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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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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