cookies and architecture – #LetsBlogOff

This may surprise some of you who know me, but as a child I was not terribly into sweets and candy. Sure, like any kid I would gorge myself on Halloween with fist fulls of whatever I could unwrap in 5 seconds or less, but that doesn’t really count. When in Rome, and all that.

But, one thing I’ve always had a soft spot for are cookies. This has continued straight into adult-hood. It’s really more of an obsession. And I like my cookies the way God intended – chocolate chip with a tall glass of whole milk. Not that 2% crap your wife is always trying to cram down your throat cause she says it has “less fat”. :-\ Good old fashioned whole milk and some nice homemade chocolate chip cookies. Ah, the simple pleasures of life.

And I think a better expression would be the pleasures of life are simple. Profound, no? And architecture, for me, should be like a chocolate chip cookie – a simple and honest expression of it’s ingredients. It doesn’t need bright colors, or flashing lights (be a little odd on a cookie), or fake decoration to be good. It simply needs to state what it is and be that. The best architecture has always been simple. The great Roman buildings were essentially a study in multiple posts and lintels. The Egyptians took the simplest and strongest geometric form and exploited it to monumental proportion. They didn’t need a lot of pomp and circumstance in order to make their architecture great. It was great in it’s simplicity.

I would dare say even Baroque and Romanesque and Renaissance architecture, at their core, were simple and honest and therefore good. When you look at a plan of a great cathedral or a manor home or a civic building, what do you see? You see a simple expression of form. Rectilinear and regular. Proportions were consistent, materials – in terms of structure – were modest, and the buildings as a whole took maximum advantage of their surrounding environment. Now, yes they were covered in all manner of decoration and frivolity (I’ve been waiting for an excuse to use that word), but honest in design nonetheless.

Moving on to modern architecture the comparison is obvious. I mean, the chocolate chip cookie IS modern architecture. It’s structure and it’s substance are visible at all times. There is nothing hidden, no pretense, no covering up of the materials used, no artificial flavors…ok, I may be taking the metaphor a little too far, but you get my point.

In architecture, as in life, those things that hold most true to stand the test of time are honest, simple and straightforward.

grammar pet peeves – #LetsBlogOff

Your – possessive
You’re – you are

*face palm

There – as in “over there”
Their – possessive
They’re – they are

Were – as in “you were over there”
We’re – we are

*smacks head on desk

ATM machine = Automated Teller Machine machine….REALLY PEOPLE??!!

*jumps out of first floor window

– the greatest grammar pet peeve of all –

the random capitalization of letters and the random repeat of letters to make words longer in social media posts. Holy Jesus, save me from hurting someone.

As architects our success is directly proportional to our ability to communicate effectively, efficiently, and intelligently. Now, I do not pretend to be a learned writer or grammar aficionado, but at least I know how to use the spell/grammar check tools at my disposal. And I always proof read before posting. This doesn’t mean that I catch every little foible or even that I would recognize all of the mistakes I make, but I do my best to try.

When I give presentations, I am conscious of limiting the use of “um” and “uh” and the dreaded “like” from my vocabulary because it’s important to me that my listeners are wowed by my presentation and don’t get lost in the never-ending world of “UH”. However, listening to a modern 20 something talk in conversation is like having a front row seat to the wholesale rape and torture of the English language. I think we’ve all suffered through at least 10 minutes of one episode of Jersey Shore, so you know exactly what I’m talking about.

In the presentations I sat through last week it was obvious that presentation skills aren’t focused on at the collegiate level. And this is a shame. A bad design can win out over a good design if presented more successfully.

Again, as architects our success is directly proportional to our ability to communicate effectively, efficiently, and intelligently. I welcome any and all grammatical corrections to this post. 🙂

music and architecture – #LetsBlogOff

Architecture is music in space, as it were a frozen music” – Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph von Schelling

– Scene:

You’re standing in the main lobby. The doors open and you enter. A few more file in, it’s early. They’re all headed to their cubicles.

The doors close.

And then it starts. The music. Well, at least I’m sure someone calls this crap music. But…what…what is my foot doing? Damn it, I recognize this tune. It’s a Kenny G rendition of Pink Flloyd’s The Wall. I can’t help it, I’m humming along to the slaying of a great song. Is that guy whistling?

The doors open.

Oh thank God. I’m outta here!

– Scene

image courtesy of google

Yeah, we’ve all been there. Don’t deny it, you like muzak just as much as the next guy. It’s like coming up on a train wreck – you can’t NOT look.

Architecture is like that too – you can’t not look. It’s a musical melody. There are good melodies and bad melodies. Even some that don’t make any sense at all. But whether the melody is good or bad, architecture, like music, is a composition, an activity, a coming together of various parts to make a whole. Spiro Kostof put it best when he said “Architecture is a social act and the material theater of human activity.”

image courtesy of - project unknown

We may think of architecture as being this static thing, this immoveable Goliath, but in reality architecture is a play, a symphony of light and sound and smell and even taste. It is at once sculpture, science, painting, music and light.

architecture and light - image courtesy of - project unknown

Architecture, as Frank Lloyd Wright put it, is the mother art. An architect draws from any source that inspiration that he/she can use to create, to mold and to shape civilization in a balance of form and light. We can’t escape it. It’s never out of sight or out of mind.

you smelt it you dealt it – #LetsBlogOff

I think we’ve all been stuck in an elevator with a few too many people and suddenly a rancid odor makes it’s way into your nasal passages and now you’re looking around wondering “oh my god what did I EAT??!!” and “I hope no one else can smell that…”. But of course they can. It’s an elevator – a small, cramped, metal box with no ventilation….duh.

But that’s not really what we’re talking about here for this week’s Lets Blog Off. What we’re talking about is the link between the sense of smell and memory. Our sense of smell, while not on par with our furry friend Fido, is one of the most powerful senses we have available to us. The human nose is remarkable in that it not only allows us to discern scent – such as our elevator scene above – but it also aides in our sense of taste. Want to test it out? Next time you sit down to a meal, plug your nose and see how different food tastes. You’ll be amazed. Everyone else will laugh because you’re wearing a clothespin on your face, but whatever. It’s all in the name of science and learning right?

Ok, back to smelling stuff. We’ve all got those typical memories of Grandma’s apple/pecan/blueberry/snozeberry/random-whatever-berry pie cooling in the kitchen. And those smell memories are great; they remind us of family and home and feeling safe and secure and…well, hungry. But what about the effect our sense of smell can have on our memory of architecture? After all, architecture is experienced best with all of our faculties, not just sight or touch or hearing, but also smell and even taste.

Building materials require all of the senses – visual, tactile, auditory, olfactory, and gustatory (I had to look that one up – don’t judge me). And our experience is changed not just by individual materials being employed in a building project, but also by various combinations of building materials. For example, polished concrete and glass will have a much difference effect on all our senses then rough, board formed concrete and gypsum board. From here you can use your own imagination on the myriad of material combinations that could elicit varying responses as we move through a space.

And all of these senses working together create a memory of our experience in a place. Think of the last time you went to a large cathedral church. The floors and walls were stone, some rough, others smooth. The sound of your foot steps reverberated off of almost every surface and echoed loudly high up in the vaulted ceilings. Light bounces through stained glass windows, the air feels cool and still. Perhaps you can even taste and smell the moisture in the air, a dampness that seems to hang suspended.

Another example would be your home. The colors are warm and inviting, finishes are smooth and comforting and soft. Perhaps there are exposed heavy timber framing that offers a tactile connection to the outdoors. You can even smell the sap that has long since dried on the wood, or the tongue oil used to polish the beams.

Our senses are constantly working together to create memories of all the people and places we’ve come in contact with. If you take one of those senses away, the experience becomes completely different. As architects we should be keenly aware of this and strive to create unique and wonderful experiences for the end user of our buildings so they take away inspired memories that stay with them and reveal a deeper sense of not just using a building, but being a part of it. After all, a building without people to experience it will fall down, crumble and blow away, but a building that encourages use and interaction will last forever.

generational legacy – #LetsBlogOff

“What stories from the generations that preceded you are the stories you hold close?” – LetsBlogOff Team

Westminster Palace and Big Ben

The real meat of this week’s LetsBlogOff is legacy, or an inheritance, a bequest, a heritage, an impression that you make on the world after you’re gone. What images immediately come to mind when you think of architectural legacy? The Parthenon, Acropolis, Pyramids of Giza, Sphynx, Empire State Building, Burj Khalifa, Taipei I & II, Monticello, the Capitol Building…I could go on and on and I’m sure most of you out there have more than a few rattling around in your head as well.

But what about the architects and designers that were behind these monumental works of architecture? What goes into the making of truly lasting and inspirational architecture especially in a modern world where styles, tastes, hell even national borders are changing almost daily? Can there still be a architectural legacy to leave behind or will all our works, no matter how grand, at some point face the wrecking ball, or worse – some other not-so-talented architect/designer screwing it up with an addition or remodel?

I don’t really know the answers to any of these questions, and for me, each question only leads to another question, and so on. But as I look around at the modern architectural profession and even just in my own built environment I see a LACK of legacy, a lack of inspiring work. There are exceptions, to be sure. The Gherkin, no matter your personal taste, is still an impressive piece of architecture and is even beautiful in it’s own way. But these exceptions to the general rule are becoming to few and far between. In 80 years when our generation has passed, what will our children and grandchildren look back on as our overwhelming contribution to the profession and to the artistic and architectural expression of our age? Will they say “you know they sure knew how to build some strip malls back in the day”, or will they say “look at the wonderful foundation they’ve left us to build from”. Currently I’m betting on the former, but I’m hoping for the latter.

Burj Khalifa - Dubai

We’re at an amazing point in human history where we have the technology and the ability to change the face of our world for many generations to come. Much like the Egyptians and their pyramids, or the Catholic church with her Cathedrals and buttresses, or the Bauhaus and the Internationalists with their Machine for Living. At no other time do I think that architects have the power and the responsibility to do something different, something better, something that will leave a legacy for the next generation to be proud of and build from, not cover up.

What will your legacy look like? Join LetsBlogOff and tell your story.

do you have the time? #LetsBlogOff

“What would you do if you could turn back time?” – LetsBlogOff Team

Now THIS is a doozy. I mean, seriously, you wake up tomorrow morning and find yourself with a long gray beard, shabby chic robe, thong sandles, walking stick and you think “HOLY CRAP! I’m Father Time!” Ok…obviously you took too much medication last night, but hey, roll with it. What do you do now?

father time trying to catch up.

The concept of time has always fascinated me, but most definitely more so as I continue to age with no hope of going BACK. But perhaps that’s a good thing. I think life with a rewind button would be….well, boring. Life doesn’t give you do-overs. There’s no take-backs, no mulligans, no swapsees. You move day to day and you make the most of what you’ve been given. So, for me, given the ability to turn back time….I’m not sure I would use it.

We’ve all used the expression “if I knew then what I know now – fill in the blank”. But that’s just it, you know now BECAUSE OF what happened then. Going back to take better advantage of a situation because of knowledge you gained after the fact would negate the knowledge you gained in the first place!….did you all follow that? OK, good.

Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20. You can’t see the road not taken unless you’re looking from the road you DID take. That’s just how life works. The notion of turning back time, for me, is really about regret, or nostalgia. You want to go back to something that was better than now, or change something that you wish had gone differently. And that’s fine, we all have that. But those regrets and those fond memories are the pieces and parts that make us all who we are now, in this moment. I don’t know about you, but I wear my battle scars proudly from a life lived in the moment, always looking ahead, carrying hard lessons learned forward, not back. And each morning when I get up, I get a brand new opportunity to do something miraculous with the time I’m given. And I have all of you to share it with.

So, shave the beard, strip off the robe, loose the sandals and use the walking stick for an air guitar. Time waits for now man. Stop wasting it trying to turn it back. Move forward, change your future and make someone else time better because you were in it.

2012…is it the end? #LetsBlogOff

As 2011 draws to a close we’re asked to look ahead to what 2012 may offer us and also take stock of all that transpired in the previous 12 months. But rather than go through a lengthy laundry list of “wishes” or “goals” to “conquer” in the upcoming year, or whine and complain about all of the things that I didn’t achieve the previous year, I’d like to focus on some simple lifestyle changes that, by their nature, will allow me to achieve more, build stronger relationships and take more time to slow down and enjoy all that God has given me in this life so far.

The celebration of the new year has always been my favorite holiday event, going back to when I was a child. I remember one year, when it was just my mother and me, staying up late to watch the ball drop and she let me pop the cork on a bottle of champagne (we never actually found that cork….weird) and I remember feeling a great sense of renewal, an energy of possibility that was amazing. That feeling has stuck with me nearly 30 years later and it’s something I hope to impart on my children as they grow up.

The New Year is about more than parties and celebrations and old acquaintances forgotten. It’s about reflection, appreciation, gratitude, hope, promise, all wrapped up in the pit of your stomach pulling you forward towards a new horizon. The new year is an opportunity to do something different, something meaningful, something good. The previous year no longer matters. It’s passed, it’s gone and unchangeable. The new year is….well, it’s NEW.

So what changes will I strive to make in 2012 that will have such an impact on my life and the lives of those around me? Very simple, very small changes.

Reduce my dependence on stuff.

Stuff gets in the way. It clutters up your closets, the space under your bed, in your dressers, in your email on your hard drive. Stuff takes time to organize, to catalog, to delete and to get rid of. Stuff is not necessarily useful, or at least, if it was once, it no longer is. It’s simply hanging around for no other reason than you THINK you might need it again one day. In 2012 I will strive to reduce my stuff and make room for the things that are truly useful.

The importance of gratitude.

Gratitude is defined as the quality of being thankful; readiness to show appreciation for and to return kindness. This may sound like a no-brainer, but think about your daily routine. How often do you simply thank people for ordinary mundane tasks? The mailman comes to your door with the latest stack of bills and circulars. Do you ever meet him at the door/mailbox and simply say “thank you”? Or the barista who hands you your double mocha, no fat, soy, triple pump cappucini-whatever – do you ever smile and offer gratitude that she took such care to get your over priced ridiculous coffee order right? Gratitude is something I will seek out in 2012. I’ll hunt for any opportunity to give it freely and be thankful for that opportunity as well.


Relationships are what make life worth living. If you had none you would be completely alone, living on a mountain somewhere eating tree bark and talking to your thumb. Relationships in business are even more important. Without them you’ll never get referrals or any continuing work. And building relationships with clients should be about more than just trying to bill time and make money. As architects, in order to adequately serve our clients we have to know them on a personal level. We have to see how they live, how they work and how they play. We have to attempt to understand their wants, dreams and desires. The only way to do that is to be genuine, personable, likable and build a real lasting relationship.

Three simple steps, three simple concepts, with amazing potential and impact not just on my life, but for family, friends, colleagues, clients and random people on the sidewalk who always seem to have a hard time looking you in the eye. 2012 is a year of possibility, a year full of potential success, failure and lessons learned. There are people to meet, clients to woo, buildings to build, relationships to foster and many many things to be grateful for. What does 2012 hold for you?