As usual I am writing as a reaction to the events that occur in my day-to-day life as an architect.

Call this a rant, but I’d like to think my reactions can educate as I share information. This profession seems to be far too enigmatic or mysterious for those who would want or need the services of an architect or a design professional. Let’s not keep people in the dark to how things work.

Before we begin, let’s set aside a few thoughts because I know they’re true and they can muddy the waters of today’s argument.

People don’t always listen to directions
People don’t like the rules, so they choose not to follow the rules
People don’t believe all of the rules apply to them
People hear what they want to hear

Now, with that understanding, let’s proceed.

It is common for us architects (or at least me as an architect) to get phone calls from frantic building owners or agitated prospective tenants that were led into the local building department (by choice or after a friendly letter threatening to shut down their operations) but not knowing why they have to go through a process for what seems like a simple thing to them. With assumptions stated previously, today I will focus on our side or the side of the building officials and making the process of code approval clear to building owners and tenants.


So in the case of my frantic phone caller, I conclude one of two things has happened. Either the local official does not understand or was willing to explain the nuances of the local building code or it never occurred to the person calling me that their occupancy of a building triggered any municipal regulation intervention (i.e. codes). Either way when they engage with their local municipality, I find it extremely important that they are given clear information on why they must comply and how they can comply with the building code.

By the way, I wrote about the other perspective back in 2013 when building owners do not want or are deliberately trying to avoid hiring a design professional.

Here’s an example of what I’m discussing today. A prospective tenant called me last week and relayed to me that the local officials told them they needed a ‘drawing’ with a seal on it before they could occupy their space – more specifically “take down the existing drywall in the space.”

If I was that tenant I would have no clue what any of that means. Frustration is one of three major sources of anger by the way.

I have gotten similar calls where someone stated “I need a drawing, I need a drawing, THEY told me I need a drawing.” However, this person does not know WHY they supposedly need a drawing, nor why is a drawing of their building necessary. What is so magical about a drawing?

0920 Floor Plan CD

My request to all municipal officials is this say nothing or say everything. Don’t be lazy. Explain things in non-industry jargon.

Say nothing: This can be effective if you simply say you need to hire an architect to evaluate your situation and guide you through this process before you come back and ask for a building permit. You’ve liberated yourself from trying to explain things to someone who might not understand or might not be listening (or might not care). You relieve yourself from what could be a long and painful discussion. Merely give them a direction and it’s up to them to go that way. They know they need an architect to assess their situation.

Say everything: If that is not an option, then say everything. You don’t need to take the place of being a design professional and I can appreciate that you don’t have all day to explain things. But the middle ground is dangerous. Applicants, building owners and tenants will take your word verbatim (or in some cases they will not hear you clearly), but they will assume that what you say is exactly what they must follow as opposed to the minimum amount in this process. All too often I hear “they said that all I need to do is…” Then I tell them that the code requires more. There’s that frustration thing again…and red faces with steam coming out of ears and…

When someone tells somebody they need a drawing with a seal on it, what does that mean? A drawing of what?


First of all, a drawing or a piece of paper or some graphic depiction of existing conditions is NOT what they’re looking for or at least it is the least of what they’re looking for in the submission. What they ARE looking for are documents (drawings), primarily graphic in nature, that demonstrate that your tenant space or your building or construction will be in compliance with the current building codes and regulations of that municipality when the project is complete.

Prior to making any drawings, the architect will need to assess your situation and determine what alterations or upgrades are required (or triggered) for your space for your use. The drawings or documents indicate the required changes that are derived from an evaluation or assessment. Consider it like a diagnosis, comparing the existing conditions against the building code. So a drawing that merely shows the building as it currently stands is not enough.


These construction drawings will include notes and details that reference applicable parts of the code or stipulate a construction minimum that must occur based on an earlier evaluation. Therefore, the term drawing is a gross oversimplification of what one needs. Used alone, it is quite confusing.

I can’t tell you how many times someone has called my office looking for that magic drawing as if it was some type of key to get to where they want. This is why I believe people often interpret this situation as a demand to spend money on something they really don’t want or don’t think they need, all in order to satisfy the government.

This is not healthy nor is it good for our profession.

I’d like to think that if an architect were given the chance to explain to such tenant or landlord or building owner the how and why of the situation, frustration would be reduced and we’d get another chance to demonstrate our value. We would also have a chance to demonstrate that we offer so much more – and that’s another post. For others, they won’t buy into it and that’s just too bad.

To the building officials who are explaining things well, thank you. But if you do work in the building department or are in a position of dealing with people who are needing to work through this process, my suggestion or request is say nothing or tell them everything. The rest is up to us architects to do our jobs to guide people on the path in a manner that is economic, efficient and hopefully enjoyable.

We all learned in Kindergarten that everyone must follow the rules…or you don’t get your snack.


photo of glasses photo credit: Daveography.ca via photopin cc

a day in the life…part 2

1 December 2014


Woke up, fell out of bed / Dragged a comb across my head/ Found my way downstairs and drank a cup / And looking up I noticed I was late…” That’s still a great song if you read my last post on this subject. It’s also not far off from how my mornings begin (well without the bus ride and a smoke).

Yes, this is another look at a day in the life of an architect. In this case it’s a sole proprietor architect who happens to have his office in his house. I just fell into a dream.

As stated a few years ago, I have always been fascinated with this topic. What do people really do all day? If you pour through the other blogs listed below, you’ll likely find that the life of an architect varies – and dramatically. If you’re considering a career in architecture, you might find that engaging, but I can’t say that even these few blogs represent the entire profession. I’m sure there are some whose days are quite routine and perhaps even monotonous. However, in my case each day is rarely the same. It’s how I like it.

What day should I choose? How to capture this subject is quite difficult. I knew I had to get this post out on time, so after this particular day was over, I made a few notes so I could return to it later. Here’s the news today, oh boy.

…this was Thursday, 20 November 2014

5:00 AM – Yes, it’s early and I get out of bed around this time. I shave first thing while I wait for my wife (who is already up) to finish her turn on the stationary bicycle. I get in there around 5:15 AM. Yikes – that’s early you’re thinking. After almost an hour on the stationary bike, it’s time to shower and move along.

6:30 AM – I’m cleaned up and ready to go. I get the joy of waking up my son each morning and we go down to eat breakfast together. I love this privilege of being self-employed. It’s time for breakfast and discussing the stats in the local newspaper’s sports page.

7:20 AM – I’ve just dropped off my son at school; now I return to my office and begin my day. This morning I sat down and worked through a series of hand sketches for a new restaurant expansion. I’ve been working back and forth between the computer and my drafting table. This morning it was just me, a roll of tracing paper and simple #2 pencils looking for solutions.

desk sketches

9:05 AM – I take a brief break from the action because I need to respond to a series of emails related to the historic and architectural review board I’m on. Perhaps it wasn’t the best time to break the flow of action, but one will find an architect’s day is often broken up with good and bad interruptions.

9:15 AM – I returned to the previous sketches and feverish work to finish because I need to scan them and send them to the client. I’m finding the pencil is smearing a bit, but that makes them endearing sketches.

9:50 AM – Knowing I have a meeting in just a few minutes, I finish the sketches, and begin to scan them. I wasn’t able to format them in a manner to email them to the client, so they’ll have to wait until later. Now I’m late and dashing off to a meeting downtown (Greensburg, that is). It’s a good thing it’s only five minutes away.

parking meter

10:07 AM – I arrive a few minutes late at my meeting after searching for a parking meter (that is the actual lot above). Fortunately, the people I’m supposed to meet about a new commercial project are in another meeting so I get away with being slightly late again. Oddly enough I run into several other people I know coming out of a meeting in the same office. It’s good to network. We finally start the meeting and review their project. They wish to pursue a schematic design for a renovation project they’re considering in their building. I convince them that they really need to answer broader questions first before getting into a design process. We discuss a feasibility study to answer questions they’ve not considered. They give me a tour of the empty spaces in the building and then I leave. Out into the cold I go back to my car.

12:10 PM – I returned back to my office intending to eat lunch but I make a common mistake by checking my email. I deal with a few of those and walk out of my office so that I can eat lunch before 1:00 PM. That is awful late for my routine, but sometimes our routines are broken. Did I mention that before?

1:15 PM – I no sooner wolf down some lunch and another client calls whom I was intending on calling any minute now. I’ll clean up dishes later. We discuss the preliminary cost estimates for a small addition to their home and strategize the next steps. This will require an email to them later as well. It never ends.

1:45 PM – A reality of having a studio in one’s home manifests itself. A friend stops by to drop off something so I stop and bring the boxes into the house.

2:00 PM – Wow, a text message to call someone really? I’m doing a pro bono renovation project for my church and I make a phone call to discuss issues related to moving that project along. The contract has been signed by the contractor, but there are logistical steps, colors and tile samples to review and other scheduling issues.

2:30 PM – I’m finally back to work and I get the restaurant sketches cleaned up and sent to the client. This requires an email of course and a request to meet or discuss them over a telephone conversation. At least that buys me some time on that project so I can jump onto yet another project.

3:00 PM – I have a unique opportunity to do illustration work for a new client for their retail candy shop. It’s a long story that I should return to later. However, I reach out to this client by telephone to discuss the project. This falls in the “+design” part of my firm’s name and returns me to my artist roots from years ago. This could be quite interesting.

4:30 PM – Time to change gears once more. I have a brief time slot to do a bit more detail research on the previously mentioned restaurant addition. I even do a bit of computer modeling. This will take me until the unofficial end of my day. A guy has to eat dinner with his family you know. That is very important.

Screenshot 2014-11-26 14.01.34

6:20 PM – Oddly enough I have a trustees meeting tonight while my wife and son are at youth group. I’ve been a trustee at my church for three years now. I was recently appointed head trustee – no I didn’t volunteer, but the spot was open and I’m not one to leave things open. Here is where I can use my skills as an architect to administer a process that has far reaching benefits (eternal y’know). It’s also connected to the pro bono project mentioned earlier. I’ve never mentioned it, but I’m sure I exceed the 1% that many architects vow to commit to pro-bono each year.

7:00 PM – The trustees meeting starts and I lead them through the agenda. Since my wife and son are in the other side of the building participating in youth group (as a leader and as a….youth). At least we’re sort of together. We get to drive to and fro together.

9:15 PM – We arrive home – finally. It’s time for a small snack, we debrief from our day at the dining room table together in our dimly lit house and wind down.

10:00 PM – Good night. (cue up that big chord)


Well, tomorrow might be completely different. I am as eager to find out what happens as you are. I’m so glad to be an architect.

photo 1 photo credit: Ian Sane via photopin cc
photo 4 photo credit: JanetR3 via photopin cc

oh…you didn’t think I wouldn’t post this did you? Now play it and read it again.

This is the fourth post in a group series called #ArchiTalks in which Bob Borson of Life of an Architect gives a group of architects a theme or a set of questions and we post our response. This month’s theme is: A Day in the Life…
Follow me on Twitter @leecalisti

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect
A Day in the Life of an Architect

Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture
A Day in the Life of FiELD9: architecture

“Marica McKeel – Studio MM
A Day in the Life of a Small Firm Residential Architect

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet
What To Do When You Lose Your Job In Architecture: A Day In The Life

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect
EA054: A Day in the Life of Mark R. LePage [Podcast]

Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL
A Day in My Life

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC
A Day in the Life of: An Almost Architect

Collier Ward – Thousand Story Studio
A Day in the Life of an Architect

Nicholas Renard – Cote Renard Architecture
Another Day of Living the Dream

Andrew Hawkins, AIA – Hawkins Architecture, Inc.
Day in the Life of a Small Firm Owner

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture
a day in the life of a rogue architect

Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design
A Day in the Life of MODarchitect

Cormac Phalen
Life in a Day of Panic

a good name     

19 November 2014


This past weekend I had someone at church introduce themself to me. We knew of each other, but we had never met formally. I thought that was very nice. …keep reading

no time to wonder 

12 November 2014


During an interview for a new project, I met with a person who shared profound thoughts with me about whether we take time to wonder or reflect anymore. …keep reading

what we don’t need

3 November 2014


we don’t need mediocrity; we need excellence

…keep reading

why does it take so long?

27 October 2014


If you are not an architect or involved in the design and construction industry in any way, you might be part of the population that often asks the question ‘why does it take so long’ for a building to appear in any given location.

…keep reading

Mr Glasses Cabbages

Today I spoke to my toughest crowd – a group of 7th graders during a career education class (and my son was in the crowd – yikes). …keep reading


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