image is not experience


Photographers often deserve more credit than architects.

Am I right that other languages have a myriad of words to describe increasing degrees of knowledge? The English language cheats us of this.

As I ride the train returning from this year’s AIA Convention in Philadelphia (#AIACON16), I am thinking about my week and what stood out the most. It seems that words cannot capture what can only be known in person.


Therefore, I should start by stating that despite the several years of knowing (from blogging and all other forms of social media) a team of talented and intelligent architect friends from around the country, I can now proudly say I know them. Our several meetings and celebrations in person simply cement the point that is manifested in my discussion of architecture. Architecture is like relationships – so much better in person.


I love photography; I’ve been an amateur since I was fifteen years old. The image can profoundly tell a story – which is why I enjoy Instagram more than most other social media forms. Photography can be evocative for many emotions. Despite my love of the graphic image, it only engages the eyes. Being present in a space has more capacity to be a redolent trigger of memories or the creation of memories.


During this past week, thousands of architects took time to visit structures in person that they may have never known apart from glossy pages. Perhaps they returned to a place they cherish like an old friend to experience it again. Either way, we leave Philly with a particular awareness and a deeper cognition of those structures and places.


Architecture can only truly be experienced in person. Sure, we’re mesmerized by the carefully cropped images, but these illusions often lie about the true quality of the building, space, or neighborhood. Our eyes need to see the quality of the light in person, rather than how a photographer chose to tell the story. When all (or more) of our senses are involved, we can accurately assess or judge architecture. With only images, we might be pleased by an image, but can we truly have an accurate opinion of the work?


There is no substitute for the real thing – and in one of my visits, it did not disappoint. As I walked around, slowly and methodically, I could begin to speculate the intent and strategy of the architects. Simply mind blowing. A narrative was developing in my mind as the story revealed itself in what I saw, what I heard and what I could smell. I felt the materials with my hands, and I sensed the space as I ascended and descended the stairs, and as I walked outside to the courtyard. Had I gotten the last sense involved, you would have either mocked me relentlessly or called to send me away. The experience was truly a gift and one I’ll never forget. I likened it to something spiritual. My images don’t or can’t convey that. I recommend starting by seeing the professional images and commentary by the architects here, then take a visit and see it in person.




The week was full of great experiences, so I can’t limit it to one afternoon of being in a world famous museum. Even some of the dives where I ate lent a type of experience that added to my memory. Those shared with friends made it all the more important.

My architect friends can attest that you need to experience architecture – in person. Perhaps the reason you suffer from ambivalence or a lack of interest in the built environment around you is due to your lack of interaction with architecture. Furthermore, forget about any fascination with celebrities whom you don’t know and fill your life with your actual friends and family. Put your device down some time and look around you – at real things and real people, real places. This line of thinking is not limited to museums or even to traveling. It involves your community where you live, worship and shop.

  • Are you planning to renovate your home? Why have you only tagged images online or dog eared pages in this month’s copy of Dwell? Have you wondered where you could see similar ideas in person? Tell your architect how you want to feel in your house as much or more than giving them pictures of things you want to see in your house.
  • Are you involved in renovating your church or school? Where have you visited that can lend first-hand knowledge of other’s good decisions (or bad decisions)? Discuss with your architect ways the space can make a better learning or worshiping environment.
  • Are you thinking about making a few changes to your retail store or coffee shop? Where else have you visited to inform your preferences or initial ideas? Tell your architect how your business runs so they can develop spatial and material choices to enhance the experience for your staff or customers.
  • Where do you vacation? Maybe you need to reconsider your plans – I’ll leave it at that.

If you innocently or naively believe architecture is about buildings, bricks, function, or fixtures, you have missed out on so much. Architecture is about experience and it’s about people.

This is why you hire an architect.


image is not experience



What’s in a number, the age old question asks.

This year marks my thirteenth anniversary of being in business for myself.

Why write about such an odd number anniversary when we typically mark every five or ten years? To be honest, I don’t know.

This year also marks my silver anniversary of being in practice (B.Arch 1991 Kent State University). I suppose in my cozy pensive corner I gravitate towards unusual modes of thinking; dare I say arcane places of thought. Certain moments trigger memories that cause me to drift down boulevards of thought of wonder and nostalgia.

I’m a sole practitioner trying to figure this thing out. I can’t brag of a large income, I’m not the model businessman, nor do I have all of the systems in place to be the most efficient. I am working at being good as an architect – doing good work. Fortunately, I have a band of friends who I’ll meet in a few days for the first time (weird huh?) that provide support and encouragement along the way.

As I prepare to attend the AIA Convention this week, eager to fill up with information and inspiration to fix the broken things that need attention, I’ll leave with thirteen select built projects that stand out from the past thirteen years. There’s no commentary or explanation…just images. Some appear on my website where an explanation is listed.

I will say that they represent a wide range of types – renovations, additions, new construction, commercial, and residential. Each one has an interesting story. Each one represents a person, a family or a business and a relationship.

Architecture is such an interesting story – this one is still being written.

01 Delcampo East View Low 02 Lakewood Road 03 Welty House 04 Latrobe House 05 Dawson 06 Keller 07 Artist Studio 08 house 6 09 Abie and Bimbos 10 Ace Hardware 11 FarmHouse

12 hodge road

13 Rialtotop photo – collection of sketchbooks
photos 1-7 (c) Lee Calisti, AIA
photo 8 (c) Ron Lutz II
photo 9-13 (c) Skysight Photography


design process :: out loud


As an architect, far more important than style and making things pretty is a rich process of conceiving and developing good design solutions.

I believe I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to have many nice projects designed and built largely based on process. I’ve developed (actually it’s an ongoing) a process that endeavors to be transparent and participatory. For those that are already getting off track in their mind, client vetting is assumed as part of this, but we’ll assume we have an interested client to begin with in this discussion.

Many events contributed to my thinking, but it largely came together outside of work. One night before bed, I had a rush of thoughts that I scribbled in my sketchbook (that I keep next to my bed). My son happened to be in my room perplexed as he watched. His reaction was far more interesting than what I was doing. I knew it would lead to a post sooner or later.

These were my thoughts that night.

Allow time to ruminate – Before I even make a mark on paper or anywhere with respect to a new project, I need time to think about it. I need to work through the questions (from research) and get to the core issues in my mind. Once the design progresses to a meeting with a client, I believe final decisions should rarely be made at that moment. Allow a few days to go by; it’s almost certain that someone on the team will have another idea or viewpoint about what was presented and will want an opportunity to revisit the presentation.

Multiple ideas are the only way to test an idea. Alternates (and in turn iterations) are the architect’s friend. Rarely is the first idea good or of any value, but all ideas can inform. In other words, don’t throw them away too quickly because you assume the client won’t go for it. The stronger ideas will stand apart from the weaker ones. Choose the best but diverse three options and present them clearly to your client. They’ll be able to see it.

desk sketches 01

Engage with the users – Listen for critical concerns or what is most important to them. Next, address the critical concerns first. It’s amazing how much latitude is subsequently given when the client’s primary concerns are addressed.

Explain the thought process – I prefer working sessions over formal presentations. This allows others to experience that architects think differently. For instance, something I aim to do is to link the visual to the functional or operational/perceptual aspects of a project. What frustrates me is when people think architects merely decorate or solely make functional things pretty. Perhaps many do, but it’s important to me that the way things appear have a connection to how they work. If our clients can understand how the visual responses are integrally connected to the programmatic needs, it’s likely they’ll go along with our proposals. Empty decorations will rarely work because there is no reason they can’t be changed or eliminated because they’re thought to be gratuitous or unnecessary.

Allow others to express reaction – Whether within one’s office among colleagues, or during working sessions with clients, contractors, etc., allow others to talk and ramble as they react to what they see. If the architect jumps in too quickly to explain the how and why, it might stifle someone from finishing a thought. There’s always time for the designer to chime in at the end. Read the visceral reactions and make judgments from there.


Invite multiple viewpoints – This means asking for it and allowing others to go beyond the “I love it” reaction that many architects seek to hear. Don’t ask if they like it, ask if it solves their needs or addresses their requirements. Opposing or differing views challenge one’s thinking, even if they differ significantly. Good ideas might emerge through the initial frustration. If the client gets off track, a good architect can lead the client back to better solutions, even if there’s temporary digression. Sometimes the fun parts are edited out.

Lead to consensus – Ask questions over making demands. It’s hard to be offended over a question. Questions invite a spirit of teamwork and group decision making. No one wants an architect to present a single idea as an all or nothing proposition. At the end of working sessions, summarize by asking questions like “are we in agreement” or “am I correct in this conclusion?” This allows everyone to know they’ve had a stake in the process.

Move forward with confidence, but be ready for more twists and turns in the road.

design process :: out loud

dear future architects

Mr Glasses Cabbages

words of wisdom :: friendly advice :: aphorisms :: warnings cautions :: who knows?

If you don’t listen to others who came before you, you’ll make their same mistakes. One of mine is on this post – I didn’t listen to the one about editing. I have 100 comments, questions and suggestions here. You’ve been warned, so you can leave now or read to the end.

  1. you will practice differently than we do today, or at least how I do today
  2. don’t ignore the legacy of how we got here
  3. be an architect, don’t just do things that architects do
  4. there are more important things than architecture
  5. not everything needs to be digital – you are human, use your hands
  6. if architecture isn’t important to you, don’t do it; go find out what is important to you – you’ll be happier
  7. promote the profession first, then promote yourself
  8. learn to draw…with a pencil on paper, not because you need to be an artist, but you need to think and you need to communicate in person
  9. your clients won’t be as impressed that you can make digital images as they are that you can draw on a napkin in front of them…while you’re speaking
  10. make digital tools more usable, more human, more intuitive
  11. be ready to explain why it is there
  12. don’t be preachy…be a leader
  13. don’t be silent, don’t be loud, be heard
  14. allow people to disagree with you
  15. people make decisions from their values…their values are not yours…it’s ok
  16. if you want people to be tolerant of you, you must be tolerant of them, regardless
  17. cubes are good, start there
  18. a leader is different than a boss
  19. smile at everyone
  20. practice good hand lettering skills, it’s our legacy
  21. your handwriting does matter; you’ll need to write out something someday
  22. people are watching you; give them something to applaud
  23. get involved in your community, give and volunteer
  24. learn how to put a building together – all of it
  25. learn how to edit
  26. give critique and accept critique
  27. think critically
  28. don’t tell them how it functions, tell them how it works
  29. go get coffee and breathe…take a long walk on a warm day
  30. there is no form or function, there’s architecture
  31. what you like now will seem trivial and trendy in twenty years
  32. build something with your own hands, get dirty, scrape your knuckles
  33. power tools are really cool; learn to use them
  34. you will face new issues but have to contend with old ones
  35. fix what we broke, learn from what we fixed
  36. old buildings are beautiful…find a way to keep it before you demolish it
  37. write new history; learn history too
  38. concrete will always be beautiful
  39. you may never see the change you effect…keep going
  40. ask the right questions
  41. things will change rapidly but some things will never change
  42. some things should never change
  43. futuristic architecture will always be more radical than current architecture
  44. not everyone wants things to change; deal with that
  45. find better questions
  46. learn which structures have real character and keep them
  47. reuse what we have, adapt it, modify it, but respect it
  48. understand that many people like suburbia, find out why
  49. don’t criticize them, make it better, teach them, show them alternatives
  50. understand why people like rural environments
  51. learn how to plant a garden
  52. be adept at building codes
  53. everyone can benefit from architecture, how can you show that?
  54. never make excuses, just apologize and stop talking
  55. learn how to sketch upside down
  56. being an architect should fill you with pride that comes out as humility
  57. get your license…no more excuses…none
  58. stop complaining, start doing
  59. be articulate
  60. carry a sketchbook…everywhere
  61. have friends that are not architects
  62. get to know people just because they’re people
  63. be mature, grow up, take responsibility
  64. own it, then repent or celebrate
  65. people like bricks, it keeps the wolf away
  66. be authentic, design authentic, use authentic materials
  67. no one owes you anything – go earn it
  68. the best things in life come after years of hard work
  69. it is worth it; it does matter – someone will eventually notice
  70. why is that there? if you don’t know, get rid of it
  71. who cares that it’s not your fault, move on
  72. find more than one solution – the first one is either brilliant or terrible
  73. accept that not everyone cares as much as you do, but find out why
  74. passion is your fuel even more than coffee
  75. eat healthy and exercise in your 20’s
  76. if it isn’t your best, do it again
  77. be patient, this will take a very long time
  78. find out what you don’t know, don’t accept that you don’t know
  79. learn how to detail really well, be good at creating details clearly
  80. put on a black shirt and pants and save your creative energy for your work
  81. a Sharpie marker will always help you find a solution
  82. sketch everyday
  83. master something
  84. who cares if your feelings are hurt, did it challenge your thinking?
  85. use a pencil or pen to think…it’s quicker and you can do it anywhere
  86. don’t be that architect that contractors and clients complain about to me
  87. find the right tool for the job…it might be a computer, a laptop or your phone or a tape measure (or paper clips, gum and a pack of matches)
  88. understand why people are resistant to change
  89. the sun got the man to take off his coat, not the wind…live that
  90. don’t get jaded, it’s supposed to be hard
  91. I doubt you’re ready to have your own firm – you’ll know when it’s right
  92. if you’re not going to pursue being good at this, go do something else that you can be good at doing
  93. make them value the profession
  94. no one else can do what you can do
  95. listen to music from your parent’s era and imagine them at your age
  96. seek out someone who is good and study them
  97. read
  98. study
  99. practice
  100. think


Please read what my friends have to say to future architects. I’m sure it’s worth reading. #Architalks

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
Dear Future Architects: 3 letters

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
future architects: #architalks

Jes Stafford – MODwelling (@modarchitect)
Dear Future Architect, Listen Here

Keith Palma – Architect’s Trace (@cogitatedesign)
Dear future architects, are you credible?

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“Dear Future Architects,”

Stephen Ramos – BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC)
Dear Future Architects: Don’t makes these 4 Mistakes

brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
Dear Boy in the Plastic Bubble,

Michael LaValley – Evolving Architect (@archivalley)
Dear Future Architects, Be Authentic

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
Dear Future Architects: 4 Perspectives

Evan Troxel – Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel)
Dear Future Architects

Greg Croft – Sage Leaf Group (@croft_gregory)
Dear Future Architect,

Meghana Joshi – IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA)
Dear Future Architects..

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
Dear Future Young Architects… Please Quit Screwing Around!?!!

Enoch Sears – Business of Architecture (@businessofarch)
Dear Future Architects: A Confession

Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)

Jared W. Smith – Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL)
Dear Future Architects…

Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Dear Future Architects…

dear future architects