Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Strike two.

Today was tough to get into--even though I thinned a lot of my work email inbox last night, I still had a pile of items for both Wheatlands and Pomme de Terre this morning. I decided to prioritize and do the Wheatlands stuff first because that building's actually getting built right now. I had questions on what's going to be involved in the new ambulance garage, how can we terminate the metal panels against the aluminum windows, and so on. Suddenly, my job superintendent, Mark, asked me about a change I was going to be issuing soon.
"Hey, Pixie, about this PR where you're putting a drywall ceiling in the two storage rooms in the clinic," Mark said. "Two different guys from our code consulting company came out here and signed off on the storage rooms as they were. What's your change about?"
I was bumfuzzled. My mechanical engineer and I discovered that the walls around two storage rooms had the wrong kind of walls around them. In an attempt to make a long story short, the walls won't stop smoke from passing out of them into the rest of the clinic and administrative offices in the event that a fire were to start in these rooms. When my engineer and I called the code guys, they agreed that we should put a hard lid in the rooms as a ceiling instead of putting those acoustical tiles in the ceilings and put small air grilles in the hard ceiling with dampers on them to stop smoke if any is detected. But in the field, these same guys are telling my super that it's all good in da hood. I put in a call to the head code guy; if I don't hear from him by 9am tomorrow, I'm opening a can of whoop-ass.

It was a quiet morning, overall. Sarge was teaching a Revit class and half the office was out at a meeting in the snowy, nasty Denver weather. I noticed, with some disgust, that Wanda was still in the office. But alas, she was quiet. As I finished up lunch, Sarge walked by my desk to see if I wanted to go for a quick stroll to get out of the office for a bit. I agreed, slurped down the rest of my soup, and threw on my coat.

"So?" I asked. "What's the word, bird?"
"Okay," said Sarge. "You saw that Liz and I went into a conference room with Howie on Thursday, right?"
"Yeah, but I didn't see y'all leave. What happened?"

"Well, we described Wanda's hissy fit and subsequent leaving of the meeting and the office," Sarge said as he tucked his chin into his coat. "I explained my concerns about Wanda's behavior from a CAD manager's standpoint, and Liz described her concerns from a project manager's standpoint."
"Right, then what?" I asked, shaking fat snowflakes out of my hair like frosty dandruff.
"Well, Howie asked us to take him through our concerns and through what was said, step by step. We had to fully explain the attack she unleashed at Elliot in the CAD meeting." He shook his head. "God, poor Elliot. He's just helping out part time on Pomme de Terre, and she was pissed about something, and she just jumped on him. He asked a simple question, and she acted like it was character assassination."
"So what did Howie say?" I asked.

Sarge had to pull his hands out of his pockets to gesture suddenly. "Oh man, we were explaining everything, and Howie kept saying 'You gotta be kidding me!' over and over," he replied.
"Really?" I was actually shocked. "So he was truly blown away by all this? He's clued in finally on how ridiculous and disturbing this is?"
"Completely," Sarge finished. He stopped on the corner and raised his eyebrows. "When we finished, Howie looked at us and said 'This is Strike Two.' I'm tempted to make it Strike Three, but I'm gonna call it Strike Two and talk to her again."
I could do nothing but high-five Sarge.

So it seems that Wanda is On Notice. On Serious Notice. Howie is pretty distant and tends to let his projects run themselves because he's worked hard to gather highly competent people around him, but he's just as fierce, evidently, about thinning the herd when they threaten the efficacy and efficiency of his team. A few months ago before Jacqueline left, Howie fired a gal after only a month when it became very clear that she had way oversold her abilities and was unable to actually work on a project. Not only that, but the gal was unfriendly and sullen. DA is a pretty buddy-buddy place, and antisocial behavior is not rewarded. Quite the opposite, really. So, I take this to be a good sign. If she can chew a 'lude, we'll get a lot done and she'll be great to work with. If not, Howie will kick her hissy-fit-having ass to the curb. I think this is what's known as a win-win situation.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Wow, do I feel better. We both feel better.

I have no idea what awaits me tomorrow at DA. I don't even have the energy or focus to be stressed about it. Las Vegas was mag-freaking-nificent. Four nights in a king-bed suite with a marble-tiled bath and a 69,000 sf spa downstairs and mad crazy lights everywhere and people-watching the weirdest mofos on the planet on one four-mile strip of road and standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon and being amazed that it actually is pretty damn grand and shopping at the big-ass Sephora store and walking around in your Audrey-Hepburn black Ann Taylor dress and the cutest shiny little black shoes ever at Emeril's in the MGM Grand and having your husband lean over and say "all the women are looking at you!" and having a small European woman rub you with hot basalt stones and oil for 80 minutes and having an exercise physiologist tell you that you're in even better shape than you were a year ago and laughing your ass off at a comedy show and strolling through the Forum Shops at Caesar's in your superfly leather pants and eating gelato while the fountains dance in front of the you perspective. And peace.

We partied like rock stars if rock stars started yawning at 9pm and had to be in bed by 11. In our defense, we were up pretty early every morning so we could make Bellagio's champagne brunch, get out of town to get to the Grand Canyon and back, etc. The nice thing about Vegas is that if you do it right, you can walk off a lot of your fantastic meals there. From Mandalay Bay to the Stratosphere is four miles, though most of the action is between Luxor and the Wynn/Fashion Show Mall, which is more like 2-3 miles. The Stardust, just north of Fashion Show Mall, was just demolished to make way for a new fantastic resort/casino/megaplex, can't recall if it was for some Trump abomination.

We returned home to our two cats, Maddy and Hazel, who nearly overwhelmed us with their lukewarm welcome. It appeared that they'd been doing lines of catnip on the glass-topped Crate and Barrel dining room table, and they've been in the Bailey's again. Dammit. I just can't keep them on the wagon, those two. Actually, they were excited to see us until we fed them. Then, it was whut-evuh, talk to the paw. Maddy did jump in Guy's lap and snuggle up for a bit, but then Hazel walked in and she had to be cool again.

I'm sure I'll have crazy news tomorrow, sure the madness will return. But for now, I feel really, really good. Rested. (Okay, I am kinda sore from my personal training session and yoga class yesterday, but otherwise I do feel good.)

Thursday, February 22, 2007

My building is pretty, and I'm going to the spa.

So Howie and I made the long trek this morning to see Wheatlands. I've alluded to Wheatlands a time or two, but it's my primary project that's nearly complete with construction. I started working on it back in October of 2005, when we met with the hospital staff to get the locations of the departments in the right places on the site. Wheatlands Hospital is in Wheatlands, Kansas, and it's presently a 30,000 square foot building, most of which dates back to 1950. They added on an "updated" patient wing back in 1994, but it's got serious funk. So, we're giving them a new replacement facility that's more than twice the size of what they have now.

We drove out for an OAC meeting; OAC stands for Owner-Architect-Contractor. Everyone gets together to make sure construction's going well, talk about potential problems, and make sure things are generally being taken care of. Wheatlands is nearly done and opens in June, so it's looking really nice. The metal panel on the exterior entryway was being installed, and the rep from the hospital had to get his knickers in a twist because it wasn't the metallic color he wanted/pictured. That's right, I told him. We too wanted it to be a metallic color, but when we looked at metal samples with the rest of the building's exterior, it wasn't going to look good. So, we went with a light tan that was originally shown on the building that the hospital board approved over a year ago. On of my many jobs as an architect is to save the client from themselves now and then. We'll see if the hospital rep gets over it or not--i don't know if he'd be happy if you beat him with a brand new stick. Meanwhile, the rest of the building walk went well. I took some great photos for a fantastical lovely detail of the week next week, but alas, there shall be none this week. I'm going to the spa.

We had a great trip and site visit. This has been the smoothest building construction I've seen in 6+ years. Too bad Howie and I had to return to pandemonium. We got back to the office in time for me to fix a few things and do some filing before I left, and I see my dear coworker Jimmy Ray come out of a Pomme de Terre CAD meeting rubbing his temples. "Kill. Me. Now," he said.
"What's wrong?" I said. "Were you just in a CAD meeting?"
He nodded. "Wanda prnounced that 'ADT sucks', said 'well evidently I'm a distraction', and stormed out. She actually left the office for the day just now."
I rolled my eyes. "Okay, first of all, 'ADT sucks' is my line," I retorted. "I said that in the fall of 2005 on Wheatlands, so she owes me royalties."
Jimmy Ray rocked back in his chair. "That's right! She owes you money, g! That's your line!"
"Plus," I said. "you can't say that ADT sucks until you actually use it. She's just been butchering it for three months."
Jimmy Ray nearly fell out of his chair laughing.

I later saw Sarge, who shook his head sadly and rummaged through my desk in search of an icepick. "There's always your car door," I said in an attempt to console him.
Liz was reviewing some drawings with Howie at his desk the last time I looked up. When I looked up again a few minutes later, Howie was talking in a quiet corner with Liz and Sarge. I heard Howie suggest a conference room. That was at 3:55. They were still talking when I left at 4:50. Am I going to hell for hoping that Wanda leaves or is asked to leave? I really wish she'd just chew a 'lude and take it easy, but I don't know if she's capable of speaking without hostility at this point. It might be better if she just went elsewhere and started over again.

However...'s hard to fully care right now...

...because I'm going to the spa.....

(Oh, don't get all pissed; we're coming back Tuesday.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I'd like to care, but I'm going to the spa.

It's been getting harder and harder to focus the past couple of days, because Mile High Guy and I are going to Las Vegas on Friday for our two-year anniversary. We go to Vegas because that's where we pledged our troth before God and Elvis in 2005, and we enjoyed the place so much that we return to escape reality, be together, and party like rock stars for our anniversary weekend. I should go back briefly and say something again: yes, we got married in Las Vegas; and yes, we had an Elvis wedding. It was a supreme blast: we were pronounced hound dog and teddy bear and our family members with high-speed internet connections watched the whole thing on the chapel's webcam. We got married because it was important to us to have a legal binding contract of our emotional connection in case (God forbid) something happened to one of us. However, because we also think weddings are a billion-dollar bullshit industry, we got married in Vegas with Elvis and chose to have separate parties with our respective families after the fact. Airfare, wedding, Elvis' fee and tip, hotel, meals, and wedding rings totaled less than $5,000.

Damn right I'm bragging.

Anyway, the first time we went to Vegas, we stayed at Circus Circus. It used to be the shizznit in the '60s, but most folks will recognize it from the movie Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, starring Johnny Depp as the eternally-intoxicated journalist Hunter S. Thompson. I'd like to state for the record that Circus Circus is best experienced while sniffing ether, not because we did so, but because the decor is so loud and surreal that it might have helped.

The next time, we decided to go a bit more upscale. We were trying to decide between all the nicer, newer resorts when I saw that the Venetian had a spa. Not just a spa, but a Spa. Oh, my bad, a SPA. The famous Canyon Ranch Spa (of Tucson AZ and Lenox MA) had a 69,000 sf outpost at the Venetian. My hospital, Wheatlands, is smaller than this spa, my chirren. I had to go. I booked an appointment with an exercise physiologist for a fitness assessment and a stone massage. I got great results with the assessment (which proved that all my hard work in the gym paid off), and I was so relaxed from the massage that I floated the rest of the weekend. Nice.

I've booked a bunch of spa appointments this year as well, and yes, I'm bragging again. Assessment, personal trainer session, stone massage, manicure, and pedicure. I'm gonna lay around in the marble steam room, relax with a cappucino whie watching the indoor gondolas float by and listen to the gondoliers (all trained opera singers) sing in perfect Italian, dine lavishly with Guy after he whips ass in his poker tournaments (he won $450 in one last year), and enjoy my time not being at work and not being worried.

Wanda was pretty quiet today, and everyone seemed like they were in a calmer mood. I'm going to Wheatlands with Howie tomorrow, which means a little over three hours each way in a car with my boss. But I can't say I care. I'm going to the spa.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Oh. My. God. Yes!

Oh, WAD Readers, it’s been a good day. A good day indeed. Let’s hit rewind on the DVR of my day and take y’all back to the beginning.

The day began with a Pomme de Terre Core & Shell team CAD meeting, consisting of Sarge, Liz, Wanda, and Intern Timmy, a young fellow just out of graduate school who’s been working at Design Associates for about a year and a half. Sarge was working through some of the 3D modeling issues with the team, and Wanda was being extra obstinate and combative. By the end of the meeting, it was clear that she didn’t want to model the building in 3D at all, even though a 3D building model is what Howie has had in mind all along. Sarge came out of the meeting, barely paused at my desk to look over my head at my coworker, Jimmy Ray, sitting in the cubicle just over a low wall from me.

“Jimmy Ray, I need an icepick to go in my temple,” he said, pressing a pen the side of his head. I noticed that his hand was shaking; he was actually putting pressure on the pen. He returned a few minutes later and IM’d me that the meeting had been so stressful, and Wanda had been so aggressive and confrontational, that he had to go outside and take a walk. The walk didn’t end up helping, and now Susanna needed help, but he couldn’t bring himself to go downstairs. See, Susanna sits in a cubicle over a low wall from Wanda, and he knew Wanda would try to pull him into to a verbal altercation.
“It’s like she calls me down to her desk not for CAD help or advice, but just to pick a fight with me,” Sarge said.
“I wonder what her deal is,” I replied.

“Let’s get out of this office for lunch,” said Sarge. “I cannot be in this office for lunch today.”

A while later when we went to lunch, Sarge was nearly leaping with an odd joy. “Oh—my—GOD!” he exclaimed. “I saw Liz upstairs and pulled her aside to explain that I want to help Pomme de Terre, but I just couldn’t come downstairs because I didn’t think I could keep my cool around Wanda. Liz drags me into a conference room and tells me she feels the same way!”
“No way!” said the Pixie. “So we’re not imagining things? Liz is annoyed by her too?”
“Completely!” Sarge was nearly gushing. He looked relieved just knowing that someone else on the PdT team felt as he did, as we did. “It’s not just us! Liz is exhausted by Wanda too, and she too feels like Wanda’s charging into everything with a Mortal Kombat attitude. She said she was thinking about bringing it up with Howie, and she asked if I’d be willing to give Howie my side of the story, and I said abso-freaking-lutely. Before I got to your desk, I went to see if she wanted to go to lunch with us, but she wasn’t at her desk.”
He paused with an expression of sudden realization. “…and neither was Howie.” He looked at me suddenly. “Hey, I wonder….”
“She probably just got out of the office for a bit,” I said.

Sarge and I ate lunch and walked back to the office. As we got to the corner across the street from our office, we saw Howie walking up the sidewalk in the other direction. Suddenly, he dashed across the street to us at a break in the traffic and dashed right up to Sarge.
“Hey, did Wanda pick a fight with you in the CAD meeting today?” he asked Sarge, slightly out of breath.
Sarge was actually caught a bit off guard. I stood not two feet away thinking, um, Howie? Maybe you should wait til I’m not around to discuss personnel issues with the CAD Manager.
“Well,” Sarge said rather diplomatically. “I don’t think that’s how she meant it to be, but it sure felt like she was trying to pick a fight. It’s like that a lot when I go to her desk.”

“Yeah, I know she can be kinda intense sometimes,” Howie replied, a little sheepish. “I think I need to talk with her…”
Just then the light changed, and I excused myself without a word and crossed the street, leaving Howie and Sarge on the street corner to continue sorting this crap out.

A few minutes later, Sarge came in and walked right up to my desk, saying, “Holy fucking shit at the timing of that!”
“So? What was the outcome of that little meeting in DA’s new corner conference room?” I asked.
“Awesomeness!” Sarge said with an uncharacteristic lack of military decorum. “I explained to Howie how it’s so hard to have a discussion with her without her turning it into an argument, and I told him how I had to reassure Liz that I wasn’t trying to neglect the team but I just couldn’t be down there near her and keep my cool. Then, Howie said that he just talked to Liz about this, and he said he’s taken Wanda off all file and administrative duties and has gone back to just giving her just drawings to do. Intern Timmy and Jimmy Ray are gonna handle the files from now on.”

Everyone around us stared us while we happy danced at this most fortuitous outcome. Our poor confused coworkers watched in bemused horror as the guy with the buzzcut and the midget in the grey plaid Ann Taylor suit did the watusi and the frug and sang “Booyah! Booyah! Booyah!”

Now, I realize that the proper and assertive thing to have done here would have been for Liz or me or Sarge or someone to approach Wanda and broach the subject of her combative, disagreeable nature with her. One would thank her for her willingness to deal with certain aspects of the advanced software and appreciate her previous experience with it, then empathize with the fact that she’d been given a management task for which she wasn’t totally prepared, namely handling the file structure for software on which she wasn’t fully trained. Then one would gently explain that everyone is willing to help train her, but she has on several occasions made it seem like she didn’t want to listen. If she will let the others help her and teach her how to use the software, then the others would stick up for her if learning the software put her behind or gave her problems with Howie.

However…when someone is continually confrontational, how does one confront them? Given all that we’ve seen, I think Liz did the best thing. If Jacqueline was here, she would have seen it already first hand and dealt with it, but Howie, the project manager (PM, as Faded properly calls him), didn’t have a clue and needed to know that this was going on. By taking this responsibility out of her hands, Howie has dramatically reduced opportunities for Wanda to be aggressive. Also, by checking with more than one person about the behavior, he got a better idea of the team’s dynamics. (Howie and I will be going out to Wheatlands together on Thursday, so he may get my side of the story, if and only if he asks me.) So finally—FINALLY, something has been done. I can finally almost enjoy this project. Almost.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Well, it's about damn time.

Wanda made it back into the office today, thankfully without the cold and runny nose that plagued her for the two or three weeks preceding her vacation. Howie gathered the entire Pomme de Terre team into a meeting to recap how the first round of user group meetings went in Taterville last week. (Explanation: user group meetings are meetings with the users of a project, usually with members of each department in a large project like a hospital. In these, the architect and sometimes the engineers as well discuss the layout and workflow of the department. We meet more than once to make sure we have the layout right and that we’ve caught every little requirement from the users.) Howie thanked us for our hard work in the past several weeks, gave us a few future deadlines, and then checked in—finally—about how things were going schedule-wise and staff-wise.

“Are you getting the support you need from Sarge?” he asked
Wanda audibly hesitated. “Well, yeah, when he’s not busy with other projects,” she said.
“Well, sure,” replied Howie. “With notice, we can get his help a little better, I’d say, but if all we give him is a moment’s notice, we’re gonna have to wait in line sometimes.”
Wanda wasn’t ready to shut up. Is anyone surprised? “Well, it would have been easier if we could have kept up our weekly CAD meetings, but he had other—“
Liz jumped in. “Well, the breakdown of our meetings was partly on our side, too, you have to admit,” she said. “We had a deadline we had to make, and weekly meetings were taking up too much time.”

Wait—did Liz just stick up for Sarge? She who on more than one occasion complained bitterly about ADT’s new processes? Leaning into the strike zone for a bit for El Sarge-o? Somebody better, cuz if one harsh word is said about him after he did everything he’s done for them, I’m gonna come charging out of the dugout like George Brett and smack them mofos with my overly pine tar-stained bat.

“Well, we need to start those meetings up again,” stated Wanda, shifting a bit in her chair. “We need to figure out if there’s anything still wrong in the sheets—“
“Shouldn’t be much,” said Liz. “We got core and shell redone and they went well.”
“I did the interior sheets last week, and they’re clean,” I interjected across the table to Liz and Leslie.
“When do we want to start doing collision detection?” Liz asked Howie. (Another explanation: collision detection is the process of laying the structural drawings over the mechanical and plumbing drawings to see where air ducts or plumbing pipes are going through structural beams. This is traditionally done through overlaying paper drawings from each discipline onto each other. With the new process of BIM as done through Revit or ADT, each discipline builds a 3D model in the software and plops one into the other, using the software to find the problems.)
“It should be ongoing,” said Howie. “Start now. Tell the engineers you needed it yesterday.”
I felt Wanda’s frenetic energy surge behind me before she even spoke. “We need a model from them weekly, so we can—!”
“No,” Howie said very firmly. “There is no way we can make them send us that model that often. They’re gonna build that model just for this purpose, and they’d be wasting time to do it each week.”

Wait—did Howie just shut Wanda’s frantic, almost-belligerent ass down? Oh, I think he did. And oh, he wasn’t done. For the next half hour of a fifteen-minute meeting that lasted almost two hours, Howie talked the team down out of doing incredibly time-intensive activities for the Design Development phase deadline in a few months. Wanda got loud and panicky; the stress in her voice put stress into others’ minds and it came out in their voices and opinions, and Howie talked them down. Oh, WAD Readers, it was beautiful. It was in that moment that a) my project manager finally stepped in and set some limits, and b) I remembered why I liked Howie so much. My favorite moment was when Wanda, Liz, and the guy managing the utility plant portion of the project (Thurston) all started raving and working each other up about a need for phasing plan details. We have to tell the contractor how to block off each area for each phase, what to do, for crying out loud the mechanical drawings are just lines, not the full ducts are even drawn (yeah, that’s cuz we just finished Schematic Design, you nimrods!), we need to show how the phasing needs to be done, details, etc, etc, etc. Howie just held up his hands, and lo, he spake:

“Four years ago, I remodeled an entire hospital in place. Every department was active while we remodeled it. I’ve done this before, and I did it with phasing plans no more detailed than what we just issued in this SD package.

Oh, the delectable silence.

“I understand that this is a really complicated buildings, and I agree that we need to keep in mind how the phasing’s gonna work on it,” he continued. “What I’m asking you to do is to approach it slowly. This is a well-funded project, but it’s so easy to burn all that fee doing things like spending a month detailing the hell out of something that the contractor’s gonna do how he wants in the end. We have a great contractor on this; I’ve worked with them before, they’re conscientious contractors, and I know they’re gonna do a good job.”

With that, Howie dropped the smack. We wrapped up briefly and were able to get out and do what we needed to do. It was beautiful, and I was glad. I’m not sure if it sank fully in with Howie, but I’m glad he saw the pandemonium that I experience in those ridiculous, time-wasting Pomme de Terre meetings. And I was glad he was there to chill some crazy people out before they wandered off into Hysterical ArchitectLand.

Now, if he’d step into those meetings more often….

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Bitch, you are not making friends like this.

Wanda went on vacation last week and was supposed to be back in the office on Valentine's Day. She didn't show. She didn't show Thursday...or Friday, for that matter. This is an issue for a couple of reasons.

First, Wanda and I are two of 19 members of a breakfast group in the office. Each Friday, we members take turns bringing breakfast in for our colleagues. Some do something as simple as grocery store doughnuts (though if you want to make friends you'll bring in Krispy Kremes--there's only one KK store in the whole state, so their breakfasty glazed confections double as currency in some locales) or bagels and cream cheese. Others , like moi, bring homemade goodies like Orange Bread and buttermilk biscuits with honey, butter, and jelly. No, I do not bring gravy--bring your own damn gravy!...where was I? Oh, yes, so back in January, Wanda asked me to trade breakfast days with her for some reason or another. She looked at the date I was supposed to bring breakfast and said, "Oh, I should be back from vacation by then!" I switched with her, but that meant my breakfast day was four days from the day she asked me, and I was only able to bring Orange Bread because I was tired as hell and had to bake after getting home after a four-hour drive back from a Wheatlands site visit.

Well, kids, her breakfast day was Friday.

Though being back in town for three days, she sent no emails to anyone in our group saying, oh I don't know, i won't be in tomorrow so can I trade with someone please, or something along those lines. Nope. All she did was call or email Liz at 6:30am to say she wouldn't be in. Let me say that one of the worst things you can do to 18 other breakfast-starved coworkers is let them down. It's one thing if you had an emergency. It's another if it seems really apparent by your previous absences in the week that you knew you weren't going to be in on your day. Corrine, the administrative assistant who also runs our group, sent out a civil-but-zingy email to the group reminding them to let her know if they would not be able to make their day. By the time Sarge and I got to lunch, I was ready to eat glass and ask for seconds.

Wanda also committed the cardinal sin of not letting the front desk know that you're going to be out. It's actually better for folks if you call or email the receptionist and say, "Hey, I'm ill today and won't be in; would you tell Howie and Liz please? Thanks!" Phone calls come through the front desk, and the receptionist can better direct an urgent call if she knows you're not in. If she thinks you're in, it's going to your voicemail. If she knows you're not in, she'll direct the person to someone else. Also, if the receptionist is in your breakfast group, not telling her you're not coming in puts you on her Shit List twice.

On Thursday, Sarge came down to my desk to loiter while waiting for a meeting to start. "It's some kinda CAD meeting for Wanda to understand what we did with the sheets while she was on vacation. Hopefully, these changes should leave her with less managing to do and more time for architecture," he said.
"I don't think she's in today," I said. "Might wanna ask Liz."
Sarge left and came back two minutes later. "Yup, Wanda's out today. We've rescheduled for tomorrow," he said.

So Friday rolls around, and Wanda phones it in. Sarge dropped by Liz's desk, ready for the delayed CAD meeting. Liz, he reports, was clearly perturbed at having to re-reschedule this meeting, the purpose of which is to clear up file structure for one stubborn individual who refuses to listen to her coworkers. Sarge told me later, "I have to wonder if Wanda's not rethinking her employment situation here at DA." If she is rethinking it, more power to her. She doesn't seem to be trying very hard to fit in.

Inspired by Wide Lawns Subservient Worker as well as what I've learned in studying yogic philosophy for the past few years, I'm trying hard to have compassion for Wanda, trying to put myself in her shoes and see what might be going on with her. I'm trying to have some empathy for her, because that might help me understand what I can say to her or do for her to relax her defenses, help her understand that we all want to benefit from her professional and organizational abilities, but we can't when (from where we're standing) she won't listen to reason, won't ask for help, and talks down to her coworkers like they don't know how to use the software even though they've had more training on it that she's had. Furthermore, she won't take the time to learn the way WE do things. She is the new person in our office, not us; she is going to have to learn our way first before she can change it. It's possible that all procedures in life can be changed or improved, but a lot of the ways we do things at DA are ways that work. that's why we do them; after all the experimenting and trial and error, setting up the files and sheets like this or that allow for the least amount of work in the long run and allow for the most efficiency in drawing or changing.

So, I'm not proud of myself for hoping she'll quit. I also know, though, that she's seemed pretty set in her ways, even while she's the only person in the room thinking the way she does. If she's still here when Jacqueline comes back, it's gonna be ugly. And I can promise you after watching Jacqueline versus the big, cranky contractors: Jacqueline will win.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Detail of the Week: Demolition is fun!

We architects are taught to build things, but not so much to tear them down. Pity, really; there's so much that needs to be demolished. Strip malls, deserted big box stores, the completed works of Frank Gehry...and this building I passed on the way to lunch today. It had been one nightclub or another for the past few years, each club owner painting its double-tee concrete exterior some hideous blend of colors. First, it was a nightclub with a beach theme (because nothing says "beach" like two feet of snow and 30-mph winds at a mile above sea level), so they painted the exterior a light yellow with turquoise waves. Then it was a swingin' hotspot with bright yellow and red flames on the sides. Its final incarnation was a south-of-the-border themed club, which was mercifully shut down. Finally a development company bought the building and demolished it. The plan, so I hear, is to put up some high end lofts in the building's place. Evidently, what downtown Denver really needs right now is more high-end lofts.

The exterior, as I mentioned, was made up of precast concrete double tees, which so I hear were invented right here in Denver. They can be used as load bearing walls, as they were in Club Nasty, or as a roof, as they were in this photo (taken looking up through a grid ceiling with the tiles removed).

You can see the legs of the tee coming down from the roof slab. That slab's about 2 inches thick, and each leg is about 30 inches deep. When you look at the end of a double tee, it looks like this: TT. Here's what's left of the double tees that made up the exterior wall of Club Nasty--note that there's a chaink link fence around the site. The construction company has to keep unauthorized people off the site because if the wander around on it and get hurt, they can sue...even though the boneheaded move of wandering around on a construction site without protective gear and a clue is totally their fault.

The legs on these tees were only about 12 to 16 inches deep. The slab part of the tee rested on the building's slab, which was poured separately from the sidewalk, which is why the bottom part of the tee legs is still stuck on the sidewalk. The rest of the tees are gone because they could be easily removed along with the building's slab. The top picture shows the rebar in the tees (those dark wiry things sticking out). They weren't able to remove all of the tee that was against the new loft building, though.
See the blue plastic stuff on the wall? Sarge and I are betting that pulling down Club Nasty's party wall (the wall that was right up against the loft building) opened a hole in the loft's party wall, so they have to keep water out until someone can get over there to fix it. You can see the rest of the party wall in this photo. The sludgy grey stuff is the mortar between the bricks. That's what mortar looks like on the back side of a brick wall, where you can't clean it off with a trowel. Now these two photos are the coolest, and mercifully, the last ones of this post.

The upper photo shows the line of Club Nasty. Can you see the little ledges of brick hanging over the top of where it used to be? I'm not entirely sure what that's about--perhaps the architect was moving the bricks out so s/he could make the upper floors a little bigger, or maybe s/he was just making a comment about the hideous building below it. There's also a different color of brick and mortar at the bottom of the loft's party wall, next to the weirdly-painted foundation wall. This might be because the loft building used a differnt type of brick for the bottom of its party wall, or because it used some existing brick in the wall instead of tearing it out (this part of downtown is about 130 years old). You also see how there are some stripes where the bricks are turned differently so you can see the holes in them? Sarge and I are wondering if perhaps those protions of brick aligned with some concrete columns in Club Nasty on this side. See how the foundation bumps out at each of those funny areas? I'm thinking we're right--structural engineers often enlarge the foundations at column locations so they can distribute more of the load. I'm still wondering why the bricks would be turned differently at the columns, though....

Everyone still with me? Good! Well, faithful WAD readers, I'll reward your patience with this extra-long extended-rave-mix of a Detail of the Week with some good gossip about Wanda tomorrow. I'm worn out from working on Pomme de Terre all week.

Actually, it's not gossip if it's true. And Shorty spit de troof.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Miss Kitty has thrown down the gauntlet.

As Miss Kitty has refused to remove those outrageous and trashy UGA stickers from my old pickup truck, I am now forced to fire a warning shot over her skunky red-and-black bow with a little story about said wayward English professor.

When we were kids and forced to share a bed because out-of-town guests were staying over, I hated it. It's not that I minded the company per se. Kitty and I have always--always--been extremely close. However, Miss Kitty makes for a terrible sleeping partner. She kicks, she steals cover, and she talks in her sleep. An eight-hour night with her results in only about two hours of real sleep for da Pixie, cuz it goes a little sum'n like this: her foot makes contact with my knee, then she rolls one way and the other to pull the comforter off my feet, then she mumbles something incoherent. I turn over to try to ignore her. Bad mistake: I get a foot in the ass and all blankets are removed from my torso. Then she mumbles something else.

Sometimes kids grow out of this. Our Kitty, alas, did not. In college, we had to share my bed when guests stayed in hers one holiday weekend. Within fifteen minutes of lights out, the rumpus began.


I yanked the blankets back from her linen-greedy paws and rolled over onto my back. She got still, and just as I was about to drift off to dreamland....she sits up in bed. She sits up, leans over her knees, pauses, and says:

"Needs more sauce."

WHUMP! She collapsed backwards again and didn't. move. a muscle. the rest. of the night.

Meanwhile, on the other half of an increasingly too-small bed, inquiring minds want to know what the fuck needs more sauce and why was this the moment to share this revelation. Asking her this the next morning provided no solutions.

"I said what?" Kitty asked.
"Needs more sauce," I replied. "What the hell were you dreaming?"
"I didn't have any dreams last night," she said. She gave me a skeptical grimace. "What did I say? 'Needs more sauce'?"

"Yes. Evidently, we were in need of sauce last night, or at least more of it."
Kitty shook her head. "I don't remember saying that."

She did it again when I was home alone for Christmas before Guy was able to fly into town for the weekend. We were snuggled up under her homemade quilts, listening to the rainfall outside and NPR on her little radio, and about four in the morning, she turned over, held up a hand and said, "Well, if it's not gonna work they need to try something else."

I stirred. Renee Montagne was on NPR talking with a guest about a recipe for holiday cheese balls. "If what doesn't work?" I asked.

No answer. The Mystic Oracle of Random Bullshit was done for the morning.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

If it gets any cuter in here, I'm gonna barf.

I can barely move right now after getting my Valentine's Day present. Oh, get your minds out of the gutter...Mile High Guy bought me flowers and a big box of special edition Godiva truffles, and we just got back from dinner from the Italian restaurant two blocks from our house. Chianti + garlic rolls + calzone = Jabba-the-Hutt-sized sloth. And I still haven't broken the seal on the truffles. Eh.....

I also got a box of goodies from my wonderful sister with impeccable taste, Miss Kitty. She sent me a box of shirts for which she no longer had any use, some never or rarely worn. Wintersilk, Rave, Bebe...all good names with super-awesome taste. I love shopping at Miss Kitty's House of High Fashion and Tastefull Accessories. She also sent me a huge chunk of divinity. Those of you from the South know the white sugary-and-pecan goodness that is divinity. Those of you who don't: it looks like spray-on fireproofing, pulls apart like non-expansive caulk, and tastes like candied heaven.

She also sent along a few shirts our mom got us at a JC Penny sale, such as this hooded goodie:

Backstory is required here. Since I was eight years old, I have always been a Hello Kitty fan. As a girl, I had HK stickers and notebooks and purses and markers andeverything cute I could buy with my savings. In grad school, I used HK notebook paper to take notes in all my classes--hey it kept the rest of those class-skippin' mofos from "borrowing" my notes when they were too hung over to make our 9am Advanced Structures class. As a graduation present, Miss Kitty gave me an HK cordless phone, which I still use. Nothings as funny as watching big, hulking Mile High Guy walk around the house and talking on my cheezy-ass pink Hello Kitty phone. So, Mom's just keeping the pride alive. She also got me this shirt:

For my 16th birthday, my dad gave me a 1991 Ford Ranger with only 52 miles on it. In 2006, I sold it to Miss Kitty with 126,000+ miles on it. It was in decent shape, but I had to sell it because it's a standard cab pickup, and Guy is too big to comfortably fit in it for longer than a twenty-minute trip. You Chevy luvvahs can make all the jokes you like, but that little truck saw me through six years of school, two shitty boyfriends and an oversized husband, and several odd summer jobs. She drove between Small Town, GA and Denver twice, once when I moved there after grad school and once to come home and stay with Miss Kitty, who evidently thinks it's cute to put UGA stickers on my poor truck. No wonder it's in the shop again. If she continues to torture my poor Boo-Boo the Wonder Ranger, I shall be forced to tell everyone a goofy story about her.

One word, Kitty: Sauce.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Prodigal Detail of the Week

Since Wandering Author's question about fireproofing in the World Trade Center, I've been thinking about this detail. I found this one in an office building built by our office a few years ago. Those C-shaped things in the walls are metal studs. If you do your own remodeling projects at home, you'll use wood studs, which would be drawn in this detail as a rectangle with an "x" through it. While wood studs can be treated with fire-retardant chemicals, metal studs are used more often than wood studs in commercial and large multifamily residential construction projects that require a high degree of noncombustability (is that even a word?).
Building codes dictate so many aspects of a building, including the materials used to make them. First, building codes allow an architect to use wood frame construction if the building is under a certain area (in square feet) and under a certain number of stories. How many square feet and how many stories depends on what kind of building it is: a wood-frame office building can be larger than a wood frame nursing home. Some types of buildings, such as structures that store hazardous materials, are not allowed to be of wood construction at all. Also, putting a sprinkler system in your building allows the architect to greatly increase the size of the building.
Structural systems for large buildings and buildings that require a great deal of fire resistance are either steel or concrete. Concrete columns and beams have steel reinforcing bar in them (called "rebar" in da biz) that allows them to stretch when the beams get really warm, and concrete is especially handy for long spans (this is one of several reasons concrete beams are used to build bridges--it can span 60 to 100 feet). Concrete is also naturally fire resistant, but it's often more expensive that steel. Steel is usually an economical way to support normal spans in a building, such as 25 to 35 feet.
However, steel columns, like the one shown above, are not inherently fire resistant.; when exposed to high temperatures, the steel deforms and fails. Sometimes, steel beams and columns are painted with a paint called intumescent paint, which creates water when it comes in contact with heat and drips on the fire, defending the steel from the intense heat and buying some more time for the firefighters to arrive and put out the flames. The more typical manner in which steel is protected and given a "fire rating" is the sprayed-on fireproofing that is shown above. I'm not sure what it's made of exactly, but it protects and insulates the steel from fire. It's lumpy, whitish-grey stuff, so if the column can be seen, the column is covered with framing and gypsum board (drywall). The framing-and-drywall covering also serves to protect the firespray from being damaged, causing it to flake off and reduce the fire protection.
That is all for now. Tell your friends at the water cooler tomorrow....

Sunday, February 11, 2007

The vacuum of power

As opposed to a powerful vacuum. Actually, they both have something in common: they both suck hard.

Faded has asked the question more than once: where's the project manager on Pomme de Terre to notice all the personnel tomfoolery? I've said before that Howie is so wrapped up in general management issues on Pomme de Terre that he's not able to dedicate proper time to monitoring the production of drawings on it. Strangely, I've forgotten one huge factor in the Pomme de Terre situation which, or rather who, is conspicuous by her absence: Jacqueline.

Jacqueline has been a licensed architect for about five or six years and has been at DA for almost as long. After proving her professional skill and merit on a large hospital and clinic project a few years ago, Jacqueline earned a place on Howie's team to help master plan Pomme de Terre. Fast forward a few years, and Jacqueline is designated the lead on the design team for the new Pomme de Terre hospital with emphasis on design and drawing production. Right after Thanksgiving, Jacqueline (call her by her full name, none of this "Jackie" stuff) asked me if I'd have some time to do the space planning for just one department on Pomme de Terre. Now, two months later, I can't get away from it. It's like the Mafia: you try to get out, but it keeps pulling you back in.

Jacqueline has been called a bitch many times. These names have always been tossed around behind her back, but she's completely aware of her reputation...and she gives less than one tenth of one rat poop about it. And dammit, I can respect her for that. Jacqueline's attitude is that given her responsibilities and work load, she occasionally is just gonna have to step on some toes and pull rank. Not to open a can of worms in the gender wars here, but I sense that if a man acted the way she did, no one would bat an eye.

So, to my point. Jacqueline spent most of 2006 expecting a baby and finally delivered it on New Year's Eve. She plans to take the full twelve weeks for her maternity leave, so we don't expect her back until the end of March. However, Howie never specifically (as far as I can tell) told anyone, "You're in charge of interior design, you're in charge of files, and you're in charge of consultant coordination." Liz had the job of exterior building design before Jacqueline left for maternity leave, but that's it. Leslie, who like me is working on this project part time until her real project starts, seems to have inherited the interior space planning authority of Jacqueline's. Somehow--and I'm still not sure if Howie did this or what--Wanda got placed in charge of the file and sheet structure, even though she has the least experience of our team with our software system.

If Jacqueline was still in the office, she would be in contact with those of us doing the drawings more than Howie, of course, and she might even sit in on some of our CAD and project meetings. Ultimately, she would notice the personnel issues we're having right now, put her foot down, and state here's how it's going to be, people. But she's not here, and her absence leaves her team with a vacuum of power that Howie really hasn't filled and doesn't have the time to engage and fully understand what's up with the people drawing this building. A good manager, my buddy Vito says, is nosy but not a micromanager. He or she annoys you with inquiries: how's it going? Any problems? Do you have what you need? Are you gonna be able to make the deadline? How's it going? How are the consultants? How does it look?

Sadly, Howie is more likely to be an occasional micromanager than a nosy manager. Because he used to be so good and so fast at CAD, he has very strict rules as to how he wants his drawings not just to be drawn, but how the files go together. With the advances in CAD since he stopped drawing and started managing five years ago, many of his rules make things harder or they're just obsolete. He insisted that we do the files a certain way on Wheatlands and just wouldn't listen to my explanations of why what he was asking was going to make things harder. When the meeting ended, the intern sitting with Howie and me and watching our heated debate like a tennis match asked me, "So, um, what are we gonna do?" I looked at him, cocked an eyebrow, and said, "He's never gonna open these drawings and work in them. We're gonna do it our way, the way that actually works and makes things easy." My intern grinned. We did it our way, and it all worked out, and Howie was none the wiser.

But I digress. The point is, the woman who usually would be stepping in on the PdT madness is enjoying her new bundle of joy at home, and the guy who should be stepping in is so used to his smaller projects running on autopilot that he's not putting his attention in the right places on this huge project.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Tagged, and I'm it!

The Wandering Author (my apologies, good sir, for not including a link to your blog here, as I've yet to figure that particular tool out) has tagged me with a meme asking for a blogging post on six weird habits or things one has. Well, let's see what I can share without getting into TMI....

  1. I never say "I'm sorry". Check that; I only say "I'm sorry" when I hear of news that someone has died or has a terminal disease. I once read a book on communication that discussed in part how meaningless that phrase has become. People use the phrase all the time for everything from apologizing when bumping into someone in a crowded store to asking for someone to repeat something you didn't hear to just hearing any kind of not-great news. When I hurt someone's feelings or make a faux pas, I apologize by saying "Please forgive me..." or "I so regret...". When I can't hear what someone said, I simply ask them if they'd mind repeating themselves since I couldn't hear well. If I hear anything that's run of the mill bad news, I empathize and ask if I can help. But in most cases, "I'm sorry" no longer works for me.
  2. I cannot stifle my sense of humor. It might not always come out on WAD, but I was for a time here in Denver a would-be stand-up comic and a performing member of an improv comedy troupe. I actually did some shows with the troupe, but I was only able to do ten minutes of material for my stand-up workshop classmates. Our teacher informed us that while you might get paid $50 for a 10-minute spot on stage, that only works out to about fitty cents an hour when you add up the time you spent writing those jokes. At the time, I already had an energy -intensive job that paid beans: it's called architecture. Having this habit means that Guy and I will pop off joke lines to each other in the middle of a fight. I interject one-liners into serious meetings without blinking. I even told jokes after my dad's funeral.
  3. Speaking of Dad, I still have the gloves and watch he was wearing when he died ten years ago. It's a Timex, and the last I checked, it was still running on Eastern Standard Time.
  4. I also own a leather bullwhip. I originally bought it to go with a dominatrix costume I wore one Halloween in grad school, but I've kept it around since then. Not sure why. I suppose I should have brought it to all the budget meetings we had on Wheatlands Hospital. Between the whip and my vinyl corset and pants, maybe we could have kept the skylights in....
  5. According to Guy, I jiggle/zigzag my jaw slightly in conversation. I don't even know I'm doing it. Guy says my teeth click slightly and my jaw just goes leftrightleft really quickly. I'll do it, and he'll point at my head and exclaim, "There it was again!" and I still don't remember doing it even though I just did it.
  6. If my hair has any length on it, I pick out a lock of hair and twirl and twist it incessantly. People ask me if I do it when I'm nervous, or thinking, or whatever. While my anxiety levels may increase how much I do it, I do it all the time. It's not so much that I twirl it if I'm sad or happy or angry. I've concluded that I do it when I'm awake.

I don't know that I have 6 friends online to tag for this, especially since WA already tagged Miss Kitty over at Educated and Poor. Other people that I would tag don't have blogs. So, I suppose I'd like to have people comment on my blog and share one odd thing about themselves. Anyone?

Trouble with a T, and that rhymes with P, and that stands for Pool

I've mentioned before how I love to run. I'm a running and walking fool. Every babysitter, nanny, and relative that ever took care of me has two recollections about me: I loved books, and I loved to run. Even when I've obviously pulled some muscle, agitated a ligament, twisted a joint, or just flat-out wounded one or both legs, I'll still at least go for a fast walk. Guy makes fun of me by putting his hands on his hips all sassy-like and saying in a high shrill voice, "My name's Mile High Pixie, and my leg hurts, so I'm gonna go for a run!" (My voice isn't as high as he makes it. He makes me sounds like the bus driver with the bird in her hair on South Park. However, my voice is as loud as hers.)

Last summer, after moths of aching joints and muscles earned while trying to run away the stress of Wheatlands, Guy suggested I start swimming in the pool in our condo building. I fought the suggestion for a long time, but once I started using the pool, I realized he'd been right all along. (He'll really enjoy reading that, I'm sure.) The pool in our condo is actually on the top floor of our 15-story building and is surrounded by a stucco wall on one side and glass walls on the other three sides. The water is heated in the winter, and there's a canvas roof the building manager pulls over it when it rains in the summer or is really cold in the winter. During the summer at 6am, though, when I work out, it was just me and the dawn breaking over east Denver and the occasional traffic chopper flying overhead. I found that I could get an amazing cardiovascular and strength workout and not be unbelievably sore all day after 45 minutes of activity. It also helped trim the last few pounds off me, and I looked and felt great. However, once the weather got cold again in the fall, I had to return to running. No biggie, right?

Well...yes and no. I wounded myself yet again in early January, and I couldn't even go back to swimming because the pool roof had been damaged, leaving the pool uncovered and chilly. To keep the heat in, the manager would put down a plastic sheet on the pool's surface. There are instructions on the glass door leading to our rooftop pool saying that only the manager is allowed to remove the pool cover to prevent damage.

Just this past Wednesday, I came up to the gym to clock a little time on the new elliptical machine (yay low impact!), and I realized that the pool roof had been repaired and was stretched over the pool. Big yay: while it's 25 outside at 6am in Denver right now, the roof and glass walls kept in enough heat rising off the heated pool to make it about 45 or 50 in the pool area with no wind...and the pool felt soooo warrrrrrrmmmmm.... I thought, "That's it; I'm swimming on Friday!"

So, yesterday, I came upstairs in my robe and bathing suit...and the roof is off. Er? Huh? Perhaps they were predicting snow for Friday and didn't want to risk damaging the roof again, but I didn't recall.... Well, I was already there, so off goes the robe, and let me say that 25 degree air at 5:30am in Denver is a tad uncomfy. But the pool was soooooo waarrrrrrrmmmm and the swim felt great. It felt so great that I decided to do it again this morning....

And the roof was off...and the plastic cover was down. And residents aren't allowed to remove it. And I was really looking forward to getting a swim in. And here I am in my robe with a Nalgene bottle of water and a towel over my shoulder and...oh, forget it. I stomped back downstairs and was surprisingly pissed about it for a long time. And obviously, I still am.

I'm pissed about it because I'm trying to take care of myself while also staying active, and swimming best does that. I think I'm even more pissed about it because of the randomness of the roof/no roof/plastic cover pattern. Why is it covered now? Is it because there's only part time help on the weekends and they don't want to be caught unawares in case it snows on Sunday, which it kinda sorta might? The building manager lives in our building, for crying out loud. Is it that big of a deal to come upstairs in the elevator and put the cover on and pull the canvas roof back? I fear that I suddenly sound like one of those hideous residents at Wide Lawns that poor Subservient Worker has to deal with, but I'm just frustrated. If I understood what the reasoning was behind the decision to cover or not to cover, I could better decide whether to lay out a bathing suit or running shoes for the next morning and not get my hopes up unreasonably.

Some days, working out is the only thing that goes well for me. A shipment of drywall is delayed out of Lincoln and Wheatlands gets behind schedule, Wanda does something crazy with the Pomme de Terre sheets, DA loses power and no one can work, we get lousy service at our favorite brunch spot when we go in to celebrate getting the bathroom painted...whatever. At least I ran 4.75 miles in 50 minutes today. My body still works. I've lost 25 pounds, even if it took me a little more than four years to do it. My blood pressure is normal again for the first time since 2001. Some days, that run, that yoga asana sequence, that set of bench presses is the only thing that goes right. And when not even that goes right, it makes me a cranky little Pixie. And then what? I ask you, O Lord of the Plastic Thingy Covering My Beloved Rooftop Pool, then what?

PS: I know I owe y'all a Detail of the Week. I'll double up next week.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Designing for Disaster

Wandering Author asked in the last round of comments:

"It was your mention of fireproofing to keep the columns from deforming in a fire that got me thinking. I'm sure you've heard some of the questions surrounding the three building collapses on 9/11. Do you have an opinion you don't mind airing?"

Well, WA, I have some knowledge to drop here indeed. First, I will acknowledge the existence of the conspiracy theory that the World Trade Center Towers were "helped" down with strategically-placed detonation charges placed the weekend before 9/11 by a demolition crew partially owned by a member of the Bush family so that the U.S. could attck the Middle East. However, since good intel on this is unavailable to me and the rest of the world, I can only comment on the evidence we do have, which is that the Towers fell due to physics.

Now, let me begin with commentary provided by WAD's resident aviation expert, former Army helicopter mechanic and almost-chopper pilot, Sgt. J.P. Sarge, now CAD Manager at Design Associates:

At the time the buildings were erected, no one conceived of a situation where anyone would *intentionally* fly an airplane into the building, let alone with the sole purpose of destroying the building. They *were* designed to withstand the impact of a Boeing 707, the largest passenger jet of the time, but they hadn't considered the resultant events that would follow. An impact, in and of itself, is relatively insignificant. Nevertheless, they hadn't planned on someone *intentionally* flying into the building.

Accidents are accidents, but this was no accident. But how would an intentional strike differ in terms of physics from an accident? The hijackers purposely picked the largest planes they could get their hands on, and ensured they were *fully* loaded with fuel for a trans-continental flight. In an accident, the plane, *more than likely* is *not* aimed at the center of the building.

The likelihood of the mass of the aircraft reaching the core is less significant in an accident. Also, by the alignment of the air traffic control routes among the three major airports in the area, it's highly unlikely a plane would intentionally cross Manhattan Island. Controllers would notify the pilot to alter course to avoid the buildings. So, in an accident, it is far more likely for the plane to clip the building, rather than plow into it. In such a case, the structure of the buildings was more than sufficient to withstand the impact and resulting fire.

What doomed the buildings was the huge amounts of burning jet fuel streaming down the elevator shafts. In an accident, a collision with the building would be most likely to occur when the plane was landing, not taking off or during transitional flight, so the quantity of fuel on board would be significantly less than what these planes had available. The interesting thing is that in a building of similar height built today, that core would almost certainly be super-high-strength concrete. Enough of the plane's inertia would've been lost during transition though the shell that anything that reached the core wouldn't have penetrated the core. So a lot less of the plane would've made it to the core than with the twin towers.

If you were to compare the destruction of the building using, say, a cruise missile, although much smaller
in size, the missile is designed to penetrate the shell, and then detonate in the core.
The terrorists didn't have such technology available, so they had to choose something of sufficient mass to penetrate the shell *and* core, and since they had no explosives available, they had to choose something with a sufficient quantity of flammable materials to generate the intended result.
A Boeing 767, fully loaded for a trans-continental flight (obviously)met those requirements. The plane itself never acutally detonated, it disintegrated, in the process, releasing highly flammable liquids, which were ignited by heat generated by the engines, the friction of the impact with the building, and the severed electrical systems within the building. And much of the fuel was atomized on impact, creating a highly explosive mist within the building envelope. What didn't atomize ran down through the core, spreading the "accellerant" through enough floors to affect the structural integrity.

Now then, now that we have the physics of things that burn, let's talk about some other factors that I believe contributed to the fall of Towers 1 and 2. Let's talk about building codes, shall we? In general, building codes are a pretty recent development in the construction industry. (So is the Americans With Disabilities Act, but that's another post.)

Building codes came about in earnest in the U.S. after the massive fire in the MGM Grand Casino and Hotel in Las Vegas, NV in 1980. Of all of the fatalities, the vast majority of them were in the hotel tower due to smoke inhalation, not from actually being burned to death (though it was a spectacular fireball indeed--it cleared a distance of two football fields in less than eight seconds and burned gamblers to a perfect crisp with their hands still clutching the levers on their slot machines). The mechanical and elevator shafts in the hotel tower channeled the smoke right up to each floor, thereby asphyxiating the hotel's guests on floors that the fireball never touched. Since then, the primary goal of building codes is to first save lives and allow people to safely exit the building; second, to save the structure so that the non-loadbearing elements can be rebuilt; and third, to save contents and possessions if possible. Sprinkler systems help do this, but it's a secondary line of defense. Structural integrity and egress (exit) paths are the first line of defense.

The World Trade Center was built in 1971-1972, eight years before building codes were in wide implementation and enforcement. Hence, I don't know that any spray-on fireproofing (an image of which is forthcoming in tomorrow's Detail of the Week) was applied to the structure. Without fireproofing, the immense heat of the fire could very easily have deformed the columns and allowed the building to collapse. Also, much of the Twin Towers' structure was along the exterior skin in order to free up the inside of the building for office space. When the exterior skin was ruptured by the plane, the building lost a great deal of its structural integrity. The main innards of the Towers, called the "core", which consists of the elevators, the stairs, toilets, and the mechanical and electrical shafts and rooms, take up the very center. See the photo below. (I know it's not easy to see, but I've marked where the stairs are in the plan.)

The WTC's tenants used these stairs as regular circulation instead of taking the elevators one or two floors. Given that due to the size of each floor, as many as 300 people could work on each floor at the same time, that's a lot of people to try to funnel down the stairs. Imagine trying to funnel 300 people per floor times dozens of floors down the stairs...while fully loaded firefighters were coming up the stairs. Then imagine some of the people coming down the stairs having to carry some of their fellow coworkers because the person gives out 30 floors down and still has another 20 or 30 to go to get to the street. Two normal people need at least 5'-0" of width to pass each other going in opposite directions, but let's add that one person is carrying a person while the person going in the opposite direction is wearing a full jacket, a 60-lb pack, an axe, and a breathing apparatus.

Need a little more width than 5'-0", don't you?

Also, elevators often shut down when there's a fire. They go to the bottom of their shafts and pop their doors open to show the firefighters that no one is trapped inside. However, in tall hospitals (like Pomme de Terre), at least one elevator will be operable in a fire so that staff can evacuate incapacitated patients if they're on the floor where the fire is located. It sounds like the Twin Towers could have used a few emergency-operating elevators. These same elevators can be used by firefighters to get up to the floor where the fire is burning. Perhaps the fighters couldn't use them though, because the planes had severed the power supply and shorted them out. I'm guessing about this part, don't know for sure.

Furthermore, human nature played a part in the disaster. Some tenants reported being told to go back in the building after the planes had been burning for a while because "everything was okay and the fire was under control". Many of us--surely all of us--were so shocked to see what was happening that a part of us just couldn't fathom it, couldn't accept it, and wanted everything to be okay. Let's face it, none of us were prepared for the immensity of 9/11, and we really had no plan to deal with it. So the tragedy of 9/11 was due to the condition of a purposeful air strike, an absence of code and fire safety compliance at the time of construction, and a lack of a plan to handle the humans leaving the building.

The design of the Twin Towers, plus the luck of the planes colliding so high up on the buildings (in the top quarter of the tower), allowed the floor slabs to pancake on top of each other and fall fairly cleanly onto each other. Imagine how much worse it could have been if they'd toppled over from the middle and dropped floors 55 through 110 onto neighboring buildings. Still frightening though, is that what fireproofing that was in the building was acheived through the use of asbestos, a carcinogen so potent that I was told as an intern if I so much as peeked into an asbestos-clad ceiling they'd have to evacuate the building. I've heard some reports that they did asbestos abatement on the towers in the 90s, but I have to wonder if some tiny friable fibers of 220 stories of asbestos are still floating around Lower Manhattan.

Okay, I acknowledge that this was a lot of info, and I'm sure other WAD readers out there will have something to add, contribute, or dispute. But Wandering Author asked me for an opinion, and given my extent of knowledge, that's what I have to say.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Delayed gratification is overrated.

After this latest painful deadline with Pomme de Terre, I went to Alex, my big boss. Alex is one of the owners of Design Associates and is licensed to practice in ten states. Each of the owners has their specialties in design, and Alex's is healthcare. I can't recall the last time he did anything else. Oh wait--our office did his house not too long ago. That was a nice pad, for sure. But other than that, he only does healthcare in our office, so I work for him.

"Any word on the Mendwell Center, Alex?" I asked him. He ran his hand through his salt-and-pepper, devil-may-care hair and sighed.

"The owners are still looking for a site," he replied. "I think they're close, but they just need a site. I'll call them today and see what's happening."


Wheatlands doesn't require more than about five to eight hours a week these days. Pomme de Terre is leaving me so wiped out physically and mentally every day that it feels like I've been riding around all day in the tumbler portion of a concrete truck. I spent today fixing a few departments, trying to find space for a few of the rooms that hadn't yet been given space. Space planning is the weirdest thing: a list of rooms and their square footages seems so easy to make fit in a given space, but it's a lot harder than it looks. Sometimes the list of spaces doesn't take into account the amount of space that a department needs to get around between the list of rooms. For example, most administrative areas only need hallways that are about 5'-0" to 6'-0" wide (depending on the number of rooms leading into the hall) to get between offices, but building codes require that hospitals have hallways and corridors that are no less than 8'-0" wide. That's a big-ass hallway, and it takes up more space than you'd think.

Then, there's structure to think about. In most houses, the exterior walls and a couple of interior walls support the roof and the floors above the ground, no problem. But in large buildings, like seven-story hospitals, steel or concrete columns are needed for support. Once the structure is in place, then one is required by code to spray fireproofing onto the columns to keep them from deforming from the heat in a big fire. Then, one has to cover the columns in studs and drywall to make them look pretty. THEN, one has to make sure that a person (or a person with a cart) can navigate around the column, or make sure that the column doesn't stick into a corridor or an exit passageway, or.... You get my drift. So once the structure is in place and the design conforms to all applicable codes, suddenly I can't get all of the rehab center's administrative offices in unless I make them all smaller than they asked for in their list of spaces (called a program). And that makes me a sad panda.

So, I guess it's more space planning tomorrow and waiting hopefully for MCRI to kick off. I'm trying to be patient, but it's hard to be that way when you're exhausted and annoyed.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Stupor Bowl

Guy and I have a tradition every year at Super Bowl time, which is to get ribs and baked beans from the barbeque shack (or is that barbecue shaque?) down the street and watch together, mostly critiquing the ads. Watching them doesn't make me want to buy a Chevy or a bottle of Sierra Mist, but they make me laugh. So, a few random thoughts on this Stupor Bowl Sunday:

  • I have such a low tolerance for football announcers. One of them said, "The rain is definitely having a little bit of an effect on this game." Wow! Definitely having a little bit of effect? Why not just say how unbelievably so-so something is? Or how compellingly okay it is?
  • Another line that made me laugh, spoken after yet another long Rex Grossman pass: "The Bears go downtown more than any other team in the NFL." Really? Must be why the Bears cheerleaders are smiling so widely.
  • Why is Prince wearing a headrag like he was just vacuuming and washing dishes before he whipped off his apron and ran out onto the field to do the halftime show?
  • Why is Prince doing a Foo Fighters song? What, he doesn't have enough well-known songs of his own for us Gen-X'ers to sing along with?
  • Know what this game's missing? John Madden reminding everyone just how important the quarterback is. (I know, I know, he's not employed by CBS....)
  • I know CSI is CBS' most popular show franchise, and I know the Super Bowl is in Miami tonight, but must I continually be subjected to David Caruso's overly-dramatic sunglasses-removal-intense-look combo in every single CSI: Miami clip? And why didn't Jade sink his career? Seriously!

Time for the second half.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Detail of the Week

In an attempt to edify as well as possibly amuse, WAD presents a Detail of the Week. Learn about the minutiae of architecture without actually finding out anything that you could share around the water cooler on Monday.

Below is a photo of an ADA sink panel, which you'd likely find in a medical facility:

Why, I bet you're asking, didn't the architect just put cabinet doors below the sink? Good question. Here's the deal: in order for a sink to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), the sink cannot be higher than 2'-10" above the floor, and a wheelchair must be able to slide underneath the counter so the person can reach the sink controls and put their hands under the water stream.

Also, many (though not all) medical facilities are inspected and accredited by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (JCAHO, pronounced "jay-ko" in da biz). Accreditation by JCAHO assures that a health facility has high standards and is safe and good and right and wonderful. It also makes their insurance rates lower, so I hear. one of JCAHO's rules is that nothing can be stored underneath a sink because it might be toxic, or worse, toxic and forgotten about. Storage space in a medical facility is of the utmost importance, so if you give them cabinet doors under a sink and say "don't put anything there," you can bet as soon as that damned architect is out of the room, they're gonna chuck some extra antibacterial soap and paper towels and Formula 409 and a box of lollipops for the kids under there. Or something.

So, no cabinet doors. But you still need something to hide the pipes under there, right? Cuz it's gotta be perrty. Hence...the panel. But just how does one get that panel on there? Hmm?

Oh-ho-ho! There's one of these latches at the top and bottom of the panel on the left and right sides. The hooks on the panel slides neatly onto the little brackets inside the cabinet. Now, it hides the pipes from view, protects the knees of anyone in a wheelchair, and provides no real storage space for would-be storage addicts.

In other news, Wanda took it upon herself to print the whole Pomme de Terre set at 4pm today. I told her I'd print my sheets as well as Leslie's but she wanted to batch publish them. This means that her computer was probably locked up for an hour while the software printed every single sheet. The rest of the Pomme de Terre team showed their solidarity by leaving at 4:05. I can't say I blame them. I hope all of them have a good weekend--that whole group has spent way too much time in the office this week.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Ah, white-knuckle driving in Kansas....

Like driving in snow? How about blowing snow? I'll see your blowing snow and raise you big, heavy flakes and evening rush hour traffic. I'll call.

Wheatlands was a beautiful, wonderful place to behold today, despite my long drive into Wheatlands, Kansas.* The building roof and exterior (what we call "core and shell" in da biz) were finished in the fall, so they're actually putting in drywall, carpet, and casework (you might call casework "cabinetry and countertops"), and they've even gotten some painting done. It's so refreshing to see a building getting built. It's also heartwarming and satisfying to me when I look around and realize that every wall, every door, every cabinet and countertop in this building...I drew it. And I look at every carpet, every plastic laminate on the counters and drawers, every painted wall, and I know that Susanna picked them out herself. She could see in her head what i couldn't see until I walked into the boardroom and saw the warm tans and greys contrasted to the multiflecked carpet...just gorgeous. Even my contractors, Stan* and Kenny*, think the finishes are beautiful. It's just so refreshing to see the drawings I bled over for eight months become real and useful. I love watching staff members walk through with Stan and me, watching their eyes light up, watching them taptaptaptap another's arm and gush over the wood nurse station and light olive accent walls. Just beautiful. It almost makes up for driving three and a half hours in snow.


(Note: My hands are wearing out from asterisks. Unless I say otherwise, all names and certain identifying details have been changed.)