Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Mile High Year in Review

Workwise, I spent a lot of time bored in meetings.

We went to Bishop's Castle in south central Colorado for a Memorial Day Weekend trip.

We spent time in the southwestern corner of Colorado over Memorial Day weekend as well.

I grew a fantastic garden on my balcony...

...where Maddy lolled and also spent time healing from her diagnosis of abdominal lymphosarcoma.

Otherwise, it's been pretty quiet. I should be traveling from Atlanta to Denver today, and upon my arrival Guy and I will head to the mountains to join a coworker of Guy's for some time in the mountains, doing a little skiing and goofing off.

Hope everyone has a great and blessed 2009. Hopefully the new year will bring us all good/better/great things, like more projects and more chances for snarkitecture.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The strongest sense

It's been a great few days here in Small Town, GA with Kitty and Mom. Guy and I flew into town on Xmas Eve, and Guy left on Boxing Day evening while I stayed here and will be leaving on New Year's Eve. Everyone has asked me what I got Guy for Christmas, and I said his gift was that he only had to spend three days with my family. It's the gift that keeps on giving. [head tilt, crossed eyes]

We've been going and going and doing and doing for the past few days, so today we decided to take it easy. Kitty and I went over to her hairdresser's house; she got a cut and her color touched up, and I just got a trim. Then it was back to Kitty's house for lunch, and then Kitty took a nap while Mom and I cleaned the kitchen. I mean seriously cleaned the kitchen.

Kitty will confess readily that she's not the greatest housekeeper, and the stress of final grades makes that even worse. Through her burnout this fall, the HKC suffered mightily, and no room so much as the kitchen. So, Mom and I tackled cleaning out from under some counters and chucking expired canned goods and plastic containers with no tops and tops with no containers.

As expected, I eventually had to make a Wally World run, only for contact paper for the shelves. I hopped in my old truck Boo-Boo, which Kitty now drives and treats with great care and proper maintenance, and zipped on over the the Home of Low Prices and Lower Expectations. (Is it just me, or does walking into Wal-Mart make everyone depressed?) I got the contact paper, sped through the self-checkout, and jumped back the Boo-Boo to get back to the HKC. Cleaning had not been going as fast as I'd hoped, and I really wanted to make a dent in the mess when Kitty awoke from her nap.

Just out of the access road to the main street from the parking lot, I smelled a scent I hadn't smelled in a long, long time. Dad. Every now and then, my dad would borrow my truck to go pick up some firewood or move something around on the his farm, and when I got the truck back, it would have sort of a dirt-and-sweat smell. Bear in mind that the truck has been well cleaned inside more than once since Dad died in January of 1997, so there shouldn't be any remnants of any chemical ever on his person...should there be?

But there it was. The truck smelled like Dad had taken the truck for a spin while I'd gone in the store, as if he had been cutting doughnuts in the parking lot while I perused long shelves of plastic mesh shelf liners. It was an odd and comforting scent indeed. I've heard that while vision is our strongest sense, smell is the most closely linked to memory. Christmas is also a time when memories flood back to us of times past. Usually, those memories are of pumpkin pie, pine trees, and fireplaces. My holiday smell memories are more along the lines of Dr. Pepper, red clay, and a hard day's work well done.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Walking to Cherry Creek

Saturday mornings are my time.  I like to go for a long walk to somewhere I can have some coffee and read the comics section of the Rocky Mountain News, and then just aimlessly browse.  Either I walk over to a bookstore and peruse the shelves, or I head to Cherry Creek, the posh shopping area a couple of miles from downtown Denver.  One day just before the Christmas shopping season, I took my camera along.

Partly, I wanted to take pictures of some of the clothes they sell in Cherry Creek for exorbitant prices.  I want to show them to my mom and say, "Seriously, look what they're asking for this.  If you made this, you could ask for half their price, get it, and make a mint." 
I know!  I can't decide if I like the big bow in front or the asymmetrical hemline of the skirt?  And the shiny fabric of the jacket gives me swoonage.

This was supposed to be an image of a very chic grey jersey dress/jacket with feathery-foofy sleeves, but it ended up being of the shops behind me.  I still really like the photo, though.  There's something very 1950s-here's-a-moment-in-time about it.  Just another day on a street in a shopping district.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Right now my sister is finishing up grades for her chirrens in all her classes, and I finally had a full day at home today for the first time in 14 days.  The overall feeling I have is that of doneness, as in, stick a fork in me.  I actually took half a sick day on Friday and did all the crap I was supposed to do over the past two weekends but was at the office working on the office party instead.  I hit the grocery store and the vet (Hazel actually gave the vet a urine sample and Maddy is doing better than any of us could have hoped) and came home to do some laundry (sheets and things that Hazel has peed on in an attempt to reasert dominance over Maddy as her health improved).  While I did get some housecleaning done today, I've been spending time this week and weekend reading all the magazines I've gotten behind on (two months' worth), snuggling Maddy and Hazel, and relaxing in the steam room in my condo building.

Guy and I are leaving for Georgia early on Christmas Eve morning.  Guy will only be forced to hang out with my people for three days--he flies back to Denver on Boxing Day, and I'm flying back on New Year's Eve.  Hence, the next eight to fourteen days will be pretty quiet on WAD, mostly because I'm worn out and need some serious rest.  I'll try to post some  interesting photos or observations or som'n.  I hope everyone has a peaceful and restful holiday season.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

And now, a question from a reader

For those of you who missed it in the comments, new (and much appreciated) WAD reader 2H had the following to share and ask:


I had the opportunity of working on the Museum of Art in Puerto Rico which incorporated an old hospital to house the permanent collection. The hospital building was built in the 1890's and had gracious gallerias that connected a series of sunny patient wings with soaring ceilings and generous windows. Classical proportions of the rooms and symmetry made the old hospital almost an ideal museum and very little adaptive work was required. It seemed that the building had been designed as a work of architecture first and the hospital function was someone else's problem as far as the original architects had been concerned. Certainly if you ever wanted to adapt a modern hospital for another use - it would be impossible, just because health care buildings are so specialized now.
Are you ever concerned by this aspect of the architecture that you do? Does the specific nature of the design date the buildings we do today and ensure their obsolescence? Do you think that sustainability should mean that buildings are easily adaptable after they have served their initial function? Would you ever want to see art exhibited in one of your designs?


Good question, 2H.  Let’s see if I can address this briefly and/or coherently.


First, let’s consider the past of medical care and medicine in general. Medicine has taken a long time to develop properly (after all, we only figured out antiseptics and sterile surgical fields 140 years ago) and most of what you see in a modern surgery suite or exam room have been developed in the past 50 to 60 years.  Most imaging technology, such as MRI and CT scanners, has been developed in the 20th century, the exception being your typical x-ray machine, developed in the last half of the 19th century.  To complicate things a little more, the concept of a hospital has only been developed in the past 150 or so years.  Most people were treated at home, or, if you were poor, you just died at home.  With the advent of sterilized treatment areas and tools, anesthesia, and doctors in general having science-based training (as opposed to simply being part shaman part herbalist), it started to make sense to locate medical care in a building in which these conditions could be controlled.  When we began developing lot of the life-saving technology and techniques and treatments, it also made sense to locate them in the same place.  What this means is that, unlike homes, churches, and government buildings, hospitals as a building type don’t have a long history in human civilization.


Without an idea of “what should this ‘hospital’ thing look like?”, architects simply applied their classical training to the buildings, and each subsequent generation followed suit—make it pretty before it’s all that functional. The passing of Truman’s Hill-Burton Act in 1946 provided standards for and improve the physical structure and environment of hospitals, and many hospitals were constructed in the U.S. with these standards in mind—antistatic floors in the operating rooms (ORs) to keep from setting fire to the flammable anesthesia, surfaces that could be cleaned easily, spaces for the staff to clean supplies and to store dirty linens and used needles, and spaces to do all the paperwork now required by the fairly-new entities of Medicare and Medicaid.


But as the population grew, people got sick (or sicker), and technology created new requirements, hospitals realized they needed to expand.  It made the most sense of hospitals, especially the larger ones, to expand in place because patients knew where it was, and also because they had already invested so much money in the building and grounds.  Besides, who wants to buy a huge old hospital?  What would you use it for, really?  But hospitals realized that the original buildings had not been designed with expansion in mind.  No architect in the 1940s had likely imagined what was to come and had not provided for a hospital to expand in any way that made sense.  Hence, many hospitals today are a mess in terms of wayfinding—it’s easy to get lost when walking around an older hospital because it’s been added onto in a hodgepodge kind of way.  And who, really, in the healthcare architecture field could have seen the technology coming?  When I was in undergrad (1994-1998), only a few hospitals had an MRI, and it was usually in a mobile trailer behind their facility.  Nowadays, having an in-place MRI in your imaging suite is de rigueur.  I remember getting email—email!—in 1997 while going to Georgia Tech and thinking I was da shizznit, and now most hospitals need extra space above the ceilings to run network cables and wireless routers.  Technology has changed hospitals that much in ten years, y’all.  And I’m not that old.


So, what this means now is that an healthcare architect worth her salt (and I most certainly am, yo) knows to design a facility with as much “future-proofing” as possible so that a client can get the most out of the building for as absolutely long as possible.  We provide higher floor-to-floor heights so that a client has more room for putting new technology above the ceiling and can actually access that technology to maintain or replace it.  We locate departments and provide even schematic master plans to show a facility where they can add on in the future, and we even design some space into a department so that it could be remodeled in the next ten years to be something else—today’s storage room is tomorrow’s procedure room or 256-slice CT room.  Engineers will oversize the RTUs (roof top units, which handle heating and air conditioning) now so that in the future when the facility adds on, the capacity to heat and cool the addition is there.  (Replacing an RTU is extremely costly and painful, so if you don’t have to do it, you try not to do so.)


As for reusing an old hospital building, it does happen.  Even though the Hill-Burton Act made some facilities a little more practical in terms of room size and materials, a hospital built in 1950 actually can make a pretty decent office building or even facility for a technical school.  I heard from a friend of mine in da biz that when a small hospital here in Colorado built a new facility, they got a free piece of land to build on from their city and county in exchange for their 60+-year-old hospital building. The city and county’s offices were spread out over town, and they wanted to use the old facility as their new office building and headquarters.  Good trade, says I.


I could go on and on about this, but perhaps this is a somewhat clear and somewhat concise explanation.  Any questions?  Class adjourned.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Okay, where were we?

The Design Associates Holiday Office Party Extravaganza 2008 was a smashing success.  And while I tried really hard to be polite and share credit, I know I did indeed have a major hand in guiding the vision and managing the activity and actually building some of the props (as well as cutting about 90%-95% of the paper and wallcovering used to screen the back parts of the office with).  If I were to post pix of the office party, it might out me, so I'll refrain for now.  But y'all, the place looked GREAT.  I mean, stunning.  Folks who had left the office Friday afternoon returned 24 hours later to see a completely differnt place.  Suddenly it was 1961, and everyone was in a hip, early Modern office, their grandparents' living rooms, a back-room poker den, a late-1950s recording studio, and a cheezy-awesome tiki lounge.  

Yours truly was a receptionist at a fake front desk, in our office foyer, and I made a fake wall that screened the complete fantasticness behind it.  As people came in, I copped a Brooklyn accent made weary by too many fast-talking men, cheap booze, and Lucky Strikes and just gushed over everyone as period as I could: "Oh, dawling, look at you!  Like a regular Jack Kennedy! Honey if you run again in '64 I'm voting for you, you can count on it!"  "Oh, someone gave me grief over my fur stole, and I said, 'look honey, I didn't kill it, it died naturally and left me everything it had'."  "Go on in, dawlings; there's poker and a tiki lounge and the partners are mixing drinks, it's just crazy in there!"  "My husband's in the poker den, and he's had a few so you might be able to take his money, but if he's sober he's a regular Danny Ocean, y'know?"

People just ate it up.  Hence, yours truly also won best female costume, which said a lot since there were some gals in attendance doing a perfect Jackie O with the pillbox hat and the whole nine yards.  I wore the dress Mom made me, plus a vintage fur stole that Dame Judith loaned me.  She knows I really don' t like to wear fur, but to stay vintage I made an exception here.  The room/set concept worked really well, since it gave people a reason/excuse/way to mingle and move about the office--what's in this room?  I haven't been in here yet.  Oooh!  Cool!

 Zahara (a contractor with whom I worked at MHRC) was envious when I sent her photos of the event.  Some of Guy's coworkers are even jealous.  That I really love: Acme Architects, Guy's office, had six months and more than three times our budget, and we only had four weeks, one of which was Thanksgiving week.  Ha! We rule!  Okay, that's a little bit like bragging there, but...we really turned lemons into lemonade.  The party committee approached the challenges of a short timespan and superlean budget like a design project in studio back in college, and we called on our college-like resources to make it happen.  We scoured eBay, Craigslist, estate sales, and the homes and basements of everyone we knew that was alive in 1960 in order to find affordable items.  We had a set of criteria for each prop (piece of furniture, bowl, dish, picture, rug, whatever): is it inexpensive? could I use it in my own home?  Could I reasonably expect to sell this on eBay or Craigslist again once the party is over?  Is it period-accurate?  Is it okay if someone stains or chips it?  Once the item passed our litmus test, it was purchased and brought into the office, and it found a home in one of the sets.

Each decorating idea was given a similar litmus test: how can we make a fake wood-panel wall?  Could we print out a dark wood grain on the color plotter?  Too expensive.  What if we paint cardboard with a wood graining tool? Too time-consuming.  What if we apply wood-grain contact paper to the cardboard?  Just right. Time and again, we checked the decorations against our criteria, made a decision, and moved on it.  Oddly enough, the two top people were often bypassed just so we could get things done.  I bought furniture at a vintage gallery, and several interns bought furniture and decorations online and in party stores before we knew the budget (which we knew would be small but we didn't know how small) because we knew we had to act.  We just stayed frugal and responsible and decided to ask forgiveness rather than permission.  And it worked marvelously.

Having said all this, I will also never do this again.  I was a nervous wreck for three weeks, and while I spent some time in the steam room at our condo last night, I stil have a couple of knots in my back that I can't loosen.  (If I lay right however, Maddy might stand on me.  Too bad she's no longer heavy--I could really use some feline acupressure.)  I think managing an office party is like the chicken pox--you only have to have it once, and you're done for good.  I think it overall made me look good, it made the office look good, it brightened everyone's spirits, and a good time was had by all.

Now it's time for me to do my Christmas cards, which I've been shirking in order to do this party.  I've also gotten some good questions and comments emailed to me and posted on here lately, and they deserve their own posts.

Sunday, December 14, 2008


The party was an unmitigated success last night.  HOwever, I'm really really tired and we still have to clean the office today.  The good news is that the owners of the firm loved some of the props so much that they want us to leave them up for the rest of the month.  More details later--thanks to everyone who's been reading lately.  I know I have some new readers in St. Louis and San Fran who are architects; welcome!  

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Saved by Craigslist and the grace of Saints Charles and Ray Eames

I mentioned that I spent almost $600 of my own money on furniture for our midcentury gala-on-the-cheap.  Here's why I did this: Our committee had been talking and pondering and strategizing for almost two weeks, but no one had gotten anything, ordered anything, nothing.  We had less than two weeks to go before the party, and nothing had been done.  I don't know if this comes through on this pop-culture-reference-and-fart-joke screed of a blog of mine, but I don't do well with procrastination.  I rarely procrasinate, and few things leave me anxious and even furious like procrastination.  So, last Tuesday, I called a phone number on a Craigslist ad and made a visit in Guy's Ford Explorer Sport to a small art anf furniture gallery on the edge of downtown.

The fellow was a collector of midcentury vintage furniture, most of which he acquired through estate and yard sales, and he was moving into a smaller studio/gallery and needed to get rid of some things.  He had a marvelous collection, even a set of four Eames chairs for a cool $1K which I coveted but could not afford.  I had brought along $200 in cash, knowing the rules of Craigslist (buyer picks up the item, always pay in cash), but I could tell that I was about to spend more.  Way more.  I mean, this guy's stuff was gorgeous--Alvar Aalto knockoff table (but period-produced and accurate), two Goodform chairs (one upholstered in actual cowhide, sorry PETA), dark mahogany-wenge colored credenza....oh Jesus Mary and George Nelson, it was a beyond beautiful sight.  So, I went home $570 lighter and with a truck full of furniture.  I still had to go back the next day for a desk and the credenza.  I felt like the world's biggest asshole, like I'd just been taken.  I'd never spent so much in my whole life for used furniture, even though I was trying to convince myself I'd done a good thing.

I drove to the office and called one of the admin assistants to help me unload the truck.  I drove home feeling like the world's biggest asshole.  I got to work the next morning still feeling like the world's biggest asshole, even moreso after I told Guy what I'd done the night before and he exclaimed "Jesus Christ!"

One of the first people I saw when I got to the office was Dash and Tripp.  Dash is a landscape architect at DA, and I worked with him on Wheatlands.  His partner Tripp is a signage and graphic design artist who work for DA on contract.  Dash went across teh office to his desk, and I confided in Tripp as to what I'd done. 

"Well honey," he said in his Southern-Liberace lilt, "let's go see what you bought."

I took him into a file room in the basement to see my collection of chairs and tables.  As we turned the corner, Tripp was in the middle of empathizing with me about a furniture shopping trip gone wrong when he saw the two Danish Modern chairs with twill upholstery and interrupted himself to effuse, "OhmyGodohmyGodohmyGodoh-my-GOD!"

"What?"  I asked.  "Did I get good stuff?  How badly was I robbed?"

"Oh, honey, these chairs!  They match our dining set we just bought from ________ Vintage Emporium!  What did you pay for them?"

"Like $50 for the two."

"For the TWO?!  $50?!" Tripp exclaimed.  "Did you walk into this man's store with a handgun?!"

Later in the office kitchen, Nick came by and said he wanted one of the Goodform chairs, and he and Tripp nearly came to blows over it.  I might have to auction it.  Nick told me to come get him when I'd retrieved the credenza, explaining that he had a credenza fetish and it may have to be indulged again.  We'll see.

At the very least, every midcentury furniture fan I've shown the furniture to is confident I can get my money back--if not more--on Craigslist.  I bought good pieces, and good pieces are easy to unload on a vintage-loving public.  If my coworkers don't pick me dry first.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Always reasons to give thanks

It's hard to be depressed when you know someone somewhere has outfits for their cast stone yard goose statue and bothers to dress it each and every month.

Friday, December 5, 2008

I can't complain but sometimes I still do

We had a surprise office meeting today.  Not so surprising was the news that, while we would still be having performance evaluations this month, as we do every year, no one was getting raises.  Design Associates just isn't able to make it work this year.  We had a good first 6-8 months this year, but the last few months have been holy hell, what with all the financial markets and real estate investing markets taking a major hit.  This news, oddly enough, wasn't too much of a surprise.  What did end up being a little bit of a surprise was the announcement that starting in 2009, we're all going to 36 hours a week.  We can work with our project managers to figure out how to schedule that (leave an hour early most days a week? leave at noon on Friday? come in late on Tuesday?), but that's how it's going to be in order to avoid laying people off for a while longer.

The news left me stunned for about five minutes, and then I felt alternatingly anxious and exhilarated.  Anxious over money, of course--what sacrifices do I need to make in order to live without four hours' of pay a week?  I wanted to send my cousins on my mom's side some money for Christmas, but it appears that I'll have to save that cash for myself as a cushion--dammit.  I'll need to cut back on some of my usual splurges, but...I don't feel like I live that splurgey anyhow.  Am I just another callous upper-class American, desensitized to the cost of living?  Should we still go to Vegas for our anniversary this year?

Then I felt a little exhilarated.  What would I do with four extra hours a week when I'm not having to pretend to be busy, not having to stretch my hours?  (I suppose I coulda done that before now, it just somehow never crossed my feeble 40-hour-a-week-by-God mind.)  I could do my grocery shopping on Friday afternoon instead of first thing Saturday morning.  I'd have more time to write on a couple of books and projects I've been brainstorming on.  I'd have time to sit with Maddy and snuggle her as she creeps into the gentle, waning months of her life (though she still seems to be doing pretty well on the chemo and prednisone).

Guy and I talked a little about it this evening.  While it leaves me feeling unsettled, it also leaves me feeling a little hopeful.  Funny enough, several other bright and motivated interns and architects around me felt the same way.  We were all concerned about DA's future and the cash we'd be missing out on, but think of what we could do if we knew we only had 36 hours to get everything done and could also get a few hours back to live our lives.  (Kellye, if you're reading this, the first thing I thought when they announced this was "hot damn, it's almost like ROWE.")  Regardless, we'll be making small temporary changes, like cutting back (but not deleting) our contributions to our retirement accounts, keeping Christmas really simple (especially since we have to fly to GA), and finding other ways to be thrifty.  Fortunately for us, we have always been pretty frugal to start with, so it's not like we're starting this savings cushion from scratch, and we also know how to live with less.  Not tons less, but less enough to make a difference.