Saturday, December 28, 2013

So, uh...yeah.

So, it's been awhile, and with good reason. Turns out my burnout was deeper than originally thought: it was depression.

It became clear after a wonderful vacation with Guy that I was constantly irritated and angry and felt like everything was stupid and pointless. It became clear during the Big Design Associates Partner & Associate Retreat when we were talking about the future of the firm for the next ten years, and all I could think was that this whole thing was a pointless fart-sniffing exercise in stupid futility. It became clear when I said I hated my job and I'd wasted my life at Design Associates, but when anyone asked what I'd rather do instead, my response was "nothing" or "it doesn't matter, it's gonna suck anyway". I called my dear pal, the antique dealer turned psychologist Vinnie, and after a long chat at the Oxford Hotel's Cruise Room, he observed that this looked like agitated depression and I needed to talk with my doctor about some medication stat.

Now, a couple of months later, I'm feeling better.  I'm not out of this and I'm not done, but I'm better. I think I could stand to go up on my meds a bit (I'm still pretty cranky and easily set off by the slightest thing), but I'm starting to be able to dissect when my irritation is work-related versus depression-related. I've also had a couple of successes at work, including a few professional speaking gigs involving a research project that I started working on in the late summer. 

I don't know if it's the depression or just where I am in life, but I find that I'm less and less willing to pull my punches when confronted with nonsense and bullshittery. Multiple times in the past few months, I've said aloud in meetings with the partners that the emperor in fact is nekkid as a jaybird and may in fact also be shitting himself. I have fumed to my colleagues and bosses that our refusal to engage our clients like adults will be our undoing, whether through fees or through burning out good staff because we charge too little and work good people way too hard to meet unreasonable requests time and time again. I have exhorted my colleagues to engage each other like adults and to look in the mirror at themselves, because the way we work isn't working anymore, and the way we conduct ourselves is counterproductive. If we're going to have a respectful, forthright firm culture, we're going to have to be respectful and forthright ourselves.  

We'll see if any of these comments get through. I know personal and organizational change is hard and takes time, so God/Allah/Budda/Shiva grant a bitch some patience while I wait for the emperor to get a bathrobe and flip-flops and maybe even a diaper or something.

Here's hoping 2014 is an improvement over 2013.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The worst architect in the world

Nope, it's not Frank Lloyd Wright, nor is it Peter Eisenmann. (zing!) It's this brilliant Old Spice commercial. See if you can figure out all the horrible, tragic mistakes he's made in his house in the last scene.

Monday, September 23, 2013

So what would I like for my birthday?

This week, Guy and I turn 45 and 38 respectively (for those new to WAD, my husband and I have the same birthday). I have a few professional engagements to attend to the first half of the week, and then we'll be in Paris, Bruges, and London for about a week and a half. As is our custom, we prefer to take a trip together rather than buy each other something for our birthdays.

We're all familiar with the trouble of buying gifts for other adults. What do you get someone that would be useful, and they'd like it, and it's not too expensive for you to buy? And what do you get someone like Guy and me, who try really hard not to have a lot of stuff around? (Living in a condo will make you edit your possessions, though not as much as we probably should edit them.) Guy and I get out of this conundrum with each other by taking a trip for our birthday, but Christmas becomes more problematic. Usually, we either get the other person a gift card, or we send each other a web link to the exact thing we like. Yes, it's anticlimactic and totally expected, but what it lacks in surprise, it makes up for in appreciation for the effort and follow-through.

But in my personal and professional malaise this summer (for which I am indeed receiving professional help, thanks for asking, but for which I'm also trying desperately not to have to take medication), I've been wondering what I want, what I really really want (thanks, Spice Girls). A gift should be unexpected, delightful, and useful, and it should be appreciated all the time, not just on the day of its receipt. So what gift would I most like to receive?

I'd like to see my profession rise back to a level of real respect and respectability. 

I'd like to see us get paid what we're worth and not constantly be worn down by the pressures of clients that can't figure out why it costs so much to have a skilled professional design a building such that you won't have leaks, get sued, or have huge utility bills, and so you'll be able to use it for decades to come (or sell it easily if you need to do so). I'd like to see clients stop asking us to shave off our services like doing a full assessment of your existing building is optional. I'd like to see clients stop thinking they can do my job because they watched a three-day marathon of Trading Spaces. The doctors I work with hate it when you come to them with your pre-diagnosed disease that you got off of WebMD, but they can't see the irony when they come to me having done the same thing with a crude sketch they made from a free download of Google SketchUp; nothing you just drew meets any building code known to the state of Wyoming, so knock it off. I'm drawing what I'm drawing because it's the right thing to do to give you a space that meets codes as well as human comfort and ease of use. I'm not trying to draw "fancy" stuff and indicate "fancy" finishes because I want to turn your building's lobby into the Waldorf Astoria--it's because these are the right finishes for the space that will wear well and that align with your original vision of having a hospitality-like "classy" building.  And speaking of building costs, I'd like to see the contractors I work with not turn every goddamn project into design-build. Every time I insist that the finishes and designs really are going to be the best in the long run, I get accused of jacking up the price to the owner.  And I know who's gonna win that little pointing contest. So much for being "team players."

But the biggest thing I'd like to see is architects themselves taking the reins back. I'd like to see us stop writing, speaking, and designing for other architects and start writing, speaking, and designing for the world. I'd like to see us really reach out to people who have never heard the work "architectonics" and don't give a fuck who Kenneth Frampton is. I'd like to see us use words that an 11th grader would use, not because I think the average non-architect is dumb, but because we need to use real, clear language with the world if we're going to explain to them (and convince them) why what we do is important and more relevant than ever, and why we need to be paid accordingly and respected and given the space to do that work.

Seeing architecture truly own the 21st century: that's the gift that keeps on giving.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Soggy but safe

The rains here in Colorado are supposed to end today, fingers crossed. There are some parts of the Front Range and east side of the Rockies that have gotten a year's worth of rain in one week. As some of y'all have probably heard, the entire town of Lyons is cut off from the rest of civilization because the roads in and out of it have been washed out. Literally--washed out. Gone.

Being in Denver proper has protected Guy and me from a lot of flooding problems, though my friends who live in Aurora and the outskirts of Denver have had to pump water out of their basements. Cherry Creek (the main waterway that runs through the heart of Denver) was way over its banks last week, which made bike travel problematic but not impossible. The flooding also affected some schools, so some of my coworkers had to stay home last Thursday and Friday because their kids' schools were closed.

Please donate what you can to the Red Cross to help out. Things should start drying out tomorrow, but it will be along haul to get some folks back in their houses and put their lives back together.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Architect undergoing radical transformation, please stand by

Apologies for the lack of posts lately. I've had a very good reason for my relative silence:

I'm burned out.

After working on St. Ermahgerd for over a year, and especially after the last few months on it being nothing but stressballs, I finally had a meltdown at work. Not a screaming and cursing meltdown (I already had three of those in April and two or three in May), but a Skinner-box-learned-helplessness-shaking-and-weeping meltdown. It was bad enough that Howie actually pulled me into a conference room and acknowledged that he had done this to me.  (It wasn't just him, per se; my condition is partially my responsibility but also lays to a great degree at the feet of Bosley and all of Design Associates' management.)

To keep myself employed while working through the burnout, I came up with an alternate project that involves reviewing DA's processes on design projects, and Howie and Bosley were behind it, though I must say I'm not entirely sure they a) understand it and b) are fully going to be behind the results of my research.  Either way, it's keeping me busy and mostly motivated and getting out of bed in the morning...mostly.

I must confess that even with this non-billable project I'm on, my heart speeds up while my stomach sinks when I see either Howie or Bosley in my periphery, especially if they're slowing down or pausing at my desk. Whenever I'm asked a random question about St. Ermahgerd, my reflexive reaction is exasperation and profanity. When I'm asked to work on any other issue that's reasonably required of me as an associate, I sag and sigh and respond with irritated brevity.  And more profanity.

So, posting is going to be irregular for a while as I figure out what my problem is and how to adjust my li'l attitude here. But I also need rest, which is hard for me to a) accept and b) do.  Wish me luck, and thanks for your patience.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Breakfast with Mom

[Mom on phone with El Seebeno]
Where are you? Are you in town?...again?!...*tsk* I made you some leftovers for's raining? Again!?!?...if you let the dogs out in that weather, I'm going to beat your eyes out when I get, we're going to the Cherry Creek Arts Festival today...the Cherry. Creek., not the Titty Creek, the Cherry Creek......

Mom is a Zen teacher for me. She moves at a steady pace, not fast but deliberate and purposeful. She reminds me to take a moment before you go rushing off into whatever nonsense you think is "urgent". She's been nursing a messed-up right shoulder, with some osteoarthritis and partially torn rotator cuff and partially torn biceps in it. For all I know, she's been using her shoulder joint as a fanny pack, and there's a pack of gum, a notepad, and a chap-stick in there, along with a Starbucks gift card. So she spent the week with me moving very deliberately, pacing herself and using her energy at elevation, plus trying not to re-injure the shoulder while slogging through PT, which was sometimes easy and sometimes made her wince.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

At the Cherry Creek Arts Festival with Mom

Mom:  You need this sculpture in your house.
Pixie:  To do what with?
Mom:  You could hang your keys on it, or put letters in it--
Pixie:  Like an odds-and-ends shelf?
Mom:  Hang off of it while you and Guy are getting it on, shit, I don't care! I'm just saying it would look great in your house!
Pixie:  No, I agree, it looks fantastic!
Mom:  And it's only $900! Chump change!

Pixie:  How fantastic is that purse?
Mom:  Oh my Gawd, it's got a little space underneath! You could fit a kitten through that space!
Pixie:  And there's a pocket in the bottom!
Mom:  That's where you hide your weed.

Pixie:  Mom, can you make that dress?
Mom:  Yeah, I think I have that pattern at home...but I wouldn't do the contrast zip.
Pixie:  Why not?
Mom:  Only trailer trash and Kardashians wear contrast zips in their dresses.
Pixie:  Baaahahahahaaaaaa!
Mom:  [walking away] That shit is cray.

Happy belated Independence Day!

Mom was here for a week, starting on July 4th, and it was fantastic. Great to see her and goof around with her, go to the Cherry Creek Arts Festival, eat at amazing restaurants, go to the spa, go camping, and play Duck Duck Goose with my plants. (I was soundly admonished for not watering them enough this summer.) I'll provide pictures and commentary for the week in the coming month or so...

...just in time for me to go to Georgia in August. 


Monday, July 1, 2013

Didn't I already talk to you people?

Last week was meetings and finding just how many holes there were in our drawings, punctuated by a trip to Biefee, MT meet with some smaller groups of St. Ermahgerd's users. One of the biggest problems we've had with the St. Ermahgerd project is insufficient user group meetings, and it continues to plague us. Generally speaking, we meet with the user groups (the people who will actually use the building, usually grouped by department) during schematic design (SD) and design development (DD). We might have a couple of user group meetings during construction documents (CDs) to discuss special equipment issues, but that's it.

Last week's meetings happened seven weeks after we issued CDs. And the users even asked, "so when are you coming back, Pixie?"

Never, if I have my way about it. But having my way on this matter is about as likely as getting a unicorn to shit in my coffee every morning: not too likely. So, I'll probably have to go back at some point, even though we shouldn't. 

Yet we should. The project kept getting stopped and started over the course of 2012, so the user group meetings kept getting canceled and moved and canceled and moved, hence we never got the full, proper input we needed from the users in a timely fashion. And you have to give users their time--they don't read architectural drawings and understand space the way we do, so they need a certain amount of time and repeat visits to have these conversations and understand what they're getting. And you can't do that in the number of meetings we had. So,we're having to do all these meetings now. And they're still incomplete, and I still feel like I'm about to give these poor people a bad hospital, though God I hope not.

So I'm praying that we have the right information and our professional experience will be adequate to fill in the gaps in this project left behind by the lack of user group meetings. And I'm praying for that unicorn to show up as well.

Monday, June 24, 2013

OPP (Other People's Problems)

I've continued to ponder on Jimmy Ray's comment a few weeks ago when he observed that I was doing three different roles on St. Ermahgerd. The staffing on this project has been problematic for a long time; even a year ago, Howie confided to me that the project was understaffed and had been for a while. On the Uber MOB I did 18-24 months ago, which was of a similar size and complexity as St. Ermahgerd, we had two architects and four interns working on just the interior architecture. St. Ermahgerd in contrast had me and two interns for most of the project, and then we picked up another architect (actually, we stole him from the St. Ermahgerd exterior team) to help during late DDs. 

Further complicating matters is that the St. Ermahgerd schedule kept stopping and then starting with a vengeance, so we'd suddenly have a lot of floor plan changes plus a fast deadline.  We didn't have enough people to make these deadlines, to make the plan changes, and to add in all the additional bits of information and details that make a set of DDs look like DDs. Hence, our DDs were really more like 50% DDs, and we then had two months to take 180,000 sf of building from 50% DDs to 100% CDs.  (We usually get about four months for CDs on a project of this size and complexity.) In order to make this even kinda sorta happen, I was having to scramble to find staff to help us during the week, on the weekends, after hours, whenever and wherever we could. Instead of working on redlines and specs, I was having to find staff  I also had to match the available and willing staff up with tasks that they could do in the time they had available--I had some experienced folks and newbies, and we kept finding that unfinished tasks tended to remain unfinished.

Even more difficult was that Chloe was clearly pregnant, and there seemed to be no strategy in place to fill in for her while she was out for three months with a newborn. I have to wonder if perhaps that the plan was that either my other architect or me were expected to be this person, but both of us are technically planners, not project architects--we need to be available for the next project coming down the pipeline, not stuck doing CA for the next 15 months. The fellow who ended up filling in for Chloe started at Design Associates five weeks after Chloe went on maternity leave, so I'm still getting calls and emails because I've had to be Chloe and me for a month.

I'm at the point where I hate having to do anything on St. Ermahgerd, even if what's being asked of me is perfectly reasonable. I'm worn down from having to make all the decisions on everything. Thank heavens that some other architects in the office have been answering questions regarding the exterior RFIs and shop drawings, because I really can't make those decisions, having not worked on the exterior (that was Chloe, who God bless her is still taking my occasional emails regarding questions on this project while being sleep-deprived and nursing a baby). It's like when you get barfing drunk on tequila, and then you get nauseous when you just see a bottle of tequila on a shelf. That's how I feel about St. Ermahgerd  when I even think about it--nausea.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Operation Clean Your Desk Up Already, Pixie

Before the chaos containment. Officey stuff, folders, craptasticness, cords and wires, loose papers. Tis was a failure pile in a sadness bowl, to quote Patton Oswalt.

After about ten days' worth of cleaning, purging, and organizing. There's still a little more to tidy up and put away, but this is 95% done. (Funny enough, right after I finished organizing, I got an offer to do some paid public speaking. Did a shorty unblock her chi or some cosmic shit? Ain't nobody know, but I won't argue with the results.)

Monday, June 17, 2013

This is where I work.

I keep wondering how best to explain what I've been dealing with at Design Associates for the past several months. St. Ermahgerd went from bad to worse to ungodly before the final deadline. I've been trying to come up with a good way to describe what made the project so hard, and the short answer is this: everything.

We had staffing consistency issues. We had staffing coordination issues. We had budget issues. We had management issues. We had owner issues. We had owner's rep issues. We had user group issues. We had schedule issues. We had reality issues. We. Had. Issues.

I've always felt like the point of this blog is to explain to people what it is that architects do all day, week, month, year...and why it makes us want to drink so much and so often. I also want to be at least fair and human, if not professional (especially given my promotion last year and the fact that a few of my colleagues actually do read this). But goddammit, I'm also pretty fucking angry at how overworked and overwrought I've been for the past year. Jimmy Ray, who has been working with me on St. Ermahgerd since late last summer, told me last week that what people generally say behind my back is that I'm doing three jobs and everyone can tell I'm exhausted. I'm weirdly relieved that my exhaustion is apparent, because I don't have the energy to pretend everything's okay, nor should I have to do so.

I'm still not sure that I'm going to be able to pull back as much as I've asked to from Howie, but I will do my damnedest to make sure I get time off from both professional and personal obligations for the next few months. And I'll put some decent effort into explaining in a hopefully-not-verbose manner all the different aspects that make for a tough project.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Things to which I shall look forward

First off, my mom is coming to visit for a whole week starting on July 4th. I plan to take the entire time off that she's here, and I pity the fool that attempts to interrupt our visit with some bullshit RFIs and shop drawings.

Second, the rooftop pool is open!! What's a little skin cancer, right? Kidding, sort of. I have some SPF 20 and 30 ready to go, so I can sit around by the pool for a few hours and brush up on my trash reading and naps. 

Third, I've got to get to Georgia to see my sister, Miss Kitty's, house in its new tidy and cleaned up state. Housekeeping ha been a struggle for her most of her life, but while taking the summer off this year from teaching and classes, she's been sending me pictures of her cleaning and purging efforts. The house (aka the Happy Kitten Cottage) looks amazing, and I want to go experience it firsthand.

Fourth, the farmers market is open in Cherry Creek North, and with my firmly-stated limits on my time this summer, I'll be spending more time walking and perusing the goodies at the market each Saturday morning.

And finally, Guy and I have decided on our late-September birthday trip this year. With all of the hotel points and frequent flyer miles he's built up in the last 18 months due to working on a project back east, we've decided to go to Paris and London for 9 days. We've been to both places before, but not when we had jobs and money. So now we're going as adults with Hilton Honors points to stay in decent hotels and take trains everywhere and eat amazing breads and chocolates and drink fantastic tea and beer and wine and what the fuck ever we want to do.

So yeah, good stuff to which we shall look forward.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Well, now that that's over with...

Now that my major deadlines are behind me, I've finally had a chance to reflect on the past year-plus of working on St. Ermahgerd. This project was a pressure cooker for everyone, and it especially took its toll on me as well as my fellow middle managers. During this project, I found myself drinking a bottle of wine a week (not good, given how poorly I metabolize alcohol) and shouting the f-word at my boss, Howie. By May, when our three major deadlines were, I was using the word "fuck" or some conjugation/gerund thereof about every seven seconds. I mean, it's my favorite word, but there's such a thing as overuse.

So after Memorial Day weekend, Howie and I got together to see what we could do to alleviate my 24/7 rage and get me back to something like normal. My state of being was best described as central nervous system overload/failure, and I can't operate like that. I wanted to go home at a decent time every day, with sun still in the sky and energy left in my bones. We figured out staffing a little for the project, including figuring out who could take some of the construction administration (CA) tasks off my list. Howie also advocated for some regular three-day weekends this summer as well as taking a full week somewhere., which I planned to do around July 4th. 

I'll be posting more about what in St. Ermahgerd made me live up to this blog's name, as Howie and I agreed to do a post-mortem on the SD through CD process. I'll hopefully be able to stick to the architectural issues, as opposed to the general white-collar blues issues that plague us all. In the meantime, I'm going to go sit with my cats on the balcony and drink Riesling out of pleasure, not stress.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Two deadlines down, one more to go.

But alas, I'm reaching the point where I don't care anymore. Too long spent on high alert when things aren't truly life-or-death has left me--and a fair amount of my team--with adrenal fatigue. At least they still have their sense of humor, such as this pic, which one of them sent to me recently.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

While I was working...

Guy went to a local nursery and bought some tomato plants, jalapeƱo plants, and onions and planted them outside in my various containers. With all of May being taken up by deadlines, I figured I just wasn't doing a garden this year, but Guy said no, no, no.

Friday, May 3, 2013

With T minus 96 hours to go

The equipment consultant is useless, the guy redlining the exterior details has taken a computer off of an empty desk and holed up in a conference room, the owner won't send me information about all their owner-supplied-contractor-installed equipment, the IT consultant keeps emailing me about the MOB (we're starting on that on Tuesday! Did you finish the hospital yet? Well then get back there and finish the hospital! If you don't eat your meat, you can't have any pudding!), the owner's rep keeps emailing my staff for random floor plans and information...

...and my co-project manager/architect/right hand woman is having to work from home, because she's starting to have weird pre-labor pains.  Did I mention Chloe was pregnant?  She is, and any day now she won't be any more.  Right in time for the deadline.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Pull off another miracle? Sure, why not?

So, St. Ermagerd has been understaffed for almost a year, the client continues to make changes two weeks before the construction documents deadline, and right after the hospital's CDs are due, my team has two weeks to take 76,000 sf of adjacent St. Ermagerd clinic space from DDs to CDs?

Piece of cake.

[chugs half a bottle of Riesling]

Monday, April 22, 2013

Technical difficulties

The photos fromthe last few posts aren't working, which is what I get for trying to post things from my phone to my iPad Im' coming up on the first of three retarded and impossible deadlines for St. Ermahgerd, so myposting for the next few weeks is going to be spotty at best and absent or incoherent at worst.  Plz 2 stand by, kthxwhatever.

Monday Visual Inspiration: Transplanted history

This is the actual piece of brick wall against which several gangsters were shot and killed in the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago in 1929. Apparently, when the actual building was being demolished in recent times, a private citizen purchased the portion of the wall with the bullet holes and blood spatter from 1929. Upon his death in the early 2000s, the collector's daughter took the wall/bricks and eventually sold them to the Mob Museum in Las Vegas.  (We toured it on our most recent visit to Vegas in February 2013--totally worth the ticket price, I might add.)

A piece of building constructed before the turn of last century captures pieces of a horrible moment in time in its bricks. It's taken apart and moved to another location. It's taken apart and moved again over 2,000 miles away to share that horrible moment with people who weren't even born when that moment occurred. Le Corbusier said that International Style architecture was meant to be relevant anywhere and not connected to any particular local style--it would carry its own meaning wherever it was built and viewed. Can we say the same for this piece of wall from Chicago? Does the meaning of this moment in time change when we take the wall out of a Chicago warehouse and reconstruct it on the third floor of the former Las Vegas Courthouse? The bullet holes are circled, just in case the audience can't figure out its meaning, after looking at so many exhibits of tommy guns, bootlegger's cases, and FBI bugging and recording devices.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Monday Visual Inspiration: All you need is love, and a Cirque de Solieil ticket


The entry to the Beatles LOVE Cirque du Soleil show at the Mirage in Vegas.  Great show, amazing visions and interpretations of Beatles' songs, and wonderful acts and choreography.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

GracieWatch 2013: I have no need for your bourgeois bandages

Neither do I have a need for your so-called "cone". I'm a busy kitteh...busy looking cute and batting my bandage around on the floor.

By the end of Monday, Gracie had peeled off her bandage and starting batting it around in the floor like a toy mouse. Shortly thereafter, she peeled her Cone of Shame off and threw it across the room. I was going to leave it on her, but she couldn't get through the cat door to the litter boxes. I've left the cone off of her for 36 hours, and so far she's left her mouth alone. She's snoozy and sweet and is doing okay with her meds.  She also looks surprisingly normal, even with part of her lower jaw missing. 

More updates to come. Thanks everyone for the good wishes!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Monday Visual Inspiration: Paws crossed for Gracie

Gracie's surgery to remove part of her lower jaw is today.

My hope is that we can get all the cancerous tissue but still leave her with a mouth she can eat with and, dare I say it, a face we can all live with. The vet dentist seems to think that she'll do quite well--apparently cats heal a lot faster than dogs.  Paws crossed, everyone!

Monday, April 1, 2013

Monday Visual Inspiration: Goldfield Hotel in Goldfield, Nevada

I first heard of the Goldfield Hotel in Goldfield, NV on a show called Ghost Adventures on Travel Channel. Three guys from Las Vegas investigate potential paranormal activity at various locations while being locked in them overnight. They got their show through a two-hour documentary that culminated in filming a flying brick in the basement of the Goldfield Hotel. Those last few moments of the show are worth finding on YouTube if you can--it's two of the three guys talking while holding the camera, and then the brick flies across the room, then it's just darkness and the two guys screaming and uttering "Jesus!" over and over for five minutes.  They eventually jumped out of a second-story window to get out of the building into which they had begged to be locked a few hours before.

The building is closed to tours and the public. It's creepy as hell.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Monday Visual Inspiration: Wise Words from the 1980s

Sign in the coffee shop at the Colfax Avenue Tattered Cover bookstore. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Rest in peace, La Mama del Guy

Last week, Guy's mom passed away after a long illness and a short hospitalization.  She was kind and thoughtful woman, devout in her beliefs and always concerned for her children. La Mama del Guy was a longtime reader of Why Architects Drink as well as my sister's blog, and she would frequently email me with thoughtful commentary regarding my posts.  She was a strong woman who raised three great kids, one of whom I thought was so amazing, I married him.

She will be greatly missed.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fun with User Groups: feeling old yet?

Facilities Guy #1: We need a big exhaust fan in the maintenance shop.
Pixie: Right on, fan in the shop.
Facilities Guy #1: [turning to Guy #2] Did she just say "right on"?
Facilities Guy #2: Is she old enough to know that phrase?
Pixie: So, this fan...I'm thinking of the kind of fan I remember seeing in my high school gym.
Facilities Guy #3: Yeah, like that!
Facilities Guy #1: I get the feeling that it wasn't that long ago that she was in high school.
Pixie: Oh, come on, I'm 37!
Facilities Guy #2: [sighs] Our architect is two years younger than my youngest daughter.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Fun with User Groups: overheard during a review of the nursery with the OB nurses

Nurse 1: in the Nurse Work Area, we need a blanket warmer and a small fridge for breast milk storage.
Pixie: [sketching on the plan] Sure thing.
Nurse 2: Will that fridge have a freezer?
Equipment Planner: No, not in a small fridge.
Howie: You freeze breast milk?
Nurse 1: Oh, sure, all the time.
Pixie: For what, smoothies?
Engineer: [under his breath] I bet they taste like vanilla...


Nurse 1: In the exam room, we prefer to do circumcisions on a countertop.
Pixie: [sketching on plan] Right on. 
Engineer: Do you need a card access lock on that exam room door?
Nurse 1: Hmm, I don't think so.  I mean, what would we lock in there? [turns to Nurse 2]
Pixie: Maybe you have to keep the baby in there while you're doing the circumcision?
Nurse 1: [laughs] Why would I lock him in there?  
Pixie: I dunno, maybe circumcising a baby is like trying to pill a cat--if you don't hang on to him, the little dude will scamper under the sofa and you'll play hell trying to get him out.
[Nurses, Howie, and Equipment Planner laugh]
Pixie: And babies won't come out for tuna like cats will, so you're gonna have to get him out from under there with something else. Maybe this is when you break out the breast milk smoothies, y'know? 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Happy Anniversary and general awesomeness, yo.

Guy and I are in Vegas having a great time, hiking and walking and relaxing and goofing off.  It's good to take a break from the intensity of our work schedules, which tend to leave us bereft of energy for anything much at all these days. Today is 8 years since we got married at an Elvis chapel here in Sin City, and while it's been work and not always a picnic, it's also been wonderful and rewarding to spend my days and nights with someone who is just like me in all the right ways and completely different from me in all the right ways.  Cheers.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Really? Again?! Are you kidding me?!?!

Both Hazel and Gracie went to the vet last week for a routine checkup and teeth cleaning. Everyone's blood work and urine came out fine, though the vet found a little lump/mass of tissue on Gracie's lower gums. She removed it easily during the dental cleaning and sent it off for a histology report.

It came back as low-grade fibrosarcoma.

Great. Now I have another cat with cancer.

So this week, we'll go visit the veterinary oral surgeon and talk about how much of Gracie's gum and lower jaw may need to be removed to make sure we get all the cancer cells. Supposedly, this surgeon is really good, and she won't look terrible or really really different after the surgery, but I'd like to see some before and after pictures. After surgery, we'll probably have to do some kind of follow-up treatment. I gave Maddy chemo pills for almost 18 months when she had small-cell lymphosarcoma during 2008-2010. Funny now that I think about it, Maddy finally crossed the Rainbow Bridge last week in 2010.

Thanks, Universe. Appreciate the hell out of this.

Wat? Ai no haz cansurr, just a hungree.  Ware iz tuna, mama?

Guy and I leave for Vegas later this week for our 8th anniversary weekend with Scarlett and Baxter and all the bad kittehs at their house.  Gracie will be fine for the duration, I'm sure.  I'm sure Hazel, the angry 15-year-old ball of chorb, will have the worst time of it at home with the Psycho Floof while Mama and Papa are off cavorting.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Monday Visual Inspiration: A new way to work

I recently stopped by The Desk in Capitol Hill in Denver for a pot of French press coffee, a croissant, and a bit of writing time.  It's an interesting concept in remote worindependent contractor or entrepreneurial office locations.  The Desk has a coffee shop that also sells sandwiches and snacks (and wine and beer in the evenings!) where you can sit and work for free (other than the cost of comestibles, that is). More ingeniously, it has a bunch of spaces in the back that are quieter and range from smallish open offices to boardrooms to acoustically-isolated booths perfect for recording or conducting a webinar or Skype session with a client.

More companies are going to open cubicles instead of private offices.  This is a trend overall in business, and I've definitely seen it in hospitals and healthcare settings.  The plus side of the open office is that it's easier to jump up and find someone if you have a question, and it saves space.  (Walls and ADA clearances at doors and halls take up a lot of real estate.) However, some studies are showing these days that people are slightly more anxious in open office plans because there's such a lack of privacy--one is always on display, so if a worker comes back from a stressful meeting with a client or boss or just needs a moment to breathe (or frequently in my case, if said worker needs to fart), they cannot do that at their desk.  It's necessary to go to the bathroom or in a conference room or even completely outside.

The Desk takes the open office concept even further as a workspace. Instead of having to rent an office somewhere, an independent contractor or entrepreneur can rent space in The Desk's facilities for in-person or virtual/web meetings or even as workspace for themselves and their collaborators. Space rental includes access to internet and printing/scanning/faxing services, plus drip coffee by Colorado's own ink! Coffee. I certainly found the open cafe area to be comfortable and amenable to concentrating, despite the activity around me (some friends catching up, a few people working, and a gaggle of yoginis looking for a post-asana chai for the road). 

Monday, February 4, 2013

Yes, I'll wait while you balance your checkbook.

St. Ermahgerd went on hold for a couple of weeks so the health system to which St. E belongs (and which is funding their project) can find a way to reduce the budget a little bit. This sort of thing is a fact of architecture life, but that doesn't make it any less irritating. First off, we were just a couple of weeks away from finishing DDs. DDs (design development) are great for the contractor to price, and if we gave the architect two weeks to finish the DDs and then gave the contractor a month to price the DDs, we could have a realistic number to work with when adjusting the budget. Instead, we're looking at the project budget like an abstract set of digits at which to hack randomly, like clearing undergrowth in a jungle.

Second, St. Ermahgerd has one of the biggest project teams in the office due to its sheer size and the added pressure of its fast schedule. So when someone says, "hey, you 14 people need to stop everything for two weeks that you've been doing for eight months," it's like the taking of Pelham 123--good luck bringing that shit to a screeching halt. In the ensuing slowdown, we lost two people, quite possibly for good, which will hurt when the DDs start up again in the next week or two. Some folks we lost partially--we're loaning them out, and they'll come back full time once we're given the go ahead.  But in truth, we couldn't fully stop.  Even without the slowdown, there was a lot to do on the DDs that wouldn't be affected by cutting budgets, and there is in fact some work being done already on the construction site.  We have foundations going in for some outpatient treatment spaces, and there's grading and utility and sitework going on, so it's not like we can just stop working altogether.  We got shit to do.

So yet again, the architect straddles the line of not being crazy-busy while still staying occupied and not letting the project get more behind than necessary.  Once we start up again, the schedule will slide to accommodate any changes we need to make (or so the client has assured us).  In the meantime, we're answering questions from the field and figuring out casework elevations and equipment coordination while the health system runs the numbers.  Or goes to Vegas and puts it all on black.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Better but busy

So, yes, I'm mostly out from under the cold/flu/funk that everyone's had and been having lately, though my energy is only at about 90% of my usual energy.  I'm still having to work on a bunch of random tasks for St. Ermahgerd as we barrel towards 100% Design Development (DDs), and I'm absolutely wrung out when I get home every evening. The extra travel hasn't helped.

It's the rare architect who can do all their work within an easy commute of their office. I suppose if you do residential work in a large metropolitan area like Chicago or New York City, you can accomplish this.  But because we do hospitals and healthcare at Design Associates, Inc., we have to go a lot farther to get work.  After all, there are metric assloads of houses and condos to build and remodelin the Denver/Front Range region, but only so many hospitals and clinics. Furthermore, DA's business model allows us to make a good living off of smaller hospitals, which are really in the middle of nowhere--Montana, Wyoming, Kansas, Nebraska, Arizona, New Mexico, and the Dakotas. Getting to these places involve driving four hours or hopping in a 19-seater twin-prop puddle-jumper plane, or even multiple puddle-jumper planes.  I got on one of those heading to Bieffee, MT for a visit to St. Ermahgerd before Christmas, and I swear I saw Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens sitting in the exit rows. Those fuckers always get the good legroom.

So, Howie calls me from the road last week, sounding groggy and slow.  He was on his way to the contractor interviews/selection meeting for a 14-bed hospital project we were working on, and he was finally suffering from the funk that I had for most of January.  "Pixie," he croaked, "I'm double booked for a meeting tomorrow.  Can you go with the engineers and contractor to look at a surgery renovation at Wide Place Memorial Hospital in Wide Place, Nebraska tomorrow?"

Wow, tomorrow? Thanks for the warning.

Well, those are the wages of rural healthcare work. And they're the wages of my promotion. I'm now deemed able to be seen alone by civil society (i.e., present and potential clients) without having a partner standing next to me to point and say "the short chick in the Ann Taylor pantsuit and heels is good at this stuff, and you can talk to her just as well as you can us". So, off I went to a wide place in the road in Nebraska.  (Which was a nice little facility with great staff, by the way.  You don't do rural healthcare work and not give a huge damn about patient care.  It's a labor of love, at the very least.)

Monday, January 14, 2013

...but sick is a four letter word.

Last Monday afternoon, my throat felt scratchy from maybe talking too much in meeting after meeting or from breathing office air.  By Tuesday morning, it was clear that Something Was Wrong. End of day Tuesday revealed that I had the cold/flu/plague that was taking down scores of the American public right now, including many in my office.  It's rare that I really get sick, like bad sick, needing to take sick days sick, so I found myself unable to cope.  I wasn't totally lay-in-bed sick, but Christ knows I didn't feel fine.  So there I was, working almost-full days and only leaving at 2 or 3 in the afternoon.  We had three deadlines coming up fast, and I had a metric assload of meetings to attend and lead, so there was no staying home. I was furious about this, but I'm not sure where the blame lies. I'm sure I have some culpability for the situation--as Vinnie once said to me, "Pixie, if you were hit by a bus and in a coma, what would happen?  Would the project stop? No, they'd manage to get it done.  So go home and pretend you're in a coma."

Towards the end of the week, we got good news. The economic climate in Bieffee, MT had changed slightly, and some of the doctors that St. Ermahgerd was hiring either weren't coming on board or wouldn't be hired as soon as we all initially thought.  Therefore, the hospital didn't have to start contruction next month as originally planned.  We now had an extra two weeks for DDs, and the clinic portion of the hospital would finally have a real DD phase instead of going straight to CDs. The entire team breathed a sigh of relief.  I went home at 3 instead of 5.

My team will further be buoyed by the news that over the weekend, my cold turned into a runny nose and a violent cough which has rendered me mute. If I need to talk to Guy, I have to stand in the doorway of the TV room and wave at him, whispering hoarsely like a debarked dog with opposable thumbs and a flannel robe. According to Mom (who had this ailment over the Xmas holidays), the coughing means I'm on the road to recovery, but my throat hurts so badly from the coughing that it seems like a pretty poorly-maintained road with washboard ruts and big rocks in the middle that you could high-side on.  Blech. 

Monday, January 7, 2013

Awesome is (not) a four letter word

I returned to work the day after New Year's Day to immediately have to go to a client meeting to review interior design concepts and have a user group meeting. We needed to show the clients what kind of finishes and colors we'd be using, and I needed to show the actual users of the space what kind of cabinets and rooms they were getting and where do you want the head of the patient in this operating room and is it better for you if the crash cart on this side or that side of the nurse station?  I generally don't mind these meetings--I even find them invigorating at times--but this time, I just wasn't feeling it.

After spending nine or so days away from architecture, I realize how much I didn't feel like being an architect.  Not that I suddenly decided that I now want to do something else for a living, it's just that I was tired of buildings and flooring choices and equipment locations.  See, if you're a dentist, you aren't forced to constantly look at teeth all day as you walk and drive and go to the bank.  People don't walk around with their mouths wide open so you can see their molars and hey, that might be a cavity right there! If you're an elementary school teacher, you don't have to teach everyone you meet in the grocery store and at the dry cleaners and the vet's office how to do long division and where Italy is on a map. But as an architect, I'm constantly, constantly confronted with the thing I do for a living all day: buildings.  I see them everywhere I go, I interact with them, and I compulsively analyze them. And what I have in common with doctors and dentists (but not with teachers) is that if anyone finds out at a party what I do for a living, they want me to analyze yet something else and give them free professional advice.  And to that, I say fuck you.

After throwing myself into my work for all of 2012, I'm pretty sick of being super awesome architect girl all day. i need a break from all this archicrap in 2013, and I needed the break in an untimely fashion on January 2nd during my user group meeting.  As I sat down to talk with  the head of patient care and the OB surgeon, I just thought, "Well, fuck it. Just be nice and get this over with."

And it went strangely well. I asked questions, we talked, I made some joke about how designing a hospital is like taking a ring into Mordor and made everyone laugh, and three hours later, we had a lot of good information to keep moving. Even Howie complimented me on how well I did in the meeting.  I didn't think I did anything exceptional or worth commending, but a pat on the back is a pat on the back.  I'm beginning to think that I've set my threshold/bar for awesomeness a little too high.  Maybe my 85% or 90% is good enough most of the time.  Maybe.