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?

value added….architecture? #LetsBlogOff

This go around we’re talking about cost versus value. And in this discussion we’re pitting the “DIY” generation against those who recognize the value of specialized services and are willing to pay for it. Do I even have to suggest how this might tie into the architectural profession? I didn’t think so.

Now, I’ve talked long and hard about the integrity of architects and the need for education and reaching out to a broader client base in order to push the profession forward into this new century. But, especially in economic times like we’re currently living in, there is still a large segment of people out there who see architects as a luxury expense. And this is where a discussion on cost versus value really begins.

But first, how do we define cost and value? My good friends over at Webster define them as follows:

cost: a : the amount or equivalent paid or charged for something b : the outlay or expenditure (as of effort or sacrifice) made to achieve an object

value: a: a fair return or equivalent in goods, services, or money for something exchanged b: the monetary worth of something : market price c: relative worth, utility, or importance

The two key phrases here for me are sacrifice and utility. In other words how much are you willing to sacrifice upfront for the long term utility of something? This applies to almost everything in life, and least of all architects and architecture as a profession. Building a home, even a vacation home/second home/country cabin/whatever is a monumental expense. Most of us will never spend as much for anything else in life as we do for our homes. And with that in mind why would you NOT want to spend a little more in the beginning to make sure that you are getting the highest utility, the highest value for your money?

Topics like this, for me, invariably lead back to a lack of understanding and education about what exactly it is that architects bring to the table for even a small residential project like an addition or renovation. Because many still see architects as a luxury expense, we are therefore seen as a unnecessary expense. And so potential clients will ask themselves “what value would the added expense of an architect on my project bring?” And THIS is an excellent question, one that should be shared, asked out loud and talked about WITH an architect.

Architects are borne with a unique way of looking at the world. We see things that most people would never notice or care about. Like, that ceiling has a slight bow to it because the drywall contractor didn’t use furring strips under the floor joists in order to flatten out irregularities, or the contractor forgot to install corner bead on this wall so over time wear and tear is going to erode that corner and will need repairing, or the foundation crew did not properly install a waterproof membrane or drainage system for the stem wall, which means over time water will infiltrate the basement, most likely settle underneath the house causing structural instability in the home and possibly collapse. All of this, and more, is where an architect brings value to a project – any project. We are the client’s first line of defense to either preempt or correct construction errors before they become problems or even catastrophes.

Other examples can be things like, a contractor calls the client and suggests an “alternate” material that will save X-dollars, blah blah blah. The architect, if involved in the construction process, would be required to review that material and offer a clear determination to the client on whether or not that material is of similar quality as the previously specified material and offer guidance on whether the substitution is worth the savings quoted.

The bottom line is, when you factor the actual cost of an architect’s services, typically between 1 and 3% of the construction cost of a home, that upfront cost for services is far outweighed by the long term benefit in design and construction, and ultimately the safety, security and enjoyment of your family.

done did a double take – #LetsBlogOff

“This LetsBlogOff theme is about taking a deeper second look at what appears to be an everyday common object or occurrence where something happens that makes you look at it in a different light. It could be an object, person or place. Or something entirely different.” – LetsBlogOff Team

When I first read through the latest Lets Blog Off topic, I had visions in my mind of all the funny, ironic and generally laughable things I could have talked about in relation to architecture and professional practice. I’m sure even you have a few in mind right now, don’t you?

Instead I want to take a step back and talk about something a little more serious. Something that, upon closer examination, continues to change my life and my perspective almost daily. And, yes, even impacts how and what I design as an architect – my children. And to quote a famous cliche, children are our future.

my babies. copyright mine forever.

It sounds trite I know, but it’s true nonetheless. The success or failure of our future depends on our children and the foundations and framework we set for them today. In my life B.C. (Before Children) this was only a conceptual notion, a passing fancy to want to change the world and make it better through the power of architecture. My more immediate goals and aspirations lay with the day to day. Am I making money, when will my boss see I can do more than just redlines, when will someone take notice of my great genius, etc etc. I, and my architecture, were very internally focused. And this is fine if you’re not planning much further ahead than Happy Hour.

But when you set about thinking in more far reaching societal terms towards a future past your short life cycle, there is a shift in the “how”, “why”, “what” and most importantly “who”. Children, I’ve found, have this really annoying “hopeful” effect on people.

What does any of this have to do with architecture? Simply put, when you begin to think outside of what is immediately around you, you’re forced to think about the inevitable cause and effect of all things. That strip mall you’ve spent the last 3 weeks detailing – what effect will it have on the surrounding neighborhood? What happens to it when it’s no longer a strip mall? Could it be converted to office space or live/work lofts? Is it near mass transit? Could it be incorporated into a larger transit plan like a TOD? Are the materials easily recycled or repurposed? Can the building itself be disassembled and made into a completely new structure? Is it modular? Could you unplug portions of the building to make way for a new partial development?

These are the types of questions that I’m led to simply by looking at the faces of my children. And your children, and kids at the park (even the one that stole some other kids’ snack and just wiped snot all over the slide that my son is climbing on right now….). The point is, I no longer think in terms of my limited experiences. I think in terms of the legacy that I’m leaving behind and how that will effect generations to come. In short (too late) the common everyday occurrence of children has forever altered the reality of my architecture, because I now understand that it’s not my architecture. It’s theirs. And it must respond to changes in time, culture, function and perhaps even one day disappear altogether to make way for something better.

“you grows up an you grows up” – #LetsBlogOff

Vince Vaughn is famously quoted as screaming “u grows up and u grows up and u grows up!” in Swingers. Here’s a little video action for you:

So, in this weeks LetsBlogOff we’re asked “what did you want to be when you grew up?” And…well, quite frankly at one time or another (as I imagine is true for many people) I wanted to be just about everything under the sun. Here’s a small list, a taste, a teaser if you will:

Math Teacher
Motorcycle Cop
Marine Corp Sniper
Evil Canival (Stunt Man for those who don’t know)
Pro Wrestler (FYI – I’m 5′-8″ and 165 lbs…..yeah)
and…… Architect.

That’s right, even at a young age I wanted to be an Architect. Even though I didn’t even understand what one was until I was in my teens. But I don’t think this is really at the heart of the question. The notion of “want” in the question is completely misleading. It leads us down a path of childlike innocence and wonder to ponder “what do I want to spend my life doing” rather than looking at our life as it is and asking “is this where I want to be and where do I go from here?” This is a more practical road to travel down, in my opinion. And so, here we go.

Looking back at my “10 year plan” from high school, which was about 13 years ago now, I am actually exactly where I thought I would be. Perhaps this means I’m not much of a dreamer or my goals were too practical, but there it is. I’m married, I have some awesome kids and I am a practicing architect (unlicenced). So, when I apply the question “what do I want to spend my life doing and where do I go from here”, I actually get a sense of satisfaction.

Because I genuinely LOVE what I do. Now, that is not to say that my life is all milk and honey and dandelions. I, like many, have financial issues and family issues and professional issues, etc etc. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not happy where I am or less satisfied with the path I’m currently on. The reason for that is because “architecture”, or “architect”, is not merely something that I “do”. I AM an Architect. Call it DNA, call it Destiny, call it a calling, whatever. If I were not an Architect, or if I were not practicing architecture in some capacity you can bet your ass I’d be on a ledge somewhere staring at “the great beyond”.

Instead of wondering “what do I want to be” when grown, I have grown into who I was always meant to be. There were small choices along the way that got me here, but “choice” isn’t really a factor when you consider that there is nothing else I would rather dedicate my life to than the profession, the art, the science, the passion of architecture.

So, where are you in your journey? Are you where you were always meant to be or are you facing a crossroads of “where do I go from here”? Either way you’ve only got one life to live. Make it a good one.