Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Career Paths

Let’s end 2014 and start 2015 on a fun note.  I have realized recently that I know many people who studied architecture and changed career paths.  I wonder whether the curriculum that those people share with me has had any influence on their alternative career.  My friend George Costanza likes to say, “Nothing is higher than architect”.  I wondered if that was true…

Was it the curriculum that made them decided to change their careers?  Or had their career been augmented by the architectural curriculum?  I have compiled a list of famous people who have in one way or another studied architecture prior to embarking on an alternative career path.  Some of these I had heard about, others were a surprise.  What would have happened to some of these people had they stayed in this/my profession?

1.  Weird Al Yankovic.  The “Amish Paradise” guy has a degree from Cal Polytechnic State.  He had a job in the mail room of a radio station after school and then somehow got to be really famous.

2.  Jimmy Stewart.  Graduated from Princeton in 1932.  His thesis was on an airport, but he joined an acting troupe rather than an architect’s firm. Oh, he was also a Major General in the Air Force and a combat pilot in WWII.  Boy do I feel like an underachiever.

3.  Saul Steinberg.  A cartoonist for the New Yorker, he has had his degree from Politecnico di Milano.  He was born in Italy and left right before WWII.

4.  John Denver.  Rocky Mountain High singer dropped out of architecture school at Texas Tech.

5.  Roger Waters and Nick Mason.  Neither of these founding members of Pink Floyd could read music.  They had their own technique that was more of an “architectural diagram” than traditional notes.  Before dropping out to form the band, they had composed music in conjunction with studio projects.  Nick Mason received an honorary degree 50 years later from London Polytechnic.

6.  Chris Lowe.  Another Londoner drop out, this time from University of Liverpool. This Pet Shop Boys singer had stage design for the group done by Zaha Hadid in 2000.

7.  Jeff Carlisi.  Another musician; he earned his degree during a recession.  He took some time to “hang out” with .38 Special.  He continues to Hold On Loosely.

8.  Aishwarya Rai.  This Miss World 1994 winner is a Bollywood actress as well.  She gave up architectural pursuits and dropped out of Raheja College of Arts to pursue her modeling career.

9.  Art Garfunkel.  The harmonizing half of Simon and Garfunkel changed his major at Columbia.  He has a B.A. in Art History, not music, and a Masters in Mathematics.  He was married briefly to an architect in the 1970’s.

10. Anthony Quinn.  This two time Oscar winner dropped out of a Taliesin Fellowship after winning a contest to study there after high school.  On FLW’s recommendation, he enrolled in speech therapy, attended acting school and the rest is history.

11. David Byrne.  My generation of architecture students loved to play this one up.  He left a Bauhaus program at RISD and went on to the University of CBGB.  I don’t know if that is technically architecture school, but it is my list and I am keeping him.  He has done a Ted Talk about how architecture has helped music evolve. 

12. Seal.  The guy who married Heidi Klum has an Associate’s Degree and worked in London for a time in the business.

13. Lisa Halaby.  Better known as Queen Noor of Jordan.  Not sure if anyone trumps that career upgrade.  She had quite an architectural resume and was the Director of Facilities and Design for Jordanian Airlines when she met King Hussein of Jordan.

14. Thomas Jefferson.  Architecture was always part of his life and study.  He had a pretty good run in politics though.

15. George Takei.  Yeeeeeessss.  Sulu had 2 years at U of Cal, Berkeley in architecture before changing to theater.

So there you have it.  The result of far too many hours of research tied up in a list of 15 names.  What if Weird Al had stayed with architecture?  Would he have gotten the Guggenheim work?

Did I miss any good ones?  Please comment with any adds!

Monday, December 22, 2014

A Charmed Life

A progress shot of construction.

We used Charms Candies primarily for the building blocks of our candy display this year.  We sent some photos of it to the Tootsie Roll company (who makes the candy) as a gesture.  They were cool enough to send us this letter back.

Even though they were not able to sell us boxes of colors individually, we bought 12,000 (yes, twelve thousand) Charm Squares and separated them out into the various colors.  Each house is primarily one color Charm and lit from within so they all glow.

Winning entry this year.
We started at about Thanksgiving and finished by the second week of December.  For more information of the process, see my detailed entries from last year's display in the blog.  Things we learned this year:  Charms melt into forms great in the oven.  Color runs of Charms vary - i.e. reds are not all EXACTLY the same.  The Tootsie Roll company is pretty awesome - they sent a box of their product with the letter.

Goody Box.  Including some Charms!

Friday, December 19, 2014


Last month, as part of our Firm’s 60th anniversary, we had a volunteer day at one of our Client’s community.  We, along with staff from Landis Homes, set up over 1000 luminaries along one of their walking paths, in conjunction with their 50th anniversary. Each lit luminary represented a gift or tribute to a loved one.  It was fun, although damp and cold, to give a little back to a Client that is certainly great to work with.

Some of the team.
The goal of the luminaries, aside from looking pretty cool, was to have a walk event for the residents.  Those who could manage under their own power (or the power of their electric scooter) were welcome to walk at their own pace.  For those who needed assistance, our staff was also there to help push residents in wheelchairs along the walk.

It took a couple hours for about 20 to 30 people to set the luminaries.  Some of us took the bags and set them up at about 10 foot increments, others filled pallets of bags with gravel and LED candles, prior to having them driven close to where they were to placed.  The entire walk started at the first building we did with Landis Homes and wound around campus in close proximity to eight other buildings we worked on.  We didn't pick the route but I thought it was pretty appropriate.  I was personally involved in the projects of all but the first one.

It was still light out when we finished, but we could tell it was going to look pretty awesome.  We had an hour between set up and the resident walk so we had dinner in the little café at the community.  It was part of the first project was involved with as project architect with Landis Homes in 2000.  It was nice to sit with about a dozen other people from our staff knowing exactly how that café came to be.  I feel like that project was the one where I really became an architect, kind of like when Neo could “see” the Matrix.  I felt like a came into my own during that experience.  Again, I didn't plan the event, but it felt like serendipity.

A view back towards the skilled care across the pond.
As we were rounded up with some Landis Home staff and other volunteers, we walked to Personal Care in order to be paired with a resident in a wheel chair.  The residents were a delight.  I loved my resident, Alta.  She could not have been more appreciative.  And my co-worker Susie apparently made plans to invite her resident over when she planted her garden in the spring.  It was just splendid.

I had yet another moment déjà vu when we started out in a very long and slow conga line towards the beginning of the walk outside.  We went through Personal Care and into Skilled Care where my Grandmother, Helen, had been a resident until her death in 2010.  She had entered Landis Homes for rehabilitation and never left as she was lucky enough to enter the memory care wing immediately after her recovery.  We reenacted a path I had walked several years back, pushing Helen from her room to Rehab.  It brought back a lot of memories for me.  Again, I had no idea we would go out this way, but we did.  Rehab was also part of my first project there.

The biggest learning experience was just how long it took to get a dozen people in wheelchairs and walk them somewhere, as well as needing to utilize an elevator.  I now definitely believe that at least two elevators should be provided in each unit, because it took about 30 minutes to go up one level with our fairly small group.  It doesn't help that, with only one elevator, the elevator is often held open on hold by those intending to return to it right away!

Floating on the Pond!
Once outside we first got to see all of the luminaries as they were intended to be viewed – all lit up at night.  It was really impressive.  The lights did a figure eight around to ponds and created layers of the flickering lights, reflected again in the water.  Additionally, the staff had figured out how to float them ON the water, which I didn’t realize until that moment.  The walk seemed to go by very quickly, but all the residents seemed to have a great time.  We returned to the building, stopped off to have some hot chocolate and sing some songs in the living room, and returned our “dates” for the evening to their doorstep.

Close Up - paper plates under the bags to keep them dry!

It was just a really fulfilling experience to help out for an evening for a really great organization.  And even though I have such fond feelings for this group, it meant even more to me knowing this had been the home for Helen for several years, and knowing how well cared for she was, and hoping that our night would be an additional memory amongst many for those residents to reflect on as part of their experience at Landis Homes.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Contractor's Tool Belt

I made an interesting find on a jobsite a little while ago.  I discovered a Contractor's tool I had not seen before.  I had often wondered how Contractors replicated the many curves that we, the designers, sweat and fret over on paper and in the computer.  The center to a radius is sometimes located twenty to thirty feet from the curve, in the next room or even outside of the building.  What fabulous, computer guided set of French Curve tools the Contractor must require for such a task.  We must be talking laser levels and GPS, right?

High Precision Curve Making Tool
I don't mean to expose the "man behind the curtain" or anything.  But a broken pen taken from a bank, some electrical tape and a bent wire are used to create our graceful curves and detailing.  Just goes to remind you that we do not control the means and methods of those performing the work.