Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Our Lady of Continuing Education Credit Sorrows

Last week and the week before, we had really warm weather here in Denver.  I mean like 60s and 70s warm.  For that matter, we really didn't have much of a winter.  We only had to run the kitchen sink overnight about once, and usully we have to do it three or four times, plus we usually get a lot omore snow than we've gotten.  Suddenly, we had a blizzard last Thursday that sent a lot of folks home early (which oddly enough rendered the roadways easier to drive at 5pm than at 1pm), and then we had a sudden blorp! of snow yesterday morning.  As Derek was leaving work today, he and Norman and I chatted about the weather.

Derek: Isn't it about to snow tonight and tomorrow?
Pixie: [checking her computer] Tonight and tomorrow, says Desktop Weather.
Norman: What kind of spring is this supposed to be?
Derek: Well, we didn't really have a winter, so I guess we're getting our winter now.
Norman: Yeah, but tomorrow is frickin' April!
Pixie:  I think God decided that Denver has to have X amount of snow days and Y amount of sunny days, and he doesn't really care when it has what, just as long as it gets them done by the end of the calendar year.
Derek:  [laughing] Totally!  Now that makes more sense!
Pixie:  God looks at Denver's weather the way AIA looks at your continuing ed credits: they don't care when you get them ,as long as you get them by December 31.
Derek and Norman: Baahahahaaaa!

Suddenly, an email popped up in my inbox.  From five desks away, Intern Timmy hear dus and emailed one sentence:

God isn't as sadistic as the AIA.  Or NCARB.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Myrtle Mae Monday 03.30.09 --Another guest post and a call to our joint readers

Nothing inspires flight from pudgy barnyard fowl like a coop based on Saarinen's TWA Terminal at JFK International--there's even one perched on top!  Never has cast-in place concrete soared like this, and just think how sturdy this structure will be during a hailstorm.  There's no limit on how many eggs you can have, my feathered ladies; just make sure they can be safely stowed all the way under the nest in front of you. Miss Kitty will be coming through the cabin to take your seed orders shortly!

Sadly, this are all the MMM sketches I have so far.  I was going to make some more today, but I awoke with a wicked, stomach-churning hangover (haven't had one of those in years) after Guy and I went to dinner with one of the contractors I worked with on Wheatlands and her husband last night.  So, I'm finally feeling decent enough to sit up at a computer and do this post, but I'm low on ideas for the next MMM starchitects coop sketches.  I mean, it's so easy to just go "Frank Lloyd Wright" and be done, but come on, thou literate and thoughtful readers.  What other kinds of coops do you want to see?  What other styles?  What other starchitects shall we skewer/honor/patronize?  Tell us in the comments!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

An environment of healing, distraction, or inappropriateness?

I was struck by an article in the  February 2009 issue of the trade publication Healthcare Design, titled "Toward a New Vocabulary For Healthcare Design."   It in, the authors assert that the recent trend of how we make healthcare buildings look may not be entirely appropriate.  They write, "Historically, hopsital design trends appear to parallel cultural attitudes toward sickness and death.  In today's youth- and health-oriented U.S. society, where many people seem to believe they will never grow old or become ill, this type of thinking is coincident with the rise of spa-like or five-star hospital design.  But should a hospital look like a spa?  people go to high-end hotels to escape their problems; they go to hospitals to face their problems.  As architects, should we question whether our designes deny the real purpose of hospitals--and perhaps even subvert that purpose?"

The authors, Mark Patterson and Anne Bilsbarrow, both architects with the Phoenix-basedhealthcare design firm SmithGroup, make an extraordinary point--one which I've never considered before.  While the article showcases a couple of SmithGroup's projects (typical of articles written in Healthcare Design), it does its readers in Da Biz a favor by remindin gus that not all medical gas outlets and medical technology has to be hidden away behind wood-looking cabinets and fake picture frames like the mansion in "Clue."  Sometimes, seeing that technology can be a little bit comforting to patients--in the words of The Little River Band, hang on, help is on the way.  Rather than looking to distracting spaces like spas and hotels, the authors suggest looking to spaces like churches and courthouses, places where serious things happen, appropriate materials are used (both in terms of how they look and how easy they are to maintain), and respect is paid to all the activity there.

This article strikes me first of all because it never occurred to me that turning a medical facility ino a scrubbable version of Disneyland might not be the best way to handle what goes on there.  It also strikes me because so many nurses I work with in user group meetings ask for distractions--they love the wood-look cabinets, the gases behind the picture frame, the floor that looks less like grody sheet vinyl and more like wood plank flooring.  They love the idea of making a room look less like a hospital.  The reason I get this reaction from doctors and nurses is that many of them have worked in or at least trained in one of those bathroom-institutional type hospitals, and they're depressing to say the least.  They want to work somewhere that's less oppressive-feeling and might actually inspire them to save a life or two.

Perhaps, though, we all--nurses, doctors, architects, patients, families--are products of a time in which almost weekly there is a new medical innovation that extends or improves life and/or health.  And we want our spaces to reflect this, even our healing spaces.  Yet all of these innovations will not wipe out the inevitability of our own ceasing to exist on this plane.  We will all pass at some point--quickly on the 3rd green of a golf course, like my dad, or slowly in a hospital like my dad's mother.  Perhaps the balancing act we must seek as healthcare architects is that of providing some necessary distractions while also acknowledging and accepting the realities that happen there.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things I have said in a user group meeting

To work on the master plan for the 14-story medical office building, Sven and I have been meeting with the users (nurses and nurse managers) of each of the departments involved in the project.  One floor, the floor with the pre-surgery consult department, has been in a real tizzy because part of their master plan involves moving a pre-bariatric surgery consult group into their department.  They already don't have enough space, and suddenly here comes two more doctors, two more PAs (physician assistants), and the need for three more exam rooms.  [Note: bariatrics is the study and treatment of obesity.  It's a contested field at times, because some healthcare companies and facilities don't want to treat this field due to liability issues and sometimes even moral issues.  Moral in terms of "if we treat it, are we saying it's okay to be overweight? shouldn't we be treating people to keep them from getting that big in the first place?"]

There are a crapton of doctors on the pre-surgery floor, and the first meeting they had with us was with the MOB's V.P. of capital improvements and Sven, one of DA's partners and my boss on this project.  (I was in Vegas during this meeting.)  The second meeting involved the V.P. and me and two of the doctors and three nurses and five or six office managers.  Dear Gawd.  At the meeting we had this week with the pre-surgery group, we had Sven, the V.P., and me, and from the client's side only two office managers and one nurse manager.  Needless to say, we got a lot more accomplished.  It usually happens that way--there's a bell curve involved with amount accomplished and number of people at the meeting.  You need a few key players, but I don't need everybody with a Herman Miller modular desk to show up and throw in their two cents.  These meetings involve a certain amount of detente involved in your reality checks; you have to be able to explain in a civil manner that you can't fit ten pounds of program into a five-pound building.  This is often done best by using questions to highlight the choice that needs to be made or reality that must be faced.  These questions allow the users to talk through how they do business, and by explaining it to us they realize why what they're asking is impossible.  A sampling of things I asked in the meeting:
  • Can you convince any of the doctors to share an office?
  • Really?  What if sharing an office gets them and you more exam rooms?
  • Really? Not even then?
  • If you want more exam rooms, what are you willing to give up?
  • How many soiled and clean utility rooms do you need?  If you can get rid of one of each, there's more space you can use for treatment.
  • Should all the nurses be grouped together in one bank or in two banks?
  • They gossip that much?
  • Doesn't that violate HIPAA?
  • How close does your office need to be to the exam rooms?
  • Do the schedulers need to be near the exit or near ther nurses?
  • Seriously, the doctors won't share an office?
  • How large does a wound dressing exam room need to be?
  • Could you conceivably share exam rooms with bariatric?
  • If you want more exam rooms, what are you willing to give up?
  • How often do the PAs use their procedure room?
  • What is the path a typical presurgery patient takes from start to finish of their appointment?
  • Where are they supposed to watch that video?
  • Are you using anesthesia in the rectal procedure rooms?
  • Why the hell not?!
  • What happens in this office?
  • Do the PAs need direct access to their storage, or can the door to it be in this hall over here?
  • How much medication dispensation are you doing?
  • If you want more exam rooms, what are you willing to give up?
  • REALLY?!  They won't share?!
So that was my day.  How about yours?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Git ur kleen on, or how many pairs of shoes do I actually own?

Over the weekend, I went to see the little house that Dame Judith purchased, which is always fun for an architect. I provided here with a little professional advice (tear that out, you'll have to cap that, make most of your living happen on one floor), and in return she thrilled me by showing me one of the EPIC WIN bonuses in her new digs--a walk-in closet fully lined in cedar.  Oh, y'all, this closet was Mecca.  And Dame Judith was about to go through ALL of her fantastic wardrobe, pare it down, and move it into this House of Win and Awesome.

It inspired me to do some paring down of my own wardrobe.  The next day, Sunday, I walked over to Bed Bath and Beyond and returned to the Happy Kitten Highrise with some cedar blocks/sachets/thingies and commenced.  For once, I took my own advice and took everything out of my chests of drawers and laid the clothes out on my king-size bed like I was at a clothing store.  Then, I wiped down every drawer and even the innards of the chests themselves with hot water and OxyClean (yes, I was wearing rubber gloves).  While letting my furniture air out, I went shopping in my own wardrobe and assessed my possessions: when was the last time I wore that?  Y'know, I dread putting that on.  I never wear anything even sorta like that.  I can never just wear that--I have to put on a sweater over it to make it look professional.  Everything that didn't make the cut went into a bag to take to Goodwill, and things that were nass-tay went into a trash bag (like undies and socks from college--really? do I still own underpants from 1995?  signs point to yes).

Guy had been at work most of Sunday, so upon his return it was off to the Container Store for a proper shoe rack (mine had broken twice and Guy fixed it for me both times) and a rack for scarves and belts (damn, I still need something for my jewelry--I've got it strewed from hell to breakfast right now).  Back at home, I put the rack together, thinking, Well, this holds thirty pairs of shoes and there's no way on God's green earth that I own that many...

Alas, I do.

I managed to get all my nice and casual shoes in the rack, and they totaled 26.  That 26 doesn't include the hiking boots, nice boots, and running shoes--those put me over 30.  My Imelda Marcos-esque indulgence embarrassed me only slightly more than the discovery that even after I gave away all my poorly-fitting bras, I still own about 20 of those.  I can wear a different bra each day and not have to do laundry for almost three weeks.  Really?  Y'all, I feel a little embarrassed at how much clothing I own.  Even after I cleared out some stuff from my closet (and I still ahve some things on the chopping block), I still have extraordinary luxury in my 5'-0" x 5'-7" closet.  And I still have a burning desire to make it over.  And I know I'm a lucky lucky person.  I'm lucky enough to live in a country and have an income that allows me to simply give away really nice clothes and purses and shoes--I mean nice stuff like a theSAK purse, suede Ann Taylor pants, leather NineWest boots.  I'm lucky enough that I know that even if I were to get laid off, I would still eventually be able to refill that closet if I so chose.  Hell, I'm lucky enough to have the disposable time to sort through my closet and wardrobe and look at things and play Roman Emperor with my garments.

Author and architect Sarah Susanka wrote The Not-So-Big House as a plea to America while it was in the grip of the late 1990s affluenza.  Her plea was to stop building McMansions and other unreasonably big houses with huge closets, attics, and garages.  Stop building paeans to your stuff, she said, and put the money into a smaller, better-constructed, more energy-efficient home.  Build something you can keep clean and maintained on your own.  Build something that holds up well over time and doesn't further pollute the environment with its disposable building and repair materials and cleaning agents and lawn care chemicals and power and water required to run it.  While the HKH and most of my lifestyle are fairly in line with Ms. Susanka's philosophy, my overstuffed closets and drawers were not.

So, while I feel better, much better about lightening the load and actually being able to see my clothes when I look in a drawer, I'm humbled by my little discoveries all the same.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Myrtle Mae Monday 03.23.09 -- guest post!

While my sister was visiting at the start of March, we chatted a great deal about home improvement issues, especially for the Happy Kitten Cottage.  One of Kitty's manifold concerns is preparing a suitable place for to house all future chicken acquisitions.  She attempted to sketch for me what she wanted her new chicken coop to look like, and then I made a sketch of my own.

The larger sketch is an elevation of the ideal chicken coop by Kitty.  It shows the coop with a few windows and a nesting bump-out on the left along with a chainlink chicken run on the right.  On the right of the image, I sketched a section through the coop to try to understand how the floor is missing (it's a deep mulch system, whatever the hell that is--Kitty says she'll get me more on how it works) and how tall the coop needs to and how the nesting niche/bumpout works.

It was at this point that we started joking around about what style to do the coop in.  Really, it should match the HKC, which is a two-wide mill house (two rooms wide all the way back), but then we started laughing about various starchitects designing chicken coops.  Why not? 

Aaaaaaauuugghhh!  Godzilla crapped some tinfoil!  Oh, no, wait...everybody relax, it's just a Frank Gehry building.  I mean, it's nice that Mr. Gehry gave us such a high-end coop, with the shiny titanium curvilinear panels and stuff.  However, for a $450/sf chicken coop, you think you can keep the water out?  (Non-fans of his Sata Center at MIT will get the jokes in the sketch.)

What phase is Philip Johnson in today?  Is he feeling like indulging in some postmodernist Chippendale furniture as a skyscraper cap?  Maybe he feels like emulating some early Liebskind, but with fiberglass instead of metal.  Ah, it looks like for nos poulets favoris, he's in his International Style I-love-Mies phase.  Sadly, the internal temperatures of Johnson's own Glass House reached as high as 106 degrees F, which means that actually keeping chickens in this coop will, well, fry them.  At least we can observe our feathered friends unhindered, unless they going into the brick nesting cylinder.

Ah, but what is this?  Some post-modern architecture parlant for our chicken coop?  And who would be so inclined to make a coop that a chicken would love?  Why, Michael Graves, of course.  Granted, it's a confused collection of literal chicken coop and a half-assed homage to Neoclassical Revival circa 1988, but still, it's so cute you could buy it at Target.

More Starchitect Chicken Coops next Monday.  Until then, keep your feathers preened and the yard cats on the run!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Calling all ArchiCAD fans

I'm having to work with another architecture firm that uses ArchiCAD, and my office uses Revit.  Supposedly the two software platforms can talk to each other if you convert the drawing files to an .ifc file type, but the other firm can't see my stuff in plan when they get my files, and I can see the other firm's walls, doors, and windows but not their toilets and sinks.  Any ideas? 

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pixie's forecast: anxiety with a chance of optimism

Less than a week after he was laid off from DA, Elliot had an interview at my husband Guy's office.  This is good news indeed--Guy's boss took one look at his resume and wanted to chat with him the next day.  According to Guy, he'd like to hire Elliot even if they didn't immediately have a project for him to work on because he's a good catch.  He's fairly affordable as an architect but has plenty of experience in healthcare architecture.  I hadn't seen Vinnie in a while and related this to him this afternoon during a happy hour in LoDo.  Vinnie swirled the ice in his highball glass and looked into it.  "Som'n tells me that DA is going to regret letting go such good architects instead of some dead weight associates," he mused.
"Did I tell you that Wayne was finally laid off?" I mentioned.
"Really?!" Vinnie's eyes jerked back to mine. "That was beyond overdue!"  He swirled his ice again and drained the last of his drink from it.  "You know, though, why they kept you...?"
"Yeah," I replied.  "I'm cheap.  I'm really good at what I do, and I do it for less than $60,000 a year."
"Well, you're underpaid, which may not be a bad thing right now," he concurred as he caught the bartender's eye.  "But you really may be that good at what you do that they want to keep you for when the work comes back."

I'd sure like to think so.  I realize that this blog is all from my point of view, and it's entirely possible that I make myself sound a whole lot cooler and more competent than I actually am.  But there must be an element of competency to why I've been kept for so long.  Vinnie and I also discussed the fact that I've been able to engage in some appropriate politics, such as tooting my own horn without blowing it and doing things that add value and add to my profile (like running the office party decoration committee and creating and running the intern development seminars).  So even though the two projects I'm supposed to work on next are both on hold for the next one to ten days (I know, nice precise window there, huh?), I'm helping out our small commercial project team (banks and small offices under 5,000 sf).  It's been a weird experience for the past couple of days.  After Thursday's layoffs, Alex strongly encouraged everyone to make billable as many of their hours as possible, which means that the volume of typical healthcare rooms and equipment types that i'd been building in Revit for the past couple of months was about to be almost shut completely down.  I mentioned this to Sven, a partner with whom I'd been working since November, and he seemed a little surprised.  "But if we don't do these kinds of things now, when will we do them?  This is the perfect time to do all those cleanups and organizing of things that we've all said we need to do for the past five years."

I was chatting with Sven because I was in a state of anxiety this morning when I ran out of things to do.  The small commercial team runs at a different pace that to which I'm accustomed.  The interns move at my speed, but not the people at my level, the job captains.  So contracts aren't signed and decisions aren't made and even after being given three things to do in a day, I've busted them out, made all the phone calls that I can, and done all that can be done until decisions are made.  So I suddenly found myself unoccupied at 10:45am today, and I felt slightly ill.  I hadn't had to scramble for work in a couple of months, but now if working on the healthcare library in Revit was pretty much off-limits, then what's a girl to do?

Sven gave me some direction on the master plan I'd been working on with him.  Two of the interns on the small commercial team needed help getting some RFIs done.  Right on.  I was being assigned work by people who didn't outrank me, and it didn't bother me a bit.  I just wanted to be useful and productive.  However, and I think I've talked about this before, but at some point it's the job of the people who outrank me to keep me busy.  By the end of the day, I had things to do, and I'll ahve a few hours' worth to do tomorrow, which will suit me fine.  Just a few hours of work, and then I'll go home and do some writing and enjoy my weekend, guilt-free.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

You only want me for my husband

I can't tell you the number of people who have called me about getting a job at my husband's firm.  Actually, I suppose I could count them: four.  For those of you new to WAD, my husband Mile High Guy and I are both healthcare architects, and we worked at the same firm, Design Associates, for six and a half years together.  He left and went to another firm across town, Acme Architects.  DA, my firm, is privately owned by several partners, while Acme is a nationwide architecture and engineering firm (one of many), and Guy works in the Denver office of Acme.

Back during the first round of layoffs happened in September, both Ethel and Sarge asked me about working at Guy's firm.  Sarge, being our CAD manager for the past three or four years, would have been very good at Revit, but in such a large office he would have been stuck doing CAD management again instead of really working on architecture.  Guy attempted to dissuade Sarge from applying, but he did anyway.  He wasn't hired, which is fine--he got a better opportunity elsewhere.  Ethel asked me to have Guy run interference for her more than once.  That's right, she applied twice for an architect position at Acme as an unlicensed architectural intern, and she wanted Guy to say great things about her.  When asked, Guy was as honest as he could be.  He said she was a good person and an okay intern, but she wasn't what they were looking for.

What they're looking for is another Guy, a licensed architect with lots of healthcare experience who can run large and small projects without having a meltdown or dropping the ball.  Thing is, DA hasn't let go of anyone like that until last week.  Elliot asked me about Guy's firm just as Guy emailed me to say, "Tell Elliot to send me his resume and I'll pass it on to my bosses."  Then today, I got a call from Jacqueline about the position.  She mentioned that she'd applied for the job on Acme's website, and that she'd be glad to say that Guy referred her in case she got the gig and was able to get him a referral/signing bonus.  I mentioned that Acme, like many architectural firms, is going to Revit from AutoCAD, so she should be prepared to describe her skills in it.  Elliot is better at Revit than Jacqueline, but she has more big-healthcare-project experience.  We'll see if they both get an interview.

I mean, I had a lot of friends before, but now people really want to be nice to me.  Guy asked me if Wayne had called or emailed yet, and I responded no.  Guy's next comment kinda surprised me, because it was a little snarky and he's not usually a vindictive bastard, just a standard-issue bastard.  He said, "Man, I hope he contacts me.  Then, I can say, 'Hey, remember when I left Design Associates?  Yeah, that was due to how much Gregg favored you over me.  Hope all that ass-kissing in lieu of getting licensed really paid off for you, pal.  How'd that work out for you?'  Then I'd hit 'send'."


Sunday, March 15, 2009

Back to the banal

I take my sister Miss Kitty back to the airport tomorrow after getting to spend nince wonderful days with her.  Even with more than a week together, we still didn't get to do all the things we'd planned to do together.  We never made it to Tattered Cover, for example, and I didn't take her to the gym to show her some exercises with an exercise ball.  But we did do some yoga together and did some shopping (mostly window), and we took a lot of walks through my lovely old neighborhood and the surrounding, more affluent 'hoods.  Kitty cooked dinner for us a couple of nights during the week, including some nummy beef stew that we ate for a couple of nights in a row, and some orange rosemary chicken that I will put in a salad tomorrow for lunch.  We ate well, talked well, slept well, and lived well.  It was also great to have her here when things went to hell on Thursday to listen and attempt to soothe my fried nerves while watching my friends pack up their desks.

Nine days still wasn't enough.  I will take her to the airport with tears in my eyes but a smile on my face as we plan our next adventure in late May, when I go to Georgia to guest teach a class for one of her colleagues.  And then I will go back to my office, which is now just a little less crowded and a little more eerie, and try to get something done and be bored and come home to no playdate.  Granted, I still have my husband and my sweet but shy kittehs, and Lawd knows I still have a job.  And there's something nice about getting back to "normal" after visitors leave, but having visitors can make you realize that you don't have to do the same thing all the time.  Since the time changed, for example, Kitty and I have been going out for walks almost every evening for at least an hour, getting some extra exercise.  Instead of plopping in front of the TV or leafing through yet another catalog, I could take myself outside and take in the goings-on in my neighborhood and get a little more exercise.  Life doesn't have to be as boring as we let it get.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Okay, everybody just breathe...

Yesterday, our office laid off ten more people, including Jacqueline, Wayne, and my very good friend and prominently-featured-on-WAD colleague Elliot.  Seriously.

Everyone got a few days' notice (Wayne got an entire week, bien sur, pat the baby).  Norman commented that it seemed to him that the ten let go were all good people but were possibly paid a little more than their colleagues.  They also weren't terribly busy, I countered--Jacqueline had been working barely 30 hrs/wk since she had a baby a year ago, and Elliot had been helping the office manager move some boxes and do deadfiling/destruction of old files in our storage units.  Derek and I wondered to each other how Elliot could be laid off at the same time as Wayne.  First off, Wayne should have been gone months ago.  And I realize it sounds like we're voting someone off the island here, but seriously, none of us on Team Howie wanted to work with Wayne.  The guy was useless.  Derek noted, "Wayne's good at the smokescreen, and Elliot is so meat-and-potatoes.  You get what you get with Elliot, and he's very clear.  But Wayne can make it look like he's doing all kinds of things when he's doing absolutely nothing.  And how is Mickey still here but Elliot gone?!"  Another good point--Mickey had been a pain in the ass and only slightly more useful than Wayne.  I worked with Mickey on a project in 2004 and refused to work for/with him again.  He spent the entire day surfing the internet, IMing, Twittering, or whatever the hell it's called.  I would have to go over to his desk and harass him for info at least once an hour, and every time I went over there he was looking at CNN.com or something.  And yet, he billed 64 hours a week on the project.  You've got to be kidding me.

Ingrid, Liz, and I have been noticing lots of scurrying in and out of conference rooms this week, lots of partners not making eye contact.  The other shoe has finally dropped, and we all sighed in relief and sadness.  Overall, yesterday a lot of really good, strong, competent and pleasant people were let go.  And it gives us all the pea-picking willies.  Our big healthcare architecture boss Alex called us into a conference room and emphasized that we all need to share our work as much as possible to keep folks billable.  If we run out of work and find ourselves with nothing to do, it's okay to work even less than 36 hours.  We may have to go to 32 hours a week, but we just don't know yet.There may be more layoffs, maybe not, we just don't know yet.

There are some small projects in the office, some starting, some about to start.  Alex said that architecture is on the front lines of a crappy economy, and when the work comes back, our industry will be the first to know.  So everyone's still anxious and wondering and hoping and trying not to be freaked out.  And I still remain steadfast in my belief that I have done all I can do.  I've saved up my cushion, I have my plan, and I'm done freaking out.  Last night, after a long and wearisome day, Kitty and I had makeovers at a cosmetic store in the mall and then met Guy for dinner at a wonderful little restaurant a few blocks from our condo.  We even tipped the makeup artists a little something.  As much as I want to be careful with my money, I also believe (and my dear friend Vinnie the psychologist has confirmed this) that there is a psychological component to a recession, and I for one want to put a little breathing room back into the economy whenever I can.  

Tonight, we're going out with Dame Judith for a marvelous dinner, and tomorrow night we're meeting the ever-dear Elliot for pho at a new local restaurant.  And I know I'm whistling past the graveyard a bit here, but I'm tired of being freaked out.  It's not. helping. anything.  Pardon me while I go take a few deep cleansing breaths and relax with my friends and loved ones.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

All this recession and you don't want this job

Recently, the health department official in western Kansas inspected my hospital in Wheatlands and cited them for noncompliance on a few things.  The design team (us and the engineers) put together an extensive and coherent rebuttal to the health code inspector's comments, and then he sent us a a rebuttal to our rebuttal, which basically said "you're gonna change these items and you're gonna like it, punks."  Hence, they're having to move some medical gas lines and install some extra exhaust ductwork and fans and additional concrete walkways that we all agree are unnecessary but must be done.  The design team drew up some drawings and narratives to show the contractor and their subcontractors to price and use for the required changes.

Howie got back the pricing for the changes, and they. were. ridiculous.  They were way high, even for having to go out into the middle of western Kansas to do the work (we call that extra markup on construction costs "the Wheatlands Factor").  Howie called the project manager at the construction company (the ones who originally built Wheatlands) and asked him to explain WTF was going on.  The PM just got the calculations from his subcontractors and emailed them to Howie, and Howie was still confused, incredulous, and annoyed.  I heard him on the phone with the PM, and I could actually hear Howie giving this guy hell, which is unusual.  

"Why are these prices so high?" I heard him ask.  "I cannot defend these prices to the CEO of Wheatlands.  This is not teamwork. Have you really looked at your subs' pricing?  $6,200 for "finishes"?  All they're doing is moving a med gas panel.  That's about four square feet of drywall.  How does four square feet of drywall and paint equal $6,200?  You have GOT to be KIDDING me."

Howie then called our consultants (the ones who did the drawings for pricing and also worked on Wheatlands originally) and asked them for names of some subcontractors that might want some work.  We got pricing from a medical gas sub in eastern Colorado who was willing to do the project for a third of what the first sub quoted, and the second sub's quote included independent third-party certification.  Hm.  Sounds like someone actually wants a job.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

We'll have fun fun fun til Guy takes the Civic away

Kitty and I spent Friday at the spa and a great haute Tex-Mex dinner, then Saturday was spent at Sephora playing with makeup and at the fabric shop buying yards and yards of textile fabulosity for Mom to make us some suits and other outfits from patterns yet to be determined.  Poor Mom--we called her every few minutes to confirm this or that: how many yards for the pants, how much lining do I need, what size buttons for the jacket, do you need thread, do you hate us yet?  So far, Mom does not hate us, but she did need a drink after listening to us buy fabric for an hour.

Today was spent at breakfast and then window shopping in Cherry Creek.  Mostly it was a good excuse to ooh and aah over stuff, discuss what we'd do with a microplaner/silicone cupcake forms/leather sofa/tacky-ass Tory Burch nouveau riche handbag/espresso maker/French blue sundress/whatever.  We headed home for some leftover chili (Guy's recipe) and enjoy a post-dinner walk around my neighborhood.  Finally, we made a cheesecake, the account of which can be seen at some point on Kitty's blog.

I'll tryo to post occasionally about something semi-interesting, but I gotta tell you, while my sister's here, I just wanna hang out and chill with her.  Oh!  I do have some future posts regarding starchitects and chickens coming.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Worry paused; fun in high gear

Y'all, my sister got here last night, and it is on.  Today is the spa, tomorrow is shopping, and Sunday is who knows what.  Kitty will be here for 9 days total.  Guy is already under the sofa in a fetal position.

One of the few advantages to being slightly underemployed is that I've been unbusy enough to look forward to things, like goign to Vegas and Kitty's arrival.  I was even in a goofy mood yesterday when discussing AR's latest issue with my colleagues.  We howled at how confusing the charts and graphs were in it: Intern Skippy said, "I think it's supposed to tell me how bad the economy is, but all it does is tell me how bad the people who make their graphs and charts are.  For a bunch of architects, these are really confusing graphics."

"Puh-leeze," I retorted.  "If architects wrote this issue, it shows.  We're so good at obfuscating the simple."

"Like using words like 'obfuscating'," chimed in Norman.

Ingrid flipped through the pages to one young woman's picture and read the woman's quote, placed artfully by her head.  "'I'm being active and getting my face out there as much as possible.' Translation: I'm all over Facebook!"

I cackled.  "Yeah, you're getting your face out there as much as possible. Being featured in Record sure doesn't hurt, does it?!"

We laughed so hard that even Jann stopped by to share in the laughs with us.  Even though more rumors of layoffs were swirling around DA yesterday, we all just decided that we're done worrying.  We're over being anxious.  We last few have saved our emergency cushions, adjusted our 401(k)s, and are still going to go out for one more drink.

To hell with freaking out all the time.  Record, fuck you and your road-cone orange magazine cover, your quasijournalistic equivalent of the Cone of Death on the Weather Channel.  You're late to the ball, and no one at my office or my house wants to dance with you.  We're going to the spa and the library.  We're going to enjoy each other's company and some crispy chicken tacos at Chipotle.    The Age of Fear is over.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

A recession, Architectural Record? You don't say!

The latest issue of Architectural Record, the main publication of the American Institute of Architects, was titled, "Surviving the Recession: The Strategy Issue."  Usually, Record's covers are some high-quality beautiful photos or some amazing building or another, usually not in America, or if it is in America, in some huge super-edgy-design city like New York or San Francisco.  This month's cover is a bright safety orange with white, yellow, and black letters.

Oh, no!  Is there a recession going on, Record?  Did it just happen?  But...but your covers and pages have been plastered with amazing and glorious paeans to Pilkington Glass connectors and $400/sf projects for the entirety of 2008!  How can this be?  I rolled my eyes so hard at this that I nearly looked at my brain.  What of it that I hadn't wasted away listening to Ricky Gervais podcasts and watching "Ax Men" and "Ghost Hunters" was left behind screaming, "WOW, CAPTAIN OBVIOUS, I LIKE YOUR CAPE!!"

As usual, though, I'm of two minds.  I'm also glad that they finally pulled it together at McGraw-Hill and figured out that most architects and interns were dropping their glossy architectural-money-shot-parading piece of quasijournalistic solipsism straight into the recycle bin without a moment's glance.  Kinda difficult to skim the archiporn if you're worried about having a job or making sure your employees do.  I'm impressed that the question "Will young architect flee the profession?" made the cover, but not impressed that I can't really find any answer for it inside.  There's a 2/3 page dedicated to describing what some young architects, interns, and architectural college grads are doing right now per their self-reports on an AIA website, but I'm not seeing much else.  Granted, I'm sorta skimming the issue in my lap as I type.  (If any of you out there find a real answer regarding what they're referring to on the cover, holla.)  I'm also encouraged to see a good article on surviving and staying active as possible in the profession.  The first and I think best suggestion is to get ready.  Make sure you have references, write your resume and gather copies of your email contacts now.  Many firms aren't allowing people enough time to do a thorough clean-up/out when the defecation hits the oscillation.  

What strikes me most about this whole issue is that, even though it's the issue I'm most likely to read of Record, I'm not terribly interested in reading it.  Partly it's because I'm tired of being reminded of how shitty everything is in my profession right now.  I can look at my office full of empty desks and my 10% smaller paycheck and know that.  But more than that, Guy and I have already discussed what we'll do if I get laid off.  My resume is 95% ready and my image sheet is about 50% ready.  I'll complete them (maybe in the next week or more?), get the unemployment office to allow me to send out only three resumes a week (down from the typical five; many of my former colleagues have done this) and collect unemployment while I write one of two books I'm working on.  We've saved up a cushion that will fill the gap in my unemployment for about 4-5 months, without including the unemployment benefits.  We'll have to figure out COBRA and healthcare, but other than that , there's no point in losing my/our mind(s) over it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

An ethical dilemma: your thoughts?

The architecture firm for which my husband Guy works, Acme Architects, designed a building that is being built right now. The building is an MOB, or medical office building, which you often see around a hospital. They provide room for specialty or outpatient doctor's offices and clinics. In this Acme-designed MOB, the firm for which I work, Design Associates, is designing a fairly-complicated office. Something like an outpatient chemo suite or imaging or physical therapy or something; whatever it is, it's more than just putting in some walls and a few light fixtures. Just so we're clear: Acme designed the building, and DA is designing a suite inside the building.

A colleague of mine, Ingrid, is working with my usual boss Howie on this suite, and I heard them fuming recently. When I inquired what was up, they complained that getting information and getting questions answered was nearly impossible with Acme. I asked who they were working with on the project, and the names Ingrid gave me were of two people, two of Guy's colleagues, for whom I had great respect and was very surprised to hear. They have only ever struck me as conscientious people, conscientious architects, so like I said, I was surprised. I know that one of the people that Ingrid was working with is an intern who Guy has mentored some and she told me that she appreciated his mentorship. But still....

Here's my conundrum. Most of me says that this situation is none of my business. Everyone involved is an adult and this will work itself out, and even if it doesn't work itself out, the project will eventually end and everyone will leave each other alone. However, I hate the notion that Guy's firm is getting such a crappy reputation in my office. Are they getting that reputation in other offices? I also hate the idea that the people involved are getting slagged off. This is two sets of people I respect, you see. On an intellectual level, I want to know what the truth really is: how can four highly competent and professional people not get what they need? But it's entirely possible I'm taking all of this overly personal--not only did Guy used to work for DA and now works for Acme, but the manager for Acme on this project used to work at DA--he was the first guy to make associate under my big boss Alex.

So, the question is: do I have any reason or responsibility to say something to Guy--or anyone--about this situation? If I do, I'm inserting myself into a situation of which I'm not a part. On the other hand, I know how completely nonconfrontational DA is, and it annoys me to no end that all the "professional adults" I work are highly unlikely to say anything about this to Acme. So, what say you, my tens of failthful readers?

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Further musing on Vegas: fun and naps

I mentioned that during my weekend in Vegas at the spa, I actually took a couple of naps. Again , I must reiterate, I. don't. nap. I've never been a nap person that I can recall (Mom, fill us in if I'm wrong on this). But the Vegas weekend really did something to me.

The first thing I noticed during the weekend was that my spa had a reduced schedule of yoga and workout classes. The only class I wanted to take that also didn't conflict with any of my few spa and salon services was Restorative Yoga. Usually I take a couple of yoga classes and maybe even some kind of cardio or flexibility class. I once took Pilates and found that it made me angry and frustrated for some reason. Anyway, the only class I took the whole weekend was a class on gentle yoga poses for chillin' my crazy ass out, which was a refreshing change from my usual vinyasa-flow-look-how-far-I-can-pull-my-leg-back yoga classes.

After my rock climbing on Saturday morning, I stood thoughtfully in front of the curtailed class schedule and racked my brain to think of what I wanted to take, what could I take. After all, I can't just sit in the steam room and relaxation lounge for three or four hours...can I? But I did. I laid around in the steam room for about 15 or 20 minutes, went to the laconium for another 20 or so minutes, a quick shower in the experiential rain booth (trust me, it was cool), and then I laid down on a heated lounge seat by the jacuzzi and promptly fell asleep for nearly half an hour. I did it again the next day too--resting here and there until I'd finally take a 20-30 minute nap.

Being that still and quiet is really unusual for me, weird. I'm so accustomed to moving, going, doing, walking, running, being productive. It's so odd to be still and quiet. Not to get all sappy and New-Agey, but it was healing, really healing to just rest and have nothing to do but rest. It's like resting was my job for two days. And when I let it sink in that my job was to have fun, real fun for the weekend, to have fun and rest, the anxiety slid away and I just enjoyed myself. And I took a nap.

And I had fun. I got dressed up and ate with the correct fork and munched on things I've never had and sipped sake at the Asian restaurant we had dinner at and nearly wept while watching Phantom of the Opera and got dressed up again and laughed really loudly and slapped the table at Craig Ferguson's stand-up and goofed off with my dear friend Miz Scarlett and went shopping and mostly....I allowed myself to be happy and not to feel guilty about being happy about stuff, whether deep (the song "All I Ask of You") or shallow (OMG! Cole Haan pumps for $90!1!!). I suppose I'd been so tweaked and stressed and anxious about my job and the economy and my cats' health and life in general that I'd forgotten what fun and rest were like.

My dear friend bluearchitecture once said that the only way to fight crazy is with crazy. He described seeing a stand-up comic talk about some guy losing his mind at the comic in traffic, so then the comic just started yelling back, "Hey man, I said you could borrow my sweater, not have it!" The road rager panicked at how crazy the comic started acting that he got the hell away from him. Hence, you can only fight crazy with crazy. With that in mind, God bless Vegas for giving me a place so crazy that I have no choice but to shake free of the usual madness and enjoy myself.