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.

Independence Day

01-Arlington National Cemetery

There are few holidays that I truly love. Two of them are fairly close together. Memorial Day and Independence Day. There is nothing better than to celebrate the privilege and honor of being a citizen of the greatest country in the world – a place where I and my family are truly free to pursue life, liberty and happiness in whatever form that may be for us.

I hope you all took time off to celebrate that freedom yesterday. I hope even more that you’ll take time every day to celebrate that freedom in small ways. Those that came before us, that sacrificed and fought to establish, preserve and defend that freedom are honored every time we exercise our freedoms.

Today, don’t take yesterday for granted. Our independence isn’t just a one day affair. It’s a daily celebration. God Bless America.

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?


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.

Dear Monday, you rock

Ok, so today is Tuesday, which technically makes this post a day late….but whatever.

If you asked 50 people what their favorite day of the week is 49 of them will answer “Friday” and the 50th person will answer “whatever day isn’t Monday”. Most people love Friday because it’s the start of the weekend; they tolerate Thursday because it’s so close to Friday; they begrudge Wednesday because it’s too close to Monday and not close enough to Friday; they loathe Tuesday because it’s not Wednesday; and most people would like to forget Monday even exists. But Monday is really the BEST day of the week and here’s why:

1. Monday is the first day of your week. It’s a fresh start. This gives you the chance to reinvent yourself, to do something different, try something new, experiment, create and investigate EVERY WEEK.

2. Monday means you’re working. Let’s face it, in this economy, if you’ve got a reason to get up Monday morning and leave the house chances are you’re doing better than many others out there. Why wouldn’t you celebrate and be thankful for your own good fortune?

3. Monday means Friday’s mistakes are forgotten. Similar to #1, the weekend provides enough of a break between Friday and Monday to dull your bosses memory about whatever screw ups you made. Also, if you start Monday a little earlier than your boss, you’ve got a chance to fix those mistakes and start the week off even stronger.

There you have it – 3 concrete and irrefutable reasons to love Monday…..even though it’s Tuesday….or whatever day you happen to be reading this post. But whatever. Monday’s rock.

Independence Day


A happy Independence Day to all. I don’t like calling this holiday “the fourth” or just “4th of July” because it doesn’t convey the weight and the importance of the day as “Independence Day” does. Today is a magnificent celebration of the sacrifices and triumphs made by our forefathers who fought against the British monarchy and created the first truly free and democratic society on Earth. This is an achievement that deserves and demands the utmost respect and admiration and honor that we can give.


So, today, while you’re preparing for fireworks, and bar-b-que, and playing in the park with your kids, or getting set to light those bottle rockets after sucking down a six pack, remember your freedom came at am amazing price. It came at the price of countless thousands who determined that they would no longer live under the rule of tyranny, but instead would fight for a nation, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. God Bless America.

architecture: unplugged



If you know me, you know I love architecture. And I mean the sloppy, wet, public display of affection kind of x-rated love that you sometimes find in your dad’s closet. I love what I do.

BUT sometimes you have to unplug, because too much of a good thing will make you go blind…..wait that’s not right…or maybe it is. Either way, I unplugged a couple weeks ago. I did nothing related to architecture. I took my wife and two little ones up to the White River to Bull Shoals State Park in Bull Shoals, Arkansas. We camped from Friday to Sunday and it was awesome. My in-laws came as well so it was a real wing-dingin time. We fished, went boating, went swimming. Did I mention we did some fishing? So, here are some choice photos from the trip for your viewing pleasure.

The White River at dusk.

The White River at dusk.

Me, hardcore reping the Razorbacks.

Me, hardcore reping the Razorbacks.

Me and "the little ones".

Me and “the little ones”.

Bull Shoals Lake - above the dam.

Bull Shoals Lake – above the dam.

My father-in-law and his first catch of the weekend (rainbow trout)

My father-in-law and his first catch of the weekend (rainbow trout)

"the little ones" fishing with grandpa.

“the little ones” fishing with grandpa.

Bull Shoals Dam, Arkansas

Bull Shoals Dam, Arkansas

Daily Prompt: artist’s eye

Is there a painting or sculpture you’re drawn to? What does it say to you? Describe the experience. (Or, if art doesn’t speak to you, tell us why.)

In college we studied the history of Art in world cultures. We began with the prehistoric Venus d’Milo and went all the way through time right up to modern expressionism, post-modernism and all the other isms that we deal with today. But, one artist above all others stood out for me and really got my blood pumping.

Jackson Pollock.

Jackson Pollock in his studio.

Jackson Pollock in his studio.

His work, especially his early work, always seemed to be searching for something. As I learned more about his life I came to realize he was searching for some kind of piece within himself. One I don’t think he ever found. But he kept searching all his life. This still speaks to me through his art.

Autumn Rhythm No. 30, 1950

Autumn Rhythm No. 30, 1950

While most of us know and recognize his larger pieces like the one above, I actually prefer the smaller canvases that he created. The larger work is wonderful, don’t get me wrong. They are full of movement and rhythm and action and even violence. But the smaller canvas works, if you really look at them, are like packages of dynamite – contained, restrained, almost ready to explode. As if he captured all of his emotions and action into a jar and sealed it. You can feel the tightness of it.

Whenever I look at Pollocks work I FEEL. And that, to me, is the greatest Art.

honoring my dads – happy father’s day

Many of us grow up as part of a typical nuclear family – mom, dad, sister/brother, sparky the dog and mittens the cat. In my case I grew up with not one but two dads. Later in life I gained a third. Today, on Father’s Day, I’d like to honor these three men and share how each one has helped to make me the man, and father, I am today.

Let me start off by saying that none of these men were perfect fathers, husbands or even friends. They are human and fallible just like all of us. And even in their imperfections and through all of their mistakes I will still hold each of them in the highest esteem as long as there is breath and life in me.

me and my Dad on a recent camping trip in Arkansas

me and my Dad on a recent camping trip in Arkansas – the date is a year off

First, my Dad, Tom. When I was born my mother was not quite 18 and my dad was not quite 19. This was 1980, and while teen pregnancy wasn’t quite common, we’re not talking about the 1950s either. As I’m sure anyone out there can relate this is not an ideal situation to begin a marriage (yes they got married about 5 months before I was born) becoming a husband and father all at once. Most of us like to space these things out a bit. Fast forward through all the dirt that makes up life and we get to today. My Dad is one of my best friends. I know without a shadow of a doubt that I can go to him with any problem and he will listen without judgement and without prejudice. He’ll offer advice if I ask it, but otherwise he’s always been a true confidant and a true encouragement to me through many a foolish decision I’ve made. Despite whatever has and will happen in life, I’ll never love my dad any less than I do right now.

me (13-ish), my stepfather Frank, and my mother

me (13-ish), my stepfather Frank, and my mother

My stepfather, Frank. He and my mother began dating when I was about 2-ish. Until I was grown he was the dominant male figure in my life. He and I did not always see eye to eye growing up. He was 18 years my mother’s senior, which put a considerable age gap between he and I. I was growing up in a much different time than he did and this led to a lot of….misunderstandings, to put it mildly. Me being a punk teenager didn’t help matters much either. He and my mother separated when I was 16. By this time I was starting to see some of the wisdom in what he was trying to instill in me in my earlier years. From the time I was 16 until he passed away just before my 21st birthday we became very close. I unfortunately realized much too late that he loved me no different than his own son. He did the best he could with what he had and some of my most fond memories in life are of him. I know he’s staring down at me and I hope he’s proud of the man he helped make me today. Hell, he taught me how to pee standing up. Things like that are important. 😛

My father-in-law, Duane, at the top of Pinnacle Mountain

My father-in-law, Duane, at the top of Pinnacle Mountain

Lastly, and certainly not least, my Father-in-law, Duane. I honestly can’t say enough good things about him. Obviously it’s thanks to him that I have my wife – duh. But more than that he’s been an amazing friend and spiritual father to me. I can imagine that it must have been difficult to accept his christian daughter dating an avid buddhist, but from the beginning he showed me nothing but love and continues to pour that love into me, my wife and my children. Like my own father, I can go to Duane with anything and he’ll offer the same unbiased and unprejudiced council. Over the last 8 years he’s shaped me in ways I can’t even comprehend yet, but I’m grateful to have him in my life.

Fathers can come in all shapes and sizes. Sometimes by choice and sometimes by fate. But however they come into our life we must not take for granted what they have to teach us both through instruction and through example. No father is perfect, none but God, and we shouldn’t expect them to be. But we should love, honor and respect them as long as we’re able. Happy Father’s Day to all the Dad’s out there and all the Dad’s to be.

Daily Prompt: Fantasy

The Tooth Fairy (or Easter Bunny, or Santa Claus . . .): a fun and harmless fiction, or a pointless justification for lying to children?

Growing up I believed in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny (I was actually born on Easter Sunday, so that was huge for me). I believed in Fairies, Spirits, Angels and all manner of what we call fantastical beings. And not because my parents necessarily went out of their way to “lie” to me, but because as children we see more than what is just at face value in the world. We believe in what some would call fantasy, because for children it’s not fantasy.

More than that, these “lies” that parents tell their children about the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus, etc are not lies. These fantastical figures have roots in historical fact and cultural tradition. These are important to carry down through the generations to preserve our heritage. Without these traditions, without honoring the past in this way, we effectively delete our roots as a culture, as a people. And, honestly, how many kids do you know that were irreparably damaged because they found out Santa was just Mom and Dad staying up really late? Yeah, no one comes to mind for me either.