a day in the life

Wow what a great song…but that’s not what this is about.

Have you ever wondered what people do all day at work? (I don’t mean Facebook, solitaire or texting). There are many jobs that are easy to imagine from our past experience. We know teachers teach all day (with little break I might add), doctors see patients all day, the auto technician has his head in the engine of my car getting dirty and the guy at McDonalds is putting salt on the new fries and not looking at me when I order.

I have always been fascinated with this topic. What do people really do all day? People are sitting in offices with paper all around them and a computer screen…doing what? I see people walking here and there out on the street headed somewhere important. At the end of the day have you ever asked yourself “what did I really do today?”

When asked I say I make things.

Architects are equally misunderstood. Some think we “draw all day” or even “color pictures” perhaps. Yes, many architects sit in front of a computer screen doing something resembling drawing. But there seems to be a mystique to the client when the architect leaves the meeting and heads back to the office. What does the architect do from the time she leaves one meeting and shows up at the next? I suppose there is no easy answer to that.

To answer this from my humble point of view – a sole practitioner, I decided to give you the run down to a particular day and expound upon the tasks I accomplished. For me, no two days are the same, so this is only a snapshot of what I may do day to day. This schedule is also not consistent.  I hope this enlightens all of you (but don’t count on it).

8:30 AM – I choose to answer my office telephone when I know I must leave in 10 minutes to take my son to school. It is a client calling to discuss the drawings sent emailed to them two days ago. We must decide between two subtle options of incorporating more storage and laundry facilities on the first floor or give up a guest room on the second floor to create an employee work room and laundry room. The client opts for the first scheme; they can’t give up the additional guest room. The project is a small guest house and tourism facility for a local university.

8:40 AM – …off to school…on time no less.

9:00 AM – I return to the office after taking my son to school (this is how I “go” to work since my studio is part of my house). I quickly check my email for anything critical.

9:15 AM – I open up my CAD software to work on a project after returning a few emails to clients and contractors. Last night I got the electrical diagram sketch from my MEP engineer that needs to be added to the electrical drawings. Yes, I often do the drafting for the mechanical, electrical and plumbing aspects of my projects. It saves some fee (not necessarily time) and I am forced to know the intricacies of these systems. Maybe a bit dry compared to other parts of the work, but this one is only a 15 minute task.

9:30 AM – Now that we concluded on the layout of the First floor, I must update the architectural floor plan as well as the mechanical, electrical and plumbing construction drawings. This is where architecture can get a bit tedious, but if you are interested in design (down to the details) like me, this is where it can make a difference. I like to have control over where the light fixtures are located, the diffusers for heating and A/C are placed, and know that the plumber has a way to route the drain pipes without boring a huge hole in the middle of the joists. This in turn causes me to check the remainder of the drawings to be sure I am not missing a coordination item somewhere else. A key to being a good architect and project manager is keeping track of hordes of detail and seeing that it is incorporated on the drawings….on every drawing.

10:40 AM – I start to research door specifications and details by visiting the websites of various manufacturers. I need to use residential style doors of this project (an early 20th century Victorian house), but since it is a commercial project (non-single family) the doors must also meet accessibility guidelines and some of the interior doors must have a fire rating. This eliminates many manufacturers who solely make residential doors. It doesn’t help that I’m too fussy too…so many ugly doors out there. So I download a few files, both PDF and CAD files to incorporate into the drawings.

11:30 AM – I get a telephone call from a railing manufacturer to discuss the ‘aircraft cable’ railing details for a custom exterior stair on another one of my projects. I’ve been waiting for this call for over a week! They email me a PDF drawing and we discuss the details of how the components go together. I forward the email to the contractor and text him to remind him to check his email.

11:50 AM – I realize I must get ready to leave fairly soon for studio. I teach design studio at CMU and it is almost an hour drive. I briefly jump back into various details of the drawing set, make several hand written notations on my “to do” list. Now it’s getting late so I grab a few things to have for lunch, but since I am running late as usual, it’s going to be lunch in the car…again.

12:15 PM – I leave for Pittsburgh. Good thing I pass a Get-Go along the way. I can pick up a sandwich. Yum (I’m joking…about the yum part).

12:30 PM – As I am driving along, my phone rings, it is a contractor who I need to talk details with, so the remainder of my lunch will have to wait. We have been working with this client for years now and there are only a few details remaining to finish the construction (remember the earlier discussion about the aircraft cable railing details). He said he will look at the details carefully tonight; I told him to call me if he needs to discuss it.

1:05 PM – Another client calls. She received the sketch I had emailed her yesterday and wants to set up a meeting to discuss it. Our schedules do not coincide, so we agree to have a conference call early next week.

1:20 PM – I am on campus and parking my car. A window sales representative calls to follow up on several past conversations and emails. We still haven’t resolved one issue, but I may have to make a minor design change since I can’t find a window manufacturer who can fabricate a double hung window that meets the handicap accessibility requirements. I can’t believe this. I finish my discussion as I walk to studio. The sales rep. doesn’t hear me eat my cookie as we talk.

1:30 PM – I arrive in studio, take a deep breath and we meet our new students. It’s time to think of teaching, the morning issues will have to wait until later.

4:40 PM – I leave studio, check my voice mail and get into my car and head home.

5:30 PM – I get gas in my car since I didn’t have time earlier…and a little dinner (not a regular habit).

5:50 PM – I arrive for my son’s baseball practice. I am an assistant coach. Architecture will wait until later. Baseball is a lot of fun, especially when you are nine years old.

9:30 PM – After an evening with my family, I kiss everybody goodnight and head into my office for a bit more work (yes it’s in my house). I address a few more details on the drawings until I am so tired it is time for bed. I do back up my work and turn out the lights.

11:30 PM – My commute home is simply walking up the stairs. Good night.

Well, tomorrow will be completely different. I am as eager to find out what happens as you are.

photos are from His Noodly Appendage’s photostream on Flickr (used under the Creative Common License)

a day in the life

4 thoughts on “a day in the life

  1. Lee, thanks for the enjoyable read. Great example of how transparency is interesting.

    Your students are fortunate to have a working professor who practices as well as teaches. Don’t know how you get all this done (plus blog posts) in one day. ha.

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