50

How did I get here?

Today I am 50.

And I’ve been pondering what that really means.

Initially I thought I’d just spend the day in a dark room, dressed in black, and wearing a veil. But then I realized while I am in fact a queen, doing that would require putting the word “drama” in front of it, and I don’t think I’m quite there yet.

Once upon a time 50 would have meant I’m on the downside towards retirement after having worked for the same company for 30 or 40 years. I would also most likely have been closeted and married with a few kids running around.

Oddly enough, while I’m certainly not closeted, I am married and do have two “kids” running around. Maybe not so much running as lazing. But you get the idea.

As for retiring – not even close. I have a husband who is really looking forward to a time where he can say goodbye to his job, eat bon-bons, and watch Oprah. I, however, have a hard time imagining myself not working. Maybe working less but still working.

When I was 18, I don’t know that I ever imagined being 50. And given some of the stupid things done in my youth, it’s a wonder I’ve made it this far. But I think we can all say that.

I certainly didn’t think I’d be an architect and working for myself. That possibility wasn’t even on the table.

And if you had told me that I’d be speaking at conferences across the US, I would have told you you’re nuts. Why would I subject myself to that? And what would I possibly talk about?

As for podcast hosting and blogging…we didn’t have the internet. Podcasting would have been radio. And blogging a column in a newspaper. Seems almost archaic!

Yet here I sit, hammering out this blog post on my birthday. And yes, while wearing a pair of readers – something that’s happening more and more often these days.

But it is my birthday, so for now, I’m going to close this out, relax, and just enjoy the day.

At least until a hip gives out.

Live and Learn

Old dog? New tricks? Maybe.

The first architect I worked for never understood how other architects could refuse to look at new products and new processes for construction. In 30+ years of practice, she always felt there was something new to learn. Architecture is an evolving profession, and why limit oneself to the way work has been done for the last 100 years?

To that end, I’ve just gone through one of those learning experiences and am still processing what to take away.

A contractor contacted me recently to assist with assembling a bid for one of his past clients. While I am quite accustomed to working on bidding from the client/architect side, being the one responsible for finding subcontractors, answering questions, interpreting drawings, etc. really gave me a new perspective.

First and foremost, I had to separate myself as an architect from what I was seeing as I reviewed the drawing set. Flipping through the pages and saying “I wouldn’t have drawn it that way” wasn’t going to get me where I needed to go. However, having an architect’s eye allowed me to ask some questions to help clarify issues before the subs came to me asking what to do and how to bid.

Second, I have a new appreciation for finding the right subcontractors, especially when you’re looking at an aspect you’re not familiar with. In this instance, locating the right company to handle soil retention as the excavator dug down right along the property line was a challenge. Luckily, I was able to get some referrals and then track them down via Google. Which makes me wonder how anyone did this in the “old days.”

Not to mention the frustration of tracking down a particular product from a particular vendor – even with the manufacturer directing you who to call. I have yet to figure out if the companies I contacted are really busy, or if they’re not interested in providing the one door the project needed. Either way, three weeks after finally reaching someone, I still don’t have a number.

Which brings me to the last thing I learned about – allowances. I’m gaining a new appreciation for the word “allowance.” And for contractor’s having to place those in their bids. In the past, I’ve looked at allowances and wondered why that hadn’t been worked out already. The contractor has had plenty of time. The drawings were pretty straightforward. What’s the issue?

However, as I worked through this project, I have been required to list what should be firm bids as allowances. For example, the steel supplier/fabricator provided his best guess as of that day. With new tariffs going into effect, he could not guarantee that steel costs wouldn’t increase, especially by the time he began his work. And I experienced the same with the concrete sub. Dallas is a busy market, and we’ve seen concrete in the past jump 30% within one year.

We’re still rounding up a few estimates, so we can present what is essentially the best guess to the client. So my experience isn’t complete.

But I can recall telling interns that what I was asking them to do was a “learning experience.” Which they often took as code for “you’re going to hate doing this.”

However, after 20 years of practice, I’m having a learning experience. And finding out that’s not such a bad thing.

Me or My Ego?

When you’re not sure who’s bruised more

I would like to say I was graceful. Or that I looked like I was carrying out something slapstick from Three Stooges. Except I can’t.

After 20 years on the job and countless site visits, I finally had my first work injury Thanksgiving week. And it was about as ridiculous as you would expect it to be.

Walking across a floor comprised mostly of joists, I stepped off. Not intentionally. As I quickly discovered, the end of the board someone had laid down as a path didn’t quite reach the next joist.

Oops!

Pros:

No blood lost or stitches required. No feet dangling through sheetrock ceiling. Only the job super there to see it.

Cons:

Trying to figure out how to get my foot off the board – now sticking up in the air – without having the end swing back up and hit me in the nether regions. Trying to gracefully extricate myself from the crawlspace. And did I mention that the job super was there to see it?

Mind you, I did end up with quite the bruised shin. Or at least kind of a bruised shin. While I was expecting my lower left leg to be black and blue, all I got was a little discoloration and swelling. Here I was feeling so butch with my work injury and that’s the best I could do?

Not that it didn’t hurt and is only now feeling close to healed. And not that I’m not grateful that it wasn’t something far worse. (On one high rise project we had to take the stairs up while they held the elevator for a framer who shot a nail into his kneecap.)

I just expected to be the one more bruised. Not my ego.

And We’re Back!

So much for regularly scheduled programming..

For anyone who has figured out how to blog weekly, much less daily, then kudos to you! And can you tell me how to do it?

For the past few months I’ve been telling myself I needed to write a post. Write a post. WRITE A POST!

But that didn’t really work. With all the other normal architect things happening (construction , documents for another client, and trying to work out an addition on a site with an angled property line) I found myself pushing off any writing. Besides, I was frantically prepping to speak in Virginia. Wasn’t that enough writing?

Which means here we are in December with me finally taking a breath to think about what to write. And what not to write. I even had an incident the week of Thanksgiving that I thought would make a great post.

So I would say hang on to your hats, but I don’t know many people who wear hats anymore. Hang on to your man-bun perhaps?

The Big Gay Architect is off to the races. And this time he’ll try not to wait so long between posts!

Twenty Years On

For some reason, time and milestones have been on my mind a lot lately. Some would say this is some sort of “mid-life crisis” thing given that I turned 49 a few months ago. But I swear I had my mid-life crisis back when I was 17. Or perhaps that was just a teen angst type of event.

No matter. I have been really cognizant of time, starting with my one-year work anniversary in July. And coming around on January 1st, the ten-year anniversary of the firm I helped start in 2008.

But what I’ve been most aware of lately is today’s date. August 18th. Because today marks 20 years working in architecture. Twenty years.

When I decided a thousand years ago to quit my job and finish my architecture degree, I wasn’t thinking about architecture becoming my career. I just wanted to finish my degree so I could do something I enjoyed; something I was interested in.

Yet here we are. And I have a career.

How did that happen?

I think of my father, who spent 37 years working for Bell Helicopter, and in my time growing up I never thought of him as having a career. He had a job.  Because that’s what his generation did. You found a job, and you stayed with that job until you retired.

And I can count on one hand the number of firms I’ve worked for, including my own.

By contrast, the intern I’ve been mentoring has had two jobs in the last four years. I know that’s becoming the norm, for the younger generation to move jobs every two to three years.

But when their twentieth year rolls around, will they look back and see that time as a career? Or will they simply think of architecture as just another job that they’ll leave again in a few years to go on to the next?

Either way, I hope they enjoy their time as much as I’ve enjoyed mine. And look back and not regret the path they’ve taken.

Of course, by then, they’ll be on their way to 50. And wondering where all that time went.