Monday, August 29, 2011

Going to Yellowstone, brb, kthxbai

Guy and I off to Yellowstone for a week of camping and staying in lodges and hotel rooms in the park, plus a lot of hiking and taking pictures and just enjoying nature and each other and not being able to use our cellphones or the internet. So there. Gracie said she'll hold down the fort and keep my spot warm on the balcony/porch for me til we return. Our pal Elliot will stop in and check on the kittehs a couple of times while we're out, no worries. Back in a week, kids!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Do you want to know what the Matrix is, Neo? It's annoying.

I've been having a helluva time figuring out what to post on these days, the whole anonymity thing notwithstanding. I think what's making it harder to post is that what I do for a living is so all-consuming that I can't get out of it. I can't turn it off, I can't stop thinking about it, and it's so big and all-encompassing that I can't even figure out how to explain it anymore. Just as Morpheus told Neo that it was easier to show him what The Matrix is rather than explain it, I have a hard time explaining how anything and everything going on in the world affects and is affected by architecture.

Today at work, some of us were discussing the repercussions of bariatric design. Bariatrics is the branch of medicine that deals with treating weight management issues, usually those who are overweight or obese. Because more and more Americans are becoming overweight and obese, everything in the buildings we build (or remodel) have to be designed to hold heavier people--beds that are five feet wide and hold 800 lbs, steel toilets that are two feet wide in order to keep flab from falling over the sides of the can, chairs that are the size of small sofas made with steel frames. We hear about wall-mounted toilets getting ripped off of walls in existing facilities because extra-large people sit down on them. Here's the thing: the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) design guidelines require that the centerline of toilets be 18" from the sidewall with grab bars, but you can't locate a bariatric toilet that closely to a wall, and frankly no grab bar will hold someone who is pushing six bills. But, ADA is a federal law--so who wins when I build a patient floor that treats bariatric patients? Reality or federal codes?

I don't mean to pick on the super-obese; this just happens to be a conversation that I had today with a few fellow healthcare architects. But you see my point: everything that happens in the world affects architecture, and the things I do affect how people live their everyday lives. Modern architect Richard Neutra used to say that he could design a house that would cause a couple to get divorced within a month of moving into it. If that sounds far-fetched to you, try getting ready for work every morning while sharing a single sink and vanity in a cramped bathroom with poor air circulation and no humidity control. It'll have you thinking "Divorce, hell--bullets are cheaper."

My job entails looking at my drawings and understanding all the pros and cons of actually building what I just drew. Because I spend my day troubleshooting and understanding what does into a space or a building, it's a skill that I find I can't turn off. Everywhere I look, I know what's in the walls, what's making the water go through the espresso machine, how much that glass window costs, what that stain is on the ceiling, why the flooring is bubbling, and so on. Even sitting on my balcony at night, just resting, I can look into the apartments across the way from us and watch people fumble over poor ergonomics in their kitchens, adjust the furniture in their living rooms, wrestle with computer cords at a desk placed for some ungodly reason in front of a west-facing window. The world is a never-ending barrage of built flotsam and jetsam, put together in endless combinations that make sense in their efficiency as well as their inefficiency.

Being an architect is like being able to see The Matrix. And when you can't just shut it off, it makes you want to drink. Pass the Riesling.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: Strrrrreeeeeeetch!

Gracie sure knows how to live. Thirteen months after being adopted from the shelter to her forever home, she's lolled on a cushion in the living room in the sun, simultaneously taking a bath, rolling over, and stretching. Or as she calls it, multitasking.

I'm trying to get a bunch of crap done before Guy and I leave for a week in Yellowstone National Park next week. I'd say I'll keep my tens of readers posted, but what the hell would I keep you poor folks updated on? My lack of posting? :-p

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Next on Dr. Phil: architects that rarely draw...but can they sketch??

I've been noticeably mute on my Uber MOB project lately, and indeed on anything architecty. Partially it's because I'm trying to find a way to talk about my work while keeping it anonymous but also helping my tens of readers understand whatever it is I'm complaining about. Talking about architecture to the non-architects (aka, normal people with lives and hobbies) is, I've noticed, a lot like teaching someone how to build a building--you have to have a real project in order to learn. So it's hard for me to talk abstractly about "a project that has lead shielding" or "building that is built on a hill". I really need to say "this project I did in Wheatlands, Kansas" or "the Henderson Replacement Facility." The other reason I'm quiet about it right now is that I'm getting worn out on it.

My Uber MOB project is now in CD phase. CD stands for "construction documents", which are the drawings and specifications that we make to give to the contractor so he/she can actually build the building. The Uber MOB is about a quarter of a million square feet, so we need about three months for each phase:
  • SD - schematic design, where we figure out basically where which rooms go where in the departments, what spaces are needed, what spaces we forgot to account for (figuring out where the departments go in the building is also done during SDs, but on a project this size it was part of a separate pre-SD phase)
  • DD - design development, where we confirm room locations and then being working out how the building looks, inside and out. We also confirm with the building's users where the cabinets and sinks are, what equipment goes where, and so on.
  • CD - construction documents, where we start drawing all the little details in earnest and really work through how all the building's systems work together. (Some of this coordination happens during DDs as well, but now it's Gotta Be Done.)
We're about halfway through CDs right now, and I'm finding that as you move up the food chain in architecture, the less drawing you do. Over the past few months, I find that I spend a lot of time writing meeting notes and doing paperwork for Gestalt (deliver me), researching products, reading code books and writing code studies, reviewing and marking up drawings and specifications, coordinating systems with engineers, and generally just answering questions. My job becomes less about "do the work" and more about "make sure other people have what they need to do the work." It's also my job to poke further on any question or request: you say you need me to lower my ceiling to 8 feet because of your pipes? What's keeping your pipes so low? Where do they run to? Oh, they're for that room/area? Perhaps they can run over here instead and I don't have to lower that ceiling and make this waiting room feel like a shoebox? Excellent--thanks.

But what I notice is that I rarely draw in Revit these days. I spend so much time writing and reading and marking up and making phone calls and talking that I find that I'm getting less familiar with the computer drafting/modeling nuts and bolts of the project, and I'm getting rusty on my skills. This frightens me for a couple of reasons. One, it means that if we even need as many hands as possible to draw a lot for a deadline, it's not entirely safe to have me in the model. (As I've described before, Revit is different from AutoCAD in that one person can delete something and it goes away everywhere in the project, not just in that drawing. This means you can fuck up a lot more in a short amount of time.) I'm also slower in the model once I get in. But the second reason it creeps me out is that being able to use drafting software is something that a lot of architecture firms demand when looking for a position. It's not that I'm looking to change firms, but rather it's that I'm recognizing that I'm losing a skill that everyone seems to find important.

Yet throughout the project, I've been sketching. I go in and print something out of Revit and start tracing over it or marking it up or doodling, thinking about how to make it better. Perhaps an intern brings me a plan or elevation that he can't figure out how to make work, and I doodle and sketch and work it out. That's the part I'm good at--having had to stomp countless floor plans that don't work into plans that flow effortlessly, the sketch or doodle or scaled linework over a printout is the kind of drawing that someone at my level does best. So maybe I do draw. It's not in the way I'm used to drawing in an office, but strangely, it's similar to the way I was used to drawing in school. It's the circle of life, Simba.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: Still life with tomatoes that are actually growing

Though the tomato plants are a little wonky and not as big as usual, they are indeed here and producing, on a fine August morning in Denver. I got busy for a couple of days and forgot to harvest, so you can see some red (and ready) cherry tomatoes on the taller plant on the left and a few Romas on the short bushy plant on the right. At least something in my care is producing. usually I can either maintain a little (like the basil and the lavender) or it falters (as did the new gardenia when I forgot to water every thing for a few days in a row--sorry, Mom). I suppose we'll be making some chili or tortilla soup soon so we can put these lovely 'maters to good use. Not bad for growing five stories off the ground, eh?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: A quiet moment with a cup of coffee

It seems weird that much of Western society "relaxes" with a caffeinated beverage. Eric Bogosian once joked about how no one relaxes with coffee--they actually spend a frantic amount of time trying to procure coffee so they can get home (or wherever) and drink it. In that light, the to-go cup may be the most appropriate invention for the enjoyment of coffee. If you're going to drink rocket fuel first thing in the morning, you might as well have a little rocket-shaped stainless steel cylinder to put it in so you can take it with you when you hit low-earth orbit.

However, the photo above was taken at The Eggshell, a brunch place in Cherry Creek North, when I was out with Mom a couple of weeks ago. Light was filtering down into the restaurant through the atrium of a shopping complex which The Eggshell abutted and leaked into a bit for Sunday seating. It was a nice little Zen moment--white paper on the table, off-white coffee mug, perfectly dark coffee, shiny silver spoons, and a Mom. It was a good reminder to be mindful of all the little moments in life that feed us and ask nothing of us, such as birdsong in the middle of a city or a kitteh turned upside down on a rug on the floor looking cute. It was these moments while hanging out with Mom in July that made me realize that I really did need to try cultivating a habit of daily meditation again. (Sarge, stop laughing--I can totally do this.)

And so, I've been practicing for the better part of a week now, usually in the mornings but occasionally in the evenings. I'm doing about ten minutes a morning at this point, right after my workout, which is a bit of a squeeze for me. Hopefully the promise of time for meditation will spur my lazy ass out of bed a little sooner in the morning in order to get that pause. See, the morning is generally a fast time for me--get up, workout for 40 or so minutes, cool down and stretch, then in the shower get dressed eat breakfast brush teeth do makeup run out the door. A ten-minute pause for meditation in the middle of that seems to be making a difference, maybe kinda almost. With the exception of sitting through a 2 1/2 hour meeting on Friday morning, I've been mostly calm at work. That's especially surprising given the pace of the Uber MOB project right now. I even had a moment where I was surprised and then worried that I wasn't nervous or worried about the deadline and workload (yes, I know...), but I think it's because I'm taking a few minutes each day to radically slow myself down.

Friday mornings I do yoga, and I'm up earlier than usual because I have to be at work before 8 to prepare for my Friday meetings. Because of the extra-early arising, I make coffee the night before and turn it on about halfway through my yoga practice. At the end of the practice, I have a few minutes to drink a cup and either look at my plants on the (five-stories-up) porch or yet again meditate. There again, I find myself in the situation of "relaxing" with a stimulant. And yet it makes sense: if you're looking for energy, why not calm energy? It feels good to pause long enough to enjoy the flavor of whatever you're consuming, so that you actually enjoy and savor its ingestion and to some extent digestion, and then breathe, and then look around and just observe everything.... I'm certainly affected by the caffeine, but not in a strung-out workaholic yuppie kind of way. I get to thank all the people and processes involved in making this coffee and bringing it to me by really sitting down and enjoying it. And being thankfully and blissfully quiet.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: A week with Mom, in pictures

I don't always snuggy a kitteh, but when I do, I prefer a floofy one. Stay pesky, my friends.

Pixie, you need a new kitteh--this one's borked. It won't even play with a 'nip mousey with a jingle bell on it.

You wanna turn this frown upside down? Go pour me a glass of that white zinfandel we got from the corner liquor store yesterday, and use those crystal glasses from Tiffany that Dame Judith gave you for your wedding.

Ahhh, a relaxing cup of coffee at a lovely Cherry Creek brunch makes me nostalgic. Did I ever tell you about the time I nearly beat a man to death with my 22-oz Estwing framing hammer?

Man, I've been wanting to come to the Denver Botanic Gardens for about five years now. It's the only place I can get my horticultural nerd on....Jesus, how do they keep these bromeliads alive? In Denver, no less?!

The sign in these plants labels them as "Right Oregano". Is that why they're planted on the right side of this path? And this is Colorado--where's the "herb" garden labeled "kind bud?"