I’m so EXCITED!! #AchiTalks

I love movies. And I have kids. So most of the movies I watch are cartoons, which also means most of my movie references will come from cartoon movies. It’s a blessed curse, what can I say. This particular movie clip came to mind when I was presented with this edition of ArchiTalks because it deals with language and the art of communication. Plus, the dirty little guy is named Mole and he’s just a really friggin funny character.

Language, or more specifically communication, is something that for some very strange reason I am very good at. Since I gave my very first presentation in college until now I have always been complimented on my skills in presentations, interviews and even casual conversations with strangers on the sidewalk. I just love talking to people and finding out more about them. It hasn’t always been this way. As a matter of fact I was so shy and socially awkward as a child that they thought I was “slow” and wanted to hold me back a grade until I “caught up to the other kids”. My mother wasn’t having any of that, but as I got older I did have to work very hard to bring myself out of my shell and develop the skills that many seem to think comes naturally to me. The truth is anything but. My mother-in-law even recently said “I’m just amazed at how you’re able to so easily connect with people so quickly and after just meeting them.”

And I think the reason that I am now so good at public speaking and so easy with other people, even complete strangers, is because I’m so excited about it! I genuinely LOVE that part of my job. I love talking to contractors, engineers, clients, superintendents, product reps, code officials (no, really…), and that guy that drives the forklift that you know is probably not smoking a cigarette. It’s just so awesome!

So, what excites you about architecture? Here are some of my friends and their ideas on the subject.

Mark LePage – Entre Architect – Episode 42

Oscia Wilson – Boiled Architecture – They’re Fighting It Out

Lee Calisti – think:architect – this is exciting: start to finish

Jeff Echols – Architect of the Internet – The 5 REs to Change the Future of Architecture

Marica McKeel – From Dreams to Reality – This is Exciting

ten plus one is better than eleven plus none – #ArchiTalks

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I’m adding to a discussion that is bouncing around the internet today, Architects answering 11 questions about their practice. Seeing as I technically have two full time “jobs” as an architect (I work for a big corporate firm as well as my own meager but awesome-tastic firm) I will answer these questions only once as they relate to my own firm. Because this is after all MY blog, and I can do that sort of thing. O_O

What kind of projects were you doing when you first started as an architect?

Early in my career I worked for the oldest surviving firm in Jacksonville, Florida. The work was primarily large commercial and institutional projects – mega churches, schools, universities, office buildings, etc. As I moved to a few other firms, getting smaller and smaller along the way, the work didn’t necessarily change, just the scale. I was still working on commercial and institutional work and frankly I hated it. I took on side projects very early in my career, designing residential additions for almost no fee just to be creative and work with the actual end users of a project. Fast forward to now and I am happy to stick to single family residential work and light commercial office and retail spaces as long as I can work with the actual end user and not a landlord or corporate board of directors.

How many projects can you expect to be working on at once?

This is a tough question to answer. I guess the blanket statement would be “as much as I can handle”. And, given my past track record is a lot. As a sole practitioner things get pretty busy around the 4-5 project mark for a given month. I like to have at least that many projects in various stages of development at any given time. More than that and I start to get a little stressed, but it’s a good stress. Any more than 7 would be too much work to cover the load by myself. Refer to next question.

How often did/do you work in a team?

I am structuring my firm so that I will hopefully always be working in a team. I am just one architect and my skills, though varied, are limited and the success of any project requires input from various sources. The goal is to have a network of other architects, locally and across the US, that I can pull from not just for inspiration and fellowship, but also to share work loads and project responsibilities to make us all more profitable.

How important is an innovative mind to the company?

Innovation is essential. Having the right tools and seeking out new tools to make you more agile and more efficient in what you do is essential no matter what type of business you run. But the caveat there is that a tool is only as good as the person using it. You have to have the right frame of mind in order to keep up with the curve, much less stay ahead of it.

What key things do you look for in potential new hires?

I don’t plan on outright hiring anyone, rather I look for other architects to partner with. Those architects that I’m interested in working with have to share my passion and sometimes outright obsession with architecture. I am not a 9-5 architect. Just ask my wife. I also look for architects who are as concerned with good design as they are about good drawings. A well designed building has to be represented by well designed drawings and details. Being relatively young in the profession I am a bit old school in that I came from a hand drafting background and I want my drawings to reflect that level of craft. I look for others who share that as well.

How important is diversity to your company?

I’m often a little apprehensive of this question because it’s never been an issue for me. Diversity in gender, ethnicity, religion and social views has always been a default for me. Like I said in response to the last question, I’m looking for architects with the same passion as me. I don’t care what your gender or skin color is, where you came from or what your religion is. Is it important? Of course. Do I seek out “diversity”? No. It just happens.

How big of a role does HR play in your company?

If we’re talking about Human Resources as a corporate structure, than it doesn’t apply at all. If we’re talking about Human Resources as in other humans that I find resourceful, then it’s extremely important. And this goes back to diversity – surrounding yourself and making alliances with other architects and designers that share your passion but in different ways.

Would you say Architecture is a field for everyone?

Seriously? This is a question? We all know that architecture is not for everyone. Just like mechanic, dentist, doctor, brick layer, foreman, CEO and President are not for everyone. Certain people have certain talents that drive them to certain paths in life. Architecture is no different. We are a rare bird.

What is the best asset in your company?

My family. My wife and my children drive me to be better each day. And my clients. Without them I would not have a company.

Describe your best employee in one word?

Conundrum. That’s actually how I was described by my classmates in college. I think it still applies today. I’m not easily defined and I try not to define myself.

What style architecture do you love most?

This is such an awesome question. And it’s one I’ve talked about with other architects from time to time. There are so many firms out there that have a “style”. So much so that you can drive around town and pick out buildings that were done by different firms without ever having seen them before. I am not that kind of architect. If you look at the work I have designed it runs the gambit from traditional to contemporary to modern and a lot more in between. At the end of the day the buildings I design are not mine. The belong to my client. So whatever style my client desires, it’s my job to provide that design.

I hope you enjoyed this little trip down the rabbit hole that is my new practice. Check out the architects below. They are even more awesome-er than I am (hard to believe I know).

Lee Calisti – Think Architect (twitter @leecalisti)
“architecture :: eleven questions is less than twenty” 

Bob Borson – Life of an Architect (twitter @bobborson)
“Being an Architect”

 Marica McKeel – Studio MM (twitter @ArchitectMM)
“Q+A with a Small Firm Architect”

 Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (twitter @enochsears)
“Life As An Architect”

 Jes Stafford  – Modus Operandi Design (twitter @modarchitect)
Ask the Architect

 Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (twitter @EntreArchitect)
“11 Big Questions” EntreArchitect.com/Episode37

 Jeff Echols – Architect of the Internet (twitter @Jeff_Echols)
“11 Frequently Asked Questions About Being An Architect”

 Nicholas Renard – Cote Renard Architecture (Twitter @coterenard)
“Answers from this Architect”

 Evan Troxel – The Archispeak Podcast (twitter @etroxel)
Eleven Questions About a Career in Architecture

Andrew Hawkins, AIA –  (twitter @HawkinsArch)
Being an Architect: Questions Answered”

Architect practice and community

As I continue on my journey to build a practice and move out on my own I have been looking around and thinking about what I want the future of my practice to look like. Do I want a big office with lots of interns and architects working under me or do I want a small modest office with one or two trusted partners working with me to produce quality work? Or even still does my practice more reflect a partnership with other architects that I can collaborate with on multiple project types that may or may not be in my wheelhouse but that I can lend and draw support from? In short is a big office better or worse than a community of professionals working together for the greater good of the community and city at large?

For ten years I have worked under some of the best and brightest and most talented architects in Jacksonville, Florida and Little Rock, Arkansas. I’ve watched and I’ve learned and I’ve asked questions. I haven’t wasted my time nor have I wasted the expertise and wealth of knowledge that has surrounded me for a decade. And what I see is a profession in desperate need of an overhaul. Not just a “repositioning” but a fundamental change to thinking about professional practice in architecture. The “good ole days” are gone. I don’t believe we will see a return of a time like the early 2000s where money flowed out of banks like milk and honey and everyone got fat and happy with too much work and firms grew to sizes in the hundreds of employees. There has been a shift in my generation. We have seen what huge overhead costs and fat office spaces can do to the profession. Hell, most of us have worked in those offices and seen them crumble.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to build a practice that can’t take on small projects because they aren’t profitable enough. I don’t want to build a practice that can’t adapt to an ever changing economic and social climate. I don’t want to be the only guy steering the ship either.

So what’s the answer? What does an architectural practice in the 21st century look like? Small. Agile. Collaborative. Focused on the clients. Focused on building communities.

r | one studio architecture will be a firm dedicated to reaching out to other architects, not in competition, but in collaboration to build a community of architects of like mind that can come together on specific projects to offer a broader and more experienced team of professionals to better serve our clients across markets and regions to provide superior service and design to shape the future of our cities.

And in this I’m looking for architects interested and of like mind to start building those partnerships. Not just in Arkansas but all over the United States. Contact me and let’s see how we can work to build a better world.

NCARB Tom-foolery – a manifesto

On May 30th NCARB issued a press release outlining a desire on their part to develop and implement a program that would allow architectural licensure commensurate with graduation for college students in the US. You can read the press release on the NCARB website as well as a little blurb on Archinect.

I’m not sure there are words strong enough in the English, or any other, language to adequately describe just how horrible of an idea I think this is. And I am sure that there are more than a few of my colleagues out there that would agree when I say that architectural education is woefully behind the curve in preparing young graduates for professional practice, let alone being fully licensed upon donning cap and gown! And this is because there are three essential components required for practice as an architect and two of them you simply do not and can not get in college: Experience and Mentorship

The typical architectural academia focuses on theory and history and the art of craft, not on professional practice or budgets or detailing or contracts or….you know…GRAVITY. And I can say all of this because I’m not so far removed from my college years that I still have a clear picture in my mind as to just how clueless and unprepared I was when I entered the Labyrinth that is Professional Practice. And the only way to learn the difference between your architectural rear-end and the proverbial hole in the ground is through experience and preferably under the guidance of a mentor – An architect who will guide you and push you in the many different directions of practice that you will never learn in school.

How can NCARB, in their infinite wisdom, completely disregard these two FUNDAMENTAL components of the architectural education leading to licensure? What is going to happen to these young architects when they graduate from college fully licensed and run straight out into the world and begin their own practice? How is this in any way in the interest of the profession? Just having more licensed architects does not help the profession. Having QUALITY architects who have dedicated themselves to a process of study and practice and have learned from and been guided by their peers into a more full knowledge and understanding of the built environment and construction – THAT is what helps the profession.

Why isn’t NCARB instead coming out and requiring more strict rules regarding mentorship and IDP experience? Why isn’t NCARB working with the AIA and the College of Fellows to encourage more interaction, collaboration and mentorship between the older and newer generations of architects and interns? Why isn’t NCARB working on ANYTHING OTHER THAN THIS as a way to improve and enliven the profession?

Now, I’m the first to admit – I bitched and moaned and ground and grumbled for nearly 10 years about the A.R.E. and NCARB and IDP, etc. And it’s not a perfect system, nothing ever will be. But at least there is a set of rigors in place that requires a level of dedication that you have to have in order to survive in this profession. An architect hasn’t just passed some tests and gotten a certificate in his/her morning box of wheaties. An architect has endured the process of education, endured internships of long hours, late nights and little pay hammering out toilet partition schedules and roof details and stair sections and handrail details (oh the HORROR), they’ve carefully logged their hours and begged, pleaded and bribed there way into client meetings and onto job sites and coordination meetings to gain the experience they need to finally take a set of exams that will test their sanity before finally FINALLY becoming a licensed architect. And through all of this, their education did not stop.

The path to an architects license is long and it’s difficult and many give up, unwilling to keep pushing forward. Those are the one who shouldn’t be architects. Because we are responsible for the Health, Safety and Welfare of the public. We build communities, we build cities, we build the world we live in. It should be no less than the most difficult, frustrating and maddening thing we ever do in our lives because what we do is important and should be reserved only for the most dedicated men and women.

an architect’s process – part two

Ok, here we go. Part two of An Architect’s Process. In part one I talked about the steps to signing a contract and what I think are the 3 essential steps in working through that part of the process. And now that we’ve worked through the project details, our proposal has been accepted and the contract has been signed, it’s time to get into the meat of the project.

Any residential project, whether it’s a new home, remodel or addition, has 3 essential parts: the Site, the Building, and the Site and the Client. You have to understand all 3 in order to create a home that the client won’t want to sell in 5 years. So, what do we start with? We’ve got a contract, probably a retainer, it’s time to put lines on a page, right? Wrong. The first part of any project once you’ve been hired is RESEARCH. And not just a little either. You need to know your client a little better than just the first few meetings. You need to find out how they live, what do they do for a living, basically you build a friendship. You also have to know the site. You need to go there, see it, smell it, touch it. For me that is where it begins:

Building Site

Understanding the building site is not really easy. You have to go there. You have to be there, walk in the dirt and mud, see how the sun plays through the trees (if there are any), or if there’s a strong prevailing wind that can be used or maybe needs to be shielded, is there a body of water nearby, etc. Pictures speak a thousand words, but no words can ever duplicate the experience of physically being in a space. Your mind will take it all in and, if you’re good at what you do (I am), then that experience will influence your design in a profound way.

Screen Shot 2014-05-10 at 8.24.53 PM

The site that I am currently working with is large – a 10 acre parcel with an additional 12 behind it for views. The building site the client’s chose is an amazing one. The site starts low at the street and begins to rise in these rolling hills before dipping down to a natural stream and then rising again in more rolling hills. One of those hilltops is the site for our design. The drive will come in along the East edge of the property and then cut in and rise up to the garage, which will be mostly concealed by existing trees that will remain. The view north and east will be mostly wooded but with a view of the stream down below.

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The property faces North and thanks to the heavily wooded site almost all of the sunlight will be filtered through the tree canopy during the spring and summer. During the fall and winter light will be more direct, but not enough for passive heating. Given these two factors, our opportunity and need for windows goes up dramatically, which is just what the clients want. I would not have known any of these things if I had just researched the property via the internet and Google Earth. I wouldn’t know how quiet it is just inside the tree line or how a mere 50′ south makes a big difference in terms of noise from the road. These things have to be experienced.

So, what have we talked about? We talked about the important steps to signing a client and a new project. We talked about how important it is to represent yourself well, to talk to your client, understand what their wants and needs are for their new home or remodel, and to be upfront about project costs. And today we discussed the site, which is an essential first step in the design process. Even if you’re working on a remodel or addition, you have to put yourself in the space and understand what the environment is like with all 5 of your senses in order to begin to formulate a solution to the clients design problem.

Next time we’ll talk about the building and the client, since they really go hand in hand.

Cheers.

how small is too small? – a message to architects

image courtesy of treehugger.com

image courtesy of treehugger.com

Recently I wrote a post speaking to clients about “small projects”. In the writing of that post I realized that it’s not just clients that need to be educated, but architects as well. I see, and have been part of, many conversations floating around various forums and other blogs about how the profession is being pushed out by contractors and engineers and “designers” (read: unlicensed architects) and how the built environment is suffering, blah blah blah. The reality is not that architects are being pushed out, but rather are pushing themselves out.

“But how can this be!?” you ask?

Simple. Many architects TURN DOWN work that is “too small”. And so clients who recognize the need for help in design and detailing are left to seek out anyone else willing and able to help them. Enter willing contractors and “designers” who will reinforce the client’s opinion that “you don’t need an architect” because they (the contractor/designer) can just “get it done”.

We, the architects, need to put off some of our pride and take chances on smaller projects for smaller clients if we are ever going to truly change the built environment and the quality of the work being built in it. And I know all the arguments:

“Architects can’t work for free.”
“It’s not worth the time and liability to take on such a small project for such a small fee that will just suck time out of my life.”
“The fee that a client would pay me would be better spent on improving the project itself.”
-Insert your own random whiny argument here-

And I say bollocks. These arguments are uttered in the same breath with complaints about contractors and engineers taking on the role of the architect in the very projects that actual architects are turning down. See the conundrum here? I believe behavioral psychologists call this a “self-fulfilling prophecy”. We are enabling and encouraging the very situations we are arguing against.

So, “architects can’t work for free”. This is true. But then we don’t have to charge a full fee for all projects either. Do we deserve to get paid for our time? Yes. Is our time worth the same amount on every project, say a kitchen remodel versus a master suite addition or a new residence? No. We can adjust and tailor our fee structures to accommodate these smaller projects to make them enticing to potential clients.

“It’s not worth the time and liability.” Again, bollocks. It’s worth our time because it is worth having an impact on a project that will improve someone’s life. That sounds very utopian and naive. But the truth is we all felt and thought that way not so long ago. The idealism of our youth while in college should not be lost or tossed aside for practice. The truth is liability is negligible (i.e. all those untrained, unlicensed “professionals” practicing architecture successfully). The time is always an issue whether the project is 100 square feet or 100,000 square feet. Work smarter, not harder.

“The fee that a client would pay me (the architect) would be better spent improving the project.” Bollocks. Bollocks and more Bollocks. The services of a architect on a project adds value whether it’s a bathroom renovations, garage addition or roof replacement, even if it’s just a consultation fee.

The bottom line is you don’t want to be bothered with some small fee from a small client for a small project. Instead you want the big fee from a big client for the big project. In the meantime potential clients are passing you by left and right. 10 small projects worth $10,000 each are much more valuable than 1 project worth $100,000. Think about it. And get back to work!

is a project ever too small? – a message to clients

Recently I got to work and dialed up my google+ feed and immediately clicked on the latest blog post over at Studio MM titled “Working with an Architect: Making Sense of Services and Fees”. In that post Marica describes a common interaction with a potential client where the client wonders “is my project too small to interest you?”.

Private Residence - Closet Addition

Private Residence – Closet Addition

I say this is a common interaction, but the reality may be more accurate to say that many clients will automatically THINK this to themselves and never actually seek out contact with an architect or designer to help them with their project. Well, I would like to put this baby to bed by saying that there is no residential project too small for a homeowner to bring to an architect for advice, consultation, design and even construction.

Private Residence - Porch Addition

Private Residence – Porch Addition

I don’t care if it’s a brand new home, a mother-in-law suite, a finished basement, a garage, bathroom renovation, kitchen remodel, dog house or chicken coop. I want to help you design whatever it is to suit the needs of you and your family (furry family included) and get it built on time, on budget and to a level of quality that will last.

Private Residence - Closet Addition

Private Residence – Closet Addition

In short, the purpose, the calling, of an architect is to design the built environment around us. Your project is not too small to involve one of us because each piece of a home matters and how that piece works and relates to all the other pieces is what makes the difference between a home that you love and a home that you just live in.