Wash Those Dirty Hands!

I was lucky enough to attend the Twenty-Third Annual Westford Symposium on Building Science – also known as Summer Camp.  It was a truly informative experience and, as the title suggests, it touched on many subjects relating to building science.  Plus there is a really great barbecue and picnic at the organizer’s home.  But is wasn’t all about R-values and air leakage, though.  While the symposium covered many topics I expected; like humidity, air-tightness and unvented roofs, it also touched on several other topics that were unexpected (to me anyway).

When building scientists need beverage coolers, they make them!  They must always have spare insulation and transition tape around.

The one session that maybe struck me with that “duh, why didn’t I think of that” moment, was called, “Architectural Compactness and Hot Water Systems: Good Design Lowers Cost”.  Now, I know what you’re thinking – with a title like this, how could you go wrong?  But here’s the thing:  I’ve thought about this session every time I touch a sink faucet since.

Whether in public buildings, apartments or houses:  the faucet is usually really far away from the hot water source.  Your second floor bathroom can be on the far side of the house and the hot water heater is located in the garage or mechanical closet, or even the basement.  Even if the hot water source happens to be on the same floor as the faucet, the pipes have to run up in to the floor or ceiling, then run horizontally to the wet wall, then up or down again, before it sees daylight.  Prior to any hot water reaching your hands, that pipe has to clear a huge volume of cold water that is already in the trunk and branches.

In the study done by the presenter, it found that 80 to 90 percent of the water draws in a typical residence were from the faucet, so let’s concentrate on that for a moment.  In the 1980’s the typical faucet in a home used 3.5 gpm (gallons per minute).  Today, the worst you can do by code is 2.2 gpm and most efficient faucets are closer to 1.2 gpm.  So even though faucet efficiency has improved drastically since the 1980’s (about 66%), we are still wasting a lot of energy down the drain.  We are just waiting for it to get hot!

Everybody washes their hands, right?  Well, they should, anyway.  The CDC (Center for Disease Control) says you have to wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.  For the record, the CDC recommends singing the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.  I wish I had known that earlier, because anyone with kids has probably heard their kids turn on the water long enough to only get through “Happy Birthday to y….” & done.  But I digress…

Faucet in the aesthetically pleasing position.  Energy down the drain!

While much of the session was focused on how to keep the “wet” rooms closer to the source. Clearly, we designers can and should learn to do better.  But the clearest takeaway for me was this: we wash our hands a lot.  Our faucets are usually a single lever, as they are accessible, convenient and easier to change the temperature.  If our levers are positions in the “neutral” position (half hot, half cold), and we turn it on 60-100 times a day and run it to wash our hands, we are wasting a lot of hot water!

If we run our faucet for the recommended 20 seconds (minimum, I hope), there is almost no way in most houses (or offices or public restrooms for that matter) that the water will be hot by the time we are done washing our hands.  The water already in the pipe is unheated.  I know in my house it can take a minute or more for hot water to reach my second story bathroom faucet.  An eternity.

But if my faucet is drawing hot water as well as cold when washing my hands, I’ve wasted a lot of energy to heat water that will never touch my hands.  By the time the next person touches that faucet, the water I heated in the pipe line will have cooled off because the copper in most houses is not insulated.  By simply turning the faucet lever all the way to the right, I use only cold water to wash my hands.  No energy wasted.

I came home from Summer Camp all excited about this revelation.  There is an obstacle.  People (the people I know, anyway) don’t like it when the faucet lever isn’t lined up and nice and straight.  My wife, for one, was not impressed.  There is a compromise now!  In addition to the water efficient faucet, I am told that faucets that will only draw cold water when the lever is straight up and down unless you push it to the left while the water is on are on their way to the market.  That way you can leave the lever nice and straight, and not waste that energy.

By the way, the CDC doesn’t care if the water is hot or cold, so unless you have a medical condition, why not use cold?

Faucet in the energy saving position.  Is the hot water even going to reach your hands by the time you’re done anyway?


Accessible Doesn’t Mean Institutional

Many designers and consumers alike have an aversion to anything labeled: accessible.  That particular label on an apartment can have a connotation of “institutional” or just plain not looking like all the other residential units.  Even in retirement living, the Type A apartments (or so-called “ADA” units), which are required by most building codes to comprise of at least 2% of the total apartment units in a development, are often the hardest to sell.  Why?  Because they (can) look different.  However, with a little creativity and just a couple extra design features, these adaptable units can be almost indistinguishable from the other 98% of the apartments.

Ever see this symbol on a rental agreement or mortgage? This is the Fair Housing Act symbol.

To back up a little (warning:  building code lesson), all apartments in multi-family living have to meet certain usability requirements.  This is a result of the Fair Housing Amendments Act of 1988, which augmented the original Act of 1968 to extend housing opportunities to those with disabilities.  It’s worth noting that this amendment to the Act preceded the Americans with Disabilities Act by two years.  The 1988 Fair Housing Act covered all new construction housing after 1991 that connects more than three dwelling units together to meet minimum accessibility requirements.  That means that single family homes are exempt, but townhomes, apartments or any other dwellings of four or more connected by any means are regulated, whether rental, simple ownership or condominium.  Developers and owners are sometimes unaware of these minimum standards despite the three decades since the law’s implementation.

This means that even the “standard” units in a typical apartment building, typically called Type B, have to meet some minimum standards.  These standards include reasonable accommodations to residents even if that may require the resident to modify the unit (at their own cost, mind you, not the landlord’s).  The Type A adaptable units, the 2% mentioned above, are scoped out by most building codes.  These standards exceed those required even by the Fair Housing Act above, but not to fully accessible criteria as required in, say, a public bathroom.

The main differences between the two types of units lay in the bathrooms and the kitchen.  There are other differences, but they probably will not be recognized by the average consumer.  Doorways have to be a quarter inch wider, doors need to have certain clearances in front of them and some receptacles and electrical outlets may need to be lower or higher, but only slightly so.

The area dedicated to the bathrooms of the Type A adaptable unit may be larger than the other units, to allow for the five foot turning radius that a wheel chair requires and some of the clear space requirements on the individual fixtures is larger than those required at Type B units.  Other than these differences, however, the actual appearance of the adaptable bathroom can be identical to the standard Type B units.  The regulations require that in-wall blocking be installed in the bathrooms at the showers and the toilets for the future installation of grab bars and a shower seat.  These items do not have to be installed, however, and the blocking is invisible in the finished product.  The sink does need to allow a wheel chair to clear the underside, which in many cases eliminates a base cabinet at this location.  Even here, the code allows for a removable cabinet, provided it may be removed easily and the flooring and wall finishes continue behind it.  A conscientious designer can incorporate a removable sink cabinet that appears to be built in, matching the appearance of any other bathroom in the building.  Shower control locations in adaptable units are also required to be on the long wall of the 3’ x 5’ showers typically provided in senior housing.  This can place the shower wand in a location that would spray water out of the shower, as opposed to if it were located on one of the short walls.  But the code does not prohibit a diverter and a second, fixed head on the short wall, nor does it prohibit a slightly longer hose on the wand and a second holder on the short wall.  Either of these solutions, paired with a wand that has an “off” switch on the dial, can overcome this obstacle.

The “invisible” clearances in bathrooms and kitchens define the rooms.
I see clearance boxes like Keanu Reeves sees the Matrix.

The clear areas dedicated to the kitchen probably is exactly the same between the two types of units, so the Type A kitchen will not necessarily larger than its Type B counterpart.  There are, however, two main differences to overcome.  First is the provision for a wheel-under sink and a wheel-under work area in the cabinetry.  These open cabinets can be filled in exactly as described in the bathroom above.  These removable bases can be indistinguishable from those on either side, and removed with just a couple of ordinary screws.  The second issue is a little harder to hide.  The sink and the work surface have to be a 34” above the floor, which is 2 inches lower than a standard kitchen counter.  Typically, the entire kitchen counter is lowered to maintain a consistent countertop height, and while this isn’t required, it does eliminate two low spots on an otherwise regular surface.  This is one concession to accessibility that may be difficult to circumnavigate, though in our work in senior living with reputable providers, we have procured variances from the agencies administering the codes to allow traditional 36” countertops provided the building owner promises to replace the entire kitchen counter and necessary cabinets upon the request of a resident.  If a variance can be obtained, this essentially eliminates any difference between a Type A and a Type B kitchen.

Designing for accessibility is nothing new, however.  Nor should it negatively impact the design.  Inform the design – yes: ruin – NO!  A real groundswell in advocacy began, with good reason, after World War II.  Many thousands of service personnel returned to the US dealing with the physical and mental consequences of modernized warfare.  The housing and public facilities to which they returned were not accommodating, and in 1946 a group of paralyzed veterans founded The United Spinal Association in New York; the Paralyzed Veterans of America was founded in 1947; the National Paraplegia Foundation in 1948.  Just a few years earlier, accessibility issues were never talked about, not even by our wartime president FDR, who himself used a wheelchair for much of his adult life as a result of contracting polio.  But thanks to these service men and women, accessibility advocacy was about to shift to the forefront of public conversation.

Mr. Laurent in his FLW designed accessible home in 2009.         Photo Credit:

Even many architects don’t know that Frank Lloyd Wright, America’s preeminent designer of the first half of the Twentieth Century, designed a house specifically for a client with a physical disability in Rockford, Illinois.  In 1949, Wright designed a home for Kenneth Laurent, a disabled veteran, and his wife.  The Laurents obtained a $10,000 (that’s about $140,000 today) federal grant for disabled veterans, and Mrs. Laurent wrote to Wright after seeing the Pope-Leighey House in the magazine House Beautiful.  She asked Wright if a house could be designed for a wheelchair user on a $20,000 budget.  Most of Wright’s Usonian homes are single story and open floor plan affairs.  Both of these attributes compliment universal design well.

The Laurent House is consistent with the Wright look and feel, and the incorporated accessible details do not call themselves out.  The custom desks, which cantilever from the walls and are completely open below, are as at home here as they would be at Fallingwater, Wright’s famous Pennsylvania home cantilevered off the side of a hill over a waterfall.  Even the various storage cabinets fronts were designed to hinge on the bottom instead of the side, making it easier for the client to open them from his wheelchair.  The living areas do not express any hint of institutional design.  The only perceivable trace at the time may have been wider doors, which to today’s eyes, look completely normal, but in the 40’s it was customary to have 30” bedroom doors rather than a much more wheelchair friendly 36”.  Obviously, there are no steps to create barriers into the house from any of the exterior patios, terraces or the carport.  Wright’s typical wide overhangs would protect those thresholds from water as well as snow accumulation.

Wide passageways with accessible cabinets. Photo credit: Brent Stebbins
Photo credit: @dchi85

The bathrooms and kitchen were probably the biggest challenge to Wright, as they are to designers today.  But it is remarkable that his solutions 70 years ago are strikingly similar to solutions still used today.  Let’s be honest.  Men of the 1950’s did not likely spend a lot of time in the kitchen.  But Wright lowered the countertop to a height similar to the standard required today.  To do so, he used a drop in style range so it could be flush with a lower countertop and the controls are all on the front, so that one does not need to reach across the burners and hot pots and pans to adjust the heat.  That is an explicit requirement of Type A kitchens today.  The kitchen is an open floor plan and allows generous maneuverability within the space.  While the kitchen sink is not open below, it is positioned to allow side approach to it.  All in all, even with the lower counters, the kitchen looks very much like many other FLW kitchens, and I have visited several.

Cantilevered Desk – Photo credit: Brent Stebbins
Photo credit:

Wright would have struggled a little with contemporary codes in the bathroom, but nonetheless he came up with a few innovations here worth mentioning.  In addition to the traditional bathing tub, Wright added a shower next to it.  While it is not a true roll-in shower used today, it has a much shallower curb and would allow for easier transfer to a shower chair than anything readily available in the 1940’s.  And while there is not as much clearance at the toilet as you would see today, the lavatory cantilevers from the wall and allows full wheelchair clearance below, which was rather innovative for its time.

The fact that the Laurnets lived in this house for 60 years is a testament to Wright’s foresight into what would one day be called universal design and allowing the family to age in place in their home.  They even added on to the house when they adopted a child years later.  Perhaps Wright’s age when he first conceived of the home aided his design.  He was 82 years old and probably less mobile than he was in his youth.

Accessibility features in living units do not have to constrain design or stand out like billboards.  Done sensitively, these features can work seamlessly with the overall design of the space, making it usable to the widest range of potential users possible.  It will not just eliminate barriers for those with disabilities, but it should benefit as many users as possible, from those in wheelchairs to those on skateboards.

This Old Architect

Surprisingly, many of the lessons I’ve learned over the years have little to nothing to do with designing buildings. That doesn’t mean they weren’t worth learning.

Recently, my wife and I were fortunate enough to visit the set of This Old House, which is to say, the active work site of a home renovation in Westerly, Rhode Island.  I won a contest as a member of what they call the “Insiders”.  It’s a yearly subscription where you get access to every show produced, plus a digital version of the magazine, plus New Yankee Workshop.  This is not a commercial but seriously, if you are fan, check it out.

I was extraordinarily excited to put it mildly.  My daughter heard me talking about the upcoming trip and hit me with the “Nerd” label.  Whatever…! I was stoked.  I watched the show as far back as I can remember. You watched what was on then and there were only 12 channels to choose from back in those days, but as my studies and career led toward architecture, I continued to watch.  Even with the flood of home improvement shows of the last couple of decades that concentrate on the entertainment rather than the education aspect; or the shock value rather than the shop value, This Old House was always my go to program.

Yes, the trailer really does show up on site.

My wife and I watch every Saturday morning with our coffee, whenever possible.  We watched together before we even owned a home.  In fact, she will be the first to tell you that it was because we would watch this program together and then launch right into a Penn State football game on a Saturday morning, that it first occurred to me to ask her to marry me.  Well…It didn’t hurt.

The trip from Southeast PA to Rhode Island was not going to be an easy one, we knew.  It is about 300 miles but can take anywhere between 5 and 6 1/2 hours, depending on traffic in the greater New York area.  We had to brave it in a torrential down pour, too.  We left the night before the shoot in order to be on site by 11 AM on a weekday.  We got to our hotel at about 11 PM.  The following morning, our hotel room electronic lock decided to malfunction while we went to breakfast.  I think I may have scared the young lady working the desk at our hotel after her efforts to open the door went nowhere after about 40 minutes.  I believe I demanded a locksmith, another room to shower in, and threatened to tear to the door off the hinges in order to get to the show.

Eventually, the door opened, but we were warned not to shut the door unless someone was inside to reopen it.  We only had a short 15 minute drive to the job site.  We even had a couple of minutes to spare and drove around the neighborhood and to the shoreline, which was only a mile or so away.  Unfortunately, the rain the night before had flooded the shoreline streets, so we had to turn back.

Current apprentice De’Shaun and former apprentice Mary McGuire Smith.

The project house sat at the back of a cul-de-sac bristling with activity.  We parked a little way away to keep out of the hustle and bustle of the various work trucks.  Other cars started showing up and looking for a place to park like we did.  After a while, everyone started migrating over to a pop up tent that looked to be our welcome center.  A young man with a huge smile stood at the entrance into the cul-de-sac to greet us – his name was De’Shaun Burnett and we came to learn he was one of the newest apprentices along with Kathryn Fulton.  They were so engaging and happy to see all of us, that by the time we had to leave the site, I wanted to adopt them!

As the other winners of the contest assembled, we found that there were about 15 winners and 15 guests coming.  Most of the visitors were husband and wife and most of the winners looked to be retirees.  So my wife and I pulled the age demographic down – I think there were 3 couples in our age range (40’s) and one couple in their 20’s, but the rest seemed to be in their 60’s.  Then I saw the host, Kevin O’Connor walking around the site!  I resisted the urge to point and shout, but his presence was definitely noticed by all the other visitors too.

Huge screen, eh?

It was an active job site indeed.  My wife was in the residential home building industry for a decade, and she commented that she missed the smell of fresh sawn lumber – there was definitely real work being done.  At the appropriate time, all of the guests were ushered into a second floor bedroom to watch a very small monitor of the opening shot for the day.  There were about 30 folding chairs facing a screen about 24 inches wide.  It was kind of funny and Chris Wolfe, who is the Executive Producer and General Manager of all the This Old House Productions television series, made light of the fact that they pulled out all the stops for our visit.  It was Chris’ job to entertain us all until the production team was ready downstairs.  The group was very engaged and asked a lot of questions, and Chris was reprimanded on one occasion for making us laugh too loud.  Questions mainly pertained to the process of how they pick the project houses, at what stage is the design in when they do, how long the process is, etc.  The Q&A session could be a long post in and of itself.

Sara Ferguson, Coordinating Producer, kept Chris from being too funny.

The house was essentially fully framed but drywall had not yet started, so from where we sat, we could see the entire floor through the open studs.  Obviously any noise would travel down the open stairs to where the team was shooting.  They started with the “long open” shot, where Kevin O’Connor arrives on site and walks through the house and happens upon whatever work is happening that day.  This day happened to be installing a coffered ceiling detail.  We learned later that it was supposed to be installing some doors, but the rainy weather required the team to reorganize the day at the last minute.  We obviously had to hush during camera rolling, then between takes, Chris would described various facets of production.  During the long shot shooting, we learned that there really is no script, just an outline.  Kevin will assess the progress on the house since the last day of shooting and talk with the show runner and crew about what he might say.  I think the long shot took about 3 takes and each time Kevin would edit himself and make the shot smoother.

Once he got to the work area inside the house at the end of the long shot, Tommy and Jeff were positioned to talk about the mock-up of the wood trim detail that would become the coffer on the ceiling.  It too started with an initial conversation with the show runner about what the viewer would be looking at and what was important to talk about.  This shot was more technical and took quite a while to shoot, each take was a more condensed and streamlined version getting to the essence of what needed to be conveyed.  It was very interesting.  After the initial shot at the work table, various B roll shots were taken for close ups of the work.  Care had to be taken to make sure there was continuity with the overall shots previously taken.  Questions were posed by the show runner, like “weren’t you holding that with your other hand in the other shot?”  As a viewer, you don’t often think about these issues – if the show is done well (obviously, This Old House is).

Production shots: ceiling layout on the floor.
Don’t you just want to go have a beer with this guy?

Once they left the work table shot, they prepared to shoot in the living room where the coffers were to be laid out, so the group was allowed to go downstairs and watch the shot in person.  Tommy and Jeff used a layout stick to mark the floor of the room and those marks would later be transferred to the ceiling using a laser.  This part was really cool because we could see not only the “shot” but all that goes into the shot.  You can see show runner John Tomlin talk to the hosts and ask them to redo a part of the scene, or the camera operator crouched on his knees or how the “extras” walk through the shot the same way every take.  Up until this point, the only regular cast members we had the chance to see were Kevin, Tommy and Jeff – and that was all we were expecting to see.  But during the end of the shooting for the morning, I turned my head and was surprised to find I was standing right next to Richard!  He saw me do a double take and smiled, and after I pointed at my camera and then at him, he nodded with a sly grin.

After shooting, Richard took us outside to talk about how special the septic system here was.  As exciting as that subject seems, I really don’t remember what he said about it, but he actually became my favorite story teller of the cast.  He genuinely seemed like he wanted to talk to 30 strange fans and even answer one guy’s oddly specific and detailed sewer questions.  He talked about how his sons came to decide to work with him in the business, how he took over for his own father in the speaking roll on season one of This Old House 40 years ago after his father got tongue tied and passed those duties on to him in his early 20’s, and finally about how Tommy pranked Kevin the very first time they met by nailing his tool box down to the ground.  I left there thinking about applying for a job at his shop!  While we were outside, I caught a glimpse of Mark, the masonry expert.

Richard telling all sorts of stories, including those about sewage.

After we talked about sewage for a good long time, we were ready for the barbecue that was part of the contest winnings.  They set up tables on the deck and through the house, luckily the weather changed and it was sunny and delightful outside.  There was a big buffet of really tasty food.  While in line we chatted with a really nice couple who was very close to our age and got tips on where to go on our planned vacation to Rhode Island a month later. we got the skinny on which Newport mansions to see, where the best beaches were – what luck!

We ended up sitting down to eat at a table with Jeff Sweenor, the builder they recently collaborated on with the Net Zero house season, and were working with him again.  Chit chat included a discussion of the special wood trim being used, called Solid Select.  It is an exterior grade trim that comes from New Zealand that is treated for outdoor use and comes pre-primed.  It is so straight and defect free, they not only used it for exterior trim, but used it throughout the interiors as well.  Sadly, no one carries it outside New England – yet.

After we finished eating and wiped all the barbecue sauce off our hands, I got all the cast that was there (pretty much everyone but Norm and Roger) to sign my copy of the recent This Old House book.  I don’t care if that makes me look like a dorky fan-boy, when else would I get a chance like that?  After that, the crew in charge of the Insider contest winners coordinated a lot of photo opportunities which made their way into a very nice article on the day here:  TOH Westerly Article

Jim Mehaffey, AIA, Senior Project Manager

I am an architect with 20-plus years experience in the health care and senior living sector. I am an enthusiastic pragmatist and fan of sarcasm.

My First Job Interview


24 years is a long time.  That is even longer to be at one architecture firm.  That’s how long I’ve been in the employ of RLPS Architects.  The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics released a report in September of 2018 that shows the median tenure for employees with their current company is just 4.3 years.  Architecture and engineering occupations were actually a tad higher at 5.7 years.  My firm has had at least four people celebrate a 40th work anniversary, so while I am only half way to that milestone – 24 years isn’t anything to sneeze at.
I have a deep, dark secret though.  It turns out that I never actually interviewed for a job here.  How can that be, you ask?  Nepotism?  Prisoner work release?  Nope.  Not many people can say this, but my mother interviewed for me. 

I wasn’t there. But this is how I’ve always imagined it.

In May of 1995, I was completing a semester abroad.  At that time, RLPS was extremely busy, due in no small part to earning its largest commission to date in 1994.  There were already three interns on board for the summer, which I think was a record for that era, but they thought they could use one more.  Based on the word of mouth from those three interns, who consequently also attended Penn State, a call was placed from this office to my parents’ house to inquire about procuring my services as a summer intern. 
My mother took the initiative to schedule a meeting with one of the partners and to gather up my unfinished portfolio and what she could find of my college transcripts (probably only through year 3 and a half).  Remember, it was 1995, I didn’t have any of this stuff digitally and I don’t think our dial up modem in Italy could have wired a single page of it.  Without any preparation or coaching, she proceeded to present my work and sell my services to the firm.  The only background she had to aid her in the explanation of my work was what little I had told her about it well over six month earlier.  Anyone who knows my mother knows that she is not a particularly visual minded person, but what she lacks is vision, she obviously compensates with loquaciousness.  Somehow, she managed to make enough of an impression that I was hired sight unseen and I reported upon my arrival back in the States.
This is not how I showed up for my first day of work…I swear.
All I can say is:  It pays to be nice to your mother.  She can be your biggest advocate.  And she saved me from a fourth consecutive year of nailing wood studs together through the heat of the summer!

This is the 46th topic in the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is “My First Job Interview” .  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:

–>Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Interview — Nervous Energy

–>Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“my first interview”

–>Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
My First Interview – Again

–>Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
My first interview

–>Ben Norkin – Hyperfine Architecture (-)
My First Interview – Your Next Interview

–>Larry Lucas – Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
My First Interview That Reconnected Me to the Past

–>Anne Lebo – The Treehouse (@anneaganlebo)
My First Interview

How Hip Hop Took Over the World, and Quite Possibly Can Save Architecture in the Process

In the old school days…

If you polled my classmates in 1991, a good many of them may have voted me off the studio.  You see, prior to the iPod or iPhone containing a huge library of music; prior to you even having access to a computer in the studio which could also play your music, architecture studios were essentially boom box battle zones.  My boom box was among the biggest and hardly anyone else liked my kind of music.

I like a lot of music.  Truly.  But, for all that is holy, I can only stand so much Brown Eyed Girl or, Lord help me, Best of Billy Joel.  Certain people in my studio pirated the airwaves with that junk all day long while professors were mulling around.  Either all they had was that one CD or they were too lazy to take it off of “repeat”.  It didn’t matter because it was the banal stuff that would offend no one.  It was, however, all I could do not to grab their boom box and throw it out the fourth story window onto the unsuspecting engineering students below.  During the day, my kind of music was taboo.  But as soon as night fell, I pressed ‘play”.

One of my favorite album covers.  Maybe because the artist was an architect, Matteo Pericoli.
Check him out:  Matteo Pericoli

I showed up to college in 1991 with a crate of rap and hip hop cassettes and CD’s.  There was no streaming music back then?  Remember Columbia House Records?  You got 10 CD’s for $1, then you had to buy so many for regular price over then next 37 years.  It was a total scam but I had Public Enemy, Ice-T, Big Daddy Kane, Beastie Boys, NWA, Digital Underground, Eric B & Rakim – you get it.  I had some punk and what would be called alternative stuff too, but in order to drown out the Chicago Greatest Hits for the eighth time that day, I went to something like Ice Cube.  And loud.  My friends hated me, but I was 18 and intent on offending those around me whom I had decided had offended me with their oppressively uninspired and stale taste in music all day.

Shock value?  Sure.  But contextual too.  This was one of my first hip hop albums.

I was nearly alone in my affinity for the genre.  They all scoffed at my “Hizzouse” music and they were all sure it (hip hop) would never last as a viable musical category.  I did get a few friends together to see Public Enemy, Ice-T and House of Pain at Rec Hall with me in 1992.  It was a steal for a $20 ticket!  But as Chuck D looked out on us (the audience), I believe he called us “Quaker Land”.  Predominately, it was a sea of white kids at Penn State, as it was my studio.

Fast forward almost 30 years.  Hip Hop basically took over the world, as we all know.  Beyonce, the Kardashians – they all married into hip hop royalty.  All of my friends were wrong, and I was obviously right.  And today the AIA is literally dying to get some diversity in the profession of architecture.  Still.  They talked about this 20 years ago.

A couple years ago, a then graduate student in architecture, Michael Ford, blew up the architecture scene with a compelling program called Hip Hop Architecture Camp.  From their website:

The Hip Hop Architecture Camp® is a one week intensive experience, designed to introduce under represented youth to architecture, urban planning, creative place making and economic development through the lens of hip hop culture.

Learn more about Hip Hop Architecture Here:

Beautiful.  How do we get young architects with diverse backgrounds in the pipeline?  College is too late.  High school is too.  Take the message to them early.  Make it seem cool and like it can make a difference.  Music and architecture have always had this symbiotic relationship.  I remember our first year instructor Don going on and on about Mozart’s compositions and how you could have “too many notes” and all that.  Did that resonate with 17 and 18 year olds in 1991?  Not a bit.  Well – maybe a little since I remembered it 27 years later but – Don was no Grandmaster Flash, that’s for sure.

Early hip hop spoke about the environment, the real environment, in which the artists lived.

Ford introduces kids to architecture within the context of contemporary messages.  Bad environments can produce bad social/economic situations for those who live there.  -Of course.  Good environments can promote social equity.  -There’s the solution based problem solving we need.  Architecture is contextual, just as there is a regional component to hip hop.  It started as a battle between the Boogie Down Bronx and Queens, but as rap spread, it became East Coast vs. West Coast.  Then it became even more regional, so today we have such selections as Dirty South, Crunk, Miami Base; there’s a Chicago scene, a Twin Cities scene, St. Louis, Atlanta…you get the picture.  If a certain type of music makes sense in certain place, doesn’t it make sense that maybe the architecture should reflect that too?  Ford will personalize his hip hop to the location of the camp.

Photographer Glen E. Friedman took this photo on his own roof.  He did album covers for many artists across many genres.

Hey, it is no coincidence that the rappers I was listening to in the late 80’s / early 90’s are now popular cultural icons with proven acting careers like Ice-T, Ice Cube, LL Cool J, Will Smith, Latifah, Mos Def, Common, etc. The list goes on.  These people had something to say, and once our demographic became the one with all the money to spend, producers and sponsors took notice.  Now half the commercials on TV have hip hop scores in the background.  And by now we’ve all heard that Ice Cube was studying architectural drafting if that whole NWA thing didn’t pan out.  Kanye wants to “architect” things.  The interests are aligned.  Sir Mix A Lot now fronts the Seattle Symphony.

Even Canada has their rapper.  Yeah, Toronto!

While I may have tried to force my musical preferences on those around me in studio by cranking my box to “11”, it took someone smarter than me to harness the power of hip hop to reach out to youth that maybe wouldn’t have ever considered the career path of architecture or design.  If you don’t get what the kids are listening to, they probably know something that you don’t, and maybe never will.

Happy Accidents

Happy Accidents
Serendipity. Providence. Lucky Breaks.
There always seems to be an element of design that is due, at least in some part, to “fate”.  I’m not talking divine intervention, at least I don’t think so.  I’m talking about how, in school, a piece of your third year model falls off and moves to the other side, where it looks inherently superior.  Or, while frantically trying to pin up for a critique you flip your trace paper backwards and your professor makes such a big fuss over the mirrored version, you have to change the entire trajectory of your project.
Neither of those things happened to me, of course, but I have seen similar situations.  In real life even.
The first occasion I can recall was when we were designing a camp for missionaries.  This was a training center for those planning to move overseas for extended periods, so the decor was intentionally sparse.  The living arrangements consisted of four identical buildings each with twelve monastic cells arranged around a central living and dining space.  The rooms were simple, but generous enough for two people and each has a bathroom with a shower.  While the building design was simple, there was a concerted effort for sustainability that aligned with the values and mission of the Owner.  This project was to utilize a geothermal heat source.  And this was 1999 in a little town in Pennsylvania.  This town was so small, it had neither liquor licenses nor a locally adopted building code.  Think the town in Footloose.
The envisioned Campus
We were hosting a coordination meeting in our office with the Owner, all our engineering consultants and the Contractor.  A geothermal system of this size requires space for pipes, pumps and tanks, especially since the campus was going to be utilizing a well field, shared between these four buildings and the large educational building on the campus.  Our simple parti did not include large mechanical rooms: basements would be too costly and the attic arrangements would not accommodate enough space.  Do we actually have to build a mechanical wart on the back of all these buildings?  Problem is, there is no back to these buildings.  Half in jest, I said “why don’t we just put all of it in one of the guest rooms?”  It was about the right size, as it happened.
The chip board model.
Sorry, just trying to diffuse the tension… Everyone kind of tilted their heads for a long moment.  After the most pregnant of pauses, the Owner said, “we can make eleven rooms work in each building.”  That was the solution.  Perhaps the most simple and direct solution there that a room full of people were too focused on to find.  Sometimes it just takes a slightly sarcastic twenty-something kid to disrupt the thought process.  Okay, maybe “slightly” is being generous.
We did indeed turn one of the 12 guest rooms into the geothermal mechanical room.
Just a glamour shot of the shared living/dining rooms.
A little later in my professional life, I was confronted with another situation with which (I believe) I handled with more maturity.  This situation, coincidentally, dealt with a building housing twelve dwelling units, this time for retirement living. The rooms were on two floors, six over six, and had parking below.  We had two stair towers and thought we had them located properly – as many of you reading this will know, exits must be a certain distance apart to qualify as separated.  In this case, one-third of the overall diagonal of the building.  We knew this, we just failed (up until this point) to account for the balconies – and they were pretty big balconies.  Long story short, we had to push one of the stairs away from the core of the building.  I felt responsible.  I was responsible.  Not only was it my job to fix it, but it was my job to tell the Owner how we had to change their plan.
In the original rendition, the stair was more or less flush with the porches.
The plan only had to change slightly, but the stair had to project out farther than previously envisioned.  It actually provided for some improved privacy between two adjacent balconies and created a feature on the rear of the building.  This time there was something of a back to the building and it needed a feature, and here was the opportunity to break up the rear elevation and introduce a tower element.  Even so, the change would add some square footage to the program and add some cost and we (that is to say I) still had to convince the Owner that this would be a good thing.  I sat down with the Owner to review the code issue with the location of the stairs and the proposed solution.  Without any hesitation, the Owner latched onto the new design as an improvement.  No head tilts, no pauses (pregnant or otherwise)…
Without the projection of the stair, I don’t believe this elevation would have worked as well.

Call it what you may; happy accidents or serendipity; but sometimes turning your designs upside down can only improve them.

This is the 45th topic in the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is “Happy Accidents” and was suggested by me this month.  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:

–>Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
When a Mismatch isn a Match — Happy Accident

–>Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“happy accidents”

–>Nisha Kandiah – The Scribble Space (@KandiahNisha)
Happy Accidents

–>Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
There is no such thing as a happy accident

–>Architalks 45 Anne Lebo – The Treehouse (@anneaganlebo)
Architalks 45 Happy Accidents

Learning from Mistakes

Learning from Mistakes

Much of what we do as building professionals has to do with this month’s ArchiTalk subject.  As a code/regulations and quality control person in the office, most of my personal experience as it relates to reviewing construction documents has to do with how I or someone I know may have been burned in the past.  But as an office, we have a collective experience that can surely help us make good projects even better in the future.
The Project Autopsy
Case in point, I had a meeting on my calendar today listed as “Lessons Learned on XYZ Project”.  Again, this was a job that went pretty well.  But when was the last time you said, ” the construction of that last job could not have gone ANY better”?  Of course you haven’t.  Things can always be better.  This was a fairly small job, though complex.  It dealt with a lot of high profile areas at the main entry, and had to be completed during the summer – about two months.  So the schedule was aggressive. 
The meeting consisted of the quality control personnel, the construction administrator, the design team (project architect, interior designer and Revit drafter), interiors partner and the specifications writer.  A total of eight people in a room discussed what could have been done differently to have been more successful than the project already had been.  That is a fair investment of staff hours on a pretty small job that for the most part went pretty well.
Some of the topics discussed included:
  • Long Lead Items on Short Schedules
  • Specific Details on One of a Kind Details
  • Demolition Notes
  • Existing Conditions
  • Door Hardware on Aluminum Storefront
  • Utilizing Technical Representatives from Manufacturers
  • Specifying Finishes in Publicly Bid Work
Some of these topics are so specific, that they may never be applicable to any other job we do.  However, a few of the items will go on the Quality Control Checklist that we maintain.  There are a few items that are already on the checklist that will be repeated for the benefit of the staff’s memory.
Regardless of the size of one’s practice, having a procedure to do a postmortem on even successful jobs is a great way to strive for improvement for your next challenge.  While most projects are unique, there are often opportunists to apply what you’ve learned to other situations.

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is “Learning from Mistakes” and was led by Steve Ramos.  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
some kind of mistake

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Learning from mistakes in architecture

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Archi-scar – That Will Leave a Mark!

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“Learning from Mistakes…”

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Forgotten Mistakes

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Are Architects Experts?

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
A, B, C, D, E…

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Learning from mistakes

Steve Mouzon – The Original Green Blog (@stevemouzon)
How Living Traditions Learn From Mistakes

Designing for Others

Designing for Others

In a sense, architecture is always about designing for others, is it not?  Even if I designed a home or structure for “myself”: as a married person with children, wouldn’t I ultimately take the needs of my family into consideration?  Unless I was designing a domicile for which I intended to occupy in solitude so that I could devote my time to a great work of literature (clearly I am not talking about this blog), would I not consider visitors?  Even Thoreau’s Walden: Life in the Woods devotes a chapter to the comings and goings of visitors (he always had three chairs ready for visitors).  We are never truly alone.

As it turns out, nearly all that I do revolves around design for others.  In my position as one of the “Checker of Drawings”, I essentially become a method actor playing several roles as I read “the script”.  The script, or the collective of the construction documents, as it were, is strictly a draft when I read it.  Depending on which act I am reading, I immerse myself into the character suitable for the role.

First, I become the Code Official.  I am likely seeing this set of documents for the first time.  Even if I know a lot about the project, I pretend I do not.  The Code Official must be able to review the first several pages of a set and get a general understanding of the existing conditions (if there are any), the type(s) of building(s) proposed, the occupancy, the construction type, the amount of area and height, etc.  A lot to do, and it is a challenge to do this clearly and succinctly.  Are there fire walls, and if so, where?  How much renovation is there (Level 2 or Level 3)?  Where are the different uses separated?  We have to come up with a way to convey this information even if it means adding little drawing vignettes to clarify.

Much of what I look for is not glamorous, however stairway enclosure protection is important, especially if missed and not considered during design prior to bidding.

Next, I try to take the point of view of the people building this structure.  How clear are all the transitional details – are there enough blow-ups?  Are the required dimensions there?  Even if the dimensions are there, are they in the right place, where they make sense to the builder?  How have the details considered the person physically putting the drywall on the wall?  We also try to incorporate all of the systems and engineering knowledge to coordinate consultant drawings; so that our drawings don’t say one thing, and the electrical drawings say another.There are so many things to consider that, unless you do the same building over and over again, no one would ever catch them all.  But we try none-the-less and strive to be better all the time.

Sometimes, the things I look for are mundane, like how does this tiny shaft get drywalled up three stories?
Sometimes, when I see the same issue over and over, I need to keep myself sane…

Obviously, the point of view of the Owner, or in our case the end user, is of the upmost importance.  I have to look for details that do not comply with Codes, of course.  However, I find myself becoming the advocate for those with limited abilities of all sorts, where, even if the design complies with the Codes, I typically ask if certain moves might be made to improve accessibility.  In senior housing independent living apartments, typically (per ANSI A117.1) a sink in the laundry is exempt from side approach requirements (the ability for one to approach the sink sideways in a wheelchair and have enough room to center your torso on the sink).  The first instinct of a designer is to throw the sink to the corner as far as you can so that there is as much open counter to fold.  This may work fine for the able bodied resident, but what about one in a wheelchair or scooter?  Even if one is temporarily confined for the time it takes to mend a broken bone or some other kind of ailment, it would still be nice to be able to use your laundry room.

A reception desk in a senior’s environment needs to consider, in all aspects, the perspective from a wheelchair.

In closing, I look at this set from my own perspective.  For this set of documents, even though another architect was the lead on the project, I ask myself what personal experiences can I impart on the design?  I have been designing for seniors for over 20 years, but the office as an entity has been doing so for three times that.  We have a lot of collective experience.  You can also call it collective memory.  You can call it tales from the trenches.  You could even call some of them war stories.  Whatever these deign issues are called, we want to review each project from the perspective of this checklist of items, lest we overlook them.  As one of my favorite sayings goes, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  When the office produces a set of documents, I want us all to be proud of the end result.  For successful building projects, repeating advantageous design moves and avoiding detrimental ones can only help the cause.

Always remember, staff break rooms cannot be considered “employee work areas”!

Note:  If you were wondering…my marks are green and not red because I am not the only one to redline jobs.  My green marks distinguish themselves from someone else’s red marks, while still visible against the black lines of the construction documents themselves.

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is “Designing for Others” and was led by Jeff Pelletier.  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:
Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
How To Design for Others

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
designing for others – how hard could it be?

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“designing for others”

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Just say no

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Designing for others

Steve Mouzon – The Original Green Blog (@stevemouzon)
Planting Seeds of Better Design

Anne Lebo – The Treehouse (@anneaganlebo)
Designing for people

Career Path(s)

Career Path(s)

I always say I’ve known I wanted to be an architect since the seventh grade, but that doesn’t mean I knew what it meant to be an architect at that time.  That didn’t come until much, much later.  Even architecture school doesn’t truly prepare one for the path of professional “architect”.  It tends to makes sense that, even upon completion of a degree in architecture, many graduates find themselves working outside the field of of architecture eventually (or even immediately).

In my own graduating class of about 25, I estimate that at least one third of said graduates are endeavoring in professions outside of architecture.  And of the eight or more “outsiders” I count, gender really has nothing to do with it.  And by that I mean: no, it isn’t all the females from our class that dropped out of professional life to raise children.  Quite the contrary, actually; as more women from my class are still in architecture and a higher percentage of men have left it.

So where do these people go and why did they leave?  Do they do something related to architecture or completely unrelated?

I looked to my classmates, friends and former co-workers for answers.  I generated a sort of questionnaire.  Of the people I surveyed, two are in the film industry (one in visual effects and one in set design – no adult film stars that I know of, sorry).  One worked as a product designer for a major ceiling product manufacturer. Two work for the federal government.  One works for a large retirement community and helps new residents layout their new retirement homes and sell their existing ones.  One is a jewelry designer and sculptor who sells her merchandise in museum gift shops and craft shows all over the country.  One person now engineers and builds millwork and cabinetry.  One classmate owns and operates a needlework business.  Last but not least, one colleague now runs a catering business and gourmet shop.  Notice there is not a single stay at home mom or dad listed.  While some may have also done this job IN ADDITION to their other job, it isn’t as if these people have picked up their ball and gone home.  They are contributing to the work place in other ways, some related to architecture, some not so much.
The equal rate of attrition between men and women on the road to achieving their licensure after receiving their degree is in line with a recent NCARB study.  See the link here.
I thought about this and asked each person I know in this position to answer a fourteen question survey.  As to be expected, some surveys took a very long time to get back (architects are notorious procrastinators – no surprise).  Some I am still waiting on.  I hold no ill will, but they are off the Christmas Card list for sure.  Actually our family is so bad at getting Christmas Cards out, we have changed them to New Year’s Cards.  Full disclosure:  I do none of the work on the holiday card front for my own family.  I am the worst.
I tried to get an idea of why each person in the focus group went into the study of architecture, when he/she felt like they might want to change professions, how architecture school may have prepared him/her for other endeavors and if he/she would do it differently or what suggestions might be useful to those pondering the profession.
In terms of when the decision was made to enter architecture school, most of the respondents indicated fairly late in high school.  One person indicated a very young age (before 10 years old), and two actually made that decision after college orientation or after a full year of college.  Our class had a high percentage of students that were older, from 20 to 30 years old, rather than 17 or 18 like the rest of us.  I am not sure of the reason for this but it didn’t really matter other than when it came time to buy beer.  I would guess that the dropout rate for the traditional freshmen was about the same as those entering architecture school with a few years already under their belt.
When asked if there was any point that they felt entering architecture school was the wrong one, answers were all over the board.  Some had doubts in school (of course we all did in some way due to the pressures of studio).  One person actually left a message for their adviser in order to start the process of switching majors.  The adviser never called back and he ended up sticking it out (see above for ‘procrastination’).  One woman kept a pink ‘Change of Major’ slip pinned in their work space all five years.  Another indicates that every semester was plagued with doubts.  Several respondents settled into the program with less tumult that the rest of us.  And lastly, one man didn’t have doubts until he received his first paycheck and saw the amount of overtime he was working.

When asked if they intended to seek employment outside of the profession immediately following college, most responded that they first sought traditional work for architectural graduates.  Only one intended to pursue work in a related field (architectural preservation).  Many found traditional work.  Only one person I polled fell into another profession while looking for traditional work; the video gaming industry.  In fact when he started in the gaming job, five of the six people on his team were either architecture school graduates or licensed architects.

Only one of the respondents is currently a licensed architect.  Having worked for a division of the federal government for several years as their architect, he decided to actually join them as a project manager.  As a result, he left the private sector to work for this government agency, running their construction projects as an Owner’s representative.

Another former coworker also got a job with a government agency in a field directly related to architecture.  But when it became clear that a transfer from his current city was eminent, he found work in another department in graphics and web design in order to stay put.

My classmate Jake has a very unique resume.  After graduating with us in architecture, he ended up traveling around a bit, trying to decide where to work.  In doing so, he passed through San Francisco and thought how cool it would be to work somewhere like Pixar.  When traditional jobs did not immediately pan out, he found himself working in the video gaming industry, contributing on several games in the Star Wars series for Lucas Arts and Marvel Nemesis for Nihilistic.  Eventually he made his way to the other side of the planet, working for Weta Digital, currently as Layout Head of Department, and has worked on films like Avengers: Infinity War, Avatar, X-Men: First Class, and the Hobbit trilogy.  Oh, just look at his IMDb page.  Jake attributes his current skills like spatial layout, 3-D problem solving, art history and managing stressful deadlines to his architectural training.
In perhaps one of the most unexpected results of my survey, one respondent actually came back to work at an architectural office:  the one I work for.  Jim had worked for us more than ten years ago and eventually found employment with a major manufacturer of ceiling products, where his wife also worked at the time.  He worked in several positions over about a decade from research and development of ceiling products, to working with architects and designers to produce specific solutions for their design needs.  While his positions were maybe more traditionally filled by industrial engineers, the problem solving aspects of working in buildings perhaps benefited him during his time there.  When I contacted Jim to answer my survey and catch up for lunch; I gave him a tour of our new office space.  A few weeks later and Jim rejoined us.  Yes our office is that cool.  Jim has since wondered off into new adventures since.  He went on to join a German building product manufacturer, a commercial case goods manufacturer and now works for a residential home building company as a sales manager, where yet another of our classmates now works as a studio manager.

My friend Melissa runs a business creating handmade jewelry and other objects made from industrial and recycled materials, see:  StubbornStiles.  She worked in architectural offices for about ten years before making that move.  And if there was anyone I would have expected to do something outside of architecture, it was Mel.  Not to say she wasn’t talented and couldn’t have excelled in an office, but I expected her, more than anyone else I knew from college, to create her own professional path.  I visited her once in San Francisco many years ago where she was working in a firm, and it was very strange for me to see her step out of the office, dressed the part in every way.  What she does now totally fits her.  (She was the one with change of major slip at her desk in college).  She now works with her super cool and talented family in Portland, Oregon.

My wife worked for a very small architectural firm doing mostly residential work for a short time, but left to work for a nationally known home building company.  She liked the residential aspect of the work and she needed to pay off student loans, and this job paid better.  She went on to move to where I was living in Lancaster, PA (and we still live there today) and worked for two different regional home builders.  She went part time after our first child and eventually quite all together after our second.  She never fully intended to leave the work force, and continued to freelance drafting work.  Eventually, an opportunity came to her through one of her freelance clients to become what is termed the Transition Specialist for a very large retirement community.  She meets with clients who will be moving into the retirement community, measures their furnishings that will be going with them, and lays out the furniture plan for them in their new apartment plan.  She also provides tips for selling the home they are leaving.

I know or know of others that have gone into designing and building furniture, culinary and catering endeavors, and even a needlework shop and business.  It is clear that all of these changes in profession have one thing in common:  there is still an aspect of design and/or art relating to them all.  When asked how their architectural education benefited them in their non-traditional professional field, the answer returned was unanimous from the focus group:  the ability to problem solve.  It is a different kind of problem solving than the engineer or mathematician.  The problems presented to architects and even to students in school are open-ended and never only have one answer.  We are taught to think in terms of options.  The solution that is best for Client A is almost certainly not the best solution for Client B.

The architect must work between what the client thinks they need, what the codes require and what the engineers need to do.  I have always thought that being an architect requires, almost above all else, the ability to compromise.  The best solutions can answer questions that weren’t even asked.  Architecture school teaches creative thinking to spatial problems as well as time management skills.   It also teaches how to take criticism.  Does it ever…

Most of the people in my limited survey also know others in their fields who studied architecture or were architects.  The last couple of decades have seen a few deep recessions.  Architecture was one of those majors everyone was warned against very recently, see:  Degrees to Avoid.  Getting a job in architecture has been difficult at several times over the course of the last 20 years, which can influence some to abandon the traditional route and go into something else.  There are also several famous folks who at least started an architectural education before going off to become famous for other things.  See:  Career Paths. Some actually got their degrees and practiced before going into acting, singing, even royalty…good work if you can find it.

Several respondents suggested they didn’t know what they were getting into.  There are a lot of programs today targeting high school students that didn’t exist when I considered a college major.  I actually have volunteered for the program at Penn State.  See:  Career Advice.  This would have been extremely helpful to me as a college freshman and would have provided for a good transition from high school to studio.  It turns out there are dozens of these programs over the summer from one week to six weeks.  See:  Summer Programs.  I would tend to think that incoming students at least have the opportunity to know what they are getting into.

Most of the people I polled believe that the education of an architect can provide one with a set of skills that is transferable to other undertakings.  Of course to be licensed, there is the Architectural Registration Exam to contend with, along with the NCARB internship requirements.  But that is a discussion for another time.  Architecture school is not for everyone, considering my class barely graduated 25% of the original first year sudents.  Even my colleagues who are in fields that have college programs tailored specifically to them (like animation and stage set design) discover aspects of the architectural program that inform their work.  Needless to say, a Bachelor of Architecture or Masters of Architecture is the most direct path to becoming a practicing architect.  But an architectural course of study is able to translate to a wide variety of career pursuits.

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is “Career Path” and was led by Mike LaValley.  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:

–>Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Well, How Did I Get Here (Again)

–>Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
a paved but winding career path

–>Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Career – The News Knows

–>Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#architalks 41 “Career Path”

–>Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
A Winding Path

–>Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Career Path

–>Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Career Path of an Architect (And Beyond)

–>Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Career Path

–>Steve Mouzon – The Original Green Blog (@stevemouzon)
A Strange Career Path



How we use words is important.  They are one of our inexhaustible resources. But if we don’t use them mindfully, there is no limit to the mischief they can cause.

Many may think that the Drawing we produce for projects would govern all intent.  That is not always the case.  The accompanying document to the drawings is the Project Manual and it contains within it, among other things, the Specifications.  There will be a set of chapters for each type of construction or products designated in the Drawings.  Hopefully the Drawings and Specifications are properly coordinated and match up in all instances.  That doesn’t always happen.  We would like, as design professionals, for anyone else interpreting our Construction Documents to ask us our intent if there is any confusion, but that doesn’t always happen either.  While it is more complicated than can be described with this single sentence, a general rule in the profession is: in the case of difference between Drawings and Specifications, the Specification shall govern.

There is another choice word in that last sentence.  See that word “shall”?  Could it not have said “will”?  Of course.  But in legal jargon, “shall” connotes a strict requirement.  The word “will” could simply mean something that will take place in the future.  Look at the founding documents of our Country.  Those guys used the term “shall” liberally.  They knew something about lasting documents!
Speaking of “shall”, writers of building codes also LOVE the word “shall”.  In case you were wondering (I know you were), the 2009 IBC, 12th Edition mentions the word “shall” 9,109 times.  There’s only 716 pages by the way.

Word choice is key.  I am a big believer in using as few words as possible to convey a message, whether it be a note on a drawing, an email to a Client, or a response to a Contractor.  I wrote another post on that topic here:  Yada Yada World, so I won’t get into it here.

But you have to use the right words.  I love my daughter dearly, and I am not making light of her auditory processing disorder, but she said the funniest thing at the dinner table recently.  She is very musical and volunteered to play at this year’s high school graduation.  When she told us the tune they were to play, I nearly spit out my peas.  She told us she was practicing “Pomp and Circumcision” instead of “Pomp and Circumstance”.

So yeah, words are important.

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is “Words” and was led by Jeremiah Russell.  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
Does anyone hear your words?

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Visual Words

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Words are Simple — Too Simple

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Architalks 40: Words

Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
A pictures worth

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Mindset for Endless Motivation and Discipline #Architalks

Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Use Your Words (Even When You Can’t)

Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

Leah Alissa Bayer – The Stoytelling LAB (@leahalissa)
Architects Are Storytellers