Category Archives: architecture

optimistic or pessimistic?

Currently architects are stuck in a time of flux between optimism and pessimism.  Indeed it’s hard to be cheerful about the current state of our economy and even more difficult to muster up a pleasant outlook for the future.  The economy is almost a constant topic on most of the blogs that I read.  I’ve seen questions posted from students wanting advice about getting into the architecture profession, from those in the profession wondering if they should bail, still others simply shouting out frustrations at the wind and anyone who will listen, and who can blame them?  Each day listening to the news brings a renewed sense of near hopelessness at our elected officials who seem hell bent on destroying the economic prosperity of our country.  Banks and car companies have been bailed out and allowed to continue trudging along with their old and inefficient technologies and even sometimes criminal practices while rail and infrastructure projects all over the nation are being placed on the chopping block to make room for more social entitlement programs that only inhibit growth – solid investments in our future are being dashed in favor of pork barrel spending and wasteful government services.

So is there any optimism to be had?  Will we ever dig ourselves out of the sorry state of affairs we currently find ourselves?  The turmoil in Egypt puts this all in a unique perspective.  For years they have lived under an elected dictatorship that has squandered the resources and talents of the populace and a breaking point was reached a week ago.  Now the citizens are demanding their country back, demanding a leadership concerned with growth and prosperity not with greed and government largess.  Is this any different than the situation we currently find ourselves in?  I don’t think so.  The only difference I see is we have lulled ourselves into this state of apathy, where we’ve allowed ourselves to be put in a similar situation but without any pride left to stand up and fight against the establishment.

I’ve read that we (architects and building professionals) need to remain fixed on the “bright side”.  The bright side being the fact that we’re working and not living in abject poverty like a majority of the worlds’ population.  Is this true?  Should we simply be happy with what we currently have instead of working to make things better?

In the words of my British compatriots I say “bollocks” to that.  Architects are the ultimate innovators, we are constantly thinking of things in new ways and finding new uses for old materials.  But there is only so much that we can do when our hands are literally tied behind our backs by government idiocy and the total lack of vision on the part of 99% of our clients out there.  And there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of advocacy going on on our behalf either.  Sure there is a significant Advocacy/Lobbying arm to the AIA at the State and National level, but are they lobbying our best interests or are they simply lobbying big government and social change?

In the last 7 years of my practice I haven’t seen a lot of positive change in legislation for architects.  Our fees are steadily decreasing because we aren’t allowed to pool together and discuss how our fees should be structured unlike nearly every other profession on the planet, including doctors, lawyers, mechanics, dentists, insurance companies (health and auto), etc.  Why are architects shoved into the back of the drawer on this issue?  Why is it legal for everyone else, but illegal for us?

All of these questions (and yes I’m aware of the staggering lack of answers) leads me to believe that architects do truly represent an optimistic profession because we are so angry and discontent with the current state of affairs.  It is this anger that is driving us ever forward toward something better – toward a tomorrow that is more responsible, more prosperous and more sustainable.  So, to all my architect friends out there, raise your glass, raise your hand and raise your voice.  Talk may be cheap, but without solid ideas no action will ever take place.


everywhere, everywhere containers

A friend of mine sent this article post to me the other day.  I’m telling you, container homes and offices are EVERYWHERE.  You can’t escape them, they are here to stay.  These images are not projects that are just in random overseas countries – they are in our own back yard and it’s AWESOME!  Enjoy.

The Daily Green

Anyone who wants to learn more about containers, container homes or building with them – let me know!

dMass via jetsongreen

this blew me away at 630 am.  Just AWESOME!  Mad kudos to Howard J. Brown, founder of dMass.

i teach and i do

I love that old saying “those who can’t do, teach”.  I actually do AND teach.  For the last two years I’ve been teaching Autocad (from intro to advanced) at a local community college in St. Augustine.  But, this semester, I get a new challenge – teaching Principles of Architectural Design – a.k.a. “hand drafting”.

This is VERY exciting for me.  I first started learning hand drafting, technical drafting, in my senior year of high school.  It was something I took to naturally and really enjoyed.  This was critical to my early success in college.  As you can imagine though, architectural education in the last 10-15 years has mostly centered around computer aided drafting, instead of hand drafting – technology makes the world go round after all.

I began learning autocad in 1999 with release R-12 and have followed each new release since (pushing 12 years experience with autocad now), but hand drafting was still what I was more comfortable with, so most of my projects were done by hand.  This included plans, elevations, perspectives, renderings, etc.  As I moved through my studio classes it became increasingly difficult to continue producing hand drawn graphics for my critiques, so I was forced to hone my skills in CAD and other 3D platforms to more rapidly produce final products for critique.  I began thinking, even back then, that the art of hand drafting was being lost in education and became convinced of this when I began practicing in early 2004 and realized that I would probably never again do any hand drawings as an intern.  In order to survive as an intern I had to ramp up with CAD very quickly, and I did.  But I still maintained my drafting table/sketch books at home.

Hand drafting and sketching are invaluable tools for an architect/designer or someone wanting to practice in the field.  Hand drafting teaches you in a tactile way how to visually represent a building with 3 dimensional qualities in a 2 dimensional medium.  With CAD you use color to represent line weight (i.e. depth and drawing hierarchy), but if you don’t understand what line weight really is how can you accurately draft what you’re tasked to?

So, it’s going to be an exciting semester.  I plan on torturing my students from the very beginning with lettering – OH THE HORROR!  😉  It’s going to be so much fun to see the completely defeated look on their faces when they realize the work that goes into a quality hand drafted architectural drawing, and additionally that they can’t yet reach that bar of quality.  But in the end, I hope, they’ll have a greater and more profound understanding of the HOW of architectural drafting, which in turn will make them better at computer aided drafting and will lead to much less frustration in my other classes.  😛

history and modernity

My thesis in college studied how modern and historic architecture could and should fit in the same neighborhood context.  But we so seldom see contemporary or modern architecture butted up beside a historic monument outside of cities like NYC or Chicago or Prague.

Why is that?  Is there a general fear within planning departments to blend the new with the old?  Is it a lack of vision or imagination that perpetuates the repetition of styles that have no real historical significance in our modern times?  Some might wonder why I’m asking these questions (even though they are questions I’ve asked before) and it’s because I’m seeing a good bit of talk lately on the issue of Urban Planning in cities around the country.  Most of these discussions center around land use planning and infrastructure, but along with that will go the types of buildings that are constructed and what they look like.  In other words, the style of our cities is as much important as how our cities are arranged.  Compare two cities like Atlanta and Savannah, both in Georgia.  Atlanta, being a modern metropolis with an expanding urban core and dedicated public transit has a very fast paced and modern quality of life that is reflected in the architecture.  On the other hand, Savannah, being steeped in it’s history and it’s historic identity has a much slower, easy quality of life and even new construction is forced into a “historical mold” that tells us nothing about the modern times we live in today.  Two cities directly impacted by not just planning and land use, but also impacted by the architectural styles present.

What would happen if we married the modern and the historic?  Anyone who knows me knows that I am a huge fan of Historic Preservation (in it’s true form of preservation not forced architectural copy), but I am also a modern architectural designer.  It’s important that our generations’ architectural record reflect modern technologies, modern styles and modern materials.  Otherwise we leave no clear architectural expression of our own for future generations.  Currently I see us in a “Architectural Dark Ages”, where the majority of the construction I see going up (in my own little corner of the world) is, for lack of a better phrase, CRAP.  It’s a copy of one or two or even 10 different architectural styles that hold some kind of significance in history, and these buildings try to use these styles to relate in some way to their surroundings when all they’re really doing is insulting every architect who came before them trying to leave a mark of their time and place in history.

Ok, that was a really long sentence, please forgive my rant.  But haven’t you ever driven/strolled/walked/run though a neighborhood or city and wondered “what in the hell were they thinking?”  It happens to me quite often (occupational hazard).  Like right now, I’m sitting in a starbucks (i know I know, I’m not shopping local….but hey, I like the coffee damn it), in a strip infill building in Riverside that has NO meaningful architectural expression….none, nada, zip, zero, zilch….and what’s worse is across the street is a residential development….oh please don’t make me describe it.  Let’s just say it ain’t winning any awards, and, like a good serial killer, is not terribly memorable in appearance.

But these are the types of developments that are railroaded through planning and development.  Why?  Because they don’t challenge any conventions, they are specifically non-descript, could fit in any neighborhood in any city in America and give absolutely no consideration to pedestrians or the greater betterment of their surroundings.  I’m thinking we can do better, don’t you?  As architects, developers, land owners and potential homeowners, we can do much better for our cities.  Demand a higher level of design, a higher quality of life and a higher quality of architecture and design will follow.

the problem with DIY design

As I’ve said many times before, I read a lot of blogs and some of them are DIY (Do It Yourself) blogs about design and construction.  I want to take a minute and talk about the problem with DIY design.  Notice I said “design” and not “construction”.  I’m all for anyone who wants to go out, buy some land and build their own home.  When I was a kid my mother and step father did this (I helped in a very small capacity being only 7 but I still helped) and it was an awesome experience.  To build a home, you have a set of instructions (construction documents) and guidelines (local building codes) to follow.  It’s like a kit of parts that just needs to be assembled in the proper order.  But designing that home is a different animal all together.  It takes more than just a kit of parts, or a program, to put it all together.

When an architect ( at least this one) begins the design process it starts with a couple of casual conversations with the clients to determine “who” they are.  This leads into more specific conversations about “how” they live.  Most clients won’t realize how important these first conversations are in the process of designing a home for them – but it is critical.  You can not properly design a home for someone without knowing who they are and how they live. All of these “spec” homes that are built are built for a generic client, which means when someone does move in, they will invariably have to either change something about the house or compromise how they live in some way in order to be comfortable in the house.  I’ve talked about this before, so I won’t go into great detail on this point.  Suffice it to say this is not the ideal recipe for the biggest investment you’ll ever make in your life – your home.

Once the architect has an idea about “who” and “how”, he can begin to develop the program with the client – these are the spaces that will make up the home (i.e. living room, dining room, # of bedrooms, etc).  This list will be talked about and refined many times at the beginning of the design process in order to get at the core spaces required by the clients.  These spaces will then be arranged according to “how” the clients live.  This is where an architect becomes crucial to the process of designing a home for someone, and why the “DIY Designer” should always consult an architect prior to construction.  Architects and designers spend a lot of time and energy learning and studying how people use space and how spaces relate to each other in a building.  The average DIY-er will be able to choose a floor plan from a book or a website, but that plan won’t ultimately meet their needs and will require the same choices as purchasing one of those “spec” houses I mentioned earlier.  The DIY-er will also not know what questions to ask themselves about how they live, how they want to live and ultimately how they will live in the future.  An architect does know what these questions are and will know how and when to ask them.

Again, I’m all for someone purchasing some land and building their own home – the construction is easy.  But designing a home that will fit your personal lifestyle is something different and requires at least a design consultation with a architect or designer to properly lay out your new home.  It will save time, money, frustration, money (yes it bears mentioning twice) and possibly your marriage (you try explaining to your wife why you forgot to put a mud room off the garage with laundry storage and a dry storage pantry just off the kitchen).


2010 in retrospect – top 5

They say hind sight is 20/20, and they are correct.  Looking back on something gives us the “what would I have done differently” perspective on any given thing that we choose to reflect on.  Nothing can escape this desire, not even architecture and the architectural profession.

So what has 2010 taught us?  Are there any great lessons to learn or are some correct that we are simply still in a downward spiral with no clear course back towards prosperity?  Personally I think there were many lessons learned in 2010, but in a desire to keep this a short blog post, here are my

top 5 lessons I’ve learned as an architect in 2010

Architects are seeing the need to focus more on providing education and guidance to their clients rather than just providing a service in order to collect a fee.

As clients find less value in the typical services that an architect offers, architects are finding ways in which to add additional deliverables thereby increasing the architects value to the client.

With Builders and General Contractors continuing to market themselves as Design/Builders and push Architects out of their own market, the quality of construction will continue to decline and unfortunately further the clients’ perception that the architect is irrelevant.

We’ve allowed ourselves to be pushed out of our own market by not defending the quality of our work on behalf of our clients, thereby giving more power to the contractors to demean and devalue our work.

Even in a down economy, Architects can not afford to reduce their fees to the point of virtually working for free in a competitive market.  We need to stand by our product and the value of our services (no different than a doctor or lawyer or mechanic)  and, if necessary, tell clients to take a walk.

This last, and most important, lesson may seem extreme and some will even say “well, that just means someone else will take the job for less money”…I say let them.  In VERY short order clients will see they got just what they paid for, or what they didn’t pay for, as it were, and will come to see that the little extra they would have paid in fee would have saved 10’s of thousands in cost later.

In an extreme economy and in extreme situations, it’s time for those worthy of the title “Architect” to stand up and be noticed by the profession and by clients as well.  My goal for 2011 is to try and work towards reversing some of what I’ve talked about above.  Architects are not just a necessary part of the construction process, but we are the first part of that process and we should all work to elevate ourselves to that position.

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