Daily Prompt: Four Stars – A Review

Write a review of your life — or the life of someone close to you — as if it were a movie or a book.

I sincerely LOVE criticism. I’ve always welcomed anyone and everyone to critique my work. After all, it’s the only way we get better, no matter what we do. Now, I don’t always take the advice given, nor will I always agree with a particular critique, but I will always try and evaluate what someone offers to determine if it’s of value to my work or not.

This, to me, is something sorely missing in modern academia. We’re all so focused on not hurting a student’s feelings that we fail to properly teach and criticize and push them forward to greatness. Architecture, especially, is not a forgiving profession. Our work is judged, criticized, reviewed, and even butchered from all fronts. Clients, other architects, engineers, planning officials, building and zoning codes, contractors, sub contractors, magazine and newspaper journalists, etc. If you can’t handle “tough love” in college, how much less prepared are you going to be in practice when your boss rips you a new one for not properly detailing a stair or bathroom? Or better yet when you think you’ve come up with a stellar design for your new residential client and they hate it and tell you so. Loudly. Criticism should be sought after, you should pursue it as an architect or designer.

My wife put it perfectly the other night. She was a ballet dancer most of her life and she said, “my teacher used to tell me that criticism was a blessing. Because if your instructor isn’t criticizing you, it means they’re not looking at you.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be criticized and get better at what I do rather than be invisible.

Daily Prompt: Dream Home

You win a contest to build your dream home. Draft the plans.

This should be a no-brainer: Architect + Dream Home = easy peasy, lemon squeezy. The truth is an architects home is many times like a mechanics car – it always needs work and it’s never quite right. I actually began writing a post some months back titled “why I never want to design my own house”. It never quite got finished because, to be honest, while I understand that I am the worst client for any architect to have, there’s not really another architect on the planet I would trust to design my home and get the massing, materials, function, flow and details right. Don’t even get me started on contractors.

So, what does my dream home look like? Is it all glass and steel and concrete? Is it traditional wood detailing used in minimalist ways? Is it on wheels? Will it stand up? To be quite honest, I have no idea. My wife and I have talked often and agree that one day we will build a home for our family on a decent sized piece of land. We’d like to have a large garden, large dogs, a few chickens and possibly a goat, but that is a ways off and we’re happy to wait to do it right. Some sketches have been made, some thought into the basic organization and materials and even the overall scale, but that’s as far as it needs to go right now. Without a site it’s a bit superfluous.

Until that day comes, my “dream home”, or more accurately my “for now home” is a simple “must have” list of the basics:

3-4 bedrooms
2 baths
Garage and/or basement
fenced yard for the dogs and kids to chase each other without running into the street

Other than that in any home I look for a sense of proportion as well as some thought to detail, materials and color. As an architect I’m probably not as picky as some. Yet.

Daily Prompt: Homeys

Yeah, I couldn’t really resist adding this little clip. Who doesn’t love In Living Color? 🙂

But, seriously, today we’re talking about Home. And for an architect, and especially a residential architect, Home is something we think about a lot. And not just because we’re always stuck in the office and hardly ever get to go there. Home is what we do – we CREATE Homes, not just houses like in the world of big box retail residential manufacturing (lets be honest, it’s not really architecture if they all look the same….and they do. ALL of them).

And creating a home for someone is much more involved than just drafting some walls, doors and windows and throwing a hipped roof on top. There is a process involved and it begins with understanding people, understanding the client and the client’s wife/husband and the client’s children, etc. Understanding space and the difference between quartz and granite countertops comes later, much later.

As an architect, this is our primary function. Builders are great at showing you a picture of a house that someone else designed for someone else’s lifestyle and building that for you (not to say that there aren’t exceptions), but at the end of the day it’s still a home designed for someone else, not you. So, if you really want to build your home and not someone else’s, talk to an architect first.

Daily Prompt: My Life, the Book

From a famous writer or celebrity, to a WordPress.com blogger or someone close to you — who would you like to be your biographer?

For many of us, the idea of leaving a legacy after the sun has set on our life is a big one. For architects, that drive to leave a lasting legacy is even stronger, I believe. In college we study ancient architecture, and by extension we also study the architects who envisioned those buildings. We can trace the first architect back to the time of ancient Egyptians, Imhotep (no, not the guy from The Mummy) and all the way to present day starchitects like Calatrava, Kundig, Meier, etc. All through history we can read and even see the fruits of a legacy left by countless architects who have shaped the way we live and the way we build. These are large shoes to try and fill in order to leave our own mark, our own legacy.

But, this is exactly what I hope will be my biographer – my buildings. With all of my projects and all of my clients there are a few things that I strive to accomplish every single time. First, that the clients needs are met both in immediate and future function of the building. This to me is paramount to a successful project. Second, I strive to call attention to the details of a building – the structure, color, materials, the nuts and bolts, the guts. A building should speak about it’s construction and perhaps even the reason behind how it came to be. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, I strive to design and construct buildings that will last, that respond to their immediate surroundings and will be adaptable to changes in the future.

If I can accomplish these three things on each of my projects, then I know my legacy is secure, my buildings will speak for me. Can any of us ask for more?

cargotecture – going strong

If you haven’t noticed I haven’t posted a lot of information on container based projects lately. This is mostly due to the fact that I haven’t had a ton of time with my current work load.

BUT, today I noticed a post on Inhabitat profiling ShelterWerks, a company out of Seattle that is turning cargotecture into a modular home solution. I had a little time to check out their site and I’m fairly impressed. The costs they estimate are reasonable and the designs are simple and functional – unlike some others out there. If you’ve got a second, go check em out.

ShelterWerks stock residential model

ShelterWerks stock residential model

ShelterWerks stock residential model

ShelterWerks stock residential model

Daily Prompt: Nomadic Architecture

If you could live a nomadic life, would you? Where would you go? How would you decide? What would life be like without a “home base”?

Photo by A Yin - nomads of Mongolia. www.rmanyc.org

Photo by A Yin – nomads of Mongolia. http://www.rmanyc.org

Architectural practice, with few exceptions, is a territorial art and business. Architects typically operate within their own city, sometimes venturing into neighboring cities, but almost always within their state of residence. Mostly this is a product of the licensing process by which architects are only licensed to practice in an individual state. And, while getting licensed in multiple states is not terribly difficult, it is incredibly expensive and time consuming to maintain, so very few architects will maintain a license in more than one or two states at a time.

In my own practice, not having a license has actually made it easier to work on projects in multiple states and even other countries. There are challenges that come with that type of arrangement, but they are not terribly prohibitive. The biggest challenges are communication with clients, getting a basic understanding of the local laws and building codes, and tailoring your drawings accordingly. Luckily a set of architectural drawings are for the most part typical no matter where you are in the world. The same type of information has to be effectively communicated no matter what.

And when I began my little side practice now more than 3 years ago, this is exactly what I had in mind – a practice that was flexible, affordable to clients, and was not bound by geography. A nomadic architecture if you will. And, once I am fully licensed, this nomadic practice will be both more and less challenging. At that point I will need to decide on the few most advantageous locations to maintain licenses in, but it will also make partnering with other licensed professionals easier as well. And, after all, building a truly nomadic practice is entirely dependent on the relationships you build in the locations you practice.

Independence Day


A happy Independence Day to all. I don’t like calling this holiday “the fourth” or just “4th of July” because it doesn’t convey the weight and the importance of the day as “Independence Day” does. Today is a magnificent celebration of the sacrifices and triumphs made by our forefathers who fought against the British monarchy and created the first truly free and democratic society on Earth. This is an achievement that deserves and demands the utmost respect and admiration and honor that we can give.


So, today, while you’re preparing for fireworks, and bar-b-que, and playing in the park with your kids, or getting set to light those bottle rockets after sucking down a six pack, remember your freedom came at am amazing price. It came at the price of countless thousands who determined that they would no longer live under the rule of tyranny, but instead would fight for a nation, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. God Bless America.