News

SPRING / SUMMER CONFERENCES 2019

Spring is a busy time for conferences at RLPS.  It’s a great opportunity for sharing ideas, learning new things and connecting with our clients and business associates.  Please let us know if you will be attending any of the upcoming conferences so that we can say hello.

THANKS TO ALL WHO ATTENDED!

Pennsylvania Association of School Board Officials (PASBO) – Booth 116

KAPPA/DVAPPA Spring MeetingSummer Breeze, Successful Campus Housing Updates presented by Mike Wetzel, Franklin & Marshall College, Brett Calabretta, Warfel Construction and Carson Parr / Booth

LeadingAge Leadership SummitExperience Design for Senior Living presented by Buck Sleeper, EPAM Continuum and Gregg Scott / Kiosk

National School Board Association (NSBA)Media Center Design Challenge:  Hands-on Student Experience Utilizing the 4 C’s

LeadingAge Illinois – The Wave of the Future:  Urban Senior Housing Opportunities by Jeff Heitgerd, CliftonLarsonAllen, Eric McRoberts and Dustin Julius and Make Your Markque:  Holistic Branding Strateiges for Senior Living Communities by Andrea Guarino and John Mulder, 3Seed Marketing and Jessie Santini / Booth

Environments for Aging (EFA) – April 7 – 10; Salt Lake City, Utah / Get Smart:  Smart Home Design Strategies to Improve Quality of Life & Support Aging in Place by Patrick Sampsell, Masonic Villages and Dan Godfrey; Make Your Marque:  Holistic Branding Strategies for Senior Living Communities by Rob Love, Love & Company and Jessie Santini; Community Conversation:  Designing for People Living with Dementia by Michael Smith, Livewell Alliance, Inc. and Dustin Julius and Better Baths and Creative Kitchen Designs by Eric McRoberts and Jessica Jack.

LeadingAge Maine and New Hampshire Conference & Expo – April 10 – 11; Portsmouth, NH – Innovation Exchange – Hybrid Homes – Evolution in Independent Living by Bill James, RiverMead, Eric Endres and Rob Beal

LeadingAge North Carolina Annual Conference – May 6 – 9; Myrtle Beach, SC – Housing 2020:  Innovative Design and Financial Models for Independent Living by Mario McKenzie, CliftonLarsonAllen, Craig Kimmel and Brent Stebbins

United Methodist Association (UMA) Annual Meeting – May 8 – 8; Ft. Myers, FL – Fostering an Employee-Centered Workplace by Steve Jeffrey, Garden Spot Communities and Jessie Santini

WE HOPE TO SEE YOU SOON!

 

LeadingAge Virginia – June 5 – 7; Norfolk, VA – Make Your Marque:  Holistic Branding Strategies for Senior Living Communities by Jessica Kraft, Bluespire Senior Marketing and Craig Kimmel / Booth 107

Association of Independent Colleges and Universities of Pennsylvania (AICUP) Meeting on Collaboration – June 19 – 20, Harrisburg, PA – A Second Life for a 50-Year-Old Building by Steve Bobb, Dickinson College, Mike Rader, Barton Education and Carson Parr and Summer Breeze, Successful Campus Housing Updates presented by Jon Enos, Franklin & Marshall College, Brett Calabretta, Warfel Construction and Carson Parr / Booth 7

LeadingAge Pennsylvania Conference – June 19 – 21; Hershey, PA – Bon Appetit:  Experience Design in Senior Living by Thomas Garvin, Waverly Heights, Andrey Teleguz, Scopos Hospitality Group and Chris Linkey and Extending Housing and Services to the Middle Market by Lynn Daly, BB&T, Bev Asper, Baker Tilly Virchow Krause, LLP and Craig Kimmel / RLPS Architects Booth 50 and RLPS Interiors Booth 30

Masonic Communities & Services Association (MCSA) Conference – June 23 – 25; Portland, OR – Booth

LeadingAge Florida Convention and Exposition– July 22 – 23; Orlando Florida – Booth 301

 

 

 

1915 YWCA gave Lancaster architect Shaub his career-boosting opportunity

This is the second in a series focusing on Henry Y. Shaub, an architect who had a lasting impact on Lancaster County.

All architects wait for the “big one,” the opportunity to showcase their talent and accelerate their careers.  For another notable Lancaster architect, C. Emlen Urban, it was the Southern Market in 1888 at the age of 25; for Henry Y. Shaub, it was the YWCA in 1915 at the age of 28.  Both commissions were sizable, highly visible and subject to public scrutiny.  Not surprisingly, both of these talented architects came out on top.

Urban took advantage of his family connections to the Southern Market Building Selection Committee to help secure his first breakout commission.  Shaub, on the other hand, had to employ another tactic to secure his noteworthy and highly sought-after commission. His strategy was collaborating with an out-of-town expert for a design competition. Shaub invited an experienced and accomplished Pittsburgh architect, Harry S. Estep, to join him in submitting a design for the Lancaster YWCA, only the fourth freestanding facility of its kind in the United States.  This nationally advertised competition drew interest from east coast and mid-western architectural firms.

The proposed location for the YWCA required a solution that would complement the architecture of the surrounding residential neighborhood, and that would be pleasant to look at from its two primary exposures: North Lime Street and East Orange Street.  The Shaub/Estep team chose a style rooted in American tradition and history—Colonial Revival. The 1876 Centennial International Exhibition, held in Philadelphia, had sparked renewed interest in our country’s past architectural heritage. This renewed interest and the resulting Colonial Revival architecture would remain highly popular for another 80 years.

With broad porches, impressive front doors, gabled roofs, fluted Tuscan columns, elaborate dormers, double-hung windows with keystones, Flemish bond brick, fanlights, mutules, quoins and cast stone balustrades, this three and a half story structure provided a familiar appearance and a welcoming presence on a busy street corner.  The interior architecture offered a well-designed and well-appointed Colonial Revival experience, including a grand entrance hall and staircase, stained hardwood floors, paneled walls and an impressive auditorium with stage to accommodate several hundred guests.

The success of Shaub’s first major commission set the stage for a long and successful career that would span 58 years and include hundreds of commissions in dozens of building types and design styles.

Design Intervention is written by Gregory J. Scott, FAIA, Partner Emeritus

For LNP subscribers, here is the link to the original LNP Article, 1915 YWCA gave Lancaster architect Shaub his career-boosting opportunity.

 

DOWNTOWN LANCASTER WALKING TOUR

Gregg Scott, FAIA, Partner Emeritus at RLPS Architects, will be hosting a private walking tour of Historic Downtown Lancaster, highlighting the impressive architectural career of Lancaster’s own C. Emlen Urban.  This tour will highlight a diverse mix of commercial and residential buildings reflecting a myriad of architectural styles, all within a few blocks of the city square.

HANDOUT FOR TOUR:

The following is a pdf file for tour-goers to reference during the tour:  Lancaster Walking Tour: Urban’s Architecture

Take a Closer Look at Henry Shaub: An Architect Who Helped Build Lancaster’s “Look”

Following our multi-part series on architect C. Emlen Urban, this is the first in a series that will focus on another architect whose talents had a lasting impact on Lancaster County.

Although his portfolio of local work was varied and his list of clients impressive, Henry Y. Shaub’s real fame as an architect was what he was able to accomplish in the classroom. This Lancaster native was acknowledged throughout the eastern United States as the leading authority on school design. He would sit among the students to understand how the physical environment, including natural light, acoustics and special relationships, could affect their ability to learn.

A rising star in his own right, this young architect was often overshadowed, but not intimidated, by his 24-year-older contemporary C. Emlen Urban.  At 25, Shaub struck out on his own and promptly entered and won a nationwide competition to design the highly sought-after Lancaster YWCA commission in 1915.

Little has been written about this noteworthy architect who followed in the footsteps of Urban. He not only continued to reshape the architectural landscape of our community, but also to shape the minds of our children through designing better environments for learning.

This series will focus on the diversified work of architect Shaub including the Lancaster YWCA (c. 1915); Posey Iron Works (c. 1918); Shaub Shoe Store (c. 1929); Manheim Township’s Brecht Elementary School (c. 1929); J.P. McCaskey High School  in School District of Lancaster (c. 1936); and Groff Funeral Home (c. 1950) —  just to name a few.

Shaub’s innovation and bold design ideas earned him an honor that only 3% of all architects achieve: being named a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects. The fellowship distinction is reserved for architects who have made outstanding contributions to the profession.

SHAUB BIOGRAPHY

Born Oct. 13, 1887, Henry Y. Shaub was educated at Bordentown Military Institute and Franklin & Marshall Academy, then received an architectural degree from the Carnegie Institute of Technology in 1909.

In 1912, he married Bertha Barron, an orphan who had been raised at the Northern Home for Friendless Children in Philadelphia. They would continue living with his parents, at 246  E. Orange St., for a decade.

Records indicate Shaub registered for both World War I and World War II, but he would never serve in the military due to being described as “crippled from infantile”.

For the full article and photos, subscribers can access the LNP on-line edition of Take a Closer Look at An Architect Who Helped Build Lancaster’s “Look.”

 

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

MPRS – Big Living In Small Spaces

The old adage “Bigger is Better” is not necessarily true as it relates to housing for seniors.  Gregg Scott, FAIA, Partner Emeritus at RLPS and Ric Myers, Director of Marketing at Willow Valley Communities assert that the size of an independent living unit, either free-standing or within a larger building, is not the determining factor in its marketability or financial success. Rather, efficient use of space, the quality of the finishes, access to the outdoors and natural light, inviting spaces and amenities and flexibility are now the benchmarks for marketable and financially successful housing for seniors.

Changing the paradigm from the size of the space to thinking about how one lives in the space and what’s important for living comfortably is the focus of their presentation which can be downloaded here:  MPRS 2019-03-22 Living Small to Live Big WEB.

Tying up the life of a legend: architect C. Emlen Urban

C. Emlen Urban Series – Final Installment

Cassius Emlen Urban’s 53-year career was nothing short of extraordinary and his contributions were immeasurable.  He singlehandedly introduced Lancastrians to a new vocabulary of bold and sometimes uncomfortable architectural styles.  Prior to Urban’s arrival in 1884, red and brown tones comprised the downtown Lancaster color palette and the architectural styles were predominately Queen Anne, Georgian and Federal.  This quickly changed in 1892 when Watt & Shand debuted Urban’s French Beaux Arts style department store in the heart of Penn Square. One by one, other city merchants retained Urban to help them advance their own images.

The next 30 years saw a dramatic transformation in the scale and texture of the downtown landscape including French Baroque, Italian Renaissance, Perpendicular Gothic, French Renaissance, and fresh interpretations of Romanesque and Greek Revival.   But what do we really know about the architect behind the pen?   How did he do it?  What made him tick?  Did he ever sleep while designing more than 273 buildings?

We do know that Urban was the second child born to Conestoga residents Amos and Barbara Anne Urban on February 20, 1863.  His formal education ended after graduating as the valedictorian of his high school class, followed by a four-year apprenticeship with two unique and well-established, but completely different architects in Scranton and Philadelphia.  Shortly after starting his private practice in 1884 at the age of 21, Urban married Jennie Olivia McMichael in her parents’ home at 28 East Lemon Street. He was 23 and Jennie was 24.  The couple moved to 141 East New Street to begin their life together and raise their two children:  Miriam and Rathfon.  Rathfon and Urban’s younger brother Christopher Urban, and nephew Frank Urban were employed by Urban over the course of five office relocations in center city. Beyond these gentlemen and his head draftsman, Ross Singleton, little is known about his office personnel.

What Urban lacked in physical stature at only five feet, six inches tall, he more than made up for in his larger than life personality and engaging blue eyes.  His social and business connections in the community were second to none, holding court with notable local figures including Milton S. Hershey, Peter Watt, James Shand, Herman Wohlsen, Christian Guzenhauser and Congressman William W. Greist.   Research to date has come up short on a significant number of portrait or family photos, with a grand total of five found so far.  We do know he traveled extensively to Europe, South America and the Mediterranean from 1911 through 1934, which were also the most prolific years of his practice.  Although his public designs were quite progressive, his style preference for the two residences he designed for himself was the conservative and understated colonial revival.

Under the heading of trivia: on November 16, 1911, the Lititz Record reported that Urban, an “excellent fisherman”, landed the largest bass ever recorded in the Susquehanna River at Peach Bottom.  Weighing 6.25 pounds “he lifted the fish with pole and reel and fed a multitude of Urbans.”  Unrelated, the October 6, 1934 edition of the Gettysburg Times reported that his Buchanan Avenue home was burglarized by a 21-year-old suspect from Atlanta, Georgia!  And lastly, to his grandchildren, he was known as Baba!

His final commission was documented March 15, 1939 for East Orange Street resident John S.  Groff, almost 80 years ago to the day of this article.  Urban passed away two months later on May 21, 1939 at the age of 76 and is buried at the Greenwood Cemetery in Lancaster, along with his immediate family.  The understated granite headstone simply says – URBAN with the incised biblical verse: “UNTIL THE DAY BREAK AND THE SHADOWS FLEE AWAY.” 

Author’s Note: It has been an honor to share C Emlen Urban’s story with you these past two years.  A special thank you to his great granddaughters, Miriam and Alexa, for their insightful contributions and Deb Oesch and Alex Kiehl for their incredible discoveries and research assistance.

For this month’s full article and photos:  Tying up the life of a legend: architect C. Emlen Urban and links to previous articles in the series, visit LNP On-line.

First Time Was The Charm for Urban’s “One-Off” Designs

C. Emlen Urban Series – CONTINUED

With more than 24 months of research completed, there is sufficient evidence to claim that C. Emlen Urban designed at least 39 different building types that encompassed 25 architectural styles!

Essentially, Urban spoke 25 languages and possessed enough knowledge to understand the design components, nuances and requirements for nearly 40 different categories of buildings, ranging from a single-story residence to a 14-story skyscraper and everything in-between!

As prolific as Urban was in producing over 273 designs during his career, there are a fair number of “one-off” commissions in his portfolio–defined as building types or design styles that he only designed once.   Some were quite glamorous, while others were rather mundane.  The following are a few of Urban’s one-offs: a bakery, funeral home, community center, hospital, children’s home, freestanding farmers market, movie theater, YMCA, drug store, tobacco shop, insane asylum, opera house interior, tavern, Moose Lodge, home for the aged, a storybook style cottage, a church crown and storage garages.  All are worthy of mention and a few certainly deserve additional explanation.

In April of 1898, Urban and other representatives from Lancaster County were directed to tour and inspect insane asylums around Pennsylvania to gain knowledge prior to beginning the design and construction of a new state of the art facility for Lancaster.  The end result was an attractive three story red brick structure designed to support the latest concepts in the moral treatment’ of patients with a special focus on the psychological and emotional state of the individual. Beyond design concepts, Urban introduced the latest building technologies including refrigeration, production kitchens and mechanical systems.  The structure remained in use for 70 years.

The five story Lancaster YMCA was constructed at the corner of North Queen and West Orange Streets in 1900.  Urban was just 37 years old when he designed this monumental Beaux Arts building complete with an indoor pool.  He only designed this one YMCA in his career.

Interestingly, the building type that launched his career in 1888 was a ‘one-off’ design.  The free-standing Queen Anne style Southern Market was heralded as ‘one of the grandest in size and appearance’ in the city.  The 873 seat Grand Theatre, located at 135 N Queen Street, offered movies to audiences from 1913 through the 1960s.  This one-off design by Urban was considered a showpiece for movie goers.

For any architect, designing a hospital requires a great deal of knowledge, trust and communication with the stakeholders.  The 1902 three story Georgian Revival Lancaster General Hospital designed by then 39-year-old Urban was his sole free standing medical hospital.

All architects fall on hard times sometime during their careers. Perhaps 1919 was a slow year for Mr. Urban when he agreed to design a row of one story garages on the 300 block of N Queen Street.  These simple red brick structures survive today and now house the retail shops of Building Character one hundred years after they were built!

Can anyone deny that Urban was clearly a ‘one of a kind’ architect himself?

Gregg Scott, FAIA

The LNP published version of this article is available to subscribers on-line: The First Time was the Charm

Historical Photo Credits:  LancasterHistory.org, Hershey Archives and LGH Archives

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:  HipHopArchitecture.com

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.
Crickets. 
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