Monday, August 31, 2009

Meanwhile, back in Architectureland...

...the board of directors for TCMC have approved a couple extra hundred grand to allow for an addition as well as the renovation of their existing surgery suite. Bosley and Howie went to the meeting and presented the pros and cons, the contractors were there to answer some questions about those pros and cons and give their two cents' worth, and Akira from Avanta was there for...some reason, I'm not sure what. Wes evidently couldn't be bothered to go, or maybe he figured there was no reason to show up if increasing the budget was a foregone conclusion. Apparently, during the two weeks between our last meeting with TCMC and their board meeting, there had been more talk amongst the hospital staff and the community, and more support had been garnered for approving the extra cabbage roll if it was at all available.

I'm surprised, but I guess I shouldn't be, really. I'm surprised because it's rare that architecture projects in general and healthcare projects in particular can get extra funds approved, especially here lately in the Land of Ever-Decreasing Funding that is construction finance. However, I've noticed that if a project involves a department that makes money--like imaging or surgery, or in some facilities OB/GYN or physical therapy--boards and CFOs are more likely to go digging through the sofa cushions for change if the project needs more to make it right. No one wants to underfund the improvements of a service line that actually pads the coffers of the facility. (I've heard mixed reviews on renovations of EDs [emergency departments], as they frequently lose money but you can't not have them, or if you do have them they have to be good or you could get sued if someone dies in your ED.) So, in that light, it makes sense that TCMC's surgery suite would get the extra cashola to rock-n-rolla.

Meanwhile, Intern Kimmy and I just sent out the SDs for FCH's surgery and ICU renovations, and it actually kinda exhausted me. It was a normal workweek, no overtime involved, but Bosley had been out of the office for six straight workdays and suddenly had to put his hands on the drawings. It was nothing too big, just some exterior roof system details, but it was just enough to frustrate me. Here's the deal: SD, or schematic design, is usually a pretty thin set of drawings. I do a few plans and exterior elevations, and then the engineers do a narrative or two that explain what's going on in the project and what will need to be done, and then the contractor (if you have one on board) will use those few documents to do some early cost-per-square-foot pricing. Peeps, I'm here to tell you that Kimmy and I put out a 28-page SD set. Seriously, it was ridiculous. The architect from the firm-of-record that will inherit our drawings in a month called me all surprised, but for the opposite reason that I thought. "Pixie," he said almost breathlessly, "I just heard that the engineers aren't doing any drawings...?"

"No," I responded. "SD is usually a couple of plans and exterior elevations, maybe a schematic spec to help the contractor understand what systems and finishes I'm using, and the engineers do the same thing, but with narratives." I saw Kimmy's shocked and slightly-offended face pop up over the cubicle partition in my direction. We made eye contact and I continued. "To be fair, we did the SD plan for this project during the master planning effort for FCH, so these drawings are really ahead of what we usually do."

After I hung up with the architect, Kimmy said, "Pix! He just called me and asked me that very question about the engineers not doing drawings! Did he think I was lying or something?!"

I shook my head. "I don't think he does a lot of hospitals, and maybe SD is different for the kinds of projects he usually does. Go figure."

After all, Akira is using a couple of floor plans from DA as well as the engineers' pricing/scope narratives that we did three weeks ago to take to the Avanta headquarters in California to get SD approval from the bigwigs. If a couple of plans are good enough for healthcare management poobahs, it ought to be good enough for everyone else.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Something to ADD to the discussion, Part III

If the past two blogs sound like I'm angry, it's because I have been for a long time. I'm angry that my sister's mental and even physical health were left to languish for so long, that therapist after therapist after doctor didn't see this. I'm not angry at my sister, per se, or even my mom. Mom was barely allowed to see us every other weekend, and she had to fight like hell to get that--might she have noticed, with enough exposure to Kitty? Maybe, maybe not. Kitty's condition made her act the way she did, and my brain and consciousness made me act the way I did (being super-productive, super-compliant, and super-capable) as a reaction to that. I'm not writing these posts to air my sister's dirty laundry or my mom's perceived shortcomings, I just don't know how else to describe to you what it's like to live with someone who is constantly surrounded by drama and can't function because they can barely focus with all the noise in their head unless I actually tell you some of the things that happened. We are what we are--all of us--because of where we've been and what we've been through; there's no point in feeling guilty about any of it because it doesn't help.

Also, bear in mind that Kitty wasn't some helpless walking shambles, which our family would have led you to believe. She completed her thesis and got a Master's degree, she got a good job teaching college English, won two teaching awards...but even before that, she would eventually figure out a way to make things work. She would eventually decide, like she did after Dad died and she and I had a tearful conversation or two, that she needed to go back to therapy and get some support. She daintzed for a couple of years to get the money she needed to pay off some debts and get back on solid footing again. She's able to solve her problems, eventually; it just seemed like it was so hard for her to get there each time.

It was finally a couple of week ago when Kitty realized that she was quite possibly about to flunk her linguistics class that I had had it. I've had it before, mind you--and when that happens, I usually just don't call or talk to Kitty for a few days (bear in mind that we talk nearly every day in some form) and let her chaos settle. In the past year or so, I've finally begun to back off now and then when Kitty seems to have a new intractable problem, as the lesson of not really being able to help Kitty was finally sinking in. On that morning, we conversed briefly by IM as I was getting ready to go to a meeting at TCMC. Kitty's IMs to me bemoaned her flunking grade, there was nothing she could do, she'll never go to grad school, why did she even think she could do this job, and so on. Nothing I could IM back appeared to cut through the misery and self-loathing: go to the teacher and ask about extra credit, will they offer the class again, but you emailed the teacher once and she acknowledged how hard this material is so maybe she'll go easy on you or help you catch your grade up, and so on. Nothing got through, nothing helped, nothing I could say could or would make anything better...

...and I was done. I IM'd that I wished I could help more but we had to leave for the meeting in a few minutes and signed off. From there, I went to the ladies' room at DA, sat down on the can, and leaned over my knees and fumed. Jesus God, Kitty, I thought. I'm supposed to go to a meeting in less than half an hour and look happy and professional and explain to these people why they need to spend another half-million bucks on their surgery suite than they'd planned to, and you're tapping a big keg of drama over a class that you frankly didn't seem to be focusing that hard on. You actually skipped a class to grade papers for a class you were teaching. You're 35, Kitty; fix it.

Am I my sister's keeper? The thought weighed heavily on me. I can't turn away from her; she's done nothing wrong. She's kind to stray animals and confused students, and she just has problems keeping up with grading, who's to say we all wouldn't do the same if we had six freshman comp classes? But at the same time, at what point does my sister keep herself? Right after Kitty's linguistics meltdown, Mom came to visit for a week and shared her insights on Kitty's condition as well, noting that she seemed to sleep a lot the weekend that she was supposed to be studying for the linguistics midterm. Mom and I both wondered what the hell would make her sleep so much on such an important weekend. I know that I sometimes feel sleepy when I have a major detail to figure out or an annoying phone call to make at work, but I just go ahead and do it and tell myself that I can rest a little afterwards. And of course, i never rest, but that's a different story.

During the week Mom was here and the week after, Kitty kept asking both Mom and me about her behavior: did she used to do this, act like that, always seem like so? I responded as best I could, wondering what sort of introspection she was undertaking and what might be up her sleeve. Kitty eventually emailed us that she really thought she may have ADD and emailed us the results from an online test she took. A subsequent phone call had her saying the same thing, only a little more convinced. She gave me some of the symptoms, talked about some of the books she read, and I responded that her idea certainly had merit and that she should discuss it with her therapist at their next session. After I hung up, I told Guy that Kitty believed that she had adult ADD. "Do you think she does?" asked Guy. I sighed wearily. "I don't care if she's bipolar with a side order of Tourette's and thinks she's supposed to be a man. I just want her to fix it--enough's enough."

Enough was indeed enough. But the more I thought about the symptoms she described, the more I realized that it really did seem a lot like her. Despite the fact that I know so much about my sister, I never knew that her mind sounded like a bunch of radio stations all playing at once. The constant sleeping would make sense--how else would a tired, distracted brain filter out so much input? Difficulty organizing? Hell to the yes, that was Kitty. Occasional hyperfocus? Actually, yeah. Every now and then, Kitty would find something so engrossing that she could read it or do it until 3am, but it had to really really interest her. The pieces began to fall into place. What else could explain how she wasn't getting anything done?

In the past year or so, Kitty had begun expressing to me how exhausting it was to live the way she did, but she didn't know how to change. Getting more productive, at least to a functional point, will still involve a lot of cognitive and behavioral work, but at least now she has a chance of being able to do it. The medication may finally make it possible for my incredibly talented and generous sister to do basic mental and physical tasks that we rarely give a second thought to. After a week on her meds, Kitty told me over IM that she cleaned her office that day, and it only took her 45 minutes. What did it used to take? I IM'd. Her response: Five hours. Five hours. Five hours that you could be doing anything else. I can set up, note, and dimension two to three pages of interior elevations in Revit in five hours. What if it took me that long to clean up my office cubicle, which is almost the same size as Kitty's office? I'd go apeshit, that's what. No wonder she was so frustrated and worn out--it took everything she had to concentrate and make the world make sense through her lack of filters.

I breathe deeply with a sigh of thankfullness and relief when I think of Kitty these days. Relief that she has found a real solution--no matter how much more work it will take her--to settle her chaos, and thankful that she has never given and gone under into the depression it can bring.

What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Something to ADD to the discussion, Part II

(Part I of this discussion is here.)

Up until her ADD diagnosis, life with Kitty was pleasant with a chance of chaos. I had begun to resign myself to the fact that she was just going to be messy...and a mess. Every now and then, I'd offer to come help her clean her house, and Mom and I even occasionally half-joked about getting her out of the house while the other would just wholesale clean out a room or two, but I knew from experience that we couldn't just dump an entire room's contents into a haul-away. I knew that a) I'd end up dumping something important that she really did need and b) in order for it to really stick, she had to be involved. She had to do it (or participate in it) herself. I would see glimpses of her capabilities in little moments: one weekend when I was visiting, I went through a stack of papers that I had collected from all around the kitchen/dining alcove floor. I could hold each one up to Kitty, and she could within three seconds tell me if it belonged on her desk or in the trash. It appeared that if someone were around to help her, to focus her attention on the task at hand, to point the way towards organization and even sanity, she could totally do it. But neither I nor Mom could be around to do this all the time. While it was tempting to take a week off, fly to Georgia, and help Kitty clean her house in this methodical manner, it just didn't seem right. It was me, saving her again. When was she going to save herself?

After Dad died, I mused to my therapist that of the five family members left behind at my house (sister, stepmother, two stepsiblings, and me), I was the only one in therapy. Apparently, it had become my job to go get the therapy, then bring it home for everyone else. It was my job to be Dad for my stepfamily, who were bowled over by the immensity of his death. For Kitty and me, Dad's murder was one more crappy thing to happen in a long line of crappy things, so while it was tragic, we were rather accustomed to the constantly-unfolding tragedy. However, it was yet again down to me, time after time, to make decisions and take action: to decide whether we were to bury Dad and my uncle, his murderer, in the same ceremony (I'm 21 and all the aunts and relatives eyes are on me yet again, waiting for the Final Answer), to stand up yet again to my aunts who "just couldn't wait" for Kitty to get back from her honeymoon to talk about what to do with our inheritance funds, to pick everyone up and dust them off, over and over and over. There I am in my dorm room on East Campus of Georgia Tech, trying to talk Kitty out of possibly offing herself because she felt like no one cared about what happened to us, about us in general. I wish that was the first time I had ever had to have that conversation, but it wasn't. (Interestingly, Kitty had a pattern of expressing the wish to off herself, then telling me to go get her a knife. I figured she wasn't ever really serious if she wanted me to run errands for her. So when I come back from the kitchen with the knife, should I bring you a popsicle too? Maybe the ADD was saving her from her depression, inadvertently--"Oh God, I wish I could just di--ooh! Popsicle!")

On Kitty's blog, Woolywoman commented about why no one ever thought of taking Kitty to a therapist and having her checked out and good. A couple of reasons come to mind, the first and foremost being that ADD was still kind of a new ailment back in the 1980s, and it wasn't diagnosed that often in girls. Most folks just thought Kitty was spacey, not "hyper", which is what ADD is, isn't it? Not so much, it seems. She wasn't hyper, just easily distracted. Dad took us to family counseling more than once, which was pretty noble and open-minded of him as a Southern man, but sometimes we got the impression that he was hauling us in so the therapist could "fix" us, not really work things through as a family. So while there was a chance that someone could have found this in Kitty, all the pieces didn't fall together just right to make that happen. I believe there was also a cultural component. The South has a long history of holding up the Good Southern Martyr as an acceptable and even noble figure in society. Lawd, Kitty's a mess, but look how well her sister does. And you know Pixie gets them both ready in the morning? Mm-mm-mm, ain't that a shame. How sweet of her to do that, though. She's so sweet and kind and helpful, always minding, behaving. I'm only mildly surprised that it never occurred to someone to have this checked out to help me as well as Kitty. After all, if it's acceptable for someone to take care of another peer in a constant manner, why should anyone possibly try to help me? And it didn't help that just as Kitty moved off to college, my stepsiblings, whom I barely knew, moved into the house, and I now had to get two people ready in the morning other than myself. Didn't anyone think that I might be ready for a fucking break?

Funny thing about growing up with someone who needs constant help staying focused and organized and balanced--if you rise to the challenge, it makes you extremely capable. When someone gives me a goal to accomplish, almost immedately I can see the start point, the end point, and all the steps in between that I'll need to hit as I go from A to B. I rarely shake hands with everybody's friend, Mr. Procrastination. When I tell "typical" people that, their mouths drop open and ask how I do it. My response is, "It's like instinct, like a flash--I just see what has to be done." I took and passed the ARE in ten months while working 60 hours a week for eight of those months. It was a gauntlet of seven-day workweeks and two to three hours of studying a night and then arising at 6am to swim for 50 minutes in the pool or lift weights or run. Even now, I'm up before 8 even on weekends, unable to sleep in, unable to nap, unable to sit down and read a magazine because there's clutter to clean up or books or posts to write or floors to Swiff or laundry to do or cat boxes to scoop or I could even go for a walk because I had that brownie last night and I might as well burn it off now but I'm sleepy but you can't nap because there are things to do and no one likes a lazy bones sleeping in and not cleaning their room remember what they said about Kitty remember what they said about Kitty remember what they said about Kitty.

So, for nearly thirty years, I've cleaned and listened and wept and prayed and sighed and wondered and seethed and cleaned some more and wondered when Kitty would decide to pull herself out of the fog of her chaos, because I wanted to help, I thought I could help, I just knew I could help, but I couldn't help. So when?

Wrap-up on Friday.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Something to ADD to the discussion, Part I

Those of you who have been keeping up with my sister's blog have likely also been following the saga of her discovering that she has adult ADD. It's been a whirlwind of a month--well, a life, really--for her, and I'm glad she's discovered what's been going on in her head this whole time. She's suffered long enough with this, and it's time she got to live a more typical life (I won't say "normal" because who the hell knows what that means.) What this discovery has done for Kitty is immeasurable, and to say that I'm glad for her is an understatement. It's not just that I'm glad for her--I'm glad for all of us.

If you've dealt with mental illness, whether it was chemical or emotional or both in nature, you know that it takes a terrible toll on the person. What we sometimes forget is what it does to everyone else around that person. It's not just Kitty dealing with the effects of her ADD, it's all of us. While she's been struggling with it for around thirty years, I've been right there with her. I've tried to be supportive, but even the patience of a sister and twin soul can be tried. So, after talking with Kitty about it, I'm doing a couple of posts on what it's like to be sitting next to Kitty and dealing with her ADD while she's dealing with it too. I believe her posts on her struggle were incredibly brave, heartfelt, and educational, and they were also well-written. Here's hoping some of that well-spokenness rubs off on my tripe of a blog.

I can't even remember when it started. I just know that for the vast majority of my life, I've been standing in between Kitty and the rest of the family, counseling her, offering advice, and sometimes just flat out picking her up off the floor or talking her down off of a ledge. It's flashbulb memories of Kitty trying to pick which candy bar to get in the Superette in Booger County, finally deciding with a hand snapping out impulsively to grab a 3 Musketeers and snatch it off the shelf as if the entire display were about to disappear. (She paid for it, mind you, it was just odd to watch her make decisions, hovering, looking, hand floating above the bars, or food at a buffet, or anything involving a choice.) It's witnessing a shrieking fit when Dad states that we're going to Aunt G____'s for Fourth of July, and Kitty "will be damned" if she's going (she's about 14). At family gatherings, she hides off in a room and reads magazines or finds someplace to take a nap. She tries to make conversation with Dad's siblings and their spouses, but it always seems a little forced to me.

"What's wrong with Kitty? Why won't she mind?" I'm ten years old, sitting at the dining room table at my grandmother's with my dad. My grandmother has just asked me--a ten-year-old--what's "wrong" with my older sister. The proper response of course is "How the hell should I know?! You two are the parental figures, YOU figure it out!" but I'm so terrified of the backlash that Kitty's resistance to authority has received that I begin to come up with reasons, explanations, excuses. My ten-year-old brain is a master at making sense of the unexplainable. Kitty's teacher Mr. J____gives them mounds of homework, it's so exhausting, so she sleeps a lot. Kitty's just a night person, I'm a morning person. I know Kitty's room looks a mess, but she knows where every single thing is in that room. (And this is the truth--I could walk into her FEMA Disaster Area of a room and ask "Where's the Victoria's Secret catalog with the black poet's blouse that's on sale?" and she could immediately plunge her hand into a pile of stuff and fish it out in 2.3 seconds and say "it's a little more than halfway through, right past the Second Skin Satin bras." She might have been messy, but that photographic memory had loads of film.) I learned to keep my room immaculate, to make tons of conversation and be cute and witty and entertaining to Dad's family. Just don't yell at me, don't talk bad about me behind my back, I'll be good, I'll be good, I'll be so good that I'll never ask for anything in life ever again.

I take the same classes Kitty takes with the same teachers. (That's what happens in a small school; siblings and cousins cycle through with the same teachers.) The classes Kitty struggled with and barely squeaked by in--or took summer school to make up--barely registered on my radar. My report card was full of 99s, only because they couldn't give 100 as a grade. (We didn't have letter grades at my school in the 1990s.) "What's wrong with Kitty?" yet another relative would ask when Kitty was hiding out somewhere else, reading magazines and flipping through pictures of her teen idols (which happened to be the 1986 Celtics team, who were way better role models than the freakin' New Kids on the Block--spare me). Dad would ask, "Should we take her pictures and magazines away? Would she get better grades in Algebra then, Pixie?" My response is, "If you clamp down on her, she'll just act even worse. Just get her a tutor." Did I mention I was 14? I'm 14, and I'm having to defend my sister from the entire family's scrutiny and tongue-clucking.

Kitty slept long, hard nights, sometimes up to twelve hours during the summer. Her room was a wreck. She liked to experiment with clothes and makeup and was interested in boys. I didn't realize it until I was almost out of grad school, but in many respects my sister was actually the normal one. I was the abnormal teenager, keeping my room spotless and getting my homework done as soon as I got home from school, in bed by nine and up at six. Part of that was a defense mechanism, and part of it was just necessary because every morning, I got two people ready for school. My alarm went off at six am, and I got out of bed and immediately went to my sister's room to wake he up for the first time. Then I took a shower and got dressed. Then I went back to Kitty's room and woke her up a second time (yes, she had an alarm, but you know how easy it is to slap the snooze button). Then I went back to the bathroom and did my hair and makeup and ate breakfast. Then I went back to Kitty's room to finally get her out of bed. While she showered, she would call out directions from the bathroom: "Get some undies and socks out of my lingerie drawer, and get that bra with the five hooks up the front that's beige! My Michigan sweatshirt and the Levi's jeans! I think my Algebra folder is still in the living room!" As she showered, I gathered up clothes for her to wear that day, gathered up her folders and books from various rooms in the house and put them by the front door, and I made her sandwich for the day to go in her lunch bag with the chips and snack. On the drive to school, I brought along a granola bar for her breakfast, which I would break into pieces and hand to her to eat while she drove us to school. After we both could drive, I would occasionally just get fed up and leave without her. But for the most part, morning after morning, I would do this routine, getting two people out the door.

Genesis 4:9: "Am I my brother's keeper?" Cain was being a smartass to God when he asked that, but we all knew the truth. We are all our brother's--and sister's--keepers, and we are all accountable for how we treat one another. I was Kitty's de facto keeper as we grew up, and I knew it. It was my job to keep her going, keep her organized, keep her spirits up, because for whatever reason it seemed that everyone else had abdicated the responsibility or desire to keep her. So I kept her. I kept her as well as I could. But we all grow up, leave home, start new lives. Kitty's messy room became a messy apartment, except that the kitchen and bathroom were failry clean and safe. After grad school, even those rooms went. The rooms of her house were traversed only by narrow paths. I would visit her house and find nine-month-old milk in the fridge, unopened mail postmarked to last year, litter boxes that hadn't been scooped in weeks, and shopping bags simply sitting where she had dropped them last week. My entire life, I had given her suggestions on things she could do to make things easier: sort your mail over the garbage can; put it in a box and write the year on it, and if you haven't opened it in a year, throw it out; touch every piece of paper only once; sort through your closet once a year, say around your birthday. None of it ever seemed to stick, seemed to sink in. I offered to come visit and help her clean, but the thought even made me weary and even resentful. Great idea, Pixie, you go clean her house. Go take care of her...again.

What's her payoff for not doing these things, I always wondered. Why wouldn't she do things that would so obviously help her? When Dad's relatives would sniff about her lack of organization or her distraction over boys or a lack of interest in hanging out with the rest of the family at a gathering, Kitty's comeback was that everyone was trying to control her. While I think Dad's relatives probably had some of that in mind, it blew my mind that Kitty woiuld toss aside basic, commonsense suggestions for living well. There must be some reason she's not doing it, some payoff for not doing it. What's going on?! I had no idea until she blogged about it that she truly couldn't get enough peace in her head to remember to open her mail over the trash can; the couple thousand radio stations playing in her head at the same time made it nigh on impossible to focus.

I would IM Kitty while at work and talk her through yet another crisis. I'm gonna go lay down, back in a bit, she'd IM, but three hours later when I was logging off to go home, she would still be asleep. Daily three-hour naps, constantly surrounded by the chaos of her did she get anything done? It was getting done--she stil had a teaching job and even won two awards--but how? This can't be a good way for her to live, and she can't be happy living like this. What gives?

Part II on Wednesday.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Few Good Engineers

Small Town sent me this to put in the comments, but I think it needs a post of its own.


MEP Engineer: Jack Nicholson
Architect: Tom Cruise

MEP Engineer: You want answers?

Architect: I think I'm entitled to them.

MEP Engineer: You want answers?!

Architect: I want the truth!

MEP Engineer: You can't HANDLE the truth!!

Son, we live in a world that has CHILLERS, BOILERS AND SWITCHGEAR. And those PIECES OF EQUIPMENT have to be LOCATED IN ROOMS. Who's gonna DESIGN THEM? You? You, MR. ARCHITECT?

I have a greater responsibility than you can possibly fathom. You weep for LOST PARKING SPACES and you curse the SIZE OF MY GENERATOR. You have that luxury.

You have the luxury of not knowing what I know: that THOSE MEP SYSTEMS, while tragic, probably saved lives. And my existence, while grotesque and incomprehensible to you, saves lives...You don't want the truth.

Because deep down, in places you don't talk about at parties, you want me on that DESIGN TEAM. You need me on that DESIGN TEAM.

We use words like DESIGN, CODE, ANALYSIS...we use these words as the backbone to a life spent PROVIDING OWNER COMFORT AND ENERGY EFFICIENCY. You use'em as a punch line.

I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain my DESIGN to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very ENVIRONMENT I provide, then questions the manner in which I provide it! I'd rather you just said thank you and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest you pick up a DUCTOLATOR and DESIGN a BUILDING SYSTEM. Either way, I don't give a damn what you think you're entitled to!


MEP Engineer : (quietly) I did the job you HIRED me to do.


MEP Engineer : You're goddamn right I did!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

If you a engineer, thow yo hands up

I talk a lot about the projects I work on, but it's rare that I discuss the other people in my neighborhood: the engineers. We call them consultants, but most of them are engineers. (I guess we call them consultants because they don't drive trains or wear striped bib overalls.) They occasionally make architects drink, but overall they're good people who have lives that are just as hard as the architects do.

Your main engineers on a project are:
  • Civil: makes the building site run water away from the building, runs utilities up to the building (within 5 feet), and works with the landscape architect to get the sidewalks and parking lots in place (sometimes).
  • Structural: makes the building stand up and hold up under all the loads put on the building (live, dead, wind, snow, seismic, etc.).
  • Mechanical: figures out how to get hot and cold air in the building and specifies the units and systems that put that air in the building.
  • Plumbing: frequently the same as the mechanical engineer, runs water and gas pipes in the building, specifies plumbing fixtures, and runs waste lines out of the building and roof drain lines off of the roof.
  • Electrical: specifies the lights and figures out the power systems in the building and powers all the equipment that the architect and some other engineers put in the building.
One would imagine that engineers would be a stodgy, cranky bunch, always trying to shoot holes in the architect's divine vision and taking a metaphorical poo on every cool-looking aesthetic idea we have. My response is that engineers are like any other group of people--some winners and some losers, but the vast majority of them are just doing the best they can with what they have. Having spent the better part of nine years with them, however, I have the following stereotypes based on my experiences, and I'd love to hear from any engineers that read this blog for a reality check. (I'd also LOVE to know what makes engineers drink, especially about architects. I know we're a bunch of merlot-slurping pains in the butt.)

The few civil engineers I've worked with have been anything but that. I get my drawings late and/or incomplete, and it seems like they're completely misunderstanding the scope of the project or what they're actually required to do. They seem the least comfortable around other people, which is odd because they seem to do the least amount of calculus. Having gone to Georgia Tech and spent four years around nothing but engineers, it always seemed to me that an engineer's social skills and social comfort were in inverse proportion to their familiarity with and frequency of performing calculus. Also odd is that the women civil engineers I've worked with were the opposite--they kept in frequent contact with me, got me their stuff on time (or called when it was going to be late), and had their stuff generally right. I know I have a new or semi-new reader who is a civil engineer out in D.C--what am I missing, dawg? Have I just been burned by a couple of bad apples? Holla!

Structural engineers are the guys most responsible for the building not falling down, yet most of the ones I've met are the ones most likely to grab a keg if a building does indeed fall down. As the building shreds itself under the weight of gravity and its own mass, they're the ones recording it for YouTube and hitting each other on the arm and yelling "Ohhhman! You gotta watch this, dude, no seriously put the shots down, it's worth it!" I think they're super-friendly because you kinda have to do what they say--you move and fold around them, whereas most other fields have to move and bend around the architects. Because they know they run dis beeyotch, they're buying you liquor to ease the pain of knowing that you're just going to have a column in that hall, unless you redesign your clinic space. Sigh. Have another shot, dude, it's worth it.

Mechanical/plumbing engineers are hit and miss. One that I've worked with on and off for about six years is super-good at what he does and is pretty easy to get along with. He knows when to push back, and he knows when to back down, and I like that in an engineer in general. He and I heckle each other in a way that almost sounds like we went to high school together; he almost sounds like a structural engineer. However, I've met a few mechanical engineers that won't do their job and won't call me back. Dammit, I'm a Southern lady, and if you don't call me back, there will sweating-in-Valdosta-in-the-summer hell to pay.

Electrical engineers are generally pretty easygoing, and I tend to do very well with them for the opposite reason of the structural engineers. Most of what electrical is running through the building can fit in less that 1 1/2" of conduit, and it can bend around just about anything, so as long as you give them a 10' x 12' room near where the utilities come into the site, they're happy. They also tend to be most likely to work weekends, because their work depends on everyone else's work being done. They need to know where I'm putting the exam rooms and which walls are getting the computers and where the CT scanner is going and what mechanical unit is going on the roof and are we actually putting a chiller in the project and where are you locating the CRAC unit and so on. Furthermore, they tend to have the most esoteric senses of humor and are the most likely to send me hilarious construction-related and nerd-related email forwards or recipes. Electrical engineers like to cook, for whatever reason. I should mention that of the three women electrical engineers I've worked with, one was fantastically awesome, one acted like a shy mechanical engineer, and one seemed to have utter disdain for my very existence. Turns out though that she treated all women this way on a project, so I didn't feel so bad. (And she was my age, too! WTF?)

Here's the thing, though: I have a special place in my heart for engineers. To keep my job, I need one to three projects going on at once, but in order to keep their jobs, engineers need like eight to twelve. I might be exaggerating, but they need more projects than we do because their part of the project is smaller. I also know that they're all depending on me to have my shit together so they can do their jobs, and that just makes me feel sorry for them. You're depending on me? Well, good luck to ya, pal. Engineers know a lot about a couple of things, while architects know a couple of things about a lot. We know just enough to be dangerous, and that's why we hire engineers--they keep us from being too dangerous.

Engineers, I raise my crystal Tiffany wine goblet full of Riesling to you. You make me drink, but overall, it's in a good way.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The agony of the fee

Recently, Bosley asked me how things were going on FCH, and he mentioned that we should try to get things wrapped up sooner rather than later because we were starting to run out of fee on that project. His comment made me realize that I didn't actually know how much fee I had left on each of my projects, and maybe I should find out. Turns out that access to that information isn't restricted, just kinda hidden in our project files. Because no one says, "here it is, here's how it works" unless you ask, then no one knows where it is and how it works.

But I did ask Howie on Friday what was the deal with fee. Where do we keep track of it and how do we know how much we have left? Howie showed me two ways of keeping track. One was kept for every project on the same office-wide software that our timesheets are done on, and the other is a record in an Excel spreadsheet that Howie does on all his projects. He showed me how each person bills against the project, how many hours they worked per week, and how much is still left. He puts the overall budget, broken up by phase, into the spreadsheet, and as Howie puts in how many hours each team member works on it, the spreadsheet shows him how much is left for that phase. It was eye-opening to see that we had already spent our fee for the planning phase on TCMC, for example. Howie pointed that out to me, and then he mentioned that we could look for ways to save fee as the project goes along. For example, we might roll SD into DD, since the floor plan is pretty much worked out at this point.

The concern I return to again and again is fee versus product and service. If we're running low on fee for a project (that is, we've nearly spent up and billed for all the cash we asked the client for in the first place), how do we assure that we still give the contractor (and thereby the owner) the good product that was paid for? What happens when you've spent the money wisely--no one was wasting time on the project and everyone who billed to it was really and truly doing something useful on it--and you're still not done? How do you schedule your time? My initial thought is to remove myself as much as possible from the project and step in as needed. We bill TCMC and FCH only $60/hr for Intern Timmy and Intern Kimmy, respectively, but we bill those clients $100/hr for me, $160/hr for Howie, and $185/hr for Bosley. The partner I used to do a lot of work for, Alex, rarely got involved on his own projects and therefore rarely billed to them. Bosely, however, works on his projects and bills to them, which on the plus side means that a client gets high-level attention but on the minus side he eats the fee. This is kind of annoying to me as a worker bee because Bosley, as a partner, will get a bigger chunk of the profits when the project is over than I will, and because he's salary he doesn't actually have to bill the time at all. I'm hourly so I do have to bill each hour I work (or travel to a meeting or work session) or I don't get paid. Furthermore, this hoses all the interns, and you know how I love my interns. Do not hose the little people who actually do the work, I always say. It's a little something I learned from Fight Club. That and do not talk about Fight Club.

So, I'm learning about a new part of my job responsibilities as a job captain and grownup-in-training. I have to watch out for getting the building built, keeping everyone organized and busy, and making sure we still have the cash left to finish the project. I almost feel cool.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Playing devil's advocate is a helluva job

Part of being an architect (one of the many parts they don't tell you about in college) is that you have to occasionally save your client from themselves. This is not always easy, and rarely is it fun. We've had to do that recently with Tumbleweed County Medical Center (TCMC), and it made for a momentarily tense meeting.

TCMC is remodeling their surgery department, a project which I first spoke about here, and we wrapped up our initial space planning and pricing assessments last week and presented them to TCMC's executive staff (CEO, CFO, and CNO [Chief Nursing Officer]) and staff (facility manager, infection control staff, IT and security, and actual surgery nurses and an occasional physician who can take a break from surgery and drop by). Well, what happened is we came up with two plans: one that involved them just renovating in place and taking over a couple of nearby rooms in the hospital in order to renovate their department and make it useable as well as code-compliant, and another that invovled adding onto the outside wall of the existing surgery department and locating some program (i.e., rooms that you need in a department) there. We then listed pros and cons of the two plans, and it was pretty clear to us that the expansion+ renovation plan was better for TCMC than the renovation-only plan. Problem is, we knew it was likely going to cost more.

We have a contractor already on board, and the cost estimator from the contractor took our plans and figured out the costs associated with them. And I mean he really figured them out: because we gave him a 3D model instead of just some flat paper (or 2D CAD) drawings, he was able to see how much drywall and how many studs are in the drawings we made, what area of bricks, about how much ductwork, and so on. The contractor's construction estimate showed that the renovation + addition option cost about 20% more than the renovation-only option. We winced a bit, but we also felt like the estimates were good ones that the contractor could stand behind for a reasonable amount of time and had included proper escalation (i.e., inflation over the coming months that would make the construction costs go up) and contingency (the money you use to cover the stuff you didn't know was in the walls or suddenly go 'oh shit!' over during the course of construction).

So, we presented the plans to TCMC's executives and the users (facilities, surgery staff, and IT) and revealed our numbers. Wes, the project executive for Avanta, was there with Akira, his new Avanta project manager who handles a lot of Wes' projects. (So far I like Akira fine, but my jury is out on Wes. He's a hard dude to read.) Akira took the contractor's construction costs numbers and put them into a larger spreadsheet that Avanta uses to calculate total project costs. For example, the contractor's numbers don't include costs for medical equipment purchase and installation, nor does it include furniture or IT cabling and hook-up or asbestos removal. Avanta also included some slightly higher-than-average escalation and contingency upon contingency. When Avanta was done, their project costs had nearly doubled the contractor's construction costs. That felt kinda right but kinda weird at the same time. When all was said and done, the renovation-only project costs were just under the total project budget, and the renovation + addition project costs were about 14% over the total project budget. Everyone sat for a few seconds and let it sink in.

Then, Wes slightly shrugged and sat back in his seat and said, "Well, looks like we have to renovate only."

There was another small silence, and the CEO, a lovely woman in her mid-40s who looks like she'd be more at home in a PTA meeting than a boardroom, suddenly spoke up and showed everyone just why she belonged in that boardroom. "There's no question that the renovation-and-addition is the best bet for us," she began. "It gives us flexibility to grow in the future. We have two questions now: how can we reduce the gap between what it costs and what we have, and can we ask the TCMC board for a little more if we narrow that gap?"

Howie and I exchanged a quick look. Did TCMC's board have enough money? Wait--was all the budget money Avanta's money or TCMC's? Turns out, it was TCMC's board that allocated these funds 18 months ago, not Avanta. So why did Wes suddenly look so startled across the room when the CEO spoke up? Isn't his job to make the hospital's facility work well with regard to its physical appearance and operation?

A scrub nurse stood up at the back of the room. "Look," he said urgently as he readjusted his head rag made of flame-print scrub material, "I know budgets are important and they're made to be stuck to. But what does it say to our patients if they walk into this renovation only department and see that all the post-op bays open onto each other and thre's really not a lot of privacy? What if they see that we've outgrown the space as soon as we move in? They're gonna go elswhere. They're gonna go to Hepsburg...or Wheatlands." (Note for newcomers to WAD: Howie and I did the replacement hospital at Wheatlands, and their new building is forcing a lot of other nearby facilities to upgrade their stuff or risk losing patients to them. Some people in western Kansas say "Wheatlands" as if they're about to spit.)

Wes was clearly outnumbered here, and so we began picking through Akira's numbers and discovered about $150,000 in unnecessary costs (for example, he accounted for two new anesthesia machines when TCMC only needs one, which is a savings of about $53,000). The CFO then informed us that she would call for a special session of TCMC's board to meet in a couple of weeks so that we could present both options to them, describe the pros and cons, and then have TCMC explain to their board why they need a few extra hundred thousand bucks to really give themselves the surgery department they need.

When they planned for this project 18-24 months ago, TCMC and Avanta planned on a simple in-place renovation. Even Avanta's healthcare planner in California drew up a plan that just involved renovating in place. But when Howie and I took one look at Avanta CA's plan, we could tell right away wihtout putting a scale on it that it didn't meet code--not 2006 IBC and 2006 NFPA, not AIA Healthcare Guidelines, and not ADA and ANSI. You couldn't possibly do what that guy or gal drew up and not get thumped on the head by Colorado's state health board. Their inspectors smell blood, and if they walked into a surgery department where the pre-op and post-op bays had full walls and were only 9'-6" wide, things would get real ig'nant real fast. So we at Design Associates realized that what they really needed to do is expand their space, and adding onto the building was the best way to do it. Doing so would allow them to be right sized now and in the next twenty to thirty years, which is about the most you can even kinda predict.

As we drove back from Tumbleweedville, Howie, Bosley, and I mused on the nature of the meeting that day. Bosley actually seemed a tiny bit unnerved. "I'm not trying to step on Wes' toes," he said, "but I cannot in good conscience give a client a hospital what they think they want when it's not what they really need, what would really serve their needs now and later."

"Well, yeah," Howie echoed. "Part of our job as the experts is to tell them if they're off track or expecting too much for their budget or whatever. Sometimes, that involves a reality check on scope."

"So, if this is TCMC's money," I asked Howie and Bosley, "then why was Wes doing that frozen-eye thing? Why was he instantly jumping to the 'guess-we're-renovating' bit?

Bosley shook his head. "I'm not sure about him, what his deal is. Maybe...maybe it's part of his job to keep things in line and on track and he...alluva sudden felt like we were taking a detour..." Bosley's voice trailed off as he negotiated his car around a semi on the highway. "...not sure what We's deal is...."

I nestled back into the passenger seat in Bosley's car while Howie checked his messages on his phone. I really hope we can assure Wes we're trying to help, but being the bearer of the news that we sometimes bear can be...hard to bear.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Some good architecture and design (and just plain fun) websites

I know, I know I need to update my website link sidebar thingy on my blog here, but I thought I'd highlight a few sites before I go burying them in the sidebar.

First, I have to give a mad crazy shoutout to James Lileks, a writer for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, is freaking. hilarious. A journalist with a more-than-passing interest in architecture and graphic arts, his website is a wonderful, wonderful place to waste time looking at the postcards for diners and motels from the 1940s-1960s, made better only by his hilarious captions and comments. The blog also includes snarky/funny/fantastic commentary on old comic book covers, pages from a 1973 Sears catalog, matchbooks, old advertisements disguised as ads...I can't say enough good things about his website. Lileks' books are also very funny. I checked out Gastroanomalies from the library and kept showing the pictures to Guy and reading the captions, and we hurt ourselves laughing. The guy is a really good writer, and not just a funny one--somewhere on his site is a series of essays that he wrote as his mother passed away at home from cancer, and it moved me to sobs and tears. Brilliant writing, brilliant guy.

Also brilliant (and an actual architect) is Eric of S7g Architects over at his blog, where he waxes philosophical on McMansions and dealing with disaster relief housing as well as mocking Prince Charles' affection for NeoClassical Revival architecture. Eric also includes links on interesting projects and competitions that are going on, such as a recent one regarding how to retrofit suburbia. To be fair, I know Eric personally, but he writes much better about architecture than I do--I mostly bitch about it.

Speaking of architecture, Lulu Brown (another local architect whom I know personally) over at Intern 101 shares her insight on the ins and outs of getting out of college, being an intern, and getting licensed. She talks about everything from dress code to saving for retirement (a recent post) to the difference between your job and your career. To her credit, her blog is way less snarky than mine, and probably more useful.

Speaking of career, Steve Roesler over at All Things Workplace gives me a several-times-a-week dose of good job, career, and even personal advice. He recently won a Best Leadership Blog of 2009 award, and with good reason: Steve has coached dozens if not hundreds of managers from some pretty high-powered places and shares with all of us the great lessons (and horror stories) of working with these folks. It's good stuff and always food for thought.

And finally, because I do love snarkolepsy, Randall Munroe is an engineer who does some of the most hilarious stick figure comics at his site xkcd. Recently he did a takeoff on those "the most interesting man in the world" commercials that was good enough to make Guy laugh. Also, for those of you who love to stick it to The Man, he is the genius behind writing this check to Verizon for a bill that they insisted he pay. God, I love nerds.

Anyway, enjoy some new sites, and tell me in the comments: what new website or blog have you started going to that you're absolutely loveing these days?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Thanks, but I think I'll just live my dream instead

Ever have a good/great/fantastic idea and you share it with someone and then that someone pees on it? I had that experience recently, and it left me feeling like how your dog feels and looks when you change the food in his bowl and he does that "baroo?" look at you and waits for you to say "just kidding!" and give him his real food. Except that I'm still hungry and even dare I say annoyed.

I had the chance recently to talk to someone high up in the Colorado architectural community about some intern stuff that I was doing and wanted to expand on, and instead of being an interesting, invigorating dialogue, I felt like I got talked down to--or talked at--and got pushed back into the machine instead of being encouraged to step away from the machine and do something good and great and fantastic. Now, it's entirely possible that I really am a bit of a loose cannon at best and a lunatic with a high-powered rifle in a bell tower at worst, but when this person and I parted company, I felt..."mneh." I felt like I got signed onto a committee, not encouraged and enlightened. It was as if the person was giving me lots of caveats about what I wanted to do and acheive (do I look that clueless?) and was trying to get me to merge back with the mainstream of my career and field and business-as-usual (though, I should say it was an enlightened mainstream, I guess). Perhaps I was expecting too much from the conversation?

Except that it wasn't a conversation. I felt like I was having to push my point of view/ideas into the discussion, to nearly interrupt him to share my ideas and goals. It felt draining, and not draining the way a good cry or scream or the aftermath of watching a powerful movie or play or attending an intense concert is draining. It was like sitting through a discussion of the changes to the 2009 International Building Code and how they will affect travel distances in I-2 occupancies. Okay, actually I'd find that really interesting, but the rest of you would gnaw off a leg to get away. I felt uninspired and even sorta doubting the awesomeness I'd come up with.

After processing this some and emailing and calling some of my best mentors, I'm thinking that this is a case of comic Patton Oswalt's take on "Death Bed: The Bed That Eats People". There way be some good ideas to take away from talking with this well-meaning person, but ultimately my ideas for what I want to do are what I need to do. Part of executing any good idea is looking that idea in the face from time to time, checking it, rechecking it, and then seeing it through. Maybe you change the idea a little bit, but the core of the original idea has to be there, because that's what got you excited about this idea in the first place.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a (separate) pan

At the risk of opening myself up to a lot of possibly critical commentary, I'm putting something out here out of sheer curiosity. I'll start and end with the same question: how do you handle money in your household?

When Guy and I moved in together back in 2001, it was for two reasons: 1) to spend time together in a convenient manner, and 2) to save money that was being wasted living apart. I was spending way too much living in a loft in downtown Denver, and Guy helped me realize that I could save money now and in the future by investing in a little real estate. So, I bought a condo on the edge of downtown Denver and we moved in together about a week before 9/11. Thing is, my credit was in great shape while Guy's needed some work. He had credit card debt, car loan debt, and student loan debt; I had literally none of those. I used my investments (from my leftover inheritance for my Dad dying in 1997) as the basis for getting a good mortgage, and I got the Happy Kitten Highrise. (I have since refi'd twice, more recently getting a 20-year fixed rate for less than 6% and only raising my monthly payment about $25--score!)

So, the house was in my name, hence I made the mortgage payment as well as the power bill, groceries, phone, and cell phone. Guy took on the HOA payment for the condo, as it was at the time about $100 or so less than his previous rent, and the cable/internet bill, and he began paying down his other debts aggresively. He eventually took on the phone bill and later even the cell phone bill once he got a cell phone added to my plan. About a year or two into our living arrangement, he began splitting the cost of groceries with me. In general, our other expenses were split pretty evenly, like vacation travel and hotels, dinners and evenings out, and so on. When Guy left Design Associates, he went onto my healthcare through DA, which is really good and rather inexpensive (about $25 every few weeks). However, we paid our own medical copays and dental bills out of our own pockets. And biggest of all, we had no shared bank account.

Fast forward a few more years into 2009. Guy makes about $20,000 more than me, and between a big bonus he got at work a few years ago and his own diligent work, he has paid off all of his major debts (you know, the ones you can't take off on your taxes). He has taken over nearly all the bills except for the mortgage; that one's still mine, and the condo is still in my name alone. When we bought a new (used) car in 2006, we saved up for it and split the cost 50/50 (which was also awesome cuz we paid flat cash for the Civic-another score!), but he recently paid outright for the new laptop he found on a super sale that will replace one of our old desktop models, and he also paid for the new wireless router for the HKH that allows me to connect to the internet and write this blog from the living room instead of from the guest room computer. I purchased the Microsoft Office software, and I still buy the weekly groceries, though Guy is the one who pays when we make a run to Sam's Club.

He told me recently that he thinks he's been jobbing me for a couple of years and not paying his fair share, especially since he makes so much more than me. For him to offer to contribute more to the household financially almost felt rude, but I got over that pretty quickly when I realized that he sure as hell made more, and him tossing a little more into the kitty would allow me to a) better fund my retirement and b) better afford my every-five-or-six-weeks massages and spa visits, and you know a Shorty likes to get her spa on. But it also occurs to me that when it comes to retirement, I'm already ahead because I have my leftovers from the inheritance--Guy's been playing catchup for the past eight years, and he's seven years older than me to boot.

But more than all this, we still don't have joint bank accounts, and that's for the same reason that we almost didn't even get married: we don't see a point. Guy and I are committed to each other for the long haul, and getting married didn't make that "official". We got married in order to preserve our legal rights and to benefit from the sweet tax breaks it gives us; we don't need a piece of paper from the State of Nevada to prove that we luuuuv each other and share a deep, lasting commitment to each other. And so, we view joint bank accounts the same way. Having a joint bank account is one more thing we have to keep up with, and it doesn't really represent that we're a team financially. What makes us a financial team is that we regularly discuss what we're doing with our money, how things are working, if this week or month is going to be tight because we sent money to our moms or had a big expense of some sort or our architectural license fees came due during the same month we had to renew our NCARB record, etc. Even though many financial advisors and planners call our arrangement symptomatic of a lack of trust, and that if we really were a team we'd share a bank account, we're just not seeing it. It doesn't make sense for us.

So, I ask again: how do you handle money in your household? How do you deal with roommates, partners, whatever?

Friday, August 7, 2009

The further adventures of Scooby Doo & Associates

Lawd, y'all, Guy climbed into the car this afternoon fit to bust. He had just gotten off of a long conference call with the two designers from Scooby Doo & Associates, and he had a story to tell.

"So, these guys send me some wall sections along with the enlarged elevations that the wall sections belong to,right?" Guy begins. "First of all, I wish they'd mentioned this, because I'd already started working through the wall sections myself. But anyway, they worked through 'em, drew 'em up, and sent them to me so we could discuss them in our phone conference today."

Note: a wall section is just what it sounds like. It's like cutting a slice through the exterior wall of a building and looking inside, like "Body Worlds" but with a building instead of a person. That way, the contractor can see how tall everything should be and what's inside the wall and how we're keeping water out of it and how to make it stand up and so on. They're typical on EVERY architecture project that involves an exterior wall.

"So," I asked. "How did the call go?"

"Ohh, my God," Guy said, barely able to stifle a laugh. "These guys, they kept talking about how exhausted they were, exhausted from working out--"

"Exhausted from working out a couple of typical wall sections?!" I interrupted.

Guy broke into a full-on guffaw. "Exactly! Exhausted from figuring out the details that we do on a regular basis! Typical wall sections!"

"And they're 'exhausted' from doing this because they've been actually having to think--"

"--yeah! EXACTLY! Having to think! Thiiiiink about how buiiiiiiildings go togeeeeeeetherrrrrr!" Guy finished while slapping the car's dashboard.

I nearly ran over a bicyclist, I was laughing so hard. "So, how were the wall sections?" I finally asked.

"Well," Guy replied, "I give them credit for a good attempt."

"So...they weren't--"

"They weren't even right, not even close in some areas. Whoever drew them, I give them credit for trying, but mostly because it gives me something to start with and correct and I don't have to start from scratch, but they weren't very right."

"Awww," I gushed as if I were talking to my cats. "Shumwun dwew a waww seck-shun! Aw, puddin', dat's sho shweet!"

I mentioned the first SD&A story to Bosley recently, and he told me that his experience with big-name/starchitect firms had been similar for almost his entire 30-year career. Back in the 1980s, he and Design Associates worked with a big-name firm in Chicago as part of a joint venture. He and a colleague went to this Big Firm to do some planning for a hospital, and then when it came time to sketch up some options for the hospital's master planning options, it seemed as if Big Firm's people were stuck. How would they ever get all this drawn up and done? Bosley and his colleague said, "Give us some trace paper and round up some markers, and we'll sketch this up in a couple of hours." The Big Firm employees--and managers and VPs--seemed stunned that anyone could put the mental energy into something, be efficient and effective, and figure. things. out.

"Then," Bosley recounted with a devilish smirk, "we needed to make copies of the sketches to distribute to the hospital's board for a meeting the next morning, and these Big Firm guys were just hemming and hawing, like 'oh, how are we going to get these copies done? there's a lot to do here, and the copy shop is in the other building across town that Big Firm owns, oh no...' so over lunch, we just grabbed the sketches, found another kinda-large architecture firm in town, asked if we could talk to their in-house copy center guy, and we asked him if he'd make all our copies for us for $20, and he said yes."

"That was a lot of cash in the '80s!" I exclaimed.

"Yeah, and he took it and did the copies for us," Bosley said. "By the time we got back to Big Firm's office, they were still panicking a bit about getting the copies made, and we just said, 'yeah, we went and got them done.' And they were stunned that you--that anyone--could just..." He waved his hands a bit. "...get things done!"

Evidently, there's less thing-getting-doneing going on in the world these days. My healthcare colleagues and I at Design Associates get stuff done, and we're finding that a lot of other firms--and people--just don't. Contigo Architects, with whom I'm working on Frontier County Hospital, seems like they drag their feet a bit and don't just sit down, think something through, and solve it. Is it that hard to just figure stuff out? I mean, yes there are people with cognitive disorders now and again but seriously, is it that hard to sit down and work stuff out? Holla back, my people--is this what you experience as well?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

The agony of renovations (or, one of the reasons for this blog's name) part 2

So it gets better--this week I went with Bosley to an FCH meeting with the engineers and the architect of record for FCH. I may have explained this before, but here it is again: sometimes, two architects will join together as a joint venture or one will hire the other to work on a project. One firm will do the initial design, and the other one will take the design over and finish the construction documents and oversee construction. The first architect is the design architect, and the second is the architect of record. On FCH, we're working with Contigo Architects, whose office is only 45 minutes from FCH (while ours is about 4 hours away), and we have more experience in laying out hospitals than Contigo does. Hence, our roles are what they are.

I finally get to meet the architects I've only known as voices over the phone for four months, and we sit down to bidnazz. Part of the reason that we're meeting is to figure out how to get air into the newly-renovated surgery suite. We thought we could run some new ducts from a new small roof top unit (RTU), but the space between the underside of the structure and the top of the ceiling is too tight. From the floor of the building to the top of the roof deck is about 12 feet, and the structure is a 2.5" deep roof slab on 14" deep structure (cast in place concrete joists 24" o.c., for those of you keeping score at home). Plus, the roof structure is at different heights all over the roof, which is how they used to get a "flat" roof to slope so that you could shed water off of it to roof drains. Meanwhile, the ceiling in an operating room is ideally 10' high, but in order to get lights plus ducts in the ceiling space, we had to lower the OR ceilings to 9'-6". Furthermore, the structural engineer, who was present at the meeting helps us understand that at the lowest points in the roof structure, we would only have 6" between the ceiling and the bottom of structure, even with a 9'-6" ceiling. Really? Let's just send gnomes with fans up there to keep the place cool. Magic fairy dust will give us 25 air changes per hour! Ooh! And unicorns will keep the humidity between 40% and 60%--perfect conditions for doing a total hip replacement!

But that's not even the drinking-bingeworthy news. We had all decided earlier that we needed to create a mechanical penthouse thingy on the roof--this would hide and protect the ducts coming right out of the new mechanical unit, and they would go straight through the roof and into the ORs, no running long expanses of ducts underneath the supersnug structure. So we're all sitting around and working out how to do what and how to make it work and does this enclosure-thingy need to be rated or just insulated and if it's an attic then the IECC says it needs to be insulated to R-30 but ASHRAE says it needs to be R-38 (typical houses are about R-7 to R-13 in most places in the lower 48 states) when suddenly one of the engineers looks at a schematic plan Intern Kimmy and I drew of there the new RTU was going to go and said--

"Um, did you know there's already an RTU there?"

No. No, we did not know that. Do you have drawings that we don't have?

Oh. You do. You have drawings we don't have. Why is that? How come you have an entire set of drawings of a remodel that took place three years ago and we don't? Are we not cool enough to have a copy of said drawings? The most recent drawings we have of this building involve a remodel from 1999. And we have some crappy-ass CAD plans from Alphabet Design, who did that remodeling job in 1999 and who also evidently did the remodeling job from three years ago. And you have those drawings. And we don't. In ther words of Dr. Evil, throw us a frickin' bone here.

As we all look at the drawings showing the existing RTU, it turns out that this unit was installed about a year ago, and it was undersized from the day it went in. Thing is, Alphabet Design's in-house engineers supposedly sized the unit to provide air for two of the three floors of FCH, including the surgery suite, whenever they were going to remodel it. Which is weird, because if you ran the calculations even back then, even Ronnie Milsap could have seen that the unit was going to be too small to provide air for half the hospital, part of which included two 600-square-foot operating rooms that require megahuge amounts of fresh, HEPA-filtered air. So now, we have to figure out if we should try to fit two small units on this already-crowded roof, or if we should remove the pretty-much-new RTU, sell it on Mechanical Subcontractor eBay, and buy a new unit that is truly sized correctly to provide air to the half of the hospital that it's supposed to serve.

Either way, we're fixing a mistake we inherited, which as I understand it has pretty much been our experience with Alphabet Design. They produce crappy CAD drawings that aren't even remotely accurate (both on TCMC and FCH), they didn't even read ADAAG correctly and gave us crappy plans when we were their architect of record on another hospital (with Avanta, no less), and now they've undersized this RTU for this poor li'l hospital out in the boonies. Really, Alphabet Design? Really?

Forget the wine glass; just leave the bottle.