Saturday, March 31, 2007

More food and space for thought

Mile High Guy, my husband and intrepid sports fan, showed me this article a few days ago:

Apparently, the Cleveland Cavaliers' wunderkind star LeBron James is building a 35,000+ square foot house that will hold a two-story walk-in closet, a bowling alley, a theater, a casino, and a barber shop. Allow me to give you some perspective: my Wheatlands Hospital has two operating rooms, tweleve patient rooms, a full radiology department, a full physical therapy deparment, an emergency department, and a 20-exam room clinic in 67,000 square feet. The property on which he is building this already had an 11-bedroom house on it.

Think: what the hell is a single man in his twenties going to do with all that space? Seriously! His plan, the article says, is to become the world's first billionaire athlete. Did anyone tell him you don't do that by spending shitloads of cash on an oversized Disneyland of a house?

Now, granted that this is McMansionism to the extreme. McMansions, for the uninitiated, are super-large houses for not that many people (usually) built inside upper-crust gated communities. usually, McMansions in the same development are strikingly similar. I'm betting there are a great deal of McMansions over in the housing development at which Wide Lawns Subservient Worker is employed. McMansion developments offend many architect, including me, for a couple of reasons, the first of which being that they take up way too many resources for too few people. It's harmful to the earth, for sure.

But the bigger problem is this. The gated, insular communities that go along with McMansions deny people a right to being part of public life. Why should Mr. and Mrs. Finkley care about how run-down their local community center, YMCA, public pool, or downtown street are if they never have to go there? Why should they? They can do all their socializing at their gated community's pool, tennis club, raquetball court, etc. And why should they worry about the condition or safety of the local mall if they don't have to take their kids there to go to the arcade or food court? Nowadays, it appears that the trend is to give kids not their own room but their own suite. A recent article in the Denver Post ( ) says that in the past thirty years, due to increased home size (1,695 sf in 1974 up to 2,400+ now ) plus decreased family size (3.1 peeps in 1974 down to 2.4 now) means that more square footage is going to fewer kids. This is the same problem as McMansions on a smaller scale: if kids never have to leave their bedroom/bathroom/office/play area with mini-fridge suite in order to mix and mingle with the family, how do they ever make a connection with these people who gave them life? How do the parents know?

Part of being in a family--and in a civilization--is coming into regular contact with one another. We know that a particular intersection is dangerous because we drive through it every Saturday on the way home from yoga or the grocery store. So, when the local city council has a meeting about improving our roads and making them safer, we go, stand up, and speak about how many wrecks and near-wrecks we've seen at Park Hill and Holly. By seeing the condition of our downtown, we know that the one cent per grocery purchase tax is needed to revitalize businesses and relandscape to provide on-street parking for the merchants. And so it goes. Being out in the world allows us to know what the hell is going on with each other and to figure out how to improve our lives and our surroundings.

Ah, but what of LeBron James buildng a mall in his Super-Sized McMansion? I can hear some of you now: "Look, Pixie, he's famous. He needs to be able to hang out and do stuff with his friends without the public bugging him for autographs." That's all good and well, say I, but let me point you to another basketball star, one to which LeBron is often compared: Michael Jordan. Jordan is arguably the most influential sports star of the past twenty-five years. He has incredible wealth, amazing accomplishments in basketball on the court, and a wildly successful marketing campaign that will leave him with financial security even if he decides to stop managing the NBA franchise of the Washington Wizards. He leaves also a legacy of reinvigorating the NBA with young boys striving to play basektball and be "just like Mike."


Jordan has, for some reason, chosen to remain silent on social issues and, though he has been involved with a couple of charitable organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club and the United Negro College Fund, he is hardly much of a spokesperson. (I was only able to find the above info on his charitable activities buried in a long litany of his accomplishments on Jordan's considerable influence on helping youth, advancing race relations, speaking up for the environment or any other social cause has gone unused. It would appear that Jordan's main interest is...Jordan.

Which brings me back to Lebron James. I hate to see James build his behemoth house not just for its unnecessary size and scope, but most of all because it removes a very important face and influence from the public sphere and good. Think with me for a moment: even if James decides to rent out a bowling alley for the afternoon for a private party, he still has to drive or sit in a limo and be at least somewhat exposed to the city streets around him, to see daily life, to see single moms struggle to catch a bus with two children in tow, to see a disturbed homeless man pushing a cart and talking to himself, to see just how dangerous that intersection is at Park Hill and Holly. And if he goes into public and gets mobbed for autographs? He should take a second and thank his lucky stars that he's in a position to be of so much influence, to say to a kid as he signs a jersey, "So how's school? Well, keep studyin', man!"

The damage is done, and his house will be done any day now, so in the words of Austin Powers, "that train has sailed." Here's what I hope: I hope that LeBron takes some of that square footage and periodically turns it into what Michael Jackson's Neverland shoulda been. I hope he brings some at-risk kids to the house and takes them bowling and hoops shooting and how to play blackjack--wait, maybe not blackjack, maybe no-limit Texas Hold 'Em instead. I hope he treats them to a nice dinner at his long, white-clothed table and teaches them to use silverware correctly and how to order at a nice restaurant and shake hands and say please and thank you and make eye contact and carry on a conversation without profanity or slang. I hope he uses that space to help others. If he will not go to the public sphere, I hope he brings the public sphere to himself. Because no one or two or even twelve people can use a 35,000 square-foot house. That size of building must be used for the betterment of society. If you're going to kill that many trees to feed your ego, it's the least you can do.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Detail of the Week: Expand your horizons...and your roof.

Buildings are big, some of them really big. When a building is big enough, it needs expansion joints to allow the building to expand when it gets really warm and contract when it gets really cold. It sounds like not much of a deal, perhaps, but when you have two 35-foot long steel beams each trying to expand one inch into each other, finishes can crack or warp or worse, the structure can deflect and cause structural failure. I found some photos here recently of an expansion joint system in the roof of a one-story building with a concrete structure and precast concrete exterior.

Here's a photo of the expansion joint coming up to the exterior wall where two precast concrete panels come together.

The expansion joint itself is a product that the architect specifies and the contractor buys and installs. They come in a pretty wide range of shapes and sizes, depending on where you want to put it and how wide the expansion joint is (the more movement that's expected, the wider the joint--this joint is about 2 inches wide). This joint is in the open on a roof, so it looks like a thick rubber half-of-a-tube with a piece on each side that the contractor attaches to wood blocking on top of metal studs. The wood blocking/metal studs are the box underneath the expansion joint bump. The contractor then puts a rubber-polymer roofing material over it (well call it an EPDM sheet in da biz), seals it down with an adhesive, and covers all edges and gaps with a sealant. An expansion joint has to run from one exterior wall to another exterior wall. This one goes to a space between two exterior panels and all the way down to the ground on the other side. You can see the tan-orange sealant on top of the panel gap. On the other side, there's a piece of spongy material adhered into the gap between the panels going down the face of the building.

When a building has a couple of wings or big chunks coming together, the expansion joints have to intersect. This is not always perty. However, this contractor did a really nice job of bringing the three wings of this building together.

This expansion joint also runs to a clearstory, which is the name for a part of a roof that pops up above the rest to get some natural light into a building. You see it hit right behind the column on the end of the clearstory. See the gap in the yellow sheathing on the column and the sheathing on the soffit (the horizontal parts of the roof)? The expansion joint is wrapping up around the column and running along the high side of this angled roof.

How can this be? Doesn't the roof structure have to be connected to some beams or something? Well, sure. The roof joists are attached firmly to the beams on the low side of the clearstory. However, because the expansion joint runs along the high side of this clearstory, the joists sit on Teflon pads. One pad is attached to the joist, and the other is attached to the beam holding it up.

The Teflon pads are the thin light-colored wafers between the rusty-looking steel plates. The upside-down U-shaped piece of steel on top allows the joists to sit at an angle.

Here's the thing about expansion joints: pretty much finish needs an expansion joint. The brick face on a building needs an expansion joint at least every 200 feet (if I recall correctly), and even drywall needs very small, pretty expansion joints, called control joints, in wide expanses of walls.

The little lines in that drywall are control joints. Here, they're being used for aesthetics, to separate different colors in this decorative soffit. The control joint is a little piece of V-shaped plastic about 1/4-of-an-inch wide with little flanges that the drywall contractor muds into the drywall on each side of the joint. It allows the drywall to expand and contract so it doesn't crack and look skanky.

Have I expanded your horizons with my expansion joints? Good. Now go have a good weekend.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Random bits and ranting

Lots of tiny bits to say today, but nothing I can make a real post out of. So here goes:
  • I think Wanda is on medication. I mean, I know Howie gave her a shape-up-or-ship-out chat, but for someone with rage issues, she's been really calm here lately. I have to wonder about it. I often find that folks with rage issues can only sorta tamp their urges down for a while before they blow up again. However, she's just been...placid. She had a brief but tranquil chat with Sarge this morning, and when she's come to my desk to ask about locating an elevator in the patient tower, she's been polite and amenable to moving it around a bit to help out my space planning. Weird. If/when Jaqueline comes back, I wonder if that'll set her off again.
  • The doctors who will own the Mendwell Center for the Reality Impaired (MCRI) have changed the name to the Mendwell Center for the Reality Challenged (MCRC). They've about wrapped up buying a site, but now they need to hire a company to manage the facility and find them staff and a CEO. They had a guy who was gonna do it, but he didn't have any experience starting up a psych hospital.
  • In other MCRC news, I asked Howie to pleasepleaseplease put Jimmy Ray on my team for MCRC so that we could smoothly go to Revit, which Alex wants to do. Howie agreed and said that staffing should work out for us to work on this together, which is good. Not so good is that Jimmy Ray's wife has been offered a position with her company in another city--a huge promotion, and if they talk it over and accept it, then Jimmy Ray's gone in three months. And so is all my disco music.
  • The main partner over Pomme de Terre promised the owner that all patient rooms would have 4'-0" clear on each side and the end of the bed. This was news to all of us--news we coulda used about two months ago when we were trying to plan out the structure for this building. Here's the thing: the AIA Healthcare Guidelines only require 3'-0" at the foot of the bed. When Leslie tried to explain this to the partner more than once, he shouted, "I don't care! We're giving them 4 feet!" We've become a thorn in the structural engineer's side on PdT because we keep changing the shape of this building because of this partner's whims.
  • I've discovered something new about handicapped accessibility that's about to make my head explode. Turns out that ANSI and ADAAG are mostly similar, but in some places one is more stringent than the other. Here's the thing: building codes, such as the Uniform Building Code (UBC) and the International Building Code (IBC) direct you to follow ANSI A117.1. But the law mandates that you follow ADAAG. Hence, you have to follow both. Meanwhile, if your project receives and funding from the federal government to get built, you also have to follow UFAS (I'm blanking on what the letter mean), which can be stricter than both ADAAG and ANSI. Somebody get me some Bailey's.
  • I've also discovered that I cannot remember a child's name if the child is under two years old.
  • I've also discovered that no day is so bad that it cannot be cured with a big styrofoam cup of sweet tea from Chick-Fil-A.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Meet the critters

I've mentioned my cats before, but I realized this weekend that I've never posted any pix of them. Unlike Miss Kitty over at Educated & Poor, I only have two. (And alas, I have no chickens.) Meet Maddy and Hazel.

Maddy is 13.25 lbs and 9 years old this month. She was the biggest kitten in her litter of five, born at the neighbor's across the street from my mom's farmhouse. She is a treatwhore and a snugglehog and snores when she sleeps in the crook of my arm at night. She also gets in my face when my alarm goes off. However, a few pets on the head resets her snoze button.

Hazel (often known around here as Lulu) only clocks in at 8.6 pounds and will be 9 years old in May. A shy little thing even now, she was born to a mostly-feral mama kitty who rolled up to Mom's farmhouse and made herself at home. At only about 8-12 weeks old, Hazel chased a mouse into a hand dug well on Mom's property and managed to land on a red clay ledge between the well's concrete cistern/shell and the hand-dug wall, where she yowled and languished for a few days. Mom finally figured out where the little shit was, put a can of tuna in a small empty bucket, and wheeled it down to her ledge on a rope. The next morning, she pulled up a bucket with a small, weak, tuna-juice-covered kitten with a big tummy. She's been indoors ever since. However, all the meowing she did during that time broke her meower, and until we moved in with Papa (that's Guy) in 2001, dinnertime sounded like this:

Pixie: Who wants crunchies?

Maddy: [loud and proud] Mrrooowww!

Hazel: [muffled] Eeeooww.

I was going to take more pictures for this post, but it appears that our digital camera has gone to that great Circuit City in the sky, leaving us with a weird purplish test pattern instead of an image when we turn it on. It's 4 years old and needs to be replaced. Guess I'll have to use one of the office's digital cameras when I go up to Yuma next week (which I hate doing because you can never find them). Oh well, more cuteness to come when the Design Associates gossip mill is low again....

Monday, March 26, 2007

Scale Figures Gone Wild 2: Still Too Hot for CDs

I had a great weekend that included a massage, a great haircut, and a little retail therapy (damn, my new Ann Taylor brown knit dress makes me look like Rita Hayworth!). Evidently, I'm not the only one that had a wacky weekend. Look what showed up in my interior elevations when I opened my drawings this morning:

Lookin' mighty comfy there, pal. You do realize that you're in the women's restroom, right? That's why there's a sanitary napkin disposal next to you.

Man, it's sad when people show up at the radiology tech work desk and insist on a copy of their CT films right then and there at knifepoint.

Auugh! Take what you want and get out! Just leave the sports page!

Happy Monday, y'all.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Food--and space--for thought

Check out this link to Tumbleweed Tiny Houses:

Jay Shafer, the mastermind behind Tumbleweed, designs houses that you can buy as plans or as a kit that you assemble on site. Ranging from 150 sf to 600 sf, his little houses make the most efficient use of space. While one might think of these houses as a weekend getaway or a part time cottage, bear in mind that Shafer himself lives in one of his creations that's only 100 sf. (One of his house designs is a 40 sf trailer.)

His work inspires me. When I see these gems of house plans, it makes me think of architect and author of The Not So Big House, Sarah Susanka. In her book, she described the fantastic house plans that she and her designer husband shopped around to get a loan to build it. Designed for the way they truly lived, it really made the best of every square foot and put more cost into good design and details than into gross square footage. Their bank turned them down for a loan. The reason? Their house plans showed no formal dining room. This was explained to Susanka when she spoke to the bank manager. But like a really good architect, she got the manager to talk about his own house, which had him eventually confessing that every party his family had managed to wind up in the kitchen around the breakfast bar while the large, formal dining room was simply a place to hold food and beverages. Same thing for meals with the family: either in front of the TV or in the breakfast nook by the kitchen. Upon realizing his confession, the bank manager approved Susanka's construction loan.

In many housing lot developments in the Rocky Mountains, especially those located near ski resorts, each lot purchase comes with a minimum required square footage of any domicile built on the lot. Translation: even if your family could spend a week in the mountains in 600 sf, you might be required to build at least twice that amount of space. Now, granted there's some method to this madness, as homes of a certain size tend to cost a certain amount and would then keep the whole development's property values up. And granted, if you can afford a nice piece of mountain real estate, you can afford to build a dry-stack stone-and-timber McMansion with high gables and a high-six to low-seven-figure price tag. But at the same time, this rule requires that people use more natural resources than necessary in order to build structures in which they spend less than a quarter of their time.

So, some things to think about this weekend as you stroll around your own domicile:
  • Think about how much time you spend in what rooms in your house. How much smaller could your own home be if, say, a kitchenette was moved into your den?
  • Do you need more space or just less stuff?
  • The average home in Tokyo, Japan in 2003 was 710 sf. 30% of those homes are detached housing (meaning not an apartment). Most of the industrialized world lives in smaller homes that the U.S. does. How would you and your family live in that much space?
  • Measure the room in your home in which you spend most of your time. Multiply width by length for the area in square feet. You already spend most of your time in that size space. What would make that room work better? A futon instead of a sofa? Shelves above head height for seasonal decorations or things you don't use more often than once a month?

Friday, March 23, 2007

Detail of the Week: a primer on ADA

I've decided to take the middle road today on the DotW and attempt to explain a bit about the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which mandates that spaces and equipment must be designed so that most people with most disabilities can use public spaces without needing help from a staff member or having a helper with them. The ADA also has a book of how the spaces and equipment should be designed, called the ADA Accessibility Guidelines (ADAAG). Architects also use the American National Standards Institute's space configurations (ANSI A117.1) because they are sometimes stricter than ADAAG. Recent revisions to ADAAG have made ADAAG more stringent, so we're back to using them.

The ADA requires that a public facility make a real attempt to comply. There are requirements for how many toilets, desks, phones, etc. must comply with their regulations. For example, a facility with private sleeping rooms, like a hotel or hospital, is often allowed to make only one in ten rooms comply with ADAAG. (However, if your project receives government funds to be built, then all rooms must comply.)

As a matter of fact, let's take a primary example of ADAAG space requirements for a lavatory and a toilet. Now, I should note that in architecture, we have sinks and lavatories. A sink is a stainless steel or aluminum basin that sits in a countertop. A lavatory is made of china, porcelain, or solid surface material that sits either in a countertop or can be mounted directly to a wall. So, we're dealing today with a basic lavatory and toilet in one room for use by one person alone. Let's look first at the requirements for a toilet:

These requirements are pretty extensive. The plan shows how much space needs to be around the toilet, free from obstructions like walls, columns, pipes, anything. It also shows how the toilet need to be mounted, how high off the floor and how far away from the side wall. The elevation also show to locate the grab bars on the wall. Now let's look at the lavatory:

Here again we see requirements for how big and how small the lavatory can be and how much clear space is needed around and underneath the lavatory. Lavatories with exposed drain pipes below (like the one in the elevation above) require insulation on them to protect knees from being bumped or even scalded if really hot water goes down the pipes.
Now, when you put these two fixtures in a room together, there are additional requirements. A room needs to have a 30 inch by 48 inch space available for a wheelchair to maneuver into so the person can close the door behind them. Also, when the door is closed, the room needs to have a circle that's 60 inches in diameter in the floor that doesn't intersect the lavatory or the toilet so the wheelchair can turn completely around. These other requirements add even more space to a room. The hardest thing about ADAAG is that because maneuvering a wheelchair takes a lot of space, suddenly a hall that could suffice at 4'-0" wide now has to be at least 5'-0" wide. When this happens, suddenly we have a little less space that we thought we had to fit in a toilet room, three offices, and a copy alcove. Suddenly, the offices can only be 100 square feet instead of 110 square feet because the hall needs to be a little wider. This is often tough to explain to the users of a space. They say, "We don't get it; these bathrooms are huge! Here's what our existing bathrooms in our old hospital look like:"

"See? Our present toilet rooms are only 5 feet 1 inch wide and 6 feet 6 inches deep, and they're fine!"

"Yes," we respond, "but your hospital was built before 1980, which is when the ADA was passed. Before then, you didn't have to hire handicapped people--they often couldn't find work because people wouldn't hire 'cripples'. But after the ADA was passed, you couldn't refuse to hire the person because of their incapacity, and you actually have to make provisions for them to work at your business. One of those provisions is making the can big enough to get a wheelchair in and around, so your new toilets have to look like this, at minimum:"
And then they say, "Oh." And we say, "Yeah, oh. And trust us, you're gonna like having a bathroom you can actually turn around and change clothes in."

ADA is a big deal these days in our litigious culture. There are ADA watchdog groups that go around to new buildings and measure clearances and will then file complaints against the facility if the clearances are even 1/4 of an inch too small. A toilet room can be off by 1/4 of an inch by a) construction tolerances (things get lost in the building of the walls) or b) because the design of the walls didn't account for the tile on them. The dimensions between the walls is to the face of the drywall, but tile adds another 1/4" to 1/2" to the face of the drywall. So, there you go--little things add up. I know of an architect whose contractor had to move all the patient room toilets over one inch after a code official came in and found that the toilets were 1'-5" off the wall instead of 1'-6". Crazy, y'all.

Know what's really freaky? After doing healthcare for six and a half years, I can draw these sketches from memory.

All images from the 2006 ADAAG website:

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Back from the wilds of Wheatlands

My landscape architect, Dash, and I went out to Wheatlands today, so at least I had some good company to ride three and a half hours each way. Dash originally went to architecture school and did what I do now for a while before going back to school to become a landscape architect. This is a good thing for me because Dash better understands what I'm trying to do indoors and with the exterior of the building, so he can make the landscape become almost an exterior "room" for the building. He has impeccable taste in clothes, furniture, plants, and catty comments. He's a hoot, to say the least.

My building is gorgeous, but y'all already knew that. Punchlist time is coming up for all of April, which will make me a busy little pixie for the next two months. Punchlist is the process of (usually) the architect walking through the building and making notes on the condition of the building: dings in the walls, incomplete wall base, paint scratched off of a door frame, plastic laminate not fully adhered to the countertop, insufficient water pressure in toilets or sinks, cabinet doors not closing completely or hanging unevenly when closed, etc. We walk room by room and check everything, putting a colored sitcker or piece of blue painting/masking tape by things that need to be corrected. From the looks of the building today, my punchlists in April and early May should be pretty short. That building is in fantastic shape.

I'm vascillating between two different Details of the Week tomorrow. One has political implications but would also be more interesting. I'll have to think it over and decide Friday evening which to do....

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Speaking of pharmaceuticals, I could use some myself...

...because I've been piddling around with my pharmacy at Wheatlands all day.

There is a primary set of regulations that dictate how pharmacies should be run and how chemicals in them should be processed called USP 797. There are three levels of pharmacies, classified depending on the hazardousness or the specialness of the chemicals that get mixed in them: low-risk CSP, medium-risk CSP, and high-risk CSP. For this entire project, we've been designing Wheatlands' pharmacy as a low-risk CSP pharmacy. They mix pretty tame stuff and only use it in-house (it's not a pharmacy like the ones at which you fill your prescriptions, like a CVS or Walgreens). The head of nursing showed the floor plan of the pharmacy to a pharmacist in a nearby larger town and had him review it with his understanding of USP 797. He said it looked good to him.

Well, some guy who's supplying the fume hood for the chemotherapy chemical mixing room mentioned USP 797 again and told the head of nursing about a few things she better make sure she had in the pharmacy, such as seamless flooring and HEPA filters. The design team leaps into the air and shouts, "What?! We thought we did that already!" So, I call this guy and he sends me to a website where I get the 100+ page PDF of USP 797 (which I've been trying to find for this whole project). I ask him about flooring and light fixtures, and he says:

"Oh, I don't really do much with the building. I'm more concerned with the processes in the pharmacy, like where and how they handle the chemicals."

Well, thanks, Scooter Bob. Why the fuck did you mention finishes if you don't actually look at them? Anyway, the design reviews the standards, clarified a few of our finishes, confirmed that we had all the right filters and fixtures, and went on our way. As I was wrapping up this issue, I emailed the hospital and informed them that all was well, we comply with the USP 797 regulations for a low-risk CSP pharmacy.

We do have a low-risk pharmacy, right?

The head of nursing confirmed this for us.

Then I got an email on Friday. The head of nursing had been idly talking to her pharmacist in the other town over and mentioned that she was mixing a "banana bag" (an IV bag that includes vitamins and electrolytes, often given to severely dehydrated patients or alcoholics in the ED), and the pharmacist suddenly says, "Oh, banana bags? Those make you have a medium-risk CSP pharmacy."


The design team goes into another tailspin. Everyone tears open their copies of the USP 797 again to discover that we now need an extra sink in the ante area/buffer room, which means we have to sawcut the slab (with the seamless flooring already installed) to install another waste line. Worse, my mechanical engineer found fishy language in USP 797 saying that the buffer room "should" provide 40 feet per minute airflow in that room. This room is only 140 square feet total--40 fpm is going to turn that room into a wind tunnel. "Pixie, they'll get so annoyed with their papers and gowns blowing around in that room that they'll just shut off the equipment and never use it!" my engineer nearly wept into the phone.

I call the head of nursing and get a name and phone number for the state pharmacy board. I call and talk to a guy who's trying to be helpful, but God help him he works for the government and can only say so much because he only knows so much. "So what about this 40 fpm airflow in this buffer room?" I asked him. "We're already supplying more air than required for a low-risk CSP, but that's gonna turn that room into a wind tunnel. Do we have to do it? The code says 'should', not 'shall', which would be more definitive." And he says:

"We really don't so much with the building, ma'am. We're more concerned with the processes in the pharmacy, like wher and how they handle the chemicals."

Wow. Deja poo: I feel like I've heard this shit before.

So, he says for the purposes of the Kansas state pharmacy board, he says that as long as the airflow in the room is the same as what this one clinical requirement says on this one page of the USP 797, they're fine. So, I call my engineer back, who stil feels weird about the whole thing, so I give him the pharmacy board guy's name and number.

Later this evening at home, Guy asks me how was my day. Now, comedian Chris Rock says that the question "How was your day?" is a 45-minute conversation for a woman. This is also true for me. I'm venting about the pharmacy and how we've gotta design to this ridiculous and unclear code and how this pharmacy guy said that they hadn't even adopted USP 797 yet but would be later this year--

"Bullshit!" crowed Guy. "When I did the addition to Sunflower Medical Center out there three years ago, the state board said they were gonna pass USP 797 'later that year.' They still haven't! It's fucking impossible for state agencies to adopt new codes and regs because the state legislature has to pass the law for them and they're too busy arguing over funding education and banning gay marriage!"

I put down the spoon I was using to stir my pasta alfredo and called my engineer from home. "Jerry, have you called the pharmacy board guy yet?"
He sighed. "No, it's on my list."
"When you call, dude, don't push him too hard on the 40 fpm thing. They've been saying they were gonna pass USP 797 for over three years now, so we don't wanna back this guy into a corner and make him tell us to follow the letter of the code."
"Which will just back us into a corner."
"No sweat, Pixie. I'll poke him with a very dull stick tomorrow."
"Thank you sir."
"I hear something sizzling."
"Shit! My pasta!"
I"m hanging up now, Pix."

Monday, March 19, 2007

My love/hate relationship with Frank Gehry

Okay, here's the deal. What can you say about a man whose own house looks like this:

Mies van der Rohe, champion of the International Style of architecture, once said, “Less is more.” His predecessor, Phillip Johnson, said, “Less is a bore.” Frank Gehry, post-modern architect and starchitect of the 21st century, said, “Fuck it. Give me another shot of Jager and pass me the mouse.”*

Gehry (born in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 1929 and now a naturalized American citizen) likes to do some wild shit. He uses software originally designed for the aerospace industry to design his buildings, which are hard to describe and I bet even harder to draw and still harder to build.

This is the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain. This disasterpiece really put him on the map as arguably the most forward-thinking designer of our recent history. It got to the point where one in ten visitors to Bilbao was there to see the building—not the art in it, but the building itself. Pollution and traffic has also greatly worsened in Bilbao due to the faithful flocking to see this building, his initial tribute to taking software to the next level.

Here are a few photos of his $400 million lab building he designed (and Bill and Melinda Gates paid for) on the campus of MIT. I snapped several photos of it when Guy and I visited Boston in the fall of 2006.

Usually, an architect describes a building by showing its four main elevations (or exterior sides): north, south, east, and west. Sometimes, they have to also draw elevations that are tucked in or at an angle to these four cardinal directions. Now, the thing about a Gehry building is that you cannot easily describe it with four, or even eight exterior elevations. You have to draw about twenty elevations, and you can only view them by taking a hit of acid and listening to Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon while using the drawing set as a flip book.

What disturbs me about Gehry is what disturbs me about most starchitects these days: I really think he’s weird for weird’s sake. The swooping, bizarre, curvilinear forms that really took everyone’s breath away in Bilbao are now a motif, a logo, a signature. But not a signature on a finely handcrafted piece of art, but a signature on a receipt from the grocery store. It’s the same set of swoops and loops and points and squiggles that you can look at and go, “Oh, yeah, that’s Frank’s. Throw it in the trash can; looks like he already crumpled it up for you.” He uses the software because he can, cuz it’s there, and sometimes that’s just not a good enough reason anymore.

I find his buildings ignorant of place and climate. In an earlier comment post, frequent commenter Faded noted that the titanium panels on one of his buildings had to be sanded because they were shining sunlight into an office building, thereby blinding its occupants and rendering part of their building unusable. I find his buildings derivative of his Bilbao disasterpiece, like he just copies and pastes chunks of those drawings into all his other drawings.


I also have to give Gehry credit for taking a leap of faith and courage and using really advanced software. Our office is still bitching back and forth about going from AutoCAD/ADT to Revit, and for the love of Sheena Easton, we still have some people in our office using lines instead of wall objects. So I have to at least respect him for being willing to experiment and learn how to use new software. And along those same lines, Gehry uses his software fully to help the contractor build his building, which I know contractors appreciate.

I also have to hand it to Gehry: he knows his reputation and isn’t afraid to make fun of himself. In an episode of The Simpsons, Marge sends him a letter asking him to design the new Springfield Concert Hall. He dismisses the idea, crumples the letter, and throws it on the ground. He then looks down at the crumpled form and gasps, “Frank Gehry, you’re a genius!” and builds the Springfield Concert Hall to look exactly like Marge’s crumpled letter. Several other jokes about his architecture and persona were made in the episode, and he even did his own voice for the show. More recently, he designed the trophy for the World Cup of Hockey, which was revealed to pretty startled and lukewarm reviews to the press. During the awkward silence that followed the unveiling, Gehry said, “I can tell you don’t like it,” and chuckled. (He offered to redesign it, but the World Cup of Hockey powers-that-be passed, if I recall.)

Furthermore, he’s conscious of pop culture and has made attempts to make it a little better. He designed a digital watch that reads time in the way that you say it aloud. So when the time is 1:50, the watch face reads “10 til 2”. He also designed jewelry for Tiffany, which makes me happy cuz the Tiffany website and the Godiva website are like porn to me. Now, if he’d design a dark chocolate Walt Disney Performance Hall, I’d forgive him all his trespasses.

So, I hate Gehry because he’s overly-artsy and contrived of late, but I also like his humility. Overall, I can’t really complain too much. When I was growing up, I’d tell people that I wanted to be an architect, and they’d all say the same thing: “Oh, you’re gonna be a little Frank Lloyd Wright!” God, I hope not, I’d think. Wright was a philandering snob who thought he was God and died broke. But when architects become part of everyday culture, as Gehry has done, he increases the public’s ability to understand and even critique architecture. And that, after all, is not a bad thing.

*I don't actually know that Gehry drinks heavy when he designs. I'm just saying....

Friday, March 16, 2007

Detail of the Week: Mechanical Magnetism

One of the benefits of designing hospitals is that by learning what goes into a hospital, it demystifies the equipment and processes. Especially the radiology, or imaging, department--understanding how the equipment works makes them less scary. Historically, the MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is the freakiest. That's the machine Linda Blair is stuck in in The Exorcist; it's the machine that goes BAM-BAM-BAM-BAM! while she has a needle in her neck and they're trying to figure out if there's something wrong with her brain.

Well, MRIs (or MRs, as Wheatlands' head of radiology calls them) have come a long way since 1972. They boom faster but quieter now, and as they pass repeatedly over you, they make different sounds. What MRs do is align all the cells in your body in the same direction and use that alignment to take pictures of you in slices. The magnet is always on, so there's a perimeter into which no ferrous (iron-containing) objects can be taken. Here's a plan of an MR:

An MR's magnet strength is measured in teslas (as in Nikolai Tesla, who discovered radio frequencies and essentially created radios). Two kinds of MRs are made: 1.5T MRs and 3.0T MRs. This is a 1.5 T MR; usually, 3.0T MRs are used in teaching facilities. (They're not that useful because the software hasn't caught up to them yet.) You can kinda see light outlines with labels of 70 Gauss out to 1 Gauss around the MR. The power of a magnetic field is measured in gauss (pronounced gowss), and these lines show how strong the magentic field is. The RF (radiofrequency) shielding in the walls protects objects outside from the super-badass magnet inside this room (as opposed to the lead shielding in a CT scan or X-ray room, which protects people outside from the radiation inside). See, people have actually died from ferrous items flying in an MR room. Several years ago, a child was undergoing an MRI when a nurse not familiar with MRI procedures brought a portable oxygen tank into the room. The tank flew across the room, hit the child in the head, and killed the child. Lawsuits ensued and better design ideas and clinical procedures followed.

This is a special door with RF shielding in it. It's four feet wide so you can roll a stretcher in it (an aluminum stretcher, of course) and it's really heavy because of all the shielding in it. It also opens out of the room instead of into the MR room. This is in case of a quench. See, the magnet that runs all the time needs to stay cool, so there are two gases in the compartment with the magnet that stay compressed to keep it cool. (When the gases uncompress, which happens regularly, a pump recompresses them. If you ever hear an MR machine "chirping", it's that pump.) Very very rarely, something terrible happens and those gases uncompress all at once. If they do, a pipe running from the magnet compartment to outside the building funnels the now-solidified ice crystals (at nearly absolute zero, which is -273 degrees F, if I recall correctly) of the gases at a couple hundred miles an hour outside to a safe, clear area. However, this explosion of gases (called a quench) also makes the air pressure in the MR room really high. If the door opens into the room, you can't get in to get the patient, and they're trapped in the room with a million-dollar piece of equipment that's kinda having a meltdown. But if the door opens out like this one, you can get in and get the person out.

This is looking at the RF shielding in the wall before they finished the door jamb. The wide, silver things on each side are metal studs holding up the wall, and the reddish-copper curvy thing in the middle is, well, copper shielding. To the right of the copper is a layer of another shielding material, the composition of which escapes me right now.

Panels with copper and other shielding materials are laid on the floor and ceiling, again to protect the magent from iron in the soil, rebar in the concrete floor slab, etc.

Here's the inside of the MR room, shielding in place. The lines you see over the silverish inside of the shielding are aluminum studs, to which the contractor will affix drywall. Sheet vinyl flooring will be installed over the floor shielding. An acoustical lay-in ceiling will be hung to cover the shielding above.

Okay, one more photo and I'll leave you alone for the weekend. The above is pretty blurry, since there were no indoor ceiling lights in the building at the time. This is the window from the control room into the MR room. The reflection is partially caused by a screen in the window, which looks like a really dense window screen. Truth be known, the glass in the window is only to protect the screen. It provides no magnetic protection whatsoever. Cool, huh?

Edited: Faithful commenter and engineer BaxterWatch reminded me that absolute zero is actually -273 Kelvin, which is about -460 degrees F. The temperature of the cryogen from an MR quench is about -240 degrees F. Still pretty cold, but not as cold as absolute zero. What makes me a bigger dork, that I know what abosulte zero is, or that I'd correct myself about its actual value?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Scale Figures Gone Wild: Too Hot for CDs

Architects often draw scale figures in our elevations (two-dimensional flat pictures of a wall with cabinets and/or equipment) so that the size of the room can be understood by the contractor as well as the owner. Recently, one of Elliot's ne'er-do-well pals from architecture school sent him some scale figures that were, shall we say, inappropriate for one's drawings.

Naturally, we Fearsome Foursome (Derek, Elliot, Jimmy Ray, and me) began populating our elevations with these figures and making PDFs of them. A few for your perusal:

Exhibit A: It's so sad when a simple check-in procedure at the radiology reception desk breaks out into fisticuffs.

Exhibit B: To paraphrase Chris Tucker and Ice Cube, "It's Friday, we're sittin' around in front of the hospital, ain't got shit to do..."

Exhibit C: Oops, looks like someone only made it as far as the emergency department's ambulance garage before they had a definite emergency...

Well, what can I say? It was one of those days again at Design Associates.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Review the VA's medical facilities? No! Do tell!

I found this on today, which is a login-only website with information for healthcare folks (administrators, doctors, developers, architects, and that ilk). I’ve copied it here for your infotainment.

VA secretary orders mandatory quality review of all facilities 03/13/2007

The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has issued a directive ordering its 1,400 hospitals and clinics to conduct a “full and immediate review” of facility environments, the Associated Press reports. The order, which was issued last week by VA Secretary Jim Nicholson in an internal memorandum to the department’s medical center directors,comes just weeks after reports surfaced of “roach-infested conditions and shoddy outpatient care” at Washington D.C.-based Walter Reed Army Medical Center. In the memorandum, Nicholson said that the disclosure had “compelled him to redouble efforts to improve the physical environment” at the VA’s outpatient and medical facilities. He mandates that medical center and network directors conduct and supervise the reviews and says that “negative responses are required.” The reports are due by March 14.

In the wake of the revelations about Walter Reed, Nicholson also has increased post-traumatic stress disorder treatment resources, taken action to expedite claims for veterans whoserved in Iraq and Afghanistan, and announced plans to launch an “aggressive hiring program” to hire 500 new
benefits coordinators by June; however, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) has called for Nicholson’s ouster in favor of someone “whose first priority [is] the veterans and not the politics surrounding the agency” (Yen, AP/Washington Post, 3/13).

Really? A full and “immediate” review? And it only took weeks? Not days, but weeks! Well, for government work, I guess that’s pretty fast.

The sort of thing we all saw at Walter Reed angers me for two reasons. The first is obvious: we send young men and women to fight a war and this is the best we can do to treat our wounded? What, we’re only really proud of the ones that don’t step on IEDs or something? Second, any private facility (such as MCRI, my future project), or at least any nonprofit facility in the civilian sector (such as Wheatlands) would have been whipped into shape months if not years ago. Why? Because there’s a lot of inspections going on. Nonmilitary healthcare facilities have to be inspected by first the health department and the state (if not also a city) department of healthcare facilities, and these facilities are inspected periodically after they open. Not only that, but if your facility takes Medicare and Medicaid, then CMS (Center for Medicare Services) will inspect your ass. And if your facility is a Level I trauma center, it gets even more inspections. And if your facility undergoes JCAHO inspection in order to lower its insurance rates, it gets inspected a metric shitload. On top of all this, if a civilian saw a mold-stained wall or plaster peeling in their hospital room, you bet your sweet ass someone would be hauled into court over it.

The point is, someone outside of the VA should be inspecting its hospitals. Just because we pay our soldiers shit doesn’t mean we get to treat them that way when they’re in the hospital.

Monday, March 12, 2007

CPR for my PR

With everyone and their mom in Taterville this week, I had the actual "luxury" today of working on my PR for Wheatlands. Before I begin, now is as good a time as any to review a bit of architectural lingo and explain how we do projects.

The architect draws a set of drawings that show the contractor what to make and for the most part how to make it: what size, what materials, so on. All the engineers throw their drawings in this stack too: structural, mechanical, plumbing, and electrical, as well as (depending on the project) the medical equipment consultant's stuff, the food service stuff, the laundry stuff, and the low voltage/technology stuff. This set that's originally given to the contractor is call the construction documents, or CDs. Sometimes, the design team can't get everything in the CDs before they go out, or they suddenly realize there are things that need clarification, so before the bidding is complete (if you have construction companies bidding on the CDs), the design team will put out an additional set of drawings called the addendum. After construction starts, there are names for the changes made. First and foremost, the contractor sends a request for information, or an RFI, to the architect (or other member of design team) when something isn't clear, or if the documents conflict with themselves or with the existing conditions if you're remodeling. Sometimes, when I realize I forgot something or need to change something, I ask the contractor to send me an RFI and what to say in it--this makes them look smart and allows me to mostly painlessly fix my error. When the owner asks that something major be changed, deleted, or added, or if the design team discovers that they need to change the documents in a major way because they forgot something or messed something up, the architect issues a proposal request, or a PR, that includes drawings and/or documents that tell the contractor how to make the change, addition, or deletion. Now, just because the architect issues a PR doesn't mean it's gonna get built. The contractor gets a price for the PR, then issues a change order, or CO, to the owner, and the owner can decide if they wanna go through with it (if it's something that's a want, not a need).

Okay, so back to the title of today's post. For the past three weeks, I've been working on a PR for an ambulance enclosure and canopy for Wheatlands. It was in the original CDs, but we called it an alternate at the time in case they had the cash to build it later. Well, they still don't have the cash to build it with only 90 days left before they open for business, but the hospital has asked the design team to make the drawings for it so that when they do have the money, they can just git 'er done, as it were. My mechanical and electrical engineers have been toiling away on this thing for a couple of weeks, but I haven't been able to do jack squat on it because I've been all over Pomme de Terre like a handsy prom date last week. Finally, I had a chance to work on it again today, only to nearly pour a little Bailey's in my coffee. I looked at my drawings and called my structural engineer, Danny.

"Danny Minero," he said into his phone.
"Danny, our ambulance barn is gonna be taller than the goddamn building," I sighed.
"Oh, punkin, what seems to be the problem?" he cooed.
Danny and I have worked together on every job but one that I've worked on in the past 6.5 years at DA. He's gone from being a lowly engineer to part owner of his company, Minero Gibb Associates. And he likes to dance. We get along famously. Moreover, he's about Guy's age and they also get along quite well.
I then had to explain to Danny that the ambulance doors have to be twelve feet high, and if the doors coil above the doorway instead of running along tracks above the ambulance parallel to the ground, that's another 1.5 feet, which makes us 13'-6" above the ground, and then he has a beam running across the barn over the door for lateral load-
"--which would have been a W12 beam, but if I've got to attach the weight of a 12-foot by 12-foot garage door to it, then I've gotta make it a W14--" he says.
"--which is another 14 inches on top of my 13'-6" high door, which is now 14'-8"--" I interrupted.
"--and if we're gonna use a minimum slope of 2:12 on this roof--"
"--that puts the top of my roof on this wide-ass ambulance garage--"
"--that no one can afford--"
"--yes, that no one can afford, at 18'-2". And the top of the wall on this side of the building is 18'-0"."


"Pixie, our ambulance barn is gonna be taller than our goddamn building."
I sighed again. "Thanks, Perry Mason."
So Danny has to go back and see if we can fit the beam in the wall or fit the door in the wall or something, but I don't know what. I'll just call him again tomorrow morning and hope for the best. This PR is due on Friday.

Well, at least mechanical and electrical are doing well. Someone has to.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

God help me, I think I wanna teach.

It seems like a good idea, though I'm sure I can hear Miss Kitty warning me like an academic Cassandra from across the miles, "noooooo!", but sometimes I think I want to teach architecture in college. What would I teach?, I have to ask myself. Studio is the obvious answer, but it's one from which I shy away. Despite the fact that it's the most time intensive and in some ways most important class you take in college, it's not necessarily the one I was best at. Indeed, I was functional in Studio; one A, one C, and every other quarter and semester I took it in six years, I earned a B or B+. My strengths in Studio lay in space planning, buildability, meeting a program, and having all the required drawings and models ready when pin-up time came. Design, however, was not my strong suit. My stuff was a bit on the prosaic side. However, I wish at times I could go back and tell my sad little self at the time not to worry--the strengths that earned me scant Bs in college would earn me accolades and promotions and respect in the workplace. Pixie can make you a hospital, y'all. Or, as my big boss Alex once supposedly said in a partners and associates meeting, "Pixie rocks!"

Nay, I think I'd be better suited to teach a Materials & Methods course, which is the year-long or more class where the kids learn how buildings go together. I'd be even better suited perhaps to teach a more focused design studio in which the kids understand how spaces go together. But most of all, my soul cries out to teach architectural psychology--the hows and whys of the ways a space can make you feel. Architect Richard Neutra used to proclaim that he could design a house such that any couple that moved into it would be divorced in a month, and I don't doubt it. Frank Lloyd Wright understood more so that the Internationalists (Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe, and later Phillip Johnson) did that the built environment deeply affected the mind and soul of a person. We've only in the last 25-30 years or so began to understand ergonomics, but when will we really understand and take to heart how a building affects those who use it as well as those who see it?

I take my interiors to heart, perhaps too much. When I was wroking on Wheatlands, my coworker Derek joined the design team in order to do the exterior of the building. "Thank God you are," I told him. "I forgot this building needed an outside." It's not that I don't care how a building looks from the outside, but...well, given that I'm a limited energy system, I kinda don't. I care more how the inside spaces are arranged, will be used, will be perceived. Perception is reality, Howie once said to me, and I believe it. It doesn't matter if you gave someone the most expensive carpet available; if it looks cheap and reminds them of a cheap carpet, they'll be unhappy. If you gave someone the best facility with a great design, if they aren't happy with it or feel like they got left out of that design process, then they'll never be able to accept the "reality" of what you've given them.

What I'd love to do with those students early on is hold up a copy of Domus or Architectural Record in one hand and a copy of Hustler in the other and say, "As far as I'm concerned, these magazines are the same thing: they're porn. They're purely for your masturbatory enjoyment."

I'd then throw both magazines in a trash can and proclaim, "You're not designing your masterpiece, your building; it's their building. It's your client's building. And while you'll have to step in occasionally and save them from themselves, you must never forget that when it's built, you can walk away, but they have to live in what you make them. So make it right."

Then I'd burn the contents of the trash can and move on to the first lesson: learn to listen. Seek first to understand, then to be understood. It's the hallmark of any good professional, regardless of one's field.

Class dismissed.

Friday, March 9, 2007

If everything's an emergency, then nothing is.

I was so exhausted at the end of today that I called the pizza delivery place before I left work so that it would be almost ready by the time I got home. My little plan worked, too, by the way--the delivery guy called from our condo building's lobby less than ten minutes after we walked through our own door. And Lawd, did I need a break.

The morning was spent frantically trying to get redlines done so we could print this afternoon. Susanna, Leslie, and Howie will be on a plane early Monday morning heading back to Taterville and Pomme de Terre for another round of user group meetings. See, architects print out their drawings and mark them up, usually with a red pen, noting things that need to be fixed or making notes of the changes the owners want. Hence, we call these redlines. However, I've had a hard time finishing the redlines from the last round of meetings at PdT, because everytime I'm nearly done, I have to go put out a fire on Wheatlands and someone makes more changes to my drawings on PdT while I'm off working on Wheatlands. The past few weeks have been a neverending battle to finish the redlines I was assigned. I originally designed the ground floor of the new tower as well as the renovated parts of the existing building, so I get to do the redlines for it as well.

So, this morning, I'm trying to do the last remaining redlines on my plans, and Howie lumps a new task on me to be done before the end of the day. Then Thurston asks me if I've talked to the food service consultant and seen the plan he sent (no, I haven't, just give me that plan in your hand and I'll draw it into my CAD plan), then he runs off to scan it--no, he'll make a copy--well, would I rather him scan it or copy it ? (I'd rather you hand me the fucking sheet of paper in your hand right now and I'll draw the goddamned thing.) Then he goes off to copy it. (Jesus God, just hand it to me, Scooter Bob.) Then Leslie comes over to announce for the fifteenth time that she's leaving at one and Susanna will be bringing all the plans to the airport and here's a list of things that need doing and here's why (honey, I love you and you're a great architect and I know you only have a couple of tests on the ARE to go, but I can't get anything done if you stand here and keep giving me unnecessary details) and she has to leave at 1pm but here's a list of what else needs to be done.

I've finally had enough and Sarge talks me into going a few blocks away for lunch. I abandon the salad I brought and run out the door before anyone can stop me. I suppose I shoulda stayed and worked through lunch, but Shorty is fresh ourt of give-a-damn. When every day spent on this project is a fire drill, then I no longer have the room in my head to process. Not only that, but this project has had me so busy I've neglected my own project (you know, the one that's three months away from being done?) and have drawings that are overdue to my consultants. I would have had some of those things done this afternoon, but I spent the afternoon doing more of the same. Combine this free-for-all with a frustrating search for drawings that printed to the plotter on the wrong floor of our office which involved me looking for my drawings and Susanna looking for me to tell me she'd found the drawings, and she and I were both ready for a margarita. We spent the last hour of the day marking up the overall plans with colored markers to show which departments were where and singing lines from the musical "Chicago," which I suddenly can't stop singing.

Also, because I was so busy this afternoon, I didn't have time to put together a kick-ass Detail of the Week (I had to beat the pizza guy home, okay?), so I promise you architectural enlightenment and infotainment on Monday, okay? Okay.

In better news, though, our building's HOA finally got the roof on the pool and I had the most wonderful swim this morning. We're looking forward to a pretty quiet weekend, so I'm gonna go enjoy it. Holla.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Worn out, but my building looks nice.

I spent six and a half hours roundtrip in a car with my mechanical engineer going to and from Wheatlands, which for the most part was good. My building looks so good, y'all, I can't even stand it.

Here's the deal: it takes a long time to build a building, especially a hospital. Design Associates got the Wheatlands job in the summer of 2004, when we started helping them find a site. I started working on the project in the fall of 2005, at which point Howie and I met continually with the departments of the hospital to figure out how the hospital should look and how the plan should be laid out. We completed the documents on the exterior and structure in the spring of 2006, and the contractor started building it. Documents for the interior was finished in early summer 2006, and that construction began shortly thereafter. This building has been a long time coming. It takes so long to get to this point, and I FINALLY get to see my drawings come to life.

It occurred to me as I was walking through the building today that I drew every single piece of casework in that building. That's seven 30" by 42" sheets...30 walls of cabinets and shelves and drawers and doors per sheet. I drew every room in the building...68,000 square feet of doors, walls, and windows...a label on each wall telling them how to build it...a label on each of about 200 doors telling them what the door looks like, how big the window in it is, if it's rated for fire, if it has closers or smoke seals or is controlled by a push-button or electric eye...every ceiling and light...every chair.... Just about everything in that building, I either drew or had to amend a fair amount when changes were made.

Yes, we architects drink. But sometimes, we drink champagne.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

...and now for a nice story about my sister.

It was a nice, quiet day today. A few meetings with Howie and the partner in charge of Pomme de Terre, whom we shall call Bosley, and lots of quiet drawing was all I did. Hence, I'm in a mellow mood and would like to share a good story about my sister and fellow blogger, Miss Kitty. This story does not deal with talking in her sleep or kicking me, but rather it's about her generosity.

Now, bear in mind that Miss Kitty is tough. Despite the fact that I used to outweigh her by nearly twenty pounds, and these days I'm all muscle, she can still throw me off of whatever surface I wrestle her on. If I try to fart on her on her bed, body-slam her on a sofa, whatever: doesn't matter. Two flips of her size 6 1/2 feet and my supposedly-strong ass goes a-flying. But she is also a very thoughtful person. At least she tries to aim her younger-sister-shaped projectile towards another soft surface to land on.

Case in point: my visit home for Christmas. Kitty and I took a couple of great shopping trips, one of which included a trip to Small Town Mall to buy some decent fitting jeans for yours truly. On the way to the dressing room, Kitty, Mom, and I walked past the shoe section of a local department store. Kitty and I locked onto the same shoes: shiny, high-heeled with a little platform, round toe, utterly sassifistic. "Ooooooooh!" we both chorused.
"In harmony," quipped Mom. She finally saw them. "Oooooh! If my back was better, I'd wear those in a heartbeat!"
We were short on time, and as any woman knows, shoe shopping takes time as well as patience. Hence, we decided to return later that week to check out those shoes, perchance to purchase them and take them home and look eternally c ute in them.

Alas, our shopping trip took us to a larger town and we never made it back to Small Town Mall for the shoes. Oh, readers, they were not just shoes, they were the Cutest Shoes Ever. After I returned to Denver, I recalled the brand, so I checked every website I could for them: Zappos, Amazon, eBay, even Nordstrom's and Macy's. All for naught. The only site that had them were a website for the department store in the mall, and they only had sizes 8 through 10. I wear a 6, a wee, pesky 6. I was a bit crestfallen, I have to admit. I knew they'd be the Cutest Shoes ever on me, but I would never know.


A week after Christmas, Kitty calls me from Georgia at work.
"Hi, this is Pixie," I said into my office phone, not even looking at the Caller ID.
"Pix, it's Kit," Miss Kitty said excitedly. "I'm at Small Town Mall trying on our shoes, and they have a 6. Do you still want a pair?"
"Bitch! I've been thinking about those shoes for a week!" I hissed loudly, jumping out of my Herman Miller desk chair. Howie, who still sat next to me at the time, looked at me with a bit of alarm, then tried to act like he didn't notice his trusty intern acting a damn fool over some shoes.
"Okay," said Kitty. "Let's see, a 7 is too loose on my heels--"
"Your feet are narrow anyway," I said. "Try a 6 1/2."
There we were, 1,500 miles apart, trying on shoes and laughing our asses off.
"How do they feel when you walk?" I inquired.
"Not bad, not bad...not too bad," she replied.
"Try walking on VCT."
"What the hell's a VCT?"
"It's that 12-inch tiled, hard, plasticy-flecked flooring in the walkways in the store. It's a ubiquitous commercial flooring material. You do know what ubiquitous means, right?"
"Yes, doofus. I've read a lot of books in my day, and not all of them were coloring books."
"Yeah, yeah, go walk on the VCT."
"Hang, okay. They're pretty good on the VCT too."
"Fuckin' A. Get a bitch a pair and the check is in the mail."

Another week later, I get a package in the mail, return address "Miss Kitty's House of Tasteful Ladies' Clothing and Accessories." Inside were a few goodies, a pair of the Cutest Shoes Ever, and a note saying "You don't owe me anything for these. Merry Late Xmas!"

This is one of a billion reasons I love my sister.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Architects: not as intellectual as you think

Many out there get the impression that architects are erudite intellectuals in constant pursuit of avant-garde design and brilliant discourse with one another and maybe, if they so deign, the public. They imagine that we sit around in our black turtlenecks and little black eyeglasses with tiny cups of espresso and discuss deconstructivist philosophy while we use words like, well, "erudite."

Wrong. (w)Rong with a capital R.

Granted, we're pretty intelligent. You have to have at least a modicum of intelligence if you can look at two-dimensional drawings and assemble them mentally and envision a three-dimensional space and suddenly know that the soffit over the nurse station is going to hit the door frame. However, this does not preclude us from having conversations like the one we had Friday afternoon.

Our office is mostly open. Only conference rooms are fully enclosed. Desks are located in rows that butt up against a wall that's about 3'-6" high. It's high enough that you can get a little privacy for most conversations, but you'll duck into a conference room if you need to call your doctor or parole officer. What this means usually, though, is that four or five people will get drawn into a silly conversation that gets sillier the more people you throw in. On my side of the wall, I sit between Derek, who's in the process of taking the ARE, and Clarence, who's been licensed for about six years and runs his own projects. Just over the wall from me is Jimmy Ray, an intern for about four or five years who's just getting his licensing paperwork started, and over the wall from Derek is Elliot, who is in the process of taking the ARE as well. I sit by some great people. Derek, Jimmy Ray, and Elliot are about my age and Clarence is in his mid-thirties. Derek really knows his stuff with exterior building systems and is great for checking a detail, and he also has a lovely subtle sense of humor. Clarence can provide great advice at any stage in a project and is a bit on the geeky side; he's the most unlikely to say something bizarre or funny, but when he gets going, he's hilarious. Jimmy Ray is a 3D modeling genius and looks like a redneck from Arkansas but is the most likely to tip a drag queen with a five-dollar bill in his teeth. (He's just really secure in who and what he is and has the widest collection of disco music I've ever seen.) Elliot is a great reality check on projects as well, and we're quite the Mutt and Jeff. Elliot is 6'-6" tall, and I clock in at barely 5'-0" tall. When Elliot holds out his arm, I can walk clean under it. Even wearing heels.

Oh, and Jimmy Ray sits on one side of Elliot, and Howie sits on the other side. When I stand up, I can see Howie's face and get his attention. If he's not on the phone, that is.

Anyway, Derek had to leave early on Friday, just before Sarge strolled up to Jimmy Ray's computer and saw some paperwork on his desk. Hence, I blame Sarge for starting all this:

Sarge: J.R., you finally getting around to filing with NCARB?
Jimmy Ray: Yeah, and I just sent off my shit to AIA. I'm finally an Associate AIA member. Whoo.
Pixie: [standing up so she can actually be seen over the wall] Oh, yeah? Well, I just got my certificate saying that I'm a full AIA member!
Clarence: (not looking up form his computer) Yeah, and your dues jump from $150 a year to $650. Good thing the office pays for it.

Elliot: What? That's bullshit! Kinda takes the shine off your new AIA certificate, duddn't it, Pixie?
Pixie: Yeah, this certificate and four bucks gets me a latte at Starbucks.
Jimmy Ray: How'd you go from associate to full AIA? Cuz you got licensed?
Pixie: Yep. Still haven't gotten my architect's stamp yet.
Clarence: (turning around from his computer) Why should you? I was gonna get my stamp, but the state laws say that if you use your stamp, you have to have liability insurance in case you fuck up something you stamp. I don't need that kind of hassle.
Pixie: I was just gonna use it to make my Christmas cards.
Elliot: Can you be sued if you just stamp a postcard with your stamp?
Clarence: If someone tries to build something off of it, then yeah.
Sarge: Ewok upstairs said he was gonna get his and stamp his ass with it.
Jimmy Ray: Eeuuw. That hairy bastard would put an architect's stamp on his ass?
Pixie: Well, we don't have to worry about anyone building anything from those plans.
[all laugh]
Pixie: Marco said he used his stamp to stamp an entire roll of toilet paper.
Clem: Toilet paper?!
Jimmy Ray: Why, so he can wipe his ass with his own acheivements?
Sarge: Well, then you'd have to use waterproof ink so it wouldn't smear.
Elliot: Or you'd have to wipe again to get the ink off.
Clarence: [turned back to his computer monitor] Not with my toilet paper. I use that recycled stuff. Damn, that paper's rough.
[all but Clarence laugh]
Sarge: So Clarence, you take exfoliation to the next level, huh?
Clarence: Seriously, I mean, have you ever used recycled paper TP for a while and then used some soft name-brand stuff? You're like, "God, this is a Rolls Royce on my ass."
[group cracks up again]
Sarge: [unable to speak, holding sides and laughing]!
Clarence: I mean, I'm really takin' one for the team just to save a tree, though it feels like I'm wiping with one sometimes....
Pixie: There are very few things Guy will buy name brand; toilet paper is one of them. He gets that super-nice Cottonelle with Aloe and Vitamin E. I saw it and said, "Jesus! Aloe and Vitamin E belong in my moisturizer, not on your ass!"
Elliot: Save the cash, Pix! Just rub toilet paper on your face!
Jimmy Ray: Man, I bet Guy's ass is nice and smooth.
[everyone does a double-take at Jimmy Ray]
Jimmy Ray: I'm just saying!
Sarge: [still laughing] Why would Guy's ass be smooth? What, does he shave and moisturize?
Pixie: Oh, please! I can't get him to shave his back! How could I get him to shave his ass?!
[group dissolves into laughter; Howie returns to his desk from a meeting]
Howie: [big smile] Hey, everybody! What's so funny?
[group looks at each other, collapses into laughter again]
Sarge: [walking away from the group, shaking head] Some sick, sick people work for you, Howie....

Friday, March 2, 2007

Detail of the Week: When Good Drawings Go Bad

Well, not so much the drawings, perhaps, as the contractors reading the drawings incorrectly with big-time consequences. Generally, when a contractor reads a drawing and isn't sure what's being represented or think he or she is reading it incorrectly, the contractor will call the architect or ask the question in a Request For Information, or an RFI. My present contractor on Wheatlands is really good about this. Mark calls and asks me the question, then we work through it, then he issues an RFI to confirm our decision. Interestingly, this saves us time overall because we both worked through the solution instead of me issuing him a solution that might still not work or might cause more problems than it solves.

However...sometimes it doesn't occur to the contractor to ask. They assume their reading is correct and do something totally unintended. Sometiems these errors are huge, and sometimes, they're silly, like our first detail. This was on a project of a former colleague of Sarge's. We often note details in a plan by putting a dashed circle or rectangle around the detail and note the sheet and detail number off to the side and connect the detail and sheet number to the dashed circle with a line called a leader line. This sort of detail is shown on the right. However, the contractor interpreted this as the edge of the top step and built it as shown on the left. As the architect commented to Sarge, "They built the fucking leader line."Guy passed this around his office, and one of his colleagues noted that the stair as built violates code. Because of this, as well as because they didn't build it as the architect drew it, the architect would be completely in his right to tell the contractor to tear this out and build it correctly. Building codes require that the height of any step (called a riser) be of a minimum height, and this stair likely doesn't meet that. Look at the plan; only three stairs (four risers) are shown, but the contractor had to do the math to change the height of each riser in order to make what he thought was the extra riser but was actually the leader line between the detail and sheet number and the rectangle around the detail.

Below is another detail on a project a friend of mine worked on several years ago. This is a drywall soffit in a hallway. You can see the lines that go from the wall to the edge of the curved soffit; those are control joints, which allow large expanses of drywall to expand and contract with heat. But see the line running longways down the soffit?

That line is actually a grid line. A grid line is an imaginary line that runs through the center of the structural columns and is used not only to locate the columns and beams but is also used to help dimension other things in the floor plans and ceiling plans. So, the outer edge of the curve of this soffit was dimensioned off this gridline. However, the contractor read this in reverse--he thought that the architect was trying to show an architectural reveal in the underside of the soffit dimensioned off the edge of the soffit. While this doesn't violate any codes, it just looks doofy. it's the only soffit in the hall with this line in it. "They built the grid line in, Pixie!" my friend sighed. "It looks different from everything else on the plan, but they read it like it was a reveal! What the hell?"

I'll have something more amusing tomorrow, but believe me, when we passed these details around our office, we howled with laughter.

I know, I know...we're total archinerds....