Wednesday, March 31, 2010

[slumping on the chaise with a glass of wine]

Y'all, Shorty is worn out. I just got done with the submission deadline for a presentation I'm doing later this year, and now I'm about to embark on the journey of four deadlines in nine days. This means that while there are plenty of interesting architectural activities going on (and even a little gossip to share), I just don't have the energy to blog it all for now. Instead, I'll share a few photos that my friend LFP took recently. LEP came out for a weekend to Denver (from Bawston, I sweah to Gawd), and we took him to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the latest cool architectural and cultural addition to the Denver landscape. Designed by David Adjaye, a starchitect I can actually tolerate, the building is made with a double exterior wall--1" black glass on the outside and white translucent panels on the inside--that eliminate the need for A/C (just an evaporative cooler is needed), which helped the building earn a LEED Gold rating.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Visual Inspiration: Requiem for a good kitteh

Been a busy couple of weeks, y'all--it's been work and other professional obligations, and not much else. Hence, here are some pictures of my kitteh Maddy.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In regards to a previous question...

Someone asked in an earlier post about how to get rid of efflorescence, the white salts that leach out of a masonry wall when water gets and sits behind the brick face. I asked a brick rep recently about how to fix the problem.

First, make sure that the weep holes in the wall (if there are any) are open and clear at the bottom. It's helpful to make sure that there's a little bit of mesh (almost like plastic Brillo) in the weep holes so that insects don't crawl up in the wall and live there. Having cleared weep holes will allow some water to drain out of the bottom of the wall. Then, check the top of the wall to seal and/or fix any cracks where water could be getting in. After that, the brick rep suggested just letting the wall be for a few months and let the remaining trapped water leach out. After that, a brick supplier or masonry company can help you remove the remaining efflorescence. The solution is not to blast it off with a water power washer, as that will just push water back into the wall and start the problem over. However, it does involve using a power washer that uses a mix of water, a cleaning solution, and a fine-grade particle (like sand) to quasi-sandblast and simultaneously wash the white film off.

By the way, if you have questions about some weird building thing you've seen lately, take a few pictures and send them my way. Maybe I can answer the question, and if nothing else, it gives me something to blog about rather than my pedestrian life.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Visual Inspiration: Hidden Places, Quiet Edition

Last week was a busy one for me, and this week is shaping up to be no different. Hence, I'm having to use some unpublished images from one of my wanderings through Cherry Creek North. Between a two- to three-story bank and a five-story office building, there's this little courtyard/paved garden/altar.

Upon closer inspection, I found that there's a polished granite planter on the left side of the courtyard, and there appear to be a security gate over a door just on the left as well...

Wow. This little fountain with cast stone trim around a mosaic tile back makes this look so out of place, but the out of placeness isn't its fault. It's as if something much more spectacular and grand was here before, and when it was torn down to make way for the stucco/EIFS commercial building behemoths, this was allowed to stay, demurely and gracefully protected from the street.

And then, if you look just to the right of the fountain/altar...

A corporate commercial cavern, desolate and quiet on a Saturday morning, as if everyone was out and about and completely forgot about filling this space with the sound of business, as the business of life were rediscovered and suddenly more important.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Running the gauntlet

Y'all, I got nothing to post right now; I've been busier than a cat covering crap on a marble floor. I'm in the middle of whipping out some drawings for Gestalt--the client keeps changing the phasing of the remodeling work, and someone way above all the team's pay grades demanded that we change around the temporary locations of the departments (where they'll work while we're remodeling their spaces). I gotta get drawings out to the consultants with all these changes in them like yesterday. Meanwhile, I'm writing some stuff for an RFP for Howie and Bosley. The Bosley part isn't bad, but you know when Howie's involved, especially lately, a five-minute job takes an hour and I really don't have that kind of time and patience. That's especially true since we got the call midweek that we were shortlisted for the interview for a possible job that's pretty big, and the interview is Monday morning. So I've been involved in that presentation prep for the past week. Oh, and I've been hither and yon trying to stay on top of the AIA continuing ed seminar coordination, which is a constant interruption. And another oh--the deadline for my industry conference presentation submission's final draft is in less than two weeks, so I've been working like hell on that.

Other than that, things are quiet. Vicodin, anyone?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

In Soviet Russia, survey takes you!

So here's the deal: a couple of architects have contacted me to ask a favor, and I'm happy to oblige. They're working on a presentation to an architectural convention that deals with the experiences of architectural interns and how best to work with them. So that their presentation will be fact-based (and not just based on their own experiences with interns), they've devised a survey for architectural interns. (Interns are defined as those working in the field who are not yet licensed architects.)

If you're an intern, and you're interested in sharing your experience regarding your architectural internship, then click here and take the survey now. NOW!

And send the link to your intern friends, people. The folks who are doing this survey also told me that no specific or individual information will be shared or even be identifiable--they're going to process a summary of the survey results to use in their presentation, although at the end, you can enter your e-mail address for a drawing to win an $80.00 gift certificate to a national bookstore. Squee! The whole thing should take about 12 minutes to complete, and hey, gift card, people!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Monday Visual Inspiration: Materials and Methods Fail

Every architect takes at least one class in college on Materials and Methods, which is essentially about how the contractor goes about building stuff in the field and therefore how we architects should go about drawing the stuff we want him/her to build. M&M, as we sometimes call this class and its teachings, can be prosaic, but it's the most important thing you can learn. Your awesome design ideas are crap if you can't turn them into reality in a safe, weather-resistant, and affordable manner. When I'm out on my weekend walks, I see some amazing homes and commercial work in the Capitol Hill/Cherry Creek area--slate roofs, copper gutters, vine-covered trellises, perfectly-laid stone patios...just marvelous. However, I also see some not-so-awesome stuff get built.

See that white stuff on the front of this brick wall? It's called efflorescence. When water gets into a unit masonry (brick or concrete block/CMU) wall and it can't drain out the bottom, it has to evaporate out through the block, and it pushes the salts in the block out to the front. To get rid of it, people will use a high-pressure power washer to blast it off...which forces a bunch of water back into the wall, causing the efflorescence to happen all over again. Water gets into these wall one of two ways: one, the wall wasn't capped fast enough before a good rain or snow happened; or two, water has gotten into the wall through the grout lines between the stone cap panels on top of the wall. (I know, I know, they look pretty, but every joint in a wall cap is a place for water to get in. Just say no.) The water stays in there because there's no weep holes at the bottom to get the water out of the wall. Sometimes, people think they don't need weep holes if it's not an actual exterior wall of a house, but they've been taking hits off the Fail Bong.

What? You didn't plan your window trim placement so that it would miss the fake roof brackets on your Victorian Revival house? I shutter to think.

Oh, you're not even trying! Just as the shutters in the above picture, these shutters don't even have hinges on the back side, and they're not even wide enough to cover the window if they actually could fold over it, so you can tell they're not even usable. Shutters were invented before everyone had glass in their windows--they could keep out weather, prying eyes, and large critters, and they're still used occasionally in hurricane-prone areas. So when you put shutters you can't use on your windows, you're wasting money and materials. Stop that! [whacks lame-ass designer on nose with rolled-up newspaper] Bad architect! No merlot!

As if the no-hinges wasn't enough of a giveaway, there's a little security camera poking through the left shutter to look at the basement apartment door below this window. Puh. Leeze.

Now this particular flavor of Fail is a little more subtle. It rolls gently off the palate and into the throat, as if you were sampling some saffron and truffle oil infusion on a morsel of artisan-baked ciabatta bread, and you suddenly tasted Cheez Whiz aioli--there's something funky, but it's so well disguised that you can't immediately place it. Here's a bit of architectural history to explain this Fail: A hallmark of Renaissance architecture--and indeed, much of the architecture of the 1500s-early 1900s--is that the ground floor of a building is made of larger, sturdier materials and has smaller windows, and then the materials get lighter and windows get larger as each floor gets further from the ground. Makes sense, given physics and all that. This brand new condo building in Cherry Creek is using brick below a balcony railing made out of...large blocks. I can buy the "stone" trim below the blocks, but come on. Them "stones" belong below the brick. Someone buy this guy a book of palazzo architecture.

Here's another take on that same flavor. This is a stone-looking planter on a stucco wall near a condo's pool deck. Again, I ask: really? We can all tell that the stone is decorative. And if the stone is decorative, then it's probably not even stone. And if it's not even stone, why don't you just leave the stucco and get some punk to tag it with, "I'm cheap"? Because all architects are taught in history as well as the M&M class that honesty in materials is paramount.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Back to the yawn

My sister's plane left about an hour ago, bound for Milwaukee and then Atlanta, heralding the end of her Spring Break with me out here in the Mile High Cit-tay. It's always good to see here, even if she's worn out from working or cranky from the gooberishness of her school's leadership. We had a great time shopping, eating, goofing around, watching the Weather Channel, farting on each other, and even visiting a local no-kill cat shelter to pet some needy kittehs and begin to entertain the idea of getting Hazel a new, younger buddy to whoop up on. (This is a ways off though, y'all--just thinking is all I'm doing.) We also came up with a list of completely innocent phrases that can be made gross or at least sound like horrible acts of obscenity which belong on Urban Dictionary, such as "chocolate mermaid" and "toaster strudel".

I was fortunate that I was able to do a great deal of major spring cleaning before she got here, but there's still more to do. Plus, duty calls: the remodeling projects at Gestalt are starting to really cook, and I only have a few more weeks until I have to turn in the final version of a presentation I'm doing at an industry conference later this year. The next couple of weeks are going to be pretty busy, followed by a couple of fairly busy months. I guess I shouldn't complain--busy beats the alternative.

Meanwhile, happy birfday to my Mommy! YAY!!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

In lieu of another real post, here's an interesting website

Nicole, a reader of WAD and contributor to The Fixer Upper Blog, has written this article on 100 Amazing Buildings Every Architecture Buff Should See. She's got the whole gambit covered, from Catal Hoyuk in Turkey from 3700 BCE up to the latest (and now world's tallest) tower in Dubai. Even if you're not going to visit these sites, it's a delightful Headline-News-type romp through architectural history.

I'm still enjoying my sister's visit, hence some of my laziness. The rest of my laziness is due to dealing with the latest crisis du jour at Gestalt HMO involving sequencing construction and providing temporary spaces for the various departments being remodeled. Regardless, I'm taking this Friday off for a day of relaxation and goofing off with Kitty before she heads back to Georgia.

Monday, March 8, 2010

In lieu of a real post, I'm going to support a reader

So my sister has been here all weekend and will be here all week (try the veal and tip your waitstaff), so I have nothing intelligent or insightful to say today (which technically is the same situation as when she's not here). However, I want to let y'all know about a competition for a environmentally ("green" designed starter home in which one of WAD's faithful readers has entered with a friend. So go vote for Michelle and Lauren at the Free Green website, which provides free house plans and affordable home design services. Couldn't we all use some affordable services these days? Rock on Michelle and Lauren!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Taking my own advice

Awhile back, I gave some advice on the process of remodeling your house, the first two steps of which involve purging your belongings and then cleaning everything. I like to do a little purging and cleaning now and then, but not like I've done in the past week. It started just before I went to Vegas, and I was having drinks with Vinnie. I was lamenting about how dirty the Happy Kitten Highrise was, mostly because I hadn't felt like wasting time cleaning during Maddy's last days. Now I felt bad about cleaning because her hair, the last traces of her presence, were everywhere, even on the dropcloths and sheets I had laid over the furniture I bought for the 2008 DA holiday party that I still hadn't been able to sell. Vinnie's advice was 1) go to Vegas and get out of the house for a couple of days, and then 2) come home and clean and do some clutter-busting in order to reclaim the house for Guy, Hazel, and myself.

It also occurred to me that my sister was flying into town in a week (which is today), so with a week to work, I cleaned like a mofo. So far we've taken about 25 cubic feet of clothing and such to Goodwill, and I have about 6 cubic feet of books ready to donate to a women's shelter (per my mom's suggestion, cuz she's smart). I've chucked probably a little over 2 cubic feet of stuff into the trash and about 12 cubic feet into the recycling. Friday afternoon was spent cleaning out my bathroom cabinets and counter, and a Saturday morning trip to Container Store provided some inspiration (I swear, wire storage racks are the gateway drug) to keep cleaning and clearing. I got my bathroom cleaned, most of the master bedroom clean (shelves and general clutter), and the living room shelves and desk cleaned and sorted. This may not sound like a lot, but these are three places in which I spend a lot of time, and it's three areas in those three places that can drain a person with all their clutter. Plus, cleaning these three areas allows me to clean and clear some other places in the house, like the dining room (where all the mail tends to congregate) and the guest room (where random stuff and papers to file tend to land).

I also put the mid-century furniture from the Mad Men-themed office party back on Denver's Craigslist for the third time in 15 months, albeit for about 20% less than I bought each piece. I managed to sell a couple of chairs ($40 for the pair) on Sunday, and we'll see about the rest. That's $40 more than I had, and if I can at least make back half of the money I spent on the stuff in the first place, I'll be happy. I just want to get this stuff out of my living room--it's been in a pile in one corner for way too long, and I could really use the money. I also managed to sell $200 in gold jewelry from old boyfriends during the clear-out. Turns out one of them gave me an "emerald" in a gold setting that turned out to be glass. There's a reason I didn't marry him--he was as fake as his "emerald."

There are several benefits to doing all this purging and cleansing. Number one, Vinnie's right: I'm reclaiming the house for those of us still here. No amount of cleaning will remove Maddy's presence from this place, but it will not be a place that remembers death but rather life. Number two, clearing stuff out gives me real peace of mind as well as visual peace. I love having order and cleanliness; it calms me down, and calm is something I could really use, especially lately. Number three, cleaning is physical activity that I can do with my iPod in, nice and meditative but active, which also calms me down (see above). And number four, I'll have the house nice and clean (or cleaner) for when Kitty arrives, which happens today.

Thing is, Kitty doesn't actually care how clean the HKH is or isn't. She's always so happy just to be on vacation and hanging out that she's just fine. She's like a kitteh herself: all she needs is a warm and comfy place to sleep, some noms to eat, and someone to play with and pet her, and she's fine. And I will be too, once she's here.

Update Saturday 7:15am: I managed to sell a coffee table and an aluminum-and-naugahyde chair (I know, I know, many naugas died to make that chair) last night for $100 together. The living room is almost mine again. Huzzah!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Again? Really?!

Last week, another guy was laid off--another 50-something architect guy. It was Winston, with whom I worked with on a job interview as well as working on Pomme de Terre for a while. He had been working with Liz recently on some small collegiate projects (Liz, also of Pomme de Terre fame), so I asked her if he was laid off or leaving of his own accord. 'Twas the former, she said: "It seems like if you're not fully busy these days," she said, "you're gone. They're not waiting for the work to come back for you to do it, you're just...gone." She also noticed that every time someone is laid off, they're called into a conference room by a partner for whom they don't work. I'm asking my WAD readers: is that standard procedure? Wouldn't you rather be laid off by the people you actually work for? I would. I want them to look me in the eye. If there's a good reason to let me go, then look me in the eye and level with me. Not being the one to hand me my severance check and say "it's been great, nothing personal" when you're the one for whom I've worked for nearly ten years...that just seems chicken to me.

What I'm noticing myself is that the older employees seem to take getting laid off much better than younger staff. Younger staff are more bitter and leave without a word (or with a few choice angry words), while the older staff are the ones who send out the email to the office (or select folks in the office) that says "hey, it's been great to work with you all, take care and keep in touch." I suppose it's not surprising; older workers have likely been laid off before, so they're less likely to take personal offense to being let go, especially during a recession. If I become one of those people called into a conference room, I hope I can comport myself with grace. Design Associates is the only job I've had since grad school, so I really only have one source for references. Even if I'm furious, there's no place for being vindictive, especially since they've kept me for this long. If I get laid off at this point, it's pretty much not personal.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Monday Visual Inspiration: Liebskind's Mall--um, I mean "Crystal"

After we checked out of the Venetian but before heading to Baxtersmum's Casa, we had to visit City Center, the new retail, resort, and housing complex in the middle of the Vegas strip. It was recommended to us that we park at the Bellagio and use their tram to get to City Center--trying to park at City Center is evidently a nightmare. Here's the funny thing, though; when you park at the Bellagio's parking deck, you can see the tram from your parking space, but you have to walk clear through the casino to get to it. You can see it, I mean if you had wings you could fly to it from the parking deck, but nay, prithee, thou must walk through the valley of one-armed bandits before thou seest the tram. (That's not an accident in planning, btw: just as all roads led to Rome, all roads now lead to a casino in a casino/resort in Vegas. Spendeth thy munniez, they say.)

So this is the tram station. Nice and late 20th/early 21st-century detailing with the silver metal supports and the tensile fabric roof. That's going to make this area pretty nice in summer--knocks a few degrees off the 115-degree average summer days.

When you get off the tram at City Center/Crystal, there's a courtyard below the tram station. Mad props that the trees look like they're in decent shape, though again we'll wait to see what they look like in July. Not sure about the white humping protoplasm statue in the middle of the courtyard. In the words of Billy Mays, but wait, there's more!

Holy vertigo, Batman! This is just the lobby/walkway between the mall part of the Crystal and the escalator down from the tram. Technically, we're inside the Crystal, Liebskind's mall, but we're not to the actual spendy part of the mall yet.

Nope, still not there. Keep walking.

As my Southern grandmother would say, "Jeezus Gawd." There's not a plumb wall in the place...which is the point. It would appear that Mr. Liebskind has taken the Denver Art Museum and plopped it down here...but not without learning from his mistakes in Denver. First off, you can't see the roof from any street. Good idea: that way no one can see that it's plainly leaking or failing. Second, instead of doing a typical EPDM roof like he did at DAM, he clad the entire exterior with the same metal panels that he used for the exterior wall. Which actually makes sense: if none of the exterior surfaces on your building are perpendicular or parallel to the ground, then you really don't have a "roof"--everything's technically a wall, albeit some steep and some shallow walls. Here's hoping they don't get leaks. Actually Vegas doesn't get that much snow, so there probably won't be a crapton of leak opportunities, will there?

Where was I? Oh, yeah, the building.

The interior is so open that these photos don't do them justice. It's wider, much wider than a typical mall, so when I think about how much of this building technically isn't rentable, it blows me away. Only about half the tenants (i.e. shops and restaurants) are in, though I hear that they're completely booked. Good to know that they're busy. I suppose rentable s.f. quantity is made up for in quality: they charge more for rent because you're in a really coolio awesome building that everyone will want to go into and walk around and maybe even buy something.

Even the mannequins are dizzy. "Which way is up? Oh glory be! I'm so disoriented I can barely pay $5,000 for this dress I'm wearing!"

Outside is a similar story, except it's titanium instead of white drywall. And glazing--good Lawd at the glazing. How hot is that gonna be in summer?

We took this shot from the courtyard between the Crystal and the Mandarin (another hotel/residence thingy in City Center). Here's the thing--you can bag on Liebskind all you want (and believe me, I do), but his buildings are really cool to be in and look at.

But what does he think of having ads all over his masterpiece?

By this time, we'd had enough starchitecture tomfoolery, so it was off to the Casa del Baxter y Kittehs Tambien, just west of town. There, we finally met The Baxter, teh puppeh of WIN and awsum. He promptly peed on Guy upon meeting us. Funny, I had the same reaction when I met Guy.

Thomas O'Malley also found Guy much to his liking and immediately came up for snuggies, face rubs, purring, and knitting.

Tinkerbell is as much of a chorb as Malley is a lap-ho. I wanted to nom. her. belleh. so badly. However, I settled for petting her and letting her rub around my feet. After we returned from dinner and a comedy show, Guy and I slept comfortably in Baxtersmum's guest room with two kittehs on us the whole night. This was actually comforting for me; I'm so used to having Maddy on me that I needed someone to meow and knitknitknit and bother me occasionally just so I could sleep decently. (I know that doesn't make sense, but if you live with really social cats, you know what I mean.)

When we left Vegas on Monday, it was in the high 50s there...and 23 degrees in Denver. Eeek. All good things must come to an end, I suppose...