Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Windfall Profits

This is how it happens:

You are the architect and you specify 3/4" Lapidus granite for the kitchen counters and backsplashes. The million dollar house is bid and the contract for construction is signed at a fixed price. Then one day you get a phone call from the granite installer asking if the owner has selected the granite yet. After expressing surprise that you are even receiving a phone call about this because the specifications are so clear, you read to the installer what you wrote about 3/4" Lapidus granite in the specifications. He says he'll call you back. When he does, he says that he originally priced a mid-grade light brown granite per the contractor's instructions, and the Lapidus granite will cost your client an extra $3,000. That's how it happens.

Update: Turns out the granite installer was lying and the contractor really did give a complete set of drawings to the granite installer, who "overlooked the specifications" and priced cheaper granite for whatever reason. The contractor is now pressuring the granite guy to eat the difference. May not happen that way. It's their dispute. The owner personally selected the Lapidus granite and the bid is the bid.

This is also how it happens:

You are the architect and you specify all the plumbing fixtures down to the exact make and model. The million dollar house is bid and the contract for construction is signed at a fixed price. Then one day you get a phone call from the contractor asking if you and/or the clients might review the plumbing schedule once more before the plumber orders the fixtures. Your client does this and decides to change a couple of the fixtures. In the meantime, prices have gone up 25% between the end of 2005, when the plumber pre-ordered the fixtures at a locked-in price, and Spring of 2006. Rather than re-pricing only the fixtures that were changed by the client and keeping all the other fixtures at the locked-in 2005 prices, the plumber re-prices everything at the inflated 2006 prices. After great gnashing of teeth because of the unexpectedly huge cost increase (this is where the client writes, "You are an idiot" in an email), you as the architect finally figure out what happened, and the plumber doesn't get his $1,500 windfall profit as he'd hoped. That is how it happens.

Update: The contractor has been disputing this all week with the plumber, who still isn't budging for whatever reason. So it looks like the contractor will be forced to eat the difference between the 2005 and 2006 prices on the fixtures that didn't change.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Where Are the Internet's Wires?

I was randomly perusing the world wide web (okay, nothing I do is random), when I came across a remarkable essay on the actual physical network of wires and such comprising said web. Since I like to share, you might check it out here. Here's an excerpt in the meantime:
...a map of the United States, showing major fiber optic cable lines across the continental US in multiple colors and line patterns. Many parts of the country, especially in the midwest and intermountain west, had large areas where no fiberoptic lines ran, and great expanses of white space filled the map. Other states were more intensively wired.

Studying the pattern of the lines a bit closer, I noticed that the backbones of the Information Superhighway followed an interesting pattern, matching the Interstate Highway System. Makes sense, I suppose; easements are easier to obtain, and it’s simpler to lay new cable where there are no houses, business, or farms to disrupt and the highways already connect the major population centers...
But when the highway builders of fifty year ago planned their routes, where did they decide to lay these vast and endless ribbons of concrete ? Why, they ran them alongside the vast and endless ribbons of steel that had been laid down by their kindred spirits, the railroad builders, a century before.
It makes perfect sense that all the internet's cables and fiber optics would follow the Interstate Highways, doesn't it? And it makes perfect sense that the Interstates followed the railroad lines, doesn't it? And it makes perfect sense... aw heck, there's too much to tell. Go read it for yourself.
This guy did his homework.

Shortest Movie Review

I saw the film V For Vendetta with my best girl Saturday night. And it was every bit as good and thought-provoking as I'd hoped. Heck, more.

Speaking of more, you can read more of my deep and penetrating thots here.

And for good measure, when done there, you might try this amazing review. Buckle up.

Peak Oil Brain, Part II

I have Peak Oil on the brain again after writing about it once before, but this time it came upon me because of an interesting article that you can read by clicking here. It's a list of the top ten best prepared cities in the US when it comes to withstanding the economic and quality of life shocks brought about by a significant oil crisis.

The top ten best prepared cities are, in order:
1. New York, NY
2. Boston, MA
3. San Francisco, CA
4. Chicago, IL
5. Philadelphia, PA
6. Portland, OR
7. Honolulu, HI
8. Seattle, WA
9. Baltimore, MD
10. Oakland, CA
The worst prepared city? Oklahoma City. Of course.

Why? According to the story...
Of all the factors considered in the ranking, mobility is most important. All ten cities listed by SustainLane boast strong public transportation networks, which would allow citizens to commute to jobs and schools, as well as do their shopping, if car travel is not affordable. The ranking also takes into account factors such as access to locally-grown fresh food and robust wireless networks for telecommuting.
Everything I've read to date indicates that living in big cities will be sheer misery during the next oil crisis. But maybe that comes afterwards...

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Just a Taste...

Here are the latest photo updates of the masterpiece designed by Yours Truly.

You can click on the photos to see larger versions, as usual.

The photo on top is in the walk-out basement showing plates on the floor where future walls shall reside. Windows have not yet been cut in the walls. Yeah, it's just a stupid basement, but I like the composition of lines and light in the photo.

The photo below is looking down the center of the first floor. 5"x18" glue-laminated beams (or glu-lams) span from front to back of the house -- just a first salvo in a soon-to-be-realized explosion of Arts & Crafts beauty.

I might have to be careful in revealing too much in the near future because I expect the house to be thoroughly recognizable within its neighborhood quite soon, and thus risk having my secret identity exposed. Can't have that. Expecially if I continue to reveal juicy tidbits such as my client emailing me this past week, telling me as succinctly as possible, "You are an idiot." Those four words were the entire content of the email. Of course I did not deserve such praise, and of course he backed off from such characterizations in subsequent emails throughout the week.

In fairness, the man's under all the stress in the world (I can't detail why, but trust me here) and he decided to vent at me that particular day. I do not and shall never forgive him.

This is a Transaction I Would Approve

I note this factoid not out of partisanship -- though I am partisan as hell -- but because of my recent post concerning the design of the Eiffel Tower in the late nineteenth century.

Here goes.

The United States national debt of $9 trillion represents so much money that one could buy 28 life-size Eiffel Towers made of purest gold with that stack of IOUs. Click the London Times link and read for yourself here. That's about $321 billion per tower. Iraq already got theirs. I would also put one up in New Orleans and let the locals carve it up as needed.

Think of the 15% architectural design fees for one of those babies!

Friday, March 24, 2006

The Most Social of Senses

Preface: It's been nearly a week since I added or updated anything to The Big Blog. I can only make excuses like "I've been rilly busy", "I've been dealing with a lot of work-related crises" and, "I just haven't felt up to it." We all know those are lousy excuses -- particularly if you're one of the dozen or so regular readers who depend on The Big Blog for intellectual sustenance. Or a good laugh. Whatever. Still, except for saying that I'm sorry, those excuses are all I can offer. Maybe some day I'll tell you more about it. Until then...

When I was an architecture student waaaay back in the '80s, all of us in design studio had to reach into a hat and pull out a handicap. Depending on our selection, we had to roam around the campus in lieu of a four-hour design studio (MW&F) dealing with an imaginary handicap, experiencing the experiences, and then writing about it afterwards.

Some got broken legs with crutches, some got to be paraplegic and chug around in a wheelchair, some were blind and had to require assistance from others to navigate about. Me? I was hoping for the chance to be blind because my grandmother was blind and since I spent a good deal of my youth assisting her in every way, I thought I had a lot to offer in the way of insights (pun intended). But no. I got to be deaf for an afternoon.

After being fitted with earplugs and then really large and tight headphones, I couldn't hear a thing. Not one tiny distant sound. While everyone else had fun with their handicaps, helping and joking and encouraging each other, we deaf few were pretty much left to fend for ourselves. People kept smiling at us and trying to talk to us. Then they would realize that they were being stupid and forgetful. After an embarrassed grin and shrug, and perhaps a little futile charades, they would give up and walk away leaving us, once again, totally alone.

Hearing is the Social Sense -- far more than sight or touch or any of the 13 senses.

13 senses?! I thought there were only five, you ask. Sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. And ESP doesn't count!

You're right.

But you're not finished, I answer in my know-it-all ways. You're forgetting balance. Yes, balance is a sense. You're forgetting thermoception, the sense of heat or lack thereof. You're also overlooking nociception, the sense of pain, and proprioception, or the sense of bodily awareness. That gives us nine senses. What are the final four? Well, I answer, digging my toes into the sand sheepishly, humans don't actually possess the last four, but other animals do, so they count as senses. They include: magnetoception, electroception, echolocation, and pressure detection. If you would like to read more about them, go here. Otherwise, let's go back to my story...

Sound is the Social Sense. Without it, we are cut off from 90% (or 75% or 95% or whatever, but it's huge) of communication with others around us. Sure, there's sign language and visual cues and body language and and and. But the thing I learned that afternoon was that without light and seeing, we are cut off from a vast array of physical inputs, orientation within our surroundings, and various stimulation around us. We are in the dark, as scary as that thought may be. It's certainly unnerving to consider. But without sound, one is locked within his or her own little world where communication and the sharing of ideas and thoughts and the verbalizing of experience and wisdom becomes very very difficult and limited. One becomes very alone.

My wife's father has had poor hearing for decades now, relying on hearing aids to be able to talk to people or to watch The Jim Lehrer News Hour at maximum volume. Even then, for him to carry on a conversation could often be very challenging and exhausting. Same with the rest of us. The added concentration he had to devote to listening made communication a chore at times. Or at least that's the way it appeared to me at times. My wife often said he had trouble hearing, but I said -- perhaps a little less sympathetic than I should have, considering my own semi-deafness as a child -- that at times he had trouble listening too. Both my wife and I noticed that he seemed to be listening less and less these past few months and years.

Until he got himself a new set of high-tech hearing aids. His old hearing aids, it turned out, were something like 20 years old! But the new ones pulled him right back into the Social Scene, my wife says. While I haven't had a chance to talk to him since he received the new hearing aids, my wife says that her father is practically chatty! Frightening thought, that one.

Yet, that proves it to me once and for all that because sharing stories, memories, and experiences with others is one of the huge differences between us humans and all other life forms on the planet, and since we must consider the shared culture and accrued societal memories in the forms of laws, education, art, religion, philosophy, science, and everything to be the best part of humanity, Sound,
which makes it all possible,
is utterly and indispensably the most Social and therefore most valuable Sense.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Creative Work is an Oxymoron

In a story written by -- you can't make this stuff up -- "Candy" Sagon, The Washington Post reports that the latest generation has become culinarily illiterate:
At a conference last December, Stephen W. Sanger, chairman and chief executive of General Mills Inc., noted the sad state of culinary affairs and described the kind of e-mails and calls the company gets asking for cooking advice: the person who didn't have any eggs for baking and asked if a peach would do instead, for example; and the man who railed about the fire that resulted when he thought he was following instructions to grease the bottom of the pan — the outside of the pan.
Gathering and sharing these kinds of anecdotes are probably quite common among people who answer questions all day for a living. But still, this reminds me of a story. Of course everything reminds me of a story since I am so experienced and wise. But that's another story.

For the last 27 years I've done ALL our household's cooking. When my wife once complained decades ago that I wasn't doing my fair share of the housework and I brought up the cooking in defense, she exclaimed, "that doesn't count because that's creative work," implying that it doesn't count because it's fun. It seems that work's only work when it's... well... work.

When my wife's sister, who does all the housework in her household -- including the cooking -- heard about this, she got quite upset with my wife and came to my defense in a big way. Since then, my wife has given me
full credit for the cooking.

Still, reflecting about all this, I seem to now be doing ALL the housework since I work out of my own home. Damn, I gotta re-think this...

Correction: I do MOST of the cooking, not all of it, as my wife cooks up a mean sesame chicken, a scrumptious chicken-cucumber-macaroni salad, and the occasional taco dinner. So, yes, in addition to my know-it-all ways, it can be said that I've exaggerated once or twice.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

There Is Another...Sky...Walk...urk

At 2,213 feet, the Burj Dubai Tower (the larger photo on the left) is supposed to be the world's tallest building when completed in 2008. This would make it 537 feet taller than the Freedom Tower in New York City (above and to the right), which is designed to stand at 1,776 feet. The Freedom Tower, which is to replace the World Trade Center, is scheduled for completion in 2010. You can click on the photos shown to see larger renderings. Also note, per our previous discussion on this subject, that the rendering of the Burj Dubai shows no context whatsoever (clouds don't count, though they are really NICE clouds).

There are those who are calling for yet another redesign of the Freedom Tower (you did know about the first redesign, didn't you?) so that it won't be dwarfed by the Burj Dubai, located -- wouldn't you know it? -- in the United Arab Emirates. What a joke all this struttin' has become. In the meantime, other "World's Tallest Towers" are being planned and constructed in Hong Kong and mainland China. I suppose Malaysia, Singapore, and Japan have something in the planning stages too.

By the way, Burj Dubai simply means "Dubai Tower", and the design, which I find to be quite graceful, is based on a six-petaled desert flower -- a concept that sounds poetic to these ears. At least the design was based on something, which is an idea too often lost on most American architecture -- although to be fair, both towers were designed by the same American architecture firm, SOM. Go figure. In case you wonder, I don't much care for the design of the Freedom Tower (partly because it insisted on being too reminiscent of the original plain and monolithic WTC towers, and mostly because I know the new design's history and know what "might have been". Yet another unbuilt masterpiece.)

Make No Small Plans, Part II

Progress progresses, as is its nature.

This week marks the beginning of framing as it took four men to lay out the wall locations in the basement. The basement floor will be exposed stained concrete -- radiantly heated, of course. There are a small pile of six concrete samples at the left of the photo that will be used in testing out floor stain samples. The view to which the back of the house is oriented is spectacular and well worth the $250K cost of the two-acre site. However, all the area around the house footprint needed to be de-vegetated -- temporarily.

It may look small from this angle, but the basement is approximately 30' x 40' or 1,200 square feet. The first and second floors will also each be about 1,200 sq. ft. too, for a total usable area of 3,600 sq. ft., not counting about 800 sq. ft. of covered decks and patios, and not counting the 1,000 sq. ft. garage. Not so big, not so small.

While I was on site today, the four men shown here glued one of the wall plates down onto the finished concrete slab and then realized that it was in the wrong spot. So they quickly pulled it up and reglued it to the correct location. They decided to let the old glue dry before trying to remove it from the concrete. And all I could do was worry that they had messed up the floor finish. But did I make a stink? Not yet. I'll give them every chance to clean it up properly.

The front of the house faces to the right, towards the street, while the back of the house -- a walk-out basement -- faces left in the photo. Lots of decks and patios and Arts & Crafts touches, when finished. A three-car detached garage will be beyond and to the left of the house. I'll keep you posted...

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Unbuilt Projects: Death & Rebirth in the Desert

I'm starting a new series on Unbuilt Projects. For example, decades ago, The Architect designed an information center and administrative office for a new community at the edge of the Mohave Desert -- he called his design The Ship of the Desert, to house a theater/meeting room, an exhibit area, and staff and public spaces. Designed to mimic a sail, fluttering in the breeze, it was meant to serve as a visual focus and create a desert preserve and gateway facility.

Unfortunately, as is the case with about half of most projects that architects design, it was never built.

However, in the 90's and in another desert halfway around the world, another building was designed and built to mimic a sail as you can see below... By the way, this is not the "other Skywalker" that Yoda was referring to in my previous post. The other is yet to come.

Howard's Blog of Fame: Big Piles of Cash

Since the United Arab Emirates has been in the news lately, I thought it appropriate to mention the Burj al-Arab ("The Tower of the Arabs"), a somewhat new hotel (new in the sense that I'll bet you never knew it existed before now) located on its own island off the coast of Dubai. First off, at 1,053 feet tall, it's the tallest hotel in the world and only 200 feet shorter than the Empire State Building. Think about that for a moment while gazing at the rendering and the photo above -- I'll wait........

Second, the Burj al-Arab is the most expensive hotel in the world as an overnight stay will cost you between $1,000 and $15,000 a night -- tips, meals, limousine, and helicopter not included. Start saving now. Located on one side of the top of the hotel is a circular cantilevered helipad where tennis pros Roger Federer and Andre Agassi played an exhibition match last year. Wonder how many tennis balls they lost? Wonder how many ball boys they lost!

While the hotel opened for big business in 1999, the cost of construction has never been publicly announced. But if one lived in the land of Cost-Is-No-Object, I suppose it's considered rude to publicly wonder about such earthbound matters. Still, it's nice to hope that perhaps some UAE prince may chance upon this blog, be swayed by the Charms and Talents of Howard, and fly him (me) to Dubai to talk about a Cost-Is-No-Object Dreamhome.

A boy can dream, can't he?

While you continue to be amazed and impressed by the sail-like qualities of this lovely sculptural hotel, please be aware that -- in the words of Yoda -- "there is another...Sky...walk....urk."

More to come soon enough.

More on Mansard Roofs

About a month ago, I posted a lecture on the historic origins and merits of the Mansard Roof. In ways most subtle, it appears to have been my greatest success so far. Although if we're measuring by the number of comments posted, then my pre-Oscar silliness on my love of The Movies and growing giddiness over the film, V for Vengeance, which is being released this Friday, was my chef-d'oeuvre. Though to be technical about it, a post about movies on a blog dedicated to architecture is a bit outside my "oeuvre", if I do say so myself. That's why I consider my Mansard post to truly be my greatest Why Howard Laughed blog effort so far. As a matter of fact, at least half a dozen people and counting have found this blog by Googling "Mansard Roofs". Whatever gets them in the door...

Which brings me, in typical indirect fashion, around to the point of this post. In the comments of the Mansard post, someone recently posed an interesting question, which inspired my usual long-winded, curiously unresponsive, and know-it-all answer. I re-post both question and answer prominently for all to see. Here goes:
Luke S.: A little Q&A (I've got the Q). Is it correct as Second Empire Mansard roofs go, to have any section of the upper hip roof flat? I'm adding on to my house but local codes wont let me go high enough to raise the ridge when I make the house wider. To keep the same angles everywhere I would need a 6' wide section at the top to be flat. Any advice would be appreicated.

Howard, your modest moderator: (I'll take the A). To be technically correct, there ain't no such thing as a flat roof, or at least there shouldn't be. So while the upper facet of Mansard roofs often may appear to be flat, they really aren't. Low-slope roofs--where the slope is 1/4"/foot minimum, enabling water to run off quickly rather than linger around and find a way inside your house--are still very doable and possible with house projects. I myself designed an addition to a turn-of-the-century Victorian house three years ago that had a low-slope roof with a single-ply membrane system over a few inches of fire-proofed polyisocyanurate insulation. However, it wasn't building codes that I had to wrestle with, but zoning laws. In this particular case, the neighborhood was zoned with an historic character in mind, necessitating minimum slopes of something like 5:12 (5" rise per 12" run -- see? high school geometry does have its applications). To keep from blocking the one good window on the second floor that looked out over the nicely landscaped backyard, I recommended and designed an addition with a low-sloped roof and deep overhangs for sun control and general aesthetics. This meant a visit to my clients' zoning board, which was meeting to hear monthly zoning variance appeals. They looked at my design, listened to my rationale for the low-slope roof, pronounced it an excellent solution, and granted the variance. Piece of pie. Of course, your zoning requirements may vary. Three last caveats: While single-ply membrane roofing systems are just about the best low-slope roofing system going, they may not be recommended in your area for residential projects, and the warranty may not apply for this reason. Second, usable deck space over an addition is typically not permitted by many zoning laws in residential neighborhoods, except possibly over porches and sometimes garages. And even then, don't be walking on a singly-ply roofing system if you can help it. While the rubber membrane is tough as nails, it can still be punctured. And then all is lost.
As you might notice, I went off on a tangent about low-slope roofs, completely overlooking Luke's concerns about designing a roof that didn't get too tall. To keep it reeelly brief, a Mansard Roof might work handily for what Luke has in mind -- assuming that the "Mansard look" works.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Spring Break!

Update (3/15/06): We're back... and what a disaster. The less said the better. Hope the tow truck guy enjoys a fine porterhouse or three on us after I avoided crashing into a bus full of teenaged Texas Methodists sitting crossways in the middle of an icy road by expertly steering into a snow drift. That this kind of stuff truly does happen in slow motion doesn't matter one bit when the only options are to hit people, hit the bus, or hit the ditch. I chose wisely, though at some cost.

It's THAT time of year again -- Spring Break! I don't know why they call it spring break when winter hasn't even officially started in our part of the country.

Once, three years ago, we went to Hawaii for a week of spring break, and the pilot on the flight back warned us about the blizzard we were about to encounter. When we walked out the airport, we were still dressed for surfing as none of us was wearing a coat of any self-respect. So I had to run to our car, clear it off, and drive up to the front door of the airport to get the others. We barely made it home as the blizzard intensified, and then we sat snow-bound for the next three days, unable to dig our way out of our house. True story. And that was in mid-March, when winter traditionally and forcefully announces its presence.

I don't expect that to happen quite so bizarrely this year -- especially since we are only driving four hours instead of flying 12 -- but still we have learned to be wary of the words "Spring Break".

We'll be gone for three brief days and so I won't be updating the blog. In the meantime, here is another photo from the relocated friend. I can't make heads or tails of what's going on, but for some reason I hear Hendrix and the National Anthem off in the distance, and smell the faint whisps of burning Fender guitar.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Howard's Grab Bag of Fun, Part III

Here are two items that just had to be blogged as part of the Grab Bag of Fun, because neither of them were long enough to merit their own post:
  • The contractor who's building my Arts & Crafts masterpiece sent me an email about two hours ago telling me that he had a nice talk today with a certified wood flooring inspector -- sort of a CSI of hardwood, if you will. This certified guy filled my contractor's head with horror stories about the failures of bamboo flooring over radiant floor slabs. So he came to me with worry in his email voice, asking if the owner and I might not reconsider. Now you don't know the history behind this design decision of ours, and all the months of research and frustrated cul-de-sacs I have gone through to ensure that my specifications for the bamboo flooring over radiant floor heating system would meet all installation requirements that the bamboo flooring manufacturer and local installer could think up. It's the one aspect of the specs where I nailed "due diligence" down with a 22-ounce framing hammer. I kinda wrote a long and empassioned treatise--in email form--back to the contractor letting him know that all the specifics in the specifications MUST be followed because all of them are important requirements to ensure that the bamboo floor stays put. Back to the certified guy he surely will scurry.
  • A friend of mine recently put her condo on the market and moved her belongings -- which include two ferrets named George and Emma -- from the neighborhood megalopolis to a whole other megalopolis. We wish her well, especially with her new job, which, interestingly enough is in the field in which she earned her college degree -- interior design. Why is this interesting, the wiser guys among you will ask? Because after college, she has been working for something like eight years in architecture offices doing the Work of Architects. Of course she could never become a licensed architect for reasons that I described in this post from an earlier era of Why Howard Laughed. But she was--and still is--smart enough to pick up on all the things that an architectural intern learns while putting in those long years of "interning." Simply put: She never worked in an interior design office before now. I'm sure she'll be quite good at it, and working all those years in architecture offices just HAD TO LOOK GOOD on her resume, don't you think? Finally, I couldn't resist giving her some advice for her new job. For you know: I am not just a know-it-all; I am THE know-it-all, as she (and my wife and kids) will surely attest. This was my advice: Everyone is insecure about color selection. So when you as a designer propose a color palette or two to a client, do it with extreme confidence and assurance. That's it. By the way, that advice is #27 on my list of The 50 Most Valuable Bits of Advice to New Design Professionals. The photo above? Oh, just a little something she took a week ago and sent to 200 of her best friends in the whole world. A typical American streetscape that I can't quite place. Has sort of a Jetsons feel to it, donchuthink?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

I Live For Comments Like These

It's true -- I've got an ego problem. For example, if someone compliments me, I go all soft and squishy inside and immediately look for ways to pay them back with interest. Further example: In my post from nearly a week ago, Don't Get Between An Architect and His Movietime, some anonymous soul decided to be really nice to me. This person wrote in the comments section:
I came to this blog via tbogg or some such place because I had an architect question. Why do they (architects) never call up a year or so later and say how is it working out? What do you like best. What is not working. etc. ect. Especially for public buildings. I feel much could be learned by these questions.

I got so charmed by your posts, I read them all. Very funny. I agree with you on everything. I had some friends who built a vanity house. Everything was custom. I am not sure how much it cost--it was in the early 90's. Their mortgage payment was $11,000 per mo. I do know that. They lived in it 8 months before they realized that they hated everything about it--the great room, the master suite, the kids wing. Fortunately they sold it before the dot com bubble burst. They built another house--nothing custom that was 2500 sq ft.-- and lived happily ever after. Keep up the wonderful posts sir.
Now wouldn't you consider a visit by someone who freely handed out those kinds of compliments a great reward for the six or seven weeks of work I've put into this blog? I do. And here is my response:
Those phone calls to past clients one or more years later are considered to be very instructive and valuable to architects (and to their clients, particularly if they work in the public realm). And yet as you say, architects do not take advantage of those learning opportunities as much as they should. Those post-mortems are actually called Post Occupancy Evaluations, and all architects know of them. But still they don't follow through often enough. I know I haven't.

In my practice as a custom home designer, Post Occupancy Evaluations would be especially helpful and even fun as reunions.

Although I started out designing everything commercial under the sun -- educational, ecclesiastical, commercial office and retail, large and small recreational, and lots of healthcare related work -- when I started my own firm, I consciously and intentionally chose to focus on custom residential because that's where my heart wanted to be since first deciding to become Architect.

With residential design, the number of decisions per dollar spent in construction increased ten-fold, the amount of my compensation per decision made dropped equivalently, and the emotion levels and the amount of hand-holding increased exponentially! And still I'm loving it. So far anyway.

Thank you for the kind words about my writing. I've always had a good feel for ways to charm and entertain readers, while also keeping my stories focused. I used to write news and sports copy for mediocre pay when I was much younger, and I enjoyed that work. Fortunately, I decided to get myself a real occupation and scrapped the newsie crap in time to save my soul.

An $11,000 per month mortage would be what one would expect with a $2 million house to be owned by someone making half-a-million a year, assuming they didn't inherit their wealth. I would love to design a house with a massive budget someday, but all my clients so far seem to like the idea of keeping their mortgages under $5,000 a month, which limits their construction costs to something at or under $1 million. For high-quality custom homes in our particular region of the country, this gives us a target of something around 3,000 square feet above ground, and a finished walk-out basement if the lot's characteristics cooperate. Still fairly modest (and comfortable) by some of the standards of Filthy Richness on public display.

One architecture professor once said -- I seem to be quoting a lot of professors on this blog -- an architect is fortunate if he/she has one client throughout his/her career who gives him/her total freedom to design to his/her heart's content. So far I'm still in training for that client.

Hope you keep in touch. Thanks again!
Yeah, I'm feeling the love tonight!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Lovely Images, Part IV -- The Trek Touring Bike

Update, 3/9/06: My wife and I just found out this morning that we have been selected via the lottery to Ride the Rockies in June. This six-day 419-mile tour through Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico will surely test our middle-aged bodies and minds, but we are thrilled and curiously optimistic. We are also riding in the Tour de Wyoming in July, which is a six-day 350-mile trek through northern Wyoming and the Big Horn Mountains. Can't wait! Now back to our regularly scheduled blog...

I am now in the habit of riding my bike for at least an hour every damned day. Unfortunately, the bike I ride is not the Trek 520 Touring Bike pictured here. I ride a Raleigh Hybrid Passages 3.0 that weighs 38 pounds and squeeks. As Secretary Rumsfeld tells us, "you ride with the bike you have, not the bike you wish you had." Since my daily average on my squeeky bike is anywhere from 14 mph with my best girl to 20 mph when I bike alone, I cover at least 14 miles a day, and more often 20 miles.

On Sunday, we rode together (key word) for nearly three hours and traversed 38 miles -- the longest ride we've done together since we started cycling last October. We ran out of Gatoraide and Powerbars after two-and-a-half hours and pooped out with about five miles still to go. While the jogger's term is "hit the wall", the cyclist's term is "bonk". We bonked hard.

The science behind our bonk is that the muscles and liver can only hold enough glycogen to sustain hard aerobic cycling lasting about two-and-a-half hours. Glycogen is the stored energy used by the muscles to do work without having to rely on converting food in the digestive system into energy while on the fly. However, after you run out of glycogen, the body switches over to operating on straight glucose in the bloodstream coming from the food you eat and drink while exercising. Since we ran out, we bonked. Gotta love science, even when it works against you.

Fortunately for our workout routine, the state we live in has benefitted from a phenomenally mild winter -- so mild that it hardly deserves the designation of winter. Taking advantage of the wonderful weather, I've personally travelled over 1,800 miles in those 22 weeks, despite the occasional snow showers and more frequent locomotive freak winds. I used to hate the wind and all hills, but no more.

Five months ago, the pain and discomfort after a typical riding session was horrendous and the flop sweat was embarrasing. Today, I barely break a sweat or even have to open my mouth to breath heavily unless I get my heart rate above 155 beats per minute, which only happens now by accelerating above and sustaining over 22 mph on flat ground, or by climbing more than 200 yards of 7% grade.

Yes, I've lost lots of weight and added muscles where before there were none to be found. But more importantly, I've found a form of exercise that I love to do everyday. I love to share that exercise with my best girl and it gives me great pride and joy to be this good at something athletic again instead of just watching my sons play baseball or tennis. Because I'm a jock at heart. Yes, I confess it. I've just been hiding it under 50 pounds of excess me for the last 15 years.

My old me is baaaack!

Lovely Images, Part III

I'm fond of telling clients who ask me "can we do this?" that with enough money you can do anything. I'm not lying when I say it. Still, I've yet to meet the client who says, "well, then let's do it." Looks like this architect met that client. Lucky stiff.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Ugly to the Bone

Someone once said that beauty is skin-deep but ugly goes all the way to the bone.

While I didn't say it explicitly, I hope I certainly implied (or should that be inferred? no, I think "implied" is correct)...I hope I implied that the Louisville 61-story building ensemble designed by the Rem Koolhaas firm was freakin' ugly. Or as Dena in comments said using shorthand, "God, that's fugly." You did understand that was my intent, too, right? I just couldn't find the words that came so easily to Dena.

Now to the meat of the matter: What makes something ugly? Or even worse -- fugly?

One architecture professor of mine from 20 years back said -- and I'm sure he was plagiarizing someone else as architects have no original ideas of their own -- that ugly is just shorthand for "unfamiliar". The best example of this principle in action, he said, was demonstrated by the reception to the design for Paris's Eiffel Tower.

Immediately upon publically announcing the design for the Eiffel Tower, it was widely and snidely panned by artists, architects, and their belovedly crotchety critics.
It was considered ugly, crude, and clumsily proportioned -- everything Parisians despise and live to condescend to.

Despite the horrible reception, the Tower was completed in March 1889 for the "Universal Exposition" to celebrate France's 100th Anniversary of the French revolution. Designed and built by Gustave Eiffel, the only reason it was tolerated by the public during planning was because the Exposition Committee promised that it would be torn down immediately following the Exposition's conclusion. Instead, by the completion of construction, the criticism had burnt itself out as the grace and beauty of the Gothically-inspired and groundbreaking system of "Expression of Structure" became obvious for all to see. And yes, nearly all did see it as over two million visitors visited the Eiffel Tower in 1889. An immediate success, the Eiffel Tower survived the wrecking ball and went on to become the architectural centerpiece for the World's Fair of 1900 (pictured above).

The point was -- as the architecture prof said, gently returning to his thesis -- that the Eiffel Tower was initially considered to be ugly because it was such an unfamiliar design in an unfamiliar aesthetic style and form of expression.

Ugly's just another word for nothing left to compare to. Or something like that.

And then about a decade ago, my wife's parents gave me a book for my birthday that had as its central thesis the scientific and objective assertion that beauty was based on a classic Greek-inspired biological proportioning system that can be perceived subconsciously by the mind's eye: You may have heard of the Fibonacci series and the Golden Section? Click on the link to figure out what the heck I'm talking about. Or don't. In the meantime, I need to find that book and re-read it.

So the bloggy question is: Is ugly, as the French demonstrated, a subjective matter of unfamiliarity determined individually by unsophisticated hicks like us who clearly don't know any better? Or is it a matter of the science of good and bad proportions, much the way a human face that is subtly (or grossly) asymmetrical is said by edumacated types to be considered ugly by objective though not yet fully understood standards?

And so we return full-circle to My Original Question: Is the new Louisville building as butt-ugly as I think it is, or is it as butt-ugly as it truly is, regardless of my personal opinion? Once we answer this, we'll be able to take on the "tree falls in the forest, but does it make a sound?" puzzle. Stay tuned.

P.S. Happy birthday dear Alex and Old Man!

Friday, March 03, 2006

Holy Mutha of God

I'm speechless. Fortunately, James Howard Kunstler is not.
"Can you fail to be impressed by the malignant stupidity of this building proposed for downtown Louisville, the 61-story Museum Plaza, designed by Rem Koolhaas's Office of Metropolitan Architecture?... Its attitude to its urban context -- just off Louisville's Main Street -- is so disrespectful that the context is left out altogether in the rendering above. You'd think all that remained of Louisville a few years from now is a post-atomic-blast hardpan desert."

It's Heeeeeere

Mark your calendars. History is here. According to the New York Times and the blog, The Oil Drum, we human beings have probably passed or may be passing the point of Peak Oil right about now. [Update: The Times editorial only appeared in the online version, not in the printed version of The Times. Chickenshits.]

Don't know what Peak Oil is? Well, for starters, you can read about it in some detail here (be sure to click on the links at the bottom of the page.) An even more alarming tutorial can be found here. Or you can let me give you the condensed version.

For the past 50+ years, it has been noted by oilmen that any oil well produces lots of oil for a while, depending on the size of the oil well, until production reaches a peak before beginning an inevitable and even predictable decline. When production is charted over time, the production curves of oil wells look something like bell curves. When the combined oil production for a given country, say the U.S.A., is charted, you get the same bell curve, with maximum production having already been reached in December 1970. One oilman in the 1950's predicted that this would happen, even giving the date, though at the time he was scoffed at and ignored. Until it actually happened exactly as predicted. (Recall Gandhi's famous quote: "
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, then you win.") That's when some bright people went back to read more about what this oilman, M. King Hubbert, had to say on the subject. When they applied his methodology to world oil production, a variety of dates have been predicted for maximum world oil production -- or Peak Oil -- anywhere from the early 1980's to 2020. Hubbert himself predicted world Peak Oil to occur between 1995 and 2000, though oil conservation efforts of the 1970's hadn't begun yet, plus the North Sea oil fields and the extent of Russian oil had not yet been discovered. These three events bought us more time.

The most important issue to be aware of is that there are two peaks we need to be concerned with:
1) when worldwide oil production peaks, and,
2) when worldwide demand for oil threatens to exceed maximum supply production capabilities. This can happen regardless of whether Peak Oil has come and gone.

For the past couple of years, supply and demand have been in such a tenuous dance that any modest disruption in world supply has threatened to send prices skyward. When this happens, prices rise worldwide to mitigate demand through conservation efforts. But when 1) happens, all bets will be off as supply worldwide will begin to decline by up to or exceeding 6% per year -- a drop-off much more catastrophic than can be mitigated by simple conservation efforts.

European governments such as Great Britain have already designed emergency rationing systems to be implemented in this eventuality. However, in the U.S.A., policy was set in concrete by Dick Cheney, when he said, "the American way of life is not negotiable." Think about that for a moment. Since Iraq has the second largest oil reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia, doesn't it kinda make you all warm inside to know that we currently occupy Iraq and have started building those massive and permanent military bases? Just don't go blabbing to all your friends and family that we invaded Iraq for its oil. That's still a national security secret, plus it's a non-starter in political arguments. I know. I've tried.

So... closer to home, what are the implications for Life in These United States during the next, say, 40 years? Not so good. For example, the opening sentence in the alarming website I linked to above reads, "Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon." Yikes? Oh yes. Also, people like James Howard Kunstler and Richard Heinberg have already written extensively on the subject. I recommend you also read Kunstler's blog to get a free weekly taste of his alarmist crankiness.

Speaking as an architect, what would I say will be the implications on our individual lives, on architectural design, and on city planning? One great resource of articles can be found here. Some day soon, I'll be posting my own thoughts on those interesting subjects. Lotta changes on the horizon, lotta changes.

From the lyrics of Neil Young's latest CD, Prairie Wind:
An old man walks along the sidewalk
with sunglasses and an old Stetson hat,
fall winds blow the back of his overcoat away
as he stops with a policeman to chat,
and a train rolls out of the station,
that was really somethin' in its day,
pickin' up speed on the straight prairie rails
as it carries its passengers away.
It's gone
It's only a dream
and it's fading now
fading away
It's a dream
It's only a dream
just a memory
without anywhere to stay.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Today's Homily: Media Content via Bloggers

I went a bit off-topic yesterday talking about my movie addiction. But like I said in one of my earliest posts, "My blog. Mine. Mine." So here we go again...

My best girl went to a presentation today by the CEO of the company she works for. She's an editor for a magazine -- one of scores that the publishing conglomerate puts out. And this is what she had to say about the CEO's presentation, with slight revisions within brackets to protect secret identities:
The presentation was interesting. I expected the CEO to be a silvery-haired guy -- instead he looked a little like the guy who is going to get married in the movie, Sideways, the good looking guy. He said good things about the company and there was no bad news. There are a heck of a lot of [genre] magazines [our company] puts out -- gotta be at least a hundred, in a huge array of areas. For the editorial groups that put them out he sees editors becoming, get this, "community builders," relying on "citizen journalists." Aka bloggers. Well, I know bloggers are doing a lot of great things (among them is your blog), but I think there are only so many good writers and good content experts out there and the rest are all wannabees. To me, it's just another hot topic that will be replaced in a few years with another gimmick of the month.
I found this to be an interesting comment. However, she doesn't read as many blogs as I do, so I had to respond:
There are a lot more brilliant bloggers out there than you know. I'm a real hack and a wannabee compared to these other thousands. Trust me. I could give you fifty links of absolutely talented bloggers so you can see and read for yourself. It's true that there are only so many of them, but they are the true trend-setters, cultural observers, and investigative journalists -- even discounting the tin-foil-hat-wearing freaks, the evidence-lacking dot-connectors, and the paranoid conspiracists. The writers working for newpapers and magazines, for the most part, have their jobs because they are conventional and predictable. The best and most promising aspect of all these bloggers is that they are not beholden to anyone. Newspaper reporters and editorial writers are all kept on a tight leash by their publishers, senior editors, and ad salesmen, and most of them are lazy and in-the-box thinkers to boot. The political bloggers, in particular, are an amazingly analytical, edgy, and insightful group and they do actual reporting and interviewing and in-depth investigations that rarely get reported by the MSM (mainstream media). For your CEO to say what he said is impressive and insightful, not a case of spouting the latest hot topic trendiness.
I am personally encouraged to hear that a CEO of a moderate-sized publishing empire is suggesting that bloggers could some day soon be contributing in a big way in the production of MSM content. There are truly thousands of bloggers out there who deserve a wider audience. My inner cynic might suggest that the CEO is only looking at the bottomline -- hiring freelance writers to produce copy is cheaper since the company doesn't have to provide training, benefits, etc. But cynicism ain't what it used to me for me.

The biggest problem that I can see is that once these bloggers begin to contract out their voices to publishing empires, they take that first step to becoming beholden and leashed -- and then conventional and predictable -- the classic slippery slope... at least that what the cynic inside me says. "Old and busted" habits of thinking are hard to break.