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My family and I just returned from a brief vacation. Yes, part of the trip took us to Chicago several weeks after the AIA Convention. Ironically, I was in Chicago twice this year but missed out on the convention and potentially meeting up with new friends. Nevertheless, it was special to share these moments with my family.

Call it a busman’s holiday, but during this trip, I was reminded of an important truth as an architect. Remember the point of view of the user more than the point of view the architect.

I struggle with this since my background is more artistic, making the service end of the business harder to master than for others. In other words, some of the architects reading this are the type of personality where the service end comes easier. I find myself simply wanting to make pretty things.

Now there’s nothing wrong with that – in fact that is a big part of architecture. Many people are amazed at that aspect of architecture, like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat.

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As we stayed in several hotels, traveled about and ate at many restaurants, I tried to imagine the users’ point of view more than the pretty shiny building containing us. We stayed in a brand new hotel in Chicago; I read it was less than a year old. I won’t give away where it is for that would be unfair. I will say the neighborhood was quite nice and trendy. The building from an architect’s point of view was quite handsome. It was basically a box, but it had a well detailed exterior skin with an open joint rain screen system (that architects get excited about) along with other neatly detailed cladding. It had nice storefront details and the interior followed accordingly. The room was spacious with great amenities. The service was accommodating and we were comfortable…except for one thing.

We noticed in the middle and night (not having been there during the day time) that the air-conditioning system was louder than normal or expected for a new building. It was a type of system that came on and off frequently while the fan noise was more than noticeable. In the middle of the first night there was a very strange clanking noise that eventually went away – with most of our opportunity for a good night’s sleep. Knowing we were going to be up for a while, I contemplated going down to the front desk to complain. In the middle of the night you don’t want to wake up your sleeping kid. My wife and I whispered about it and eventually got back to sleep. Maybe it was just needing an adjustment, but I struggle with the reality of noisy air-conditioning systems and hotels – especially a new one. The second night was better – no clanky noise, just a loud fan. It seems that in most hotels that we stay, the heating and cooling system is something we notice more so than one ought to notice. Maybe someone can explain to me why the individually controlled systems used in hotels have not caught up technologically to other systems.

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Adding to this line of thought, yesterday my brother-in-law and I went to pick up a pizza at a restaurant that I designed. He is always genuinely complimentary and inquisitive to my work. After he shared many nice comments and admiration I shared with him the process of design (integrally with the client) and how the point of the work was to serve the needs of the owner and the parts of the building were intended to serve a specific function. Hopefully along the way, they look nice too. I was fortunate to provide an image and a brand to my client along with the functional aspects. They work together.

My brother-in-law loved the way it looked (and the pizza), but I wanted him to know that it had to work first. It had to solve a problem and be functional – all the while being “easy on the eyes.”

It can do both, but it can’t do just one or the other. That’s not architecture.

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