ten plus one is better than eleven plus none – #ArchiTalks

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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”

Architect practice and community

As I continue on my journey to build a practice and move out on my own I have been looking around and thinking about what I want the future of my practice to look like. Do I want a big office with lots of interns and architects working under me or do I want a small modest office with one or two trusted partners working with me to produce quality work? Or even still does my practice more reflect a partnership with other architects that I can collaborate with on multiple project types that may or may not be in my wheelhouse but that I can lend and draw support from? In short is a big office better or worse than a community of professionals working together for the greater good of the community and city at large?

For ten years I have worked under some of the best and brightest and most talented architects in Jacksonville, Florida and Little Rock, Arkansas. I’ve watched and I’ve learned and I’ve asked questions. I haven’t wasted my time nor have I wasted the expertise and wealth of knowledge that has surrounded me for a decade. And what I see is a profession in desperate need of an overhaul. Not just a “repositioning” but a fundamental change to thinking about professional practice in architecture. The “good ole days” are gone. I don’t believe we will see a return of a time like the early 2000s where money flowed out of banks like milk and honey and everyone got fat and happy with too much work and firms grew to sizes in the hundreds of employees. There has been a shift in my generation. We have seen what huge overhead costs and fat office spaces can do to the profession. Hell, most of us have worked in those offices and seen them crumble.

I don’t want that. I don’t want to build a practice that can’t take on small projects because they aren’t profitable enough. I don’t want to build a practice that can’t adapt to an ever changing economic and social climate. I don’t want to be the only guy steering the ship either.

So what’s the answer? What does an architectural practice in the 21st century look like? Small. Agile. Collaborative. Focused on the clients. Focused on building communities.

r | one studio architecture will be a firm dedicated to reaching out to other architects, not in competition, but in collaboration to build a community of architects of like mind that can come together on specific projects to offer a broader and more experienced team of professionals to better serve our clients across markets and regions to provide superior service and design to shape the future of our cities.

And in this I’m looking for architects interested and of like mind to start building those partnerships. Not just in Arkansas but all over the United States. Contact me and let’s see how we can work to build a better world.

BIM and backups

Nearly every lesson learned in life, whether that lesson be personal or professional, is not learned by listening to a parent or mentor, or by reading a book, or even by observation. No, unfortunately nearly every lesson learned in life is learned the hard way – through experience. Things would be so much easier if we could learn these important lessons through observation or the retelling of someone else’s woes….but no. It simply isn’t true.

Take for example the average BIM workflow. Unlike years passed where you had multiple drawing files for a single job – site plans, floor plans, ceiling plans, elevations, sections, details, etc, all separate files – we now have one single central file. You may have other files reference to it, but for the most part, especially for residential architects, your entire project is in one file. And when, not if, something goes wrong with that file you better hope you have a fairly recent backup to fall back on and hope to hell you only lost a couple of hours worth of work.

THIS is a lesson I’ve just learned the hard way – through bitter, soul crushing, mind numbing, stomach churning experience. An entire project gone. The file was somehow corrupted and all data is unretrievable. As if that wasn’t bad enough and to add insult to injury the backup file was also corrupted and all data is unretrievable. Still not impressed? Let’s go one further – the project was halfway through Design Development and Construction Documents are due tentatively on the 17th of July. O_O

No other backups, no Time Machine, no Dropbox, no Carbonite……nothing. Solution? Start over from scratch. Luckily I keep multiple copies of all my PDF submissions for projects so I was able to recreate floor plans in half a day. Exterior elevations will be brought back in 2D and I will have to start over with all of my building sections. All told not a total loss and not nearly as bad as it could have been, BUT a valuable lesson learned nonetheless.

Never put your faith in technology. It will fail you.

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.

Drawing Detriment

I could not have said this any better. Drawings “backed by a wealth of knowledge and and a solid thought process.” Very well said.

Architect's Trace

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I don’t get to draw all day. I’m not a cartoon maker. Honestly, I’m getting tired of hearing clients and architects say “Isn’t that great, you/ I get to draw all day and get paid!”I know it’s typically stated flippantly, but we, or at least myself, need to really think about that. That’s not what we do and it’s part of the perception problem that the public has with what we architects do. “Don’t you architects just do some drawings?” No, no we don’t. Now before you get up on your soap box and start calling me out, I admit… I’ve been guilty of stating the same thing. However, I’m making a conscious effort to not say that anymore, it marginalizes what we do. Part of our role as architects is educating the public what it is we really do… we fall short on doing so, I know I…

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to be, or not to be an architect. that is the question.

“life is a tale told by an idiot. full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” – Hamlet

Recently I was out at a local social event of young professionals. We were sitting around drinking wine and just chatting away. I was trying to ignore the fact that I was the oldest person in the room by more than a few years, when I discovered another intern architect at the table. We chatted for a few minutes and I began asking about her tests and how far along she was in IDP. The answer I got was not necessarily typical, but it was common. She is in the middle of IDP, took one test and failed and questions whether or not to continue testing to get licensed.

This comes on the heals of NCARB announcing not only their latest version of the ARE which will launch in 2015, but also an announcement regarding proposed changes to the IDP process. You can read my thoughts on that here.

The question I found asking myself at the time was – What do I tell this person? What do I say to try and convince them that their education wasn’t a waste and that it is worth it to stay the course and keep pushing forward to their license? At the time I was struggling to find an answer. I had not quite finished my own exams, and though determined and focused it was still difficult for me to come up with much in the way of positive reinforcement for this young intern.

The simple truth is Architecture is not an easy profession and there are many challenges, especially at the beginning of your career. And I think that is for good reason. In order to stick it out in this business you have to have your own internal desire, determination and passion to stick with it. You have to be your own cheerleader, because there really isn’t anything that anyone else can say to you that is going to be convincing enough to keep you motivated.

So what do I say to young interns now who wonder “is this for me?” I simply say “that is something you need to figure out on your own.” Architecture isn’t easy and in my experience is one of the few professions where there really seems to be no turning back once you set your mind to move forward. I spent 10 years chasing after my license. 10 years practicing under other architects with 20+ years experience on me, learning everything I could about design, detailing, contracts, client relations, everything I could soak up, preparing for when I could finally call myself an Architect. Once you set your mind on that goal there is no turning back. Be your own cheerleader and get it done.

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! 🙂