Monday, September 11, 2017

A Little Ugly Never Hurt Anyone

Credit:  Getty Images
Everything in moderation, or so the saying goes.  In my opinion, this holds true for both beauty and grotesque in the built environment, for without one, the other holds no meaning.  For this month's ArchiTalks, I will let my pictures do most of the talking.

You may look at the picture on the left and see nothing of merit.  How on earth can anyone help this double occupancy room?
The second picture is the same exact room.  There was potential in the room from the first picture.  The designers just had to coax it into existence.  We call it re-invention.

What's wrong with a little decay?  It may be my rural roots, but all I see is a field of new pumpkins next year.

Speaking of decay...  Actually, this one kind of hurt.  But once the damage was done, this building in downtown Lancaster held an eerie beauty.
Before this building was worked on (and inadvertently destroyed) no one ever knew about that painted advertisement on the side of the wall.
Most old buildings are drafty, aren't they?

 Speaking of painted advertisements...  I love these barn billboards.  Yeah, yeah, chewing it will give you cancer....
But just looking won't.  Hey, tobacco was a cash crop here.

This is a building in Lancaster as well, but it has been abandoned for as long as I can remember.  It was once the largest silk mill in the U.S. During the War, they made parachutes there so the windows were blackened to keep Nazi bombers from seeing it.  Over the years it settled into a state of decay that fascinates me.
Utilitarian in its nature, it is simple and brutal beauty in my opinion. The AEG Turbine Factory by Peter Behrens in 1909.
Architects have always been fascinated with decay and ruin.  The Romans built upon Greek ruins, and in turn, the West built upon Roman ruins to develop Neoclasicism.

My misguided fascination with decay may have its origins here. The picture to the left is where I studied architecture for 5 years.

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is "Ugly" and was led by Jeremiah Russell.  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:

-->Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
ugly is ugly

-->Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Ugly Architecture Details

-->Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
unsuccessful, not ugly: #architalks

-->Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Ugly is in The Details

-->Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

-->Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Ugly, sloppy, and wrong - oh my!

-->Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w)
[ugly] buildings [ugly] people

-->Jeffrey Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Is My House Ugly? If You Love It, Maybe Not!

-->Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
the ugly truth

-->Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign)

-->Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Ugly or not ugly Belgian houses?

-->Ilaria Marani - Creative Aptitude (@creaptitude)
ArchiTalks #30: Ugly

-->Larry Lucas - Lucas Sustainable, PLLC (@LarryLucasArch)
Die Hard: 7 Ugly Sins Killing Your Community

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Fresh Eyes

The start of school, the approach of Fall, that says one thing to me.
I help review drawings before they go out for pricing, bidding or permitting.  I like the fact that I get to contribute to nearly all of our work in this way.  It does come with its challenges though.  While I ordinarily look at parts of the projects in the early stages, I don’t always have a full understanding of all the projects until I see them in their almost 100% complete form.  I have, depending on project size, only a day or up to a few days to really learn all I can about the project.  It is a challenge, but I look at it as a dry run for the permitting process, where a plan reviewer only has a limited amount of time to understand the entire building prior to issuing a building permit.  Things that may be taken for granted by the design team may not be clear to someone looking at it "with fresh eyes".  Sometimes you can look at certain things for so long, you don't take notice of them any longer.

I invariably uncover some things that might be able to be shown a little clearer for the contractor or the plan reviewer.  I am a firm believer that if you are intending to use an exception in the Code, write it down.  Not only does it clear any questions up for the next set of eyes to look at the job, but it becomes a record for the design team to remind them of the conditions of the exception.  Other times, I uncover a mystery that not even the design team picked up.  Recently I was reviewing a large set of drawings, nearly 300 pages, soup to nuts.  I had been through all of the architectural, food service, structural, mechanical and plumbing drawings already.  After three days of nearly constant review, I had gotten to the electrical apartment unit plans, nearly the last things I would see.  All of a sudden, I looked up and said, “Ooohhh, are all these apartment unit plans named after apples?”
Name that apple!
The design team working on this project happened to be sitting right where I was reviewing the drawings.  They all looked up and cocked their heads, as if they were trying to do long division in their heads.  After months of working on these apartments, it had never dawned on them.  Granted, they are not all traditional names we may think of for apple varieties, but some are.  At first the names made me think more about New York, although the project is located in Virginia, which I didn’t think was known for growing apples.

Empire, Rome, Cortland, Braeburn, Cameo...  I think many of us have heard of these.  Baldwin, Breeze, Liberty...  these were varieties I was not previously aware of.

I saw this one at a local farmer's stand.  I want to live in the Rambo apartment!
Sometimes it just takes a fresh pair of eyes.

Monday, July 31, 2017


I live and work in the same zip code that I grew up in.  Aside from my college years and about 12 months after school working in the greater NY metropolitan area, I have lived in the same school district my whole life.  Our kids now go to the schools I attended.  I like to tell people I didn’t get very far.  This flippant comment hits really close to home, though.

The current office (in red box) and environs.  Photo Credit:  Google Maps.  The farm I worked for is to the left.
An enlarged image from within the red box above.
I was just having lunch with several coworkers and we got on the topic of first jobs.  Recollections were fairly straightforward:  ice cream shop, mowing lawns and landscaping, sandwich shops…  My first job was no more unusual than any of the others, given that I grew up in Lancaster, Pennsylvania.  I worked on a farm, picking strawberries, peaches, and of course:  sweet corn.

The unusual part of my story was the location, not the vocation.  We sat in our “new” four year old office.  The view out the window, had it been just five or six years earlier, would have been much different.  Our office sits on a lot that previously had been planted with corn or soybeans for as long as I can remember.  It is in those fields where I first worked.

2004 aerial photo.  The striations in the green there show early May corn where the office currently sits.
My first real job, one where I clocked in and out and had taxes deducted from my check, was as a farmhand, picking corn on the lot where I would work in an office 25 years later.  I worked between May and August 1989 starting at 5:00 AM, pulling corn off their stalk in the near dark.  The scratchy leaves of the stalks and sticky silk of the ears still held on to significant amounts of water, making it impossible to stay dry just minutes into your day, even in a drought.  I learned to pull “ready” sweet corn off the stalk in the dark, just from the feel in the hand.  You can imagine the contempt I feel today when I see people peel back the husk on every single piece of corn at the grocery store before they bag it.  Amateurs…but I digress.

This was the view from my window one morning.
Our former office, the one we used for 25 plus years and I spent 15 years in, is only 2 miles from our current digs.  But there was something serendipitous about the new location literally occupying the same earth I worked as a 16 year old.  The new office property contains a significant amount of unbuildable land due to the presence of wetlands.  Because of this, the view from my desk is nearly unchanged from when I toiled in the fields 25 years ago.  There are cat tails, wild flowers, and the same clump of trees that follow the path of the muddy creek cutting the property in half.  The back half of our property is a veritable wildlife preserve, home to snapping turtles, birds of all kind, a herd of young deer and we even have sighted a red fox a few times.

Typical summer time view from my window.

That is a red fox in the distance (winter view).
So is it really a homecoming when you never really left?  I think so.  While I now work literally across the street from where I lived in high school, our office has clients all over the country.  I have worked on projects in Oregon, Colorado, New York, New Hampshire, Georgia and Texas, just to name a few.  But the greatest thing about working here is that it feels just like home, for more reasons than just the geography.

This post is part of the ArchiTalks series (led by Bob Borson of Life of an Architect ) where a group of us (architects who also blog) all post on the same day and promote each other’s blogs. This month’s theme is "Homecoming".  A lot of other talented writers who also are architects are listed below and are worth checking out:
-->Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch)
Coming Home to Architecture

-->Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
looking back i wonder

-->Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Coming home as an architect

-->Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
9-11 -- A Look Back

-->Michael Riscica AIA - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Homecoming & Looking Back

-->Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz)
Homecoming Memories

-->Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia)
Letter to a Younger Me

-->Kyu Young Kim - J&K Atelier (@sokokyu)
Homecoming, in 3 Parts

-->Nisha Kandiah - ArchiDragon (@ArchiDragon)
Just give me a reason : Homecoming

-->Mark Stephens - Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)

-->Gabriela Baierle-Atwood - Gabriela Baierle-Atwood (@gabrielabaierle)
My Ode to Fargo

-->Jane Vorbrodt - Kuno Architecture (@janevorbrodt)
Looking Back Through the Pages

-->Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)

-->Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
Looking Back...Was Architecture Worth It?