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.

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daily prompt: one of these days, alice!

It makes me crazy when people wear their shoes in my house. What habit/act drives you crazy? How do you prevent it from happening?

you have to know how it works in order to design it

you have to know how it works in order to design it

There are so many things that drive me nuts about practicing architecture. There are egos to deal with, interns, engineers, contractors, building officials and inspectors. On a given project there are literally hundreds of opportunities to send your blood pressure straight to the moon, just like Ralph always promised Alice in The Honeymooners. But the one thing that sends me over the top is a phrase that should be forever stricken from the English language:

“But that’s just the way we’ve always done it.”
or
“But we did it that way on the last project.”

You can feel it can’t you? The blood boiling, the face turning 50 shades of red, fists clenching and hair being pulled out at the root. It just drives me absolutely nuts to hear these very common phrases come out of someone’s mouth in our profession. It suggests an unwillingness to learn, to grow, to experiment, or simply to look at a problem from a new perspective and see if what “we’ve always done” is actually doing the job right.

More than that these seemingly innocuous sentences will keep a good architect from becoming a great architect. An illustration of this is in a recent interaction I saw on Facebook between two architects I know and respect. The image being commented on was a sketch of some detailing that was being worked out for a glazed wall. One of the questions that popped up was “why are you wasting time on standard details?” To which the proper response was given – “I don’t ever use standard details.”

This simple interaction tells me something very profound about each architect. The one is most likely more concerned about using products to make his/her project look good, relying on the ability of the manufacturer to produce a good product or system, while the other is more concerned with using particular materials to achieve a desired aesthetic result while also focusing on how those materials will perform together as a system.

You may think either way is acceptable, but at the end of the day it’s the architects job to investigate, understand and design the interactions between each and every piece and system in a building to ensure they work together properly and achieve the design intent. No two projects are ever “standard”.

daily prompt: I got out of bed for this?!

How do you feel about your job? Do you spring out of bed, looking forward to work? Or, is your job a soul-destroying monotony of pure drudgery, or somewhere in between?

copyright Ruby Architects, Inc. 2014

copyright Ruby Architects, Inc. 2014

This is something that myself and many others have talked about so often and at such length it almost seems silly to even write this post. But at the same time, there are so many out there who do not understand WHAT an architect does, not to mention WHY an architect does what he/she does every day.

So, why did I get out of bed for this thing called Architecture? Why am I excited to get up every day to sit at my desk and suffer through design after design after detail after detail after contractor after contractor at the expense of my health and sanity? The short answer is simple….and cliche: I love what I do and don’t want to do anything else.

The real answer is not quite so simple, but no less profound or cliche. The real truth is that I understand what I do matters. I do not just make pretty pictures for competitions and magazines. I make pretty pictures that turn into construction documents that turn into a construction site that turns into an office building or a warehouse or someone’s home. I make the world around us and in so doing I affect the way people live, the way they play, the way they work, even the way they communicate. I make Architecture.

Daily Prompt: Contention

Pick a contentious issue about which you care deeply — it could be the same-sex marriage debate, or just a disagreement you’re having with a friend.

Licensure. The A.R.E. NCARB. AIA. These are the “contentious” issues that interns face. It is such a cock-up. First, we spend 5-6 years in school learning very little in the way of practical knowledge about the practice of architecture. Then, if we’re lucky enough to get an internship, we get to pay several hundred dollars to set up our NCARB record which is nothing more than an online account of our experience, and another chunk of money every year to AIA to put “Assoc. AIA” at the end of our name as a way of legitimizing ourselves as Interns. After 3+ years, again if we’re lucky, of tracking every working hour of our lives in a multitude of experience areas that we have to fight tooth and nail to be exposed to, we are finally finished with our formal “internship” and can sit for our tests (note: most states allow interns to sit for the exams after the first year of internship). The tests require purchasing over $1k worth of study materials and hundreds of dollars worth of seminars in order to pass on top of the $1k+ in fees required to actually TAKE the exams and that’s assuming you pass them all on the first try. It’s insanely frustrating.

All that said, I am one exam away from not having to deal with this nonsense ever again. And as I’m sitting here, I’ve noticed that I first started this blog post as a topic one year ago to the day of when my final exam will be. If that’s not some weird kismet kinda thing going on there, I don’t know what. Ok. Rant over.

March 17th, 2014 – my last day as an intern. *fingers crossed*

daily prompt: necessity is the mother of invention

Imagine, in great detail, an invention that could help reverse pollution — describe for us how your invention works and how it will help save the planet.

unless lorax

I have two children – a son (5) and a daughter (4). And every night, without fail, I read to them before bedtime. It’s our thing. I’ve done it for the last 3 years or so and I dread the day they are too old for me to read to them. That aside, one of their favorite stories to read is The Lorax by Dr. Suess. If you’ve never read the story or seen the movie you obviously live under a rock let me sum it up for you:

The Onceler travels to a forest, a magical place with Bar-ba-loots and Swomee-swans and Humming-fish and Truffula Trees. The trees are exactly what the Onceler has been searching for to make his new invention – a Thneed. And a Thneed is a thing that everyone needs. So, he takes out his axe and chops down a truffula tree and sits down to knit a Thneed out of the truffula tuft.

This is where the Lorax comes in. He speaks for the trees because the trees have no tongues. And he demands to know why the Onceler would chop down a tree to make this fool Thneed. You can already see where this story is going. The Onceler is in big business now, chopping trees and making Thneeds that everyone needs. He keeps on chopping and chopping until there are no more trees. This is when the Lorax gets lifted away, but not before leaving a small pile of rocks with just one word inscribed – UNLESS.

We currently live in a world on the border of crisis. And I don’t care what side of the aisle you sit on, it is an irrefutable fact that our natural resources are finite. They will be depleted eventually unless drastic changes are made now. And unless we make those changes now, future generations will suffer the consequences of our inaction. And as stewards of this one world we’ve been entrusted, INACTION is INTOLERABLE.

So, what is my invention for reversing this calamity? I don’t have one. I don’t need one. Because it’s already been invented. In fact, this one thing has been being perfected for thousands of years. And there are billions of these things all over the world. If you look in a mirror you’ll see one of them – the most amazing and wonderful invention ever conceived – YOU. And me. All of us.

You see, the moral of The Lorax is “UNLESS someone like you and me cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

daily prompt: truth – most can’t take it

Tell us about the harshest, most difficult to hear — but accurate — criticism you’e ever gotten. Does it still apply?

quote-an-arrogant-person-considers-himself-perfect-this-is-the-chief-harm-of-arrogance-it-interferes-leo-tolstoy-273442

I have to admit, when I first read today’s daily prompt as I was scrolling through all the blog posts I missed today while on the road traveling for a project, I more than giggled. I LOL’d. Because the very first thing that came to mind was a review that I had with the head of my department at a community college I used to teach at. This was my first review as an educator (part time adjunct, but still…it counts) and it was based on commentary from my students. For those of you that know me personally you know that I have a close, personal and almost sadistic relationship with criticism. I LOVE criticism. In college I CRAVED it, NEEDED it…but I’ve written about all of this before. The bottom line is, if your peers are not criticizing your work, both negatively and positively, then your work needs work because you’re not raising any eyebrows….at all. That’s bad.

But, back to the story. So, I’m sitting down waiting to hear about how my students feel about my teaching, while she trudges through the basics – grades, attendance, outcomes, blah blah blah. Finally, she flips through a couple sheets of paper in this stapled STACK that represents my faculty evaluation and gets to the good stuff.

The first few bits are nice. Mostly to do with my knowledge of the profession and Autocad (I taught beginner, intermediate and advanced Autocad courses as well as hand drafting for almost 3 years) and that the content was always good, clear, mostly concise, blah blah. This was good to hear. Then she got to the next section. 🙂

It seems my students, almost unanimously (a total of about 40 between 2 classes at the time), described me as arrogant and that I sometimes rushed through the material leaving them feeling a little lost. I actually smiled and let out a little laugh at this. And let me tell you why.

They were 100% right.

I’ve been described as arrogant on more than one occasion by friends, peers, that strange fellow I talked to at the bar that time….It’s more or less just who I am. But I don’t see this as a bad thing. Arrogance is simply an unfriendly way of telling someone they are confident in themselves, self-aware and self-assured. These are good qualities in a person. Arrogance is taking these qualities to an extreme to where you aren’t humble enough to realize that others around you may have something to offer. This is certainly not me, though I will admit I may have seemed that way then.

I certainly don’t begrudge my students for feeling this way. I was full of bravado in my youth and have tempered some since then. I’ve learned that it is often times better to listen, consider, evaluate and then speak. I’m certainly no less confident in myself or my abilities and I’m always improving. But as I’ve moved through my 30s I have learned that there is more to being good at what you do than to just be right.

daily prompt: on the road

If you could pause real life and spend some time living with a family anywhere in the world, where would you go?

This is an interesting question. And if I weren’t an architect, I would have a long list of places and cultures that I could submit as an answer. I don’t think it would be possible to limit it to one single location. There are so many interesting and intriguing cultures and locations on this earth that I could spend my entire life going from one place and culture to another and never see them all or get my fill.

telepathic alien species from an old 50s movie - also what architects will likely look like in the future

telepathic alien species from an old 50s movie – also what architects will likely look like in the future

But, as an architect, I would say that this is actually part of my job. Because, when you design a home for someone, for a family, this is exactly what you have to do – put yourself in their shoes and decide what is most important in how a home should function, how it should flow and what it should feel like. To be an architect is also to be part sociologist, psychologist, anthropologist, engineer, artist and archeologist. It also helps to be psychic and telepathic as well. O_o