Thursday, July 31, 2008
First, I should explain to any laypeeps out there what Revit is. Most folks are at least mildly familiar with CAD, or AutoCAD. CAD is software used to draw electronically what we used to draw on paper—instead of drawing two lines 4-7/8” apart (but at some scale, like 1/8” = 1’-0”) with pencil on vellum or mylar, CAD allows us to draw two electronic lines, and we can draw them the actual 4-7/8” apart. No more using a scale to figure out how big something is or squinting at your paper—you can draw it “real” size.
Now, the more recent addition to the AutoCAD software lineup is Architectural Desktop, or ADT. CAD was originally designed for use by engineers, and ADT allows architects to a) build in 3D and b) have more tools available that we can really use. For example, in CAD, we used to draw a thin rectangle and an arc to show that there was a door in a wall. With ADT, you click on a tool that gives you a 3D wall (you tell it how long, what it’s made of, and how high it is), then you click on another tool that drops in a door object (which you also tell the software how big it is, what it’s made of, what the frame is made of, etc.). ADT also gave us some tools that allow us to create schedules of doors, room finishes, and the like. This is nice for coordination purposes—in CAD, you have to look at the plan, find all the doors, and then type in each door name and number, what it’s made of, how big is it, what kind of hardware it gets, ad nauseam, into an Excel spreadsheet. With ADT, you put all that info into the door object, then the software makes your door schedule based on all the info you put into the door objects, which makes door schedules a lot more foolproof these days. Nice.
Thing is, ADT and AutoCAD have always been a little clumsy. No matter what, it felt like you could never do just what you needed to do in these platforms. Added to this is how hard it is to manage ADT and AutoCAD. I can’t count the number of times our CAD manager, Sarge, as well as his predecessors have had to fix a problem for me in CAD that I never could have figured out how to solve without their help. Troubleshooting this complicated software gives me an aneurysm, and if it’s too complicated, then folks just quit using the 3D tools and start drawing in 2D again as a shortcut.
Enter Revit. Revit does a lot of thing smoother and better than CAD and ADT. The biggest difference in Revit is that you’re building the entire building in a virtual world. Essentially, you’re building a Sim City version of your building so that you can work out problems in it before anyone ever breaks ground on the site. While you’re building the architectural stuff in 3D, your engineers are laying out piping systems, ductwork, electrical raceways, and structural beams and columns in 3D models that get inserted into your model. When the models are together, you can see problems: oh, that beam is deeper than the ceiling; whoops, there’s a duct running through a beam; hm, we’ve moved that sink to the north wall now, and you’re still showing it on the east wall. Using Revit takes more time to produce drawings for the project, but the idea is that it makes construction go smoother. And frankly, smooth construction means a lot to architects. If we’re gonna lose money on a project, it’s because there are a ton of questions during CA, and we burn all our fee answering them.
So, over the past year and a half, we’ve been getting Revit on more workstations in the office, and we’ve all been getting training for Revit, as the goal is to eventually do all of our projects in Revit. And now to Looneybird’s question: how is the transition coming?
The short answer is…slow. Well, slow and hit-and-miss.
For a while there, it was about every day that someone emailed the whole office “can I get a Revit license please?” because we didn’t have enough for all the users. I haven’t seen that email in about a month, so it appears that we’ve got enough licenses, and evidently enough projects are using Revit now, just like we’re supposed to.
But old habits die pretty damn hard around here, and not just because of us. For example, some project teams have had issues taking a project from CAD or ADT to Revit, so they find that it’s easier to keep working in CAD/ADT. If I bring an ADT drawing into Revit, even if the ADT drawing has 3D wall objects, door objects, and so on, I’m only able to use the ADT drawing as a template for me to redraw or convert everything into Revit wall and door and window objects. So, if I’m doing an interior renovation of project that’s already in CAD/ADT and with the usual piddling-ass budget that we seem to charge with interior renovations, converting it to Revit doesn’t make a lot of sense, budget-wise or time-wise. CAD-savvy owners complicate matters: in larger facilities, like the hospitals I work on, the facilities manager and his staff are fairly comfortable and competent in CAD applications (but not always the 3D fancy-schmancy ADT stuff). Long-time WAD readers will recall that the architect must give an owner electronic files of their drawings once the building is complete. So, if I work on a project for which we already have CAD files, convert them through a laborious process into Revit, work on the drawings, then reconvert them back to CAD at the end…am I really saving any time? Maybe, but it doesn’t feel like it.
The CAD/Revit issue is a problem for me even now. The process I described above is what’s happening on many of the projects I work on, like MHRC. I’ve been trained in Revit and I wouldn’t mind working in it, but when a team needs my help for say, a day or two, I’m useless because I don’t have enough practice in it to be fast and useful. It becomes easier for me to have someone export the part of the Revit model that I need into CAD, then I use that exported file to draw the details the team needs. And then I feel useful and useless at the same time: useful, because I have the knowledge to create a detail out of a simple ceiling plan; and useless, because I can’t even use the freakin’ software we’re supposed to use.
I guess we’ll be keeping both AutoCAD/ADT and Revit on our machines for a long time, at least until we build in enough time and fee into a project to convert their drawings from one to the other.
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Monday, July 28, 2008
Last week, Guy emails me and asks when Kitty's coming out. I gave him the dates, and then the little hamster in the wheel of my mind started spinning: why ever did he ask that? I also reminded myself to ask him when we got home if he minded if Baxtersmum came out to visit as well. I thought I should give him a few months' advance notice so that I could pitch in for her a hotel room if he put his foot down.
Turns out I was the one in for a surprise. "This year is ten years since we all got outta college," said Guy in the car on the way home. "All the guys are coming out for the CU-Kansas State game."
"How many is 'all the guys'?"I asked
"So far about seven," Guy replied.
"Seven?! When are they coming?".
"The same weekend your sister will be here."
"They're not staying at our house!"
No, there is no we'll see, I thought, because Kitty booked her shit back in March.
Guy extended an olive branch a few days later with the suggestion that Kitty and I get a hotel room downtown for the weekend, seeing as how a) all the fun girly stuff is downtown, and b) we're probably not gonna want to hang out with the boys anyway. I said well maybe, except c) I'm a little pissed that I'm being temporarily evicted from my own house, and d) Kitty booked her shit way in advance. Guy countered with e) he'd pay for a night at the Hotel Monaco, which ain't cheap. I countered with f) okay, deal.
Last night, Guy and I went to our friends' Jeff and Moira's house for a cookout. Guy and Jeff went to K-State together, and it turns out that three of the seven friends will stay at the Happy Kitten Highrise, and four will stay at Jeff and Moira's house about 15 minutes from downtown. Guy mentioned to Jeff that he was getting Kitty and me a hotel room, and Moira nearly fell to her knees in front of me.
"Ohmygodohmygodohmygod take me with you!!!" she begged. "I cannot be in this house with all those mouthbreathing troglodytes!" I welcomed her in--if any of my sistaz shouldn't be stuck in a house full of overgrown teenagers, it's Moira.
This afternoon, I emailed Baxtersmum about the sitch--three girls in their early-to-mid-30s gathering away from the madding, PBR-drinking crowd, getting manicures and having a pajama party in downtown Denver, and was she still interested? Bax responded with a hell yes and even promised to bring out the B-Dawg. If this gets any better, my head will explode.
I mentioned to Guy todey that we now have four. His response: "See, now you're making it hard. You're not gonna get Moira to share a room with anyone, and you're not gonna find a suite that can sleep four."
First of all, yes I am--Denver is full of suites and even all-suite hotels who are giving away rooms in Denver during October because it's too early to get the ski crowds and too late to get the hikers in town. Second of all, please stop pissing on my popsicle. If you're going to have a dude-like weekend, then I get a girly-ass weekend, so bite me. Third, if Moira doesn't like our accommodations, she can either suck it up and deal with it or go do her own thing or fly back east to visit her sister. Either way, there's no major stress here.
Kitty's flying in well before the weekend, so she and I will get a couple of sister days before we convene on the hotel, and I'm sure everyone will want/ need some alone time for the weekend. Denver's good for that. So, nyeh, Guy. Nyeh!
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Anyway, Prudence needed some help from an architect on the project because the included problems of dealing with a new mechanical unit on a building and having to possibly refit or cut new openings in the roof of the building for the new RTU were out of her league as an interior designer. Added to all this is that the workload for our interiors group has them moving at a frenetic pace, so none of Prudence’s usual suspects is available to help her even with the little doctor’s office project. However, Shorty is quite available and willing to help.
Now that I have work to do, a new problem arises. I can do the assigned work faster than the time given. For example, Prudence gave me some plans and sheets to set up for a set on this RTU/renovation project, and she gave me about 12 hours to do it. If I had something else to do after it, I would have been done in 9-10 hours. Without an urgent or at least time-sensitive deadline, I had to stretch it out.
This sort of thing weighs on me, and it bother Guy a little too when he has to do it, but he accepts it as just what you have to do sometimes when there’s not enough going on. As a task-oriented person who craves efficiency, having to stretch work to fill the time allotted bugs me such that I have a hard time getting over it. I feel like I’m not being productive and like I’m cheating my company.
I saw Liz in the ladies’ room this afternoon a little before 5. As our eyes met at the sinks, we both sighed, then had to laugh at our mutual heavy sighification.“I’m just kinda bored right now, Liz,” I said a little sheepishly. “I have about six hours’ worth of stuff to do and eight hours to do it, and—“
“—you feel like you’re not being productive or efficient,” she replied. “Gawd, I completely know how you feel. Since Pomme de Terre went on hold, things have been okay, but lately I’m barely at 40 hours.”
“Yes!” I exclaimed. “If I don’t have a To Do list longer than my day, I can’t get a damn thing done, or at least done well, and I feel like I have Shiny Object Syndrome.”
“Completely,” Liz sympathized. “I do my best work—I’m at my most efficient when there’s just a little bit of pressure on me. And Shiny Object Syndrome is a great way to describe how I’ve been feeling lately.”
We left the ladies room and headed back to our desks. “But you know,” Liz continued, “it occurs to me that most of last year, I was doing 55-60 hours a week, I just had so much going on. And in all the years I’ve been doing this for a living, these kinds of calm moments are pretty rare. So, y’know…I’m just…enjoying it. I actually have time to read the article about punchlists that Sutherland sends out. I actually have time to read the AIA bulletin or newsletter that I get emailed once a week.”
Being comfortable with the present when the present is uncomfortable is not my strong suit. Somehow, though, Liz put it in perspective for me. I guess I needed to hear it from someone that I respect as much as Liz. It’s not that I don’t respect Guy, but he does have an ulterior motive for calming me down with some wise words—he wants peace. Liz was somehow able to articulate the temporary nature of this slowdown in such a way that it seemed almost tolerable.
My mom used to tell us when we said we were bored, “Be bored; it’s good for you.” Perhaps it is.
Monday, July 21, 2008
My sister has made this observation when walking through a building once with Guy and me. She kept saying, "Wow, that's nice, that's pretty," while Guy and I were walking around going, "Jesus, that cost a fortune" and "Oh, they're gonna get water in that, they didn't flash it right" and "Why did they use that tile? That's gonna be a bitch to keep clean" and even "How are you supposed to find the bathroom from here?" Finally, Miss Kitty said in exasperation, "Can't you two just enjoy a building? Please?" The answer is, yes...and no. We are enjoying a building by understanding all the pieces that go into it. Kitty and I enjoy music like this because we both spent 6+ years in band, and when someone plays certain notes in a song, we can see all the sixteenth notes on the sheet music and know how hard it is to stick the glissando or patter cleanly through a flam paradiddle. However, this same knowledge--the double-edged sword--makes it so that we can't look away from bad details, mistakes, strange plan configurations, bland or overly-trendy color choices, jumbled exteriors and material choices, and inappropriate planting material in a landscape.
It's even harder on us to look at our own buildings. We look at them and can only see the missed opportunities, the botched details, the "oh-shit-you-built-it-just-the-way-I-told-you-to" details. You have to go look at the building you drew so that you can see 1) that what you draw isn't just abstract lines on a computer screen, but are really getting built; and 2) that not everything you draw is a good idea. You have to see how your drawings become reality so that you can learn from those mistakes and learn how to draw what a contractor needs to know to build it the way you want it.
You also need to know, through trial and error as well as learning from your colleagues, about the fine line between telling your contractor what to do and letting him or her tell you how it needs to be done. Some things you'll draw thinking you're helping the contractor by doing the hard work of detailing it out for them, but then the contractor will call you up or point it out in the field and say, "If I build this how you drew it, it's gonna look like hell; would you mind if I build it like this and that?" A good contractor will call you with a problem and a solution. Even if you don't use his or her solution, it gets you thinking. By that same token, you have to be able to save the contractor from himself or herself. Example: at Wheatlands, the contractor wanted to save money by using a lower-gauge (read: lower thickness) steel in the studs in the interior walls. However, the major metal stud manufacturers have charts that tell you the maximum height a stud can be, depending on its gauge and deflection. We showed the contractor that the height of the interior studs at Wheatlands were going to be taller than the allowed height by the charts. When they pushed back, we responded with "Okay, if you want to go with a lower-gauge stud, then you have to guarantee that the drywall won't crack and the ceramic tile won't pop off the walls in the first three years after construction is complete." When they balked, we made our point. The thicker-gauge studs remained in the project, and now whenever someone shuts a door in Wheatlands, you don't feel it in the next room or see the adjacent drywall shimmer. I've seen it happen.
I'm coming up with a few ways to show y'all what it's like to be an architect, better than me just going yada-yada-yada on a blog all the time. Interactive fun and intrepretive dance to come.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
Guy asked me why I was even growing tomatoes. "You don't really like them," was his comment. "You hardly scoop them onto your tortilla chips when you have salsa."
"True," I replied, "but I just can't think of anything better to grow than tomatoes, especially in containers forty feet in the air. Besides, once the lettuce and spinach take hold, we'll have some badass salads up in here."
Guy grimaced at the thought of forced salad consumption. "Coudn't you find any mac-n-cheese plants at the nursery?"
I shook my head. "They don't do well in containers."
Guy read in the paper today that the average meal on an American table is trucked or shipped about 1,500 miles. Holy flurking snit. I think that's a lot of miles for a tomato, a handful of greens, a breast of chicken. If you build a building according to present LEED standards, credit is given if all your materials to build the building come from less than 500 miles away. How can we make that a standard for buildings but not for our food? Part of taking care of the earth may mean that we don't get Italian marble on our condo building in Denver. It might also mean that we don't get eight kinds of apples in the dead of winter. My industry and the firm at which I'm employed are doing our best to encourage environmentally-conscious design and construction products and practices. While that is to be commended, is it meaningful if I use no-VOC carpet in my designs and then go to the grocery store and buy lettuce from California and apples from New Zealand?
Recently here in Denver, Bike To Work Day was a big success, and it sure got a lot of people out of their cars and onto their bikes or even public transit. In our office, Wanda was in everyone's grill about biking to work, rather gon from being enthusiastic to becoming the Bike Nazi. She got a little in my grill a few days before the event: "Aren't you gonna bike to work on Wednesday?"
I turned to her and looked her in the eye, trying not to glare. "I carpool with my husband every single workday of the year in a car that get 30 mpg in the city on a drive that's less than 3 miles each way," I replied. "And on the weekends, I walk to the grocery store and then to the farmer's market, which is 2 miles each way. I recycle half my garbage, and every light in our hose is a CFL. Every day is Earth Day for Guy and me."
I didn't even mention that I'm growing tomatoes. If Wanda's nice, she can have some when they ripen.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
Elliot: Are we going to the Morning Diner again? Shouldn't be too crowded on a Thursday with Pixie in our group.
Norman: Sounds good. Pix, you ready?
Me: Jesus God, I can't get this sheet file to work right.
Norman: [puts on glasses and peers at my screen] Looks like some of Elliot's handiwork.
Elliot: Why, 'cuz it kicks ass?!
Norman: No, because it's fucked up beyond repair.
Elliot: How'z about you kiss my ass, Norm?
Norman: Is that a come-on?
Elliot: I'm not your type; I'm not inflatable. Pixie, would you stop laughing in the floor and come on? You're our ticket into Morning Diner.
Evidently, the guy who runs Tha Diner, as we at Design Associates call it, recognizes me best out of all the DA employees who frequent the place, and when I come along we get seated really quickly, sometimes ahead of people who were a little ahead of us. Norman commented that I'm like a $20 bill to the maitre d', except that you don't have to actually give me away. I retorted that I also don't have to be passed under the table, which made Elliot do a spit-take on his soda.
While at lunch, we chatted about the tiresome nature of not being busy enough. I lamented about the scattered nature of my daily tasks these days, and Norman chortled. "That's been the past year for me," he replied. "I mean, I've had work to do, but it's been a one-room radiology equipment project here, a two room renovation there, nothing huge. I've been doing the kind of work that, if I had staff working for me, they'd be doing it. But if I handed this stuff off, what the hell would I do?"
"And I feel so exhausted at the end of the day!" I remarked, "And I know I haven't really done anything!" Norman and Elliot seconded that emotion. Being underemployed is exhausting, just in a different way than being overemployed. I felt bad for the young intern working on that project with Mickey today. He's been bored out of his mind for the past month while the project has been VE'd into oblivion, and now suddenly he's working 16 hours a day.
Really though, that's the nature of architecture. It's something of a feast-or-famine business. In fall of 2005 and the first half of 2006, I worked no less than 56 hours a week every week. While Wheatlands was getting built, I then worked a good 40-44 hours a week, and as it wrapped up in late spring of 2007, I transitioned to working on MHRC for Jann and was still a steady-but-intense 40 or so. As MHRC has wrapped up for now, I'm scrambling to stay occupied. While it makes me crazy not to be steadily busy, other managers get to exhale when they find out that a competent employee is completely available to help them with any task, large or small.
I guess I don't mind overall. It's better than being unemployed.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Work has been slow. To keep me occupied, Jann and Howie have been sharing me to work with anyone on any and everything possible. A few days ago, I helped Prudence, the head of interiors, draw up some plans she as-builted in the field, and I helped one of her gals set up a set of drawings in the new software. A day later, I looked up some code issues for a small tenant finish suite for another project team. Last week, I helped Jann tweak a narrative and a floor plan for some possible work at MHRC. Earlier this week, I was helping another associate in the office review and research some of our typical details and notes sheets that we include in every drawing set. This afternoon and tomorrow, I'm helping Mickey and his team work on a drawing set that's going out tomorrow for final coordination. I feel like a hired gunslinger--well, mouseslinger--traveling from team to team to help them with whatever problem they have.
To be sure, I'm very appreciative of the higher-ups trying to keep me busy, ergo employed. But doing lots of little stuff means that I often am not sure what I'm doing from one day to the next, and I'm frequently given tasks that take me less time than I have to do it. Hence, I'm fiddling around or trying to make a 6-hour task s-t-r-e-t-c-h into 8 hours. Added to that kind of stress is the stress of doing jobs that aren't yours. While I do my best on every task I'm given, because after all one's work is one's signature on everything, it's hard to get really into something that you're not really going to get into for more than a few hours. So, combine having to stretch tasks out with not feeling super invested on anything, and I find myself unable to concentrate or just finish a task in the time I know that it usually takes me to do something. I'm having problems just focusing. I feel a little scatterbrained and flighty, and I find myself totally worn out at the end of the day, even though I know I didn't really "work hard."
So, I'm trying to find other things to keep my enthusiasm up until a real project comes up. i mean, I usually have to do this sort of thing where I work on just one project for several months, then I work on lots of little projects for a few months. I'm ready for something to sink my teeth into long-term.
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
The garden delights more fauna than just humans, however. Sunday morning, Hazel was hunkered down in the kitchen floor, meow-barking at something outside….
What in the…?
Well, I’ll be.
Hazel assured me that she could get that bird if I’d just let her outside, but I decided not to give her the chance.