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.

All in the Details

Or lack thereof

Lately I have found myself grousing to other architects, contractors, my husband – well basically anybody – about how much I am missing drawing details.

Many moons ago, when I was but a wee intern, projects never reached a contractor without the detailing worked out. I can remember one of my first tasks was to pick up redlines on a sheet of door details. Door details? People really need those?

But now? Clients seem more interested in getting the price they want than having completed drawings. Perhaps as we’ve moved away more and more from hand drawings and into computer modeling, people do not feel the need. If you’ve drawn it in 3D, how many details do you really need?

I can recall the contractDOOR DTLSor on the very first project I was a part of commenting that he had not seen a set of drawings with that many details. Just the cabinet detailing alone occupied six or seven sheets. However, I cannot recall the last time I drew a cabinet section for a project.

Not that we need to. Instead of detailed shop drawings coming from the millwork shop, we get whatever elevations and plans the shop’s CNC software produces. And somehow, we’re supposed to review and approve what’s being built based on just that.

Maybe I’m just getting old and grumpy. But I did tell one of the contractors I work with that the next set would have everything worked out before he even thought about starting construction. Cabinet section. Door details. Moulding profiles. Everything right there on the sheets for everyone to see.

And hopefully someone will actually look at them.

 

Too Gay?

As if that’s really a possibility

Just looking at the title of the blog, you would know I don’t make a lot of bones about being a gay architect. Especially the gay part. I’m out to clients, contractors, vendors, etc. And no apologies.

However, once in a while I think to myself: “Too gay?”

I had a moment early this morning during a site visit. The weather was a balmy 25 degrees, and in my own defense, I was in a heavy denim coat with a sweater underneath. Clothing I was sure would be warm enough.

Except I was wrong. Because 25 degrees is 25 degrees.

My client shows up dressed much more appropriately, but he likes to be outside and knows what to do for this type of weather. I, on the other hand, consider staying at the Radisson camping.

And then the moment comes when he tells me I really need a hat because you lose most of your heat out of the top of your head.

“I don’t look good in hats.”

Really? That’s my excuse?

Did I just say that out loud?

Could I have sounded any gayer?

Probably not, because he clocked me pretty quick:

“You can fix your hair later.”

That Was Fast!

Now what?

I remember being told as a kid that the older you get the faster time goes. Like every kid I thought “What a crock!” Especially as we got closer and closer to summer vacation.

But today marks a year since I left my partners at HPD Architecture.

And it’s gone by like that!

For some reason, I’ve been expecting to have some epiphany or reaction to the fact that a year has passed. Yet as I sit here and write, I’m realizing that isn’t coming.

It’s been a year. There have been good moments and bad moments. And everything in between.

Do I feel better? Yes. I’ve stopped stress eating, and I go to the gym. Which means I’ve lost weight. I find that I sleep better as well.

Do I regret leaving? No. Leaving was probably the best thing I could have done from both a mental and physical health perspective. Should I have left sooner? Probably. But woulda shoulda coulda.

Do I regret the 8-1/2 years with HPD? Not at all. The experience was invaluable, not just for what I learned about the business of architecture but what I learned about myself. I can safely say I’m not the person or the architect I was in 2008.

My perspective on architecture has changed. How I deal with clients has changed. I’m involved in my community – both personal and professional. I’m speaking at conferences. I’m involved with AIA National.

Am I doing what I had planned on or expected? No. I hadn’t expected to start another practice as I was planning my departure. However, fate intervened, and I decided the best option was to just go with it. When fate gives you the finger…

People talk about how great it is to be your own boss. And that does have its moments. I think what’s been best (and perhaps here is the epiphany) is feeling I only need to answer to myself. I’m not busy juggling everyone else’s business and/or drama. If something doesn’t get done or doesn’t happen, the buck stops with me. And I have control of that.

So a year has passed.

Now where the hell did the time go?

Time to Go!

Preservation for preservation’s sake

Not every building is worth saving.

There. I’ve said it. Let the bile flow!

Someone recently posted an article on Facebook about the demolition of a house in Dallas’ Bishop Arts area. And without fail, comments started coming in about how terrible this would be for the neighborhood. How the fabric of the area was being ruined. Etc. Etc.

However, some helpful wag was good enough to point out that not every building can be saved or is worth saving. (And no, it wasn’t me.) And they had a point.

We watch all the time in Dallas buildings being torn down that shouldn’t. Either for their place in Dallas’ history, or as happens with homes here, for their connection to a Dallas architect. A lot of times, these buildings are still in good condition and with a little TLC could be restored.

One home recently razed by the buyer was done so he could turn around and put the site up for sale. He never wanted the house. He just wanted the land.

However, sometimes the best option is to just pull the plug.

At some point, renovation of a house just does not make sense. Either the overall condition is too poor. Or there is a fundamental issue that cannot be overcome without great expense. More than what the house is worth.

The house in Bishop Arts could have had a bad foundation, asbestos throughout, lead paint everywhere (given its age, most likely), bad electrical, and no air conditioning. Start putting numbers to those and you realize you’ll never see your investment come out of the house.

But the neighborhood fabric!! Oh baloney. That fabric started disappearing when the neighborhood became a popular spot for funky shops and cool restaurants.

My neighborhood abuts an area of Dallas where residents were posting signs about keeping the neighborhood funky. Asbestos shingle siding, dilapidated garages, and small footprints do not make something funky. That makes it out of date and ripe for development. And we’re seeing that happen.

I recently had to tell a friend the house he was looking at purchasing was going to eat his lunch. Just walking around you knew that all of the basic systems – electrical, plumbing, and HVAC – would have to be redone, along with most of the subfloor beneath the existing carpet. The result – the investor owner was most likely going to flatten the house and sell the land.

But that’s okay. Not every building is worth saving.

And we need to get used to that.

The Best Thing About My Job

And no, it’s not the pay…

Someone asked me once what I liked about my job. (Okay. It was my therapist during a mental health check-in.) And there were all the things you’d expect an architect to say: design; helping people realize their dreams; making an impact. But any idea what came out first?

“I like my clients.”

And I didn’t even realize that I had said that. In the litany of likes about my job, about my career, the number one like was my clients.

How many of us can say that? (Really – shouldn’t we all be saying that?)

I started working in architecture 20 years ago. And I don’t recall hearing the firm owner emphasizing the importance of liking who you’re working with. Of all the projects I worked on, I can’t say there was one that we took because we thought we’d have a good relationship with the client. Work always centered around the project.

Consequently, that meant there were times when projects did not fare as well as they could or should have. One couple I remember in particular kept pitting one against the other and the project architect being stuck in the middle. The project finally ended, but the process was quite bruising.

Not until we started sales training as owners did anyone tell us we were okay vetting our clients. Not rushing in with a portfolio and doing the dog and pony show was an appropriate approach. We were better off making sure we could have a good working relationship than just looking at dollar signs.

And apparently that idea is still paying off. Because I do like my clients. And I don’t foresee that changing anytime soon.