Daily Prompt: Burning Down the House

“Your home is on fire. Grab five items (assume all people and animals are safe). What did you grab?”

Questions like this are incredibly important. They force you to take a true account of the crap that you fill your life with, the distractions that you allow and the false sense of value that you place on things that can be destroyed or taken away in a moments notice.Β Only the Egyptians believed that you could take stuff with you into the afterlife. Look how well that worked out for them. :-\ In most world religions there is a strong lesson in learning to let go of “stuff” in favor of anything that brings true meaning and value to your life.

If I were to be truly honest here, not one single thing. If I assume my wife and children are safe, the rest of it can burn to ash and blow away. If I were to think practically, I’d grab my cell phone, my laptop and a change of clothes. But, again, to be honest, as long as my family is safe there isn’t one thing I’d risk my health grabbing in a fire or any other natural disaster. For the rest, I’ll let George Carlin do the talking. πŸ™‚

Container Architecture – a reality

I’ve talked about this before….many times. But it seems that I have to do so again, and again because there are others out there who quite frankly keep lying to people and it gets annoying.

So, here are three things you need to know before entertaining the idea of building your own home from repurposed shipping containers. Please keep in mind these are not the ONLY three things you need to know, but rather these are the three things that I notice most often send potential clients running away in frustration and even bewilderment.

1. In order to build a house – no matter what material you use – it will cost you money…lots of it.

Your home, that thing that keeps your family safe and secure from the elements, is the single largest investment you’ll ever make in your life. You will not build a house, even if you build it yourself, for $50 or $60 per square foot. I don’t care what anyone tells you, this just isn’t going to happen unless you get all your appliances and half your building materials donated or from a junk yard….in which case I doubt your home will be very safe or secure. You’re not Mad Max, nor do I suspect you’d like to be. Take the time and spend the money on quality design and engineering at the front end, then hire qualified builders to construct your home. I guarantee your family will thank you and you’ll secure your investment for the future.

2. Unless you’re a trained designer or Architect you do not want to design your own home.

This is especially true when dealing with shipping containers. Containers are huge steel boxes that are designed and constructed to act as a single structural unit. Once you start chopping holes and welding pieces together you change the properties of that structural unit which can lead to dangerous living conditions. A well executed plan is first properly planned.

3. There is value in design and construction services.

Below are a series of photos – both DIY container homes and container homes that were properly designed, detailed and constructed. You tell me which ones are the better investment both financially and for the safety and security of your family.

DIY #1this one actually isn't that bad...but still, it could be better.

DIY #1
this one actually isn’t that bad…but still, it could be better.

DIY #2yeah, I don't want to live here either.

DIY #2
yeah, I don’t want to live here either.

DIY #3....do I even have to comment?

DIY #3
….do I even have to comment?

ah, a real home. designed, detailed and constructed properly.

ah, a real home. designed, detailed and constructed properly.

a smaller home - more of a cabin really. but still well designed and executed.

a smaller home – more of a cabin really. but still well designed and executed.

And, just in case you’re wondering, a typical American Home, whether built out of wood studs or repurposed shipping containers, will still cost you in the neighborhood of $150 per square foot and up. This cost is beyond what you pay for your land, your design and engineering and is completely dependent on the quality of materials that you use. If you do all the work yourself (not recommended) you’re still going to end up around $100 per square foot. And that’s assuming you do everything perfectly.

So please, PLEASE when someone tells you that you can “build your own corten castle for pennies on the dollar”…..RUN.

Daily Prompt: Through the Window

Today’s prompt is to stare out your window for a full minute and then write about what you see……Cause, you know, we’ve all got so much free time on our hands that we can just stop and stare out the window contemplating the higher purpose of life and other such esoteric gems. :-\

the view.

the view.

So, this is my view. Little Rock, Arkansas – Downtown. I’m up on the 7th floor with a view of the historic Pulaski County Courthouse, which is also one of the projects my firm is currently working on. My general view consists of the old and the new, mountains and plains, land and sky. In short, awesome.

Coming from the great flat lands of Florida, this is an incredibly welcomed change of scenery. And not just for the landscape. The cityscape also, for me, is an improvement. While Little Rock doesn’t have quite the number of tall buildings that crowd downtown Jacksonville, there is a pleasant mix of old and new that is refreshing. “Preservation” is something that is actually practiced in the true sense, while most new construction is contemporary and modern. I haven’t come across a lot of historical copy-cat architecture which is so common in Jacksonville and other “historic” cities. If we, as architects, endeavor to create cities of our time and place in history, with an eye towards improving how people experience the world around them, then we can’t be constantly concerned with “style” and “period”. Little Rock is a city that seems to respect and honor the past while also providing for it’s future. Hallelujah.

Daily Prompt – Sliced Bread

We’ve all heard the expression “this is the greatest thing since sliced bread”, so today we’re wondering “what really is the greatest thing since sliced bread”?

For Architecture, 30 years ago, it was CAD or Computer Aided Drafting. That’s right, 30 years and not much changed. Really not much changed from the drawing board to the computer. You still created lines on a sheet of paper in 2 dimensions that represent an eventual 3 dimensional reality. This was not really a paradigm shift by any stretch. It really just made mistakes easier and less time consuming to correct. If you’ve ever tried erasing ink on vellum you know exactly what I’m talking about.

But now we are in full swing with BIM or Building Information Modeling. BIM, unlike traditional CAD, is a true paradigm shift in thinking because you approach design and documentation from a 3 dimensional perspective rather than 2 dimensional. This means from the very beginning you’re thinking about grades and site positioning and views and roof profiles and elevations and wall sections and basic construction detailing. Not to mention the benefits of collision detection when coordinating consultant information for other trades, etc.

In my mind this is technology that should have been embraced a decade ago, but now that we are finally pushing in that direction as an industry, BIM truly is the best thing since sliced bread.

Daily Prompt: Breaking the Law

“Think about the last time you broke a rule (a big one, not just ripping the tags off your pillows). Were you burned, or did things turn out for the best?”

In the United States, and most developed countries, it is illegal to call yourself an Architect (yes, with a capital A) unless you have been licensed by your state of residence or another state through reciprocity. It is also technically illegal to practice architecture without a license in most states. I say “technically” because most states do not require an Architect’s stamp on all projects, mostly residential, and there’s some other fuzzy language in most statutes that allows you to practice “design” in the realm of “architecture” without being licensed.

All that to say I technically break the law every day just by operating this blog and doing what I do best – architecture. And I’ve talked long about my problems with the licensing process and my distaste for the AIA and other “professional organizations” that do little more than take your money for the honor and privilege of putting “AIA” at the end of your name on your business card. Ugh, give me a break.

Now, in my daily activities, the question of whether or not I get burned or skate through unscathed….well, that’s a question of degrees. You, see I go through great pains to make sure that I do not advertise myself as a licensed architect. It gets into very complicated explanations with potential clients that have no reason to know about the licensing process and the legal hoops and hurdles of gaining “the title”, but nonetheless I do my best. This has led me to a degree of both success and failure. I’ve both lost and won projects because of this. Some of the projects that I’ve been fortunate enough to work on have been incredibly exciting (look for the LA Modern post coming soon) and others were just small design exercises that brought in a decent fee and kept me moving forward. All careers are filled with a mixture of these.

But, the moral of this little tale is that laws are created to ensure a baseline of public safety. But Architects (with a capital A) have fallen into a very unfortunate attitude of elitism that quite frankly makes me sick. I read a study, and posted recently, about the fact that only about 3% of the total residential construction done in this country had an Architect involved on the project, and even fewer of those had the same Architect involved all the way through construction. That to me is a complete failure of not just the profession but the legal system as well.

If Architects want to take a larger piece of that pie they need to realize that the 97% of residential clients out there are in the same kind of income bracket as we are – middle class. And, if most Architects can’t afford to build their own “dream home” while paying an Architect 9-12% of the construction budget, what makes you think the other 97% of clients can?

In this day and age of technology and rapid communication across a wide range of tools and softwares, the laws be damned. Architecture needs to change.

Daily Prompt: free association

Today’s daily prompt title is free association. They give three words and ask for the first word that comes to your mind for each. This was always a fun game in grade school. You could learn a lot about a person by the associations they make instinctively without time to figure out what someone else thinks the right answer should be. Here we go.


When I think of home I immediately think of my children. Nothing makes me happier than coming home and immediately being greeted by my two screaming little monsters. The place isn’t even important. “Home” for me is not a place, it’s a feeling. You can live in the same city, on the same street and in the same house for decades and never quite feel “home”, but then suddenly you enter a place for the first time, maybe a new apartment or a new house or a box car on a subway, and you just feel at home. There’s no rationale behind it, it just is. This is also one of the things I love about architecture – the opportunity to not just design and build a house for someone, but to create a home – that one place that my client will feel truly content and at peace.


I live in Arkansas now. They call it The Natural State, and after only a few months here, I know why. It’s beautiful. There are mountains and parks and lakes and rivers and streams and springs and campgrounds and horseback riding and fishing and hunting…..it’s amazing. I love it. So, when I think of soil I think of hiking and camping and all those other things. I think of being in and surrounded by nature, of digging my fingers into the cool dirt near a river or climbing mountain trails with my kids.


I mean, really, is there any other word that comes to mind when you think of rain? Being a kid, running outside in a rain storm, your mother yelling at you about catching pneumonia, splashing in puddles and running around until you are completely soaked. It reminds me of being young and carefree, of having the entire world in front of me, endless possibilities for my future.

Daily Prompt: Toot Your Horn

“Most of us are excellent at being self-deprecating, and are not so good at the opposite. Tell us your favorite thing about yourself.”


This is completely true. We’re all incredibly capable of telling anyone who will listen where we tend to fail or simply come up short the most. But when it comes to talking ourselves up, to “tooting our own horn” we tend to downplay our strengths. I myself even tend to throw in a few flaws while trying to “sell myself” as a vain attempt at humility. But today, thanks to the Daily Prompt, it’s time to take the gloves off and tell you all just how wonderful I am. Because, lets face it, I’m awesome and you need to know why. How’s that for humble? πŸ˜‰

So, how does one go about tooting their own horn? I suppose since this blog is centered around architecture, design and all things funktastic, I should start there and see where we end up.

I suppose I see my greatest strengths in three areas that affect my practice. These three areas are not necessarily exclusive to architecture, but then just about everything in my life leads back to it at some point. So here we go.

1. Design, sketching and communicating “it” to people.

This is technically three things in one, but as an architect we don’t just communicate with language. We have to be able to effectively communicate ideas through words, sketches, drawings and even rapid hand movements and guttural slurs. It’s a talent that can certainly be learned, but most often is an innate gift that we just have. Growing up I was never good at public speaking (see, throwing in that self-deprecation for humility’s sake), but when I got to college I was forced to regularly and repeatedly get up in front of my studio mates and present my work. From day one. It was complete trial by fire, but, as it turned out, I have a real talent for public speaking. And as I gained confidence in that, I was more comfortable, more relaxed and have often been praised for my presentations, my communication and my ability to use multiple sources to adequately convey designs and abstract ideas to my audience. Gold Star #1.

2. Political Maneuvering.

To be honest this is one area where I wish I was not so skillful. Politics and pandering to the emotions and reactions of others is, quite frankly, mind-numbing. BUT we live in a world where managing the emotional and often times irrational responses of our peers, employers, clients and that guy on the sidewalk that keeps screaming at you every time you walk by that garbage can is a survival trait. Now this is not to say that I am a nice person, nor am I necessarily a push over either. In fact, I’m most often described as being rather arrogant, headstrong, opinionated and even, God forbid, rude. But, I simply know how to manage my own emotional responses to situations and therefore am more able to keep my cool when someone else loses their mind. Because they almost always do. Gold Star #2.

3. Performance under stress.

Going back as far as high school I have always performed well under pressure. The closer the deadline the more focused and determined to meet my goals I become. This has been incredibly valuable in practice because, as we all know, clients want everything yesterday and can’t fathom why it’s taking more than 3 days for you to design and detail that 10,000 sf warehouse addition. :-\ Where this does sometimes get me into trouble is, knowing how well I perform under pressure and tight deadlines, I tend to procrastinate thus creating situations of high stress. I imagine this may kill me one day, but for now I’m young enough to handle the wild swings in my blood pressure. πŸ˜› Gold Star #3.

So, there you have it. A little horn tooting, self-aggrandizing and ego-fluffing from little old me. You now know, as I mentioned before, I’m awesome, obviously. πŸ˜‰