Old Kids on the Block

The latest artificial(ly) hip boy band?

My husband was kind enough (or mean enough, depending on your perspective) to point out something the other day that I had not considered when we moved into our house 16 years ago.

We have in that time watched our street slowly turn over from original owners to a much younger generation. In 2001, we bought our home from the original owner. Next door to us was the state judge who was the original owner of his home. And up and down the street were older couples and individuals who had moved into the neighborhood in the sixties and simply never left.

However, we’ve noticed lately that the demographic is changing. And the street is really turning. The judge is no longer next door. (We are assuming he’s at the bar he purchased in Cancun.) He was replaced by a young police officer and his wife, a nurse. This year they were replaced with a couple of young attorneys.

And just up the street from us, the original Gladys Kravitz of the neighborhood was moved out after suffering for the last few years from Alzheimer’s. We endured through the traffic last weekend as the estate sale brought in people from all over to sift through her belongings.

Which leaves only a few elderly couples.

At which point, James was nice enough to point out that perhaps we were becoming the old people on the street.

Not that I feel old. (Although James will be the first to point out to you and everyone else that he’s four years younger than I am.) But still, he had a point. We are becoming the older generation on our block.

Not that we’re alone. Trey and Wanetta up the street have one son in college and another ready to graduate high school – kids I can remember being incredibly tiny when we moved in. And the couple three doors down from us with a son and daughter who are high school aged.

I suppose at some point we will become that nice old gay couple in the neighborhood. Which beats me standing on the porch and screaming at kids to get off my lawn.

Still – maybe it’s time to start thinking of moving to a slightly older community. Somewhere we can be in our fifties and still be the new “kids” on the block.

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.

LEED Platinum My Hiney!

And no, this has nothing to do with my rear end

I currently office (when did that become a verb?) in a building that is LEED Platinum certified.

Well somebody spank me! Not only is the building LEED certified. But it’s Platinum. You want to touch me, right?

While I’m sure that would be just lovely, I will be the first to tell you that in spite of the giant plaque on the wall, this building couldn’t possibly be LEED certified. Or if it was, the certification lasted for about 10 minutes.

Then someone turned the air on.

Swing by here any time of the bIMG_2770usiness day, and you can watch two doors in the main lobby open and almost close on a continual basis. And when I say almost close, I mean just that. The outer door will almost shut, then the inner door pops open and the cycle starts again.

The air conditioning system is so out of balance that the doors only really close on the weekend when the magnetic locks kick in. And even then it’s only the outer door. The inner door still swings open, seemingly sad that his friend on the outside won’t join in the fun.

And I will refrain from discussing the loud whistling sound on the weekend as the air forces itself out between the gaps in the doors.

I wish I could remember when sustainability and certification became a thing. I do remember the firm that shared space with my old firm (I almost said “officed” – again, a verb?) had become one of the top – if not the top – firms in LEED consulting. And that was a big thing.

And I do remember having conversations with clients about sustainability and how we could make their projects “green.” At least until they saw the cost.

Writer Thomas Friedman commented in his keynote at the AIA conference in 2011 that architects need to get away from the idea of green building as a novelty. We’ve become so focused on sustainability and LEED buildings as a promotable concept instead of simply including green design in the normal course of our work.

Instead we encourage the idea of sustainable design as a badge of honor. “Our office? Oh, it’s LEED certified.”

Sort of.

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.

Just Me?

Not really but…

I’m the only gay architect in Dallas.

For years, I’ve made that comment even though I know it’s not true. Just based on the law of averages. But also because I do know one or two others.

However, after 20 years in the industry, it still feels that way, primarily because we are not recognized within the architecture community. You have groups like Women in Architecture and Latinos in Architecture. Emerging professionals and young professionals.

And nationally the AIA is really focused on diversity and inclusion. But often that conversation ends before anyone gets to the LGBT community, unless you count the annual LGBT reception at our national convention.

As if that doesn’t make me feel a little isolated…

I received a call in 2014 from a gay couple who needed someone to look at their house. They were having foundation issues and the latest recommendation was to add 22 piers to the existing pier and beam foundation. However, in just looking at the house you could tell that wasn’t going to do anything except flush money down the drain. Ultimately, we designed a new house on the existing lot.

As we were talking in that initial meeting, they expressed how important working with a gay architect was for them, for no other reason than their own personal comfort level. And like a good business owner I asked them how they had located me.

After looking in several guides, one of them had finally turned to Google and typed in: gay dallas architect.

The first name to pop up on the list was Philip Johnson. Pritzker-prize winner. Designed the Beck House in Dallas. Certainly not likely to take on something as simple as this couple’s home.

Plus Philip was also dead.

The second item on Google referenced a blog post my firm had done in 2010 as a follow-up to The Architecture Happy Hour podcast about gays in architecture. And there was my name.

And lucky for me, I was still alive.

So perhaps being the only gay architect in Dallas, or at least the only visibly gay architect in Dallas, isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

But really…just me?

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.