Friday, February 25, 2011

Happy 6th anniversary!

We're in Vegas, loving and living it up. We're actually spending tonight with our friend Scarlett, then tomorrow and Sunday nights are at the new Aria. Lots of photos and stories will follow upon our return. Word, my peeps!

Picture frame at a shop in historical St. Charles neighborhood in St. Louis, MO, at Thanksgiving 2010.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: A little window shopping in Cherry Creek North

We leave on Thursday to go to Vegas for our 6th anniversary, thanks heavens. I nearly had a meltdown at work on Friday, but then Sven took me to lunch and we chatted about how the project was going (decently), how things were going with Howie (still kinda annoying but not nearly as obnoxious as before), and what my future was like at Design Associates (decent with a chance of promising). I had work to do this weekend so that I wouldn't be completely behind when we got back from Vegas, but I did take some time to go window shopping in Cherry Creek.

Mom, I nearly went in the store and bought this just so I could give it to you to make a pattern out of...

*sigh*, It's so involved being a wig model. Just a head on a post, so boring and avant garde...

What do you mean, "don't waste another step"? How is any step in most Americans' days wasted? So, if I'm not wearing these retarded-looking shoes and I walk five miles, I just "wasted" steps? Sure. Or I could buy those shoes and waste $50.

This sweater dress leaves me feeling conflicted. I love the slubby, knit feel, but then she's wearing leggings with it. Is it supposed to keep me warm or not? And why must I look like Lindsey Lohan when I wear this? And why do I suddenly crave a pair of leggings?

Dear Scarlett: This just opened in Cherry Creek North. We could totally make $30,000, easy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day, Shelter Kitteh Style

Many of you may recall the arrival of Gracie in July 2010 here at the Happy Kitten Highrise. In the past eight months, she's decided that she does indeed belong here and has staked her claim on a few pieces on furniture as well as anywhere on Papa's side of the bed. I swear she spends half the day looking for Hazel, and Hazel spends half her day avoiding Gracie. The Floof just wants to play, but she does occasionally for no apparently good reason light Lulu's head up with a flurry of floofy-pawed pitty-pat-pat. However, being only about two years old, we love to bat at and play with strings. Papa gave us a long, elasticized string that we actually tote around the house now and again. Here she is, playing with Papa in the living room.



...let's take this over here where I can attack it better....

..huh? did I hear a treat bag crinkle open...?

What do you mean "you have to go pee?" Get back here and finish playing wif me!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Architectural grocery lists

In the recent hubbub of finishing SD for the Uber MOB, many of the departments find that the programs for their departments are wanting--some rooms are too small, others were left off the program, and now and again there are too many of some rooms. So as we're making sure the departments flow properly, we're also having to do this addition, subtraction, and massaging of rooms and spaces.

A program is like a detailed grocery list. First, it lists what rooms and spaces (and how many of each of those rooms and spaces) are needed. (Space doesn't necessarily have walls on all of its sides--it might be a wider area in a hallway, or it might be an alcove tucked in off of a hallway but open to it as well, or it might be an open area inside a larger room, which has walls on three or four of its sides and often, but not always, a door.) Then it tells you how big each of those rooms needs to be (square feet), and sometimes the program will indicate a minimum dimension for these spaces. (For example, a CT scan might be specified to be 350 sf, but the program might also indicate that the room must be at least 14 feet wide.) If it's a well-written program, it will also provide details on how the spaces relate to each other: do some of them need to be close to each other or accessed directly from one another, or do some need to be as far from each other as possible? Do some of these spaces need to account for a huge piece of equipment or need to have direct access to the outdoors? Finally, a good program will also account for things like circulation (the space needed to get between the rooms and to move around in open rooms with lots of smaller spaces in them, as well as stairs and elevators), walls and structure, and utility spaces (tele/data rooms, electrical rooms, mechanical rooms and shafts, housekeeping closets, elevator machine room, etc.).

While these programs for Uber MOB were put together almost a year ago with the users and the higher-ups at Gestalt, there are now more users in the room when we go through these plans who weren't involved in the initial programming. Some of these users are the ones treating patients every day, so they have a different perspective on how many of what spaces are needed. These daily users are the ones who provide us with real, useful information like, "the reason we can function with three exam rooms now is because we use two of [neighboring department]'s exams on Tuesdays and Thursdays. We really need at least five exams, preferably six, if we're not gonna be able to share exams with someone else." Or they might say, "By the time a patient gets to us, there's no need to weigh them--we'd rather use the patient weighing/vitals alcove for equipment storage." We the architects then make notes on the program and send those user-requested changes to Gestalt National in the mid-west so that they can approve or disapprove of the changes.

It would be easy to get mad at the users (and/or the client) for underestimating a department's needs, but programming is a gift that architects sometimes take for granted, I think. It's our job to take users through the course of treating a patient and get them to think about the spaces they use and need. It's out job to help a client think through if they do something a certain way now because it's how they want to do it or if there's something about the existing building that makes them do it that way. It's our job to help a client understand space and really know what it means to have a 7'-0" x 14'-0" storage room. So instead of getting pissed when clients say, "Oh, good Lord, we need another four exam rooms and a lab!", I try to remember that they're having to play catchup to the way I already think, just as I probably remember important symptoms at the last minute during visits with my own physician.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Everybody wants to rule the world

As we're coming into the final stretches of schematic design (SD) on the Gestalt Healthcare's Uber MOB project, we have dissent in the ranks. At least two of the user groups (that is, the groups of people representing a department and helping us design it) have flatly stated that they don't like where they are in the building. At the last round of user group meetings, they were adamant (and sometimes quite emotional) about how they needed to be on a lower floor/different floor/up a floor/on the west side/closer to the front door/on the other side of the building or they needed to have more windows/direct access to the outside/direct access to the front door/direct access to the back door. They want to be located somewhere else in this building. Now.

Um, to quote Austin Powers, that train has sailed.

When we design multistory buildings with a variety of tenants in them, we do what's called blocking and stacking. We use a program for each tenant (or in this case, department) to tell us how many square feet each tenant should be. We take those tenants and figure out where they should be in the multi-story building. And when we do that with a healthcare facility, we do that with the owners (Gestalt HMO) as well as the users (people who run or have run these departments). So we did blocking and stacking last summer with the Gestalt management as well as a representative from each of the departments, and now six or seven months later, the locations of their departments is un-acc-eptable! Really? You just figured this out now?

I suppose this wouldn't be as hard to deal with if the design and construction schedule for Uber MOB wasn't so aggressive. Any major changes in the plans at this point are a big deal and will cost us at least a month if not more. The Gestalt higher-ups are talking amongst themselves to decide if we're going to do all these big flip-flops, but I strongly sense that the answer is no. Why? Because beyond the schedule, beyond the meetings, beyond all of it, is a simple truth that project manager Gretchen articulated: "Everybody wants to be on the first floor, no matter what their department does or how big or small it is. Everyone wants the first floor, facing the Rockies to the west."

And that's the truth. And it's not the truth because nurses and doctors are rude or selfish--it's because they care about their patients and want to make sure that they aren't walking long distances when they're sick, and they want to make sure that if a patient suddenly codes (has heart failure and needs CPR or other resuscitation) in a department that they can be taken easily to an ambulance. And they want to make sure that when you tell a patient "you have cancer," that the patient isn't in a dark room in the basement but is perhaps able to look out a window at the mountains and think well, I have some options on how to deal with this instead of dear God I have cancer and I'm in a cave. And yes, being on the first floor would also benefit the caregivers and staff--less travel time from the parking lot, a nice and refreshing work environment to see the same inspiring vistas that the patients see--but it is ultimately about the patients.

Alas, land is finite. We have to build vertically so that we can get all the needed departments in one building on one site and still have land left over for parking and loading docks and the possibility of future buildings for when Uber MOB expands in 10 or 20 years. So not everyone can be on the first floor facing the mountains. Someone has to look at the Eastern Plains. Someone has to go on the top floor. Someone has to go in the basement. And we've all done the best we could to get people where they might best serve their patients while also bearing in mind that we can't build a Super-Walmart building for this MOB. So, it's probably not going to change. But if there's anything we can do to mitigate the pain of having a less-then-excellent location in the building, then we'll do it.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

A moment's pause....

2010 was an unbelievably busy year for me, especially professionally. Yet I find myself in the early days of 2011 feeling like I've worked my ass off for ten years only to achieve the mediocre goal of not getting fired or laid off. I've been rewarded by being given a big chunk of the interior planning on Gestalt HMO's Uber MOB, and I now find myself sitting in contentious meetings with clients who have been looking at the same floor plan for almost three months, and now all of a sudden they don't like where they are in the building and they need to move to a different floor now! and I find myself thinking is this really what I set out to do? My brain tickled with this a few weeks ago when it was announced that three associates in our office were being promoted to senior associate. I don't begrudge them the advancement--they're good, hardworking folks, but what of the rest of us? As my good pal Norman (who is an associate) mused, "The partners say they're worried about office morale, so they promote three people who are technically already promoted?" It then made me wonder what do I really want out of work, out of my architectural career. Do I want to be an associate? Do I even want to keep doing this? I never imagined, fair WAD readers, that I would be an architect until I was 70, but do I even want to be one when I'm 50? 40 (which is in five years, by the way)?

I suppose that now might not be the best time to muse on these things, and not because I have a job and many people don't have one. I've seen architecture when it's good, and it's not good right now because the economy's hard. And when the economy is hard, it frays everyone's nerves, even the nerves of people that have jobs. And those frayed nerves come into my user group meetings and leak out onto Howie and me when people are furious that Gestalt National didn't program their department with a vitals alcove for weighing patients and getting their blood pressures and temperatures, or they're pissed because their department is in the back corner of the basement and they feel like they got the short end of a stick that technically they were holding when we and Gestalt National put them in the basement four months ago and they acted fine with it. So for me to judge how I feel about my profession when things are hard for that profession would be like judging your entire marriage on the one day when your spouse is in a super-foul funk caused by five different horrible things at once.

But still, it feels like the learning curve on what I do every day, every week, every month is leveling out to near-flat. I'm doing different iterations of the same thing, the same tasks. To paraphrase George W. Bush, is our architect really learning? It doesn't feel much like it. But then I consider the whole notion of happiness: while work shouldn't be miserable and shouldn't make you miserable, should it also be euphoria-inducing, or should it just tolerable with momentary patches of small victories and small defeats? Am I asking too much of my job, my career, my profession? I don't think I am. There have been many many times between June 2000 and September 2008 in which I really liked my job and found it interesting or at least tolerable, with comparatively fewer moments in which it sucked canal water. Knowing that I've felt that before makes me think I at least need to be patient with this dissatisfaction I'm feeling. I can acknowledge it and deal with it, but I'm not going to act on it--architecture is fine for now, and I'm sure it will improve as the economy improves. However, I'm not going to push this feeling aside either. It means that I'm finding a lack of something not just in my life but in my profession, and improving things is always motivating for me.

Failing that, I could reorganize my closet.