I'm not aware of their following me or their presence at all on Instagram. And they're like, oh yeah, I know who you are. I know your work. I'm familiar with you. but they would've never, like, ever clicked like on a post, [00:38:00]
Evan Troxel: most people are lurkers like that. I've had
people in line say, I know your voice. And it's like,
Christine: it's a funny world like that, but we of confuse the loudest voices from our actual customer
Evan Troxel: Yes.
Christine: I walk a lot just for pleasure. I enjoy walking and I, will stop at every construction site and just take a look at it.
I was walking through one of the neighborhoods in, in Dallas and, came across a mock-up was a residential project, and they'd done a mockup, which was already impressive. And I noticed a, um, a Sega product, which is a Swiss company. They make, um, really fantastic tapes And, adhesives for flashing windows or among other things.
and I stopped and I was taking a picture of the, from the sidewalk. I'm not on this job site or anything. Just taking a picture of the, of the mockup. And the contractor came over and actually recognized me, said, are you Christine Williamson? I said, yeah. asked, I asked him about the mockup, and I was, I, I noticed the seaga.
I was like, that's, that's really fantastic. It's the first time I've seen this in Dallas. And the guy said, well, I heard about it [00:39:00] from Matt Risinger and Go figure, you know, so, I doubt this contractor had ever, you know, commented on either one of our posts engaged at all. it is interesting how information spreads in the industry and how people end making decisions.
You're sort of, but it's definitely not a direct link to, like the people who take my class are definitely not the people who engage with me online, is at first I was really disappointed by that actually. now I'm really encouraged because I think online stuff get kind of, corrosive. so
Evan Troxel: True.
Christine: so I'm delighted that it's not, it's not,
a real reflection of, of how
Evan Troxel: Yeah. You talked about the amount of work that goes into creating these once a week posts, 10 to 30 hours, and , there is the learning on the job. There are these lunch and learns that happen in offices, and you know, it's the same course that the person makes the rounds to all the different offices in the area.
that information is really product specific, there's, there's rules around what a lunch and learn can and can't be. And we don't need to [00:40:00] get into the specifics of that, but it's like, it's, it's they specialize in or it's what they sell. Let's say it that way. I don't know if they specialize.
Not always. this idea of what you're putting together in these details, these notes, these assembly drawings and really of this layer of. Presentation on top the base layers, the parts. And then you've got all this stuff over the top of it. That's really where you're explaining how and why it works the way that it does. it's pretty incredible to me to hear how much time and effort you put into those posts especially in contrast to what I think we see in the industry. , okay, so I'm gonna go another like slight diversion Like this whole idea of those lunch and learns and, and even your posts too, I think similarly the timing is like probably not right for anybody who's watching that stuff.
you, you're hoping to create something sticky enough that people remember the principles of what you're teaching so that when they are doing that thing, do it better the next time,
Christine: People come back to it.[00:41:00]
Evan Troxel: is, that's a cool thing too, right? You can bookmark it and save it. I don't if you have a compilation anywhere of all this stuff, that would be pretty sweet if there's like a library or something. But these luncheon learns like never timed right. For what I need to do
I know, right?
Evan Troxel: as a profession, as an industry, that's pretty broken. that's something that is interestingly broken. Like how has that not been solved yet? And then there's people like you who are trying to solve it as a piece of the bigger puzzle on social media and the courses that you offer. And, I, again, I'm kind of not going anywhere with this, but just kind of laying out some different that I see that are
and, at the same.
Christine: I think you're absolutely right and I think actually the most logical. Place to begin addressing. This is actually in formal architecture education in school. so building science and construction are hard. hard because they're dynamic and they're hard cuz architecture's hard.
It's just hard. We have to think in three dimensions. We're dealing with, lots of different materials, you know, late coordinating, big [00:42:00] budgets, all kinds of crazy stuff. It's architecture's hard. the building industry is hard. the setup that we have right now has. Made something already complicated, even more complicated, where it is hard to learn something in a lunch and learn, or even on a, on one of my Instagram posts, these, and actually that's been the biggest challenge for me, is to distill something down to, I have 10 slides?
on Instagram, like, do communicate something in 10 slides?
It's, uh, It's made me a much better teacher. but you know, you can do a little bit of learning that way, but you're not going to transform your profession that way. or even you're probably not gonna see a post at the exact time that you need it, or hit that luncheon, learn at the exact time that you need it.
I think that what is more helpful is to already have a framework for understanding building science and construction. And right now we just don't.
Evan Troxel: Yeah.
Christine: don't see it. I don't know every architecture school, but I haven't heard of it or really
in, any [00:43:00] school.
Evan Troxel: I, yeah, cuz I know some, like, I don't know, the school that I went to was very hands on with that kind of stuff, how far can they actually go in a quarter or a semester? Because you're not gonna get that many courses because it's all about design anyway.
Christine: yeah, I think even within those courses though, it's, everything is taught in sort of a piecemeal way. So I liken this to learning a language, the way that building science is taught is the equivalent of, picking a, a phrase. For, you know, whatever country you're visiting, like an Italian phrase book, you memorize the phrases that you use the most often.
And that does the trick for a lot of what you wanna communicate, abroad. and that's our approach right now. That's the lunch and learn. And that's the, at best, I think that's what we get in architecture
like formal education. But, you know, when you, you
Evan Troxel: know, what's going through my mind right now and, and you alluded
earlier when you talked about building code, like, this is our version of code minimum,
Like this is the
Evan Troxel: code minimum.
Christine: And I think it's taught that way because for the most part, [00:44:00] the people teaching it That's how they understand, understand it as well. It's this unrelated or loosely related collection of facts. And they're teaching this collection of facts to students. saying like, they're teaching phrase book stuff.
Like when you see this, do this, when you see this, do this, and it's just a whole collection. It's like a, a like a phrase book, of, of choose your own adventure type of thing. And that's a really really hard way of learning. And what I've tried to do in my teaching, a, I have like a roughly 10 hour course called Building Science for Architects.
And my goal in setting that up, and I'm not intending this as a plug, I mean, I guess it is a plug, but I'm trying to make a point. And that is that if you can give people a framework, and I take about 10 hours to give people a framework so that after they've got the framework,
else becomes reinforcement.
Like they know how to classify the examples of like other stuff they see. So the the language equivalent would [00:45:00] be, well, you've just taught somebody basic grammar. And then after that they're building their.
Evan Troxel: Mm.
Christine: but they understand how to form a sentence. They understand nouns, verbs, adjectives, you know, like, I think if we start with a better framework, then the lunch and learns and Instagram posts, that kind of stuff, uh, and job experience and know, meeting a really generous contractor and I mean, generous his or her time And expertise like all of that, materials manufacturer that can fit into this framework. and you can evaluate, we talked about earlier, asymmetrical information and how it's really hard to evaluate. what someone else is telling you. Well, if you have this foundation in the sort of first principles, you can better evaluate what someone is telling you later. Like way later, 10 years into your career, you meet somebody who tells you something and you say, huh, well that's consistent with how I understand first principles or that's inconsistent.
So am I wrong? Do I need to adjust my thinking here? [00:46:00] Maybe I've misunderstood what they're saying. Maybe I've understood, um, maybe I haven't learned something actually quite right, but at least you have a process for evaluating new information. . part of the reason I, I haven't formally said this in this podcast, but, um, but a, it's not a secret.
I'm, I had a baby, so I'm on maternity leave right now. But, um, in the fall I start teaching full-time as a professor in the architecture department at Virginia Tech. Where I hope to do of, some of this work gives students a framework so that When they leave, they're not gonna be able to design a building by themselves Right.
When they graduate. Right. that's
a sort of silly
Evan Troxel: that's
Evan Troxel: messed up framework in itself, right? There
Evan Troxel: is everybody needs to be able to do all this all by themselves.
Christine: exactly. we're lifelong learners in this profession. but if we can start with the framework and at least my part of this, like, architecture's much, much bigger obviously than building science and construction, really, and maybe this will change when I actually to teaching, [00:47:00] I think that that is doable in a semester or two, or certainly within the program of, formal architecture education.
I think it, it is possible to, have students graduate with a framework so that they can be better learners as professionals when they, when they actually enter the profession. I, and I've seen that in my course, doesn't, it's not gonna make you a building scientist, if you take the course, you're not gonna be able to. hang your shingle out and be like, yeah, now I know. Now I know more than John's job. And, Joe, Steve Brook, who's my father, full disclosure. and, you know, all these other fantastic building scientists. but you are gonna be to, to do your job properly, and no one to ask for help better. And I, I, I think that is not out of reach, it's alluded us so
Evan Troxel: Yeah. I think that's a good place for us to wrap up this conversation. This has been fantastic and I feel like we hit kind of all the points that I wanted to of at least introduce the audience to in this conversation with you. And I'm
Christine: Oh, good. Good.
Evan Troxel: your next chapter. this is, to me, this is obvious. [00:48:00] An obvious next step. And I'm sure it wasn't obvious when you started doing all this back then, but looking backwards, it's all led to this. And, this is really exciting. I'm, happy to hear that you're taking this step. I know this is a big move, but, this is gonna be, anything else, another huge learning experience for you and for the students that you're gonna be working with. and I'm excited to hear how that's gonna
Christine: Oh, thank you.
Evan Troxel: teacher
Christine: Oh, thank you. had such a hard time learning it that, maybe, uh, difficulty in learning makes an ingredient to,
uh, to good teachers. know if you're gonna be able to keep up Instagram once you start doing that, but, obviously this is a, a fantastic resource. We'll put a link to it in the show notes. We'll put a link to the course that you were, sheepishly, talking about
Evan Troxel: right there.
Christine: also full disclosure, and I don't, I don't know how you're gonna edit this and if you wanna include this portion it's, I don't want people to take the course for the sake of taking the course. I want them to take it if they really think they can benefit from it. So I don't do any marketing really. It's just [00:49:00] word of mouth, . So, I, I don't want, I certainly don't wanna pressure people to, to take the course, but if it would be worth considering if these topics, interest, interest
Evan Troxel: that big theme about the wisdom behind. So many facets in the industry, like you were talking about it, can you find a builder that is just generous enough to share? Can you find somebody on the product side who has the experience and the wisdom behind how their product interfaces with the three other things that it's gonna touch in the wall system, and can they point you in the right direction? Like those people do exist.
Christine: Oh, absolutely.
Evan Troxel: to me is. That is what we should be striving to find are those dot connectors out there. And you're obviously one of 'em. And so, I appreciate the work that you've done, that you've put yourself out there to create. I mean, like you said, like nobody's paying you to do this.
you're doing this on your own VO vision and that's a fantastic thing. And, uh, I encourage the audience, if, if you've never seen Building Science Fight Club on Instagram, definitely check it out and, uh, you'll [00:50:00] see what an amazing resource it actually is. And it's, it is, again, fascinating to see the social media side of architectural education, building science education and how you've been able to make something from that.
And of course, there's no easy like, oh well that led to this and this makes total sense. It doesn't make any sense at all. And that's what's so interesting about
it, you know, so
Christine: I guess maybe a, a little bit of a, it's my take on the culture of apprenticeship in our, in our profession. And that looks like a lot of a lot of different things. we're a profession of pretty creative people and so we
apply that to all kinds of including how
we learn and how we teach.
Evan Troxel: yeah. Non-standard, right?
Evan Troxel: Okay. Well, links to all this in the show notes, everybody. And if, you're interested in getting those show notes emailed to you, head over to the website at TRXL dot TRXL dot co and hit that subscribe button so that all of the links will show up in your inbox whenever a show goes live.