Tools for the job


“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.


Pretend Architecture

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:


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 


Milestones – inch by inch

Little Guy and I have been making some significant strides in our lives – and not in one fell swoop either (We both celebrated with some bottles too!).  We’ve decided that it’s time to start moving, and for him that meant literally. . . moving.  For me it meant really focusing in on my Architect Registration Exam (ARE) that I mentioned in a previous post.

It took every second of screaming into the floor for him to realize that it’s actually ok to exist on your belly.  Likewise, I had been screaming into the “Structural Systems” study guides that have forever been my arch-nemesis.  But we both discovered that you have to take that first little step to get it all started (or in my case: to get started – again). 

Once he realized that you can go places on your belly, everything clicked into place.  Why reach for something when you can crawl there?  Why not roll there??  Why not sit up once you get there??!  It’s been amazing to see the little moves and the intricate coordination that has been developing over the past few weeks.  This Little Guy who at one point needed his mom and dad to hold his head up is now barrel rolling across the floor, laughing, drooling, and grunting the whole way.  Every day he’s one inch closer to finding his legs and running out the front door!

Little by little I’ve been studying for my last exam.  There are 7 of them and I had six down.  The last one is arguably the most difficult depending on an individual’s strengths.  It was very frustrating sometimes – looking at formulas to calculate bolt strengths and stresses within steel beams – knowing full well that I will never actually calculate these things in the “real world” (that’s why an entire profession called “Structural Engineering” exists)!  So, I took it like I knew I could handle it.  One little portion at a time I studied and perfected a piece of this puzzle until I felt comfortable enough to take the exam.

The day that he first crawled, we weren’t entirely sure that it actually happened.  I mean, he DID move in a direction, it WAS kind of a crawl, and he COULD actually repeat it.  After a while though it sunk in that this was really happening and that his efforts had paid off.  He was officially a “crawler” (something that I have since learned that some babies skip altogether). 

After I sat for my last exam, I walked out a little defeated.  “If I failed this exam”, I thought, “I don’t know what I will do.”  This wasn’t a moment of despair, it was just a realization that I had studied so much and so hard that – if I did fail – I literally didn’t know what else I would do to prepare.  About a billion weeks later, I heard from my wife who had just opened some interesting mail from the State Licensing Board.  Just like Little Guy, my efforts had paid off, and I am now an official Licensed Architect (well, once even MORE paperwork goes thru. . . . . ).

Little steps. . . big results.


Architecture/design products:


When he started grasping items and lifting them, I immediately started thinking about buying him blocks to stack.  First of all, you would assume that finding blocks in the infinite array of stores available would be easy (ha).  When I did find blocks, they were wooden and painted – something that I originally thought was ideal.  I wanted a nice, classic, iconic set of blocks.

But not for a baby who has two new teeth.  After reading reviews on blocks (yes. . . . I actually read reviews on wooden blocks. . . . ), I ended up buying the “Squeeze & Stack Block Set” from Infantino.  I really like that he won’t end up with wood shards in his mouth and they are extremely easy to clean – soft, squeezable, and BPA free.  He absolutely loves them (and especially likes knocking down the towers that I try to construct in front of him. . . a true design critic at heart!).