favorite place

(c) photo by Craig Thompson / that’s my chair on the left

I’d rather be home with my family. There, what’s more to say? Many people might say their favorite place is far away, an island get-a-way, a special place where they met, perhaps a restaurant or coffee shop. Some guys like to be outside, perhaps in the woods. For me this is simple; I like to be home.

(c) photo by Ron Lutz II / this is the view no one gets to see from the street

If I might digress for just a moment. I love to travel with my family. New places and new experiences are something we look forward to each year. We tend to travel somewhere new each summer. Nevertheless, these memories are made with my family. Home is not home without my wife and my son.

Now, I’m not going to limit my definition of home to the four walls of my actual house, although I could. I am going to say I prefer to be near home in my hometown of Greensburg, PA. One might not find anything special about my area, but it’s all I know. Its home. With the exception of being away at college, I have lived here my whole life. Despite several houses and apartments, they’ve all been oddly within a very small area within the City of Greensburg. When we decided to build a house, we were fortunate to find a lot in the city.

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places I’ve lived in Greensburg…all within the city limits

Earlier this week I left a bi-weekly construction meeting and was headed to lunch nearby as I often do. It was earlier than usual, so I decided to head towards my office. I found I kept going until I came back into my home town. I guess I just preferred to be closer to my office, closer to home. I ate at a local place and headed back to the office. I prefer to frequent local haunts.

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I guess my neighborhood is an aberration from the normal grid pattern…yes my firm name does come up on Google
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we like that we are walking distance to downtown

As an architect, this has profound meaning to me. My job is to create a place, create spaces that someone else will call home. It’s a tremendous responsibility to design someone’s home and architects strive to create special places that will allow our clients to create their own memories and hopefully develop a sense of attachment. It’s an awesome responsibility. I’d love for my clients to WANT to be home. I’m glad to have any part of that.

People need to feel connected, people need to be home. Dorothy was right.

Below are the favorite places of some of my friends. Please take time to read and interact with their posts today. #architalks

“Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture
Where Do You Like To Go When You Aren’t Working?

“Matthew Stanfield – FiELD9: architecture
Ruby Slippers

“Marica McKeel – Studio MM
Do You Have a Favorite Place?

“Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL
My Favorite Place

“Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC
ArchiTalks meets #ThisOldHouse

“Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen

“Andrew Hawkins, AIA – Hawkins Architecture, Inc.
My Favorite Placein the Wild

“Jes Stafford – Modus Operandi Design
Making Space and the Favorite Place”

“Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect
favorite place

“Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC
Oh, The Places You’ll Go!

“Michael Riscica – Young Architect
MIT Chapel – My Favorite Place

Cinque Terre

“Brian Paletz – The Emerging Architect
Favorite Place(s)

“Tara Imani – Tara Imani Designs, LLC
Favorite Place – Architalks 8

“Jonathan Brown – Proto-Architecture
Favorite Place

“Eric Wittman – intern[life]
my [first] favorite place

“Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture
favorite place: #architalks 5th edition

favorite place

expectations and disappointments


I’ve nothing new to share or teach about the profession today. What I’m doing is at worst venting, at best being transparent. Today, I’m simply sharing that I’m thinking about disappointment.

For those of you who are not architects, but who might use our services, you need to choose an architect who can communicate clearly. Have high expectations of us.

Today’s prompt relates to the production of our work and in this case would be our documents – or what some call drawings. Everyone knows architects create drawings – in some cases you might call an architect to “get some drawings made.” What are you buying? Well, actually you’re not buying drawings, but you ARE paying for a service whose result culminates in a set of documents. These need to be clear, concise, and correct. They need to demonstrate that WE know how to construct the crazy things we’ve imagined.

Without sharing sources, last week I had interactions with people that shared stories where architects failed (in my opinion) to deliver a quality service to their client. No I don’t expect anyone to be accountable to me. I just hold a high standard for our profession; one for which I can only reasonably hold myself.

This story goes back decades, but what sparked my rant is an instance about an architecture firm that is deemed as a “good design firm” (supposedly validated by their plethora of awards), yet on more than one occasion, more than one person involved in a project of theirs relayed to me what poor construction documents they produced. I don’t just mean a bit untidy, I mean lacking important engineering content, missing very specific information and those involved in the construction end have had to recreate or re-engineer key parts of the project. In fact, I believe the expectation was for others to “figure out” the specifics of what they “designed.”

Personally I can’t have that said about me or my firm. If you call me, I pledge to give you so much more.

I’m not perfect and no one expects that as a standard, so let’s not falsely develop an unrealistic expectation. Let’s also not go down the path about indicting contractors for their sins either. That’s not what I am looking for from any of us. However, it eats at me to see architects get adulation when the end result on which they are judged was successful because someone else saved their…

I started my career in an era where digital tools were in their infancy. I drew by hand and was mentored how to create a set of documents. I learned early to make a one to one correlation between a graphic and the reality.

For years now, I have had several contractors share with me positive feedback about my drawings and documents being clear, thorough and containing necessary content. They’ve typically shared this when the “current set” on their desk if full of inconsistencies or are simply unclear, and in some case lacking critical information.

I’m sure I have some fluff at times, over detail the wrong part of the building and yes,  I even miss things on occasion.  I’m guilty as anyone and it upsets me when I miss even the smallest thing. However, I consciously work at providing drawings that are more than pretty images. They need to be first of all clear and communicative. After all, they are a graphic language, mixed with actual language to communicate a complex series of instructions and intentions to someone who is a stranger to the project. Then we expect them to construct it to the exactness imagined in our minds. That is not being professional.

Maybe the relevant question is do we even know how to build it? Don’t answer that if you’re an architect.

Architects need to produce clarity regardless of fee, regardless of schedule, regardless.



photo 1 credit: perfect clarity is oftentimes overwhelming : snail on glass pane condensation (2009) via photopin (license)
photo 2 credit: Expectation 2 via photopin (license)

expectations and disappointments

architect as juggler

Your first thoughts might be directed towards the circus. You’re somewhat correct.

A juggling act may be a fitting metaphor at times for the life of an architect. Nevertheless as we peek into the life of an architect, more specifically a small practitioner or even a solo practitioner we see that we are often learning to master the art of juggling projects much like talented performing artists juggle pins and chainsaws.

In my world as a solo practitioner I will have between six and twelve projects at any given time all in different stages, however, I can only work on one at any point in time, but several in the course of a day or week. Therefore, it’s like juggling.

Projects do not develop in a simple linear time frame. In other words what does not happen is a commission starts, we immediately work on it nonstop, finish the project, hand it over to the client, get paid and then immediately turn around and start on the next one. There can be too many pauses in between project phases that must be filled with other projects if one wishes to make a living at this. In other words, when you’re waiting on client A to review the design documents you just sent over, what do you do? Hopefully, you jump onto another project.

It can take months from the initial client inquiry to meet, work through a proposal, negotiate a contract, start enough work to send a bill, and get paid. Therefore, figuring out how to juggle is obviously an essential skill.

Here is a cross section of the projects active in my office today and what transpired recently.

New restaurant addition, Greensburg, PA | Phase Concept Design – complete

See images here. Nothing happened on this project this week; we finished this design study months ago, but I did talk to the client about this project. In the meantime, he has asked me for a proposal for something personal for his home. This is where we learn to network, service clients and patiently wait for them to move forward on their projects.

Six unit apartment building, Uniontown, PA | Phase Contract Administration (under construction)

stone ridge

This is an affordable housing project for a nonprofit organizaton – important, but not glamorous. Now that it is well under construction, we meet to review the construction once every two weeks. The fee is limited, therefore I have to control time spent while doing a thorough job in monitoring the process. Most of the submittals are complete at this point. The project is about a 45 minute drive one way. Once we meet and I type up the meeting minutes, distribute them, answer any questions that may arise this takes about an entire day once every two weeks. Emails occur frequently throughout the week too.

Throw that ball up in the air…

New single-family residence, Penn Township, PA | Phase Schematic Design


This week I was able to jump back onto one of my current residential projects, a 2,000 square foot, single-family residence. This is a very enjoyable process but one with an extremely tight budget. Before my concepts are overly perfected, I review them with the client. This way we work together. This week I finally dove deep into 3D schematic modeling, developed plans and elevations from the model and generated many interior and exterior views for them to understand the project. I just emailed them last night – we’ll meet soon to discuss.

That ball is up in the air for today, so I move on…

Mixed use building renovation – three-story urban building, Greensburg, PA | Phase Construction Documents

1511 Concept Image

The overall plan layout is set, but before we “draw” we must get others involved. Two weeks ago I met with the client and my MEP engineering consultant to discuss this 7,500 square foot renovation project, I emailed him the floor plans this week. Aside from that, I am also working with curtainwall manufacturers and fabricators to discuss the new facade replacement concepts. This process is stalled as I await input from people outside of my office. It’s important to get those processes happening concurrently with my development of the design.

This ball is up in the air as I wait for engineers, vendors and fabricators…

New addition single-family house, Cranberry Township, PA | Phase Schematic Design complete


This 5,000 square foot addition (that’s right) is quite exciting. Months ago we completed the schematic design and forwarded the final package to the owner who in turn forwarded it to their banker. They are waiting on confirmation on the property appraisal for financing before they can move forward with subsequent phases. I mention it because late last week I spoke to one of their bankers.

That ball is up in the air for an unknown time period…

New master bedroom addition single family house, Pittsburgh | Phase Schematic Design Complete


I am collaborating with Jeremiah on this one. We worked together to finish the schematic design phase. Before we can move forward on this project, our design assumes permission from the City of Pittsburgh for a variance. The hearing is scheduled for next week. If it gets approval, the owner will certainly call and be ready to move forward. I’ve sent the schematics to three contractors. I spoke to one this week, so I put it on this list.

That ball can stay up in the air for now until I catch up…

Renovations to an urban building for small retail area, Greensburg PA | Phase Construction Documents Complete

2015-03-12 12.06.57

I just finished up a simple and quick set of permit level drawings for a small, basement retail renovation (vinyl records) for the new Rabbit Hole Records. I worked three days straight two weeks ago to quickly produce as much documentation as possible. I wrapped it up and sent it off for plan review. Today I should pick up the approved drawings and will deliver them to the owner. My involvement is essentially complete at this point, but my favorite coffee shop is directly above, so I’ll be by.

That ball can be set aside…

Three single-family “cottage type” houses, Uniontown, PA | Phase – Construction Documents

Screenshot 2015-03-31 19.11.06

This, the second project for a non-profit who provides services to homeless people, is in dire need of getting out to bid as soon as possible. With affordable housing projects like this, there’s no room for gratuitous items or even generous items at times. Everything must be the minimal size necessary while still working within a reasonable construction dimensions and proportions. I just received owner feedback, so this ball is now in my hands. I have a friend who will be helping on this next week.

That one is in my hands today…

Interior Renovations – Five Story urban building, Greensburg, PA | Phase – awaiting approval of proposal


After developing a basic schematic design, code review and feasibility report, we were asked to submit a proposal to develop the project through construction. I found time (somehow) to develop a fee proposal with my engineers, met this week with the client and am waiting for his board for approval. I hope they spend “adequate” time reviewing it so I keep this ball up in the air for a few weeks.

Up in the air…

Renovations – Four Story urban building, Greensburg, PA | Phase – Pre-Design / Code Review

2015-04-06 14.49.46

Yesterday I finally was able to get clarification on a few ambiguous but critical code issues for this client seeking to renovate the empty, first and fourth floors of this building downtown Greensburg. I need to edit my report, tighten things up and send it off. This would be all interior renovations

I will soon throw this ball in the air as they read the report and consider their next steps.


In a small firm, projects are relatively small as well as the fees. Therefore, it is imperative not to spend too much time on each project and work on completing tasks and moving on. This is a weakness.

We have to keep a steady flow of work ready for the future to reduce down time or gaps in the system. Ideally when a project is complete another one can move into its place. Fortunately, I have several potential projects and/or proposals I’m working on in the background to keep that flow. Some clients will wait, some will not.

Architects don’t get paid to do marketing and proposals so we often work on these during off-hours to keep from taking away the workday from billable time. As stated earlier, I have met with and/or had conversations with a half-dozen other the actual clients with whom I am working to politely delay. That doesn’t address if dormant projects awake either.

Lastly in the course of all of that juggling, during the course of the day are unpredictable e-mails or telephone calls. I’m working at getting better at avoiding these first thing in the morning or leaving my email open all day. It is important to note that when a client calls, we must stop and talk to them; they are very important people. When a contractor calls, especially one whom is building one of my projects, they are equally important because their questions likely require some type of feedback so that they can keep the construction process moving. Potential clients are important people because they will be the ones paying me in the future.

When you call your architect and wonder what he or she is doing, they’re probably wondering how to juggle all these balls.

Oh, and there’s my family that trumps all of this. I make time to spend with them. I’ve never missed a school or sports event for my son.

Is juggling crazy? Yes, my days are crazy at times but I do enjoy the variety. I have learned over the years there’s grass on the other side of the fence but it is never greener, it’s just different.

If you are an architect, what has been your experience? Feel free to join the conversation if you can find time while juggling.

photo 1 is from georgia reading’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

all other photos courtesy of lee CALISTI architecture+design

architect as juggler

better side of green

image 004

I’m an architect and by definition that means that I believe in the better when it comes to our built environment and quite frankly in all aspects of our lives. This has to extend not only in the what, but how we discuss, practice and portray architecture. Sometimes, we let our frustrations show in an unpleasant manner.

Continue reading “better side of green”

better side of green