Shake it up

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It’s been a while.  I’m not even sure if anyone will even read this due to the fact that it’s been so long.  However, I feel compelled to write again, most likely caused by the overwhelmingness I am swimming in at the moment.  That seems to be when I begin writing again – when I really need to break away.

In the past 18 months since I’ve written, a few things have changed.  A quick recap:  built a new house, had a baby, got a ton of work for my firm . . . I guess that’s it. . . only 3 things.

Those of you who know me are aware that it’s pretty much been non-stop and I’m the guy who rarely complains about it.  The fact that I’ve asked for all of these things surely helps, but it doesn’t change how busy I am.  “Stress”, I’ve learned, is not necessarily generated by negative aspects of life.  In fact, I tell my residential clients all of the time that building a new home will be one of the most stressful things that you can do together as a couple.  It’s true.  I can now confirm that. . . not just say it.  BUT, it was also one of the most rewarding processes we’ve gone thru as well.  Being able to build our home while literally building our family (she was pregnant thru most of the process), was a truly rewarding experience.

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I believe being on the “other side” of the process has made me a better Architect, simply by understanding the decision process that needs to occur from the Owner’s standpoint.

And then there’s Little Gal.  We were so happy to welcome our baby girl in December, and building a home during that process made the whole thing even better.  I literally felt like I was building a house for her to come home to (although we didn’t move in until 2 months later).

So, this isn’t an insightful post.  It’s really intended to kick things off again.  I have been keeping a list of potential posts as they come to me, so maybe I’ll start to get some of those ideas into words sometime soon.

If anyone is reading, thank you!  This blog has always been primarily for me, but I enjoy hearing when people actually read it.  With a new home and a new daughter, Design A Dad has lots more work to do!

Tools for the job

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“I don’t know if we’re doing screws or wrenches.”

This past weekend, Little Man and I took half a day to get some things done around the house together.  The first was the leaky / broken shower faucet.  I never installed a shower faucet before, but thanks to the plethora of knowledge on youtube, we were educated in 10 minutes.  My 4 year old was extremely interested that there are more pieces to a faucet than just the handle that you turn to make the water come out (he was interested, I was . . . surprised, at the complexity).  By the way, a 10 minute youtube video translates to about 150 minutes when you drop pieces of the faucet into the wall. . . . ).

When I attended the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, & Planning, we eventually learned to break “design” down into parts and pieces, to the extent of the study of patterns, repetition, hierarchy, context . . . and on and on.  As a novice “designer” at the time, my first inclination was to just try and make it look good (an ultimate result, for sure).  Over time, we learned to understand what makes a design work.  We were taught what tools to use; a design language could be established (and then, of course, that you were allowed to break all of the rules. . . if you wanted to).  Without the proper tools, were we really designing anything, or were we just resolving a portion of the problem with our partial solutions?

When we took apart the faucet, WHO KNEW that there were so many pieces?  I mean, really. . . you turn a handle, it opens a valve, and water comes out, right?  Except that there were turning limiters, pressure clips, temperature controls, and volume regulators to deal with as well (I’m pretty sure I made a lot of those terms up, but I’m not a plumber).  So, we watched the video again to make sure we were making the right decisions.  In the end (and 2 trips to the store later), we had solved the problem and had a fully functional faucet again.  I would not have attempted this fairly easy fix if it hadn’t been for the descriptive video I found online.  Once we understood the parts and pieces, it was much easier to get to our end goal.

In essence, that’s what design is.  Just like you can be a great faucet fixer (like, maybe by maintaining all of your parts instead of sending them into the wall cavity), you can be a great designer. . . if you understand the components correctly.  Some will argue that design is subjective, and to an extent, I agree.  However, there are bad design decisions that can be made during the course of resolving a problem – and you might not even know that these are poor choices without understanding the parts and pieces.  Some people inherently “get it”, and that is what makes a good designer.

In our quest for the right tools for the job, Little Man literally got to try out all of the tools, even if it was just touching them to the general area of the faucet.  I believe we really only needed 3 tools, but we used about 10 or 12, relying on trial and error & explaining to each other what we thought the tool would be best for in the future (“please, please put the hammer down.  I promise you that it will not make our job easier if you slam the faucet with a hammer.).  In so many ways, we were building our toolbox for the future. . . for the next problem that we get to fix together.

An approach to shaping spaces

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Construction Site Supervisor

“We shape our buildings: thereafter, they shape us.” – Winston Churchill

I have a very fulfilling job.  I create space.  I get to shape the environments that people exist in.  It all sounds very magical; a very sculptural process that can only be fine tuned by vast experience.  Architecture can be a complicated field where a multitude of complex pieces need to be simultaneously orchestrated in order to perfect the desired result.  Sometimes all of that is true.

“Dad, this is a hideout.”  If I were hired to design a “hideout” for a client, I might be thinking about ways to make it blend in with its surroundings, or maybe consider multiple points of exit to accommodate a quick getaway.  Little Guy’s hideout was a box with a blanket over it.  It was very obvious, and conspicuously placed right in the middle of the living room.  There was no “design intent” or complicated process that erected the structure.  It was a hideout because he called it a hideout and when he sat inside, it was his imagination and the events that led up to entering the structure that really made it what it is.

It’s not too different than what happens at a theme park.  Visitors are transported into various, fantasy-like places that are, more often than not, large, overscaled boxes loaded with an experience.  But, it’s also the approach to that environment that lends to the experience.  Sometimes that’s sights & sounds, or maybe a structured path-like approach.

When I first sit with a residential client, we go thru a lot of logistics.  How many bedrooms do you want?  How important is your kitchen?  How much money do you want to spend?  These are very necessary & pointed questions that must be addressed.  I need to know what we’re working with.  I start to wrap in a few more probing questions.  What do you do when you get up in the morning?  Where are you when your kids are doing homework?  Do you wear your shoes in the house?

After we establish what we are building, we need to establish how you will use your spaces.  “We want our kids to have big bedrooms.”  Why?  I can very easily make a bedroom larger, but why do you want that?  Will you complain when your children spend too much time in their rooms and not with the family?  Are you also using their bedroom for storage for all of their stuff?  Are there better ways to solve these problems?  Maybe they just need a place to sleep and we can create alternate, fantastic spaces for them to play in, or do homework in, or spend time with each other.  And this applies to ALL spaces.  Do you need a kitchen to cook in, or do you need a kitchen to exist in?  Do you have large parties where everyone ends up in the kitchen, and in that case, why not make the kitchen a place to put a lot of people, not a place to put appliances?

Do you really want to enter your house thru your garage every day because it’s faster when you get out of your car? (usually “yes”).  Is there a better way to enter your own house so that you’re not spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a daily experience where you enter your home thru a room with a laundry machine in it?  What if there was a way for you to have a separate “utility” entrance, but still have a great welcome into your own home? (there is).  All of this is “design”, but it’s not just the design of physical spaces, it’s the design of movement, of experience, and in some ways, it’s design of life.

“Spacious, wide open, rustic / modern, clean lines, comfortable”.  These are some of the words used most often by  my last few clients (according to my notes).  It’s a good start.  I have some clients who come to me with a list indicating that they want 150 square foot bedrooms.  It’s very useful information, but it only gets us halfway there.   What’s your work schedule?  How often do you get to spend time with your spouse in the morning?  Is there a way that your morning routine can be enriched and influenced so that you aren’t preparing for your day in isolation, but rather in concert with your family?  What did you love about the last place that you vacationed at?  What will make your night better?  All of this is more telling and should be more influential than the literal sizes of your rooms.

In a lot of ways, it all goes back to the cardboard box & blanket hideout.  Why is that so cool?  It’s because there’s some dynamic, flashlight produced uplighting.  It’s because it’s “cozy” and doesn’t really belong in the living room. . . but it is.  It’s private.  It’s compressive.  It’s a space within a space.  With that criteria, you can easily create a more permanent space to exist in, and if that’s what you want, why shouldn’t you have it?

It’s what we’ve started doing when we go into new places.  I ask my son, “What makes this place fun?”, or “How could this be better?”  His answers don’t usually have anything to do with spatial dimensions (actually, he usually comes up with something related to super heroes).  When he gets into it, it’s usually about experience or mood.  We should approach all of our spaces the same way, and we’ll get so much more out of them.

I hate our house

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Front of future residence.

I’ve often mentioned the fact that my wife and I are planning on building our home soon.  It’s been a long process getting to get started on construction – which is not any easier because of the fact that the firm has been so successful.  What’s the saying?  “The cobbler’s children have no shoes”?  That’s me.  I keep telling my wife that our house would be finished by now if she just hired me and paid me!

We’re really happy with the way the house is turning out.  It has gone thru several redesigns based on aesthetics or cost.  I think we landed on something that balances the budget, the overall look & feel of the design, the function of the interior, and works well on the property that we own. We’re feeling like this might be our house!

Well…2 out of 3 isn’t bad, I suppose.  Little Guy clued me in on some info I didn’t have before.  “I hate our house”.

 

OK.  Well…back to the drawing board????

Previous to this comment,  we had been reviewing drawings for a commercial building that I am working on.  We determined that the roofs were “crooked” for a reason.  “The rain will slide off, and you can go sleigh riding off the roof on to the ground when it snows”.  *Flash forward to a trip to the ER in the next few years.

That’s true.  They only needed to be “a little crooked” because we don’t get a TON of snow in our area and the structure of the building is made of “metal”.  But what if you got a lot of snow?  What should the building look like then? (google image search “Switzerland house roof” to the rescue):

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We talked a lot about why the pitch of the structure was so important and how snow would more easily slide off a roof like this.  We also dove into the economy of structure and the WHAT’S THAT?!?!

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Thanks, Google.  So now we are looking into underground houses…that I imagine are probably also in Switzerland, and THIS is the house that he wants us to build.  Not our house that we have been slaving away at, and finally have a design that works, and finally have contractors working on to give us construction numbers on.  No, not the house that works for us, works with the grade of the land, and that will be our “forever house”.  He wants an underground house. . . . and that’s it.  He hates our house.

Yea!

To learn more about how I can design homes for your family that your kids will hate, contact Studio m Architecture + Design!

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Rear of future residence.

Every day is Father’s Day

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Every Day, I get to be a dad.

Stocks in neckties are up!  “Oh, the Places You’ll Go!” sales are rising quickly.  It’s the time of year when we stop for a second to recognize some people who have put in some effort and accomplished something great.  Dads & Grads!

Every day is Father’s Day.  Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great that we  have a “special day” to tip the hat to the guys who are doing it right, but to me it’s the same as recognizing, on a yearly basis, that my name is “Tim”.  It’s part of who I am and I don’t necessarily need a special day to point out that I’m a Dad.

Sound ungrateful?  Let me elaborate.  Yesterday, my Little Guy brought me 3 pictures of houses and buildings that he and his Papa made together.  “Daddy, these are for you because you are a Architect, you are my daddy, and because I love you lots and a lot”.  Yesterday was Father’s Day.

Last week, “Dad, I want to watch a show, play with my tablet, have some milk and a snack ANNNND, I reaaaaalllly want to hold your hand (this took a lot of planning and coordination to pull off)”.  Last week was Father’s Day.

This morning, “Dad, my favorite part of yesterday was being with you and my mama”.  Today IS Father’s Day.

Any time I get to explore something new with him, any time he looks at me and says something like “Daddy, I want you to know I love you”, any time I get to fight the pretend bad guys with him on my side… THAT’S Father’s Day.

Every day….

Today was great.  I got to spend time with my Son, my Dad, my Father In Law, and three of the best ladies in the world (Wife, Mom, MIL, of course!).  Spending time together, recognizing each other as great dads doing a great job. . . I think we’ll make tomorrow Father’s Day too!

This is Life

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Bring it on!

Very frequently, I’ve said that the primary reason for this blog is to just do something else once in a while.  It’s a necessity, sometimes, to break away and just be somewhere else…or do something different.

So, here we are.  I “should be” doing about 10 OTHER things besides writing a blog post.  I SHOULD BE getting a client presentation finished.  I SHOULD BE reviewing the drawings that were sent to me today from a consulting engineer.  I should be working, billing, cleaning, mowing, working out, researching, organizing, learning…I should be doing these things.

So, I poured a scotch and opened up the blog…because with everything going on at the moment…I “should be” insane.

All good things.  Seriously.  I am extremely busy at my firm, Studio m Architecture + Design.  The phone keeps ringing, and it’s not primarily telemarketers anymore, so that’s a good milestone to track.  Lots of work, the firm is a success, and I still get to do what I love to do.

“I just want to be with you”.  Little Guy has been so patient with me.  In my endless late nights and my increasing time with a laptop in front of me, he has remained my little intern.  “Can I come in your room with you?”, he asks.  I tell him I have to work (again), and he tells me , “That’s ok.  I just want to be with you.  You can work and I’ll read a book or play with my tablet.”  And he does.  He sits patiently, frequently checking in with me to see if I am done yet so that we can go play soccer or build with Lego, or just be together.

 

He truly keeps me centered.  It’s so easy to kind of spiral off out of control when you are inundated (ask my wife how I get sometimes).  It’s the little things that keep me going:  a quick robot dance, a private showing of a new lego airplane design, or the gift of a Batman sticker are so vital to my existence sometimes.  When I start to feel like I’m drowning, he’s right there to help me out (whether he knows it or not).

Back to work!

Coffee Break

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Time to refuel

For multiple reasons, I (like most people) require coffee to get me thru the day.  Sometimes it’s precisely prepared and enjoyed, two hands grasping the cup as I contemplate the view out the window.  Other times, it’s a pre-ordered sprint into “the mermaid” (Starbucks) to grab some fuel on the way to a meeting.

But sometimes. . . it’s something else.  On occasion I get to make a visit to “the mermaid”, or “the place with the cookies” (a local shop) because Little Guy and I are driving back from preschool and we want to take a little break before we head home.  We select our drinks, maybe a snack, and after we sit down he usually kicks it off with a default, “so. . . how was your day, dada?”  It’s important time that I very much look forward to.

Caffeine, in it’s own way, is medicine to me.  Since I was a teenager, I have suffered from migraines and have sought out remedies and diagnosis from a multitude of doctors.  In the end, it turns out that increasing my daily intake of caffeine has had incredible effect on my life.  Once a week migraines have dissipated to one every few weeks. . . or so.  And the intensity of the event has been greatly reduced.  Medicine, indeed.

But my weekly visit to “the mermaid” (Starbucks is also referred to as “the place with the cake pops”) with my son is its own sort of medicine.  After a day of being on the phone, in meetings, writing emails, invoicing, drafting contracts, and. . . oh, right. . . getting the actual work done, our little side trip becomes a welcome pause in the day; a necessary break from owning and operating my own business.  It’s similar to running. . . or to the existence of this blog.  I don’t necessarily think I “have time” for these things. . . . but they are so necessary to prevent myself from burning out.

For him, he selects his drink, places it on the counter, and says “thank you” to the cashier.  Very much the way he learned to talk (by watching us and trying it out for himself), he is learning how to interact with people in public.  Be nice.  Wait your turn.  Say thank you.  Throw your trash away so that someone else doesn’t have to (this, apparently only applies to being in public. . . not necessarily to being at home, for some reason).

Most people have their own methodology.  Meditation, reading, exercise.  I’ve found that clearing my mind for a while really helps me re-focus on projects that I have running through the firm.  Since I have a ready, willing, and able 3 year old, who’s willing to share the details of his day (and who is genuinely interested in mine), why not optimize this time and benefit from it in multiple ways?  While breaking away for a bit, I get to connect with my son and dose myself with a little caffeinated medicine.  What started as a rushed, scattered routine has become a vital piece to both of our schedules.

Time to Dig in

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It’s time to start building!

As many of my friends and family know, my wife and I have been talking about building a house for a long time now.  Our most recent attempt was 2 years ago.  As it turns out, banks don’t favor borrowers who quit their jobs and start a new business.  Something about needing money to pay the mortgage…picky, picky.

Now that Studio m Architecture + Design is a “viable business” (Two full years seems to be a “make or break” point), we’re starting the conversation again, and like we do with most things, we’ve involved our 3 year old as much as we can.  He’s gone over the plans with us several times and gives us his thoughts.  Of course, the most recognizable part of the drawing is the car in the garage, so that’s where he focuses most of his input.

We’ve also asked him what he wants his room to look like.  I think we were expecting him to let us know what color he wants it to be. . . but we got full design specifications:

  1. “Make it look like Radiator Springs.”
    This involves a “mud carpet”, “mountains on the walls”, a racecar bed, and “tires in the closet.”  Further questioning about the tires in the closet revealed that they were “not real tires….like….pretend tires so it looks like I can stop there and put more gas in my bed.”
  2. “A telescope in the window so I can look for treasure…but not one like at the playground where you see colors.  A REAL telescope that I can find REAL treasure with.”

Before we get there….here’s a little bit about how we got to this point.

The epicenter of the House
The general layout of the house was decided a while ago, based on function and our wants/needs as a family.  This was done almost in isolation of what the exterior looks like…although as an Architect, I made sure that we weren’t making moves that were detrimental to the look and feel of the exterior.  Like most families, we spend most of our time in the kitchen and have seen what happens when he host a party:  everyone ends up in the kitchen.  So, our layout accommodates that and enhances it.

 

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Kitchen area layout

The design of the Kitchen area hasn’t changed all that much over the past few years.  Every time we look at a new layout for the house, this area tends to remain the same.  The proximity of the garage / pantry / kitchen allow for easier flow when coming home with weekly grocery orders as well as exporting trash and recycling.  These sound like such mundane issues, but they are things that we do on a daily basis so why not try to make them easier?

Primarily, the kitchen itself is designed to accommodate large groups of people.  During the holidays especially, there is a tremendous amount of time spent preparing food.  During the warmer months, we spend a LOT of time outside and eat most of our meals there.  Immediate access to the outdoors & proximity to a grilling area was vital.  Actually, we grill throughout the winter months as well.  All of this means that there is a lot of traffic in/out and around the kitchen area.  We’ve over-sized the island (12 feet long by 4 feet wide) and left plenty of room around it.  Not only do we intend people to gather here, but it will become the landing zone for appetizers, beverages, etc. while leaving plenty of room for preparation to continue elsewhere in the kitchen.  On a regular day, the island becomes a place to eat breakfast and for kids to do homework, again, while not interfering with the function of the kitchen.

My plan is to take the next few posts to walk thru the house as we prepare to break ground.  Meanwhile, I’ll be researching how to make a mud carpet for my son’s room!

 

 

 

Is that designed?

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A local, semi-abandoned shopping center/strip mall has recently been slated to become a “professional plaza”, and the look and feel of the existing buildings needs some work.  Studio m Architecture + Design has been lucky enough to have been chosen to liven up the place a bit.

Some may say that “it is what it is” and just assume that a strip mall is a strip mall. . . no matter how you dress it up.  I look at a building like this, which has good “bones” (solid structure, block walls), and see it as a fantastic opportunity to really start to look at the materials and colors in an effort to make the place more desirable to tenants, but without spending a ton of my client’s budget.

My son’s first question is, “Will it be designed?”  “Design” is a new word for him, and he is using it more and more.  He’s telling me things like “I think that’s like…designed”, which in most cases means that he likes it.  He asks me a lot about what I am doing, and often, my response is an explanation about how I am designing a new house or that I am working on a design for a new office building or restaurant.  I always immediately follow up with a question to him:  “What do you think?”

6 years of Architecture school and 16 years of working in the field have helped me learn how to utilize the response that comes from any critique of my work.  “It’s nice”, might sound like it’s desirable feedback, but other than finding out that someone doesn’t absolutely hate what I’ve done, that comment usually isn’t too useful.  “I think it looks like a stick building”, he said, obviously responding to the elevation (above) that is 200’+ long.

He’s kind of right.  As a response to the building that is there now, I chose to utilize linear materials to emphasize the “horizontality” of the building (there’s also a term, frequently used in the design world, called “post-rationalization”, which in a case like this, means that I found some material that I want to use, used it, and then came up with a “reason why” I used it . . . which honestly is only because I think metal panel cladding will look cool).

So my next task is to determine if “looking like a stick building” is a good thing or a bad thing.  I am already thinking of a few ways to break up the upper canopy over the sidewalk; maybe with color, maybe with some “up and down” or some “in and out” that will start to break up the 200′ long surface.  I will redesign it and see if it looks better or worse than its current “stick” form.

Some Architects will disagree with me, but design critique and input doesn’t have to come from an educated design professional.  If someone walks by a building and thinks “I like this”, isn’t THAT a success in some respect?

I’ve always tried to operate with the mantra, “How could this be better?”  There is always a better way to do something, but finding the balance of effort, time, budget, & literally just getting the job done, can be difficult sometimes.  I can sit a redesign a project forever, each time coming up with a “better” solution than the time before.  I would love to get paid for that:  endless ideas, unlimited budget. . . but clients tend to want their projects built and don’t have bottomless checking accounts.  “Design” becomes the successful balance of all of these factors, not necessarily just the look of the building.

As we drive around, he asks, “Is that designed, Dad?”, pointing to a building.  Sometimes, my ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer is enough.  I know that, at the moment, his interpretation of design is the aesthetic of something, and that’s ok.  I’ll wait a few years before imposing budgetary restrictions and timetables on his LEGO buildings!

In the building above, I think that so far we’ve reached a good balance of the factors.  Until it’s built, we’ll continue to tweak the look & the numbers while keeping an eye on how much time is passing.  Hopefully a successful effort for everyone.

Who decides if I know what I’m doing?

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I know that I’ve always wanted to be an Architect and a Dad.  I don’t remember asking to be a business owner or a parent.

Being a Dad is easy!  In fact, my wife did most of the work to grant me the title.  As soon as I held my son in my arms, I was a Dad.  Anyone can be a Dad. . . well, half of us, anyway.   I love being a dad.  Dad’s get to know things like the names of all of the new cartoon characters and they get to decide that maybe it’s not too late for ice cream.  Being a Parent is much harder.  Parents have to know things like “how many teaspoons of medicine”, and “what’s the weight limit on the car seat”.  A Dad crashes in the bed after roughhousing.  A Parent lies awake wondering if they’ve done everything right.

I see the same dichotomy in my professional life.  I love being an Architect.  Architects get to work with people & come up with ideas that solve problems.  Architects get to be creative and make the spaces and places we inhabit.  Business owners have insurance and pay taxes, and have to make sure there’s a “next job” on the way.  An Architect falls asleep thinking about how to make your building work (or maybe stays awake designing it).  A business owner lies down and stares at the ceiling, worrying about cash flow.

I’m realizing that I’m attempting two of the more difficult ventures in my life so far. . . at the same time.  Don’t misunderstand this as “regret”, because these are also two of the things that bring me joy in my life.  And, “difficult” is a relative term, of course.  I’ve been fortunate enough to have chosen these opportunities for myself.  As a parent, I’m supposed to be invested in the choices I make.  The same goes for running a business.

On occasion, I am so confident that I have no idea what the hell I am doing.  How should I know what the long term effects of “timeout” are?  Is standing too close to the television REALLY that bad?  It’s just light!  Is this REALLY the best way to keep track of expenses and billing for the firm?  I went to design school, not expenses and billing school!

How will I ever know if I’m doing any of this right?!

“My family makes me happy.”

“I absolutely love the way my new place turned out.”

I suppose that sometimes, you just keep doing what you know is best. . . and the reassurance presents itself…

“Always Be Safety”

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Keeping people safe is serious business.

Yesterday, my 3 year old invented automated sprinkler systems.

OK, let’s back up a little bit.  As early as the 15th Century, people recognized the need for a quick, automated response to a fire.  In fact, Leonardo Da Vinci even developed a kitchen system that would help extinguish an oven fire. . . which flooded the fire and the entire kitchen, ruined all the food, and ended the Duke of Milan’s dinner party. . . so you could say it worked.  The sprinkler system as we know it today, really got its start in the early 1800’s.

Over time, systems have obviously become more sophisticated.  In addition to this form of “active fire protection” (meaning that there is a system literally attempting to extinguish a fire), there have been various means and methods developed to promote “passive fire protection” (contain fires & slow the spread of them) and “fire prevention” (eliminate causes of fire & educate occupants).  All three systems work together within a building to, first and foremost, protect the occupants of the building.  Saving the building, if it happens, is a bonus.

Many conversations with my son start with me asking him “What do you want to talk about?”  Some of those conversations investigate the minutia of which super heroes are the best ones (Batman, because he’s “just a guy”,  and Spiderman “because I said so”).  Sometimes we dive into the details of “Where does the mailman get the mail from?”

Yesterday, he asked me “what did you do today?”  So I told him.  It’s hit or miss with these conversations because he really doesn’t know what he’s getting into.  Sometimes, he cuts me off and asks me if I want to play, and yes, of course I do.  I thought he’d never ask!  Other times, though, he listens.  He doesn’t just let me talk. . . he really listens and turns it into a conversation.  I started talking about 2 separate projects that I worked on yesterday, both related to fire protection & safety within existing buildings.  Each has it’s own solution, but each serves the purpose of protecting the occupants inside.  I push the details with him. . . let him know, first of all, WHY people need to be protected.  If you have a “house” (residential occupancy) above an “office” (business/mercantile occupancy), you need to make sure that those spaces are protected from each other.  When people are at work, they’re not home.  When people are at home, they’re not at work.  So if there is a fire in the office at night, everyone is sleeping, and they won’t be safe. . . unless we make them safe.

“Can the fireman come and spray water and make it rain on the building?”  Yes.  Yes they can.  But, they have to drive there first and it might take a couple minutes.  The people still need to be safe until the firemen get there.  According to the rules (the 2009 International Building Code), we have to build our buildings to make sure they are safe, and we have to use materials that stop the fire (passive fire protection).  Sometimes, using the right materials between the office and the house is enough.  At this point, we got into a long back and forth listing things that catch on fire easily, and things that don’t . . . I think this lasted 3 or 4 hours (or at least felt like it).

And then my 3 year old invented the sprinkler system.  “Dad, if there’s a fire in the peoples’ house, they should turn on the rain shower and make it rain INSIDE the building until the fireman gets there (“rain shower” is what we call the shower in the bathroom so it’s more fun).”  I asked him what if the people are sleeping, or what if the fire is not in the bathroom.  “Maybe we can make a building with rain showers everywhere and they turn on by themselves, like when we wash our hands at Wegmans (they have motion activated faucets in the restroom that, of course, we have to try 4,000 times every time we go there – sorry, Wegmans).”

He’s right.  Although, to my knowledge, motion activated sprinkler systems have not yet been installed in any building. . . ever. . . that would be a potential solution . . . for about the first 10 minutes until they went off.  But, together, we came up with a better solution that involves detecting the smoke and the heat before spraying the water everywhere.

Sprinkler systems are expensive, and not all buildings require them.  It’s really an assessment of the type of construction, the nature of the occupants inside, and the size of the spaces.  There are many, many other factors that come into play as well, and every building is different.  You can rely on your friendly, neighborhood Architect to help guide you thru the process!

This morning, we got in the car and drove away, on our way to school.  A few seconds down the road an audible “ding, ding, ding” filled the car.  “Daaaaaaad, you forgot your seat belt!  Put it on so that you’re safety!”  I put it on and quickly changed the conversation before he invented the airbag. . . . . . . .

Prepare for Tomorrow

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Morning Ice

Time does not stand still, and neither should we!  I’m in the calm before the storm at the moment.  Although things are busy at the firm, Studio m Architecture + Design, I know that the slew of calls is coming!

About half of the work I do is residential.  Every year around this time, people start to suddenly realize that the Spring is coming sooner than they thought. . . and that they need a set of drawings before they can build their new home.  How do you get there though?

There are a few different ways to get to your goal, and the design is only a small part of that process.  There are people who hesitate when it comes to up front design costs.  After all, they probably found something kind of close to what they want on the internet, and it sounds like it’s only going to be a few thousand dollars to just buy the plans online.

Option 1:  Get plans Online:
Make sure, however, that the plans include structural / framing information.  Some sites skip this important detail because they really don’t know where you are building (snow loading in the northeast can increase framing sizes quickly).  I’m sure someone along the way will figure it out. . . . . hopefully.  Depending on what kind of drawing package you get, it can probably be submitted  to the local municipality for code review and permitting.  Some municipalities ask for structural calculations, residential energy compliance (again, depending on where you are building, this will effect the insulation values), and sometimes specification sheets for materials.  You may or may not get that from online plans.  Once you have your drawings, you can reach out to one or several contractors to get a construction cost.

Option 2a:  Call a builder (design/build firm):
Some design/build companies have drafters on staff who can help draw your home.  Often, these services are “free” as long as you build a house with them (some charge a fee. . . some take a loss).  More often than not, you will be given a “portfolio” to review and choose from (after all, it’s less expensive for them if you build the same house that everyone else is building – the drawings are already finished!)  These free services, of course, are wrapped up in the cost of your house, so the cost really isn’t free, it’s just rolled into the overhead (profit costs) of your construction contract.  The benefit of hiring a builder is that they will be able to track your costs in real time as you make decisions on your home.  Sometimes, these guys call me, which I love because it usually means that their client wants something unique.  Chances are, you will get a price from them, but will have a hard time bidding to multiple contractors (some firms may restrict it).

Option 2b:  Call a builder (contractor):
This is almost the same scenario as above, but with a General Contractor.  This typically happens when you have family or a friend, or someone who you already know you want to build your house.  Some of these guys have a “go to” guy to draw up the plans for them.  Sometimes, they will just ask that you come back when you have plans.  Ideally, they will be able to keep a finger on costs as the home design progresses.

Option 3:  Hire an Architect:
This one is my favorite one (OK, I may be a bit bias. . . . ).  Architects cost money.  In fact, building a house. . . . costs money.  The cost of hiring an Architect can be offset by the fact that you hired an Architect.  If you are about to spend more money than you ever have in your life, why would you NOT hire someone to help you design it and make it exactly what you want?  Accurate, thought out plans have continuously benefited the Owner in cost savings during construction.  Contractors make assumptions when they have to, and it would make no sense for them to guess low on something that they don’t understand (or, if they do guess low, you either have to pay more for what you wanted in the first place, or settle for what you don’t want at all).

Chances are, you have an idea of what you want.  You may even have an example of a plan you like (we’ll use that as inspiration, not to copy).  An Architect can sit down with you and dissect what you like and why, and turn those ideas into your new home.

For some more info on how you and your Architect can work together:cover.jpg

Steps to Today

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Soho – 2001

This week, Little Guy started his venture into Preschool.  Although this is only approximately 100 feet from his former “Toddlers” class down the hall, this is a major move in his world!  We’ve talked a lot about what it means to be a “big boy” and why he needs to move along.  He was a little anxious at first, but at the end of the day, he says he has fun.  Onward and upward!

As much as this blog is about him, it’s about me as well.  After all, the places I’ve been and the experiences I’ve had are directly connected to my interaction with him.  I didn’t just wake up one morning and start a firm, Studio m Architecture + Design (well, in some ways, I kind of did).

Hit the books
I didn’t decide to go to Architecture school, I just went.  I don’t really remember there being a weighing of options except for what schools to apply to.  I chose the University of Cincinnati based on the 6 year co-op experience they offered.  By the end of 6 years, I had already logged 2 full years of experience in Architecture offices – and good ones too!  After spending time at home at a local firm, I traveled to Chicago, Santa Monica, and eventually wound up in NYC, and each experience was with a different type and size of firm.  I was able to work on large scale, high profile projects in CA like the Las Vegas Monorail & Universal Citywalk in Hollywood.  I also shifted focus and got to work on high end private residences in Soho, Upper West Side, and Midtown.  Mausoleum planning, Government courtroom interiors, K-12 educational facilities, I was even in the right place at the right time to work on some really cool “dot-com” projects with unlimited budgets.  In 2002, I was able to graduate with degrees in Architecture and Interior Design.

Get a Job!
As a graduate with 2 years experience, I found it incredibly easy to find a job, and accepted an offer from a boutique firm in NYC.  We worked on some really nice projects – high-end retail, corporate interiors, banking, and detailed interior renovations/conversions of large buildings in the City.  This was the goal since I was a kid.  I wanted to be an Architect in NYC!  I loved every minute of it, but was more than happy to move back to PA with my soon-to-be wife.

Bring it Home
I love living where I came from.  There is the constant pull of Philadelphia, NYC, and other major cities that are so close to Northeast PA, but the fact that we are so close to all of them offers the best of both worlds.  After getting married and landing back here, I worked for a few local firms and continued to gain valuable experience ranging from single family residential projects to large scale student residence / educational buildings, as well as high-end retail in Las Vegas & Atlantic City.  I absolutely loved the fact that I was starting to work more and more in PA.  I like the high profile projects all over the country, but it’s great to work with local people on local projects too.

Start it Up
I’ve learned something at every job I’ve had and the people I’ve worked with have been great.  I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today without the path behind me.  In 2013, I left my position as Associate at a local firm and started my own.  The experience in the past has equipped me to be able to handle the large-scale projects, and the fact that I do most of the work on my own allows me to tackle small projects as well.  It’s absolutely an adjustment to be responsible for every aspect of the business, but things are starting to run on rails.  I’m also able to be more flexible with my time and get to work around Little Guy’s schedule, and that’s been the most rewarding aspect so far.

Keep on Walking
Onward and Upward.  Little Guy is taking his next few steps, and I will too!  There are some exciting things in store for the business this year and it looks like we’re on track to build our new house in the Spring.  I’m sure he will be extremely involved in the process.  So far, his request for his room is that it looks like Radiator Springs (complete with “a floor that looks like mud”, and “pretend tires in the closet”.)

The persistent WHY?

The Holiday Season is fast approaching, and Little Guy has been anxiously waiting for every morning when he gets to open another door on his LEGO advent calendar.  He’s also been asking if it’s Christmas yet…every day…and every day we tell him that when all of the doors are open, THEN it will be Christmas.

“Well then come on, let’s open all of them.”

Makes sense.  I mean, I did just give him a direct cause & effect scenario, and logic based on what I said would tell you that the fastest way to get to Christmas would be to just get on with it and open the doors already!  I told him that’s not how it works.

“Why?”

Here’s the fork in the road.  As a three year old, Little Guy asks “Why?” approximately 4,000 times a day.  I answer all of his questions until around 3,600 when the answer starts to become “because that’s the way it is.” or something like “pineapple head” so he knows the difference between a real answer and me just trying to get past the question and move on with our lives.  Obviously you can’t just open all of the advent calendar doors, because when Christmas doesn’t immediately appear, there’s going to be a lot more “Why”s to answer.

“Dad, my truck won’t stay on top of my LEGO tower.”  He’s trying to balance a 24″ long truck on top of a 4″ stack of LEGOs.  I tell him that’s silly and that the truck is too heavy, the LEGOs are too small, and that’s just never going to work.  “But Why?  I want it to work.”

I’ve run into countless difficult scenarios in my career.  I see challenges every day at my firm Studio m Architecture + Design.  Limited area on a building site dictates the shape and size of a new structure.  An impossible amount of the Client’s desired spaces just won’t fit into the amount of square footage that they are about to lease for the next 5 years.  The ridiculous budget number available for a residential project is unreasonable and so tight that you can’t do anything with it.  Never once have I told any of these people that what they are trying to do is “silly”.  OK, maybe I said that to the guy trying to build a 3,500 square foot house for $100,000, but he really was being silly.

Often, in the design process, I ask myself. . . “Why?”  I’m frustrated.  Things aren’t working.  I don’t think I am going to come up with a solution that works. . . . why?  Isolate the problem.  Identify the issue.  Solve the one piece that’s causing the roadblock, and the problem starts to solve itself.  Find the better way, and the “WHY” goes away.

The LEGO structure was retrofitted with a second tower, a wider base, and top platform for the enormous truck to rest on.  It wasn’t failing because the idea of the truck on top of the tower was ‘silly’, it was failing because we hadn’t explored a better way to do it yet.  Not only did we solve the problem, but we found satisfaction in knowing we came up with the solution that worked.

There can’t be 4,000 life lessons in response to the continuous stream of “why”s that exist every day.  When Little Guy asks why he has to go to bed. . . . “pineapple head” is sometimes a better answer than trying to collectively brainstorm about the optimal sleep cycle routine and why right now might not be the best time after all.  However, I think it’s up to me to realize that sometimes there is much more behind a “why”, and maybe the best answer isn’t always “because that’s the way it is.”  In that respect, I kind of hope the WHY never ends.

 

Architecture/Design Products:

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Cardboard and blankets work just fine, but we’ve noticed that Little Guy is getting more demanding with his fortbuilding requirements.  Build Abouts look like a pretty interesting modular product that might be perfect for indoor Winter playtime.

Check out:
Build Abouts

Visit:
www.studioM-ad.com
www.facebook.com/designadad
http://thestampinbean.blogspot.com/
  (creator of advent calendar shown above)

Pretend Architecture

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Not the land of make-believe

This month’s theme is “Building” at my son’s preschool.  They are building with blocks, deciding what does and doesn’t work as a building material, and creating “all sorts of buildings” according to Little Guy.  I also have a project in the framing stage that just happens to be about a minute from the school.  So, after I collect him from his day, we swing by the job site and, depending on what is going on, we stop by and check on things.

“It’s like a real house.”  This may very well be some of the most complimentary Architectural critique that I’ve ever received.  I certainly hope my clients feel the same way!  But there was much more behind the seemingly obvious observation.  It is, in fact, a real house…or at least on its way to being one.  “What do you mean?”,  I asked him.  He told me that “First it was just words.  Then it was on your papers and it was just pretend.  Now it’s just like a real house that we are in.”

Yes.  Yes it is.

We proceeded to make our way in and around the newly framed walls that just barely define the different spaces on the first floor.  I showed him the kitchen and explained where the sink would be.  “This is where the oven goes.  Over here will be the fridge.”  “That sure is a big kitchen, huh, Dad?”  Down the hallway, into the bathroom where he asked where the sink would go and proceeded to “pssshhhhhhh, wash his hands.”  “What will this be?  Is this a window?  Do you have to jump out the front door? (the grade outside hasn’t been finalized yet).”  It was truly amazing and extremely fulfilling to answer his questions about what exactly was going on in the skeleton of space we made our way thru.

“I like it.”, he let me know when we got back in the car, and I’m sure I smiled ear to ear.  “Dad, where does everyone sleep?”  We had not been able to visit the 3 bedrooms upstairs because…well, they didn’t exist yet!  He said he can’t wait until the stairs get built.

It was, indeed, “just pretend” at one point.  The design process does start with “just words” when the initial flood of ideas, the wants and needs of the client, all come out.  There’s budget and timing and there’s sometimes things that people know they want, and know they can’t afford.  There’s managing expectations, determining the level of my involvement in the process, and of course, making sure that the most important people (the ones paying for and living in the house, of course) remain connected and engaged during the process.  And we haven’t even started yet.

Little Guy and I review drawings together.  We look at “pretend” spaces and attempt to identify them.  “What kind of room might this be?  It has a big table in it with lots of chairs.  This is a door.  This is a window.”  We test questions like “Why can’t the cars park on the roof?  Why should the playroom be on the opposite end of the house from Dad’s office? (some answers are more obvious to me than they are to him…)”  I like to think that he is absorbing all of this, and I’m sure he is, but at the moment, it’s just us having fun talking about what I do; showing him how spaces can be designed beforehand, and aren’t just the result of someone nailing a bunch of boards together.

This, of course, can apply to any number of things we encounter in our daily life.  Things can be designed.  We can design them.  I hope to instill in him the idea that we don’t have to just accept things for what they are.  We can think about how we want things to be. . . and make it that way, or at least experiment a little bit and make stuff up for the fun of it.  It’s something that happens in the Architectural profession all of the time.  We have ideas competitions, or hypothetical design solutions for non-existent projects.  It sharpens the pencil, sharpens the mind, and maybe results in some ideas we may not have thought of otherwise.  Sounds exactly like something we should be doing with our Children!

 

Architecture/Design Products:

book

The LEGO Architecture book came out last year.  It’s a story and visual guide to the LEGO Architecture products that I’ve highlighted in the past.  Another product that may be more for Dad than for Little Guy, but as he gets older. . . we’ll see!

Check out:
LEGO Architecture book
LEGO Architecture Series 
Visit:
www.studioM-ad.com
www.facebook.com/designadad

 

Because I Do

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“I’m extremely frustrated.”  It’s a short sentence that says a lot.  I’ve been pursuing a few job leads that haven’t amounted to anything yet and the jobs I am working on have seemed to become just a little more difficult.  Except, it’s not me that said that sentence.

Little Guy is making the rounds as a new three year old (always hold up 3 fingers when you tell people you are three because. . . then they will get it).  He’s exploring and explaining every single thing that’s around him and it’s all really amazing  (and often a very amusing process) to be a part of.  And of course, every once in a while, a toddler will get extremely frustrated.  I’m just surprised that he could tell me that.

I asked him how he knew those words and he replied, “Because I do.”

How do you know that song?  “Because I do.”
How did you remember where the coffee aisle is?  “Because I do.”
How did you know how to change the oil in the car? . . . . well. . . we’ll get there. . .

There’s an endless feed of information coming across his world view, and I’m pretty sure he’s taking it all in and saving for later.  If you press him a bit, you can get it out of him.  “We sing that song in school”, or “This is where we got coffee last time.”  But it doesn’t matter how he knows those things, it matters that he knows them.

Sometimes I can get away with that during the day too.  At Studio m Architecture + Design, I’m constantly reviewing projects for code, aesthetic, & overall thoroughness.  How do I know how much clearance is needed in and around an ADA restroom?  Because I do.  I don’t expect clients to “get into it” with me and start questioning why I know that or what events lead up to today so that I can solve the problem without looking in a code book (although I would be more than happy to do that).  I make decisions because I’m a professional and I have years of experience and lots of opinions about how things should be.

We put our trust in people who “know things” every day.  You get on the train in the morning and the people operating it know what they’re doing.  Why?  Because they do.  I think.  Well, there’s obviously a system in place that will make sure that the right people are there so that I don’t have to worry about it. . . right?  Probably?  I mean, you know, the National. . . Train. . . Drivers. . . Association. . . NTDA, right?  I know I have a few expensive pieces of paper in the drawer that represent people who are basically saying, “Yeah, he does.  He knows things.”

So, somewhere along the way, we stop taking someone’s word for it (and that’s a good thing).  How do you know that that block tower is going to stand?  “Because I do.”  Hey, you’re right!  Good job.

How do you know that I can take this wall away and my building won’t fall down?  Well . . . . . It’ll work, but we’re going to have to consult a Structural Engineer and once we have his calculations, I’ll design everything according to his recommendations (he’s licensed too).  Once we have everything coordinated, we’ll size the final structural members that will replace the wall.  All of the drawings will, of course, be signed and sealed and additional drawings will be included to detail how exactly everything will look when we’re finished.  Don’t believe me?  No worries.  The drawings are then sent to the local jurisdiction for review and permitting. . . although some of those people use 3rd party specialized review services to ensure proper review of the design.  THEN, you can get your wall removed. . . well. . . by someone who is licensed to do it, and after he’s finished, we’ll all go back and make sure it’s right.

So, my advice to Little Guy?  Keep reading.  Keep learning.  I’ll take your word for it most of the time, but when you start to “know” things like that you can land in the pool by jumping off the roof. . . . don’t be surprised if I start questioning your knowledge.  It’s nothing personal.  I just know that you might need a little help along the way. . . because I do.

 

Architecture/Design Products:

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The Frank Lloyd Wright Trust has a store with lots of Wright inspired products.  I’m coming full circle back to FLW.  Every college architecture student gets flooded with “falling water” related material because he’s basically the only Architect that most people have ever heard of.  But there’s a reason for that.

The Prairie House Blocks are really nice and capture the long, horizontal lines that define the style.  These look a little smaller than typical blocks, so check to make sure they’re not too small.  This is one of those toys that could be for the budding designer. . . . or maybe for dad. . . .

Check out:
http://www.shopwright.org/product/blocks-prairie-house/blocks
http://www.flwright.org/

Visit:
www.studioM-ad.com
www.facebook.com/designadad

Am I a Superhero?!

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Fighting monsters, bad guys, and yucky bugs!

Deep within, a secret identity has been brewing.  It’s something that I’ve been denying. . . but that I’ve always known was there.  Most super heroes get their powers from a significant moment in their lives:  being bitten by a radioactive spider, crash landing on a planet where your regular characteristics are amplified into super strength, or by wearing a green power ring (ok, that one is dumb).  Where did I get my powers, and what exactly are they?

The other day while we were brushing our teeth, Little Guy and I were talking about where different family members were and what they were doing.  “Mom’s at the hospital helping people”, he informed me.  ” I want to help people too.  I want to be a super hero.”

“So, you want to work at a hospital?”, I asked him.  “Maybe you can be a doctor.”

“No, dad.  I want to be an architect like you.”  I slowly looked up at myself in the mirror with “cool guy” squinted eyes, and gave myself a slow, knowing head nod.  I AM pretty much a super hero, providing The People with shelter and design, not letting budgets and gravity stop me from. . . .”I want to be a shark too.”  Well then. . .

Seriously though, some days I do feel like a super hero.  It doesn’t take much.  Sometimes I’m appointed to the role:  “Dad, you be the super hero, good guy and I’ll be the bad guy!”  Sometimes my ‘dad reflexes’ kick in and I somehow manage to leap into action at the right moment and catch my son out of the air (that happens all too often).  But one of the characteristics of a super hero is that they are someone who you might look up to.  Although I am not actively seeking super hero status, I have come to realize that the statement “I want to be an architect like you” carries a TON more responsibility than I initially thought.  Not because he’s actively pursuing a design degree, but because it shows that he’s looking to others as a role model.

He told his teacher that “mom is my best buddy”.  It’s cute.  It makes us smile.  But it also shows us that he’s looking up to us.  He’s putting us in positions that he respects and he’s letting us, and others, know about it.

It’s intimidating.

He’s watching.  He’s listening.  And, like a stereotypical 3 year old, he doesn’t miss a trick.  I guess this is a long winded way of realizing that I need to be a good example, but it makes me wonder what else he is absorbing.  Is it possible that he is learning and appreciating his surroundings and the built environment?  Does he “get it” that the places we inhabit are designed and can be good or bad?  Shouldn’t we be setting a good example there too?  Should our LEGO buildings meet code as well as be aesthetically pleasing?  What’s the design intent of the stretched tensile fabric living room fort?  You better follow the design drawings because you don’t know who’s watching!!

I’m not going to get into the latest edition of the International Building Code with him, and we’re not going to start researching building materials together, but there are things that we can do & learn together that will start to inform his thoughts about his surroundings: “this place feels small”, “I like being here because. . . . “.  Eventually, maybe I can teach him how to leap over tall buildings in a single bound. . . .

Architecture/Design Products:

construction-zone_nb22313_3

Oopsy Daisy Fine Art for Kids has a wide variety of art in different formats (wall decals, framed, etc.).  Some of it can get a bit pricey, but there are a lot of options for reasonable cost.  The print above, “Construction Zone” would be a great addition to any little one building their future.

Check out: Oopsy Daisy:
http://www.oopsydaisy.com/
https://www.facebook.com/oopsydaisyart

Visit:
www.studioM-ad.com
www.facebook.com/designadad

It’s still here!

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Wake up!

“I have a blog”.  I keep it updated and current, and once in a while I let it slip for a bit of time – like maybe 17 months give or take a few days.  A few comments from friends over the past week have pointed me back here.  “Don’t you have a dad blog?”, “What ever happened to those ‘articles’ you used to write?”, and “I guess you don’t blog anymore, huh?”

So, I came back to take a look, dusted the cobwebs off a few posts, read some of my ‘articles’, and I quickly realized that I missed it!  Why did I ever abandon Design-a-Dad?!  I need to get back on this!  I’m going to post something right. . . . (phone rings – detailed, hour long contractor question & answer seeking ensues. . . . ).  Oh yeah.

I can’t complain. . . or at least I shouldn’t.  My ‘one man show’, Studio m Architecture + Design, is doing well.  At any given time (including right now) I have several things in the design stages and construction phase that I should be working on.  When that’s not happening, Little Guy is patiently waiting (or at least. . . waiting) to do lots of fun stuff with me, and is smart enough to say things like “you can work later” to lay the groundwork for a little guilt that I’m “on the ‘puter”.

So, that’s it:  I’m busy.  That’s my excuse for not posting.  Welcome to parenthood, right?  “You didn’t come to the Halloween party last week” (I was trick or treating).  “We need to grab a drink tomorrow night” (I was driving to a client meeting an hour away).  “Come on, Dad, let’s play ‘Paw Patrol'” (OK!).  As much as I love my job, and I love my Son. . . I am tuning into the fact that I need some little outlets here and there.  I’m not talking about going on a week long self realization retreat in the desert. . . but maybe a little break now and then to do some of the things that I like to do.

And here we go . . you have to take a first step, and that’s what this post is all about.  Next up is the James Bond movie. . . and yes, I do want to grab that drink!  Hopefully I can maintain a little time for me.  We shall see (Now back to reviewing bids for our new home build in the Spring. . . . .I’m fulfilling the role of G.C.  How much time could that require????).

Architecture/Design Products:

fantastic_cities_1

This book was featured by the American Institute of Architects recently and, although I have not purchased it yet, I think it’s going to be a hit with Little Guy.  Let’s face it though, it may be a little intricate for a 3 year old (unless it’s appropriate to color everything one color in a circular pattern).  I see something like this and I think of cool things I can do with it.  It could be interesting to give him a page every 6 months and have him color it.  Over time, I would have a progressive timeline of his coloring abilities. . . all on an architectural based graphic which might be cool in a series of frames for the office.

Check out Fantastic Cities.

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Designing A Dad

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What do you say when you see a horse for the first time?  “Hi.”

I have the great fortune to be able to experience my second Father’s Day.  The past year has brought so many monumental changes to my life.  I’ve finally stopped messing around and got my Architecture license, I’ve started my own practice, and every day has brought us a few steps closer to breaking ground on our new home.  I have a few ongoing and new design projects and am so fortunate that Studio m Architecture + Design is a success so far.

All of that is great.

Amid all of this planning for the future and looking forward and preparing for what is next, the most successful aspect of the past year is the shift in my thinking about my time with my son.  Before I started working on my own, my time with Little Guy, as it is with most fathers, was limited to nights and weekends.  Maybe, if I was lucky enough, he would wake up before I left the house, but even then it was just a quick good bye without him even realizing what was going on.  This is the norm.  This is how it is.

Unless you change it.

I Realize that I am one of the lucky ones.  I know that I am one of the few who gets to dictate their own schedule.  We can’t all own our own business and adjust our lives as necessary.  It just wouldn’t work that way.  I’m not suggesting that everyone else is doing it wrong.  There is sacrifice too.  There are more and more nights that I am awake at 2 o’clock in the morning getting work done, paying bills, drafting contracts and a thousand other things that I can’t get done during the day.  It’s a trade off.  It’s balance.

What I get in return for my efforts is that I learn to be the dad that my son wants.  With the amount of time we get to spend together, I see firsthand what works.  What makes him laugh?  What makes him upset?  How can I be the best dad I can be?  Easy.  Know my son.  Not just play with him or feed him or drive him around. . . . but actually KNOW him.  The time I get to spend with him is time that he gets to let me know who he wants me to be (even if sometimes I have to be the guy who lays down the law too).  He gets to teach me while I’m teaching him.

Do the worlds collide?  Absolutely – if you want to look at it that way.  Last week I sent out a design presentation on a potential job that I am looking at.  Of course, the next day I spent the majority of my 9 to 5 with my son, so when the developer called, I had an 18 month old running circles around me while I sat on the floor spinning to keep up.  Option one:  voicemail.  Option two: stick Little Guy somewhere safe and hope he only screams a little bit until I get off the phone.  The unfortunate decision here is ‘who am I putting first?’  If I let the call go to voicemail, it’s obviously saying that my son comes first and work can wait.  If I tie my son to a chair so I can take a call without interruption, it’s because this job is important to me and I need to remain ‘professional’ during work hours.  I want both. . . so Option three was to answer the call and let my client know that today is a day with my son, but that I didn’t want to miss his call.  He’s cool with it, my son doesn’t feel abandoned, and I get to keep my life in balance.  Everyone who I work with knows that I am, at any given time, potentially with my son.  That’s why they have emails sent at 2 AM waiting for them when they get to work.  This is time that I won’t get back if I let it go.

The past year has taught me to continuously pursue this balance.  It’s not easy at times.  There are still meetings that need to exist without a child in sight.  There are still times when the phone just needs to be turned off.  Although I very much look forward to what tomorrow brings, I try my hardest to stay in today.  Enjoy the Now.  Live in the moment when I am with my son as much as I can.  Hopefully he will learn to recognize how important the time together really is.

 

Happy Father’s Day to all of the dads out there!  No matter how you’re doing it, make sure to enjoy the minutes. . . because they do run out.

 

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Parts & Pieces

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Exploded Eames Lounge Chair – Henry Ford Museum, Dearborn, MI

At times, it looks as if a toy factory exploded in the living room.  If you’re the one on the receiving end of a Little Guy hand-off, walking into the chaos can be overwhelming and kind of confusing.  How is it possible that this is the result of a 17 month old ‘playing’?  Surely the haphazard, strewn about array of blocks… and cars… and foam tubes… and books… and cereal… must have been the result of some sort of toddler dance party.

But when you’re there for the process and you witness how the end result comes to be, it’s actually quite interesting – and not quite as random as it sometimes seems.

I’ve experienced this same feeling throughout my career as an Architect.  Numerous times, I’ve been handed a job for one reason or another, that was started by someone else.  Dive in. Get up to speed.  And away you go.  Often, whether expressed out loud or not, after a bit of orientation I start to wonder “What the hell were they thinking?”  How did things get to this point?  Where’s the reason?  The cause and effect?  Is this just a series of random shapes and spaces or did someone actually have a methodology behind what I am looking at?  But when you’re there for it from the beginning, it makes a little more sense.  There’s reason.  There’s process.

The other day I watched my son push a pirate ship out of the sun room, thru the dining room and into the living room.  He had preloaded it with two pirates and a polar bear (I blame climate change).  This should have had the simple result of a pirate ship ending up in the living room.  However, along the way he encountered a cup of snacks and dropped anchor to enjoy.  The snack was good – enough to share with a few mateys – so a few were dropped onto the deck boards of the ship before setting sail again.  A few clicks later, a bucket was used as a platform for the pirates to stand on, then used as a helmet for my son – who then decided that he needed a spoon to go with the bucket – which was next to the plastic fruit and vegetables so he grabbed an orange (have to keep the pirates scurvy free) and put it on the ship too.  He pulled the ship across the floor and all of the above cargo was strewn about within a matter of seconds.  The pirates made it safely to the couch.  The polar bear was lost at sea.  All of this happened in about 90 seconds.  It doesn’t sound like that big of a deal, but by my estimation, he’s awake for approximately 38,000 seconds a day. . . .

I knew why there was a spoon under the dining room table, why there was a smashed piece of cereal next to fake food on the floor, why a lone polar bear sat on the carpet waiting to be picked back up, and why there was a pirate ship in a bucket on the couch.  It might not make sense if you walked into it, but there was some reasoning and a process that created it.

Studio m Architecture + Design is fortunate enough to have a good, steady stream of work for the past few months – and some good conversations in the works for the future.  I’ve never felt so sure of what I was doing in my career than I have since I started my own practice, and I think it has a lot to do with being here from the beginning.  I’ve made the decisions, watched the finances, set up the structure of the company, and the projects are mine.  I start them and I finish them and the process, the reasoning, and the path that I take with each client makes sense to me because I’m the one who gets to decide what happens.  It’s very reassuring since it seems to be working too.  There are piles of parts and pieces strewn about my workspace – a stack of professional liability research and invoices, in progress marketing material, a box of receipts, and scattered sketches and notes about a few different projects.  Good luck trying to make sense of it if you were to sit in my chair. . . but I have a process. . . .

 

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