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.

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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:

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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

Design-A-Job

I don’t remember ever deciding that I wanted to be an Architect.  My father was a Masonry Contractor – mostly residential work – throughout my entire childhood, so there were always plenty of drawings around the house left over from finished projects.  Sometimes I would take the old drawings and sketch on top of them, experimenting with shapes of spaces or trying to imagine what the exterior of the house would look like.  I also constructed an entire Lego empire in our basement that grew exponentially with every passing birthday or Holiday.  Once everything was set up perfect, I would take it all down and reconstruct it – over and over and over.

Many years later when it became time to apply to Colleges, I had to decide what my major would be and without hesitation, I started applying to Architecture schools.  I don’t think anyone suggested Architecture.  I don’t remember anyone pushing design or aesthetics on me when I was growing up.  I just knew that this was what I wanted to do.

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On site at Frank Gehry’s Vontz Center for Molecular Studies at the University of Cincinnati in 1999

Of course I can’t help but wonder. . . what will my son “be” when he grows up.  So far – at 8 months old – his skill set seems to lack focus.  There is a very strong chance that he may be a competitive eater based on the amount of things he tries to put in his mouth on a daily basis.  Lately he’s been getting better at yelling, so maybe some sort of announcer or someone who alerts boats that they are about to hit the shore. . . because I think that’s a thing.  My path makes me realize that with some influences and opportunities in place, there’s a chance that you can help guide your children into a direction. . . or maybe the mere attempt at guiding them sends them off in a different direction. . . how would you ever know?

What I do know is that I want to show this Little Guy the world.  Despite the fact that I had no idea that I was going to be an Architect, I can still think back and appreciate the various places that my parents took me (or sent me) when I was growing up.  Our interpretation of our surroundings and environment absolutely influence the way we think about things when we’re older – even if we’re not designing those spaces ourselves.  My hope is that I can at least instill an appreciation of the built environment into him so that as he travels thru his life, he’s not just walking around in a world that he takes for granted, but appreciating and seeing that there is thoughtfulness and design in the things we pass by every day.  It was my parents who gave me the opportunity to start seeing these things in my life.  Before I was even out of high school, I had traveled to England, Spain, Morocco, and an array of cities across the US.  All of this gave me the confidence and the hunger to keep exploring and I ended up in internships in Chicago, Santa Monica, and NYC because I knew these were places that had something for me to experience. . . and it was great!  I hope that we can start to show him at an early age that there is . . . a lot. . . . to see.

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Architecture/Design products:

I know it’s really an obvious pick, but I cannot speak about my childhood and Architecture without talking about LEGOs!  However, specific to the topic, I will mention the LEGO Architect Series.  At the moment, these toys are my worst nightmare as each of the individual pieces will get their shot at being digested if I were to present this toy to my son.  But. . . this one might be more for me at any given time anyway. . . .