Friday, July 31, 2009

Good business or cutting off our nose to spite our face?

I discovered this week that Veronica was part of the layoff last week. I hadn't particularly noticed her absence because she does spend a lot of time meeting with the partners and sometimes keeps erratic hours, but I realized that she was gone as I was looking across the office while a colleague told me of her dismissal late on Friday afternoon. I suppose Veronica's layoff was obvious enough to do--she was likely well paid and the partners needed to cut costs. Before she arrived about 18 months to 2 years ago, they did their own marketing and wrote their own proposals, so they'd just have to go back to doing it again. But...people, you laid. off. the. head. of. marketing. Seriously?

Ingrid and Liz and I mulled over the decision this week. Liz evidently was never a fan, due to the fact that no work was coming in, and it's kinda her job to get work in the office. Plus, Veronica appeared to send out lots of emails about events coming up in the community and articles or slide shows relating to architecture and culture from the New York Times and other media sources. I countered with the fact that I felt she'd been behind the 8-ball to start with, having to try to get eight partners to talk to each other and agree on ANYTHING for the first time in 40 years. I mentioned that Bosley, under her advice, began taking chances with his interviews and proposals and was winning some small projects. Liz's rebuttal was, "Yeah, but we need some big work to keep up afloat, and we keep coming in second."

Fair enough, but the sendoff of Veronica leaves me feeling the same way when I see a sports team fire the manager or coach. The manager may be in charge of putting people in and out of the game or setting up training and practice and writing plays, but at some point the players have to go out there and play and win. I don't fully agree that it was Veronica's job to get work (though to be fair I may be misquoting Liz a bit on this). Her job was to help us make good, solid presentations and to convey ourselves in a way that appeals to potential clients and makes them take a second look. It's just that when they've taken a second look at us, after they toured our offices and saw our elaborate presentations and amazing models (real and digital) and we've built and heard all that we've had to say, they decided they liked another firm more. And ultimately, that's out of Veronica's--and perhaps everyone's--hands.

I emailed Veronica to see what was up, and she said that the decision to lay her off was not unanimous, so at least there was that. However, she seemed glad to be free of being set up for failure and having to repress aspects of her leadership and guidance methods, and I can certainly understand that. I'll be keeping in touch with her. I just hope DA hasn't cut off its nose to spite its face on this.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sober with power

I mentioned that I'm now on two, about to be three projects. Presently, I'm working on the surgery and ICU renovation at FCH and on the surgery renovation at TCMC. For the first time in my 9+ year career, I also have staff. Staff is, in great part, good.

I have Intern Kimmy on FCH. This has become more and more a blessing, as she's been able to get stuff done with the drawings while I've been distracted on TCMC. The last two weeks of my life have been devoted mostly to TCMC, getting graphs and charts ready, taking and writing and distributing meeting notes, working out the schematic plan options for the department. I'd nearly forgotten about FCH until I received an email from the architect of record (we're the design architect--we're handing off the drawings to them midway through design development) looking for some drawings. I realized I hadn't checked in with Kimmy in a few days to see if she had enough to do--whoops. Turns out she was fine and had gotten a few marching order from Bosley while Howie and I had been doing as-builts at TCMC. Now, I make it a point to check with her almost every day, even if it's just a "how're things? you got what you need to keep moving forward?"

Meanwhile, Bosley gave me Intern Timmy--yes, the legendary Intern Timmy--for TCMC. This is a coup, I think, because the kid is sharp (and I'm not just saying that because he reads WAD). He listens and learns well, and he's about to sit for the ARE (no thanks to some nimrod at NCARB who could never seem to find the forms he sent in for seven months) at a younger age than almost everyone he works with. Timmy draws/builds the model of TCMC in Revit while I'm writing up notes, doing code research, assembling the aforementioned charts and graphs, and so on. I also make sure to check with him once a day to make sure he has what he needs to move forward. I've told both Kimmy and Timmy that if they ever have any question, no matter how dumb they may think it is, ASK. You'd be surprised how few dumb questions there are in healthcare architecture.

I was describing my workload to someone recently, and I realized while I was occasionally crazy busy because of a deadline, I was never truly truly truly outrageously busy. Perhaps it was because of the projects' sizes, but something else hit me. The difference between these projects and Wheatlands is...I have help. I had to do about 90+% of the work on Wheatlands myself, which meant I worked no less than 7 eight-hour days a week for eight months straight. I really needed someone to get drawings done while I typed this and researched that and looked for the other, but I didn't.

"I remember that," Intern Timmy chuckled on Friday. "Howie lent me to you one morning, and after I spent, like, two hours checking an equipment list for you, he pulled me off to help someone else do something. But you know in his mind he gave me to you for a day!" I too had a good chuckle--that was back in the day when we were hiring people after 9/11 and life was wine and roses. Nowadays it's Spam and mac & cheese, and we're all thankful for it.

But it's an interesting thing, this being in charge of people's workload. I have to make sure that a) folks have something to do, and b) that they understand what they're doing. Kimmy knows a fair amount about buildings and putting out a set of drawings, but she doesn't know much about hospitals. I sometimes have to stop myself and think about if I'm talking down to her or giving her info that she really needs. Timmy asked if he could bug me more often about how healthcare planning works, and I'm glad to answer anything he's wondering. Hell, I'm glad people are asking any questions. GUy has said that if an intern isn't asking questions, that usually means trouble: they're banging their heads against a wall trying to solve a problem that you could solve in ten seconds, or worse, they're just warming a seat and doing rote redlines. Fortunately, my interns are better than that. I totally got lucky.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Measure twice, cut once: an intro to Tumbleweed County Medical Center

So I haven't really been discussing what I've been doing lately, and it's not because I've been unbusy. Rather, I've been busy and trying to formulate in my head how best to a) explain what I'm doing such that I don't bore you all into hoping I'll post a YouTube video of a turtle riding a skateboard and b) disguise certain elements of my projects so that I don't out myself. (In really good but completely unrelated news, Guy scored us an amazing deal on a 17" laptop, so as I type this, I'm outside in my Extreme Balcony Garden with Maddy laying in a sunbeam and Hazel walking laps and looking for the house finches that have lately taken up roost in a high corner of the balcony. Me love wireless internets.)

So, you'll recall over the July 4th weekend that we got a job that we interviewed for. That job is a surgery renovation gig at a li'l hospital called Tumbleweed County Medical Center, about 45 minutes northeast of Wheatlands. Nice enough little place--most small hospitals are full of good people doing the best they can with what they have, saving lives and comforting the unsaveable and their families. TCMC is a small hospital with one medical office building (MOB, as we call them in da biz) on its campus, hence it can call itself a "medical center" instead of just a "hospital". "Medical center" sounds more upscale than "hospital", just like "loft" sounds more upscale than "apartment." Anyway, TCMC is managed but not owned by a larger healthcare company we'll call Avanta Health. Avanta will give them some money and help them be profitable, but I'm still not sure how much of a say Avanta gets in TCMC's desicions.

The reason I bring up Avanta is twofold. One, early on in Howie's (my main boss) career with Design Associates, he worked on a hospital remodel and expansion with Avanta and ended up rubbing the Avanta Colorado project manager the wrong way. Howie was trying to build consensus and not impose a my-way-or-the-highway healthcare design on the users of that reno/expansion project, but the Avanta PM, named Wes, took Howie's constant questions to the staff ("How do patients come through your department?") as a sign of being green and ordered that Bosely remove Howie from the project. Well, ten years later, here we are, and Howie is a half-partner in DA. Ooh, look who's all growed up, Mr. PM! Ah, but that cranky PM, who later attributed some flaws in the project to DA (inaccurately so, in my opinion, but I'll spare you the details), is now the Avanta Colorado project executive. Somebody's movin' on up like George and Weezy. We've gone after work with Avanta before and didn't get it, we think in some part due to Wes' earlier prejudice/bad taste in his mouth regarding DA. So now that we finally got an Avanta job, we know we have to work at least twice or three times as hard, because a) this is a shitty economy, and b) we have to impress Wes enough to give him a better taste in his mouth regarding DA.

The second reason I bring up Avanta is because a health system changes the dynamic of design and construction projects. They provide a great deal of funding to facilities that might not otherwise be able to afford a new MRI or remodeled surgery suite or updated physical therapy department, but these systems have their own set of rules that might not work for a smaller facility at best or might not really make sense functionally at all at worst. Health systems often have templates and standards for how big different typical rooms are (an OR, an exam room, a trauma room in an ED) and what's on each wall (sharps container, paper towel dispenser, sphygmomanometer, etc.) and how those rooms are shaped (9'x11', 8'x12', etc.). When fitting those templates into an existing space built in 1960, they might not always work, and getting the health system to buy off on a variation of their template can be a reasonable process or one that makes you want to gouge your eye out with a spoon.

At any rate, Bosley, Howie, and I have gone out to Tumbleweedville to do a couple of kickoff and programming meetings with them. Part of what we do is assess utilization statistics and population and patient growth figures. For example, with a surgery department, utilization statistics are what we produce when we find out from the facility how many procedures of what kind do they do every month and how long those procedures last. We can then show a facility how much their ORs and minor procedure rooms get used. We then compare those numbers to real life. At Wheatlands, their utilization stats could only justify having one operating room, but because they could only schedule their specialty surgeons to come out at certain times of the month, they really needed two ORs for scheduling. So it goes with TCMC.

We also run utilization stats of surgery prep and recovery beds. TCMC was originally planning for only four or five of those beds total in their surgery department, but when Bosley sat down and scheduled out two surgeries and an endoscope procedure happening on the same day, he showed them that they really need at least six prep and recovery beds. Furthermore, we had to show them that maybe they could get by with their one anesthesiologist and five prep/recovery beds, but if we cap them at that in this renovation, we've screwed them (and they screw themselves) for the future. What if they start doing C-sections, or if they bring on another surgeon trying to escape the hustle and bustle of Denver, and he brings along his own second nurse anesthetist? Guess who suddenly doesn't have the room to expand in place?

So, what we've been doing these first few weeks of the project is getting the foundation right. In terms of drawings, we've been getting as-built dimensions of the existing facility (which is exhausting, and you still never get all the dimensions you thought you needed) and building a model of the existing facility in Revit (which requires looking at a CAD drawing they had from 1999, looking at the existing drawings from 1960, and checking all of these against the as-built dimensions we took). We've also been checking their needs once more against reality with the utilization stats and looking at what rooms are required by code (for example, the actual sterile/restricted area where the ORs are requires a separate housekeeping/janitor closet from the rest of the department). Plus, we've been developing a couple of different schemes we showed them in our interview that will allow them to think about different ways to do their department: what if we just renovate? What if we add on and renovate?

While all this is going on, I'm still working on FCH's surgery and ICU renovation, which is good. Busy is good.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Am I in a war zone? Because I just dodged yet another bullet.

Design Associates had another round of layoffs today. We've gotten a few smallish and mediumish projects recently, but it wasn't enough to sustain us. And for the first time since we started letting people go last year, finally in this fourth or fifth round of layoffs, they finally let go of two senior staff members.

They laid off two interns, two architects, two landscape architects, an interior designer who was an associate, and an architect who was a senior associate. I was okay with the interior designer going--I did my best to get along with her, but she was a tough one, and many of our clients complained about her (and how she stayed so long is beyond me). The only person y'all would know is Dash, the landscape architect who worked on Wheatlands with me. He's a good dude, and I (and many others) hated to see him go.

We all breathed a little after the final email went out about who was let go. It's a bit of a guilty feeling for going "okay, thank God it wasn't me, I'm safe for a few more months", but it's natural, I suppose. Norman, Intern Krissy, and I then surmised who might be next. This layoff was truly a cash dump--half were staff members from Vincent's team (he's gone after a lot of work lately, but we keep just missing the cut), and the other half were older folks with lots of experience and a high salary to boot. Healthcare has been pulling in a few jobs over the past few months, but will it be enough to protect us for the rest of 2009? Would they dump some more senior folks? After all, if you dump any more at our levels, who will be left to do the drawings? And which senior staff members do you send home? The really old guys? The guy with terminal cancer? Would they dare?

The contractors have also started the bloodshed. I got a call from Billy Ray (my superintendent on MHRC) saying that he and about 40 others had been let go from his company. I gave him a few leads and asked him to stay in touch. This is the beginning for the contractors; they're about six to twelve months behind us. We design the project, then they build it, so while our work dries up they're still building stuff. Eventually, they get to where we are. That eventually appears to be now.

I got home tonight, ate dinner, and then walked over to the grocery store to pick up meds for my cat. Despite her dire diagnosis, she's still alive and doing okay. She felt poorly the last couple of days my Mom was here, but she perked up last night and asked, nay demanded that I give her mooshy treats NOW, and the vet reupped her meds for two more months. So as I paid for her meds for the tenth month in a row, I did breathe a prayer of thanks that she's still around and that I have the resources to buy cancer medication for an 11-year-old cat. And I still have those resources.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Dress-O-Rama 2009

When Mom showed up seven days ago, she had a decent sized suitcase full of fabric and dresses in various stages of completion. By the time she left today, here's what she had to show for it (and I had to wear). (Yes, I airbrushed my face out where necessary. I actually do have facial features.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Very Special WAD: Ask Mom, the Mile High Edition

I've been asked to do an "Ask Mom", just as Miss Kitty does on E&P, and after spending the day losing our minds at the fabric store in Boulder, we figured we'd sit down while Mom's fixing a few of my pants and skirts at the sewing machine and go through a few questions. Today's "Ask Mom" has been brought to you by the house tequila at Lime XS.

Dear Mom,
Should I lose weight to get a guy?

Mom: NO. Don't even have to think about it--just plain no. Know why? Because you're doomed to failure. The first time he doesn't bring you roses/doesn't remember your birthday/doesn't celebrate your new promotion at work, you'll go on a binge to get back at him. You'll get all pissed off, and go on an eating binge, and make yourself sick (and feel fat)...and he won't even notice. And, he won't understand why you did what you did. And you won't either. So you just start a downward spiral. And if he's not satisfied with your weight and then you lose weight, then there'll just be something else. Also, if you decide to lose weight to keep a guy...well, you're still hanging your outcomes on a guy, and you're doomed to failure. Do it because you want to be healthy. Do it because you're tired of going to Abdullah the Tent Maker for your tailoring [Pixie: go to Mom instead!]. Do it for yourself. But not for a guy.
Now, if you decide to lose weight and you meet a guy at the gym, then fine. Because if you haven't noticed, men don't have any flaws, physical or otherwise [tongue planted firmly in cheek]. Witness the Speedos on the 60-year-old guys with furry backs on the beach. Also, if your guy says, "Honey, I'm concerned about your/our health and weight. Is there anything I can to help you?" then that's cool. But let's face it girls: if you can't run, you can't run after guys. But you really shouldn't run after them anyways. They should be running after you.

Dear Mom,
If you could invite any three people to dinner (living or dead), who would it be and why?

I used to say the Pope and Gorbachev, but me and Karol Wojtyla done fell out over birth control, abortion, and gays. I'd still like to talk to Gorbachev. Him and Andy Warhol. He's bizarre. And Dale Earnhardt, Jr., just to see the look on his face. I'd serve curry chicken, rice, and biscuits, with fresh green beans. And peach cobbler--vanilla ice cream optional.

Dear Mom,
You sound pretty wild. Have you ever been in jail or arrested?
Both. In early 1983, at about 6am, there was somebody beating on the door of the house my boyfriend and I lived on at the time. It was a nice house in a historic district, very schmancy. The dickhead I was living with at the time went to answer the door, and he said, "Get up and put your clothes on." I looked at the open door behind him. There were probably four men I'd never seen before from the sheriff's department--they had come to arrest my boyfriend and me for (supposedly) running a murder-for-hire ring in the same town in which Miss Kitty now teaches college. We were handcufffed and dragged to the government center, put in holding cells where the temperature was approximately 30 degrees F (and I had no jacket), and I was left there for five hours. Nothing to eat, freezing my ass off...I was left there. Then I was booked and transported to the stockade [cue any country song regarding jail]. I spent a summer weekend--in the South, mind you--with no airconditioning in an open dormitory full of white-collar female criminals. You know, forgery, writing bad checks, nothing violent, though. There was one woman there who was a political dissenter--not an anarchist, though--and a very spiritual person. She really believed in what she was doing, and she was the only saving grace of the whole weekend.
The worst part was that we had vanished. No one knew where my boyfriend and I were--not neighbors, kids, no one. I was finally allowed to call a lawyer. The only one I knew was an estate planner, not a trial attorney by any stretch of the imagination, but he was the only one I knew. He came and told me not to worry, they didn't have a leg to stand on. The whole thing was due to some dickhead who was trrying to weasel out of a charge of interstate transportation of stolen property. He tried to sell some stolen computer parts in Florida, and he was trying to get out of it by giving the cops some really good info on some other crime going on. I went to jail because I happened to be in the house at the time.
When we went to court Monday morning, the judge talked to my boyfriend and his business partner and ignored me completely. He released them on their own reconaissance, and then my lawyer asked, "Your Honor, what about my client? She was in the wrong place at the wrong time." The judge looked at me like he'd never seen me before and said, "Oh yeah, charges are dropped against her." I walked out the front door of the courthouse and was promptly met by the paparazzi, or what passed for paparazzi in central Georgia in 1983. Then a good friend and I drove to where the girls were living at the time to let them know that I was all right. I know their grandmother made a lot of hay out of that, but there was no doubt in their grandfather's mind that I was innocent. [Mom picks up a pair of pants off the sewing machine and pronounces them pret a porter.] So, that was my lost weekend, and it caused all kinds of problems in the family, but that's another story.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mom Update

We've had a couple of wonderful days together so far, cooking, goofing around, trying on and fitting clothes Mom made. I'm overwhelmed at ho full of win Mom isWe've had a couple of wonderful days together so far, cooking, goofing around, trying on and fitting clothes Mom made. I'm overwhelmed at how full of win Mom is. She got here Tuesday night with a big suitcase and a little rolling carry-on backpack. When she opened it upon arriving in Denver, I discovered that she put her clothes in the little bag and had filled the large checked suitcase with my stuff--dresses she'd made, dresses she needed to fit on me (some of which needed no adjustment whatsoever), and fabric to show me. Freaking. Hilarious.

I went to work on Wednesday and spent the entire day as-builting a surgery suite that we're about to renovate. When I finally arrived home about 5:30, I noticed that the sewing machine I rented Mom was in the same place it had been the morning I left. "So, whadja do today, Mommy-Squommy?" I asked.

"Go look in your kitchen," said Mom.

Y'all. She cleaned my kitchen. And when I say cleaned, I mean scrubbed and perfectly white and clean. My kitchen is all white (interior design FAIL), and Mom managed to clean EVERYTHING. Cabinet faces, sink, stove top, the oven--the OVEN! I've been living here eight years and I've never cleaned my oven. People, she even cleaned my Ron Popeil rotisserie (what? it was the best wedding gift I got) down to where you can tell what color it is.

"Mom, I really appreciate you cleaning the kitchen, but...I thought you were going to sew?" I queried.

"El Seebeno made fun of me this morning on the phone. Said 'you're on vacation and you're gonna sew?!' So I did something else," she responded.

Maddy started yowling in the floor. Evidently, Grandma smuggled in some really good salmon treats and had been giving them to her all day. "She barfed 'em up at one point," Mom said. "Mighta given her too many at one time."
I called the vet about this, and the vet replied with a chuckle, "Grandparents!"

So, this morning we're drinking coffee and reading the paper (Mom goes straight for the Denver Post editorials and either laughs or clucks her tongue). We have a spa appointment this morning, and then it's off to go bra shopping and goofing around in the afternoon. I promise we'll do a Calvalcade of Awesome Dresses as well as a WAD version of Ask Mom this weekend. Now if y'all will excuse me, I gotta go get my chill on.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

My mommy's here! My mommy's here!!

I'll try to get some good posts going for the next week, folks, but I gotta tell ya--it's gonna be hard. My mom flies into town this evening, and we're spending a week doing lots of normal things (cooking dinner, sewing, going for walks, doodling around) and special things (spa day, sitting by the pool, going to dinner, buying fabric with which to torture Mom while she sews me amazing garments). I'm sure there will be fun stuff to post on as the week progresses, so I'll keep y'all updated when I'm not busy being giddy.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Half an architect is no architect at all

It would seem that my recent post on booger-headed designers struck a chord (or a nerve) with my readers. First off, I didn't even know I had eight readers that weren't my mom or sister, so many thanks for that, my people. Second of all, I feel as if I should expound on the designer/architect issue, which I've kvetched about a little even before this post.

You can, in many jurisdictions, design buildings without being a licensed architect. It's just that a licensed architect must eventually stamp the drawings, preferably having reviewed them first. The problem lies, as I mentioned the post on startchitects and their designer minions, in the project delivery process that has one firm known for amazing-looking designs doing the initial design and handing it off to another firm, who will see the design through to completion of construction. Now, I've been on the giving end and the receiving end of the design architect/architect of record process, as has Guy. Ultimately, it is the architect of record (Guy's firm, in the case from last week) who has the responsibility of making sure that the building complies with all codes and figures out all the details (how does the brick intersect with this glass wall, how do we frame this door into this 12"-thick wall, etc.). However, I don't see where this lets the design architect (Scooby Doo & Associates, in Guy's case) off the hook for giving a design that at least mostly works.

Up until the 1900s (give or take a few decades), architects were extremely intertwined with the contractor on their projects. They would spend a great deal of time at the job site to answer questions and solve problems. This, as I understand it, is half of why old sets of drawings are so thin--they didn't need to spend 30 pages drawing every single detail, because they'd be right there to tell you where to put what. (The other part of having thin sets of drawings is that labor was a little more highly-skilled, but that's a post for another time.) When building the Brooklyn Bridge, architect and engineer Washington Roebling was injured while on site, so he got an apartment that overlooked the construction site so he could still watch its progress. His wife continued his work, monitoring progress at ground zero and ferrying messages back and forth. Architects, up until the last 50-100 years, were craftsmen and scholars. We understood theory and practice. The fellows who designed medieval cathedrals would come up with a design and work it out on the fly, but they always had that overall vision in their heads while they worked, in the field, day after day until their death, when the job of designing and supervision would be passed on to someone else. And so it would go for a couple hundred years until it was finished.

While architects now rarely have as much structural knowledge as they did 100 years ago, we are still taught it some in school, and we are tested on it as part of our licensing exams. Though we are more specialized in what we do, and we don't spend near as much time as we used to in the field, we still have to know something about it. We also have to know about how the other systems affect what we build--if I'm putting lots of crazy equipment into my building, does the electrical engineer know that? If the building is required to be heavily pressurized through the mechanical system, will my front doors pop open a couple of inches every time the air kicks on? I mentioned that Emily Roebling was the go-between for Washington and the rest of his field engineers; she did this for 11 years. Throughout the course of her helping him, Washington taught her about math, structural design, and material capabilities. Emily learned about how a structure goes together by working under the guidance of a skilled professional and going to visit the site where what the pontificated on was being built. And that, my friends, is the crux of the issue. Being an architect is knowing how what you design gets built. There is no substitute for watching someone build what you drew and then reveling in or being embarassed by the outcome. And because some (or many) of these poor designer souls that work in the starchitect offices never get the benefit of that education, they remain half-architects to me.

I can hear the designers out there reading this or hearing it at a party: "Well, look pal, the world has enough strip malls and McMansions and bad design. Someone has to improve the aesthetics of the American landscape and push the envelope and introduce new concepts into the dialogue of our built world, and it might as well be me." Fair enough, Coolio. But time and again, high design takes a knock on the head because of poor detailing. Gehry's Stata Center at MIT cost $450/sf and can't keep water out. And yes, I'm knocking on Gehry again, but he's not alone--Liebskind's new Denver Art Museum addition was leaking and having roof issues within a year of completion. Those are two of many examples, I'm sure, of high design that can't keep water out or keep the building comfortable. When high design is hard or impossible to detail properly, it reinforces the very argument against high design: it can't be done. Look, people say, we paid a huge wad of cash for a building that looks cool but we can't control the humidity in it and protect the contents. The roof is leaking and we're about to have mold growing in it. Geez, that nice design was too expensive to build, and now it's too expensive to maintain. Why did we ever spend all that money?

To put it in coarse but plain language, when you design something you can't detail properly, you fuck it up for all of us. No one wants to pay a little extra for some really cool metal wall panel because they've heard about the Denver Art Museum, and isn't that metal panel too? It's titanium, we respond, and it's a different system. This is Dri-Design, and it's a rainscreen. It works great. No, they say. It's metal panel, and I don't want my building to leak. Use stucco--mm, that looks nice. And then we sigh because they're paying the bills, and we design stucco on the outside of the building, go home, and uncork a bottle of cheap merlot.

Designers without construction knowledge, you are one reason why architects drink.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Extreme Balcony Gardening, part 3

Nothing like getting up the morning after a major thunderstorm and seeing your garden glow in the lovely morning light. I took these photos around 6:45 am on a Saturday. You can see that a smaller stalk of corn is leaning over in the green box--seemingly a casualty of Friday night's storm.

A closer inspection reveals--gasp!--little ears of corn beginning to grow! Look at the silky thingies coming out! Eeeep!

And holy schnikeys! I have a few li'l red grape tomatoes, ready to go! Not enough to make chili in the Crock Pot yet, but enough to chop up and throw on a mini pizza or into a salad.

Still don't have the guts yet to pull up the carrots and see how they're doing (in the circular container), but I think they're close. The lettuce in the two long boxes is still kinda small--wonder if I should thin them? Would that get me bigger/better leaves?

Any day now, my people, we'll be eating our very own produce right from the balcony. In the meantime, reckon I should put on my big girl pants and hit the farmers' market.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009


I don't talk much about what my husband, Guy, and his firm do. However, the following story warrants repeating, with identifying details left out, of course. The firm at which Guy works, Acme Architects, Inc., has offices in several cities in the country, and they work on some pretty high profile stuff. On a mixed-use project that Guy is on, Acme has teamed with a really high-profile architecture firm. I mean, a name you might know from newspapers (and all my architect readers would know the name for sure). What happens on some projects is that one firm does the initial design and then passes it off to another, local firm that finishes the design and works out all the construction details. In this case, Guy's firm would be inheriting the design from this big-name firm, and he was excited to work with them. He might get to go to New York to meet with the designers on the project and even meet the high-profile well-known architect who runs the firm. Very cool.

It is at this point that I will name the high-profile firm "Scooby-Doo & Associates." There's a good reason for this.

Here's a little fact for you: three courses (rows) of standard brick are 8" high (including mortar joints), and three bricks in a row are 24" long (again, including mortar joints). Hence, we try really really really really hard to make sure a building's dimensions "course out", or that the heights between things like tops of doors and bottoms of windows are evenly divisible by 8" and the distance plan-wise between things like door frames and column bump-outs are divisible by 12" (you can cut a brick in half or hide half of it in a corner, trust me). This makes coursing easy, which makes construction and fabrication easy. The less your masons have to cut bricks, the less time and expense goes into your construction. (Remember: in the U.S., labor is more expensive than supplies.)

So, Guy gets SD&A's initial design for the building last month. It has a stone and brick exterior, a stone base with brick up top. Since most of the building is brick, you want to make sure that the pieces of stone course out, right? Mm-mm, not the fine designers at Scooby-Doo & Associates. Each of the stone units is 10.25" high. That courses out to Jack Squat. Frickin' ridiculous. Guy calls them last month--yes, a month ago--and tells them that in his review of their magnificent design, he noticed that the stone base units don't course out. Finally, a month later, this past Monday, he had to bring it to their attention again. They finally looked at the problem, realized Guy was right...and then told him that they would need a week to come up with a good solution.


Guy was blown away by this. "These fuckin' high-designer types," he mused, annoyed. "They have no idea how a building actually goes together. I mean, seriously. This is just one of several things I've found wrong in their drawings. And it took them a month to confront the reality of that! And it'll take them another week for them to 'assess' the design and 'figure out a solution'. It doesn't take that long to recourse your stone units. Jesus!"

"How can they not know how to put together a building?" I mused.

"Because," Guy responded, "a high-end design firm rarely if ever takes a design all the way through to completion, and detailing a building for construction documents and then having to monitor its construction teaches you how a building actually goes together. And these guys never get that experience. So they're really good at making buildings look good and cool and interesting, but they don't know shit about how it actually gets built."

"So," I mused again, "you're Velma and they're Daphne." Guy chuckled in agreement.

Look, I've met some architects and designers who worked for really high-end firms, and some of them know just how a building goes together. But others don't. That's the down side of being a really good designer--you get so good at making things look awesome that you never learn how to make things work. And in order to get licensed, you have to know how to put a building together. But if you're a good designer, you can get paid serious mad cash to make things pretty, therefore there's no impetus to get licensed. And in my cheesy li'l opinion, that makes you only half an architect. Earn your hours and credits, get the experience, take the tests, and get the license.

Let's just hope they don't turn into Scrappy-Doo before the end of the project.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Showing up is (more than) half the battle

The other morning, I had just finished up swimming laps and doing paddleboard drills for 40 minutes when I saw a guy from another floor of my condo building out of the deck of our rooftop pool giving me a thumbs up. I finished tying my lavender fleece Hello Kitty robe and walked over, giving him a high five.

"Man, you're my inspiration!" this fellow, an entrepreneur in his fifties, said to me. "You're out here, gettin' it done!"

"Well, showing up is at least half of the battle," I replied.

"Man," he continued, all jazzed up, "I just signed up for the _________ Challenge; I'm gonna lose 25 pounds and kick some ass!"

"Right on!" I replied as I stepped onto the elevator.

I wish this dude all the luck in the world, but I'm not optimistic. I've seen him appear and disappear from the top-floor fitness room in our condo. He's told me about the juicing/detox workout system he was doing, this one workout thing, this other workout challenge, and so on for a few years now. My point of view is this: if any of these worked, you wouldn't be doing another one ever three to six months. I have to say that he never seems to look any different to me. He's the same size, shape, etc. everytime I see him. And he doesn't look bad, mind you, but he never seems to look any more or less in shape. (Maybe I'm not paying that much attention, either. I'm awfully self-absorbed at times.)

I've been working out every morning, six days a week, for almost eight years now. People get kinda blown away when I say that, but the truth is that showing up is often the hardest part about getting into shape. Making yourself put on the t-shirt and shorts and go to the gym, or lacing up the sneakers and going for a walk or run, or rolling out the mat and doing yoga...that first step or two, the showingupness, that's often the hardest part. Everyone has different reasons for not showing up: I got busy, I was tired, I'm not seeing any results, skipping once won't hurt anyone. Then they don't show up again, and then they don't show up yet again, and then they quit showing up.

I can't not show up for a variety of reasons. Even if I drag through my workout and take it easy, I need the activity to reset my mood. Ever since I had to go off birth control pills about five years ago (they unnaturally jacked up my blood pressure), I've had to use exercise and the ensuing endorphin release to moderate my mood. I realized ust how much I depended on that boost when I sprained my ankle two years ago and couldn't work out. I was a ball of cranky fury for about three or four months. But even though I couldn't do much, I'd strap on my walking boot or wrap my ankle in a brace and limp to my yoga mat and do a few seated poses and a few exercises that my physical therapist gave me. Soemtimes I'd limp upstairs to the gym and do some upper body and abs stuff, just something. And sometimes, especially early on, I would limp into the living room, roll out my mat, and just lay on it for half an hour. I just kept showing up.

And now, even still, I get up and do some yoga, go to the gym, go for a run, go up to the pool, whatever. Some mornings I'm hell on wheels and make great time, have tons of energy. Some mornings I drag through. Most mornings I'm in between. But I show up. I show up, and while I'm there I might as well lift something or run somewhere or do something. Showing up is the first step for any endeavor--work, hobbies, relationships, everything, anything. Just show up--you'll figure out the rest.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Some good news for the 4th

We got word this week that we got the job we interviewed for on Thursday. Hooray! It's another surgery renovation, like what I'm doing for FCH, so it's not unfamiliar territory. However, every hospital is different--they all have different volumes of different types of procedures and different scheduling issues and different personalities that will be working in the departments, etc. So we'll start meeting and designing with them very soon--they're already moving forward with contracts and the project schedule.

This is damn fine news indeed, especially for me. FCH will likely get to the point where there's not enough work for both Intern Kimmy and me, and I'll need to find other things to do while she makes stuff happen on that project. I'll need to be available for Intern Kimmy, and I'll have to do things on it as well, but sometimes I'll need to back off and let her get stuff done or have her do some redlines from me. And let's not forget the kickoff meeting for the outpatient center with Sven at the end of July; that should keep me busy as well.

So, not that anyone's reading this, but there's some good news for everyone's holiday weekend. Rock on!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Really? Someone else likes me?

I got the most unexpected compliment recently from Sven. I passed him in the office kitchen, and he mentioned that he had been talking with the facility development director for Colorado for an HMO whom I had met and worked with in the past year. While another guy in the office is finishing up the master plan that I was working on for them in the fall of 2008 and winter of 2009, I've been working on FCH. Anyway, the state facility development director for this HMO told Sven that they would soon be starting some master planning and space planning and site planning/selection for a new outpatient facility that would include a bunch of departments--clinic space, radiology, lab, physical therapy, and outpatient surgery.

And was Pixie available to work on it?

I was flattered and told Sven that I'd be glad to work on it as long as Bosley didn't have any issue with it. Sven said that when he told Bosley about it, Bosley's response was, "Well, how can we tell them no if they're asking for Pixie by name?" He said that he and Bosley would work something out.

I have a feeling (or maybe it's just a hope) that I'm about to get pretty busy in the next few months. I'll have to get used to it again, but man, that'd be nice.