Carson Parr, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, Partner earns Penn State Alumni Award

RLPS Partner, Carson Parr, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, was recently awarded the Alumni Achievement Award by the Penn State Alumni Association.

According to the Association’s website, “The Alumni Achievement Award recognizes alumni 35 years of age and younger for their extraordinary professional accomplishments.”  Carson has been a part of RLPS since his first internship in 2007. He joined the firm full time after graduating from Penn State with both a Bachelor of Architecture and a Master of Architecture – Community and Urban Design. Parr was named a partner of RLPS in 2018 and currently leads our higher education market.

Carson is active in the American Institute of Architects and was a Past President of the AIA Central PA Chapter. Carson continues to volunteer as a mentor for Penn State architecture students.

Congratulations, Carson!

The Pandemic.

It’s been a while since I’ve dropped a post, hasn’t it?  To be honest, it’s been hard to find the motivation to write.  To be sure, I’ve been lucky during this pandemic.  Our firm’s shift to work from home has been nothing short of seamless.  Aside from setting up a temporary work area, to a then in essence a permanent work area (once realization set in that this was not a short-term event), my professional life has been very stable throughout this time.

But life had still become very different.  But different doesn’t always mean bad.  I thought I would take stock of the things that have been positive about work-from-home in a pandemic.

  1. The Commute. It can’t be beat.  Even though I had a 2.5 mile commute to the physical office before, I can sleep in an extra half hour more than before and still get to work about 30 minutes early, without even breaking a sweat.  If I need to put in some extra time, getting to the office early is really easy.  And did I mention; no pressure to snow shovel?
  2. The Co-Workers. Never has our family spent this much time together, and never will we have the chance again.  With an 18 and 16 year old, we are close to being somewhat empty nesters.  While it took an adjustment for everyone dealing with four people in the house all the time, either telecommuting or zooming into school, my poor wife who already worked from home in the first place must have felt like a displaced refugee.  But it has all worked out.  And even though my ‘real’ office colleagues sometimes hear French horn clearly in the background, this is family time we were not going to get had it not been for this virus.
  3. The Lunch Hour. I have always packed my lunch, since I was a summer intern.  But I don’t exactly like doing it.  Now I can just waltz over to the fridge at noon.  Plus, since it started getting dark very early in the evenings, my wife and I can take a quick walk together over the lunch break.
  4. The Three O’clock Pushups. When the gyms closed, everyone had to adapt their exercise routines.  I found myself needing to get my pulse moving a little to get over the afternoon doldrums.   Because it is so easy to snack, I thought that I should do some pushups for that little burst.  I started modestly, around 35 to start, and I did it 3-4 times a week.  Since we were only going to be home a few weeks (we all thought) I started adding one pushup a week if I could.  I can do 60+ pretty easily now.
  5. The Grill. We have always tried to eat as a family when we can, and with the kids’ sports and activities that has meant eating earlier than most folks.  Like at 5.  As my work day has been 7:30 – 4:30 for many years, I always had tried to help cook when I got home from work in the past.  But with my new office location, I can now do more.  My wife hates to grill, but I like it.  So, I can stroll out and start preheating our grill right at 4:30, go back to work for a few minutes, and then throw the meal on when it is ready.  By 5 PM, Soup’s On!
  6. The Five O’clock Traffic. Since the kids were little, I have tried my best to respect the family dinner.  Even before, if I had to put in a little extra time at the office, I would come home, eat with them, and since we live so close, I could literally be back in the office by 6 o’clock.  This is even easier to do now.  As I write this, dinner is done, and I have just wondered back into the home office to tinker.  At a certain point in the evening, I try to “turn it off”.  The line may be a little blurrier now, but I am working on it.

    It’s not much, but it’s been home for almost exactly one year.

Lancaster Walking Tour – West Chestnut Street

Gregg Scott, FAIA, Partner Emeritus at RLPS Architects, will be hosting a private walking tour of Historic Downtown Lancaster, highlighting the impressive architecture that can be found along West Chestnut Street.  This Lancaster Walking  Tour will showcase a diverse mix of commercial and residential buildings reflecting a myriad of architectural styles, all within a few blocks of the city square.


The following pdf files are the handouts for tour-goers to reference during the tour:

West Chestnut Street Tour Part 1

West Chestnut Street Tour Part 2

Philadelphia Chapter ICAA – Lancaster Walking Tour

This ICAA, Philadelphia Chapter, member event, begins at the historic Franklin & Marshall College campus and includes a six-block walk to center city along mansion row. See multiple examples of Chateauesque, Tudor Revival, Colonial Revival, English Country, Spanish Revival, Dutch Colonial, Norman Gothic, Queen Anne and Second Empire. Ending in center city, Penn Square supports an additional fourteen architectural styles within a two-block radius of the 1874 Gothic Revival Civil War memorial. The vast inventory of diverse architectural styles in excellent condition impresses even the most fervent architectural critics. Our tour will adjourn with lunch (not included) at the internationally acclaimed 1889 Romanesque Revival Central Market, a commission won by James H. Warner when he was only twenty-four years old!

Walking Tour Guide

Tour Map

Philadelphia Architects – Lancaster Work



Craig Walton, a former partner of RLPS who retired in 2015, passed away on August 8th, 2020.  Not only was Craig a beloved member of RLPS for over 25 years, he is also the namesake of our office’s CH Walton Gallery.

The following information is extracted from the full obituary on Lancaster Online.

Craig H. Walton, 69, of Lyme, New Hampshire, passed away August 8, 2020, with his family by his side.

His death came after a ten-year struggle with the rare illness Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. This was a challenge he faced with tremendous courage.

Born August 31, 1950, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Craig was the eldest son of Harry B. Walton, Jr. and Thelma Hershey Walton. He was an Eagle Scout and a graduate of Manheim Township High School.

Craig was accepted by the University of Virginia to study Architecture in 1968, a year when the school was all male and students were required to wear a coat and tie to class. Craig had a mentor in Professor Carlo Pelliccia at UVA, who inspired in him a passion to draw. Post-graduation he went to the Harvard Graduate School of Design, receiving a Master of Architecture in Urban Planning degree.

In 1980 Craig won the Stedman Design Competition and was awarded the prestigious Rome Prize in Architecture. This win granted him a one-year Fellowship at the American Academy in Rome in Italy. He filled his year with travel, study, and drawing. His sketchbooks are a magnificent record of his time there.

In 1987 Craig joined RLPS Architects in Lancaster. He retired as a Partner in 2015. He was devoted to his profession and enjoyed working alongside his talented colleagues.

A person of many interests, Craig was above all devoted to his family. He said that his years as a father were among the best in his life. He enjoyed creating unique Halloween costumes and themed birthday parties. He designed and built a custom playhouse for his most important clients, his children.

Craig’s joys included architecture, gardening, sketching, historic homes and annual visits to the beach. In his later years, Craig loved the gatherings of his children, grandchildren, and siblings at the family home in New Hampshire, the site of his daughter’s wedding, family holidays and many special times.

Craig is grievously missed by his wife Virginia; son Drew and his wife Nina of Dallas, Texas; daughter Julia and her husband Jordan Kaericher, granddaughters Edith and Margaret of Los Angeles, California; his siblings Scott and Bruce Walton of Lancaster; and Beth Ranney of Southampton, New Jersey.

Accept the Exception

The earliest known codes that dealt with construction are found within the Code of Hammurabi, which dates back about 1700 years B.C. in Babylon.  Since building codes deal with permanent structures that are figuratively and sometimes literally concrete, some may be surprised that today’s codes are not so absolute and clear-cut as say, a rental agreement on an apartment.  In the case of old King Hammurabi, it was very definitive – should a house fall down on its owner, the builder shall be put to death!  Today (thankfully) construction law is not so strictly interpreted.  This may be because the industry is ever changing in terms of technology and building standards.  Or it may be because there are an infinite set of conditions that may be encountered within a design that has not commonly been experienced before.  Or it could be a set of existing conditions that is unique to the circumstances of a particular building project.  Likely it is some combination of issues.

Old King Hammurabi on the far left, carved atop a copy of the code; a portion of the text to the right. Image from

No matter the reasons, building codes today have a little flex to them.  Actually, they have a lot of flex.  In the 2015 International Building Code (the one we use in Pennsylvania at the time of this writing), the word “exception” occurs 838 times.  The root word “except” without the -ion occurs another 227 times.  That is astounding to consider (well, to someone like me it is, anyway).

The reason: normally, the building codes read a little like the Code of Hammurabi:

“You shall do this.”

But in over one thousand instances, you do not have to do “this”, if you do “that, and maybe another thing.”  For instance, the Code says that we can only build this type of building so high…except we can go one more story if we sprinkler the building.  The Code also says all spaces must have two exits…except for when the room is this small.  It goes on and on like this.  Exceptions are pervasive in a book that is only 729 pages long, including the cover, preface and table of contents.  On average, there are about three exceptions on any two pages staring up at you.  And this is just the commercial building code.  There are additional codes for energy conservation, plumbing, mechanical, fuel gas and one for just existing buildings and one and two family homes, for which I have not done similar word counts.

But in all seriousness, it makes sense.  In my fist example, a sprinklered building is statistically much safer than one that is not.  Therefore, if provided with an automatic sprinkler system, buildings can generally be just as safe when little taller and larger than those which are not sprinklered.  And, in general, it is a good idea to have two ways out of any space, but is that really necessary in a 10′ x 10′ office?  No, of course that would be highly inefficient.

This is why I often need a lot more info when asked a “simple” question by one of my colleagues.  This isn’t because I’m nosy, but because the answer can be drastically different if I don’t know, say, the building contains a basement or it is connected to another building into which we count on exiting.  Or maybe the building contains a warehouse for fireworks and match sticks under a commercial kitchen with open flames.  That last example contains obvious hyperboles, but they illustrate the point that some circumstance are far more hazardous than others, and the Codes account for that.

I am not saying building codes are as complex as corporate tax codes… but they kind of are.  Although I am pretty sure I could not convince a building official that a new NFL stadium needs zero bathrooms; where a sly accountant can probably figure out how to pay zero taxes on that same stadium for the next thirty years…so maybe not.

Choose Your Own Code Adventure

“Nothing pleases me more than to tell you I was wrong.”

When was the last time anyone’s told you that?  That was me.  The words even surprised me as they rolled off my tongue.  As most readers may know, I coordinate many of the code compliance aspects of the firm.  I see it as my job to take the most conservative approach to any problem, unless I am told otherwise by those who have the authority to approve a more liberal approach.  For that part of the practice, this tactic makes the most sense to me.  That way, we do not make assumptions or promises that are not based in 100% reality.

This past week, I have had the opportunity to tell two different Clients that my initial interpretations were more conservative than necessary.  I know what you’re thinking.  “What’s wrong with this guy, won’t he ever learn?”  I tell you what:  I would not have changed a thing in my process.  “Gee, is this guy stubborn, or what?”  Yes, but that isn’t the reason.  Please consider the following:

  1. Building Codes leave a lot of room for interpretation of the local authorities having jurisdiction. The code book even says as much in Chapter 1.  In the first instance where I was “wrong”, we were looking to make a similar argument that has worked quite often in certain areas but did not work at all in another location fairly close to this particular project.  It would have been unwise to assume the argument would work.
  2. Codes are a lot like those Choose Your Own Adventure books I used to read when I was a kid. Do you remember those books?  At various junctures, the reader is forced to make a choice in the action.  Based on that decision, the reader is directed to a different chapter, providing multiple endings in the storyline.  In the second instance where I was “wrong” this week, based on choices made, I was able to choose a different outcome.  The choice I made required some rather significant rework to an existing building, but once completed, multiple opportunities present themselves.  The Client then gets to choose their own adventure and change the outcome of the story.  To the Client, the effort was worth it in the end.
  3. I am built this way. I would rather prepare for the worst and hope for the best any day of the week.  And if we are being honest, I would rather call you and tell you I was wrong for being too conservative than to tell you, “Hold everything, we have to undo all those decisions we made based on the loose assumptions!”  I mean, in that second call, you’re thinking I am kind of a jerk, right?  That first call is so much more pleasant for the both of us.


By now, you’ve probably guessed that when I read those Choose Your Own Adventure books when I was younger, I always chose the “safe” route.  You’d be right.  But just like real life, those writers always were sure to insert some twists that even the “safe” route caused turmoil and affected the outcome, and the submarine still hits the rocks and sinks to the murky depths of the sea.  Thankfully, the writers of code books aren’t so tricky – usually.

COVID-19 RESPONSE: Office Building Closed

Update to our Clients and Business Associates

In accordance with the Pennsylvania Governor’s order, RLPS Architects has temporarily closed our office building.  All RLPS employees will work remotely until state and national officials indicate it is appropriate to resume physical business operations.  In the interim, we will continue to provide services as follows:

  • Meetings will be accommodated via web conferencing technology or rescheduled as needed.
  • Email and telephone communications with project team members will continue uninterrupted.
  • Calls to our main office number, 717-560-9501, will be answered by an automated attendant with a dial-by-name directory to access individual extensions. Those calls will be forwarded to the employee’s cell phone or to voicemail which will send an alert prompt.

The RLPS team remains committed to doing everything we can to keep our clients’ projects moving forward and ultimately minimize the long-term impact of this pandemic for all of us. Please contact us with any concerns or if we can assist you further at this time.


Michael J. Martin, AIA / Managing Partner

Architecture Professors Have No Hearts (Even on Valentine’s Day)

Life as a college student in the late twentieth century could leave you a little disconnected from society.  See, most people didn’t have cell phones, the internet was essentially in its infancy, and heck, we didn’t even have cable TV most of the time I was in college.  Maybe someone could pick up the local radio station, but mostly people’s boom boxes blasted competing musical genres from CD’s.  Life as an architecture student was even more isolated.  I would go days without seeing my roommates, as we spent most of our time in studio.  We actually drew on paper and had to do that outside of our 8 foot by 8 foot dorm rooms.

Our kind (architecture students) would miss entire world events sequestered away at our drafting tables.  I remember, or rather fail to remember, the following events:

The October 1993 deaths of 18 US soldiers in Somalia

The February 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center

The November 1994 death of Tupac

The April 1995 Bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City

You’d think there was no good news in the early 90’s.  But it seems that nearly all of these times corresponded with a massive design critique in architecture school.  World events were of secondary concern.

The same was true of holidays.  In 1996, I should have had my first Valentine’s Day with the woman who is now my wife.  Nay Nay.  Turns out, our professors decided that we should spend the holiday with them working on our thesis for the last major critique prior to completion.  Lucky for me, my girlfriend was in architecture too.  Convenient, right?  So we decided to celebrate the day after Valentine’s Day.

This photo pre-dates our first Valentine’s Day together. It looks like I am taking a photo of my future wife, but I am really taking a photo of the sweet tile detail in this Italian cemetery.

In somewhat related circumstances, after 10 semesters worth of tuition, we decided to limit our gifts to each other to ten dollars.  After some well-deserved sleep, and an overdue shower and shave, I went over to my girlfriend’s apartment.  Most everyone else who celebrated the holiday had already done so by this time, but I had a small bundle of goodies to share with my honey.  When I say bundle, I mean a plastic bag from the convenience store I stopped at on the way over.  Romantic, huh?  Go ahead, you jump to your conclusion and see how you feel in the next paragraph…

When we met up, we each held our “gifts” behind our backs.  On the count of three, we exchanged them like hostages.  I reached into the bag I received and found nearly identical chocolate treats to those I had purchased.  We looked at each other, laughed, and realized that we both bought candy the day after Valentine’s Day at a heavily discounted price!  That makes the chocolate even sweeter to me, and I might add that my wife regularly looks for day-after-the-holiday goodies to this day.  Continuing on to the card, we each had added a scratch off lottery ticket to the other’s envelope.

In the end, love overcomes all, including mean old architecture professors.  Consequently, my wife and I continue to limit our Valentine’s Day spending to $20 (we adjusted for inflation).


Woodcrest Villa – Lancaster Architect Presentations

Woodcrest Villa residents were treated to a photo tour of local architecture featuring C. Emlen Urban a well-known figure who designed many noteworthy Lancaster buildings, along with a mystery architect with a much shorter, but still impressive stint designing buildings in and around Lancaster.  Presented by Gregg Scott, FAIA, Partner Emeritus, this three-part series sheds light on many of the back-stories behind the buildings we see today, as well as a few structures that were not able to stand the test of time for various reasons.

Parts 1 and 2: C. Emlen Urban

Part 3:  Mystery Architect