generational legacy – #LetsBlogOff

“What stories from the generations that preceded you are the stories you hold close?” – LetsBlogOff Team

Westminster Palace and Big Ben

The real meat of this week’s LetsBlogOff is legacy, or an inheritance, a bequest, a heritage, an impression that you make on the world after you’re gone. What images immediately come to mind when you think of architectural legacy? The Parthenon, Acropolis, Pyramids of Giza, Sphynx, Empire State Building, Burj Khalifa, Taipei I & II, Monticello, the Capitol Building…I could go on and on and I’m sure most of you out there have more than a few rattling around in your head as well.

But what about the architects and designers that were behind these monumental works of architecture? What goes into the making of truly lasting and inspirational architecture especially in a modern world where styles, tastes, hell even national borders are changing almost daily? Can there still be a architectural legacy to leave behind or will all our works, no matter how grand, at some point face the wrecking ball, or worse – some other not-so-talented architect/designer screwing it up with an addition or remodel?

I don’t really know the answers to any of these questions, and for me, each question only leads to another question, and so on. But as I look around at the modern architectural profession and even just in my own built environment I see a LACK of legacy, a lack of inspiring work. There are exceptions, to be sure. The Gherkin, no matter your personal taste, is still an impressive piece of architecture and is even beautiful in it’s own way. But these exceptions to the general rule are becoming to few and far between. In 80 years when our generation has passed, what will our children and grandchildren look back on as our overwhelming contribution to the profession and to the artistic and architectural expression of our age? Will they say “you know they sure knew how to build some strip malls back in the day”, or will they say “look at the wonderful foundation they’ve left us to build from”. Currently I’m betting on the former, but I’m hoping for the latter.

Burj Khalifa - Dubai

We’re at an amazing point in human history where we have the technology and the ability to change the face of our world for many generations to come. Much like the Egyptians and their pyramids, or the Catholic church with her Cathedrals and buttresses, or the Bauhaus and the Internationalists with their Machine for Living. At no other time do I think that architects have the power and the responsibility to do something different, something better, something that will leave a legacy for the next generation to be proud of and build from, not cover up.

What will your legacy look like? Join LetsBlogOff and tell your story.

manic monday – brain : hand : pen : paper

In trying to keep with my regular Monday blog posts, I realized that the topics that I was coming up with were starting to take a similar tact, and one that I’d like to avoid (i.e. being the preacher architect – someone who wails only about the woes of the profession in general). Luckily for me, I’m surrounded by incredibly creative and encouraging architects and designers who offer great advice and criticism when necessary. Today that advice comes from Bob Borson in which he suggested that to get back on course I talk about the peripherals of the profession like “sketchbooks or crayons, etc.”. And I immediately thought “DUH” *smacks forehead*.

So, in an effort to educate, inform and perhaps even inspire, I thought I’d talk about the typical progression of architectural thought –

brain : hand : pen : paper

As a friend of mine once put it, “it all begins in the ether – we reach out, grab it and pull it down”. This is the brain – where all architecture really begins. Some may tell you that architecture begins with the client, or with the building program or even with the site. I believe they’re just not thinking things through. Architecture begins with an idea, a thought, a goal, something ephemeral, whimsical and wholly intangible. It begins in the strangest places, places you don’t expect to be creative – like at the dentist looking through a 2 year old edition of Marie Claire or Architectural Digest (worst architecture magazine on the planet)ย or sitting in a cafe wondering what in the hell the designer was thinking when they organized the reflected ceiling plan (do they really need can lights surrounding a recessed 2×4 fixture?…).

some dude's hand

Lamy 2000 fountain pen - i love this pen for everything

These ideas, these thoughts begin to take shape in your mind. You may not even know what function the thing in your mind is to serve, but it starts an itch in your hand; the desire to pull out your favorite pen or pencil or crayon or anything that will scratch a line across a page or napkin or the back of your hand. The itch leads to a quickening pace to your thoughts. Questions and queries like form, material, color, shadow, entry come to mind and begin to coalesce into a purposeful form that you now begin to outline on your paper.

As we continue to scratch our pen across the paper ideas are still swirling in our head, some colliding, some being discarded, some coming back and taking new form on the page. This is the continual and never ending process of architecture.

Passion in Architecture

The other night, instead of going straight home to work on the expanding list of side projects that I have going, I headed down the block to the Main Library for a series of presentations given by 10 “experienced” (read “the old guys”) local architects sponsored by AIA Jacksonville. Topics ranged widely, as you can imagine, but mostly focused on the architects’ body of work and their contribution to the local architectural community. The format of the presentations was to pair up a senior architect with a junior architect/intern. The goal being that the intern would help the senior architect to craft their presentation and in the process learn (hopefully) something from someone with a full career of experience. This of course got me interested immediately and I was paired with John Zona, a local architect of some renown who recently completed his personal residence which will eventually be a Net Zero masterpiece of modern sustainable architecture. I know this because I got a guided tour of his home and office – amazing!

Metropolis – 1927

Anyway, the title of his presentation is Passion in Architecture, during which he talked mostly about the more practical nuances of running a boutique architecture practice like “take what you can get when you can get it or someone else with less talent will”, or “always get a retainer – don’t fund your client’s projects”. But a larger topic that lay beneath the more practical words of wisdom in the presentation was this notion of passion for the profession. And anyone who has spent more than 10 minutes with me in a bar knows I have a real passion for architecture. It’s annoying I know, but I make no apologies…just ask my wife. ๐Ÿ˜›

And I began to wonder, what does it take to maintain a passion for architecture? We’ve all been stuck in the ruts of everyday practice – the contractor’s phone calls, the consultants’ phone calls, the uncoordinated drawings, the incorrect submittals, the non-paying clients, etc. It can weigh you down if you’re not careful. So, how do you maintain that same passion that we all shared in college, in late night studio design sessions where the tracing paper, chip board and super glue were flying and the ideas and inspiration seemed endless? Once we’re “out of the studio” and into the real world business of architecture what keeps us going? I can only answer for myself personally, but I imagine my sentiments are mostly similar to those out there who truly love architecture:\

Metropolis – 1927

It’s in our DNA.

In short, we were built for nothing less than to practice architecture, to create, and to dream of a better world through building and construction, or even just theoretical design.

Metropolis – 1927

We’ve all been caught in the doldrums of the day to day. Or if you haven’t….well…just give it time. And in order to maintain your passion, hold on to those ideals, seek out opportunities to make each project great, even in the smallest way. Don’t give in to the “I just work for my client” attitude. Take ownership of your client’s projects. After all, it’s your name on the drawing. Might as well make the finished product something you can be proud of.

Keep your passion in architecture and pass that on to a new generation of architects.

Le’go my Legos

competition logo

I’m a complete sucker for anything involving architecture, design, building and kids. Let’s just get that out there straight away. Sucker = me. ๐Ÿ˜‰ So when the director of my local AIA Chapter sent me an email asking if I would sit in as a judge for this year’s Lego Competition at the Museum of Science and History (MOSH), I said “pssh, well YEAH!” And this passed Saturday I did just that. I went down to MOSH and along with two of my close Architect friends we judged the Lego Competition with ages ranging from Kindergarten to 5th grade (I believe).

And let me tell you, I am so glad that I did! These kids are just amazing. They were allowed as many Legos as they could cart in (more than a few took complete advantage of this). They could build whatever they wanted as long as it fit on the 15×20 board supplied to them (+/- 1/2″). They were not allowed to use instructions or prepared plans and could not receive help from parents or anyone else not listed as a member of their team.

Below are some shots of the entries that was able to take with my iPhone and a little help from Instagram. As architects it is vital that we are not just providers of architectural services, but also active and engaged participants in our communities as advocates for the Arts and Sciences. After all, one of these kids could be your employee in 15 years. Better to inspect the field of candidates early. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Tsunami wave destroying city

Re-enactment of the fall of Troy - Trojan Horse

German Christmas - kind of a modern Bauhaus design, no?

Rock Concert

Jax Airport

There you have it. A small sampling of the genius that Jacksonville children have to offer. I’m impressed. You should be too! ๐Ÿ™‚





manic monday – ICFs and you

For this installment of manic monday I want to talk about an interesting product that, according to the last lunch presentation I sat through, has been around for far longer than it’s been popular – ICF (insulated concrete forms).

ICFs are really nothing more than a modern lightweight concrete formwork on crack. A typical ICF wall is 6-9 inches of reinforced concrete mass sandwiched between (2) 3″ foam panels. The foam is typically either EPS (expanded polystyrene) or XPS (extruded polystyrene). Both offer excellent insulation values (about R-3 or R-4 per inch, or about R-20 for a typical wall).

These R values only take into account the foam insulation however. To get a true measure of the total R-value of a wall you have to look at all of the components. The one overlooked being the concrete itself. A 6 inch thick concrete mass doesn’t carry a lot of R-value. But what it does do is create thermal mass. Thermal mass is a material’s ability to store heat. In this case, the concrete is able to store the heat energy that isn’t insulated by the foam without allowing it to pass into the conditioned space beyond. Many say that a typical 6″ ICF wall will yield between R-30 and R-40 in reality. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty damn good.

typical ICF wall

Another groovy benefit to ICF is construction time. The forms themselves are modular and extremely lightweight. This makes for very rapid assembly. A crew of 4 or 5 can assemble an entire home ready to be poured in a matter of hours rather than days or weeks with traditional concrete form work. Not to mention, once the forms are in place, your insulation is already in place as well, so we basically skip a step in the whole process.

There are some drawbacks, however. One of the most unfortunate, in my mind, is that you are essentially required to finish out a basement space, since you can’t leave the foam exposed. Now, there are systems that let you form the concrete on the interior or exterior face only, leaving one side exposed, but then you’re cutting your R value in half, which ain’t so nice in my opinion, but in the case of a basement will most likely be a non-issue in terms of insulation.

board formed concrete and steel embed stair - is there anything sexier? I think not

So the next time you’re contemplating that new home or even addition, below grade or above grade, think about ICF construction. It’s modular, easily formed in place (minus the concrete pouring obviously) and quite literally solid as rock. There are all sorts of custom shapes that can be made due to the nature of the form material, so it’s ideal even for the most modern and out there architectural styles.

residence – grand caymans

Anyone who knows me or has read any of my posts here, knows that I am not generally a fan of large expansive homes. I’ve talked often andย passionately about McMansions and the Suburbs, but when a recent opportunity to submit a proposal for a LEED certified home in the Grand Caymans scrolled across my screen I said “well, pfft, YEAH!”, knowing full well that the two greatest challenges that I face in this project are:

1- to design a single family home, 3br and 3bth, 2 stories and coming in at approximately 4,500 square feet, and

2- designing a home this large to be a off-grid sustainable residence.

While I’ve certainly been involved with residential projects this large, I’ve never designed one myself, but intellectually I know that the process is the same no matter the size. And this is what I want to talk about in, what I hope will be, a series of posts on the process of taking the sketch and schematic ideas of what this house can be and creating the necessary documents to present to the client who will ultimately move forward with construction.

The Process:

Much like any good architect, I begin any design process with the gathering of information. This includes site information, climate, sun path, immediate surrounding context (both architectural and ecological), etc.ย  Once I have that information it’s a matter of combing through it to get an understanding of the pieces and parts you’re working with.

sketch 1 – site info and program
sketch 2 – site and elevation massing

Once you understand the pieces and parts it’s important to discuss with the client not just programmatic requirements like “how many bedrooms/bathrooms, etc”, but also how these spaces should work together. Questions that I’ve talked about before like “do you entertain a lot” or “do you like your privacy, do you like to get to know your neighbors” and so on. These types of questions can lead the client into discussions about how it is they actually live, not just the stuff they want in their home. Which, ultimately, is the only way you can begin to designย a home like this. The danger is to simply oversize everything you would normally have in a typicalย home. Below are the preliminary sketches that were my initial impressions of the clients requirements in response to the specific site. These plans are in the earliest stages of development, but I think there are some important steps that have been taken already and I’m excited to continue the process moving forward.

sketch 3 – first floor concept plan
sketch 4 – second floor concept plan

As always, I welcome any and all criticism. Don’t hold back, I REALLY want to know what you think.

do you have the time? #LetsBlogOff

“What would you do if you could turn back time?” – LetsBlogOff Team

Now THIS is a doozy. I mean, seriously, you wake up tomorrow morning and find yourself with a long gray beard, shabby chic robe, thong sandles, walking stick and you think “HOLY CRAP! I’m Father Time!” Ok…obviously you took too much medication last night, but hey, roll with it. What do you do now?

father time trying to catch up.

The concept of time has always fascinated me, but most definitely more so as I continue to age with no hope of going BACK. But perhaps that’s a good thing. I think life with a rewind button would be….well, boring. Life doesn’t give you do-overs. There’s no take-backs, no mulligans, no swapsees. You move day to day and you make the most of what you’ve been given. So, for me, given the ability to turn back time….I’m not sure I would use it.

We’ve all used the expression “if I knew then what I know now – fill in the blank”. But that’s just it, you know now BECAUSE OF what happened then. Going back to take better advantage of a situation because of knowledge you gained after the fact would negate the knowledge you gained in the first place!….did you all follow that? OK, good.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. You can’t see the road not taken unless you’re looking from the road you DID take. That’s just how life works. The notion of turning back time, for me, is really about regret, or nostalgia. You want to go back to something that was better than now, or change something that you wish had gone differently. And that’s fine, we all have that. But those regrets and those fond memories are the pieces and parts that make us all who we are now, in this moment. I don’t know about you, but I wear my battle scars proudly from a life lived in the moment, always looking ahead, carrying hard lessons learned forward, not back. And each morning when I get up, I get a brand new opportunity to do something miraculous with the time I’m given. And I have all of you to share it with.

So, shave the beard, strip off the robe, loose the sandals and use the walking stick for an air guitar. Time waits for now man. Stop wasting it trying to turn it back. Move forward, change your future and make someone else time better because you were in it.

manic monday – clients *shivers*

I had something completely different planned for today’s manic monday post, but I decided at the very last minute that I wanted to talk about something else – CLIENTS.

image courtesy of used under creative commons license

Clients are necessary. Yeah, that’s a no brainer. “Duh, thanks for that, Captain Obvious.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

Anyway, while clients are necessary, I find my interactions with my clients more and more interesting the more clients that I get (thank you Jesus). The first things that probably come to most architect’s mind when they think of a “client” is frustration, anger, regret, relief (mostly that the project is over and they don’t have to take calls anymore). At least, these are the assumptions that I make about other architects based on my vast knowledge and experience *pause for sarcastic effect*.

But I think the truth, for any architect, is that a client is a new opportunity, a new territory unexplored (keep your hands to yourself, no one wants to get sued), a new vision yet to be discovered and made real. Clients are our windows into DESIGN. And each design is an opportunity to do something new, something different. There’s even an opportunity for learning and for teaching. I’ve talked often about our need to properly educate and guide our clients, no?

And what, you may ask, is the real secret to working with clients and keeping the frustration, anger and regret out of the equation? Simple – communication, empathy and relationship. Architecture is not just a service pandered by an architect or designer. Architecture is a relationship, and an intimate one at that. If you can’t communicate with your client, or if you can’t help them communicate with you, and if you can’t empathize with them (put yourself in their shoes) then the relationship will die and so will the project.

"Lady and The Tramp" - two guesses who the architect is in this scenario

So think of your clients as dates. Woo them, court them, understand them and be willing to listen to them. Again, only through communication and empathy can we hope to build lasting relationships with our clients and hope to give them the building they desire.

UF Jacksonville Studio – Part I

A couple of years ago I was invited to sit in on a jury crit (that’s “critique” for those not in the know) for one of the University of Florida graduate architecture studios. Their studio project was based in Jacksonville and they wanted local architects and designers to come down and offer their local perspective and expertise to the critique. Now running for the 4th or 5th year is time again for the UF Jacksonville Studio headed up by Professor Michael Kuenstle, AIA and sponsored by AIA Jacksonville.

This year we’ll be critiquing undergraduate students in their 4th year who will be preparing to move on to their graduate studies. The project in question is described in brief below:

“design studio course will focus on developing speculative design proposals for a modestly scaled 10 to 12 unit urban infill housing project located in the Springfield District of downtown Jacksonville, Florida. A primary goal for the student design proposals will include developing a careful site design strategy incorporating ideas concerning the relationship of the building intervention to the immediate physical site, the aesthetic/symbolic relationship to the cultural and historic context, and the programmatic experience of public/private space relative to domesticity within the urban environment.

Each year the Mellon C. Greeley, AIA Foundation, Inc., the AIA Jacksonville Education Foundation, provides a generous scholarship stipend for students participating in this unique design studio course. As part of the educational experience, participating students will have the opportunity to interact with prominent Jacksonville architects, city officials, and community business leaders during class field trips, project site visits, and on formal reviews in Jacksonville and Gainesville.”

This week, January 11th, was the first class meeting and site visit. Also at this event, there were two distinguished speakers who gave interesting perspectives on both the history and future of Springfield. The first presentation, by Dr. Wayne Wood, was a history of Springfield and of downtown Jacksonville. Here are some images from the presentation. Please forgive the quality. All I had was my iPhone.

Dr. Wayne Wood descirbing Prairie Style influences on Jacksonville architecture

Dr. Wayne Wood talking about the loss of many of Jacksonville's most precious architectural gems

Dr. Wayne Wood has also written and co-written several books on the subject of Jacksonville and her architecture. He’s also the founding member of the Riverside Avondale Preservation Association and is responsible for saving many of our most beautiful homes in the area.

The second presentation marked hope for a change in the architectural aesthetic of our city. Jason Fisher and Greg Beere, of Content Design Group, presented their project for a single family home on Walnut Street in the Springfield Historic District. The project is a new modern residence sandwiched between two historic homes. The project is very modern in design and construction, but is in keeping with the proportions, materials, colors and context of it’s historic surroundings. This project has also been approved by our local historic boards and meets the requirements of the National Trust for Historic Preservation Guidelines, no easy task for a modern home. Here are some images of the presentation. Take a trip to their website to see the full presentation and design images.

Greg presenting some design elements that were in keeping with the guidelines

Side elevation of the approved design

opposite side elevation of the approved design

This year’s UF Jacksonville Studio is presenting the students with some unique design challenges both for the building itself, but also in urban planning. I’m anxious to see the directions each student takes in their design solutions for this project. I’ll be following up this post with one from the midterm critique as well as the final presentation in Gainesville. Stay tuned.

manic monday: the DIY generation + container homes

My wife and I are huge DIY (Do It Yourself) fans. We’re always looking for ways we can make our lives more interesting and more creative by doing things on our own. And we are completely addicted to every single DIY show on HGTV. I mean, seriously, it’s like crack candy for the hyper-creative, right?

image courtesy of

One of the things that I see come across my blog search results often, and touted on other blogs as the end all be all of home ownership existence, is “DIY Container Homes”. If you’re an architect (soon to be licensed) like me, this search query should make you more nervous than a long tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs. “But why would that be? Haven’t people been building their own homes for millennium?” Well, yes. But the real question is not “can you build/plan your own home”, rather “should you”. For many of us the answer should be a resounding NO.

Building a home starts first and foremost with good planning and design. This is even more monumentally true when talking about a home built from containers. And while the average person is very adept at conveying verbally how it is they themselves live in a home, it is something quite different to apply that verbal conversation into a constructable set of documents that a contractor can understand and build. This is where trained design professionals, like me, come in.

A home, any home, and especially a custom home designed for you the client, is the single largest investment you’ll ever make in life (most likely). So it begs the question why would you trust the planning and design of that investment to someone who is wholly untrained in building design and construction? Even if that person is you, the homeowner? Any money that you think you’ll be saving by doing the planning and construction yourself, the “sweat equity”, will be wasted on additional materials and time due to mistakes and the “learning curve” necessary to master certain skill sets. In the end, even if you do manage to build a home for less money, the home you’re getting will perform worse than the one you could have gotten for perhaps a few thousand dollars more.

There is a reason architects go through 5-6 years of college, 3 years of internship under a licensed architect and another 3+ years of license exams and a lifetime of continuing education in order to maintain that license. Think about that the next time you’re listening to some other guy talk about how “easy” it is to “do it yourself”. In the long run the relationship you build with your architect will translate directly into the quality and performance of your home. After all, you really do get what you pay for, or in this case what you don’t pay for.