Friday, December 30, 2016

What The... : An Ongoing Series

You know it's time to update your general notes when your masonry section references Isokern fireplaces and limestone door thresholds on a commercial warehouse project that has neither fireplaces nor limestone.


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Map and the Territory

Or, the danger of photorealism and client expectations.

I've written before about the benefits of sketches on this blog and my reluctance to embrace photorealistic renderings. This is not a wildly popular view, and I have made no secret of my reasons for this preference. Part of my reluctance stems from the ease with which clients and designers alike mistake the rendering for reality.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What The... : An Ongoing Series


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Lessons from the Field

Over the years I have been astonished anew to discover some things I thought could go unsaid need saying. Here are just a few  of those nuggets of wisdom.

Vendor information in your materials library should not be old enough to vote, or worse, run for office.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Picture Day: Looking Up

As you may recall from the post "A Field Guide to Architects", one method for spotting an architect is the awkward photography angles and tortured posture to get them.

an architect lying on his back taking a picture of the ceiling
an architect in the wild

Friday, November 4, 2016

What the...: An Ongoing Series

"Remember that change that I made to my house four months ago that you thought was stupid? Well, you were right and now I want to undo it. But it can't affect the construction schedule. What do you mean, the lead time on the window we'd have to order is 12-14 weeks?" 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

What the...: An Ongoing Series

"That detail that you're worried about now that the client has changed their mind for the 19th time on this item? I've been told we're no longer supposed to care."

Dear Friends:

Your architect wants to make sure you're happy and that all the parts and pieces of the project are thought through and coordinated. Please don't abuse your architect working on your house to the point where he or she might say this out loud.

The Architectrix

Friday, September 16, 2016

Drawing: a powerful tool

I've recently been making an effort to carve out time in my schedule for a daily drawing. I don't have any rules about what the drawing is or how much time I spend on it, just that I get at least one done per day. Often I will bring my sketchbook with me to lunch or on the train, and occasionally I'll get curious looks or a comment from some passerby.

Almost every comment I get is some variant of "Wow, I could never do that."

Last year I attended a lecture/workshop that examined the intersection of architecture and comics, and part of the workshop was a sheet of comic panels to fill in. Some of the panels even had some unfinished linework to get people started. There were many who dove right in to the drawings, but at my table a few people refused to even pick up the pencil. Why?

What is so fearsome about drawing that some people won't even touch the tools?

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What the...: an ongoing series

"That $10K refrigerator you like is indoor-rated; if you keep it in that open cabana at your lakefront residence (in a suburb north of Chicago) it WILL fail and could possibly electrocute someone."

"Still gonna do it anyways! 😁 "

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Architecture vs Shootings: An Impossible Fight

First, I want to express my rage and grief at the mass murder in Orlando on Sunday. This was the act of a man propelled by hate and bigotry against people who have been systematically abused and made vulnerable by the lawmakers in this country. It is obscene for public officials to bleat on about "thoughts and prayers" and in the same breath condemn the queer and POC communities to yet more discrimination. I fear there is no end in sight for these events, and that our country and government will continue to abandon our families, our neighbors, our colleagues, and our friends to men with guns.

There simply isn't enough time or space to list every mass shooting in the US in this blog; we don't even have a confirmed record of the mass shootings in this country. The best we have is the National Violent Death Reporting System, which is a state-based program under the CDC and includes only 32 states. And the House recently vetoed a proposed amendment to allow the CDC to research gun deaths.

But we need to start somewhere. If we use the definition of "four or more people are wounded or killed", there have been more mass shootings in the US this year than days passed of 2016. Let me repeat that.

There have been more mass shootings in the United States this year than we've had days in 2016.

Friday, June 3, 2016

What the...: an ongoing series

"Our new house is too big and too expensive. Maybe we should just demolish the foundation, steel, and framing we've built so far and start over."

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Quitting to Win

Almost exactly one year ago, I quit my job at a well-respected architecture firm. This was the first full-time job I had in a new city, and I'd been with the firm for almost nine years, including through the recession in 2008. I got on well with my colleagues, and enjoyed the caliber of design that we were building. The partners were extremely prominent in the local AIA chapter, so I met through them a number of other prominent architects and AIA staff (some of whom actually recognize me on sight).

I got to take a business trip to Europe to see the factory where one of our specified finishes was being fabricated. I had recently been promoted to Senior Associate, and I was the project architect on two multi-million dollar residential projects with excellent clients and (much more rare) excellent general contractors.

What was I thinking?

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Territorial Insecurity, a Lecture at the AIC by Felicity Scott


I recently had the pleasure of attending a lecture at the Art Institute of Chicago called "Territorial Insecurity," given by Felicity Scott of Columbia University. A description of Scott's work and a precis of her lecture can be found at the AIC website.

Scott has two books coming out this year: one a compilation of past essays, and another called Outlaw Territories: Environments of Insecurity/Architecture of Counterinsurgency, the closing remarks of which was the starting point of her lecture at the AIC.

Outlaw Territories, available at MIT Press in 2016

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

What The... : an ongoing series

"Column center lines are imaginary, please send drawings that dimension from the edge of the foundation."

(from a GC, no less!)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

On Practice: Climbing the Data Mountain

This is the second in the "On Practice" series - see the first entry here: On Practice: A Fistful of Notebooks

So you've got your project notebooks and your pens and your sticky flags. You're ready to keep your own notes organized - first milestone on the Data Mountain path cleared. Now let's look at how to manage the project files.

I had the very good fortune to work under an extremely organized project architect when I started working full time after graduating architecture school. I still use his methodology (with some minor tweaks and customizing) to keep project files in order, but each office will be a little (or sometimes a lot) different. He was the senior associate, so he oversaw most of the projects in the office and was in a position to make sure his standards were enforced - not always the case!

Where do you start if you're the one setting the standards?

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

On Practice: A Fistful of Notebooks

I started working in an architecture firm in 2003. 

 It was a tiny residential firm; just the principal, one employee, and one intern (me). Because it was so very small, this office was still using some fairly antiquated technology, including parallel rules, a typewriter, Letraset, and an ammonia printing machine with that UV-light-sensitive paper (!!).

Parallel Rule - check out those drafting dots!

Letraset - the coolest and most tedious lettering method imaginable.


The most up-to-date pieces of technology in the office were the fax machine, with the old-style roll of slippery thermal paper, and the printer/copier, which had no scan or fax function. It was only in 2005 that AutoCAD made it into the office, shortly followed by sending out files to a remote printing service and abandoning the poor stinky ammonia printing machine.

The reason I mention all this (other than #humblebrag) is that there wasn't an overwhelming amount of correspondence and documentation to track. Meeting notes, field notes, site photos (on film!), letters, transmittals, billing documents, the occasional fax; nothing like the landslide of pictures and renderings and submittals and RFIs and product brochures and emails (Lord, the emails!) today.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Experiential Art and the Architectural Lens

A loose collection of art that I believe is particularly architectural.  Each piece invites the viewer to look at something in a new light (as great art does) but many of these subjects are architectural in nature - in this case the (usually ignored) backdrop of the every day.  Artists are credited below each photograph.

Death of a Starchitect - Dame Zaha Hadid


I just learned of Zaha Hadid's death about ten minutes ago.

What impact she had on the architectural world is immeasurable, though I'm certain in the days to come there will be many out in force attempting to do so. I confess, her architectural designs interest me less than her approach to life and practice. I admire her audacity, her unapologetic and uncensored personality - the Queen Bitch that some loudly deride but many secretly (or not-so-secretly) want to be. And to be a woman and an Arab woman at that in this profession - such incredible will.

An obituary (like the article linked above) is by its nature somewhat bland and matter-of-fact. I rather think this profile from a few years ago is more appropriate to someone so much larger-than-life as Hadid: