Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Visual Inspiration: Castle WTF

"They told me I could be anything I wanted, so I became every house I'd ever seen in Capitol Hill."

This multifamily building in Cap Hill is the Nicki Minaj of the neighborhood, this post-modern residence with its quasi-historical context. There are three front doors to the units in this, the street-facing facade. There is brick. There is "stone". There is wood. There is stucco. There are wood columns holding up "stone" turrets, which is a slap in the face of architectural history, building science, physics, and God Him/Herself. Wood does not hold up stone, unless it's heavy timber in a medieval castle in Scotland, and this ain't Scotland.

There are low-profile "storefront"-ish windows in the left turret, and there are wood operable windows in the upper floors, and there are "leaded" stained glass windows in the lower floors, and there are picture windows and bay windows. There are curves and haunches and "stonework" over the doors and "cast iron" lights outside, and ornamental metal fencework. This building reminds me of my sophomore year of design school, when inevitably a professor regards a project with bemused congeniality and tells the hapless design student: "You have a long career ahead of you, both in school and in the profession--you don't have to use all your good ideas in one project." I like every piece of this building; I just don't like them all together in one place at one time. Even beyond the aesthetic, there is the problem of forgetting and/or misunderstanding architectural history (certain kinds of materials don't belong with certain types of architecture--it's anachronistic) and building science (when you hold up stone with some 6" wooden columns, we know it's either not real wood or not real stone).

I'm of two minds when I critique buildings like this. One is that I'm sure people could shred my buildings if they saw them and had the inclination to do so, so who am I to be Miss High and Mighty Architectural Critic? On the other hand, buildings are not like paintings in a museum that I can avoid, or restaurants that I don't have to eat at, or songs I don't have to listen to or buy, or books that I don't have to read--we cannot avoid the built environment so easily as we can these smaller yet no-less-influential works of art. Someone lives across from this building and must look at it every time they check to see if it's snowing, every time they answer the door, every time they take the dog out for walkies and pee. We have to look at this architectural mash-up every time we drive down this street and be overwhelmed by its indecision, its design-by-committeeness, its look-at-me aesthetic.

That being said, I want the unit that gets the balcony with the nautilus-shell-like curve.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Necessary evils

I was recently asked to assemble a program for a small hospital in a rural Western town, much to my delight. I like talking to the users (the people that actually work in and use a space/department/building) and then putting together a list of needed spaces and how big the spaces should be. (That list is called a program.) It's a funny thing to break down something as complex as a hospital into a simple list of rooms and sizes--these spaces all work together in different ways, depending on the size and type of facility. One hospital needs the surgery pick-up near the inpatient nurse station so that post-surgery patients can be watched by the after-hours staff, while another hospital needs a completely separate surgery pick-up from the inpatient functions because they have the after-hours staff to monitor it and don't want to creep out the visitors coming to visit any inpatients.

So having met with the hospital nursing staff, I go back to the office and start assembling the program. I go through the notes I took during the staff meeting. I'm working on the program for the emergency department, which is a department in which truly life-and-death decisions are made and work is done. I look at the notes: body holding room, 80 sf. Not everybody makes it out of the ED on their feet or to a patient room. Sometimes it's too late where they get there. Sometimes they arrive at the ED only for the staff to find out that they have a DNR* order.

A holding room, also in my notes, is different from a body holding room. Not everyone comes into the ED with all their faculties and can explain where it hurts, what happened when the pain started. Sometimes the chemicals--legal or not--flowing through their veins make it impossible to calm the patient down and solve the problem. Sometimes they have to be left in a room they can't damage while the chemicals run their course. Sometimes the problem isn't chemicals but the lack thereof--someone stops taking his or her antipsychotic meds and is suddenly threatening their 75-year-old mother with a knife, accusing her of working for Al Qaida.

I notice the words social worker office in my notes. Not everybody who comes to the ED does so because they fell out of a tree or have appendicitis or a possible heart attack. Some people come in with black eyes and bruised arms, and the only explanation the staff gets is, "she fell" or "he tripped." Sometimes a random x-ray reveals that a leg has been fractured several times and set wrong, no one treated the fractures. It's a vacant look, a healing split lip, a bruise covered by a sleeve too late to be hidden from the triage nurse, a flinch when the person who brought the patient in talks loudly or gestures broadly. The staff exchanges looks and nods, like third base coaches wearing scrubs, looks that say to each other silently: not on our watch. A call goes to the social worker, and then they get the cops on the phone.

When I draw and design these spaces later, the details emerge: locate the body holding room near a back corridor to the ED, provide impact-resistant drywall in the holding room with lockable cabinets, provide one-way glass from the social worker office into the playroom/conference room. We'll talk with the staff some more in a few months and hear the details of how they deal with the worst days of someone's life, over and over: we need to make sure they can't break the light fixture and stab someone with the light lens; we need some shelves to put stuffed animals on for pediatric patients; can we get a shower in this toilet room? Sometimes women have been...assaulted, and they need to, um, take a shower after their exam. And we need a cabinet to store some clothes in, because we have to give their clothes to the police. We need a quiet room for them to wait in for someone to pick them up. We can use that same room for bereavement, when someone comes to identify a body in the holding room.

For now, these are simple room names, two or three words with a number next to them: 80sf, 100sf, 60sf. A cost estimator will think about the finishes and quality of materials in these rooms. They'll be priced and added up, and the hospital will be told what it will cost to build their new facility, and the hospital will figure out if they can afford it or not, or how much can they afford right now. They will have to remove the emotion from the program, from the project, in order to make good decisions for both the short- and long-term. They'll meet and discuss the building in abstract terms in a conference room, and then the staff will go back to the ED to stitch up a suspicious cut over an eye, back to the patient wing to change a bedpan for a helpless father of four, pack to the imaging suite to explain to a woman and her husband that there's something bad about the lump the mammogram picked up, back to the clinic to say that we need to run an HIV test on your 14-year-old child...

...back to tell the grandfather that he can still do woodworking if he takes his meds and does his physical therapy, back to see that the 17-year-old's kidneys appear to be working since the surgery, back to tell the couple with four miscarriages that this one looks like it's staying and she's made it to the second trimester...back to looking at the worst and the best of the average daily human experience.

*DNR = Do Not Resuscitate: do not give life-saving measures to a patient or try to revive them if their vital signs fail.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Visual Inspiration: You can't medicate me in my safe house

Hazel recently had her teeth cleaned at the vet's office, which means that she had to be knocked out with anesthesia and given an IV. You can't see it because she's got it tucked under her, but there's a shaved spot on her front left leg where they ran the IV. They had to pull a tooth because of a cavity, but overall she did well, and the vet couldn't stop talking about how incredibly cute and sweet she was during the visit.

Hazel decided to hide in her house a little this weekend to avoid being given her antibiotics. She hates the meds being squirted down her throat, but she's gotten to where she doesn't run around the house when it's medication time. She's done with the meds either today or tomorrow, and I'm sure that'll make her happy. It was tough to medicate her as well because of all the hours I've had to work at the start of this month. We had four master plans/conceptual designs due with in a week of each other this month, so it's been pretty unrelenting since the holidays ended. Things should slow down a bit here for the next week or so, but I'm sure we'll get busy again soon. In the meantime, I'll go clean the house and take a nap.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Emergency help for a fellow blogger

Syd needs help finding a home for her kittehs in the Southern California (LA County) area! Go to her page here and see if you can help her find homes for good kittehs STAT!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Newty B Goode, 1946-1997

Today is 15 years since my father died. I don't suppose I have anything original to say about losing a parent, and I don't have anything new to say since the last time I thought about him being gone, which was probably about...yesterday. It's nearly every day that something reminds me that he's gone. Christmas reminds me of that fact, especially, and then the new year doesn't really begin for me until January 17th. So today, I'll have a glass of wine at the end of yet another busy day and think of all that Dad has missed. Though for all I know, he's been watching the whole time.

I love you, Dad.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Cash money Pixie

So I realize that this raise thing is huger/more huge than even I thought at first. I continue to marvel at what's about to happen to my paycheck. Tax brackets and all aside, getting a 16% raise and being at salary is a huge deal.

But Pixie, I can hear some of you saying: you're going to be hourly now, which means no more overtime pay. Doesn't that bother you that you're going to be robbed of the time-and-a-half pay? It's a valid concern, but the answer is: no, not a whole lot. The reason for this is twofold. One, I'm still eligible for bonuses, which are based on performance and based on the profits made by the project. Now that I'm back working with Howie, who is very good with managing his projects' budgets (almost to a fault), I'm not worried about the bonuses.

The second part of my lack of trepidation is that I still stand to make more on salary than I did as an hourly person. In 2011, all my straight time plus overtime plus bonus was only a few hundred bucks more than my 2012 salary is about to be. Whether I work 35 hours or 45 hours or 60 hours, my take-home paychecks stand to be the equivalent of my 2011 50-hour week paychecks every week. Most of my workweeks these days are 40-45 hours a week, given my new responsibilities. And neither my bosses nor I are worried about this, because they know that I get a lot of shit done in 40-45 hours every week. This is partly due to the fact that I know what I'm doing after 11 years in da biz, and it's also partly due to the fact that I'm no longer a production person: I'm a manager. Eight hours of my time spent redlining a set of drawings keeps two people busy for 40-60 hours each. Fifteen minutes spent discussing a layout for a surgical suite with me gives an intern good direction for three or four hours of drawing in Revit. My job is more and more about directing other people's efforts on the work rather than producing the work myself. Because I'm not producing it all the time, there's no point in me showing up on Saturday and Sunday to help with the drawing and detailing of a project's DDs or CDs. And if I'm not in every Saturday and Sunday doing those drawings...there's no need for overtime.

Yes, there will be times (like right now, actually) where we have two or three deadlines in a short span, and I'm going to have to work a few nights and weekends (LOL at Scarlett's desciption of this as the "Sprint Plan: 2 cents a minute all week, nights and weekends free"--BAAHAHAA!!). But overall, the bulk of the time--the production time--on nights and weekends is spent by other people these days. Further, I'm getting to work on the things I really like doing: programming, facility planning, laying out departments (and sometimes even laying out the rooms in the departments). Doing the stuff that you really really really like to do makes a difference, regardless of what your paycheck says.

Not that I'm not going to enjoy that paycheck....

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Next on The Life of Pixie: Drama, rumors, and a little better pat on the back, Part 2

Just before Guy and I left for Christmas, I finally got my yearly review. Howie and Sven were involved, as well as another architect and manager I'd been working with on Gestalt, a fantastic designer and overall good fellow named Charlton. Howie and Sven went on and on about how great I'd done on Gestalt during the past year, and how much I'd grown as an architect and a manager over the past year, and how great it would be to get me working with Bosley again in 2012 on some small hospital projects. I thanked those present for their kind words and for the opportunities for growth that I'd been given int he past year, and I reflected that I was looking forward to working on the small hospitals as well. As much as I liked working on Gestalt, I felt like working on full-on hospitals in the next few months would help me (re)sharpen my design and project management skills. I appreciated the compliments and was looking forward to doing more for Design Associates.

Then, the money conversation. Sven reflected that according to the stats that the firm had been looking at, architectural salaries were flat in 2011, but they wanted to give me a raise and a little something extra because they valued me. So, my new promotion was to be Senior Architect, and my raise would be 5%.

The Pixie was Not Amused.

I then explained to the attending partners and managers that, while I appreciated their efforts to reward me, I believed that my efforts in the past year merited a 10% raise, and that the 2011 AIA Compensation report backed me up on that. My 2011 base salary was below the bottom quartile salary for those at my level in the Denver area (meaning that more than 75% of the architects in Denver that did my job made more than me), and a 10% raise would put me closer to the median salary. There was a moment's pause--lo, it was only half a second, maybe less--but the pause was there. Howie's face froze, but his eyes flicked. The flick told me everything, told me just what he was thinking:

She's onto us.

Howie explained sheepishly that the AIA's numbers weren't totally accurate because of how and who they survey, and DA uses this other report over here because it's more accurate, etc. but I think the damage was done. We talked a while more, and as we left the room amicably enough, Sven said, "So, you were looking at...?

"10 percent," I replied calmly.

Sven nodded. "I'll see what I can do and get back to you."

I seethed over the holiday break. I seethed because I had every indication that the people who had direct knowledge of my skill were trying to underpay me yet again. I've heard it over and over again for eleven years: things have been tough, we're not sure what the market is going to do, there's some instability or uncertainty.... Fair enough, but at some point, you're going to have to pay for quality if you want to keep quality. And I seethed further, knowing that Sven, for all of his many good qualities, was not a particularly tough person or partner. I doubted deeply that I would see any change in my raise, began to wonder where else in town I could work that had DA's environment but paid appropriately.

The day I returned to the office from Christmas, Howie called me into a conference room and said, "So, you asked for more at your review, and so the partners talked, and starting on January 1st, you'll be on salary at a 16% raise--" I looked at the paper in front of him; there was a huge number on the salary line.

It was my turn for my face to freeze and for my eyes to flicker. "Um, wait, salary? And I got 16%?"

Howie looked up from the paper he was looking at. "Yeah, salary," he said brightly. "The, uh, partners talked and..."

"I'm not complaining, believe me!" I said, trying to catch my breath. "It's just that when we talked last week, I was still hourly and..." I blinked, still not comprehending.

"Well," Howie explained, "you and Laura and Elliott are getting promotions to Senior Architect this year, and the partners talked about how best to pay you three in this new position, and then it was mentioned that you had asked for more money in your review--"

Sven. Sven had brought it up. Sven had stood up to the other partners. I would never doubt that man again.

"--so, you're getting 16%, which is--" and pointed to the amazing number I had already seen on the sheet of paper in front of him. I thanked Howie for the good news and told him that this was more than a raise for me--it was validation that the work I did was important. I told him that this was motivating and affirming and elevating, this raise and promotion. It was the culmination of so much effort for me, and I really appreciated the recognition. Howie smiled and his shoulders relaxed. I don't think he's used to being thanked; I reckon it doesn't happen much.

I went back to my desk and emailed Guy, then texted my sister about the good news. Then I whipped out a calculator and ran the numbers just to confirm the math: I had just received a 16.4% raise, above and beyond the 10% I'd asked for in my review. Good God. I then texted Vinnie, my erstwhile antiques-dealer-turned-psychologist pal to see if he wanted to do happy hour before I went home for the evening. He and I met shortly after work, and as I finished recounting the story to him, all he did was shook his head and smile. "Pix," he mused, "well done. You scared hell out of 'em. They knew they had to do better or they were gonna lose you."

"I'm not so sure about that," I replied, swirling my Riesling in my glass and looking out into the unseasonably warm late December streets. "I suppose it--"

"Pixie," Vinnie interrupted. "You came in there with ammo, research, and you asked for the first time in your whole career. You let them know that if they weren't gonna take care of Pixie, Pixie was gonna take care of Pixie." He drained his highball glass. "I don't have to be in that room to know what was said around the table."

Looks like 2012 may be getting off to a pretty decent start.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Next on The Life of Pixie: Drama, rumors, and a little better pat on the back, Part 1

So Happy New Year and Feliz Nuevos Anos and all. I know I haven't been good at keeping y'all up with the goings-on at Design Associates recently, but the fact is I've been busy as hell just doing my job and trying to fight through some holiday/end-of-year irritation. Let's see if I can sum things up with any grace or coherence as we move into 2012.

I wrapped up the construction documents and a couple of addenda on Gestalt's Uber MOB right around Thanksgiving, and Jesus Mary and Renzo Piano was I looking forward to a slower December. But alas, 'twas not to be. So I had to go out of town for a three-day series of meetings that involved being away from Guy and home and kittehs and being with people who were for some reason rubbing me the wrong way. We added a new healthcare planner (and licensed architect) to our ranks earlier this year, and while I'm trying not to feel threatened, I feel, well, threatened. I felt like at times during those meetings that I was having to prove my skills and abilities and even the right to be at these meetings once again to a new person, and it pissed me off. I think Bosley's goal of putting this other planner and me on the same team is to get a sense of consistency in our healthcare planning processes, but it just felt sometimes like there was no point in including me on this. It felt like there were too many cooks in the kitchen.

And dammit, that pisses me off, that feeling of being extra and feeling like I have to prove myself yet again. Not only have I been at DA for more than a decade, but I think I've proven myself time and time again. I've gone above and beyond the call of duty and overdelivered. I'm done proving myself...and at the end of 2011, I found myself increasingly ready to ask for, if not demand, a promotion and a raise. Not just an "oh, well, things have been tough this year" raise, but a raise commensurate with the kind of work I'd been doing for the past year-plus. Howie and Sven and I had discussed a possible promotion for me a few months ago, and I had reached the point where it was put-up-or-shut-up time for DA's leadership.

Speaking of leadership, DA's partners hired a management consultant firm to talk to select members of DA and ask about DA's culture and management styles. They wanted to know what was working and what could be improved. And guess who was one of the people who got interviewed?

Oh yes. C'est moi.

So I shared with the consultants what worked (there was room for a variety of styles and goals of people to perform at their best, there's a lot of flexibility in the office culture that allows people to be themselves, the firm does good work and gives everyone a chance to contribute), and I shared what didn't work (roles and steps needed to achieve promotions are incredibly unclear and ill-defined, management is so nonconfrontational of problems and crappy people in the firm that they're just about avoidant of what are obvious issues). So they thanked me for my feedback and sent me on my way. Now, what you'll notice is that I didn't name names, but...some other people did.

Specifically, so many people mentioned Gregg, Guy's old boss, as a problem in the office that the management firm came to the partners and said, "Look, we gotta interview this guy. Too many people have called him out as a problem that we can't avoid it." So, they finally got a hold of Gregg (just as he doesn't respond to his team's entreaties for an answer or some input, he didn't respond at first or even at second to the consultant's requests for a meeting) and had a li'l chat. However, I have no info on the results of that chat, and I'm frankly a little despondent that anything might come of all these meetings. But part of my brain tickles on this whole process--if I were a betting gal, I'd bet that the partners do want to get rid of a few people, but they're so nonconfrontational/avoidant that they won't just say, "You suck, GTFO of here." Instead, they'll hire some management consultants and get them to collect the data that allows the partners to get rid of the person. By doing so, they can kinda shift the blame onto "them"--"other people" in the office, and the consultant. Regardless of the outcome, it will be interesting to see, what, if anything comes of this.

Next: time to pay the Pixie.