ARE 4.0 – Building Systems


This morning, at 8am, I took my fourth exam – Building Systems. That’s 4 down and 3 to go. But, honestly, with this exam and having taken it twice before, I still really don’t know how I did. I know I aced the graphic. It was, quite frankly, a cake walk. I mean, seriously…if you’ve been practicing for more than 2 years you know how to do a reflected ceiling plan and basic duct layout. If not….well, you really need to start paying more attention to your job.

The multiple choice, however, was a completely different story. I studied this time, which was something of a break from the last time I took it. And I still felt unprepared and under read. Some of the questions on the exam were so out in left field and specific that I’m not sure I could reasonably FIND the answer even now. Hopefully those were the questions that don’t count.

So, it’s going to be a waiting game on this one. Fingers crossed that I passed. Just have to wait and see. And for those of you out there getting set to take this one, below is what I studied and what I feel is most important to know to pass:

What I studied:

Ballast Building Systems Sample Problems and Practice Exam
Kaplan Flash Cards for the iPhone (it’s totally worth the $50)
ARE Forums – there are several posts with additional study materials including alternate graphic vignettes and links to some youtube videos that are incredibly helpful.

NOTE: TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FORUMS and post your own knowledge and experience once you’re thru. It’s in all our best interests to help each other pass these )&*(^*&%%^%*& exams.

What I needed to know (if I failed):

Electrical – know wiring diagrams, load diagrams, phasing, voltage, current, resistance, etc. Just know the basics contained in the notes and study guides.
Mechanical – have a good understanding of the various types of HVAC systems including geothermal. There’s a emphasis on sustainability and life cycle stuff, so know what systems are best and worst for which applications.
Plumbing – not a ton of plumbing stuff. If you understand how water is supplied, soiled and removed, you’re mostly good. Understand components of multi-story buildings
Elevators – know them, love them, learn them.
Acoustics – know your friggin acoustics. This I wasn’t so sure on and may have cost me the exam (fingers crossed). Second only to lighting.
Lighting – There were a lot of lighting questions. Types of lights, types of light, daylighting, loading, glare, etc etc etc. Know your lighting.

Ok, that’s my brain dump for the day. I’ll update this post when I get my results.

Good luck!

Daily Prompt: artist’s eye

Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to? What does it say to you? Describe the experience. (Or, if art doesn’t speak to you, tell us why.)

In college we studied the history of Art in world cultures. We began with the prehistoric Venus d’Milo and went all the way through time right up to modern expressionism, post-modernism and all the other isms that we deal with today. But, one artist above all others stood out for me and really got my blood pumping.

Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock in his studio.

Jackson Pollock in his studio.

His work, especially his early work, always seemed to be searching for something. As I learned more about his life I came to realize he was searching for some kind of piece within himself. One I don’t think he ever found. But he kept searching all his life. This still speaks to me through his art.

Autumn Rhythm No. 30, 1950

Autumn Rhythm No. 30, 1950

While most of us know and recognize his larger pieces like the one above, I actually prefer the smaller canvases that he created. The larger work is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. They are full of movement and rhythm and action and even violence. But the smaller canvas works, if you really look at them, are like packages of dynamite – contained, restrained, almost ready to explode. As if he captured all of his emotions and action into a jar and sealed it. You can feel the tightness of it.

Whenever I look at Pollocks work I FEEL. And that, to me, is the greatest Art.

Daily Prompt: architecture of the now

Do you belong in this day and age? Do you feel comfortable being a citizen of the 21st-century? If you do, explain why — and if you don’t, when in human history would you rather be?

The Golden Ratio

The Golden Ratio

Architecture began thousands of years ago with the earliest humans using large tree branches to create the first post and beam structures. These simple, temporary shelters developed into more permanent, but mobile, structures like Tee-pees and tents made of long wooden rods and animal skins sewn together. We call this Pre-historic Architecture.

Eventually our ancestors developed more permanent forms of building made out of a multitude of readily available local materials like mud brick, stone, wood, palm leaves and even concrete. We call this Ancient Architecture.

As the centuries progressed, Architecture and Construction became more refined, more functional, and even more beautiful. In each new era of building we have a certain style (this is a dirty word to some, but not to me), or a certain set of principles that identifies a particular age and way of life for that time and place. And in times past, place had a much more important role to play in the architecture through material, construction and even function.

Now, fast forward through the Industrial age, the invention of the elevator, central HVAC, the automobile, the airplane, the microwave and the iPhone – Architecture, in my opinion, has devolved. We’ve lost, through technology, the basics that make architecture great. Our technology has made it possible to design anything, anywhere, at any time. We are no longer bound by the basic principles of place, of climate or of time. This is leading to the death of real Architecture. The idea of sustainability, what used to be a default in all buildings, has now become something extra. In many cases something MUCH extra indeed. We don’t design buildings to perform and respond with their site and climate. We design them AGAINST their site and climate in a constant battle for supremacy. And how’s that working out for you?

For 21st Century Architecture to succeed, we need to return to basic Architectural Principles: Site, Context, Climate (Macro and Micro), Materials (local), Construction (durability and longevity), and Proportion (beauty). No matter what architectural style you favor, a well designed building that takes the items listed above into careful consideration is successful and will be enjoyed and appreciated by anyone. Like good music, good architecture is just that.

Daily Prompt: “hey, you! back of the bus!”


If you could permanently ban a word from general usage, which one would it be? Why?

Man…how do I limit myself to just ONE word? There are so many that come to mind. In architecture words carry power. Words, that may seem small and insignificant, can have amazing impact. They can save, or ruin, a building.

Since I do have to narrow my focus to just one word, it would be Typical. Typical is a word that is used A LOT by architects and draftsmen to describe something that basically happens everywhere on a building. For example, a particular note on a drawing may read “vertical fiber cement siding over p.t. wd furring over weather barrier, typ.”. This note would refer to the exterior finish and weather proofing of a particular wall section. Adding “typical” to the end suggests that this finish is everywhere on the exterior.

“Typical” however, in my mind, makes us lazy. It means we only need note something once, which also means we’re not really paying attention to the drawings. If something is “typical” in one location then it doesn’t necessarily need to look right in other locations because it’s “typical”. I did it right the first time, why bother the next time?

The problem is the devil is in the details. If you’re not worrying about how that finish works at various stages throughout the building you’re likely to miss something, perhaps an opportunity for a really sweet detail, or some critical case where it’s not “typical”, but instead requires some thought and consideration.

There’s nothing “typical” about architecture. No two projects are the same. There is always something new to consider, to detail and to think through. Do yourself, and your clients, a favor – take the time to draft and detail your buildings. Don’t just make them “typical”.


Daily Prompt: “Hey, Norm!”

Is being “normal” — whatever that means to you — a good thing, or a bad thing? Neither?

Norm, from Cheers

Norm, from Cheers

Normal: conforming to a standard, usual, typical or expected; the usual, average or typical state or condition. Basically normal is BORING. There are a lot of normal architects out there. They are stuck in the typical way of doing things, the standard method of practice. This is why so many architects either fail or fail to succeed and grow. If you don’t position yourself to be ab-normal and move with the times you’ll never be as successful as you could be.

Architecture is, and always has been, a service profession. To paraphrase Philip Johnson, “architects are prostitutes”. We are in the business of selling ourselves and our services to our clients. For decades this has been fairly easy. Economic times, for the most part, were robust the last 30 years or so. But, in an age when the gap between those leaving the profession and those entering the profession is getting wider and wider, we can’t afford to keep on keeping on. We have to grow, change, be flexible and adaptable to almost any client need.

“Normal” is no longer an acceptable business practice model. This goes not just for the types of clients we take on, but also for how we practice. We need to develop a business and practice model that is more tailor-able to a multitude of project and client needs. The days of suit and tie architecture are all but over. And it’s about time.

honoring my dads – happy father’s day

Many of us grow up as part of a typical nuclear family – mom, dad, sister/brother, sparky the dog and mittens the cat. In my case I grew up with not one but two dads. Later in life I gained a third. Today, on Father’s Day, I’d like to honor these three men and share how each one has helped to make me the man, and father, I am today.

Let me start off by saying that none of these men were perfect fathers, husbands or even friends. They are human and fallible just like all of us. And even in their imperfections and through all of their mistakes I will still hold each of them in the highest esteem as long as there is breath and life in me.

me and my Dad on a recent camping trip in Arkansas

me and my Dad on a recent camping trip in Arkansas – the date is a year off

First, my Dad, Tom. When I was born my mother was not quite 18 and my dad was not quite 19. This was 1980, and while teen pregnancy wasn’t quite common, we’re not talking about the 1950s either. As I’m sure anyone out there can relate this is not an ideal situation to begin a marriage (yes they got married about 5 months before I was born) becoming a husband and father all at once. Most of us like to space these things out a bit. Fast forward through all the dirt that makes up life and we get to today. My Dad is one of my best friends. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I can go to him with any problem and he will listen without judgement and without prejudice. He’ll offer advice if I ask it, but otherwise he’s always been a true confidant and a true encouragement to me through many a foolish decision I’ve made. Despite whatever has and will happen in life, I’ll never love my dad any less than I do right now.

me (13-ish), my stepfather Frank, and my mother

me (13-ish), my stepfather Frank, and my mother

My stepfather, Frank. He and my mother began dating when I was about 2-ish. Until I was grown he was the dominant male figure in my life. He and I did not always see eye to eye growing up. He was 18 years my mother’s senior, which put a considerable age gap between he and I. I was growing up in a much different time than he did and this led to a lot of….misunderstandings, to put it mildly. Me being a punk teenager didn’t help matters much either. He and my mother separated when I was 16. By this time I was starting to see some of the wisdom in what he was trying to instill in me in my earlier years. From the time I was 16 until he passed away just before my 21st birthday we became very close. I unfortunately realized much too late that he loved me no different than his own son. He did the best he could with what he had and some of my most fond memories in life are of him. I know he’s staring down at me and I hope he’s proud of the man he helped make me today. Hell, he taught me how to pee standing up. Things like that are important. 😛

My father-in-law, Duane, at the top of Pinnacle Mountain

My father-in-law, Duane, at the top of Pinnacle Mountain

Lastly, and certainly not least, my Father-in-law, Duane. I honestly can’t say enough good things about him. Obviously it’s thanks to him that I have my wife – duh. But more than that he’s been an amazing friend and spiritual father to me. I can imagine that it must have been difficult to accept his christian daughter dating an avid buddhist, but from the beginning he showed me nothing but love and continues to pour that love into me, my wife and my children. Like my own father, I can go to Duane with anything and he’ll offer the same unbiased and unprejudiced council. Over the last 8 years he’s shaped me in ways I can’t even comprehend yet, but I’m grateful to have him in my life.

Fathers can come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes by choice and sometimes by fate. But however they come into our life we must not take for granted what they have to teach us both through instruction and through example. No father is perfect, none but God, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. But we should love, honor and respect them as long as we’re able. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s out there and all the Dad’s to be.

Daily Prompt: Tourist Trap

What’s your dream tourist destination — either a place you’ve been and loved, or a place you’d love to visit? What about it speaks to you?

“Place” is an interesting word for Architects. It means so much more than a location, a position or even a destination. “Place” is what we create. My own favorite places are almost always churches. I was never terribly religious growing up, and I’m not religious now, though I do have a strong faith. But churches, especially old well built and well designed churches always fascinated me. Two of my favorites to visit are The Cathedral Basillica of Saint Augustine in St. Augustine, Florida and The Cathedral of Saint John The Baptist in Savannah, Georgia. These two places spring to mind because I spent most of my adult life in both Jacksonville, Florida (very close to St. Augustine) and Savannah, Georgia (attending SCAD).

What is always so striking about buildings like these is the immediate sense of “place”, or the feeling that you have entered not a building but a living, breathing thing that has life to it. Many architects, I’m sure, can attest to buildings feeling “cold” or “impersonal”. These are not “places”, these are merely buildings that serve a function and are usually torn down in less than one generation.

Real Architecture creates “place”. Real Architecture creates a building with purpose, with meaning, with an animus that lasts long after we are gone.

Cathedral Basillica of Saint Augustine, St. Augustine, Florida

Cathedral Basillica of Saint Augustine, St. Augustine, Florida

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia

Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Savannah, Georgia