“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. . . . . . . .

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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”.)