architectural storytelling : #architalks

3rd in a series of posts by architects about….something totally random and not necessarily related to the practice or profession of architecture. O_o

But this time we’re talking about architectural storytelling. Architects, by definition, are great storytellers. We are groomed into this art from our very first studio critique where are are made to tell a very convenient fiction about our design and how wonderful it is (it’s not) and how it’s never been done or thought of before (of course it has) and how our designs will change the world (let’s just say boots are typically required in your average architecture studio). Today’s story will hopefully be more entertaining and at least a little enriching, offering a small glimpse into the mind of one architect and one day in a city not so far away.

It’s cold. The heat in my townhouse never quite reaches the top floor. Just like the cool air in summer, come to think of it. They tell you in school that hot air rises. “Evidently it doesn’t rise fast enough to stay warm”, I think to myself as I’m huddled under a blanket dreading my exodus from the very small cocoon of warmth I’ve managed to build up as I slept. I look out the window and see the fresh snow on the trees. I resign myself to the pain I’m about to experience, and with clenched teeth, I throw off the covers and head for the shower and hopefully a few drops of hot water that might have been left by my housemates.

Showered, shaved, dressed and ready for the day. It’s Saturday – my favorite day of the week. I deliberately don’t make plans so that I can have the day to myself. No friends, no phone calls, no emails. It’s my day. I head down the stairs, grab my coat, hat and gloves, strap on my shoes and head out into the cold February D.C. morning. I’m headed for the Vienna Metro on the Orange line, which is in Northern Virginia, but it might as well be a D.C. suburb. My townhouse is on the edge of a neighborhood with a paved walking track that leads straight to the metro station. It didn’t take me long to discover this when I moved here and by now it’s a familiar path that I barely need to think about.

I reach the metro station, slip my card into the slot and head down the escalator to the platform. I hear the train heading in already. This is the last stop on the line so I don’t have to wonder if it’s my train or not. And as I step through the doors I look around and marvel at all those headed into work on a Saturday in their suit and tie. Me? Nope. Jeans, a sweater, a jacket, a scarf, long socks, warm shoes and gloves. Hey, I said it was cold, right? The train doors close and off we go.

I change trains only once to get where I’m going – from the Orange line to the Red. Finally I come out from underground and into the bright morning sunshine. It’s almost blinding at first from the relative din of the subterranean metro station, but my eyes quickly adjust to my surroundings just outside the Dupont Station. The familiar buildings, not-so familiar people and the streets. I love these streets. This is my Saturday morning ritual. I head out to Dupont Circle and this little book shop and cafe that has some of the most obscure architecture books I’ve never heard of. I find a copy of “how architecture got it’s hump” by Roger Connah, “the look of architecture” by Witold Rybczynski and “invisible cities” by Italo Calvino – three of my favorite books on architecture. I spend some time looking through the now familiar stacks of architecture books. There are books on history, design, theory, a few collections of works by famous starchitects that I don’t care about and countless others that I won’t have time to read, but by now it’s lunch time and I’m hungry.

My next stop is a little sandwich shop a few doors down from the book shop. I’ve never bothered to learn the name. It’s one of those trendy places that pops up with a clean modern and flashy design, a few barely legal hotties behind the counter ready to take your order. I get my sandwich and my water and I find a place at the bar top to enjoy one of my new books. It’s also entertaining to people-watch in places like this. There’s a steady stream of customers in and out. Some stay for a bit at the small round tables-for-two, others just grab their grub and go. In DC you’ll more often than not hear conversations in every language but English. It’s almost like being in a foreign country…or an airport…whatever.

I’ve finished my lunch, stashed my books under my arm and now it’s time to head out and explore. I almost never go the same way twice, but I always end up in the Adams Morgan and Shaw areas of town. The small shops that occupy old shotgun town homes have the most amazing things in them. Vintage housewares, records, jewelry, cowboy boots, fuzzy handcuffs…all sorts of things from eras long past popular fashion. After a couple of hours of aimlessly wandering the streets of DC I make my way back to the Dupont Metro. I don’t actually need to walk all the way back to this spot. There are plenty of other stations I could use, but the area between Shaw, Adams Morgan and Dupont has some amazing architecture. Italianate and Federal and Queen Anne and Victorian and French, Gothic and Greek Revival – the ornamentation, the stonework and the masonry are just amazing. It’s even better in the Spring when all the trees are full and in bloom. But that’s a different day and a different story.

Where are all the Architects?

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How NOT to draft a detail. No line weights, notes a mess and no hatching.

There are architects and then there are Architects. If you don’t know the difference than you are in the former category. I aspire to be included among the latter category. And I will tell you why.

For the last 5+ months I have been working for a large corporate firm in the downtown area. It’s an old firm, the second oldest in the state at nearly 100 years since the doors opened. One would think a firm with that level of prestige and a resume that includes some of the most significant buildings in the city would not only be on the forefront of technology but would also have standards in place for the production of quality, well coordinated and beautiful architectural drawings.

At least that is what I had hoped when I came here several months ago. It didn’t take long to realize that not only were there no standards in place but the production staff and the project architects seldom inhabit the same air space. Hence very little oversight and even less coordination. Add to that “mentorship” seems to be a dirty word, so the staff ends up doing “whatever Revit’s default” happens to be.

To say it’s frustrating is an understatement. Soul crushing is a more apt descriptor. I’m not a senior architect. Barely into my mid 30s, but I’ve worked for a number of “seasoned” Architects that taught me the value of my architectural documents as not just a tool for construction but also as a marketing tool and even as a piece of art unto itself. Drawings MATTER. The information matters; what it looks like matters; and how it is organized matters.

If you think it doesn’t, you’re an architect.

If you take great pride in your work and the finished product that is sent out of your office then you’re an Architect.

Where have all the Architects gone?

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A well detailed wall section – line weights, well-spaced notes and clear hatching.

manic monday: architect vs contractor

The resurrection of the Manic Monday blog post! I haven’t done one of these in too long, but hopefully this post is just what I need to get back on the band wagon. And to kickstart that endeavor I’m talking about a subject that all architects, engineers and clients can relate to – the tense and tenuous relationship between Architect and Contractor.

As an architect there are usually only two ways a project makes it into the office:

1) The client finds you either through word of mouth, advertising, the internet, etc. and calls you up to set a meeting to talk about their project.

2) You get a call from a contractor who already has the client signed on for construction and the contractor needs you to “put together a set of drawings for permit”.

I think you can immediately guess which situation most architects would prefer. That’s right, option number 1. Why? It’s simple. In option 1 the client recognizes the need for an architect’s services and expertise on the project from the very beginning and is aware of the time, talent and effort required to research, design, detail and oversee a project from start to finish. In option 2 the client may not even be aware that the contractor has hired you, the architect, to help design and permit the project. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and I’ll tell you why.

Because having and maintaining good relationships in architecture and construction is the only way to stay in business. And that has to extend to your past, current and future clients as well as to contractors. But when it comes to contractors that relationship has to be built on a common respect and appreciation for what each party brings to the table and sadly, in my experience, many contractors view architects as an incredibly unnecessary evil. And this attitude has been reflected several times recently which has prompted this post.

When a contractor calls me and says “I just need a set of drawings for permit”….I just want to jump out the window. That same lack of understanding that clients have for what it is we do extends quite often to the contractors we work with as well. After all, they are the ones that know how to BUILD things. We (architects) just do the drawings. But contracts and architects are both important and necessary pieces to any project. Without one the other isn’t much good. So, it’s important that we (architects) work to build relationships with contractors and show the value of our services and how they are not just a compliment to building but necessary for the success of any project large or small.

If we can do this and do it successfully then those two scenarios I mentioned earlier will both be ideal to the growth and success of our business. Even if a client doesn’t think they need an architect, if we’ve done our job correctly, the contractor that owner seeks out will advocate for us by saying “hey you really need an architect to help you and I know a great one that I’ve worked well with in the past.” That is the single best advertising you can’t buy – when another professional recommends you as an addition to a project.

the only guarantee in life

You’re all thinking “death and taxes” right now, aren’t you? Not this time. The one true guarantee in life is change. Someone really smart said that once. I have no idea who.

Everything in life changes and it changes by the year, the month, the week, the day, the hour and especially minute by minute. We are no more immune to change around here as we are to death and taxes. I know what you’re asking. What does this have to do with the price of tea in China? Absolutely nothing. But it does have a lot to do with this blog and some big changes coming in the next couple of weeks.

r | one studio architecture WILL BE NO MORE.

Yep. You read that correctly. This blog has been such a wonderful outlet for me to share my opinions, experiences, frustrations, challenges and triumphs as I have moved through my career as an architect. But times they are a changing, baby. And I’m so excited about the changes that are coming.

In the next few weeks I will be launching a new website and blog. I will also be launching a new company name, a new logo and a new direction for our practice. It hasn’t been easy. r | one studio started as a side project, just a “name” to give some legitimacy to the design work that I was doing prior to achieving my license. It grew quickly into an identity for me and a dream for the future – the idea being that eventually the “one” would turn into a “two” and perhaps a “three” as I continued to grow my practice and build relationships with other architects and designers with the same passion for design and construction as me. But now that I am licensed and have taken more serious and intentional steps towards setting sail on the good ship “Entreprenuer”, I realized that I needed to put more thought into the image, identity and even attitude of our practice. Do we want to be safe and comfortable with a nice corporate type name and identity or do we want to do things differently, go against the grain, buck the system and challenge the status quo? I think you all know the answer. “Yeah baby! Let’s buck this bronco!”

This is how ROGUE architecture was born – a new identity and a new attitude for the practice of architecture in the 21st Century. For years now I’ve talked about collaboration with other architects and having a mobile practiceThese aren’t just buzz words. These ideas are at the core of our practice. ROGUE architecture is a firm that will do things differently, to challenge how we’ve always practiced as architects and to seek out clients who have been led to believe they don’t need an architect. Making life better, one building at a time, is what we will do at ROGUE architecture.

Stay tuned for more.

I’m so EXCITED!! #AchiTalks

I love movies. And I have kids. So most of the movies I watch are cartoons, which also means most of my movie references will come from cartoon movies. It’s a blessed curse, what can I say. This particular movie clip came to mind when I was presented with this edition of ArchiTalks because it deals with language and the art of communication. Plus, the dirty little guy is named Mole and he’s just a really friggin funny character.

Language, or more specifically communication, is something that for some very strange reason I am very good at. Since I gave my very first presentation in college until now I have always been complimented on my skills in presentations, interviews and even casual conversations with strangers on the sidewalk. I just love talking to people and finding out more about them. It hasn’t always been this way. As a matter of fact I was so shy and socially awkward as a child that they thought I was “slow” and wanted to hold me back a grade until I “caught up to the other kids”. My mother wasn’t having any of that, but as I got older I did have to work very hard to bring myself out of my shell and develop the skills that many seem to think comes naturally to me. The truth is anything but. My mother-in-law even recently said “I’m just amazed at how you’re able to so easily connect with people so quickly and after just meeting them.”

And I think the reason that I am now so good at public speaking and so easy with other people, even complete strangers, is because I’m so excited about it! I genuinely LOVE that part of my job. I love talking to contractors, engineers, clients, superintendents, product reps, code officials (no, really…), and that guy that drives the forklift that you know is probably not smoking a cigarette. It’s just so awesome!

So, what excites you about architecture? Here are some of my friends and their ideas on the subject.

Mark LePage – Entre Architect – Episode 42

Oscia Wilson – Boiled Architecture – They’re Fighting It Out

Lee Calisti – think:architect – this is exciting: start to finish

Jeff Echols – Architect of the Internet – The 5 REs to Change the Future of Architecture

Marica McKeel – From Dreams to Reality – This is Exciting

manic monday – patience and grace

shamaninthecity.com.au

shamaninthecity.com.au

It’s been a while since I’ve done a manic monday post. Today was especially frustrating, maddening, annoying, many other “ing”s and just plain MANIC. So I thought it was fitting to sit down and quickly write about my experiences today and how they might apply to the daily practice of architecture.

Today’s theme is patience.

If you know me, you know this has not always been a strength of mine. Quite the opposite in point of fact. I will say that it takes a bit to get me going. I’m generally a pretty chill guy and most things I can just let roll of my shoulder and I keep moving forward. But, on rare occasions I find myself getting incredibly intolerant and impatient with certain things about people. Mostly this boils down to a complete lack of patience for ignorance and no sense of responsibility. Today was “one of those days” where I seemed to be surrounded by one excuse after another, one delay after another and one pointless meeting after another. In short I got nothing done, but I looked really busy. And that makes me lose my patience quickly.

Now, the business of architecture is most often described as the management of people and their expectations of a project. This includes clients, consultants, colleagues and that guy that keeps forgetting to give you a pickle with your damn lunch order!….And managing those people requires both patience and grace. There are times however when both are in short supply and you simply run out to the end of your rope and want to strangle something or someone. What do you do then?

This was the situation I found myself in today. What did I do? Honestly, nothing. That may sound strange, especially coming from me, but sometimes nothing is the best thing you can do because the alternative will likely involve some explaining to the authorities….I mean…uh. Nevermind. What was I saying?

Oh yeah. Patience and grace. You can not truly manage people unless you can manage yourself and your reactions to other people and the situations you find yourself in. If you find that you have run to the end of your rope and you know you’re about to do something stupid the very best thing you can do is nothing. Because doing nothing gives you time to properly assess your own feelings in the situation and decide what the best reaction is to the situation or towards the person across the table. If you can manage that one moment you can find your way to manage the people and the situation properly and move forward.

Sometimes doing nothing is the best way to win over on a challenging and frustrating day. Sometimes that little bit of patience and grace, even if only for yourself, will mean the difference between success and failure. So, next time you find yourself in “one of those days”, just take a breath and remember that you can only truly manage yourself. Do that and you win.

ten plus one is better than eleven plus none – #ArchiTalks

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I’m adding to a discussion that is bouncing around the internet today, Architects answering 11 questions about their practice. Seeing as I technically have two full time “jobs” as an architect (I work for a big corporate firm as well as my own meager but awesome-tastic firm) I will answer these questions only once as they relate to my own firm. Because this is after all MY blog, and I can do that sort of thing. O_O

What kind of projects were you doing when you first started as an architect?

Early in my career I worked for the oldest surviving firm in Jacksonville, Florida. The work was primarily large commercial and institutional projects – mega churches, schools, universities, office buildings, etc. As I moved to a few other firms, getting smaller and smaller along the way, the work didn’t necessarily change, just the scale. I was still working on commercial and institutional work and frankly I hated it. I took on side projects very early in my career, designing residential additions for almost no fee just to be creative and work with the actual end users of a project. Fast forward to now and I am happy to stick to single family residential work and light commercial office and retail spaces as long as I can work with the actual end user and not a landlord or corporate board of directors.

How many projects can you expect to be working on at once?

This is a tough question to answer. I guess the blanket statement would be “as much as I can handle”. And, given my past track record is a lot. As a sole practitioner things get pretty busy around the 4-5 project mark for a given month. I like to have at least that many projects in various stages of development at any given time. More than that and I start to get a little stressed, but it’s a good stress. Any more than 7 would be too much work to cover the load by myself. Refer to next question.

How often did/do you work in a team?

I am structuring my firm so that I will hopefully always be working in a team. I am just one architect and my skills, though varied, are limited and the success of any project requires input from various sources. The goal is to have a network of other architects, locally and across the US, that I can pull from not just for inspiration and fellowship, but also to share work loads and project responsibilities to make us all more profitable.

How important is an innovative mind to the company?

Innovation is essential. Having the right tools and seeking out new tools to make you more agile and more efficient in what you do is essential no matter what type of business you run. But the caveat there is that a tool is only as good as the person using it. You have to have the right frame of mind in order to keep up with the curve, much less stay ahead of it.

What key things do you look for in potential new hires?

I don’t plan on outright hiring anyone, rather I look for other architects to partner with. Those architects that I’m interested in working with have to share my passion and sometimes outright obsession with architecture. I am not a 9-5 architect. Just ask my wife. I also look for architects who are as concerned with good design as they are about good drawings. A well designed building has to be represented by well designed drawings and details. Being relatively young in the profession I am a bit old school in that I came from a hand drafting background and I want my drawings to reflect that level of craft. I look for others who share that as well.

How important is diversity to your company?

I’m often a little apprehensive of this question because it’s never been an issue for me. Diversity in gender, ethnicity, religion and social views has always been a default for me. Like I said in response to the last question, I’m looking for architects with the same passion as me. I don’t care what your gender or skin color is, where you came from or what your religion is. Is it important? Of course. Do I seek out “diversity”? No. It just happens.

How big of a role does HR play in your company?

If we’re talking about Human Resources as a corporate structure, than it doesn’t apply at all. If we’re talking about Human Resources as in other humans that I find resourceful, then it’s extremely important. And this goes back to diversity – surrounding yourself and making alliances with other architects and designers that share your passion but in different ways.

Would you say Architecture is a field for everyone?

Seriously? This is a question? We all know that architecture is not for everyone. Just like mechanic, dentist, doctor, brick layer, foreman, CEO and President are not for everyone. Certain people have certain talents that drive them to certain paths in life. Architecture is no different. We are a rare bird.

What is the best asset in your company?

My family. My wife and my children drive me to be better each day. And my clients. Without them I would not have a company.

Describe your best employee in one word?

Conundrum. That’s actually how I was described by my classmates in college. I think it still applies today. I’m not easily defined and I try not to define myself.

What style architecture do you love most?

This is such an awesome question. And it’s one I’ve talked about with other architects from time to time. There are so many firms out there that have a “style”. So much so that you can drive around town and pick out buildings that were done by different firms without ever having seen them before. I am not that kind of architect. If you look at the work I have designed it runs the gambit from traditional to contemporary to modern and a lot more in between. At the end of the day the buildings I design are not mine. The belong to my client. So whatever style my client desires, it’s my job to provide that design.

I hope you enjoyed this little trip down the rabbit hole that is my new practice. Check out the architects below. They are even more awesome-er than I am (hard to believe I know).

Lee Calisti - Think Architect (twitter @leecalisti)
“architecture :: eleven questions is less than twenty” 

Bob Borson – Life of an Architect (twitter @bobborson)
“Being an Architect”

 Marica McKeel – Studio MM (twitter @ArchitectMM)
“Q+A with a Small Firm Architect”

 Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (twitter @enochsears)
“Life As An Architect”

 Jes Stafford  – Modus Operandi Design (twitter @modarchitect)
Ask the Architect

 Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (twitter @EntreArchitect)
“11 Big Questions” EntreArchitect.com/Episode37

 Jeff Echols – Architect of the Internet (twitter @Jeff_Echols)
“11 Frequently Asked Questions About Being An Architect”

 Nicholas Renard – Cote Renard Architecture (Twitter @coterenard)
“Answers from this Architect”

 Evan Troxel – The Archispeak Podcast (twitter @etroxel)
Eleven Questions About a Career in Architecture

Andrew Hawkins, AIA –  (twitter @HawkinsArch)
Being an Architect: Questions Answered”