architectural storytelling : #architalks

3rd in a series of posts by architects about….something totally random and not necessarily related to the practice or profession of architecture. O_o

But this time we’re talking about architectural storytelling. Architects, by definition, are great storytellers. We are groomed into this art from our very first studio critique where are are made to tell a very convenient fiction about our design and how wonderful it is (it’s not) and how it’s never been done or thought of before (of course it has) and how our designs will change the world (let’s just say boots are typically required in your average architecture studio). Today’s story will hopefully be more entertaining and at least a little enriching, offering a small glimpse into the mind of one architect and one day in a city not so far away.

It’s cold. The heat in my townhouse never quite reaches the top floor. Just like the cool air in summer, come to think of it. They tell you in school that hot air rises. “Evidently it doesn’t rise fast enough to stay warm”, I think to myself as I’m huddled under a blanket dreading my exodus from the very small cocoon of warmth I’ve managed to build up as I slept. I look out the window and see the fresh snow on the trees. I resign myself to the pain I’m about to experience, and with clenched teeth, I throw off the covers and head for the shower and hopefully a few drops of hot water that might have been left by my housemates.

Showered, shaved, dressed and ready for the day. It’s Saturday – my favorite day of the week. I deliberately don’t make plans so that I can have the day to myself. No friends, no phone calls, no emails. It’s my day. I head down the stairs, grab my coat, hat and gloves, strap on my shoes and head out into the cold February D.C. morning. I’m headed for the Vienna Metro on the Orange line, which is in Northern Virginia, but it might as well be a D.C. suburb. My townhouse is on the edge of a neighborhood with a paved walking track that leads straight to the metro station. It didn’t take me long to discover this when I moved here and by now it’s a familiar path that I barely need to think about.

I reach the metro station, slip my card into the slot and head down the escalator to the platform. I hear the train heading in already. This is the last stop on the line so I don’t have to wonder if it’s my train or not. And as I step through the doors I look around and marvel at all those headed into work on a Saturday in their suit and tie. Me? Nope. Jeans, a sweater, a jacket, a scarf, long socks, warm shoes and gloves. Hey, I said it was cold, right? The train doors close and off we go.

I change trains only once to get where I’m going – from the Orange line to the Red. Finally I come out from underground and into the bright morning sunshine. It’s almost blinding at first from the relative din of the subterranean metro station, but my eyes quickly adjust to my surroundings just outside the Dupont Station. The familiar buildings, not-so familiar people and the streets. I love these streets. This is my Saturday morning ritual. I head out to Dupont Circle and this little book shop and cafe that has some of the most obscure architecture books I’ve never heard of. I find a copy of “how architecture got it’s hump” by Roger Connah, “the look of architecture” by Witold Rybczynski and “invisible cities” by Italo Calvino – three of my favorite books on architecture. I spend some time looking through the now familiar stacks of architecture books. There are books on history, design, theory, a few collections of works by famous starchitects that I don’t care about and countless others that I won’t have time to read, but by now it’s lunch time and I’m hungry.

My next stop is a little sandwich shop a few doors down from the book shop. I’ve never bothered to learn the name. It’s one of those trendy places that pops up with a clean modern and flashy design, a few barely legal hotties behind the counter ready to take your order. I get my sandwich and my water and I find a place at the bar top to enjoy one of my new books. It’s also entertaining to people-watch in places like this. There’s a steady stream of customers in and out. Some stay for a bit at the small round tables-for-two, others just grab their grub and go. In DC you’ll more often than not hear conversations in every language but English. It’s almost like being in a foreign country…or an airport…whatever.

I’ve finished my lunch, stashed my books under my arm and now it’s time to head out and explore. I almost never go the same way twice, but I always end up in the Adams Morgan and Shaw areas of town. The small shops that occupy old shotgun town homes have the most amazing things in them. Vintage housewares, records, jewelry, cowboy boots, fuzzy handcuffs…all sorts of things from eras long past popular fashion. After a couple of hours of aimlessly wandering the streets of DC I make my way back to the Dupont Metro. I don’t actually need to walk all the way back to this spot. There are plenty of other stations I could use, but the area between Shaw, Adams Morgan and Dupont has some amazing architecture. Italianate and Federal and Queen Anne and Victorian and French, Gothic and Greek Revival – the ornamentation, the stonework and the masonry are just amazing. It’s even better in the Spring when all the trees are full and in bloom. But that’s a different day and a different story.

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

Untitled

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”

sole architecture practice – looking forward

Lee Calisti and Keith Palma have both come out with their top 10 reasons being a sole practitioner rocks. Keith even one-upped this by posting his top 10 reasons being a sole practitioner kinda sucks. I’d like to do a little bate and switch and turn his negatives into positives with my:

Top 10 reasons I’m looking forward to being a sole practitioner:

1. Lunch and Learns
Not only do I get to choose the products and materials covered (no more roof flashing presentations thank you) but I get to call up my fellow architect peers and set up group presentations on topics that actually matter to my practice.

2. No big firm resources
Big firm resources don’t apply to small firms. The books, magazines and other resources that apply to my business are either free (most trade magazines) and online (issuu.com) or are specific enough that I’m willing to go out and spend $60 on a book that won’t just sit on my shelf and collect dust. Small firms and sole practitioners actually use resources that are in their libraries.

3. No one to bounce ideas off of
See item #1. It’s time we stopped perpetuating the idea that we sole proprietors are in competition with each other and instead foster relationships with one another in order to share resources and even collaborate on projects to share workloads. I’m already starting this locally.

4. I wear every hat
In my office I control the quality of the work that is going out the door. I am the intern and the modeler and the receptionist and the office manager and the architect. My success and my failure is entirely up to me.

5. I have to buy trace, scales and sharpies
This simply means that I don’t have to go hunting for that ONE roll of white trace among the thousands of yellow and sepia rolls that no one wants to use. Why? Because I don’t buy the yellow or sepia rolls. My scales don’t walk off to another desk so I don’t lose the scales that I’ve had since college.

6. No intern.
I’m not ready to train an intern. I’m definitely not nearly patient enough yet. This is DEFINITELY a good thing. At least for now.

7. No friday morning breakfast delivery
But I can get together with my other architect buddies at a local breakfast dive and shoot the proverbial s**t. See item #3.

8. No annual holiday party
But I can take holiday vacations whenever I want and for however long I want. Especially if I have a laptop as I can just take work with me and my vacation suddenly turns in to billable hours and a tax write off. SCORE!

9. Firm retreats are lonely
Unless your firm retreat is a week long camping trip with your family in the mountains of Arkansas. See item #9

10. No room for advancement within the firm
You’re already in the top spot. How much more awesome do you need to be? O_o

So, there you have it. Got lemons? Make lemonade. Boom baby! 🙂

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.

we are the one percent

No, I’m not talking about the filthy rich 1%, though lets be honest, I’d love to be one of them. I’m talking about something much more important and infinitely more rewarding:

1% Logo

As of now r | one studio architecture is part of The One Percent Project – an organization that allows not-for-profit groups to post architectural projects that they need services for and helps to find architects and designers willing to donate 1% of their billable hours as services to these groups. “Launched by Public Architecture in 2005 with the support of a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts, The 1% is a first-of-its-kind effort to encourage pro bono service within the architecture and design professions. If every architecture professional in the U.S. committed 1% of their time to pro bono service, it would add up to 5,000,000 hours annually – the equivalent of a 2,500-person firm, working full-time for the public good.” – theonepercent.org

There are about 2000 billable hours in a given year for most professionals, or about 160 hours per month (for some of us it’s a lot more than that….but lets just keep it simple). Donating 1% of your time per month is 1.6 hours in 30 days. If you’re like me, I waste at least that much time every day checking Facebook. Don’t even ask me to calculate the time suck if I added Twitter, LinkedIn, Houzz, Pinterest, Instagram….you get the picture. This is not a lot of time and these are some very worthwhile causes that need the help and expertise of architects and designers.

It’s my hope that everyone who reads this blog, most importantly my colleagues and architect friends, will add their own names to The One Percent Project. Architects do more than design buildings. We build and shape communities – it’s a responsibility and a pleasure to give back.

daily prompt – great expectations

Tell us about one thing (or more) that you promised yourself you’d accomplish by the end of the year. How would you feel once you do? What if you don’t?

If you’ve followed this blog for any length of time you know that the biggest goal of any year….and every year…is to finally open the doors of my own firm. This is no small task and is always complicated by the need to have steady income to pay the bills and take care of a family. And so I’ve been moonlighting on and off for the last 6 years. While I’ve had a fair number of projects over the last 6 years ranging from providing drafting work for a log home company to designing new homes and remodels all over the United States and more than a few countries, I haven’t been able to keep enough steady clients coming to justify leaping over the cliff into full time. So every year I make my resolutions and I put “run my own firm” right at the top. Last year that was replaced with “get licensed” but now that that particular nightmare is over with, and it’s time to refresh my list.

This year I am setting my goals more simply. Instead of the huge goal of “running my own firm”, I’ve decided to break that off into little chunks that are easier to chew. The first chunk was the license – DONE. The next chunk is rebuilding my media presence and filing the paperwork with my state – this week’s task. Once that is done it’s time to file paperwork for my Arkansas state license – next week’s task. Once that is done it’s time to start the marketing machine. I’ll shine my shoes, put on my best bow tie and hit the town pounding the pavement until I get those first projects that will pay the rent.

This is the one thing, the one goal, that I’ve always had; even at the beginning of my first internship more than 10 years ago. I never wanted to be just an intern, or just an associate, or just a project architect. I’ve positioned myself in firms over the last 10 years that would provide me the tools and knowledge I needed to run a firm successfully. I’ve learned many lessons on my own as well. The list of “don’ts” is far longer than the list of “do’s”, let me tell you. And now it’s time.

How will I feel once I finally step off the cliff and begin running my own practice? Elated, ecstatic, empowered, intoxicated….pick your description for immense joy and terror all rolled into one. But it’s worth it. It’s worth it because I’ve spent my entire life preparing, learning and now it’s time to take a step.