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.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Choose Your Battles

You have to choose your battles.  A few years ago, we went down to Virginia to meet with the local code officials about an impending project for a preliminary plan review.  Every jurisdiction is different in how they apply the codes and we wanted to get everything straight before we got close to formally submitting plans for approval.  The Code Official and the Senior Plan Reviewer were there as well as two representatives from the Fire Marshal’s office.  Everything went fine and we asked our questions and we were able to judge how this jurisdiction was going to be to work with.

When we ran out of our prepared questions, we asked if anyone there had any pet peeves or things they like to see.  It is good to ask this but it is a bit of a loaded question and can also be the opener to the proverbial Can ‘O’ Worms.  It turns out the Fire Marshal doesn't really like vinyl siding or engineered lumber (TGI’s).  Their reason for the aversion: vinyl siding “is like solid gasoline” and “TGI’s fail too soon”.  Now, both of these items are tested and rated like any other construction material.  Both sides of the table knew that the design called for both, and both sides also knew that it was perfectly acceptable, according to all prevailing building codes.  The fact that they don’t like those materials really didn't matter much.  But for a response, we listened and nodded our heads and that was it.  We all knew those two products would be the project in the end and arguing about it now would only cause our local hosts to feel less amiable towards the out of town architects.  So we basically zipped it while indicated we understood their point of view.

Melted vinyl siding as a result of a fire.  Photo Credit:  Scott Eklund/Seattle Post-Intelligencer
A little like insanely hot silly string when engulfed, I bet.

Okay, these TJI's might fail on the right...  Photo Credit:
But their pet peeves were something I had not heard before, and they weren't done there.  We were only about 2 ½ hours away from our home office, in basically the same climate zone, but apparently down there mulch in planting beds will ignite and consume buildings with fire.  The Fire Marshal asked that we keep mulch as far away from the building as possible.  Their cautionary tale is an example I wish I was creative enough to imagine on my own.  Picture it.  It’s free Pancake Day at the local IHOP and the line is wrapped around the building.  (Pancake Day is March 7th in 2018, so mark your calendar).  Someone in line thoughtlessly flicks a lit cigarette into the IHOP’s mulch bed.  Poof – the solid gasoline, I mean vinyl siding, bursts into flames.  No one was hurt, but many a folk went without their free pancakes.

Mulch fires do happen apparently...  Photo Credit:

What do you say to that?  In the end we said we would talk to our landscape designer about running a boarder of pea gravel around the building in lieu of pushing mulch beds right to the exterior walls.  But in reality, we know we wouldn't be able to pay for all that gravel.  There was nothing else we could have said to assuage their fears.  Our meeting was over, it was lunch time, and suddenly we were in the mood for pancakes.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Stair Master

There are 463 steps to the top of the lantern atop the dome of the Duomo in Florence, Italy.  I know because I've climbed it more than once.  The first time, I was a 21 year old student with about ten of my classmates.  It was not a big deal to make the climb, it was exciting and I was more fit at that time and the exercise was not that taxing.  However, when one ascends to the top of this dome, not only is a panoramic view of the red tiled roof city presented before you, but across the square from the dome is the slightly lower but still higher than everything else, bell tower.

The Bell Tower, Before We Ran Up Its Stairs

So instead of being satisfied with the current view from the highest point in Florence, my friends and I began to wonder what it would be like to see someone we knew on the top of the bell tower.  How funny would that be?  It was too enticing.  My classmate Brian and I volunteered to go all the way down to the piazza below, buy a ticket to the bell tower, climb those stairs, and fulfill the fantasy.

Those staying behind pooled their money to help pay the 20,000 lire to get us in.  They were going to enjoy the experience, too, but they didn't have to do any more stair climbing.  I honestly don’t remember running down those cathedral stairs, but from the trip up I remembered that they are some of the oddest treads and rises I've ever experienced.  The lowest stairs in the Cathedral are fairly conventional, but as soon as you get to the stairs in the dome itself, the structure of the double walled dome is primary and the stairs fill in between the skins as best they can.  As you near the top of the dome, not only are you going up stairs but also the side slope reaches nearly 45 degrees so some areas have you bending over in half so not to hit your head on a beam.  So how I made it down without knocking myself out or twisting an ankle, I don’t know.

A Look Back to the Duomo

After passing through the largest bronze doors I have ever seen, I followed my friend Brian up the stairs of the bell tower.  The trip up these steps I recall more clearly, not for the details or the space, but of the pace.  Brian was an avid jogger and we essentially ran up these next 414 steps.  It was a cool day and there was a misty rain outside, but by the time we reached the top I was pouring with sweat and completely out of breath.  But the site at the top was worth it.  Across the plaza and slightly elevated, we could clearly see the figures of our classmates waving ferociously. 

Our Friends, in the Middle, The Future Mrs. Yeoman, Centered

Was it worth it?  Sure.  By the end of a short period of time, Brian and I climbed up and down a combined total of 1754 steps in tight, awkward spaces just to see the city (and our friends) from a different perspective.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Career Advice

A few months ago I took a day out of my schedule to volunteer at a summer camp Penn State offers to high school students each July.  Students interested in architecture, landscape architecture, engineering or construction can immerse in the field for a week, living on campus and attending studio sessions.  I had known about the program for some years, but this was the first opportunity for me to get involved.  If nothing else, I felt it was a worthy cause to prepare high school aged students, who haven’t already committed to a particular line of study, for what might really lie ahead.

The students arrive on Sunday to register and settle in, but they were also subjected to their first studio session immediately.  They were to cut a sheet of cardboard up into 11 pieces, without really knowing what they were to do with them later.  They would return to these pieces on Tuesday, because on Monday, they took a field trip to Fallingwater and Wright’s lesser known house in the same general area, Kentuck Knob.  Understandably, the field trip was very popular.  Tuesday is when I showed up, and not knowing exactly what I was to do, found myself walking around the studio, watching the students work on their cardboard.  They had all been together for a couple days by now with their college student counselors, so I felt a little out of place at first, not really knowing what advice to give them immediately. When the groups split up just a little while later, I chose to accompany the group who was going to visit a local engineering firm; a firm where I knew almost everyone, as they are our consultants on many, many jobs – Reese Engineering, Inc. (REI), located just a few minutes ride from campus.

The tour would be interesting, I thought, since my office designed their building, and it would give me a chance to get to know some of the kids a little better in familiar surroundings.  I was able to chime in during their tour of the building, providing an architect’s vantage point as REI was our client on their own building, as well as the MEP designers.  Unfortunately I think a lot of the kids focused on the fact that the central kitchen space in their office; not only did it look cool, but they learned that the office served lunch to their employees many days throughout the week.  Also, the fact that they have an onsite fitness room was very impressive to the students.

After that another engineer provided a rather in depth look into design tools and programs, including software that could pinpoint temperatures and predict breezes inside a virtual building that was designed to utilize natural air circulation.  I have to believe it was a little too much for 10th and 11th graders.  It was too much for me, that’s for sure.  After our lecture there, we got back on the bus to go back to the University to have what was billed as “lunch with a professional”.

This was actually one of the more enjoyable parts of the day.  While waiting for lunch, I had time to catch up with my thesis advisor from when I was in school, Dan Willis.  But when it came time to sit down, we needed to split up so that as many tables as possible had an actual professional at it.  I sat down with a couple kids and I was really impressed with the questions they came with. I got the obligatory “How much will someone make” questions, which I can’t blame them for asking.  When I see that the yearly tuition at Penn State is over $16,000 (in state, without room and board), you have to be able to justify your major.  None the less, I was able to provide them with average starting salary range of someone coming out of school, granted it had a lot to do with location, etc.  We touched on the fact that new graduates have had a lot of trouble finding jobs in the last several years, but I was able to report that our office is very busy and has been hiring, including several summer interns.  Summer interns turn into full time employees, like I did, almost 20 years ago at my firm.

Many of the young people were interested in knowing how to prepare for college and getting into their college of choice.  I was impressed with how prepared some of the students were.  Many students not only had college prep courses in math and science, but also in a wide variety of artistic pursuits.  In my own past, I think of how more useful it would have been to have learned how to weld rather than learning to draw an isometric drawing of a screwdriver in high school drafting class.  My only real suggestion to them was to learn how to communicate well, and I stressed how much correspondence there was in the business of architecture, beyond knowing how to draw.

After lunch we returned to the projects the students had set aside before the field trip.  They had a choice of combining those eleven pieces of cardboard into a beach house, a church or an airport.  Depending on the project, the concept of scale was very important obviously.  Entry and site lines were stressed as well.  Once the project developed to a point, trees were to be fabricated out of metal wire in appropriate sizes to reinforce scale and connectivity to nature.  Perhaps based on their trip to Falling water, one of the projects actually was organized around a huge tree.  There were a lot more churches and beach homes than airports, perhaps because it was a more comfortable scale.  But in the end, as in school, it wasn’t really about the project.  It was about the learning experience.

I had volunteered to help the students because I felt it was a worthy endeavor.  I think I got a lot more out of the day for myself than I expected.  Certainly, I asked questions of various students about their projects, maybe nudged them into one direction or another.  I may have suggested that architects (at least the ones I know) never use calculus so maybe consider some other useful coursework if you have the option.  The students’ attitudes and energy gave me a reminder of why I was who I am.  I thought that this program, had I been able to take part of it as a high school student, would have been a tremendous transition from college prep in high school to architecture school.  As we all know, architecture school is different from most courses of study.  Most first year students in other majors do not have three quarters of their very first semester dictated by architecture prerequisite credits.  They have time to take general education classes, adjust to living on their own for the first time and find their way before they get into core curriculum. 

The immersion the students felt of showing up on a Sunday afternoon and already starting to cut cardboard by Sunday night is a good parallel to First Year Studio, as I remember it anyway.  I had to wait until the end of my first year to see Fallingwater, which was an essential, spiritually charged experience for which I credit giving me the ambition to fully pursue this career path.  After that day with the students I thought back, for the first time in years, to my moment standing on the bottom platform of the stairway that ends in the stream at Fallingwater, convincing myself to go on to Second Year and try to excel.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Oh Captain, My Captain

William Arthur Ward said, “The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails”.  If one considers our clients, bosses or colleagues as the captains of their respective ships, it is obvious which captain would be most desirable to serve.

The pessimist can act in a number of ways under duress.  Probably the first reaction from these types of personalities is to assign blame before fully investigating the problem.  This is probably because pointing fingers is so much easier than rolling up your sleeves and looking for solutions.  Sometimes so much time is wasted in the blame game, both by the act of blame and then the obligatory defense of those blamed, that the problem can spiral out of control.  One only has to think back to a hurricane named Katrina to support this theory. 

The optimist is too quick to throw in the anchor.  Inaction is their course of action, with the expectation that higher powers will set them on the right course eventually.  While the winds are blowing, the safe thing in their minds may be to sit tight.  This may be the right thing to do in a typhoon (think if Gilligan and the Skipper had dropped anchor during that three hour tour), but when in competition with other ships, this inaction may -put too much space between you and your rivals.

The realist takes a good, hard look at the wind and adjusts their course of action with their original destination in mind.  Blame becomes irrelevant and the thought of stopping never crosses their mind.  I think back to Apollo 13, when the astronauts’ vessel did not have enough power to return to Earth, the crew used the gravity of the moon to sling shot it back home.  Hundreds of people pulled together with the common goal to get Tom Hanks and those other two guys home.

Monday, August 11, 2014

The Strong, Silent Typewriter

The Strong, Silent Typewriter

Garry Cooper was the strong, silent type.  I think he would have done well in business.  When it comes to writing it is almost always better to use fewer words to express a thought rather than more.  This is especially true in business writing and the same can be said for presentations and speaking.  That is not to say that one should haphazardly remove words, or force sentences to their minimum lengths, but a well thought out paragraph should remove extraneous phases and redundancies.  As all things relate to Seinfeld; this is not a suggestion to gloss over the body of the story...

But this takes some time and thought, as does improving anything, and that is why it seems to seldom happen in business correspondence.  To illustrate, below are some of my favorite quotes on the subject:

Thomas Jefferson quipped, “The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.”

Blaise Pascal said (in French), “I have made this [letter] longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

This last historical example I will use is not only clever, but ironic.  In Hamlet, Polonius states “brevity is the soul of wit” in a long winded explanation as to why the Prince is mad.  The Queen then interjects, “More matter, with less art.”  Quite possibly the most elegant way to say, “Get on with it,” that I have ever come across.

If I can be indulged with one personal example, I was working with an engineer on faucet specification.  Exciting, no?  There was a major difference between the faucet the facility manager suggested and the type we typically use.  First I received a ten minute phone call from the engineer explaining why the one faucet was specified and how they differed, the details of which are not relevant here.  Then the same engineer sent me the product cut sheets along with a very lengthy email further explaining the situation.  My task was to distill all this information to get a decision from the Owner.

I was able to shave 1/3 of the word count from the original engineer generated email and send it to the owner for a value-based decision.  I believe it was clear, concise and yet courteous.  I actually got a note back from the engineer thanking me for sending out the question because, as he put it, my correspondence was what he was trying to say in his head, it just wasn't coming out that way.

The Gettysburg Address contained 270 words, roughly 200 less than this article.  Lincoln’s Address was not the only speech that day. Edward Everett gave a two hour eulogy prior to Lincoln’s two minute talk and no one remembers the former’s content.

For the record, the owner responded the way we hoped he would and used only nine words to do so.  

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Cardboard Portal

In third year of college, our class was given the task of recreating the Laurentian Library portal, designed by Michelangelo, in corrugated cardboard.  For about a month we stole boxes from dumpsters of all the local businesses in the area under cover of darkness.  Looking back, that wasn't really responsible of the professors, assigning us petty larceny.  However, we did and just stacked an entire corridor full of the broken down boxes, like five feet high.  Another good example of careless instruction from professors – go store hundreds of pounds of combustible materials in this egress component. But Frank Gehry was making furniture out of cardboard at the time so it had to be okay.

The construction was a huge task and we were given just a weekend to complete it.  Friday afternoon we began by laminating layers of boxes with wood glue and creating templates.  Once our building blocks had dried, we cut them in the model shop on band saws and table saws.  There was so much to do (the thing was full scale and ended up being sixteen feet tall) that we started off scheduling four hours of sleep per person per day.  That sleep quickly evaporated as the work consumed us.

People were half dead by Sunday, using power tools on University property on a class assignment.  We were lucky no one lost a finger or worse.  I carry a scar on my forearm from that weekend as a result of a run in with a hot glue gun.  The end result was utterly amazing when I think about it.  About thirty kids accomplished quite a feat in a single weekend.  None of my friends in other majors could believe the kind of boot camp us architecture students went through.  On the weekends, they had fraternity parties and bar hopping.  I think it may have even been Homecoming Weekend.  Meanwhile, we were fabricating full scale buildings out of refrigerator boxes.  The only regret I have is that it was almost impossible to photograph due to the location we were instructed to install it.

For some reason, the classes after ours did not participate in such a cardboard charette.  There was never any formal explanation, but my assumption is that some faculty member gave a second thought to the liability.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Poor-trayal

It is some sort of conspiracy.  I blame the media.  This job, the profession I've chosen, has a serious public relations problem.

Again, some guy wrote an overly complicated law, fessed up and said it was intended to fool us, and instead of calling him an ECONOMIST or a POLITICIAN, they called him (what?) an ARCHITECT.  Why, why, why???

So Called Obamacare Architect:  Jonathan Gruber

You cannot, by PA State law, call yourself an architect if you do not meet a certain set of predetermined requirements.  This is a good thing as the main responsibility of an architect is to defend the health, safety and welfare of those that are served.  So why is it that anytime someone gets their hand caught in the cookie jar, the press renames the scoundrel “the architect of greed”.  You remember Enron, don’t you?  Or do you remember them simply as “the architects of fraud”?  Or Adolf Eichmann, who is often referred to as the “architect of the Holocaust”?  Even Adolf Hitler’s real architect, Albert Speer, went to jail for twenty years charged with war crimes.  Where the heck are the architects of good things?  Where is my Mahatma Gandhi, the “architect of peace”?  At this point I am looking for anything; Mother Theresa, “the architect of empathy”?
The Quintessential Image of the Architect

It doesn't stop there, of course.  It bleeds into popular literature and film.  Most architects are portrayed as fiercely egocentric figures, like Howard Roark (The Fountainhead) and Stanley Kracklite (The Belly of an Architect).  If architects are not portrayed as tragically self-absorbed characters, they are shown to be buffoons.  Certainly some sitcom writer dropped out of architecture school after about six weeks, went into writing and made some real money.  Early on in the television rendition of Dagwood Bumstead in Blondie, Dagwood is a bumbling architect, working for the overbearing J.C. Dithers.  Move to more recent presentations in According to Jim, Jim Belushi (a contractor) rides roughshod over his brother-in-law, Andy (the inept architect).  Think about syrupy sweet Mike Brady (The Brady Bunch), desperate romantic Ted (How I Met Your Mother), or sorry Woody Harrelson as David Murphy, who couldn't keep Robert Redford’s character from scoring on his wife in Indecent Proposal.  Even the forlorn yet lovable character from “Sleepless in Seattle” (Tom Hanks) gets outsmarted by his nine year old son multiple times throughout the movie (and he lives on a boat).

Sappy Tom Hanks Architect

With every rule, however, there are exceptions.  For some reason, those in the information technology industry have taken to the term of “architecture” as the series of complex systems that runs their digital landscape.  I get this from one point of view, but they should really have their own title.  This concept of architect as creator was complete, when Bill Gates donned the title of Chief Software Architect.  It must be like a Medical Physician when he or she sees "Dr. Rooter, The Plumber" advertised on TV.  To me, it is a little unnerving.  I think of when Neo of the Matrix movies meet his landscape’s creator, The Architect (as he is known) explains away his lack of compassion by simply stating, “What do you think I am – Human?”

The Architect who Messes with Neo

As a postscript, another alarming fact is that all of the characters mentioned above, real or otherwise, are exclusively Caucasian and male.  This shall provide fodder for a future lesson learned.  One notable exception is Wesley Snipe’s character in “Jungle Fever”.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lasagna Battery

Sometimes, very complicated and technical rules may boggle the mind, but sometimes they can be demonstrated very easily in the average person’s kitchen.  One such “experiment” demonstrates galvanic corrosion, which is the reaction certain metals exhibit when they make contact with each other in the presence of an electrolyte.  More simply stated; when metals get rained on and overlap each other.  This rather tedious sounding process can be explained in a very tasty way, in fact.  

The demonstration is commonly known as the lasagna battery.  Try cooking a delicious (and salty) lasagna in a steel baking pan, then cover it with aluminum foil.  In a few hours, you will see small holes developing in the foil where it is in contact with the food.  You will also see spots on the food where the aluminum has apparently dissolved. The two metals are placed into an electrolyte (lasagna).  Since the aluminum is lower on the electrochemical series, or less noble than the steel, the foil actually ionizes due to a rapid chemical reaction charged by a small electrical current.  This is why you have to be careful when you have one metal on a roof or wall in contact with a different metal composition in the presences of an electrolyte (rain water is enough).  Value Engineering metals can be hazardous to a roof's health!

But don't feel bad.  Even Gustav Eiffel got it wrong.  Over time, the shellac between the copper skin of our Statue of Liberty failed over time, allowing the iron pins to come into contact with the more noble copper.  Maybe old Gustav knew this would happen over time and, as the relations between the two nations cooled, Lady Liberty began to disrobe.  Our government fixed the problem, replacing the shellac with Teflon, properly insulating the two metals.