"Visions of World Benefit & Global Responsibility: Perspectives of McGill Students

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Corporation and Management to Architecture and Keystone

When you see an article comparing corporation and architecture, do you see the connection? Are you thinking that a corporation is “built up,” literally talking about the material construction, just like an architectural structure is? Or are you thinking about the non-material “build up” of a corporation from many tangible and intangible resources? Or perhaps you are thinking about something else. Indeed, there are many connections between corporation and architecture. Let’s further explore different aspects of this comparison.

Firstly, let’s look at the definitions (in italic):
Architecture is the art and science of designing buildings and structures. When you see a definition that says “Management is the art and science of designing businesses and organizations,” does this make sense? Can you make an argument out of it?

A wider definition of architecture often includes the design of the total built environment: from the macro-level of town planning, urban design, and landscape architecture to the micro-level of construction details and furniture. Similarly, management includes the design of the total built environment: from the macro-level of community planning, policy design, organization architecture to the micro-level of human and material resources.

Architectural design involves the manipulation of mass, space, volume, texture, light, shadow, materials, program, and other elements in order to achieve an end which is aesthetic as well as functional. How does it relate to corporation and management? Corporation and management involves the manipulation of people, their intelligence and capability, policies, natural resources, environment, and other elements in order to achieve an end which is functional as well as profitable.

Architectural works are perceived as cultural and political symbols and works of art. Historical civilizations are often known primarily through their architectural achievements.
Corporation is perceived as cultural and political symbols and works of art. Past and most present business leaders are often known primarily through their corporate achievements. Does this make sense?
Such buildings as the pyramids of Egypt and the Roman Colosseum are cultural symbols, and are an important link in public consciousness. Cities, regions and cultures continue to identify themselves with and are known by their architectural monuments. Successful corporations and multinational businesses are not only cultural symbols but also in the 21st century, cross-cultural symbols, and are with no questions an important link in public consciousness. People identify with the products of many corporations. Again, does this make sense? Do you see the connection?

Perhaps a more specific analogy of management and keystone will provide further insights for the readers. Let me first provide you with the definition and application of a keystone:
A keystone is the architectural piece at the crown of an arch… locking the other pieces, a.k.a. voussoirs, into position. It could be said as the most important piece in the construction of an arch. By its name, a keystone is the key to an arch construction. It acts as an agent to balance the two compressive forces from the two sides of an arch.

Upon more research, however, a keystone can be split vertically into two parts and no shift will result. Why? This is because the forces of the two sides of the keystone are horizontally balanced. By symmetry, the compressive forces from the two sides should exert equal pressure, thus reaching equilibrium. To point out here, equilibrium must be achieved before the keystone can be split into two, or else the whole structure will collapse.

How does this relate or apply to management? Management can be said to be the keystone in a corporate structure, and the characteristics of a keystone also apply. If a horizontal balance of forces is achieved, this symbolizes that management does not have to be one centralized agent, but many cooperating parts that remain close contact and work together, just as two keystones are side by side supporting each other, to balance out the compressing forces or stresses.

What are some compressing forces that the management needs to balance? Human and material resources? Financial performance and environmental impact? Domestic and international contribution? There are more, and good management team will be able to identify the different forces or stresses in their corporation. These compressing forces could be threatening if not well managed to reach the stage of equilibrium.

Old keystones can decay due to vibration, a condition known as bald arch, and ultimately results in the collapse of the structure. Out-of-date management can lose value due to fast global, technological, and economic developments, and ultimately leads to the collapse of a corporation, perhaps even a new term called bald management?

Architecture does not refer only to the construction of a structure or a system but it also underlies the importance of maintaining balance, and the relationship among all elements or components such as materials, environment, limitations, and human capability. What are the building blocks of a corporation? The issue here is how, for corporations, to reach equilibrium so that the compressing forces are horizontal; moreover, how can management be an agent that balances the forces.

In an article in Arab Construction World Nov 2005 / Vol XXII - Issue 7, in which Hakan Sandbirg points out that the value of the keystone is that it reminds us that "until the structure is complete, we have to keep thinking" - an important point [for both architect and manager.]

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