Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: Last stop, the graveyard

I know, I know, eventually I'll run out of pictures from my New Orleans trip. Here's the last round, I promise.

For whatever reason, I love graveyards. I find them absolutely fascinating--the space we humans give over to the dead, the way locate it either close to or far away from where we live, the way we care for it or neglect intrigues me. I've found that the disposal of a body is for hygienic purposes--we must eliminate risk of contamination or spread of a disease. One way to prevent that contamination is to bury the body, to cover it in dirt away from our homes and cities and potable waterways. But the burial process, the ceremonies, and the enclosures of these mortal coils left behind are interesting in that they reflect culture, geography, and spirituality. most of all, we have to remember that burial is for the dead, but graveyards are for the living. With that in mind, Guy and I visited the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, the oldest and coolest cemetery in New Orleans (and the only one that's ever been used in a movie: Easy Rider).

New Orleans' soil is sandy and constantly sinking and moving and boiling around. Its earliest Western inhabitants were Catholic, who believed in burying folks underground--none of this cremation nonsense. Unfortunately, some of those early burials didn't take--one good rain and Oncle Francois le mort was slooshing down the street or nearest waterway, as if Death could not stop him from enjoying a Slip N' Slide one more time. Hence, the good Catholics of Nouvelle Orleans began entombing their dead in marble vaults. Your family gets a vault in the cemetery and takes care of it in perpetuity. A body has to stay in a vault for one year and one day--not just a traditional time of mourning, but also it seals up The Funk through a summer. The stone and brick vaults in NOLA's cemeteries reach temperatures of about 400 degrees inside in the summer, which literally bakes a body "clean", killing all potentially-dangerous microbes inside. Once the year-and-day has passed, you can scootch the previously-departed's bones down to the back end of the vault and pop in a newly-deceased loved one. But remember what I said about the ground sinking? Look at the bottom of the vaults in the above photo. That bottom vault was usable in 1930, but it's now sunk to the point you can't get into it.

The resting place of Marie Laveau, the "high priestess of voodoo" in New Orleans. Volumes have been written about Laveau, but the verifiable facts about her can fit in a small pamphlet. Some recent historians believe that her psychic powers can really be attributed to her day job: hairdresser. Back in the day, she visited all the fine ladies' houses and did their hair, and the hair of their friends, while all the ladies sat around and gossiped and talked. By the end of each week, she knew everybody's business. So when she received her clients seeking psychic help, she was easily and reliably able to say, "oh, a close business associate will betray you in a month" because she'd just heard that associate's wife talking about some new deal her husband had going on. The three X's on her tomb (which is actually another family's tomb who supposedly asked that Marie be buried with them) are of varying provenance. Some say that it's the sign of Father-Son-Holy Ghost, some say it's a means of calling upon a voodoo saint that would interpret between the worlds of the living and the dead, and some say a cantankerous caretaker marked her grave with three X's so everyone would leave him alone and not ask him where she was buried.

Put enough bodies in a vault, and you'll run out of room on the marble name slab in front. When it's full, you put the front on the side of the vault and get a new slab. On this tomb, the front slab got full and broke as well. The name at the bottom was of one sister in a family who despised her other sister. The other sister died second, so the full name slab got moved to the side of the tomb with the first sister's name at the bottom, while the despised other sister got a brand new slab with her name at the top on the front of the tomb. Their cat fights must be otherworldly.

Alas, we have to have us some architecture. Both the Neoclassical Revival architect Benjamin Latrobe and his son died of the yellow fever in NOLA, three years apart to the day. They were buried in the small Protestant section of the cemetery, but no one knows where. This marker was mounted on the wall. (Funny, races are buried in amongst each other in this cemetery, but not religions. Homer Plessy, the black man who took his Jim Crow law complaint to the Supreme Court in the 1898 case of Plessy vs. Ferguson, is buried amongst the whites because he was Catholic.)

And finally, a lovely tomb was built for all the Italian immigrants in the Italian League here in NOLA. Many nationalities had Leagues in NOLA--they would help you find a place to live and a job, learn the languages (English and French/Creole), and generally get around and live. The Italian League hired a NeoClassical Revival architect to come from Italy and design and build the League's tomb, into which members could be buried and their tombs cared for in perpetuity. The Italian architect hated NOLA--hated the weather, the people, the smell, the everything. When the tomb was finally finished, he attended the ribbon cutting...and died of a heart attack two hours later. He was the first person to be buried in the Italian League's tomb--the very thing he designed in the town he hated.

Death's a bitch, ain't it?

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Relentless what the pace of work feels like lately. I was hoping that just having Gestalt's Uber MOB as my one project to work on (instead of five like I had last fall) would make things a little easier. However, I'm at the point where it feels like there's no slowdown in speed and effort and there's no end in sight. I'm just worn down from the speed and quantity of stuff to do. Architects reading this blog may say, "well, yeah, Pixie, that's what we do." But really? Did we all slog through six years of school and ten-plus years of work and a nine-part ARE just to have our daily work lives get reduced to lists of tasks on Post-It Notes and a constant stream of phone calls that almost all begin with the words "Hey, what were we going to do at...?"

This is just a sample of my days leading up to the DD set going out: Sit down at my desk at about 8:10am and look at my list of tasks and phone calls and the stack of progress drawings that I need to review and mark up before Friday; do triage. Ask the intern in charge of the doors: did the door hardware consultant send us his spec and hardware schedule yet? does he know our deadline is Friday? make sure he knows. Email Gretchen, the project manager for Gestalt (I can't call her because her voicemail is full) and ask if we have information on the mobile storage system going in the central sterile department, and if not can I just have the storage consultant's email or phone number and I'll call him myself. open the set of progress drawings and look at the ceiling plans, because Intern Jake is going to need at least two days to get through them. We should have these equipment booms located on these drawings (and dear God, I just remembered as I was typing this that I didn't tell the structural engineer about the ceiling-mounted injectors in the MRI and CT and PET CT rooms), so make that note again. Oh crap, the toilet partitions in the main public toilets should be ceiling mounted--mark that, then start composing email to structural engineer about all the things he needs to know about (equipment booms, toilet partitions, the recessed floor at the MRI room for the RF shielding). Phone call from Intern Max--are we showing the lead thicknesses in the walls of the imaging rooms. or is that for CDs? It's for CDs, but that reminds me that I'm not sure that I've sent the lead shielding reports to the contractor or the structural engineer (crap, and as I typed that I remembered that I need lead shielding in the ceiling of two scan rooms, about which the structural engineer knows nothing). Now to email the appropriate parties about the shielding report. A phone call from the plumbing engineer--the plan doens't show the right thickness of walls at all toilets; these are floor-mounted back-fed toilets, and they need 13" out-to-out to get the pipe out and down through the slab. Can you send me a list of where you're seeing these discrepancies? Push ceiling plans aside and start looking at floor plans--I can see where this needs to be done, but I--wait, ceiling plans first, Intern Jake is going to need those. I have to pee. I look at the clock on the computer monitor: it's 9am. Only 50 minutes have passed, and I've accomplished shit all. And I didn't even hit send on the email with the shielding report.

This is why I'm spending the weekend on the balcony with kittehs and plants.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Belated Monday Visual Inspiration - Riverboat trip down the Mississippi

I have a deadline this Friday and another the following Monday, so I forgot that I hadn't posted. Here are a few shots from our New Orleans trip back in May. Top to bottom: A house/building on the site of the Battle of New Orleans (fought during the War of 1812 against the British), the Domino Sugar factory, two octagon-shaped "steamboat" houses built during the 1800s, a ship yard, and a military ship that is used to move really big vehicles and equipment around the world.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: The Big Easy, night and day

New Orleans is not without its charms outside the French Quarter. All throughout the main part(s) of town, including the part with Tulane on the west/north side and the central business district on the east/south side, streetcars run pretty regularly to get you around. While it was reliable, safe, and comfortable transportation, it didn't appear to be quite as expedient as a bus system. The poor drivers seemed to spend a lot of time explaining to tourists that they need exact change and here's how you put the ticket into the fare-system-thingy, and so on. We saw mostly visitors on it, but locals not in a big hurry (i.e., running late or on a tight schedule) also used it in decent numbers. I'd say the tourist-local ratio was about 70-30 in the city and 40-60 in the outlying areas.

The rest of the city has a distinctly different feel than that of the French Quarter. After the Louisiana Purchase, the Catholic French/Creole/Haitian citizens of NOLA were annoyed at the now-in-charge-sorta-kinda English-Puritan WASPs showing up to rain on their already-humid parade. Canal Street, the setting of a couple of the photos below, is the western/northern border of the French Quarter, and it is the point at which the flavor changes. All the street names change, like from "Bourbon" and "Chartres" and "Royale" in the FC to "Carondelet" and "Camp" and "St. Charles", respectively.The buildings take on a distinctly more modern look and feel, though I mean "modern" in terms of "from the past 80-100 years". New Orleans doesn't know or care, it seems, what year it looks like there, as long as it's not a year before about 1998. It threw me off, I think, to see so many buildings and spaces from the past without any real allusion to the present. Of course, I was also in the more touristy areas, which may have something to do with that look and feeling

Thursday, June 9, 2011

I don't like to repeat gossip, so I'm only going to say this once

So while I've been whining and caterwauling about how tired and busy I am, stuff has been happening at and around Design Associates. First of all, we got a bunch of new work. Most of it was healthcare, but there's been some additional projects that came in regarding multi-use/multifamily as well as some commercial work. This means that we are one of a handful of offices hiring again in and around the Front Range, so we're not having to advertise too much to find people--we just let the interns in our office know, and they get the word out for us. One of the biggest pushes we've made is hiring people that we laid off in 2009 and 2010. Anyone that got laid off during that time, so it seems, is someone we only let go of because we couldn't afford to keep them. Hence, once we had the work to keep them busy and to pay them again, we hired them back. This includes a few interns and an architect or two...including Elliot. You remember when Elliot was laid off, right? Well, Elliot had been working at Acme with Guy for about 6 or 7 months, when Howie went looking for him. Seems Howie has a lot on his plate and has a project that he needs Elliot to just flat out take over and run with, and Elliot accepted the offer and came back. Here's funny(ish) part: he's making less than he was at Acme, but more than he was when he was laid off from DA in 2009. Well played, sir, well played. (This also gives me ammunition for a discussion regarding my own income discrepancy, but I digress.) Howie is also much happier back at DA--his boss at Acme was a total tool, such that even when Howie is at his micro-managing worst, he's still better than where Elliot was. Again, well played, sir.

Meanwhile, Wayne, who was let go at the same time as Elliot, has been only mildly employed during this time. He hooked up on a contract basis with an old boss of mine from DA, but the rest of the contract employees for that boss got the boss to fire him, as he wanted to be Mr. Managey McManager all the time and not actually draw or do anything. Recently, Guy found out that he interviewed at Acme for a contract position and was offered a job but had not yet accepted. Evidently, he was trying to get another job at the same time and wanted the other job more, so he was stringing Acme along just in case he couldn't get the other position. Acme got tired of it and gave him 72 or 96 hours or something to shit or get off the occupational pot, so he has to make a decision either today or tomorrow. I asked Guy what he thought of the whole situation, andhe just sighed and rolled his eyes. "Well, it's for a contract position, so if they hire him and see what a waste he is, they'll know that contract was the right way to go. Or maybe he's mended his ways...well, probably not."

Also, the new crop of interns we've been hiring have given me new perspective on folks I used to know. Mikhail, an intern that was let go in early 2008, was perhaps not as sharp as I'd thought before. He certainly acted like he cared and wanted to learn, but according to the interns I've been working with recently on Uber MOB who went to school with him, he wasn't that good. He just didn't have it to be an architect. I suppose it wasn't a total loss that he's evidently now into construction management or accounting or something similar. Architecture is like sushi--it's not for everyone and sometimes it'll make you sick.

What else? Oh, at one point in the downturn, Gregg, Guy's old boss and Wayne's protector at DA, decided he didn't want to buy in as a partner, which Howie is in the process of doing. However, Gregg got to keep his assigned parking space, which infuriated a lot of people, and rightly so. Partners and associate partners get assigned parking spaces in our lot so that they don't have to search endlessly for a parking space when they return from meetings. But keeping his space would have made Gregg the only associate with an assigned parking amenity which several higher ranking non-partners wouldn't have had. When someone mentioned that Gregg was going to get to keep his space, Orville (who is a delight to be around but hard to work with when you have a fast-paced deadline) then commented brilliantly, "No one here has the balls to tell him no, and he doesn't have the ethics to turn it down." When I hear this, I spit coffee. Oh, but now that work is picking up and things are getting better, guess who's ready to buy back into the company, hmm?

Further scuttlebutt as conditions and energy warrant. I have yet another deadline at the end of June, which will leave me good and wrung out just in time for the July 4th weekend. I'll do my best to muster up some energy for a decent post or two--patience please, and any suggestions/ideas for posts are always appreciated.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: At home in the French Quarter

This will have to be the first of three posts regarding our trip to New Orleans last month. It was a nice enough town, but I think I saw all I wanted to see of it for a while. Maybe if I hadn't smelled sewage the first morning I woke up there and then gotten food poisoning at one of the nicest restaurants in town, I might have had a better impression of the place. I'm sure plenty of people have worse opinions of Denver.

So...the houses in the French Quarter. Amazing. I don't know what the insides look like, but the outsides are pretty cool. Evidently, New Orleans' soil is so sandy and geologically young that structures sink and settle constantly (more on that when I show you the graveyards). There are entire businesses in NOLA that do nothing but help you replumb your house when it settles so much (and so unevenly) that a door you shut yesterday suddenly gets stuck against the floor, four inches away from its frame. You might be able to see some of those uneven window and door frames in these images. Also interesting was how close everyone's front door/windows are to the street--they're always closed with blinds. What gives? Guy and I wondered. A tour we took later on in the weekend provided the explanation: back in the 1700s, the streets on which we (and the early settlers) walked were the "back" of the house. Your real front door was the courtyard in the inside of the city block. Many of these houses had little gates and paths that you used to access the real "front door" of the house. What is now the street was a muddy path wide enough for a couple of horses to slop down, lined on each side with a narrow raised wood walkway, much like you can see in photos (and movies) of the Old West. Today, occasionally a homeowner has acknowledged the shift between front and back, public and private, but many have chosen to leave their homes' access and arrangement as it was nearly 250 years ago. (And the fact that any of this is standing is a bit of a surprise to me, between the humidity and the hurricanes, but we also learned that the French Quarter was built on the highest land in NOLA, which allowed it to survive floods better than any other part of the city.)