Tuesday, June 24, 2008

A good question/quandary

WAD commenter Amy B (whom I think is an architect on the East Coast? Correct me if I'm wrong, sista) made the observation that Mikhail asking for just an interview and tour of a firm even if they're not hiring is good self-marketing. On the one hand, I'm there. It's good to learn about other firms, and it's good to give a firm a positive face and name that they can call on when things get popping again. Also, as Amy B observed, maybe Mikhail will be relaxed since the pressure's off, and he may make an even better impression, which will bode well when they need to hire again.

At the same time, I wonder: isn't that just one more person calling and bugging a firm in a shitty economy? Firms all over Denver and the Front Range are laying folks off, especially interns. Mikhail told me that lots of his friends from college are getting laid off. And I'm not surprised, really; interns are easy to replace, no offense. There's a lot of them coming out of school, and they don't all stay in the profession. Architecture schools start with a class of about 100 kids and whittle it down to about 40 or 50, if they're lucky. And the profession does the same thing. So, I wonder if Mikhail calls on a firm in this economy, will they see him as bugging them?

Maybe it's the woman in me that feels like any attempt at contacting others is "bothering" them. Just this week, I was trying to put together a few more outlines for my next few Intern 101 seminars on how we get business, and I forwarded them to our new head of marketing, Veronica, and our only woman partner at DA, Audrey. Both Veronica and Audrey gave me a lot of good advice on ideas and things to cover in the seminars and offered to help, but I guess I didn't fully understand what "help" meant. After I emailed my outlines, Veronica came by my desk and asked if I was planning to do the presentations myself.

I said, "Well, it'd be better if someone else spoke, like you or Alex or Howie or Audrey, but I'm willing to do it if no one's schedule allows." She finally got it out of me that I hadn't asked anyone else to help because a) I was trying to get my thoughts together, and b) I didn't want to add more to others' workload. Veronica's usually stern look softened a bit. "Pixie, I said I'd help you, perhaps I wasn't very clear. But I agreed to help you with this," she said. Just then, Audrey walked up and said, "Perfect! You two are here! Hey, why don't we all go to lunch this week and brainstorm how to do the next two or three Intern 101 seminars?"

Holy shitsky. Did a partner just ask me to lunch?

So, after a couple of morning meetings, we three women are off to lunch to discuss the path of the next few seminars. And I could have had this done and put together already if I'd gathered my courage to just ask people to help me. Alas, I was hesitant because I was afraid of being a burden. However, as Kellye said when I related the story to him, he said, "You know, you can't be responsible for other people's schedules. Just ask and let them be responsible for their schedule."

This is all stuff I know. I just forget sometimes and get all chickenshit.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Looking for work in all the wrong places

Recently, I've been helping a former Design Associates employee, Mikhail, get his cover letter and resume in shape for looking for jobs. Looking for jobs in this economy is hard, but especially in my field it can be brutal for interns with only a couple years' experience. Simply put and with all due respect, interns are pretty easy to come by. Now, good interns? Those are harder to find. Mikhail has enthusiasm, drive, initiative...and not a lot of good experience. I mean, he had some good experiences, but he kept getting paired with bad managers, folks who either didn't want to or just weren't able to give him the teaching and directing he needed. So, when things got slow, he was gone from DA.

I had to help him clean up his resume and cover letter, mostly of my own initiative. I don't think our youth have been taught how to really put one of these together. First of all, he's barely in his mid-twenties, and he has a two page resume. Um, no. Unless you've been to the moon, cured cancer, and caught Saddam Hussein, you shouldn't have a two-page resume when you're 25. I gave his some tips on how to edit his pre-DA experience so that it would all fit and be concise and interesting/eye-catching.

Next, I had to clean up his cover letter. In its one paragraph, he tells the prospective client what he's looking for: experience in yadda yadda so on and so forth. Again, umm, no. In a shitty economy, you are not calling the shots, they are. You have to tell them how you can help them, why they should hire you over all the other schmoes sending them letters. Be direct and confident, but again, you're selling your services, not buying a place to get experience (even though that's what you do).

Finally, I had to clarify for him both on the phone and in my return email to him that you never, never, never work for free. In his cover letter, he asked to come tour an office even if the company wasn't hiring, but I'm of the opinion that you're only sending your resume to firms that have posted somewhere that they're looking for help. Otherwise, don't bug them. Furthermore, don't list in your email, cover letter, anywhere that you're willing to work for free for a while. If being unemployed is driving you that crazy, then get a job at Starbucks or REI or something. But don't ever, ever, ever give away your skills for free to a for-profit firm. It's not just about how you went to school for a long-ass time to do what you're doing, but it's also about the culture of non-payment and underpayment that inhabits architecture. We have a long history of undercharging for our services, and it does no one in our profession any good to play the starving artist card. It's bullshit. Get paid to do what you do. If the prostitutes on Colfax Avenue won't do it for free, neither should you.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

My love/hate relationship with Brad Pitt

Nothing bugs me like famous people trying to co-opt my coolness. Take Brad Pitt. He grew up in Springfield, Missouri and went to the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri–Columbia. Word has it his focus was in advertising, and he left a few classes shy of earning his degree. Since then, he has enjoyed a remarkable career in acting and even some film producing. Yet according to his Wikipedia profile, he's a "knowledgeable fan of architecture." IMDB.com quotes him as saying, "I'd like to design something like a city or a museum. I want to do something hands on rather than just play golf which is the sport of the religious right." Supposedly, he once said, "If I hadn't been an actor, I would have been an architect." Really? Is that why you majored in journalism and didn't even finish school? You wouldn't have lasted a day in architecture school, my well-cheekboned friend.

He was given a tour of Frank Gehry's office along with Angelina Jolie, displaying her first Pitt-caused baby bump, and even told Vanity Fair that he respected Frank Gehry a great deal. He even had Gehry design a wine cellar for him and then-wife Jennifer Aniston. (According to some sources, he had a small apprenticeship at Gehry's studio, but reports conflict. Besides, y'all already know how I feel about Frank Gehry.) He's a Frank Lloyd Wright fan, and celebrated his 43rd birthday at Wright's Fallingwater. The latest word is that he's now investing in a sustainable/eco-friendly five-star resort in Dubai, saying that "architecture has always been [his] passion." Evidently, so is investing in a country charging us over $100 a barrel for oil.

More evidently, if you're a famous actor, all you have to do is call up a famous architect or super-rich developer, and you can go hang out with them. And while you're hanging out, hopefully some of the mysterious brilliant/creative/highbrow cache from the starchitect or developer will rub off on you, and you'll be cooler, or smarter, or whatever adjective allows you to leave Springfield, Missouri in the dust.

Everyone thinks architects are cooler than they are. And if they can't stomach the work and tenacity and energy it takes to be one, they'll just hang out with one, and everyone will think they're cool. Shame on you, Brad Pitt, I think to myself when I see him in photos with famous starchitects like this:

And yet...

Pitt's Make It Right Project--designed to build 150 homes in NOLA's poor-and-devastated Lower 9th Ward through donations of money and architect's efforts and to use sustainable design technologies and design and construction practices--is arguably doing more for Katrina's homeless than all of FEMA in the past two years. (Denver comic and veterinarian Dr. Kevin Fitzgerald recently said, "I'm beginning to think that FEMA stands for 'Forget Everything, Move Away'.") I have to give him props for promoting green design and construction, no matter where it's happening. Remember, ten years ago, hybrid cars and solar energy were high-falutin' tree-hugging concepts. Now, an increase in demand combined with some pretty nice tax breaks (here in Colorado, anyway), these technologies are becoming rather affordable and downright attractive.

I also have to give him mad props for the story Gehry was telling about the above photo. He told Newsweek that he didn't know who took that photo, and he only met Brad for a few minutes and that Brad hasn't even called since he visited the office. So Brad loves and leaves starchitects? Nah, probably he left Gehry for the same reason he supposedly left Jennifer Aniston--they were both boring sticks-in-the-mud. While Gehry may have a sense of humor about himself enough to be on the Simpsons, I nearly chewed my leg off to get away while watching part of the documentary about him, Sketches of Frank Gehry. That shit shoulda been called Everyone Should Whack Me Off While I Show You How Brilliant I Am. I would have named it Wonder How This DVD Would Sound In a Wheat Thresher, but mercifully the Netflix DVD of it was messed up and kept hanging up and skipping, so we cut it off after about half an hour. Pitt probably realized that Gehry's joy is not in making art that people can use and enjoy, but in building stuff that speaks of his own grandiose notion of how buildings should look. Run, Brad, run!

And I do have to give Pitt some credit for his own modesty, such as this quote from the 10/13/97 issue of Time magazine after the release of Seven Years In Tibet: "You shouldn't speak until you know what you're talking about. That's why I get uncomfortable with interviews. Reporters ask me what I feel China should do about Tibet. Who cares what I think China should do? I'm a f---ing actor! They hand me a script. I act. I'm here for entertainment. Basically, when you whittle everything away, I'm a grown man who puts on makeup." So, while he's using his fame to get houses built in New Orleans, he's acknowledging that he's hardly a policy maker, and that we all need to take the words of famous people with a grain of salt and a large margarita. According to comic Brett Butler, who once showed her house (then for sale) to Pitt and Aniston, she described the scene as if Aniston was appalled by any trace of humor, and Pitt was cracking up the whole time, especially when he asked what she looked at with a telescope in her living room, and she replied, "Oh, stars, you know. Joan Collins lives across the lake and I watch her get undressed."

So, yet again, I'm left with mixed feelings about Brad Pitt. I don't appreciate him buying his way into the world that I've worked damn hard to be a part of, but I appreciate his endeavors to share that with everyone and to use his fame and interests to help those less fortunate. So, for now, I can't cast him into my mass grave with Paris Hilton and Whitney and Bobby. For now.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

What will $100 get you?

It will get you:

  1. A silk dress for summer,
  2. 48 truffles in a keepsake box,
  3. A manicure and pedicure at a top-notch spa in downtown Denver, or
  4. An hour of my time

I found this out yesterday when I received news that a small project I'd been working on with Gregg went on hold. We (well, mostly I) had done a mad scramble to get the owner, a small hospital in the foothills, some floor plans and code analysis information that they needed to take their case to the state health department and ask for permission to do an unusual kind of joint venture with a group of doctors in Colorado Springs. The state looked it over and felt like it wasn't quite right, so now the hospital and the doctors are going to have to meet another couple of times to figure out what they want to do now. In order to do their joint venture, it seems, the rooms and service areas that get leased to the doctors have to be closer together than we originally planned, and that's going to require some serious renovation. So, the owner called me up and said to stop work for now until they knew what they wanted to do.

I called Gregg (who was on vacation yet again--he was just gone for a week during the week after Memorial Day) and informed him, and then I asked what I should do with the intern working on the project for me. He said to pass him off to Mickey, and then he instructed me to have our accounting department run a project report. "It should have all the hours spent on the project so far," he said. "We can go over it when I get back on Monday." Okey-dokey, said I. A few hours later, I found the report from accounting in my mailbox, and there it was in black and white--$100 an hour for a Shorty's time.

Now, I suppose I should feel like a playa--nay, a baller--askin' peeps to peel off that kind of cabbage roll for da P-I-X-I-E, but bear in mind that my paycheck only sees a little more than a quarter of that, and then there's taxes, medical, and 401(k) to be taken out of that before it ever hits my bank account. I also found interesting that the intern, with about a year and a half's worth of experience bills at $60 an hour, and Gregg, a vice-principal at Design Associates, bills at $175 an hour. Today, when I began working through some fee proposals for Jann, I found out that she bills at $140 an hour.

Again, these sound really impressive. However (there's always a however), remember that the rest of my $100 an hour that doesn't make it into my paycheck goes into rent, utilities, building maintenance, professional and property insurance, healthcare matches, 401(k) matches, and a little bit of profit as well, for both the partners and me (more them than me, but I do get a little). It was rather eye opening to find out what they charge for me with my architect's license and 8 years of healthcare experience.

Also interesting was trying my hand at fee proposals on Jann's behalf. She was going to be in the meetings from hell all day today, so she asked me to take a shot at fee proposals for a few projects at MHRC. (Ah, good old MHRC.) If it's a smallish project, like remodeling several rooms and not affecting any structure and not too much ductwork, plumbing and the like, we'll budget for it as an hourly thing. Based on how much it looks like we'll have to do, Jann and I estimate how much it will take us to do meetings, drawing stuff, doing code research, going to the site and taking pictures and making sketches of existing conditions, and so on. Then, we have to budget about how many hours a week we'll be spending doing OAC meetings, reviewing shop drawings, answering RFIs and various owner concerns in the field. Add to that the fact that the client is MHRC, a notoriously high-maintenance client. Hence, I added on a few more hours a week than I usually would.

Hourly pricing is for small projects, though. If the project is larger, like a new building, a new addition to an existing building or a full renovation of a building's floor (moving a bunch of walls and doors and plumbing pipes and mechanical ducts), we'll charge a percentage of the construction costs. For example, if we estimate that the cost to add on a cardiovascular clinic to an existing facility is $20 million, we might charge about 7%, or $1,400,000. If we're remodeling an existing 15-year-old patient floor and the construction estimate is $5.5 million, we might charge 8%, or $440,000, a little more because remodeling is generally harder than building anew. If you've ever remodeled your own home, you know there are inevitably surprises in the walls, the floors, etc. If we're remodeling a clinic and office floor into a patient floor in a 30-year-old building and the renovation cost is priced at $9 million, we might charge 9%, or $810,000, because severe remodeling (like changing the code-defined occupancy and function of an area) and working in a building that's fairly old (yes, not even as old as me) poses even more possible difficulties. Inaccurate or nonexistent CAD or paper drawings (as-builts), asbestos, bad floor-to-floor heights*, difficulties making the program match up in the given space and meet all the codes, especially ADA...those all mean more work for us.

So, it was quite the experience to see how we price what we do. Jann and I will review my first pass at this tomorrow morning.

*Floor-to-floor height is the height from the top of one floor slab to the top of the floor slab above it. Most medical buildings and hospitals these days are at least 13'-4" floor to floor, with floors that have operating rooms on them running about 15'-0" floor-to-floor to allow for the equipment and extra ductwork that has to go in the ceiling. Some of the floor-to-floor heights in older buildings I've done, at least 30 years old, range from 10'-0" to 12'-0". It's a pain in the ass getting anything in there other than a few lights, cable trays for power and data connections, and a few 8x18 ducts.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

You kids get off my porch; I just planted those lettuce seeds!

Saturday was overly busy for Guy and me--my office summer picnic and then dinner in the foothills with some coworkers of Guy's. Hence, this Father's Day was spent laying around the house, with one quick trip for me to the nearby hardware store to get a bigger pot for my consumptive-ailing-but-not-willing-to-die gardenia. I can't seem to stop gardening here lately. Having blown about $260 a week ago (and everything from that trip is still alive, I'm proud to say) and almost another $100 since then, I don't know if the futzing is because I feel like I need to get my money's worth or if I'm just finally enjoying the balcony/garden. I think it's the latter. The balcony looks really good, and I finally feel semi-surrounded by green and growing things. I managed to get my wooly thyme in a pot, and Guy even found a nursery for me out in Arvada in between the office picnic and the dinner date so I could get some long planters and yet more potting soil for planting my spinach and lettuce. After calling home today and wishing my stepded El Seebeno "Happy Father's Day, mofo!", Mom suggested that I repot the gardenia from its 8" home of the past couple of years into a 10" pot. I insisted that it wasn't rootbound, but Mom suggested otherwise. Shes also sending me some Georgia red clay to powder and mix into the gardenia's new soil. And why not? Her gardenia is going apeshit in red dirt back home, so maybe it'll help mine. Otherwise, it's been a quiet day.

I tell you what, I've gotten downright curmudgeonly in my recent age. Now, I've never been a night person, pretty much ever. As long as I can remember, I've been a morning person, and especially so in college and as an adult. Even as a morning lark, I've always had tons of energy, for the most part. However, it seems like nowadays if I have a busy Saturday, I ain't worth a damn on Sunday. Or, if I'm out late on a Wednesday night, it's takeout and an 8:30 bedtime Thursday night. I'm not sure if it has to do with hitting my 30s, not being very challenged at work right now, or maybe it's backlash after working my ass off in 2006 on Wheatlands, when I worked no less than 7 8-hour days a week for eight months while taking and passing the ARE and I promised myself I'd never let myself get that tired ever again. Maybe it's valuing my down time even more than I used to, now that I've mostly achieved having and maintaining healthy boundaries.

I also apologize for my lack of posts and lack of quality posts here lately. As I mentioned before, things aren't very challenging at work. I'm doing little two- and three-week projects for Guy's old boss as well as small things here and there for Howie and Jann. All my work is filler work, and it feels really uninspiring. Yeah, I know work isn't always fulfilling, and I"m glad to have a job in a shitty economy, but still. The sun is up at 5:30 every morning, and this morning lark is still having problems dragging herself out of bed for a morning run or weight-lifting session. I mean, I get up, but I'm all over that snooze button before I do.

Anyway, I'll try to come up with some interesting stuff this week. I need some more CSI:Houseplant help, and I need to get off my chest my love/hate relationship with Brad Pitt.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Happy anniversary...of sorts

Today is an auspicious day, to say the least. Not only is it my 8th anniversary at Design Associates, it's also 8 years since I first met and was so terribly starstruck by Guy. I mentioned this fact to him, and he replied calmly and matter-of-factly, "Well, happy anniversary." Indeed.

I've come a long way personally and professionally in eight years. I should hope so--I've gotten sharper, more talented, more skilled, more comfortable with myself, better able to handle criticism and conflict. It's nice to know how times have changed.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Operation Grow Something, Part 2

I walked this evening to a nearby hardware store and picked up some more potting soil, a decorative planter, some cutesy little flowers, and a broom. I should use this moment to address a few of the comments from yesterday. First, Bax, I do indeed own a broom, but I didn't want to use it on my nasty-as-hell balcony and then bring it back in to sweep my nice parquet floors. Witch license firmly ensconced in wallet. :-) Second, I nearly did buy an asparagus fern at the hardware store, Kitteh, but it looks like too much work. I still didn't buy enough soil to plant my lettuce and asparagus seeds, and I also didn't get any planters for them. I was walking and only wanted to buy what I could semi-easily carry. Now, I'm watching "Deadliest Catch" and watering and potting my wooly thyme and the new cutesy flowers during commercial breaks. Further updates as details warrant.

Nice to have something else to think about and do instead of be cranky about how slow, tedious, and Dance of the Bullshit work has become lately. I'm trying to post about interesting or upbeat things instead of constantly complaining. Sometimes, architecture is just slow and you get stuck doing cruddy stuff for people who aren't clear or will help you and then hose you, and sometimes you spend hours and hours in meetings and feel totally unproductive. Today was one of those days. So, better to plant and watch crab fisherman than to be cranky.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Operation Grow Something

It was time, my people. After a strange, long, oddly-cold May, June arrived and bit me with the let's-grow-some-shit bug. My pal Ethel and I were off to the plant nurseries and home garden centers (like Lowe's, Home Depot, and the like) to find a Shorty some proper flora for her balcony. You can take the girl out of the South, but...I still call my balcony five stories up "the porch." After a sunburn incurred while traipsing around northern Denver's nurseries and a quick stop at the Starbucks in Target for some liquid rejuvenation all of Saturday, and a long late-morning and afternoon spent potting and repotting and arguing with plastic pots, here's the final result on Sunday early evening. From left to right: McKay's White; Earthbox with two tomato plants; old TV stand from college holding two Kung Pao pepper plants, basil plant, oregano plant, cilantro plant, and two trays of wooly thyme; and boxwood. Planters for McKay's White and boxwood by Target and the Earthbox, oddly enough, were the most expensive things I bought all weekend. Plants were way less expensive than the containers.Along the building edge of my east porch I located my existing to remain (ETR) plants. In the foreground are a couple of pothos plants, an English ivy, a nondescript houseplant, and my Gardenia That Refuses To Die. Midground between the two Adirondack chairs are two Chinese evergreens that used to be one until Guy helped me hacksaw it in half. That's not a joke: the root ball on a Chinese evergreen is so knotted and obstinate that you do indeed have to saw it in half. What's not totally apparent in this photo is how messy and dirt-scattered the balcony/porch is. I stil need to buy a broom so I can clean the place a bit so I can stand to sit out there.

Not so easy to see here are my herbs--ETR parsley and rosemary along with new chocolate mint on a little rack near the kitchen sliding door are hiding behind the wood chair in the photo. Yet another pothos hangs from the underside of the balcony above. I daresay my balcony is becoming downright nice to be on. More planting to come....

Friday, June 6, 2008

Pencils down

First of all, thanks everyone for playing. We had a fair amount of right and almost right answers:

  1. The churches are D, Trinity Church in Boston (by H. H. Richardson) and F, Notre Dame du Ronchamps (by Le Corbusier) in France.
  2. The government building is E, the Massachusetts State House in Boston. (I don't know the architect, and frankly, I'm surprised commentor LP didn't know, if he is who I think he is and I went to grad school with his sorry Tom-Green-lookin' ass.)
  3. The train station is B, King's Cross Station by L. Cubitt, in London, England. I've taken a train in and out of it back in 1998, and it's a great space inside.
  4. The residence is A, which is a Shingle Style house in Maine. I don't know the architect, but it is late 1800s-early 1900s, so technically it's late Victorian. Shingle Style is a Victorian architectural style with American roots, which is kinda rare for Victorian.
  5. The business/office building is C, the Johnson-Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin, by Frank Lloyd Wright. If you buy Pledge and a bazillion other products, your money goes to this building. Your instincts were correct, St. Blogwen--you still have some of your archimojo left! Also, some more props go out to LP for correctly abbreviating Frank Lloyd Wright's name. Wright wrote his initials with a double "L", as there was no single "L" in his family's native Welsh language.
  6. As a few of you got right or partially right, B and E were built pre-Civil War. King's Cross in 1852 (good job Faded!) and the MA State House (17something, I want to say 1750s, good catch LP!). Mom, that would explain the nice rendering of King's Cross--it's the only way they could represent it in color at the time.

If you got a question wrong, don't sweat it. Instead, think about what led you to believe that a certain building was pre-Civil War/a church/a government building/some dumbass' idea of a church (good one, Mom!). Is it because you think of anything with columns and domes is old? Or stands for a government building? Or, as Mom commented, only old buildings have style? Or Richardsonian Romanesque (that's the style of D) or Gothic buildings are really old?

My goal for the students I lectured to as well as for my WAD peeps is to get you thinking about how you know what you know about buildings, about the built world. Think about what a building is trying to tell you by how it looks. Is it trying to tell you that it's safe? That it's noble? It's classy? It has history (even if it doesn't)? It looks like a 1950s French nun's hat (Corbusier's goal for F)? When you look at buildings, just take a second to think.

And last but not least, a tip of the hat to Xtine for catching that the pictures were all labeled already, and hovering your mouse over them would tell you the names. Not intended, by the way, and good for me to know when I do this again, but good catch.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Quiz Time: Guess the Building

It occurs to me that it might be interesting to try a little quiz on you that I gave the students in the lecture I gave in May. Here's the deal: if you wanna play, just for funsies, post your answers as a comment. I'll hold off on posting all the comments for a day or so in order to give all my peeps some time before "pencils down." Whatchu do is write the letter of the following pictures for your guess of the answer. Bear in mind that some of these questions have more than one answer. So, have a look and give it a shot. And yes, I know that I have some architects in the my readership. You can play, too, my peoples.

The questions:
  1. Which of these do you think is a church?
  2. Which do you think is a government building?
  3. Which do you think is a train station?
  4. Which is a residence?
  5. Which is a business or office building?
  6. Which of these do you think was built before the Civil War (which was 1861-1865, for those that got a D in History)?

Building A:

Building B:

Building C:
Building D:

Building E:

Building F:

Good luck, and may Philip Johnson be with you!