Monday, April 25, 2011

Some post-Earth Day thoughts

Yeah, I know, an architect musing on Earth Day and the responsible use and preservation of the environment. Building construction uses exorbitant amounts of energy and resources, and we're all looking for ways to be more environmentally-conscious with what we build and how we build it. It's the kind of thing that makes me think about my Mom.

My mother is possibly the most unintentionally-environmentally-conscious person I know. She had fixed and repaired cars with her own two hands over and over. She has repaired small appliances and mechanical items numerous times, scavenging parts from one machine to fix another. She gave my sister a vacuum cleaner back in the 90's to use in her college apartment. When Miss Kitty took it to a repair shop, the technician informed her that it was actually made up of three different types/brands of vacuum cleaners--behold the FrankenVac. (At Mom's and El Seebeno's farm, they mow the lawn with FrankenMower and Bride of FrankenMower.) My mother used wood scraps off a job site to make beds for Kitty and me when we were young (after she and Dad divorced and she had little to no furniture), uses other scraps of wood and tin from home repairs and roof patches to make sheds, doghouses, bird feeders, and St. Thomas knows what else. She uses fabric that other people give her to make clothing and linens for herself, her family, and for anyone else who might be looking for a particular garment or other cloth item (tote bags, tablecloths, etc.). She and I have used the same cardboard box to ship stuff to each other twice each. (She finally put the box in the compost heap when she received it a few weeks ago. It was pretty beat to hell.)

The thing is, Mom did all of these things out of economic necessity. Driving into town cost time and gas money, and buying another yard/sheet/box of something was more money. If she could make do with what she had, be it fresh or leftover materials, then she would. She was and is the ultimate recycler/repurposer. I think about this as I look across the room at my pitiful exercise ball, which Someone Furry With Sharp Little Claws decided to pounce on last week while I was doing crunches, causing it to release air with a sickening wsssssh as I tried to polish off three more reps. An online search for repair materials revealed that an exercise ball repair kit is $24, while a new ball is $19. Really? So it's cheaper for me to put this ball in the landfill rather than fix it? Are you kidding me?

It's the same thing with a blender I've had for about 13 years now. To get it fixed, I have to drive to the nearest KitchenAid repair shop in Denver, which is a twenty-minute drive via interstate and four-lane city roads (they won't ship you repair parts). The last time I had it fixed, the repair guy said, "Okay, I've patched it up again, but after this...I dunno..." REALLY?! I'm driving way out of my way to bring you some business (however small it may be), but you might even refuse to fix it when it messes up again in three or four years? There's a mall within walking distance from my house where I can go and buy a new KitchenAid blender--is that what you're implying I should do, sir?

Until our culture and economy makes it cheaper to fix rather than replace, we're going to be hard-pressed to really embrace Earth Day every day, not just on April 22. The saying is "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle." I'm trying to reuse as much as I can, but it's awfully hard when "Replace" is so much less expensive and less hassle.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Hey, architects: Don't cheat me, bro!

Okay, in all fairness, I found this on Lulu Brown's blog for architecture interns, but as an architect I love it. This guy/group of people/whoever has started a blog that calls out architecture firms that advertise unpaid internships. Here's the thing about internships: if you do work from which the firm directly benefits and that firm is not a nonprofit, you have to be paid--it's the law. Architecture firms will occasionally try to hire interns to do drafting and/or 3D modeling for them and not pay them, under the guise that "any work is some experience to put on a resume", but in most cases it's illegal. (If you get college credit for the work, then hey don't have to pay you. Other rules apply--check the Department of Labor's website for details.)

While work is slowly coming back for us architects (some places slower than others), I'm still a little fearful for my colleagues, especially the newest among them. When they need just a few more months' worth of experience hours to sit for the ARE, they'll be sorely tempted to work for nothing just to get those last hours of experience. And why do my fellow architects even do such a thing as ask interns to work for free? Is it avarice? Is it not charging enough for their time and expertise in the first place? Is it thinking that the architect is so amazing and skilled that the newest of our profession should be leaping at the chance to simply bask in the light of the architect's countenance? I imagine it's a combination of all of these and maybe more.

Architecture as a profession has a weird culture, seemingly based on the Taliesin model set up by Frank Lloyd Wright. In Wright's model, the apprentices were paid little to nothing and lived in tents on the architect's property (at Taliesin West, anyway) and barely got by in order to sit at the Master's feet and absorb his (and always a his) philosophy and skills. Wright himself was a brilliant designer and engineer but a piss-poor businessman, always seemingly going into, coming out of, or on the brink of bankruptcy. It seems as if even those of us architects that might revile Wright's work still live in his shadow when it comes to the business side of our profession. We undercharge for one project in the hopes that it gets us another project with that client (or with a bigger client), and perhaps that second project will pay for the first one...but it seems that payback never comes. We can barely bring ourselves to ask for additional services when asked to do work outside of our contracts, saying yesyesyesyesyes ofcoursewecandothat anythingyousayOmasterwiththecheckbook without reminding ourselves now and again that we do live in a capitalist society and money is a form of respect due its members for skilled services rendered. As my friend Eric over at Blue Architecture says, "Architects are so focused on helping the world and 'being noble' that we forget that being able to pay your bills and make a decent living is 'noble' too."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Hey interns and architects: take this survey, please!

So, Lulu Brown over at Intern 101 needs every architect and intern within the sound of my, I mean with access to the interwebs, or take a survey for the seminar she's presenting at this year's AIA Convention.

If you're an intern, go take this survey.

If you're an architect, go take this survey.

You can find out more about Lulu's project here. Feel free to send your friends, licensed and unlicensed, to the surveys. As long as they're either architectural interns or licensed architects working in the United States, they're eligible to take the survey.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: Signs of Life

Spring in Denver is a weird time--the weather will be 75 and sunny one day and then 40 and a rain/snow mix the next (which is what happened last week--they actually had to reschedule a Rockies game on account of snow). But the climatic weirdness is welcome because it brings buds on shrubs, leaves on trees, and children's toys to front yards. Just when we thought things would never be good ever again, life returns to the Mile High.

It seems the economy is slowly picking up as well. Here is an empty lot on a major street near Cherry Creek in Denver, which has been empty for over a year now, just some dirt moving around occasionally.

Oh, what's this? Someone's building some condos/lofts/townhomes on the empty lot? Well well well.... I'm not sure I'm sold on the street facade just yet--feels like the windows are a little haphazard to me, but for all I know they have some lovely internal spaces. (Though what do you want to bet that each unit will run over a million bucks each? Stay tuned.)

Cherry Creek North, a great if somewhat-expensive place to go window shopping, is slowly turning the economic-recovery corner. Empty buildings and storefronts are filling back up, including this one next to a spa/salon. I have to say I'm liking this renovation/redo. You can see the old window openings in the early 20th-century brick facade behind the new butt-glazed display window/projections. This store will evidently be something of an upscale vintage boutique. (Miss Kitty, plz to come visit so we can roodle through this store, kthxbaisumthing.)

And of course, I can't stop looking at the clothing displays. The window of the Adornments store showed off this little number, in look-at-me red, no less. Rich, joyous colors are back, and not just in the flower beds, but even on Mother Nature's human children, no less.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Monday Visual Inspiration: The Goose Wears Galoshes

The concrete goose near Cheesman Park is ready for April showers in her pink raingear and brilliant yellow umbrella. It's hard to be a pessimist when I know that somewhere out there, someone is dressing the goose in their front yard once a month to reflect the weather or coming major holiday.

Monday, April 4, 2011

And now, time to hold our breath

Last week, the Uber MOB team wrapped up its schematic design submission to Gestalt HMO's main facility planning committee. When you do a project for a healthcare facility that's part of a bigger health system, it's not just about doing the drawings and having a contractor price them (although that's included)--the health system has to review the project too. Healthcare systems/entities have their own sets of standards that projects have to meet that include (but are not limited to):
  • are the construction materials the kinds that they, system-wide, know how to clean and maintain?
  • are the materials used in the building the best-priced ones that can also do the job?
  • are the rooms and spaces in the project too large or too small to deliver good care?
  • does the project account for expansion in the near and not-so-near future? Does it also account for any upgrades or small renovations (e.g., adding extra offices, building out more exam rooms or ORs)?
  • does the project make the best use of the site, views, etc.?
  • does the project have everything it was programmed to have (e.g., ten pre-op bays for five ORs; one doctor's office for every two exam rooms) that will allow them to deliver cost-effective care?
  • and finally, is it under budget, and can it be built on schedule?
These extra reviews can be a pain in the butt, but they add an extra layer of checks and balances to a project. If I can't defend why I, the healthcare architect, can't make a certain group of rooms or a department work the way the health system says it "should", then I'm the one who's wrong. However, if I can make a case for doing something unusual or making a room larger or smaller than the powers-that-be say it "should" be, then I may be able to get them to accept it.

This is also the part where I end up defending the users' requests to the owners. The owners are the healthcare system: in this instance, Gestalt HMO. The users are the doctors and nurses that will be treating patients in the spaces. There's a balancing act between these two groups, as they're not always on the same page.

For example, the owners may say that a GI/endoscope procedure department should only have a 75 square foot break room/kitchenette in their department. The reasoning is that the department's staff shouldn't have a full-on "break room" where they can hide from patients; they should use the building's main break room. The users, however, will argue that they do need a proper break room that's closer to twice the programmed size. The case the users make is that in order to make scope procedures make money (and therefore be worth having in a building), they have to run a case every half hour for nine hours a day in six procedure rooms, which is a lot of staff. Plus, running a case every half hour doesn't leave a lot of time for lunch or a real break. If a gastroenterologist and her two procedure nurses only get a half-hour break for lunch between cases, that's not much time to heat up a lunch and eat it without getting heartburn. And at least the physician can go to her office to eat, but if the GI suite is on the fourth floor and the main building break room is on the first floor, the two GI nurses lose nearly ten minutes going downstairs and getting back upstairs, leaving only 20 minutes to scarf something down and try to recover from the awful case they just had where they had to tell a 40-year-old father of two that he has tumors in his colon.

So all the staff for this busy department needs somewhere close by but off-stage to eat and take a moment to recover from the pace and the mental strain required to do a good job every time all the time. So they really really really want a 130-sf break room. And if I can get one to fit in their department, I'm going to do it. And then the owners will tell us that the users aren't our clients, the owners are. And then I remind the owners that if a user works in a building and a department that prevents them from actually delivering good care, they'll leave a facility and go elsewhere and tell everyone they know that XYZ Health is a joke and run by morons, and that Mile High Pixie chick isn't a very good architect either. Good facilities not only deliver good care, but they also help with staff recruitment and retention, which is a big deal in healthcare.

So, we've sent off our drawings and all our documentation to Gestalt for their review, and we're holding our breath and waiting to exhale like Whitney Houston. And I still have work to do on some other small projects for Gestalt, but that's another post.