small projects :: variety is good (or don’t eat the same thing for lunch everyday)


As a small firm (OK, solo) practitioner, I’m often asked about the type of work I do – which generally causes a pause…as I wonder how to answer with the length of response they’re anticipating.

In this 7th post on ‘small projects’ topic, I recall that I’ve probably written about this in multiple ways, multiple times before, but as I am dictating the beginnings of this while driving to a construction site to do a punch list, I must record my thoughts anyway (I fixed it later). What I enjoy most about the work that I do is somehow related to variety. I don’t like to eat the same thing for lunch everyday –  I like variety.

Over recent years I have positioned myself and made decisions to accept or reject projects based on my interests or critical client relationships. I say this after many years of working on every type of small project that small practitioners commonly take.

I’ve done small kitchen additions, porch additions, bathroom renovations, master bedroom + family room + this room-that room additions (and the equivalents for commercial work too). In the process, many of the responses have been in a vocabulary or style (hate that word) outside of my preferences. However, I’ve approached each one by bringing out the best within the given parameters.

This many years later, I find myself extremely busy (thus my infrequent posts) while feeling terribly fortunate as I scan my active project list with my mind. The one thing that is consistent is variety. There are endless stories with unique backgrounds that most have proven to be fascinating. In contrast, what is consistent is my lack of repeat work of identical projects. In other words, some architects do multiple projects for the same client with differing locations, thus having the opportunity to revisit a project’s issues and perhaps respond differently or improve the resolution. Yeah…I can’t say that I’ve done that. Each project is unique.

Despite that feeble attempt at an introductory thesis, the thrust of my current work (over a dozen active projects with several waiting) falls into two categories. One, adaptive reuse (quasi-urban) commercial properties, and two, select contemporary residential projects. I’ve chosen to share projects that fall into all phases of design and construction from the earliest of schematic design through under construction or newly completed construction. Even within two primary categories, variety abounds keeping me interested.

Some architects are fortunate (I think), who work on über-high-end residential projects with budgets that allow for endless expression, rich materials, and unique, sensitive detailing. These are great, if you can get them, and congratulations to those who have them. Is the grass as green as one might think?

My world has generally been one of elevating ordinary projects above their potential. With keen design and relentless optimism, I work to make art out of the ordinary. These may never grace the cover of a magazine, but I like to think that they enrich their community.

new contemporary house :: phase – construction documents
A small wooded lot will hopefully see a new 2,200 square foot home next year even though it has been in planning for nearly two years. An ongoing study to (forcefully) try to develop a design within a seemingly impossible budget might finally manifest itself as reality.

Florio Patio View 02a.jpg

new modern farm house :: phase – under construction
This 3,000-sf house is one of the most unusual houses (and accompanying stories) I’ve ever designed, not because it has a contemporary flair to it or its rural location, but because it is pole barn structure. This building type, generally found in rural areas as barns and agricultural storage facilities made me initially quite hesitant. Once I spent time in the area, it made more sense in context. The clients are tremendously appreciative people and have afforded as big of a voice to me within constricted opportunities. Their budget is limited and the rules of the pole barn structure greatly restrict the formal expression. The challenge came with only being able to compose the exterior openings and control the quality of the somewhat raw interior space. I am eager to see how this turns out – it could surprise us all that a prosaic building type could impress.


adaptive reuse/mixed-use building :: phase – construction documents
The design to rehab this vacant, early 20th century building in downtown Greensburg has already been going on for more than a year. We are planning 12 apartment units on the two upper floors and are hopeful to find a commercial tenant for the first floor. Although the visible changes are minimal, it has been a lesson in respect while searching for a means to insert a contemporary upgrade without upstaging the original building.

136 S PA Before After.jpg

1516 136 S PA PD HARB p11.jpg

adaptive reuse commercial building :: phase – tenant fit out construction documents (phase 1 complete)
I have publicized images of this frequently on social media and am waiting for final tenant construction to arrange for professional photos. This former Packer automobile dealership from the 1930’s went largely unnoticed for years. I almost turned it down due to my schedule but the opportunity to work on this blank canvas couldn’t be overlooked. I pushed the owner considerably further than he initially considered and beyond my expectations. Fortunately, he saw the potential and embraced the idea of having a signature building in town. I was reminded of how difficult it is to build modern architecture and to get the various trades to understand and appreciate the level of detail required. I don’t think we achieved all our goals but I am pleased the result.

212 E Pgh Detail.jpg

commercial tenant fit out :: status complete
My photographer took professional photos of this project last week (but I don’t have them yet). It came from a referral of a good friend (an architect) to the tenant who sought to move to another floor in their building. I initially worked briefly with the tenant, gaining their trust in the planning phase so they could better communicate to their landlord. Ultimately the landlord hired me to develop the details and construction documents. He has since asked me to look at two other projects for other tenants.

WW lobby.JPG

Similarities – yes.
Duplicates – no.
Variety – oh yeah.

I love my job.

small projects :: variety is good (or don’t eat the same thing for lunch everyday)

One thought on “small projects :: variety is good (or don’t eat the same thing for lunch everyday)

  1. I agree variety is one the the great things that an architect can chose as they design their career. I spent a number of years designing slight variations of the same school and was really happy to be moving on.

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