Friday, May 29, 2009

Vay-cay-shun, all I ever wahn-ted...

Thank Jesus, Mary, and Eero Saarinen, I'm in Georgia finally for a long weekend with my sister, Miss Kitty. My plane landed last night around midnight in Atlanta, and about two minutes after they opened the door to our aircraft, the fragrant humidity wafted back into the plane and folks began exclaiming, "Man, I forgot how humid it was here! I was not ready for that!" I was thankful for that humidity, however--it makes my hair curl nice and purrty, and I don't have to wear moisturizer for the whole weekend.

Today was spent getting French manicures at our favorite li'l local spa, and tonight will be lasagna and brownies with Mom out at the Happy Kitten Farm, where the cats roam free, the dogs have a porch to sit on, and the cell phones don't pick up. Tomorrow will be more debauchery and evening drinks and cookout with Linda Lou, Kitty's colleague, for whom I'm doing the guest lecture. Sunday is yet more debauchery, and then Monday is the lecture (well, a girl's gotta work). I'll fly back Tuesday afternoon.

I can't begin to describe how ready I was/am for this long-ass weekend. I was so annoyed and furious at work (not a good way to be when you need to stay employed), and I really didn't have any tolerance for anything but reading magazines and going for a walk. Working out made me tired and annoyed, working made me cranky, and cleaning the house left me homocidal. So this weekend came at just the right time, before I ended up on the evening news, or worse, "Cops". So I'm gonna go hang out and do lots of nothing following by dropping some knowledge on the chirrens. Stay tuned: Monday is another architectural quiz, so be ready!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Gropius Coop (for a new WAD reader)

So I got an email a couple of weeks ago from Jon, who lives in a house designed by members of Walter Gropius' office The Architects' Collaborative.  Jon wants to get four chickens and build a coop for them himself on his historically significant and sacred property, so his chicken coop can't be a) huge, b) glaring and obscene, c) hard to build, and d) cutesy-pie.  While looking for a Modern chicken coop design, he stumbled across my tripe of a blog.  Bless his heart.

So he found this post and or this post and/or this post about starchitects' chicken coops, and he emailed me with his sketches of the coop he'd like to build.  May I say that it was a good sketch, and with a little staring at it over a cup of tepid coffee, I figured out what he was trying to do.  What I got from Jon's sketches is that something the size of a 4'x8' sheet of plywood is about as big as he wants to handle, but the coop also needs to be off the ground and have defensible space, what with the small predators around his house.

I asked Jon if I could try to do my own sketch for his Bauhaus-inspired coop, and to my delight he said yes.  So, here's my Brrkhaus.

The exterior includes lap siding and a cantilevered roof made of two 4'x8' sheets of plywood and a little wooden trim on the edges.  To match Jon's house, I've included two 2x4s standing on end as a vertical element to allude to Jon's chimney.  4x4s support the chicken wire that makes up the chicken run.  I can't decide if I should include some more lap siding along the far end of the run to evoke Jon's house as well.  (Jon, can I put your house on WAD?  It's so completely awesome, and your photo of it does it justice.)  Strip windows on one or both long sides allows light in, and a sliding panel allows Jon access to the eggs.  Let's have a look inside, shall we? 

 Inside, we can see the 4x4 columns (at the edges of the structure, no less--go Mies!) and the 2x4s providing lateral support and a material for tacking the chicken wire floor to the building.  The underpinning panel flips up toward the outside and will allow Jon to rake the poo out from under it.  The sliding panel at the bottom of the occupiable enclosure slides up and is held up by a hook (or something, I haven't worked it out yet), which allows Jon to get eggs from the nests without bugging the hens too much.

I'm wondering about the dimensions I'm showing on the drawings.  Kitty, when you get back from Nash Vegas, would you mind commenting on how big Jon's coop should be for four chickens?  I'm thinking it should be around 3'x7' max.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Happy Memorial Day and hold tight...

...cuz I've got a few nice li'l posts coming this week.  However, I went plant shopping with my good pal Ethel on Saturday, and I've got to get those plants in pots today.  (Yesterday was spent hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, where we went for a four-mile hike and got rained and hailed on.

So while I work on those posts and do some more work on my guest lecture for my sister's colleague's class a week from today, err'body in de club get tipsy and have a great Memorial Day.  Word.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Pardon me, my ROWE is showing

Some of you may recall that as of the beginning of 2009, all hourly design staff including moi are at 36 hours a week.  I was at 36 hours like everyone else until FCH started in earnest.  Shortly after Intern Kimmy and I got on the project full time, Bosley sent us an email saying that we were allowed to work up to 40 hours a week on the project.  I was having to work 40 just so I could get 32 hours on FCH--other little proejcts that I was wrapping up for Sven, Howie, and Prudence kept taking my time.  Finally, now that I'm 95%-100% on FCH, I'm still only getting about 38 or 39 hours.  The project actually takes up my extra four hours that I was hoping to use to do some writing.  I'm still finding time for that on Tuesday and Thursday nights when Guy is at pool league, but if/when one or both of his leagues shuts down for the summer, writing with someone else in the house gets harder to do.  

Still and yet, note that I'm still barely at 40 hours a week with a full project to do.  First off, having help makes all the difference in the world.  I did Wheatlands with very little help, which caused my 60-hour workweeks.  Intern Kimmy's efforts are making the project less arduous and way better.  She's comfortable with Revit and fantastic with Adobe Illustrator and PageMaker (very handy for doing presentation graphics).  I don't think she's at 40/wk either.  We get it done with a little time (an hour or two) to spare.  While it's not enough to write a book, it's enough to let her leave a little early on a Wednesday and catch a yoga class or an afternoon bike ride, and I can get my laundry and grocery shopping done, which frees up my weekend for actual fun.  Having these extra four hours has made it easier to do things like take Maddy to the vet or even deal with my own doctor visits.  One day, I just came home and took a nap.

There's this concept of the Results Only Work Environment (ROWE) that I initially rejected but now it speaks to me.  Summarized, it's that we should pay people for the work they accomplish, not for the time they're warming a seat in the office.  For many workers, technology allows them to work from more places than just their desk, so why not?  While this only works somewhat for architects (if you draw, you need some badass machines to run software like Revit), there's still some merit to it.  Sometimes in the past few weeks, I've found myself turning 6.5 or 7 hours' work into 8 because I didn't know if Bosley was going to suddenly need something.  Why can I not help him from afar, or in a timely manner when I return to the office first thing the next morning?  Again, if I can do eight hours' work in 6 or 7, why am I being punished for my efficiency and made to stay in the office?

There's a small ray of hope here, though.  Our office recently implemented Newforma, which is a project management software that links well with Outlook (a Microsoft email program).  In a recent office meeting, Bosley made the point to the entire office that every level of DA's staff--partners all the way down to interns--should know how to use the software and use the new file naming conventions.  "The idea," Bosley proclaimed, "is that no one's going, 'hey Pixie, where's that thing from Wheatlands, or that drawing from Kansaska?' You don't need other people to find stuff for you--you find it yourself."  That's the kind of thing that most higher-ups do, but I don't think anyone at DA does it more than Howie.  If this gets implemented the way Bosley means for it to be, it means fewer interns and young architects having to be on call for the whims of their bosses--one step closer to ROWE.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Growing pains (but without Kirk Cameron)

After the recent dust-up regarding the best utilization of my skills, Derek and I had a little discussion/debriefing at workday's end, after both Howie and Bosley had left.  Derek had been out of the office and missed the to-do, so I filled him in.  Derek had a good laugh about it, and then (as usual) he had a great insight.  "I think Howie's--and our--biggest challenge in the next couple  of years as our professional lives and skills emerge will be retraining him out of asking us to do intern work for him."

As usual, my head exploded.  Derek is a quiet fellow, but man he's sharp.  And he had an excellent point.  Derek, Ingrid, Elliot (before he was laid off) and I all started as interns with Howie, and as we all got and get licensed and acheive more in our careers, we're at the point where we really shouldn't be Howie's errand boys and girls.  Design Associates charges its clients upwards of $100 per hour for our work--should we really be billing a client that much for us to make a phone call or two and printing out some drawings?

Derek also realized that he hasn't actually worked for Howie for any real length of time in almost two years.  Wheatlands ended in summer of 2007, and except for a brief stint on a master plan for a rural community near Wheatlands, I haven't really worked for him since then.  However, Howie continues to jump up, turn to us, and command us to print this, find and email that, call the other, and so on for him as if we didn't have anything else pressing or billable to do.  Sometimes, we indeed didn't have that much going on, but as with Bosley last week, I had stuff to do that was more pressing than Howie's small potatoes.  It's as if Howie has forgotten that we aren't his property--the lack of work in the office has broken the old way of working where an employee is only on this or that team and is loaned out conditionally.

Derek was also right in that we newish youngish architects will have to grow backbones and learn to feel comfortable with telling Howie 'no.'  And as I experienced, we'll have to be articulate and steadfast with our 'no' when we're sure that 'no' is indeed the answer that does the most good.  I'm thankful that Bosley showed up when he did to help me articulate why I couldn't do Howie's small tasks (I had master planning to do and couldn't afford to be continually interrupted), but I know I won't always be so lucky.

Meanwhile, Gregg's team managed to call my contact at the state health department and get a timely, cordial, and helpful response back.  "The gal you sent me to?" said the architect who eventually made the call.  "She was really nice!  And she knows her stuff.  We were probably on the phone for fifteen minutes just going through the 'what-ifs' that I need to ask my client and what the raminficatons of each 'what-if' was."  

I almost asked her to tell Howie about her experience.  "See?" I wanted to tell him.  "It's not that I'm special and get calls back from government folks; I'm just clear and polite and not an asshole."  Even Intern Kimmy noticed Howie's occasional outbursts.  "He throws tantrums," she observed on Friday.  "It's like he pokes and pokes and pokes, and when he doesn't get his way he gets really agitated."  Duly noted, I thought to myself.  Now to figure out how to combat that kind of behavior.  At some point, Howie and I will be more equal than we are now, and he will forget, and I shall have to politely but firmly remind him.

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Great Brownie Debate

I love to bake, but my attempts at baked goodness at altitude are hit and miss.  I found a decent chocolate chip cookie recipe, and five years of tinkering got me a serviceable buttermilk biscuit recipe.  However, I've yet to find a good brownie recipe, so I just gave in and started buying the Ghirardelli brownie mix from the grocery store.  I was telling my sister about how fantastic the brownie mix was, when I learned that my sister is a brownie purist pod person.

Pixie:  Holy crap, Kitty, this mix has high altitude directions that actually work!
Kitty:  Man, that's great!  What kinds do they have?
Pixie:  Hmm, they have a chocolate frosting that's pretty good, and a walnut brownie mix...
Kitty:  Ooh, that sounds good.
Pixie:  ...but our favorite is the chocolate chunk kind.
Kitty:  Chocolate chunks?  in your brownies?  Eeeuuww.
Pixie:  What?  It's good!
Kitty:  Euuhh, I dunno.  Brownies shoud either be plain or with nuts, no chocolate chunks.
Pixie:  WHAT?! Are you kidding?  What could be better than a brownie with chocolate chunks in it?
Kitty:  A brownie without chocolate chunks in it.
Pixie:  You're high.  The only thing that makes a brownie better is MOAR CHOKLIT!
Kitty:  Gross.
Pixie:  What the hell's the matter with you?  You don't like chocolate chunk brownies?  Why the hell not?
Kitty:  The chocolate gets in the way of the chocolate.
Pixie:  [head explodes]

So sound off people: how do you like your brownies?  Do you like massively loaded brownie, or are you one of the brownie purist pod people?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

If you can't have me, you don't want nobody bay-beh...

A general rule of the workplace (or the market) is that when you're good, you're in demand.  Over the past few weeks that I've been working on the FCH Master Plan, I've been having to wrap up a couple of small projects that I started working on before I got on FCH.  Thing is, I've been underemployed for so long that folks have gotten accustomed to me being available to sketch something up/make a phone call to the state health department/do a code study for them.  So, even though I'm heavily and gainfully employed on FCH, I'm still being bombarded with requests from Sven, Prudence, and Howie.  Last week when I sat down to review some plans with Bosley, I described my predicament to him.  I was afraid to say "no" to any request because I wanted to be able to have something to work on while he was gone to Frontier County here and there, but I wanted to do FCH justice.  Each interruption may take anywhere from five minutes to six hours, but regardless of length it keeps pulling me away from what I was doing on the master plan, and I don't want to short Bosley's project.

"There's enough to do on Frontier County to keep you busy even when I'm gone, at this point," Bosley said.  "I need you completely on this.  If anyone asks you to do anything, tell them to come to me."

"Thank you," I sighed.  It was good to know Bosley had my back.

I've been helping Howie with a little outbuilding project we were doing for Wheatlands for free.  We revamped an earlier-issued PR of a small outdoor enclosure for the hospital to be smaller and unheated.  I was hoping I had wrapped up this work for him last week, so I emailed him the final drawings for it as a PDF and told him they were ready to go.  I had also been helping him and Prudence do some code reasearch on a small pharmacy that was a part of a tenant finish project she was doing.  I had called the state health department regarding a technical question on the pharmacy, and they called me back just this morning to tell me I'd been given a wrong number, and here's the right number and guy to call.  Fine.  

But I know that a phone call to the state isn't "just a phone call," especially when Howie's involved.  When the state finally calls me back, it's about a ten-minute phone call.  It's another five to fifteen minutes to write out a clear and complete email describing what I've found out from the state health guy or gal.  Then Howie reads the email and asks me a bunch more questions for five to ten minutes, then I gotta call the state health guy or gal back, and whenever they call me back it's another ten minutes, then another five- to ten-minute email or conversation....  You get the picture.

So this morning, Howie emails me that he looked at the PDFs and has these four changes.  I should add that he still wants me to continue chasing the code question for Prudence, and on top of these two tasks he sent Gregg and his team to me to help them with a state code question because for whatever reason I have a good relationship with the state health folks and they call me back whenever I call them.  So now I'm making phone calls for two other people and doing redlines on a project we're not getting paid for...and Howie wants me to interrupt a project with a tight deadline to do these things.


So I emailed Howie back to relate the situation to him and asked him to please make sure all these extra-project activities are good with Bosley.  Y'all, Howie actually pushed back: "So, I should ask him about everything but Wheatlands?  But, you're just making a few phone calls!  Do you need more help on Frontier County?"  I pushed back on his pushback: "You should ask him about all of it--we're on a really tight deadline between now and Monday.  It's that the phonecalls take longer than one would think, and I have to keep getting distracted by them and can't concentrate on the project I'm supposed to be working on.  Frontier County is just the right size for Intern Kimmy and me--extra help wouldn't really help."  For some reason my brain had frozen up and I couldn't find the right words that I think Howie needed to hear: We're working on a master plan, and I'm doing space planning--it's all in my head and extra help wouldn't actually help.  But most of all, I think I was just getting frustrated and perhaps even offended that Howie evidently simply could not accept my own assessment and assertion of my abilities over a seven-day span.  I cannot help you properly and help my project properly in the next week.

As I searched for the words to fend Howie off, I realized there was a dark, shadowy figure in my peripheral vision.  I turned: Jesus, Mary, and Calatrava, it was Bosley.  I turned to Bosely and attempted to explain the situation: "Some teams want me to call the health department on some technical questions because I'm one of the few people they'll call back.  However, I don't want Frontier County to suffer."

Bosley made a polite facial expression of understanding.  I honestly think what he understood was that I was trying to push back against Howie, and Howie can be really pushy.  I don't know if he overheard the conversation starting and decided to step in and stop it or if he just happened to be walking by; either way, it was great timing.  As Howie began to ask Bosley if the Frontier County project needed help, Bosley raised one finger and cut him off: "She needs to be left alone until Tuesday morning so she can keep her head in the project."

Howie started to ask again, and Bosley cut him off yet again, gesturing to me as he spoke.  "Pixie needs to be left to work on the master plan--she's doing space planning and all the work is in her head.  Everytime she gets pulled away by a phone call or a code study, she can't keep her head focused on the master plan and get things done."

Howie responded with a tinge of resignation.  "So the answer is no, no extra help would allow her to work on this."

"No."  Bosley's voice was brilliantly final.

He then walked around to Howie's desk, and I could just overhear him explaining to Howie how he loaned me to Prudence for two days while he was gone to Frontier County, and that was all he could afford for me--if she didn't use me those two days while he was gone, then she lost her window.  He loaned me to Sven for one day and if Sven didn't use me on that day, then too bad so sad.  I smiled and turned up my headphones and started jamming as I worked out FCH's emergency department remodel.  I knew whatever Bosley was saying, even if it included anything about me having Shiny Object System (which I do have occasionally), it was ultimately in my defense and giving me the room I needed to get. stuff. done.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Y'all, it's fixin' to be on. And Guy is scared.

At the end of this month, I'm off to Georgia to guest teach a class for Linda Lou, Kitty's colleague at D2U.  (Some about the class last year here and here.)  I'm looking forward to it for sure.  I need to dust off what I did last year and see if it needs any tweaking for this year. I'm sure I can find something that needs sharpening.

Late last week, Kitty forwards me an email from Airtran with some text to the effect of "Look, they're having another sale, so let's buy Mom her tickets to come see you this summer."  A few minutes spent on IM got us agreeable arrival and departure times for Mom in mid-July, and we're each only a $116 lighter.  I forwarded the confirmation email to Guy so he could make notes of when he should start drinking heavily for the week Mom's here.

We were driving home from work that day, and Guy brought up Mom's visit:

Guy:   So...your mom's coming to visit in, um, July?
Pixie:  Yup, Kitty got a really good price on her tickets, Tuesday to Tuesday.
Guy:   So what's she gonna do while she's here?
Pixie:  I'm gonna see if I can borrow a sewing machine or rent her one so she can do some sewing.
Guy:   [raises eyebrows] You're putting her to work on her vacation?  I didn' t know your mom was a nine-year old Malaysian child.
Pixie:  [holding up one hand] Look, I asked her if that would feel like making her earn her keep, and she said she sews for fun, so she's fine to do some sewing while she's here.  She'd prefer it over watching TV all day.
Guy:   Well, I guess it'll keep her off the streets.
Pixie:  [sighing] I know...if she's not tagging brick walls with graffiti, she's boosting cars for parts.  And at her age...
Guy:   You know, I have a pass to the Botanic Gardens and to the Museum if she wants to go to those.  She can actually go somewhere while she's here and not be under house arrest making Nikes all day.
Pixie:  Hm...I suppose so, huh?  I could take her during lunch and then pick her up when we come home.
Guy:   What, she can't walk?
Pixie:  Honey, the last time Mom walked for any length at this altitude, she nearly passed out.  Between the lack of oxygen and her sciatica, I'm not gonna make her do that.
Guy:   She needs to go for a walk.
Pixie:  [cutting eyes towards him] You need to go for a walk.
Guy:   [taking mock offense]  What?  I've been going for a walk with you on Wednesday nights for two weeks in a row!
Pixie:  And I'll take Mom for walks while she's here, but there's no amount of training she could do in Georgia to prepare her for the thin air here.
Guy:   She could take the bus.
Pixie:  [cutting eyes again]  I am not putting my mother on a bus.
Guy:   You don't think she can handle it?
Pixie:  I'm not dragging her out here so I can put her on a bus.  
Guy:   [looking out window]  You don't think she can handle it.  You think the bus hooligans are going to scare her.
Pixie:  Look, my momma's street, homey. She carry a nine and pop a cap if some wanksta try to step to her shit, she ain't even play!
Guy:  [staring at Pixie]  I have no idea what you just said.
Pixie:  I'm saying that my mom's tough.  She and Michael Graves are starting their own gang.
Guy:  [looking out window again]  Whatever.
Pixie:  You'll see.  She'll be totin' a tech nine in Target Periwinkle Blue.  She's bad.  She'll be like a white Foxy Brown.
Guy:  What'll Graves be, Ironside?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Michael Graves is in a wheelchair and he can still kick your ass

Longtime WAD readers know that I've taken some shots at Michael Graves before.  (I've done it here, for example)  But I keed beecauzze I luuvv.  I like his stuff in general, especially his industrial design stuff.  I got an email recently from Healthcare Design Magazine noting that Michael Graves will be the keynote speaker at their conference this November in Orlando.  The profile of Graves talks about the awards that His Kitschiness has received and the services his various firms offer, and then it says:

In 2003, a sudden illness left him paralyzed from the waist down. Now confined to a wheelchair, Graves' designs continue to combine simple utility, functional innovation, and formal beauty with his now deeper understanding of the importance of accessibility and patient-centered design in the healthcare sector. Five years after the illness that changed him forever, Graves and his team are hard at work on many healthcare design projects, including a line of home healthcare products that fuse one-dimensional medical utility with style, multifunctional elegance, and beauty.

“We are delighted and honored to have someone of Michael Graves' stature to keynote this event," says Debra Levin, President and CEO of The Center. “Michael's stated design philosophy — that healthcare settings need to serve those who work and receive care in them — is very much in alignment with The Center's mission to transform healthcare environments through design research. We look forward to what we know will be an engaging, dynamic, not-to-be-missed keynote presentation that will set the tone for the rest of the event."

What?  In a wheelchair?  Good Gawd!  I suppose it's unfortunate for him (but certainly not the worst thing that could happen to him--at least he didn't have a stroke or something), but it's really a gift for the healthcare design world.  Like him or not, Graves has a way with industrial (objects) design and graphic (print) design that is unique and arguably revolutionary.  I like his stuff, and so do a crapload of people who shop at Target.  Michael Graves entrance into the healthcare design world (even if it's Chevy Chase-like and inadvertent) means introducing new design style and taste to a clientele that is generally (in my experience) averse to anything "design-y".  As I've described in an earlier post, the first task of a healthcare facility is to function so that caring for and healing patients happens efficiently and effectively.  Pretty takes a backseat to functional in a healthcare facility, and it usually gets felt up in that back seat.

So His Kitschiness is about to be His Clinically Usefulness.  Righteous.  Let the healing begin, my people.  But let me open the question to the people: have you ever used any Michael Graves-designed stuff, and how well did it work?  What would you love to see him (re)design?  (Other than a chicken coop?)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

What does it take to be an architect?

I recently got an email from a reader who asked the following:

I randomly found your blog by searching for the Pros and Cons of being an architect. I am interested in becoming an architect, I'm just not sure whether or not I will be good at it. I have no experience, no clue as to where to go to school or even have the courage to pursue it. Your blog has given me some insight to what it's like, but I am curious as to how you became interested in pursuing architecture. Did you know at a young age that you wanted to be an architect?  Have any advice that would help me figure out if I would do well in architecture?

Where do I begin?  Well, the first place to go would be my very first post on WAD, which gives you the basics of the tangible requirements to becoming an architect.  I also think this link does a good job of going more in-depth as to what your options are regarding schooling and what the schooling means for your professional career.  She also has a link here describing what the ARE (the licensing test for architects) is like these days--it's changed since I took it a few years ago. It's a good site overall, by the way.

Other than that, though, how do I describe what it takes to be an architect?  Let's start with this little fact: while I've known I wanted to be an architect since I was twelve, it's not required.  When I was about eleven or twelve, my dad ordered some house plans from Southern Living and hired a contractor friend from high school to build the house after he bought a parcel of land.  As I watched the house go from CMU and concrete foundation to wood studs to finished product, I pored over the blueprints and tried to figure out why the architect did what he did.  Why is the kitchen so small and the bedrooms so big?  The triple-height living area was so elegant, but did he realize that it was going to get so freaking hot up there?  I found Dad's amendments to the plans intriguing; he trimmed and chamfered a few of the outdoor decks so that he didn't have to cut down so many trees on the site, and he sank the living room.  Most impressive was how he had the contractor put a phone line in the master bathroom, as he used to say that he only got important calls when he was on the can.  (I have found this observation to be true.)  But having said that, my husband didn't think about ever being an architect until he was out of the Army and doodling around in suburban St. Louis and met someone who knew someone who was having a house built.  Guy saw the house while it was under construction, looked at the plans, and thought, "Huh, I could do that."  And he can do it; he does it very well.

Something everyone should know about becoming an architect, especially in terms of school: you do not half-ass architecture school.  I've only ever met one person who was able to do architecture and something else: a guy in my grad school who pursued his M.Arch and a degree in Sports & Entertainment Management.  I was amazed by people who could do school and hold a part-time architecture jobs at the same time.  We have interns that do that now or have done it in the near past, and it continues to blow my mind.  In general, though, if you go to school to be an architect, that's what you're doing.  Very few people can do architecture school and a sport/Greek organization/rap career.  Yes, I had a high school intern think he was going to do that;his goal was to be a rapper and rap/music producer and have architecture as a "career to fall back on."  Listen, punkin: in order to actually make a living at architecture, you're gonna have to give a lot of focus and energy to it, especially early on.  Architecture has a long learning curve.  I tried to do stand-up and improv as well as write a book when I first started out in this field, and I just didn't have the energy.  It takes a lot of energy to learn and retain skills every single day.  Be willing to put the time into it.

The good news though is that there's room for just about every kind of personality in architecture.  People who are detail-oriented and introverted have a place as the technical gurus who know how to put a building together inside and out and can almost quote building code from memory.  People who are more "big-picture" or extroverted may be great at master planning or marketing and getting work.  Folks with an eye for design can take a building from ho-hum to holy-moly-that's-gorgeous, and folks who aren't great at making things purrrty can just make them work.  I have a tendency to be a real rule follower, but I'm also friendly and a good problem-solver; my skills are in code research and space planning, and I'm good to be on a project from start to finish as I have no problem relating to clients as well as contractors.  I'm also [deep breath] one of eight people on the planet who is practically unable to procrastinate.

Regardless of what kind of person you are, you do need a few general skills to be a good architect.  You need to be able to task switch and be able to flow with changes.  Some days you'll work on two to four differernt tasks on a project or even that many projects.  Owners are always changing their minds, jurisdictions are always adopting new codes and procedures, projects are forever going on hold or schedules get accelerated.  I wouldn't go so far as to say that you should like or love change, because those who love change get really annoyed with having to work on the same project for more than a few months (which most projects in architecture do).  Being able to subvert any tendencies to procrastinate is also important, as is being able to prioritize tasks and get stuff done.  Other people rely on you getting things done in order to get their jobs done, and they need to you to have your stuff done and done right so that their stuff is done on time and right.

Like many other professions, architecture requires that you be a good communicator.  Sadly, like other professions, there's very little training for this.  Take a class, get good role models, whatever: just get good at speaking clearly but without hostility and writing clear emails.  Architecture also requires that you be able to handle criticism without internalizing it or taking it personally, which is easier said than done.

Flexibility, communication skills, commitment to learning; those are the main things I can think of.  I know I have some architects who read this blog; what would you add?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

The beginning of the end: And so it goes

A trip to the vet oncologist on Friday confirmed what I'd been thinking for a few weeks now.  Maddy's cancer is back and badder than ever, and she has 4-6 weeks left before she goes ambling over the Rainbow Bridge.  The vet oncologist recommended that we keep her on her daily prednisone and her every-other-day Leukeran until she is truly no longer herself.  She also said that with cancer, you generally don't find your kitteh or puppeh dead one day when you come home--you'll have to make the decision of when to send him or her on their way.  

I asked about food: what should I be feeding her at this point?  Does it really matter?  Nope, said the vet oncologist.  "Feed her whatever she wants, as long as you're not seeing diarrhea," she said.  "What she eats doesn't matter at this point so much as whether she eats."  Good to know.  Friday night, after driving home from the vet's office sobbing almost the whole way, I made cheezburgers.  And Maddy got some crumbs from one.  Nom.  Yesterday, she hid a little more than usual, but I know Friday afternoon was pretty exhausting for her.  Today, she's been social but has been barfing up almost everything she's eaten.  I've gone from Purina DH food as her treats to Temptations (from the grocery store) and now to the mooshy Whisker Lickin's treats (also from the grocery store) to get her to keep something down.  She's finally been keeping those down, and I hope she can keep her wet food down when I feed her later this evening.  I know, I know; I'm feeding her and then she barfs and then she mmmeeeeooowowwwss and then I feed her a few more treats and then she honks those up a few minutes later.  It's a vicious cycle, but I'm determined to make sure she gets something in her.

I know she won't be around for Labor Day; she won't even make one year after her initial diagnosis.  She most likely won't be around for when Grandmrrmy Wilderness Gina comes to visit in July.  She may not even make it to my visit to Georgia at the end of this month.  I've been planning to have a wonderful balcony garden this year, including a rose bush, but she won't live to see everything flower and bloom.  As I plan my garden, I'll need to start researching cremation options for her--being in a condo, I can't just bury her in the back yard like we used to living on a farm.  Thinking again to my garden, my little oasis of life five stories up from the street, I hope I can at least get things planted so Maddy and I can sit outside and enjoy some final warm days together, me on my Adirondack chair in a fleece blanket, and her in my lap, Sphinx-like, nose into the air, searching the wind for familiar smells, swiveling her ears to locate distant birds

As i finished that sentence, I reached for a tissue and wiped my eyes.  Maddy appeared at my feet.  I looked down, and she looked up and gave me a plaintive, impertinent "Mrrow!"  Her pesky sister, Hazel, who is getting pudgy from all the second-hand noms that Maddy gets, walked into the computer room and punctuated Maddy's complaint with her own "Myeew!"  I pet Maddy's bony shoulders, her spine ruffling her fur in the way that an underweight cat's bones are wont to do when there's not enough fat and muscle covering them.

I look down again.  The tip of her tail is fwip-fwip-fwipping, waiting for me to get off the computer and go in the kitchen to distribute more treats.  It's also about time to cook dinner for Guy and me.  Madd is sicker but not dead, not quite ready to die.  Eventually, yes, but not today.  Today, it's time for treats and sitting on the chaise and reading about what herbs to plant in containers and attempting to make calzones out of canned pizza crust dough and being together while we can.  Just being together.  She's still here.