i be architecture-ing

Since it seems finding time to update my portfolio on top of my day job, my night job, blogging, and all of my side jobs is just NOT going to happen, I thought I would take a second and post some images of some recent projects that I’ve worked on. Some were quick studies, some are still in development, and some….well, lets just say aren’t moving forward. :-\ Either way, I’m excited about all of my projects and even more excited about the projects to come. šŸ™‚

Kitchen Remodel – Israel

This project would have been a fun one if the client’s purchase agreement hadn’t fallen through on the home. The home is approximately 15 years old and located in Israel (awesome!). The clients are a traditional Jewish family and they planned on renovating the kitchen to better suite their needs after the purchase.

Like most projects, the client’s needs were large while the space is small – relatively speaking. As this was a very quick consultation, and the project fell through rather quickly, I only got about halfway into the design process.

Client's scan of the original builder's drawing set

That being said, the program consisted of taking the existing kitchen, very basic as seen above, and is about 4.5 meters by 3.1 meters. The space needed to accommodate enough storage for three sets of dishes, 2 sinks and 2 work areas in order to separate meat and dairy (kosher), a small work space, as well as seating for 8 (it’s a 7 person family). No small task.

conceptual options 1 and 2

In the above designs, I essentially stretched the counters further out into the dining space, while still leaving enough roof for a decent sized table and circulation. The work area I pushed to the end of the kitchen counter with a small stool and added a large island with small prep sink and dual work spaces (recessed cutting boards). The two sinks I centered at the windows and added enough upper cabinet storage for all of their needs. If the design had moved forward, I would have liked to incorporate pantry storage into the layout and play with some additional built-ins and lighting.

Single Family Home – Grand Cayman

I talked about this project in a previous blog post. The conceptual design, while not completely finished is, in my eyes, finished. Due to differences of opinion, I terminated the contract and supplied the client with documents to date for his use. Unfortunate, but there it is. Learning to discern which clients you are and are not compatible with is just part of the process.

Either way, I think you’ll enjoy the images. There is a definite “island” feel to the home. And, coming in at just under 5,000 sf, it’s truly monstrous in scale – at least in my experience.

exterior conceptual rendering - front overall

exterior conceptual rendering - rear

One of the client’s requirements is to raise the ground floor a minimum of 4′. This will require significant grading of the site, which is first on a major waterway and second not quite as grand as the home itself. There is also a infinity pool at the rear of the home which requires filling the site from setback to setback on all sides. Ultimately I believe the design is a success, though making some compromises on size in favor of greater efficiency would have been nice.

More projects surely to come. Maybe one of these days I’ll even get to update that portfolio. For now, this will have to do.


cookies and architecture – #LetsBlogOff

This may surprise some of you who know me, but as a child I was not terribly into sweets and candy. Sure, like any kid I would gorge myself on Halloween with fist fulls of whatever I could unwrap in 5 seconds or less, but that doesn’t really count. When in Rome, and all that.

But, one thing I’ve always had a soft spot for are cookies. This has continued straight into adult-hood. It’s really more of an obsession. And I like my cookies the way God intended – chocolate chip with a tall glass of whole milk. Not that 2% crap your wife is always trying to cram down your throat cause she says it has “less fat”. :-\ Good old fashioned whole milk and some nice homemade chocolate chip cookies. Ah, the simple pleasures of life.

And I think a better expression would be the pleasures of life are simple. Profound, no? And architecture, for me, should be like a chocolate chip cookie – a simple and honest expression of it’s ingredients. It doesn’t need bright colors, or flashing lights (be a little odd on a cookie), or fake decoration to be good. It simply needs to state what it is and be that. The best architecture has always been simple. The great Roman buildings were essentially a study in multiple posts and lintels. The Egyptians took the simplest and strongest geometric form and exploited it to monumental proportion. They didn’t need a lot of pomp and circumstance in order to make their architecture great. It was great in it’s simplicity.

I would dare say even Baroque and Romanesque andĀ RenaissanceĀ architecture, at their core, were simple and honest and therefore good. When you look at a plan of a great cathedral or a manor home or a civic building, what do you see? You see a simple expression of form. Rectilinear and regular. Proportions were consistent, materials – in terms of structure – were modest, and the buildings as a whole took maximum advantage of their surrounding environment. Now, yes they were covered in all manner of decoration and frivolity (I’ve been waiting for an excuse to use that word), but honest in design nonetheless.

Moving on to modern architecture theĀ comparisonĀ is obvious. I mean, the chocolate chip cookie IS modern architecture. It’s structure and it’s substance are visible at all times. There is nothing hidden, no pretense, no covering up of the materials used, no artificial flavors…ok, I may be taking the metaphor a little too far, but you get my point.

In architecture, as in life, those things that hold most true to stand the test of time are honest, simple and straightforward.

manic monday – the architect is in the details

They say “the devil is in the details”. And they are usually right, except for today – today they are wrong. So there. šŸ˜›

I prefer to think that the architect is in the details. Details, while never perfect, are the “guts” of a set of construction documents. And well thought and well crafted details not only tell a contractor how to properly construct a building, but in my opinion they are also quite beautiful and even, dare I say, artful?

Design is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. Design is typically the one thing that keeps me from jumping out my first floor window most days. But taking the time to properly detail a project that is headed for construction can be just as enjoyable and I think most architects and even a few interns would agree with me.

I kept is short and sweet this week, because, well, I’m blessed enough to be fairly busy. šŸ™‚


when to fire a client – wait, you can do that?

In today’s economic climate, I’m sure this is a thought that hasn’t crossed a single architect’s mind, but, from time to time, even service providers have to know when to say when. So, let’s talk aboutĀ when to fire your client.

It is never a pleasant experience to have to sever a relationship with someone, whether that relationship is personal or professional. I think it’s actually a little easier if it’s personal because there’s at least a good chance you’ll actually never have to see that person again. With professional relationships chances are pretty damn good you’ll see them somewhere out in town or at a trade meeting, Rotary, the Elks, whatever. And this can make for awkward social situations to say the least.

Now, just as the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, so too is the relationship between Architect and Client. Hopefully they’ve sought you out because of your integrity (you’ll take almost any project), your dedication to your work (you’re cheap), and they like your design style (you do what you’re told), which means at the get-go you’ve got a few points in the “win” column. From here things tend to move smoothly, everyone is happy, checks clear and the project moves forward with a signed contract and everything. šŸ™‚

Ah, the contract – one of my favorite things in architectural practice (no sarcasm, I really do love contracts). In the contract, everyone is so happy with each other that we even go so far as to outline and detail our relationship. We describe the architect’s responsibility and deliverables, perhaps even a project schedule (cause those never change, right?). Then we describe the client’s responsibilities and the architects compensation. These are all happy things, nice things, things that allow us to sleep soundly at night not worrying about paying the rent or our employees this month. But there is one section of the typical contract that I like even more:

Severability orĀ Termination of the Contract

This section is typically at the end, after all the happy stuff. It’s usually mentioned in a context like “oh, and this, at the end, yeah that’s just in case I come to hate your guts and think you’re completely incompetent and inept and want to fire you. No biggee.” Most contracts that I see are scribbled on, marked through, revised, and finally signed. But this section at the back is almost always glossed over, and it shouldn’t be.

But why? Because how you start your business relationship is not nearly as important as how you end it. And unfortunately sometimes that relationship needs to be ended before that gloriousĀ completion date outlined in the beginning, happy part of the contract. I know, you’re thinking “why in the world would I ever want to fire a client?! I mean, their checks still clear and everything!” But, oh, there are reasons! Say for example you’re working through Design Development and suddenly the client wants to change the entire scope of work, project schedule and construction deadline. Oh, and they won’t even entertain the idea of additional services, let alone altering the contract to reflect the changed scope and deliverables. At some point in those conversations with your client’s secretary you have to decide when enough is enough and exercise your contractual obligation to end the project relationship.

Or, what if in the Schematic Phase of a project the changes and revisions and updates just never end? Every time you sit down with the client there is some new thing that they “just thought of on the way to your office” and “can we get that into the drawings so I can review them one more time?” I imagine no one has ever heard that before right? :-\

In any service profession, there is a point at which the scales tip fromĀ being of serviceĀ  toĀ getting taken for a ride. It’s extremely hard to know when that scale has tipped and no one can tell you (certainly not me, I’m still figuring it all out). You have to learn it, sometimes from hard won experience, but it’s a necessary part of the process in dealing with the business of architecture. So, be sure to a) read your contracts carefully and b) learn to read your clients even more carefully. Above all, always be upfront and honest with your clients and encourage them to be upfront and honest with you, even brutally so. Make sure that expectations, both realistic and extraordinary are put on the table early and talk about them. Outline exactly what you’re willing to provide, what it’s worth and most importantly how the two of you should proceed if the project simply is not worthĀ pursuing any longer. Just because you have to fire a client does not mean that same person won’t have another project for you down the road.

manic monday – “i can just have a drafter do that, right?”

This is a topic that I’ve talked about before, and actually one that I wanted to stay away from for a bit. But I want to take a minute and revisit this issue. My buddy Lee Calisti had a recent blog post that got me thinking about the value of architectural services. And I want to summarize what I see as the 4 essential components of a well-rounded architectural professional and how this adds value to every project, big and small, in the residential market. Those components are education, internship, experience, and licensure.


The architectural education, as it exists today, in some ways is inadequate for our modern architectural practices, but it’s what we’ve got, so lets look at those essential points that we must take away in order to begin this journey towards architect-dom.

First, a historical perspective. You can not move forward into the future without first knowing and understanding where we’ve been and where we’ve come from. This includes both a design and construction technologies. And, yes, hand drafting is part of a historical perspective. Learn it and love it.

Design is the second essential element of an education. After being grounded in a historical perspective we can let our imaginations soar in design. We’re able to experiment with materials, colors, proportions, use, scale, and structure. Design isn’t about what can be built, it’s about what can be possible.

Confidence is the last element that we take with us from our education. Some of you have raised eyebrows thinking “what the hell?”. It’s ok, I thought the same thing when I typed out the words. But follow me and we’ll get there together. Our education teaches us above all to sell our designs. After all, if we don’t believe in our work, no one else will either. So, a design confidence, a steadiness in our ability to problem solve and critically think things through to an acceptable solution are vital in practice.


Ah, the illustrious internship. That coveted position at the bottom of the totem pole we all fight for even before the ink is dry on our diplomas. This is where you learn, right about day one, that the only class you took in college that has any application to your current position is that one Construction Tech class you took sophomore year where you did wood frame and masonry wall sections for a whole quarter. I try to forget my first year of internship, but unfortunately it’s burned into my memory just how inadequate I was to the task. Luckily I was surrounded by others who were incredibly knowledgeable and were willing to pour that knowledge in to me. I learned more in 2 years of interning than 5 years in college.


And this brings us to experience. Experience and Internship go hand in hand, but they really are two separate things. Anyone can learn a thing. But experience teaches them how to apply a thing, to use it creatively in critical thinking and problem solving. Experience, unlike the internship and education, is the one thing that can’t be taught. It has to be learned.


Licensure is the last step in what can be a frustrating and arduous process for architectural professionals. It is the point at which all of the above culminate in a battery of tests to ensure your qualifications as a legal Architect. Now, this is not a place to debate the validity or even the necessity of licensure (I’ve been castigated enough for my opinions on that score). Suffice it to say, currently there are laws in place that govern the necessity of licensed professionals in the building and construction industry.

At the end of the day, when you decide to begin any building project – whether that be a interior renovation or addition to a existing home, a new single family property or even just a cosmetic facelift to your home, the benefits of hiring someone trained in the art and science of architecture is, in my opinion, paramount to the success or failure of your project.

So the next time you are thinking about building a home, or adding to an existing home, or just modernizing your existing home, at least consult with a architect/designer and ask them “how can you help me”. I guarantee it will not be a wasted meeting.


containers and permitting

Two of the biggest obstacles I hear about when dealing with and designing homes and other structures out of shipping containers are permitting and building codes. It’s important to talk about both, because, frankly, if you don’t meet building code you won’t get a permit. There’s something of a symbiotic relationship going on here, right?

So, lets talk about building codes. What are they and why are they important?

First, building codes are nothing more than a minimum standard set of guidelinesĀ  by which architects, designers, engineers and contractors ensure the health, safety and welfare of the public in building construction. Building codes and zoning requirements can change from state to state, city to city and town to town. Geographic differences pose perhaps the most varying changes to local codes. For instance, you wouldn’t necessarily build a wall or design a hvac system the same in Florida as you would in Maine or in Missouri or North Dakota, as the climates throughout the year are widely different in each location. So it’s important to be up to date on the codes that affect your building site.

As I mentioned, building codes are set to provide for a minimum standard. It also sets definitions of terms governed by the code such as dwelling unit. These terms are outlined in the code and in the case of a dwelling unit are defined by minimum limits on size and square footage. In the latest edition of the Florida Building Code Residential, Section R304 the minimum area and horizontal and vertical clearances allowable are 120 square feet, 7′ in width and 7′-6″ in height. This is important when designing with shipping containers because you have a fixed shell that only gets smaller when you add interior studs, insulation and finishes. And violating these minimum standards will make getting a permit nearly impossible and will most likely necessitate costly redesign of the building. Not cool, right?

So, if you’ve successfully designed your container home to meet your local building requirements, then your next challenge is to receive a building permit for construction. While this is typically handled by your contractor, some homeowners do go about the permitting process themselves, especially if they plan to act as their own general contractor.Ā  Be sure to check with your local planning department to see if this is an option for you.

Now, while typically you need to go through the design process first to ensure compliance with building codes, when building a home out of what is considered an alternative building material/system it’s a good idea to get your code enforcement and planning officials on board early and make them a part of the whole process. In my experience, no matter what the project type, when you get input from your local officials early in the design process they are more likely to be an ally for your project rather than simply the enforcement officer. This means that they will be more likely to work with you when you propose alternative building solutions to code requirements, more inclined to point out possible red flags when it’s easy to correct in the drawing phases and even advocate for the project when it does come time to issuing a permit.

All that being said, the important lessons to take away here are:

1. You CAN permit shipping container homes. Anyone who says that you can’t or that it’s too difficult most likely isn’t skilled or educated enough to be designing buildings in the first place.

2. It is in your best interest, and the interest of your building project, to hire qualified design professionals and to elicit the help of your local building and planning officials when permitting alternative homes. We are not Ogres out to eat your children or gouge you out of thousands of dollars that you could have spent on that fancy plasma cutter. We are trained professionals who WANT to see your projects get designed and built according to your vision. Let us help you.

3. If someone tells you “you could just build it yourself without a permit”, RUN – even if your city/township doesn’t actually have a code enforcement department.

4. Always, always, always design AT LEAST to the minimum standard set forth in the IBC (International Building Code). We’re talking about structures that house your most precious possessions – your family – so why would you NOT want to ensure a minimum standard of care in the design and construction of your home?

Ok, I’m off my soapbox. I know I have more than a few friends out there who have designed and permitted shipping container homes or other alternative building types. Please feel free to comment on your own experiences and even correct me if you feel I’m just a raving loon. šŸ™‚

manic monday – architects and bloggers part II

Last week I talked about a question that was asked of one of the students in the UF critique – “who is your favorite architect”. And I posed the question of why we immediately gravitate to high profile starchitects instead of the local or regional “good ole boys/girls” who do exceptional work, but perhaps aren’t on the cover of ArchRecord or Dwell. I even gave a list of some of my favorite local architects as examples of those deserving of recognition not only for their work, but also for their contribution to our profession.

This time around I want to give a huge shout out to some not-local architects and designers that I admire and follow. Again, these are architects that not only produce work that, in my opinion, is noteworthy, but also contribute in a significant way to the profession as a whole. These are my “starchitects”, if you will.

lee calisti architecture + design

life of an architect – bob borson

coffee with an architect – jody brown

build, llc

vermont architect – robert swinburne

There are many, many more that I could list. I’m sure most of you, even those of you ON this list, could add names of architects that have impacted your career, your practice, or just your daily life as a professional. And this is exactly what I encourage anyone reading this to do – add an architect, designer or firm of your own starchitect. Be sure to add a link to their site so we can all find them without digging through google. šŸ™‚ Time to stop looking to Mt. Olympus for inspiring figures and look around the corner.