First Steps

Things have been quiet for a while. . . . in terms of blog posts anyway.

In order to get anywhere, you need to take the first step.  It could be absolutely terrifying when you realize there is not anyone there to hold you up anymore.  Sometimes, just that realization makes you fall.

Take Little Guy, for example.  He recently took his first steps. . . 4 in a row to be exact, and the sudden realization that nobody was holding on anymore squashed all hopes of step 5 (although it was probably his mother’s shreek of excitement that knocked him over!).

And like I often do, I’m following in his “footsteps” and taking some first steps of my own.  In September, I left my position of Associate at the firm and I have been working on getting things up and running with my own practice.  Every bit as terrifying when you see that nobody is holding on.  And where are we going?  “Taking steps” implies that you are going somewhere, right?  There’s got to be a goal, of course, or what’s the point?

I don’t think Little Guy has a goal other than to just keep going.  He was fine when he was rolling over.  Even better when he started crawling (a whole new world opened up!).  And now, with this new, quicker mode of transportation, there’s sure to be a ton of more things to get into.  How fun (and how terrifying in itself. . . )!

My “goals” related to this new business are quite. . . unique. . . for a business.  The catalyst for the whole thing was actually my son!  Now, I know that starting and running a business will take some time – probably more time than I was spending at the firm I left. . . but it will be my time on my terms.  There were increasing days when I missed my son – leaving the house before he woke and getting back when he was asleep – and it killed me.  So, the business goals:

1:  See my family more (already a success.  I’ve seen my son every day so far).
2:  Keep doing what I love to do.
3:  Get paid for it.

I’m still working on #3. . . . .

Honestly, that’s it.  Of course with each project I will have goals and milestones that are related to bettering the Client’s business, growth, etc., but I love what I do for a living and I love my family. . . and as a true Libra. . . I demand balance.

And we keep on walking!  Little Guy is finding his own balance (ha!) and starting to get confident.  I’ve been getting a good response from starting the company and hopefully things continue to move the right way!

Away we go!

For more information about Studio m Architecture + Design, visit www.studiom-ad.com.

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Technologically Classical

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As Little Guy continues to grow, I find myself in a constant mental struggle related to the type of interaction we impress upon him.  I’m drawn to the “Traditional” toys like blocks and other wooden toys.  I think of the stereotypical toys like the bubble lawn mower and the wooden puzzle and the rubber mallet work bench, and I imagine that he NEEDS these things in order to facilitate a proper childhood.  Who DOESN’T have green army men as they move past the beginning stages of school-age?

On the other hand, there is the constant beckoning of the modern toys:  The USB fed stuffed puppy dog, the baby friendly apps for my smartphone, and the endless array of computer screen based learning tools that would no doubt propel my non-walking child into the realm of tech-savvy computer genius by the age of 2.

The same “dilemma” exists in the Architectural profession.  There is a desirable image of “The Architect”, pencil in hand, roughing out a quick sketch/masterpiece that results in a frameable piece of art that can be hung on the wall after the project is finished.  On the other hand, as a profession, we’ve come to rely on the digital representation of space more and more.  There are less models and more computer rendered images; less freehand sketches and more hardline CAD drawings.  For good reason too:  it’s so much easier to update a 3D model than to rebuild a wooden one.

As with most of our lives. . . it’s all about balance.  I believe in the traditional/classic aspects of both the items in my child’s life as well as in Architectural representation (although I will admit that I don’t utilize these methods enough in my day to day).  I also cannot imagine turning away from the “new way” of doing things.  I feel as if I would be cheating Little Guy out of experience and knowledge of how the “new things” work.  He bangs on the keyboard and sees results.  He taps on my phone and sees it light up.  There’s no doubt that there is a new kind of learning happening here.  And the computer is absolutely the way to go with what I do day to day with design.  No doubt there are hours, no. . . days, saved with using these modern tools. . . but I crave the classic touch as well.

So, I imagine that as time passes, I’ll continue to attempt to blend these two worlds.  It may be the case that Little Guy is talking about how “they used to still make things out of wood when I was a kid”, or “I can’t believe that you used to have to plug things in”.  Until then, I’ll keep trying to be retro cool while also portraying my Mr. Tech persona.

Try, Try again. . .

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It’s true that most endeavors are not successful on the first attempt.  I’m currently enjoying (a.k.a. “downing”) my 3rd cup of Starbucks coffee this morning due to the fact that Little Guy decided that last night would be the best time to explore what 3:00 AM to 5:30 AM looked like. . . and by “explore” I mean “scream at”.

My wife and I took turns heading into the battlefield, kind of giving each other a nod to say “good luck in there” as we sleepily passed each other in the hallway outside his door.  “Don’t pick him up”, the Doctor warned us.  “Comfort him, let him know he’s not alone, but do not pick him up.”  That lasts about an hour.  Maybe I should give the Doc’s house a call at 4:00 AM and see what he thinks then. . .

Rocking, humming, patting, comforting, changing, checking the room temperature. . . endless attempts to make it right, and 2 hours into it, the simple statement, “Maybe he’s hungry” changed everything.  1 bottle, 20 minutes later and the universe had righted itself.

How could we be so ignorant?  JUST THIS WEEK we had visited the Doctor and relayed to him the increasing instances of interrupted sleep.  “Maybe he’s hungry”, he said.  Maybe we should have written that down.

The whole process is not too dissimilar from solving a design problem (including the coffee requirements and, sometimes, the time on the clock).  It’s great to claim to have all of the answers to every question, the solutions to every problem, and the perfect design for every project.  There’s this stereotypical image of an Architect (bow tie optional) that involves a controlled process of very smartly applying lines to paper in a perfect manner in order to solve an overly complicated problem.  “I think this will work for you”, is muttered as the sheet is handed over to the client.  Light pours off the page and illuminates the face of the bewildered and amazed recipient of the drawing. . . . it’s perfect.

Not the case.

In fact, more often than not, the design process is a chaotic and haphazard one.  What about this?  No, maybe THIS!?  Wait a second. . . try this.  In most cases, the sketch that “works” ends up causing all sorts of havoc when you actually try to make it work.  Move this.  Slide that.  Make that bigger.  No, too big.  It all sometimes ends in frustration.  You’ve just spent all of this time working this out and you’re at the same place that you started.  Not true.  You now know what doesn’t work. . . and that can be the most important information you can have.

“Maybe he’s hungry”.  New direction.  Fresh start.  Successful results.  But everything before that didn’t work gets mentally filed away for next time. . . . maybe for 3:00 AM.

 

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I recently purchased these blocks made by Elegant Baby.   So far they’re a success.  I’m always looking for something for Little Guy to build with or stack. . . or bang together.  These work well and have a classic feel mixed with a modern touch of graphics.

Please do not touch

Tonight we brought Little Guy to First Friday Scranton, the local monthly Art Walk.  It’s been a while since I’ve visited the event – unfortunate since I am a board member – but kind of acceptable since the arrival of my son.  It has certainly been a whirlwind, and finding time for ourselves has proven to be pretty challenging.

But now that he’s a bit older, we’re beginning to seek out things for him to experience.  It’s true that he’s in a stage where almost everything is absolutely amazing.  The other day there was some lint on the floor that proved to be one of the most incredible things in existence.  This was confirmed by the absolute fit that was thrown when I prevented the lint from being tasted. . . .

It’s true.  Everything is amazing.  I’ve been attributing this to the mere fact that he’s kind of new to certain experiences.  What else is he going to think?  Something in the refrigerator is COLD?!  That’s amazing!  Lights go on AND off?!  Say it isn’t so!  But. . . everything. . . is. . . amazing.

My thoughts drift immediately to some of the films of Charles and Ray Eames, particularly “Blacktop” and “Bread”.  If you want to dive further into what the focus of Charles & Ray were, check out “The design genius of Charles + Ray Eames”.  But none of this is the focus of my post.

In the film “Blacktop”, the focus is on the patterns of water and soap that flow across a blacktop lot while washing a childrens’ playground. . . yes, I am serious.  If you’re not in the “artistic” mood when you watch this, it can be one of the more ridiculous concepts you’ve ever thought you’d be watching.  When I first watched it, I was in the right mood.  You can very easily find beauty in the simplest of things if you know what you’re looking for.  The film “Bread”:  Take a guess.

So, back to this evening.  I can’t confirm that a 9 month old knows what he is looking for, but I do know that amazing things are happening every day right in front of his eyes.  I took him into a few venues today and “showed” him art.  He seemed captivated at times, bored and distracted at others.  Could it have been a reaction to what he perceived as “interesting” or “beautiful”?  Maybe.  He responded to the vivid, abstract, bold canvas, while he was easily distracted while looking at line drawings; a factor of the use of color, no doubt.  In all cases, he wanted to touch everything – probably wanted to eat it too.

I think back to my senior Architecture thesis which explored the possibility that your perception of art could be altered by the process of watching someone else experience that art.  All of that was wrapped into a design of the hypothetical Scranton Arts Center that explored the use of transparency to support the thesis.  11 years later, I literally saw this process in action as I held my son.  He looked at a painting, stuck his tongue out, and made a “pthwwwt” sound, to which the woman next to him replied “Ahhh, an art critic.  What’s he looking at?  Oh, I agree”.  Now, I know that he didn’t make her think that. . . but maybe he helped??  Thesis validated.

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Since the “Big Day” is fast approaching, we’re starting to think of ideas for Little Guy’s first birthday!  He was born around Halloween, so there’s lots of fun to come out of that, for sure.  Just today, my wife found an image of this cake though. . . . hmmmmmm.  I think we must do this.  Found at Interesting Engineering.

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.

 

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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!).

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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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. . . .

Design-A-Kid

I decided to name this blog “Design-A-Dad” because of the fact that I am a new Dad/Architect.  In my “day job”, I work at a firm that designs a lot of high-end retail, custom residential, and Urban Core revitalization projects.  I don’t want to come off as too egotistical, but it takes an amazing amount of talent and dedication to work as an Architect. . . . (ahem. . . ).  

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In all seriousness though, it does take a lot of coordination on a day to day basis, and rightfully so.  We are responsible for not only creating bad-assed environments. . . . (ahem. . . ), but also managing all of the parts and pieces leading up to the day that the over-sized ribbon gets cut and you hand the key to the front door over to the guy with the money (those things rarely happen, by the way).  There’s the understanding of the building code, managing consultants, interpreting Owner needs and requirements, and of course working with the Contractors to get it all finished.  There’s about 5,000 other pieces in there, but the point is it’s a lot. . . and it’s a tremendous amount of responsibility.

Hence the reason there are professional licensure requirements for the people who are willing to sign their name to the finished drawings.  You need this license BEFORE you can be responsible for the project.  You have to prove that you are ready. . . . .(I’m currently in the process of completing a series of 7 tests that make up the Architectural Registration Exam).  You can’t just say “I’m ready”.

So, you can see where this is going:  Once I realized that there are truly NO pre-requisites to becoming a dad, I became both confident and worried (confident that I could handle it. . . worried about the rest of the world).  There’s no license to be a dad.  There’s no test.  There’s no system in place to make sure you’re doing it right.

So, I started doing what I do at work: preparation, coordination, planning.  There are endless resources out there to find all of the answers I ever wanted – and then some.  It’s truly overwhelming for sure.  Read, read, read.  It was helpful to know that I was kind of not the only one who ever has – or ever will be – raising a kid, so there’s some comfort in numbers.  I very quickly learned to listen to everyone while not listening to anybody.  Everyone has a different way than the way you’re going to do it, but within the chaos of articles and forums and online encyclopedias, there are pieces of information that are obviously things you should pay attention to. . . I’ve compiled a few below (click for answers).

And so. . . there was yet another creation on the way.  This “project” had its own deadline, it’s own milestones to meet, and I could already feel the weight of my responsibility for its well being.

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I haven’t purchased this product yet, but I plan to.  Perpetual Kid has a lot of interesting items, but one that I thought would be fun to have was the “Constructive Eating Plate and Utensils” – especially since Little Guy is currently experimenting with all sorts of “real food”.  Now I just have to fine tune my truck noises. . . . . I’m sure the contractors at my next project meeting would love to hear me practice. . . .