LIFE LATELY

So I may have been neglecting this blog for a bit of time, so my apologies for those interested in knowing what has been going on. I’ve moved out of my parents finally, and am now living in the city and could not be happier for all of the new discoveries, adventures, and friends made. But, I think I’m going to keep this short for today and give more details in next weeks to follow so….. I have been invited back to do SPOKE, the architectural bike tour of the city for STL Design Week. So I have been busy coordinating new tour locations and a new route to keep things fresh for this year. We will have a large support group from the landscape architects so we are getting really excited for it already.

A Friday at 4 o'clock, just getting some work done.

A Friday at 4 o’clock, just getting some work done.

I’m still working for a small and rapidly growing residential firm in town called Jeff Day & Associates. We just added our 8th man and have nearly 90 projects on the books for this year which range in size from small additions to several thousand square feet. I have been doing a lot more project management and design work as the pace has really picked up.

I am still highly involved in Design Speak, and we have started a champagne called #stl365  to begin highlighting local venues on a bi-weekly basis to show just how many resources there are in St. Louis for design professionals to utilize.

Also staying involved with YAFSTL as we have been doing a lot of great lectures and tours such as the airport tour and a lecture from Eric Hoffman about the addition to the St. Louis Art Museum, which opened less than 2 weeks ago (if you are in St. Louis I would recommend you come and check it out). We also organized a brief 6 week basics class on REVIT 101 to help those out of work and those looking to sharpen their skills with the program.

At the MS150 last year.

At the MS150 last year.

The last and final thing that some of you might know is that I have gotten really into cycling after doing SPOKE last year. In the process of searching for architects on bikes I found a team called Untitled by Design and they offered to help out. They then also invited me out to ride with them one day and one thing led to another…. I rode my first century (100 miles) after 3 months of training at the MS150. This year I returned as one of the captains for the team and I feel very honored after only ridden for a year to be put in this position.

For anybody looking for more info on what’s going on you can always find me on twitter or instagram. If you are looking for ways to get involved in the St. Louis design community or cycling shoot me an email and I will be happy to respond and share any information I have.

LOST + FOUND

So for the past few months I have been busy to say the least so this is a bit delayed. However, despite being busy and very focused something wasn’t feeling right, I just didn’t feel inspired, I didn’t feel creative. In the final weeks of planning for St. Louis design week, my mentor and I were approached and asked to do a submission for an organization called perennial. If you don’t know much about Perennial it can be summarized in one word; AWESOMENESS. They are a non-profit organization which teaches DIY classes and are all about up cycling.

Poster provided by Perennial.

Poster provided by Perennial.

Each year they do a show called lost + found where they invite local artists, architects, and designers to take on a challenge. They give each team an item, all items are the same so there is no advantage, but each item has certainly all seen better days. This year’s item was a ladder, seems simple enough right? Think for a moment what you would want to do with a 50 year old wooden ladder and what comes to mind, standing on it certainly wasn’t an option. So in a creative fashion we picked up our ladder and took it back to the shop, stared at it for a minute, and then preceded to the bar in hopes of sparking an idea.
Some ideas take a few beers, some take something stronger, but when Derek and I work together on something it seems to come about much faster, or we just have bigger glasses. We sat down and started to think about we could do, and what we wanted to keep as our core values in the project. We knew that there were so many other creative minds working with the same problem, but we challenged ourselves to thinking differently and taking an angle we didn’t see anybody else taking. We thought shelving or a stool would be too obvious of an answer and we weren’t about to take a simple approach to this problem, after all we are architects… So we asked ourselves what a ladder was. The simple answer was a utility item that most people use to change light bulbs in their house.

The step up lightWith that in mind, we decided to flip it, and put the ladder on display and allow it to be illuminated in the room. The thought that we could allow the ladder to become the light in the room instead seemed logical to us. The not so simple part came about when we decided it wouldn’t be a lamp, but we would elevate it, the same way it was used to elevate ourselves, so we decided to suspend the ladder and create a pendant light. We also knew that we wanted to preserve the character of the ladder so it could still be recognized as such.

We had the idea for what we were going to do, and a general idea for how we were going to do it, but like all good things plans change. Along the process of building it we discovered so many happy accidents that continued to enhance our design and simplify the process. Once we had deconstructed the ladder and had the pieces lain out in front of us we started the process we originally set out to, and we began cutting the pieces to the size we wanted. we knew that the height would be roughly the distance between the cut outs for the treads so we could use that notch for one of the louvers as we started to assemble the pieces we started to look at what we had going, and started to wonder how we were really going to make this thing work.

Corner of the step up lightWith only one piece on the side we knew the support was going to get very thin and might be more fragile then we liked, so we decided to double up on the corner pieces, but with the corners receiving the louvers at a double angle it was going to be tricky. So we decided to use a thinner piece to separate them and allow a tiny sliver of light to filter out between them. This separation piece allowed a large amount of the original character to be revealed as well, with the caution stickers and the owners name still clearly visible. The thinner pieces of wood that then became the spacers also allowed for a flush surface to mount the light fixture, and a support to suspend the pendant from the ceiling.

A piece of the original graphics on the ladder we saved.

Each of these very “happy accidents” came about by playing with the pieces once we had begun the process. Proving the importance of how building a model when designing is important. We started out with a napkin sketch knowing that it wouldn’t be the final design but simply the way to start the process of discovery. We used that idea to guide our decisions along the way, and there were pieces removed from that concept because they did nothing to enhance what we had going, and sometimes in the process of design you had to subtract to enhance.

As designers we can do something completely on paper and assume that it is truly the best thing since sliced bread, but once you walk into what you’ve created you start to realize how much better something could have been if you weren’t just relying on drafting board victories. Having the actually physical pieces to play with allows you to really capture the essence of the project, and the reason why so many talents designers prefer to work in three dimensions.

View from below the step up lightThis was a great exercise for us to work through; we had a lot of fun, and created a very unique piece that one family is now appreciating in their own home. I had opportunity to walk through with the family that won the auction about the process we went through in creating the light. The joy in their faces as they lit up was probably the best feeling I had in a long time. To have a conversation with somebody who appreciated the amount of time and thought that went into the piece was astonishing. The fact that it raised over a hundred dollars that Perennial is now able to use in furthering their mission was an added bonus. I can’t wait to see what item we have to work with for next year.

SPOKE – ST. LOUIS DESIGN WEEK

Poster and branding for STLDW was created by Carlos Zamora of Kiku Obata.

It was about a year ago that I returned to St. Louis after graduating. Know that there weren’t many jobs out there for recent graduates I thought I might be able to get a leg up on the competition by getting involved. So with that in mind I went to my local AIA office and asked how I could help or if there was anything that I should be doing as a recent grad. The reply I got was more than I ever bargained for but I found out about a few local groups like the Young Architects Forum, Design Speak, among many others. But most important of these were STL Design Week, as I was invited to do an event for AIA from the idea they had. What was the idea? It was an architectural bike tour of the city. Now I haven’t owned or ridden a bike in a few years so my first instinct was, “Sure, why not? How hard could it be.” I had no idea what I was doing or what I had just gotten myself into, but I wouldn’t have changed a single thing because it was one of the best experiences I have had so far.

The entire week was a huge success with nine different events happening across seven days all in the amazing city we call home. We had events that featured anything and everything design, between lectures with award winning chiefs like Gerard Craft that discussed the impact design has on a restaurant to DART, which is an interactive project that you to throw a dart at a board and discover that space over the following month through the art of photography. There was a student competition and industrial design show called FUSION, a functional object show and lecture series put on called FORM. An event named ARTeffect that was a charity auction to benefit a children’s art program run through the Contemporary Art Museum. With the entire week being finished on Sunday morning with the architecture bike tour aptly named SPOKE.

Riding the route with the docents before the day.

So I could take you through the long tedious process that my team and I went through to create SPOKE, or I could just let you know the results. I think for the sake of time and holding your interest we will stick to just the results, as it was a very long process filled with team members stepping away, road blocks with streets departments, new teams members getting caught up, insurance concerns, safety precautions, and trying to find enough docents to make this event a success.

We started the tour at a place called BWorks located in the Soulard neighborhood. I met the amazing people behind this organization in December and when I learned what they do I had to include them in this plan. A brief history of BWorks is that they are a nonprofit organization that host 3 children’s programs that included: book works, byte works, and bike works. Their bike program lasts 5 weeks and teaches the kids bike safety, bike maintenance, and in the end the child earns a bike and a helmet that they can continue to use. The day of the ride we were able to raise a couple hundred dollars in donations, a few of the riders even gave up their old bikes after the ride, or signed up to be a volunteer with one of their programs. Oh did I forget to mention that BWorks receives donated bikes and is run by volunteers? This group is certainly something you need to see to believe, or even better it is a great cause to support.

As your starting to see this wasn’t just about the architecture of St. Louis but also abut the amazing programs and organizations doing work in our community. The second stop along the tour was a new place in town, called Climb So Ill. They are a very outgoing group of guys who had a dream to open the best climbing gym in the Midwest, and personally I think they have done an amazing job and not just from the stand point of the facilities, because the a certainly raising the bar, but because of the passion they have. I was very happy to feature them along the route and show off another adaptive reuse project with a great deal of success. The guys who run the gym know all of their regulars by name and will go out of the way to make sure your are comfortable. Climb So Ill is a great place to check out in St. Louis and a wonderful addition to the tour.

The third stop along the way was the architecture office of Cannon Design. This project was completed only a few years ago, and with it being a private office the opportunity for the public to experience the space is very limited. We received so many compliments about this space because of the quality if light and just the overall work environment that they have been blessed with. Needless to say this space made a lot of people jealous when compared to their office.

 

 

The fourth stop along the tour was a place called the Kerr Foundation. They are a non-profit organization that focuses on education and helping to better the community. This building was selected not only for the organization behind the building, but the structure itself. This building is a LEED platinum building and originally started as a bathhouse many years ago. This stop allowed participants to get up close with various “green” technologies, and the gain a getter understanding of how they can be used. The building utilizes solar and wind power, along with natural light, permeable paving for the parking along with a bio swale and rain garden to collect runoff on site. This was a great place to bring the technical side or sustainability to the tangible and approachable for those touring the facility

The stencils I put down on the streets to mark the course for riders.

In the end the tour had over 150 people involved between the volunteers, riders, and docents leading. There were no accidents or major catastrophes through the day, despite having heavy traffic because of the baseball and football games starting at noon and one. Overall everyone had a good time, enjoyed them selves, and was able to experience a little more of St. Louis than usual. It’s a magical thing that happens when you get on a bike and slow down from your car, you take the time to look around and think about what was there and not just rush by things and take them for granted. I know I shouldn’t be thinking about it, but I have already started to plan for next year, meeting with the docents and people involved and seeing what we can improve for next year. This has been an amazing yearlong journey that allowed me the meet so many tremendous people along the way and I can’t wait to do it again next year.

One of the groups before they departed.

One of the many points of interest along the tour.

The final tour route.

THE FRONT PORCH

Have you ever wondered what happened to the sense of community we had in our neighborhoods? Do you remember the feelings that were evoked in a time when you could sit on your front porch and see the entire neighborhood? Where the kids would play in the street, and when you could hear from down the block a mother call out “car!” and the children would all step on to the side of the road and wave as the vehicle passed by.  Do you remember when you would invite your neighbors over on a cool summer evening and sit out on the front porch together enjoying a beverage?

I believe we have put so much emphasis lately on sustainability and being environmentally friendly with the systems and materials we are using, but in the process, we have lost focus on the community aspect. What if we cared for our neighbors and the communities we lived in? I believe we have stopped caring, and I think I know when that point was… it was when we traded our front porch for a private back patio.

So what do we do now? We spend our time in our own individual fenced-in yards, with our own personal families, and we occasionally shout across the street to say “Hi” to our neighbors. Builders began to create false porches as a way to create the illusion of community so that we may appear welcoming to those around us. In all reality, how often do we use that little four foot deep porch tacked onto the front of our dream homes covered in vinyl siding? I would venture a guess that we don’t do much on it, that is except for the few minutes we might greet a stranger when they come to knock on our door.

So what is the solution? Is there a solution? Does adding an extra two feet to the slab we pour in front of our homes count as getting back the front pouch we lost? Does an extra two or three feet instantly generate a sense of community, or does it create more impervious surfaces in the world and wasted space we never use? I don’t think just adding a few more feet will create any real change. We as architects have the ability to impact and change the way individuals engage the built environment. We can educate our clients and we can help them to understand what they are buying into when they select model homes and what they thought was the “American dream” of white picket fences and those two cars in the drive way. How much longer can that way of life be sustained? I, for one, would be happy to trade the car for a bike, and the large home for a modest walk up. I know that this is only my perspective and I don’t have a family to raise or any of those concerns, I am simply a young adult alone in the city that can make the statements because these are simply my reflections on the future I can see ahead.

So what has to change to make that all possible? How do we begin to create environments that cater to the public? What if we began creating communities and neighborhoods again that allowed us to walk to our destination, or get on our bike and ride to a friend’s place or the local market? What happens when we stop complaining about the price of gas and start to buy into a sustainable public transportation system that could run efficiently? When will we begin creating spaces that promote mixed use on a regular basis, environments that aren’t restrictive in zoning, and communities that encourage growth? I can see the glimmers of hope on the horizon and the sparks of the ideas taking hold and it leaves me excited for the future, but I hope to see more of this continue.

QUESTIONS FROM A YOUNG ARCHITECT

There is something I mentioned in a previous post and I wanted to come back to the topic of urban sprawl…. We have all heard it and are increasingly aware of the problem we face. Gas continues to go up in price and I believe that we should see the density start to rise again in our major cities. But many of us will continue to say that the time we spend in the car and the amount we spend on gas is just part of the daily grind. I think that train of thought will begin to change, or I can at least hope that it will change.

Speaking for myself, I don’t like to waste my time and I don’t know many young people who do. Currently, I live forty-five minutes from the office where I work.  That means I spend between an hour and half and two hours in my car a day with traffic. Take that over a week, and that’s between six and half to ten hours. Over a month that means I will spend approximately twenty six to forty hours in my car, that’s nearly a week of work every month I am missing out on while sitting in my car.

Let’s say for the sake of this article we keep the math simple, and say I make ten dollars an hour. So in a month I waste nearly four hundred dollars in my time, and another two in the gas I burn on my way to and from the office. Now I realize we don’t get paid for the time we aren’t working but for this argument let’s say we put a value on our time like our employers do. So in the span of one month I will spend nearly six hundred dollars in time and resources going back forth to work.

Now what happens when I move closer to the city, and if I only lived a mile and a half from the office? What if I bought a bike and I could actually ride to work. I could save 95% of my time to and from the office; I would get exercise daily, and save a large amount of money. Now what if that six hundred a month I was spending could actually get invested in something more valuable? Now I realize I am only a drop in a much larger bucket, but what happens when the majority of those living more than 15 minutes from work did the same. What impact would that have on our cities? How much would the density rise, how much better could our cities be? Would we start to see a rebirth in our cities? What would we do with the money are spending on gas?

I would like to believe if we made our cities into walk able environments and reduced our dependence on our cars and trucks we could start to see pride take hold again and a concern for the built environment. What if we could walk to wherever we needed to go, would we stop being lazy? Could we start to see an increase in our activity? What about an increase in our sense of community? What if we started to invest in public space and the built environment, instead of our own private spaces with fences that make our boundaries very clear to the public? What happens when start to enjoy housing with a shared courtyard, a place where we can get to know our neighbors beyond saying hi at the mail box, a place for a community garden that could yield as much as you put into it? What if the amount we spend on gas goes down and we could spend it with our families, or giving back to amazing nonprofits that do incredible work, or taking a class or that trip we have been dreaming of?

What happens when we stop increasing the size of our homes? When we have a modest dwelling we begin to set priorities to what we actually need versus what we think we need. A close friend of mine reminds me that designing small means simply designing smart. I look around and have to ask, do we really live in a time of surplus? I have always thought that modesty is a good thing.  How is it that we are impressed by the square footage of our homes and not by how charitable we are, or what we are doing for the community?

I know that I have posed a lot of questions and not offered many solutions, but I hope that these thoughts and these ideas might wake something up inside of you and that you begin thinking about how this relates to your life. I feel like a hypocrite while writing about all of this, knowing that I am living in suburbia with my parents and doing nothing to change that. I know that I am just starting out and don’t have the ability to go out on my own, so I am fortunate to have the support of my family and will never take that for granted. For now I know that the drive might be long but I wouldn’t be able to make it without them in my life, a big thank you to my friends and family who are always there to support me in all that I do.

LEADERSPEAK: IS YOUR CHECK ENGINE LIGHT ON?

Have you ever been driving down the road and all of a sudden a little sport car goes flying past you? I started thinking about that car the other day after I was wrapping up a day in the office. I was picturing that car cruising along, oblivious to the fact that it was blowing a whole lot of smoke and causing a mess for everyone else to navigate through. I smiled when I passed that car pulled over on the side of the road, realizing if only they had taken better care of their car it wouldn’t have happened. For the purpose of this piece, let’s just say they ran out of gas.

I normally don’t like using analogies to make my point but this time I am going to make an exception. For the past year I have been in and out of so many offices searching for a place to start my career, just like every other recent graduate out there . Through that time, I have had the opportunity to see various offices and the character and culture of each.  This has allowed me to gain a better understanding of what an office environment is really like compared to anything my professors tried to explain. The analogy came to me when I was reflecting back over my experiences from the past several months and the thought of that little car came to mind.

I’m sure you’re wondering where I am going with this, right? Well, what I mean by that is that an engine runs on gas and oil. If you consider the oil as the collaborative and creative side of an office, while the gas in the tank as the productive side that keeps the office running, you’ll get this analogy. The point is that you need both of those to keep the car operating, so keep that in mind when you start the engine on your firm.

Think about this; if you run with too much oil and not enough gas, you just end up in a big cloud of smoke while you’re stranded on the side of the road. This means when you spend all your time thinking and playing without proper production, you just end up breaking down and on the side of the road with your thumb out asking for a ride. The opposite is equally devastating, too much gas and not enough oil, you end up going really far but burn out after that recommended oil change. What I mean is if you are only productive and don’t take time to play, then you lose your passion for what you do and quickly stop caring about the task at hand.

The right balance for everyone is different. Each firm has their own ratio that works for the culture they have created. A particular amount of oil to every gallon of gas is critical, some work better with a drop and some take it by the quart. Every firm is unique and there is no exact science to the right ratio but there does need to be balance. Finding that balance and individuals who believe in the culture of the office will keep it running smoothly and it is those firms that will stand the test of time. Now there will always be other factors to consider, but when the firm has a shared vision and believe in what they are doing they will always find a way to make it work.

THROUGH THE EYES OF A YOUNG ARCHITECT

With every profession applying the term architect to a title, what does it really mean to be an architect? It seems funny to me that for the past few months, several publications have revealed architecture has the highest unemployment rate as a degree. So I started asking questions, why would somebody want to be an architect during these times? Is the title of architect becoming just another buzz word or are we more than the latest profession in the spotlight? It took a minute to ponder, so I rubbed my eyes in an attempt to wake up and thought if I would rather be anywhere else. I knew the answer to that question before I even finished that thought; there is no other profession out there for me. Maybe I am strange but I love the long hours, sleepless nights, and more cups of coffee than any one person should drink in a lifetime.

Architect used to mean “master builder”, but what does it stand for today? Are we still considered a master builder or just simply a luxury item, when aesthetics are concerned? Now I will admit that we don’t know everything about something, but we do know something about everything. The goal of an architect should be to create sexy solutions for everyday issues, through the collaboration and knowledge of various disciplines. The critical part of our job it to be able to cast a vision on the end result of the project and develop a plan for getting there.

The key in the success of any project is communication. Our ability to bridge the gap between professions and find a solution that works for everyone is critical. An architect understands the rules of thumb and generalities of each discipline, but doesn’t have a full technical knowledge of everything. This is why collaboration is critical, and why bringing everyone to the conversation is so beneficial. We must be a leader, but in order to be a great leader we must surround ourselves with individuals that possess the strengths we do not.

A typical scene down a side street of Boston, featuring walk up housing.

Not only is the architect the leader of the design team, but they also help to lead change. With gas continuing to rise in price, I believe we will start to see the decline of suburbia. My hope would be to watch density rise and a rebirth of our cities. The days of spending hours in our cars is coming to an end. As an architect we have the ability to re-imagine our urban spaces and create places that enrich our daily lives. We must remember that design doesn’t have to be force fed to the public, but can be done in a subtle way that compliments the existing situation, whatever the conditions may be. The greenest buildings are the ones already standing, but we must find ways which facilitate the functions those buildings never anticipated.

I could not be more excited for the challenges we will face ahead. They  will not be easy, but they will begin to challenge the way we think. From the places we choose to dwell, the way we look at our cities, to the way we design our landscapes; these will be changing. It is up to us to decide if they will change for the better.