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.

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?