Back to School

Backpacks, pencils, paper, and a Trapper Keeper.  When I was in elementary school, that’s what I remember having to bring on that dreaded first day back to school from the summer.  Things have changed a bit since then.  My child’s list is a full page, requiring either a multitude of trips to various stores in the area or luckily you can buy a pack from the school district with everything already bundled.  Oh wait, did I say everything, let’s not forget about that list of additional items and fees that they provide you at the “Meet the Teacher” night.  Sometimes it feels like it never ends.  Through all the frustration though, I want my kids to have the best education I can provide, so….. I grin and bear it.  Silently??? Maybe not so much.


You don’t remember trapper keepers?

Summer Surprise

It’s 9:00 at night, and it’s 90 degrees outside…. Yeah, it’s definately summertime.  I’m back from the baseball game  In case your wondering, we didn’t win it all, but hey, we’re in first place again this year.  So far summer has been chalk full of the typical things; summer camp, sports competitions, bar-b-q’s, and so on.  But this year has had a couple of surprises to go along with it, but this time, I got to play a part in creating the surprise.

#ArchiTalks is back from an extended break, for the 20th post we were given the subject of “Summer”.  A quick reminder of what #ArchiTalks is, since it has been a while.  The brainchild of Bob Borson of Life of an Architect fame, it is a monthly blog series by various architects from all over all talking about a single subject.  The catch to it all, none of us know what the other is going to talk about before they all go live at the same time.  It’s amazing to see how different each post can interpret such a simple subject, considering we share this passion we call architecture.

Time Away

I’ve now been at my current firm for a while, long enough to finally have enough vacation time to actually use.  And after the rush of projects that were in all different phases this spring, I was definately in the mood to take it.  This one was going to be a little bit different.  We had been planning this one for about 2 years now.  We’ve done the whole visit grandma and grandpa “vacation” many times. I think every parent out there knows the necessity of that trip.  This time it was not only going to be a time to get away, but it was going to be one where we could really make some memories that would last a lifetime.

Yeah, I think that will suffice.

Ok, rewind about 2 years ago when this whole idea began.  Planning, lots and lots of planning.  Researching parks, hotels, flights, tickets, oh boy you name it.  At times it felt like a second job when you come home at night and you are working on finding out everything you can.  Oh and did I forget about that “surprise” part?  We decided early on, we were not going to tell my 2 kids what we were doing.  Did I say this was 2 years in advance, yeah, that’s a long secret to keep, from a couple of kids that are curious about everything.  Somehow, we were able to keep the secret all the way to arriving at the Miami airport.  The gig was up at that point, you actually have to walk down a hallway filled with paraphernalia and cast members that extremely friendly and eagerly tell you to enjoy your stay at the resort.  The fact that grandma and grandpa don’t live in Florida was a pretty big hint as well.

Savanna view from the comfort of the lobby.

#ilookup I can’t help it, I do it everywhere.

And I thought I had a big Lego collection.

Hidden views around every corner, be sure to look.

You have to ride the classics.

Alright, now I know a lot of the ideas, designs, etc. here are more similar to set design than traditional architecture, but you have to admire the attention to detail and their commitment to their specific story to tell.  You are immersed into a different world from the first moment you begin to interact with them.  There were certain rides I wanted to go, certain things I wanted to see of course but what really amazed me was how they are constantly integrating new technologies and procedures into all of the existing and new experiences.  Two words – Magic Band.  Wow, after researching it in the beginning I thought it would be a pretty neat feature, but I was more than impressed by how it made our stay so much more enjoyable and worry free.

Back to Work

So yeah, eventually I had to come back to reality.  I have two projects in construction, one in the DD phase and one in CD phase.  Time to start going through the pile of e-mails that stacked up while I was gone.  I had basically refused to look at the e-mail app on my phone the entire time.  You’re probably wondering what the heck does a summer vacation have to do with architecture, anyone could have talked about their trip.

Once I got back into the thick of my projects, one of the two that are in construction, had really just barely started, and we were asked to do something that typically, at least on the projects I have worked on, doesn’t happen very often.  We were asked to do the best we could to keep the project a secret.  Now the projects I have pretty much worked on in my career, that really isn’t in the cards.  You have big construction equipment moving dirt, pouring concrete, lifting steel, and so on.  Not to mention all of the deliveries of materials barreling down the road. So unless you are David Copperfield (look him up) you really can’t make these construction sites disappear.  But, a 700sf remodel is not one a project I typically work on either.  Heck, why not?

The windows to the space have been covered up so you can’t see in, and whether it was intentional or not, the graphics that cover up the windows are actually giving you a hint as to what is to come.  Looking back on it, I’m really surprised my two kids didn’t pick up on their surprise along the way as well.

Another couple of hints…. nothing?  Ok good.  It’s actually kind of fun knowing what’s going on inside, what this space will look like, how it will function.  I think one of the coolest pieces of this project, apart from the overall design, is going to be the way the technology is integrated into it.  It’s not an ‘over the top’ type that just screams in your face “Hey look at me, I’m new and flashy!”, but a subtle and familiar look, that uses some of the things we use on a daily basis and weaves that into how they will do their daily business.

Since this is such a small project, it is going at such a speed, that we are having to try to keep up.  And just like every remodel project, there will be plenty of scratching your head moments of “How are we gonna work around that?”  But with all of the attention this little jewel box is getting, I can’t wait to see the look on the faces of the people that are going to stop by for a visit once it is finished.  How both the visitors and the employees will use the space so differently than they used it before.  And in the grand scheme of things, isn’t that one of the bigger reasons we all got into architecture in the first place.

Now, what shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, there are quite a few other bloggers that have posted about “Summer” as well.  Go click some of the links, give ’em a like, give ’em a comment, do whatever the social media overlords have programmed into their user experience.  Anyway…. give ’em a read, I’m sure you will find it interesting.

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
An Architect Summer

Adam Denais – Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch)
5 Things to Make the Most of Your Summer

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
[Dis]Connected Summer

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
Summer in Seoul

Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
An Architectural Spark for your Summer

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
… and the livin’s easy

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Seasonal change

Brinn Miracle – Architangent (@architangent)
4 Reasons Solar Power is a Hot Topic

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
Glass in Architecture – Summer Wonders

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
An Acrophobic Architect’s Illuminating Summer of Roofs

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
4 Secrets To Getting The Most Out Of Your Summer Internship

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
#Architalks 20 “summer” and architecture

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Summer — Architecture Imagery

Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel)
Lake Powell

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
summer working, had me a blast

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Summer is a Great Time To Market Your Architecture Firm!

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)
The Dog Days of Summer

Dear Future Architects

If you read enough articles about architecture, eventually you will come across one (at least one) that gives some sort of advice to all the future architects out there.  You will here advice about sketching, computer programs, traveling, and just about everything else you can think of that in one way or another crosses an architects path.  For this months #ArchiTalks post, my take on that is going to be a little bit of the same, and probably a little bit of something you won’t expect.  If you are new to #ArchiTalks, have you been hiding under your drafting desk without any internet access?  This is a monthly series of blog posts all written by architects coming from a very wide variety of backgrounds and experiences.  The catch, we all have to write about the same subject and post it at the same time, without ever seeing anyone else’s idea.

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Lessons of an Architect

“The key to success is to give it all away.”


I have no idea who gets the credit for that quote, and up until I started thinking about this post, I really wasn’t sure how it applied to me.  I mean I get the gist of it, but working at a larger firm, I wasn’t really sure how I could actually act on it.  I’m not the principal in charge of my own office, I don’t own the patents to some world changing technology, and I’m still a work in progress when it comes to raising my two kids.  Like most of us in the architectural industry, the drawings we work on, the renderings we do, etc. all really belong to the firm; and to “give it all away” would probably get me fired.  Not something I am really wanting to do right now.  So with that in mind, I needed to think of a different approach.  What was something that I can contribute, where was there something lacking in the industry?


Ever since I started working at firm, and even more so recently, I have consistently heard the complaint of the gap between school and professional practice.  ‘School never gets you ready to actually work.’ – ‘It’s not schools job to teach you to work, it’s their job to teach you to think/design.’  The two rarely ever want to give an inch.  Hmmm, does that sound familiar?  Wait, is that an “Aha!” moment?  No not really.  But it did give me an idea.  What about what actually doing the whole mentoring thing on a bigger and digital way.  Everybody complains that we’re not doing a good job of that anyway, when we’re slow we are constantly looking for work and not paying attention to the next generation, and when we are busy; well… we just don’t really have time to do a good job with all the other things we have to get done.  So here are a few things I have learned over the years.

Left, left, left right left….

 While I was in school, we had to design our own title block in “Construction Documents” class.  We were able to use a few examples from local firms to give us an idea of where to start.  And now that I have worked at a couple of different offices and seen drawings from more places than I can count, I can tell you most of them out there are pretty similar to this…

The typical Revit title block, ours is cleaned up quite a bit.


Ok, ok so where is the lesson here if they all have a similar feel to them.  The question I always ask the new guys in our office is “Where do you start putting drawings on a sheet?”  Most of the time I don’t really get an answer.  So according to my exhaustive research of looking through years of drawings I’ve worked on the answer is (6).  Wait, what?  Ok nevermind, Phineas and Ferb joke. The answer is, the bottom right side of the page, anywhere else is just plain wrong, trust me.


What is this, bowling ball spin directions?


No….. Because I said so isn’t a good enough answer.  Here’s really why.  When you work on projects that have more than 2 sheets they get put together like a book. Have you ever tried reading a book where the words are so close to the center of the spine that you have to bend it open as hard as you can to see what says?  And then no matter how careful you are you end up breaking the spine and have pages completely fall out, or is that just me.  Well anyway, same idea here. Except if you stick a small drawing, note, whatever in that spine of the drawings, and the contractor misses it; that’s a headache waiting to happen on a project.


Ok, here’s a bonus one for you.  I’m pretty sure most architects will agree with me on the first lesson, this next one, maybe not so much.  I’m going to go on a limb here and say that the drawing portion of a set of construction documents are the most important part. Yes I know that all of the notes and specifications are important too and help form a complete set, but without the drawing you really don’t have anything at all. Now instead of talking about line weights or hatches, I thought I would touch on something most people kind of overlook.  All of those notes that describe everything in this drawing that is undoubtedly the best drawing the world of architecture has ever seen. Do you really want to cover it up with a bunch of lines going every which direction?  To clean up all of the notes you have to have, first of all, use both sides of the drawing to place them.  So many architects think that you have to put the notes on a single side of the drawing…. Why???  Create an imaginary line in the middle of the drawing, if the item you need to describe is on the left or right of that line, put the note on the same side.  And here is where I get the funniest look from people I work with.  If your notes are on the right side of your drawing, left justify your notes.  I think I can skip the whole thing of lining up your notes, just about every architect I’ve ran into does this anyway.  But those notes on the left side of your drawing, what about those?  Well, it’s actually really easy, right justify them.  I know, I can hear the “What?!?!?” through the screen.


Those really cool justification symbols, use ’em.


In my mind it seems pretty obvious why you would do this.  You are really just mirroring your notes onto the other side of the drawing, right?  Well, try it in your favorite drawing program, I bet it will end up this way automatically.  Not convinced, ok, remember that part about the drawing being the most important part?  If you have your notes on the right justified to the left, and the notes on the left justified to the right – that’s a lot of lefts and rights, maybe we should get a switch hitter for this – you actually start to frame the drawing with your notes.  You were still keeping these aligned right?  This is definately a situation where a picture will work a whole lot better than this entire paragraph.


A couple of details, from a previous project.


So if your new to an office or just trying to figure out how to read the piles and piles of paper these crazy architects create, little tidbits like these might just help you look like a rockstar at your office, couldn’t hurt…

Can we talk?

If you’ve ever seen architects represented in a movie or on television ther are probably a couple of things that automatically come to mind. A room full drafting tables and t-squares is probably at the top of the list. Truth is, I don’t think I’ve even touched one of those since I left school. A long, long time ago. Nowadays I have a very different set of toys that I use on a daily basis. But as the years go by, I am realizing there seems to be one that actually trumps them all.


#ArchiTalks is a monthly series of blog posts by architects from very different backgrounds and experiences all coming together to write about a specific topic. This months subject is “tool”.

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A Little Premature

For this month #Architalks post, well let’s be honest, this is really the December and January post, we were tasked with the subject of “New year, New______”.  So I have spent the last month and a half or so pondering what I was going to come up with for this one. You see, I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. Never have. When I have a goal I am working for, a date on the calendar means very little to me, I just work to get to that goal. Sometimes it’s fast, sometimes not so much.  Well that brings us back to coming up with a subject for this post, do I talk about a renewal of focus, a reevaluation of ones health, or some similar idea that is so common this time of year.  Ooooof, making decisions is supposed to be one of the things architects are good at.  As it happens, about a week ago, we got a reminder that the deadline for this post was quickly approaching.  It came with its typical instructions and reminders, but there was a bit of information this time that cut through all the confusion and reminded me that there are some things that are more important than architecture.

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All In the Family

The thanksgiving holiday is almost upon us. You can tell because the office is starting to have people take their well deserved vacation days and we finally had our first frost of the season. For a special #ArchiTalks holiday treat, the subject for this 15th entry is “From the Architects Table”. Everyone is taking a break from the office grind to enjoy friends and family, so it seems #ArchiTalks is too.


If your house is anything like mine during the holidays, your senses are about to go into overdrive. The house begins to have that wonderful smell of stuffed turkey ready to be carved.  The subtle aroma of rolls dripping with butter makes your mouth water with anticipation. That freshly baked apple pie with the brown sugar crust is just about irresistible and might just need a quick taste test before the big dinner. It’s an orchestra of a thousand moving parts that come together to form arguably the best meal of the year. And to steal a line from my father-in-law, where will you find me?  In the den, watching football, staying out of the way.


Oh now don’t get me wrong here, I know how much work goes into creating a feast like this every year.  I know that my talents don’t exactly lend very well to these type of endeavors. So the the real question now is, how do I get my fridge out of a state like this?



Lucky for me, my wife is an absolute wiz when it comes creating a culinary masterpiece. In fact, considering I’ve been around great cooks my entire life; my grandmother, mom, wife, and now even my daughter is getting in on it; it’s surprising not very much of that ability has rubbed off. You would think with dishes like these it would.



Throughout these generations recipes are tweaked to suit new tastes, different locations and available ingredients, or even just to experiment with something new. But there is one recipe I have been enjoying ever since I can remember, and to my joyful surprise, the taste has remained constant and if I do say so, delicious. Ok, before I spill the beans on a secret family recipe, I have to let you know…. I HATE PICKLES!!  There, I said it, it’s out in the open and I feel such a sense of relief. Dill, sour, bread and and butter, I don’t care.  Don’t put them in anything I’m going to eat, no. Which is what makes it so strange that this taste I have been enjoying my entire life…. Yeah, you guessed it, pickles. But not just any pickles, Gammy’s Sweet Pickles. And from what I know, my family is the only one that makes them. Trust me on this, once you have had these, you will never enjoy another kind of pickle ever again, ever!

I know what you’re thinking, it’s just pickles.  Well, maybe, but to me it’s more than that.  In my mind it connects generations of my family like nothing else. It’s that timeless element that no matter who is making it, you instantly recognize it. You’re part of the family, you’re home. So at the risk of being disowned, I figured it’s time for more people to enjoy this family recipe, but you have to wait. No really, check out the recipe below, you actually have to wait two days after you make them before you can start to enjoy them. Or if you wait longer, the taste keeps getting better.

That’s what’s on my table, and I hope it always is. Ever wonder what’s on other architects tables?  Check out the rest of the #ArchiTalks crew below.

Continue reading “All In the Family”

Difficult Projects

I think that most architects have that one, well maybe not just one, project that wakes you up in the middle of the night wondering how it’s going. Depending on the type of firm you are at it could be anything from a million square foot mixed use multi-building project to a single family residential expansion.  The scale of the product usually doesn’t have as much to do with it as you might think. And right now, I’m smack dab in the middle of mine.

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Citizen Architect

It almost sounds like the title to a politically charged action thriller. Well, almost.  This month’s #ArchiTalks subject, and an interesting one at that.

The American Institute of Architects defines “Citizen Architect” as one who uses his/her insights, talents, training, and experience to contribute meaningfully, beyond self, to the improvement of the community and human condition.  I’m not sure if that makes me a great citizen architect or a horrible one.  Ok, let me explain that one a little. Up until about a year ago I was mostly worried about establishing myself in the professional community around me, achieving some of the more normal milestones in adult life, and providing a good life for my family. I really don’t think that makes me a bad architect, I tend to think it makes me human. 

Father, Husband, Architect – typically in that order

It’s Labor Day, the unofficial end to summer; And to be honest, this year, I’m glad it’s over.  I’m not sure if it was the stress from a couple of the projects I was working on, the heat from a relentless Texas summer, or the brand new experience of kidney stones that made this a summer not exactly worth wanting to do again. We are up to number 12 in the #ArchiTalks series and this time around the subject is work/life balance just in time for everyone’s hopefully long and fun weekend.

Continue reading “Father, Husband, Architect – typically in that order”