What's better than architecture after school? #ArchiTalks

As I've mentioned on #Architalks posts before, kids and architecture are a match made in heaven.

After-school activity:

Now that everyone is back to school, parents are wondering what their kids are going to do between when school lets out and they get picked up.  What better than a little architectural exploration after school?  Bring a little artistry from the art class, a little knowledge from science class, a little creativity from the heart, give it a good mix, and see what happens.

That was the thought that prompted me to offer an architecture afterschool program at my daughter's elementary school.  I figured that if 5 kids signed-up, my daughter included, I would have a viable class - viable for their sake!  I originally planned to either teach a class on Mondays or Fridays - whichever got more interest.

Holy cow! I got 30 sign-ups in less than a week, meeting my planned max class size for both days!  Now, there's a waitlist!  The response was overwhelming, to say the least!  I guess parents were itching for a class that didn't fall into the normal range of after school offerings.  Everyone is so excited for the program to start.  Parents tell me "this is right up Jill's alley - she's always building", or "This is awesome, we are super excited, he's going to love this".

No Pressure, right!

School vs. education:

I guess there are more kids who straddle the right/left brain-divide in these early elementary years than I thought.  Why allow that superpower to get squelched under the rigors of school?  Was it Mark Twain that said "Don't let school get in the way of an education?"

As I've written in a previous post, I was good at school and always got good grades, but it wasn't till I went to architecture school that I had that thirst to learn more and passion to immerse myself in my field of study.  The only explanation, besides the fact that architecture is so fascinating, is that I could have one foot in the creative world and one foot in the analytical.  So yes, I can relate.

So, what's the class going to be like?  I don't really think about it as a lecture series.  Yawn!  Rather, I believe in the idea of encouraging curiosity and sustaining inquiry.  Not coincidentally, this is the central idea at Magellan International School.  Perhaps, that's another reason why my Architecture After-School program appeals to so many of the parents and their kids.

Topics of interest:

The challenge is not really what to talk about, rather where should I stop? The sky is the limit.  I taught a couple architecture classes over the summer at ACE Academy that I cleverly called "Through the looking glass - How this modern material changed the face of architecture", and "The Big Feat - Design and Construction of Olympic Facilities".  So, I've got a theme going with a twist on children's' classics story books.

This fall, my program is titled "No place like home" borrowing from the classic Wizard of Oz.  I'm taking the kids on a tour of homes from around the world, exploring the idea of home and what it means to different people.  We will study different methods of construction and technologies, design aesthetics, environmental effects, factors like culture, community, lifestyle that affect forms and neighborhood arrangements.  Kids will wonder at the diversity of what people consider home - from the cramped high rise apartments of Hong Kong to luxurious grounds of the Buckingham Palace;  the favelas of Rio to the exquisite victorian row houses of San Francisco...The idea of home means different things to different people, yet we all find love and comfort in our home.  Kids will engage in activities such as sketching, model building, and design projects.

Right now I'm deep into the lesson planning phase and really looking forward to meeting all the kids!  Their enthusiasm is sure to make this semester a very educational and fun experience.

Want to stay updated? Like and follow the ArchiKids facebook page.



This post is a contribution to the #ArchiTalks series of blog posts.  For other blog posts on “Back to School”, please click on links below.

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols) What Have We Learned? It's Back To School For #ArchiTalks 21

Mark R. LePage - EntreArchitect (@EntreArchitect) Back to School: Marketing for Architects

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson) http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/i-wish-i-were-going-back-to-school/

Cormac Phalen - Cormac Phalen (@archy_type) Back to School Again

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch) Designing Back to School

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM) ArchiTalks: "Back To School"

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC) 4 Tips As You Go Back To School

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch) Back to School!

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti) good to go back to school

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel) #architalks 21 "back to school"

Kyu Young Kim - Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu) Back to School: Seoul Studi

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept) Back to {Architecture} School

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA) Back to the Cartography Board

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz) Back to School

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley) #ArchiTalks / 15 Ways to Make the Most of Your Architectural Education

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w) getting [schooled] again

Jared W. Smith - Architect OWL (@ArchitectOWL) Back to School...

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX) Let’s Get Back To (Architect) School …or Work.

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell) Back to School...Suckasssssss

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign) bettermenTen

Adam Denais - Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch) [ArchiTalks #21] 10 Things Architecture Students Say Going Back to School

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey) Back to School? It Doesn't Stop there for Architects.

Tim Ung - Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung) 10 Things I wish I knew about Architecture School

Glass in Architecture - Summer Wonders #ArchiTalks

Phew! I made it through 2 whole weeks of summer school.  You see, I've been busy teaching a class for Summer Wonders at Ace Academy, a local school for gifted kids, called "Architecture Through The Looking Glass".  Here's a peek into my class about glass in architecture. The course introduces young kids to a world of architectural studies, where the boundaries between science and art are blurred, just as much as the separation between discovery and imagination.  It's a space where I believe kids thrive. They effortlessly juggle reality and fantasy.  And that makes for a great architect.

Course curriculum summary

Over 10 days, we wove the history of glass with the history of architecture, threading the past with the present, and imagining the future.

What is glass? What are its characteristics? What is it made of? Is it available in nature? We studied natural glass in contrast to manmade glass, and made the journey from ancient glass-making to modern glass manufacturing - all in the context of how this magical material has transformed architecture.

What is the role of glass in architecture? What was architecture before glass vs. now? From medieval castles to elaborate renaissance cathedrals to contemporary skyscrapers, the exploration of glass as a building material has played a critical role in the evolution of architectural styles through history.

What did we learn?

We traveled through time to see the ancient architecture of Egypt, India, and the Americas; the innovative designs of the Greeks and Romans; and their evolution to Romanesque and Gothic architecture.

“Let there be light” got a whole new meaning when glass rondels and stained glass windows were incorporated into the churches and palaces. We’ve come a long way since then in just the last 150 years.

We explored the fascinating art of blown and spun glass as seen in the amazing creations of Chihuly, and finally the mass manufacturing of float glass as seen all around us in our present day.

The kids learnt about the post-industrial-revolution era of glass buildings and the green house effect. They constructed their own version of the Crystal Palace. They were introduced to modern architecture and the minimalist period, when the 'Glass House' designed by Architect Philip Johnson was made possible, thanks to the wonder of glass. We studied the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, and Apple's flagship store, also known as the Glass Cube, in New York City.

Today, we live in the glass age.

Is glass breakable? Bendable? Stronger than steel? You might be surprised to learn that our traditional ideas about glass are being shattered as we speak.

Structural glass buildings, intelligent glass, laminated glass decks and stairs, building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) glass panels, etc., celebrate advancements in glass technology.  We build taller and taller skyscrapers clad in glass curtain walls, no matter the climate.  As seen in the Burj Khalifa, Dubai, which holds the record for the world's tallest installation of an aluminum and glass facade. The architectural glass provides solar and thermal "protection" as well as an anti-glare shield from the intense desert sun, extreme diurnal variations, and strong winds.  Sigh!

So, what does the future hold? What innovations can we expect to see in glass technology in the coming years? Last but not least, the kids participated in a design exercise where they have to imagine and design the buildings of their future.

Multi-sensory learning

The idea acknowledges that kids learn in different ways and that students learn best when information is presented in different modalities - visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile. In that spirit, the course was peppered with visual presentations, discussions, and hand-on activities that resulted in a lot of projects.  Projects with large footprints. Sorry parents!

Learning by doing - glass in architecture

Kids love making stuff.  Of course!  They learn by doing!  And what's an architecture class without some model-making.

The kids built post and beam structures, pyramids, and tepees.  They built green houses, and skyscrapers.

I was amazed at how fast they were able to decide what they were going to make. They were always eager to head down to the treasure room to pick up materials from the piles of recycled everyday stuff. I found myself repeating the concept of planning vs. doing. But, they didn't waste time planning, they immediately got to work.

The kids made art with sugar glass. They designed and created rose windows.

Learning visually - glass in architecture

The kids loved the slideshow presentations and videos.  Below are links to some of the short videos we watched.

Blown Glass - Genuine Rondels Rolled Glass Float Glass Greenhouse effect The Glass Age - Who doesn't love the MythBusters? Part 1 & Part 2 Our Future - glass in architecture and our lives

Overall, it was a great experience for me.  And the kids, I hope!

As a mother of 2 young kids, I'm no stranger to the unbounded energy and passion that children posses.  But, teaching K-6th graders from 9am-3pm took my understanding to another level.  I have a renewed appreciation for teachers and what they do to for our children.  Walk a mile in someone else's shoes, right!  So, my heartfelt thank you to all you teachers out there, for your hard work, your creativity, and for pouring your heart into our kids future.



This post is a contribution to the #Architalks series of blog posts.  For other blog posts on “Summer”, please click on links below.

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch) Summer is a Great Time To Market Your Architecture Firm!

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson) http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com/summer-is-for-the-young-at-heart/

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM) Summer : A Review

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti) summer working, had me a blast

Evan Troxel - Archispeak Podcast / TRXL (@etroxel) Lake Powell

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC) Seasons of Summer

Jes Stafford - MODwelling (@modarchitect) The Dog Days of Summer

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome) Summer -- Architecture Imagery

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel) #Architalks 20 "summer" and architecture

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC) 4 Secrets To Getting The Most Out Of Your Summer Internship

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz) Summer Surprise

Michael LaValley - Evolving Architect (@archivalley) An Acrophobic Architect's Illuminating Summer of Roofs

Brinn Miracle - Architangent (@architangent) 4 Reasons Solar Power is a Hot Topic

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - Emily Grandstaff-Rice FAIA (@egrfaia) Seasonal change

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept) ... and the livin's easy

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell) Summer Rhythms

Jeffrey A Pelletier - Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum) Do I Need to Hire an Architect?

Samantha Raburn - The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch) An Architectural Spark for your Summer

Kyu Young Kim - Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu) Summer in Seoul

Keith Palma - Architect's Trace (@cogitatedesign) [Dis]Connected Summer

Adam Denais - Defragging Architecture (@DefragArch) 5 Things to Make the Most of Your Summer

Jim Mehaffey - Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey) An Architect Summer


New Year, New Business

New year, new beginnings. I am excited to announce the launch of my own architecture practice in Austin, Texas.  Watch this webspace - Architecture By George is officially open for business! I have submitted my resignation at work and I am wrapping things up in the chapter of my life titled 'employee architect'.  Over the last 16 years, I've had many titles - Intern, Architectural Intern, Intern Architect, Project Manager, Project Architect, Lead Architect, Senior Architect, Director of Architecture, in that order.

As fancy as the title "Director of Architecture" sounds and is, and as many opportunities, responsibilities, and authority it has given me, I slowly realized that it came with a price.  The stress of directing so many projects and so many people was sapping all my energy.  And my time!  As I've written before in another #Architalks post Work=1/3 Life, my work was consuming me.

I recognized that this was not a sustainable situation.  Or a very enjoyable one.  I was at the top of the ladder and the horizon looked grim.  The forecast was 'overcast with a 100% chance of burn-out'.

Worse, I was missing out on my kids.

After some extrospection of the architecture profession, a lot of introspection, conversations with encouraging friends and family, I came to a conclusion.

That, if I want* to practice architecture for the next 25 years, do all the things I want to do, and live my life to my fullest potential, I would have to launch my own architecture firm.  That would give me the freedom to pursue my interests; have control over my time, to be involved in my kid's day-to-day lives; and wake up each morning with purpose.

*Read this #ArchiTalks post to see why

What now? I want to reignite my passion for architecture; shed the husk that developed through being the good employee; put all my talents and skills to use (not just the ones that an employer wants to use); find inspiration and joy in the work; connect and share with my community; learn and grow, always.

I have worked in the custom residential market for a long time.  I have always found great pleasure in meeting new people (especially those who are different from me), and learning about them.  Being able to design solutions for their ideal way of living and define their sense of home is an incredible honor and an opportunity.  It's also a favorable time to discuss and impact their future health, comfort, energy-use, life-style, and their legacy.

I have titled myself Principal Architect at Architecture By George.  But that's a joke, because my role will be that of Business Development Manager, Social Media Administrator, Marketing Director, Office Manager, Web Designer, Graphics Designer, Blogger, Content Creator, Designer, Chief Building Scientist, Energy Analyst, BIM Manager, Render Artist, Project Lead, Intern, Production Team, Spec Writer, etc.  At least, for a while.

Is there a title that covers all that?  "Small Business Owner wearing multiple hats" just does not have a zing to it.

The B word  Notice how I said "New Year, New Business"!  If I was doing this a few years ago, I would have said "New Year, New Firm".  Subtle? No!

I owe thanks to the preachings of my friends Enoch Sears at Business of Architecture and Mark R. LePage at EntreArchitect, who emphasize the things that are significant for success as an architecture business.  They have posted numerous free resources, shared their knowledge, connected people, and started important conversations - things that will strengthen our profession as a whole.

I also found Eric Reinholdt's book, Architect and Entrepreneur: A Field Guide to Building, Branding, and Marketing Your Start-Up Design Business (Volume 1), to be incredibly helpful. These resources have been great for mental preparation, as well as creating the long list of things that need to be considered, in order to launch an architecture business.

I've been fortunate to work at architecture firms that were run well, by owners who were mindful of the business side of the practice.  I fully recognize that that allowed me, as an employee, to do what I love to do (practice architecture), get paid, and stay employed during the recession.  But I also realize that grounding will ensure that I will never get paid like a lawyer or an engineer.

As I crunch the numbers for launching my own business, I understand the low salaries, why there was an emphasis on efficiency over creativity, production over creation, and all those long hours, in these firms.  The margins are slim, the work is tedious, the profession is undervalued.  I sincerely hope that I don't fall prey to that mode of operation.



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Citizen Architect #ArchiTalks

If you are wondering what "citizen architect" means, and I had to look it up too, below is how the AIA (American Institute of Architects) describes it.  Sounds like a soapbox kind of topic, doesn't it.

The Citizen Architect uses his/her insights, talents, training, and experience to contribute meaningfully, beyond self, to the improvement of the community and human condition. The Citizen Architect stays informed on local, state, and federal issues, and makes time for service to the community. The Citizen Architect advocates for higher living standards, the creation of a sustainable environment, quality of life, and the greater good. The Citizen Architect seeks to advocate for the broader purposes of architecture through civic activism, writing and publishing, by gaining appointment to boards and commissions, and through elective office at all levels of government.

American Institute of Architects

Well, I just recently became a US citizen.  It seems only appropriate that I contribute to the #ArchiTalks post from that perspective.  Four seemingly unrelated topics on my mind are:

  1. Gratitude
  2. Context
  3. Diversity
  4. Opportunities

Firstly, Thank you I am extremely grateful to all the people who have welcomed me, included me, made me feel integrated and part of the american society.  Starting with my husband and his family, my professors and classmates, my employers and colleagues, and last but not least, all the clients I have worked with - a big thank you for opening up your lives and your homes.

In doing so, you have helped me understand the american psyche - your desires, motivations, aspirations, concerns, needs, lifestyle, etc, which enables me to be a better architect.

Context  Architectural design is highly contextual.  It is intimately tied to a place and people; culture, history, climate, economy, and technological capabilities, dictate the design, not to mention construction methodologies.  But sometimes, one is blinded by familiarities.

If I had a dollar for every time I have heard "we've always done it this way", or "we've done it that way for 30 years", or "we've never done that before", I'd have a paid vacation.  You're probably thinking those words were spoken by contractors, and you'd be right.  But I'm here to say, I've heard architects utter those dreaded words.  And to me, that's like dragging your nails across a chalk board.  It's bad enough coming from contractors, it's sacrilege when an architect says it.

On the contrary, if you were given a design project in an unfamiliar context, what is the first thing you do?  You start by asking questions, right.  The more unfamiliar the context, the more questions you have.  The outsider's perspective puts a new spin on thinking outside the box.

I happily tread that tight rope between the familiar and the strange.

The D word: Diversity I was struck by the diversity at my naturalization ceremony.  There were 950 people from 99 different countries who took the oath of allegiance with me that day.  The MC started out by saying "What does an American look like? Look around you."

I could not find the speech Kirk Watson gave that day, but this one he gave back in 2013 is pretty close.

Every one of you has experienced things I haven’t experienced. You’re familiar with issues and challenges that I might not even know about–would have difficulty comprehending–and you have ideas about how to solve problems and capitalize on opportunities that haven’t ever occurred to me.

Those things, those experiences, those ideas that make us different are the very things that make this country strong.

Texas Senator Kirk Watson

There is much conversation these days about the need for diversity in architecture.  If you are wondering what the fuss is all about, I think the above words might clue you in.  If architecture is about ideas and problem solving, we need diversity.  If we don't want buildings to all look alike; if we want to address issues that we are not even aware of; if we want to break out of the mold, then we need diversity.  We need architects from different cultural and economic backgrounds; we need architects with diverse experiences; we need architects who can transport solutions from across the globe.

Opportunities I've had many opportunities in life.  Sure, I've experienced bias and prejudice, but more often than not, my story is one of privilege.  I've known this idiom and it's meaning before, but I've never quite wrapped my head around it, until now.  I think it's because it is a state of mind.  I am happy to say, I finally feel like, the world is my oyster.

Thank you USA.



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Work = 1/3 Life #Architalks

Three-day weekends with no particular plans are the best!  I didn’t clean out the garage like I planned. But I feel refreshed and revived. Burnout averted!

Note: The following is how (the-about-to-burnout) I was going to start this post about work/life.

Whoever came up with a 40-hour workweek, or particularly an 8-5 work schedule, had no responsibilities other than to one’s self, no kids nor a commute, but was a single-minded workaholic who was cutting the rest of us a lot of slack! There are, after all, 168 hours in a week, and man only needs 8 hours a day to be fully functional, which gives you a whopping 72 hours to live the rest of your life! Put yourselves to some use people! Now, if you want to start talking about US GDP in comparison to France’s (35 hour work week), talk to the hand.

Now that that is out of my system, let’s engage in some productive talk.

Busy bees My husband and I both have full-time jobs and we have 2 young kids.  Weekdays are long and hectic; weekends are filled with play-dates, kid's birthday parties, gymnastics classes, laundry, grocery shopping, tidying house, ... you know, stuff of life, just like everybody else.  Did I mention, I write a blog and pursue some other interests that can eat up as much time as I give it.   Needless to say, we have very busy lives.

That's a good week.  When one of us is out of town or someone falls sick, all hell breaks lose.

I've been feeling more and more overwhelmed lately.  There are things on my to-do-list that I just can't seem to cross off.  It's September already, for Christ's sake.  Some things have been on the list since January.  I tell my husband it's because I am super-busy while I am at work. You know, normal business hours when you call to make a doctor’s appointment, or take your car in for service!

I lead the architecture department at an architect-led design-build company.  We have 7 projects in various stages of construction and 5 projects in different phases of architecture.  60% of my time is spent doing CA (Construction Administration – responding to RFI's (request for information) from builders, reviewing shop drawings, project schedule meetings, change orders, etc.), 40% managing the architectural team and our deliverables, including writing specifications.

By the end of the day, I suffer from “decision fatigue”. When my husband asks me what we should do about dinner, it’s often “I don’t care - anything”.

Is it really that bad? For this post, I did a little exercise.  I chalked down my week.  (I had a little help from my 5 year old.)  Sure, each work day is pretty intense.  But, it’s not so bad when you consider the week as a whole.   There's some semblance of a balance between work, sleep, and rest of life.

Work life tally, and by The Perfect Day I mean a day when everything goes according to plan

Then why does it feel so overwhelming?

Because, the truth is there are very few perfect days, when everything goes according to plan.   My kids spend an exorbitant 10 hours each work day away from home.  Theyeat more crap than I care to admit.  We recently moved and are yet to meet our neighbors. I ignore my health.  My relationships hang by a thread.

This is the reality of my modern-day work-life, and it sucks.

Like it or not, work spills over into life. If not literally, then figuratively. If you had a bad day at work, it spoils your evening.  Stress is tangible. For better or for worse, my work affects my being.

Work-life integration    Increasingly the concept of work-life integration is taking over the traditional idea of a balance between the two.  Many industries and companies recognize that work and life are not two separate things. Not in a globalized economy, not in this day of smart phones and wi-fi connectivity.

Certainly, for most architects, work is life and it’s our life’s work.

For example: I visit starchitect designed buildings that are up to 2 hours away from my vacation destination.  I take pictures of interesting architectural details while I'm not at work.  I jot down project to-do lists at 3am when I wake up for no apparent reason.  I agonize over small things that only perfectionists care about.

So I have to ask - Why have architecture firms not embraced a flexible work schedule to allow work life integration?

Every architecture office I have worked at has had a very defined work schedule; right down to the specific time that employees are allowed to take their lunch break!  It is not just in the employee manual, it is strictly enforced.  8-5pm; 12-1pm lunch.  And while the 5pm often blurs to 6 or 8pm, the other time stamps are sacred!

I say this to my friends who work for tech companies and other businesses and they laugh.  They say "I could never work like that". I have worked like that for so many years now, to me, it is normal. They think I’m too industrious. They don’t get into work till 10am. S l a c k e r s ! To be fair, I know these folks work 50-80 hours a week – just not at their office desk.

My husband has a pretty flexible work schedule.  Thankfully!  He picks up a lot of my slack. I think it’s safe to say he does more than his share of the household and parental duties. (Thank you dear!)

If our son gets sick at daycare and needs to be taken to the doctor in the middle of the day, he does not have to be apologetic about it to his boss.  If our daughter's class has a parent reading session, he can make himself available from 8:40-9:00am. Me? I have to calculate - If I volunteer for next week's reading, I will get to work by 9:15am, which means I am -1.25 hours for the day; I can work through lunch and stay till 5:15 and it'll be fine; as long as I don't have a project meeting; I should email everyone; and hope to God there's not bad traffic in the evening or else I'll be late to pick up my son.

U n n e c e s s a r y   s t r e s s !

I could check email before the reading, which is what I do when I get into work anyway! But, negotiating a flexible work schedule for myself would be unfair to the rest of the company.

Work-life separation But the status quo is not fair to my husband. His flexible work schedule comes at a price.  He has to work some evenings after the kids go to bed or when he is on-call, he gets paged in the middle of the night.  He may not work 8-5pm, but he works more than 40 hours a week.  There is little work-life separation.

On the other hand, I do. Whatever doesn’t get done by the end of the work day will have to wait till the next day. There is an inordinate number of emails to read and respond to, each requiring me to open up at least 4 different drawings. The definition of “getting your work done” is very vague.

You have to Choose: And therein lies the conundrum. Would you rather work on a schedule and not have to think about work when you are out of the office, or would you prefer that work hours are flexible but be on email alert?

But before you choose the former, consider this: Peak hour urban grid-lock Are we going to keep building more 10 lane highways to accommodate millions of urbanites who all have to be at work at 8am and leave at 5pm.  If you think that you just need to live closer to your work, consider that every time you change jobs or your office location changes, you will be uprooting your kids from their school/friends/environment, not to mention upsetting your partner’s commute to work. Living close to work is a reality for few and luxury for many.

Or are we going to embrace a flexible work schedule and integrate work and life?

Choose to be the architect of your own life and design it to be the best life it can be.



This post is part of the #Architalks series.  Aptly, for labor day, the topic was Work/Life. Read about how other architects handle work and life - click links below.

Enoch Sears - Business of Architecture (@businessofarch) Work Life

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect (@bobborson) Work | Life - Different Letters, Same Word

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture (@FiELD9arch) Work / Life : Life / Work

Marica McKeel - Studio MM (@ArchitectMM) Work/Life...What an Architect Does

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols) The One Secret to Work - Life Balance

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect (@LeeCalisti) work | life :: dance

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect) Living an Integrated Life as a Small Firm Architect

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC) #ArchiTalks: Work/life...attempts

Collier Ward - Thousand Story Studio (@collier1960) Work/Life

Jeremiah Russell, AIA - ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect) what makes you giggle? #architalks

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design (@modarchitect) Turning Work Off

Eric T. Faulkner - Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome) Work/Life -- A Merger

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design / The Missing 32% Project (@miss32percent) Work Life Fit: A New Focus for Blurred Lines

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel) Work Life

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC (@MeghanaIRA) Architalks: Imbalanced and uninterrupted

Amy Kalar - ArchiMom (@AmyKalar) ArchiTalks #12: Balance is a Verb.

Michael Riscica - Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX) I Just Can’t Do This Anymore

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL (@sramos_BAC) An Architect's House

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA) Brady Ernst - Family Man Since 08/01/2015

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect (@bpaletz) Father, Husband, Architect - typically in that order

Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC (@Parthenon1) On Work: Life Balance – Cattywampus is as Good as it Gets

Eric Wittman - intern[life] (@rico_w) midnight in the garden of [life] and [work]

Daniel Beck - The Architect's Checklist (@archchecklist) Work Life Balance: Architecture and Babies - 5 Hints for Expecting Parents

Jarod Hall - di'velept (@divelept) Work is Life

Anthony Richardson - That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent) studio / life

Lindsey Rhoden - SPARC Design (@sparcdesignpc) Work Life Balance: A Photo Essay

Drew Paul Bell - Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell) Work / Life

Why I am an Architect, when I could have been a Mathematician #ArchiTalks

The short answer:- I am good at math and I like to draw!*

To draw, draw, raw, aw…. Not only do I like to draw, I can draw well, a talent I inherited from my father.  That skill came in handy when I had to draw a still life, to prove that I was worthy of attending the College of Architecture.  I remember sitting at a drawing board in a studio, alongside a batch of other applicants, sketching the objects that were carefully arranged on the table in front of us.  That was 21 years ago, so I don’t know if they do that anymore, but it sure set the crowd apart right at the outset.  I should mention that this was before we had personal computers!!!  (If you’re trying to do the math and it doesn’t make any sense, it might help if you knew that all this happened in India, in the middle of the dark ages!)  So if you cannot draw and you made it into architecture school (dumb luck or reservation politics), you were screwed i.e. you would repeat first year architecture for a long time!  But as it was, it was a class filled with kids who were well endowed with artistic talents.

Good at math, at math, math, ath, th.… Before architecture, I spent a semester dawdling in mathematics.  That’s right!  I wasn’t kidding when I said I am** good at math.  But being good wasn’t enough.  I had no passion for it.  While going from trigonometry to algebra to calculus to analytical math all day long was all fun and games, I had no idea what I was going to do with a B.S. in Math.  Does anyone?!  I was no math prodigy and I had no intention to be the next Ramanujan. (Dad - let’s not go there again!)

** I should correct that to was good at math. Those brain cells have long since atrophied.

Say what?! I spent most of my schooling secretly hating the abstract concepts and intangible theories of the sciences.  I could not wait to go to college to focus on real life learning!  Things I could touch and feel and see.  (No disrespect to my physicist friends.)  Perhaps, I forgot that part when I signed up for being a math major, because by definition, math is an abstract science.  Architecture, on the other hand…except for that one class I had in grad school that was so academic, we were reading Marx and Engels.  Worst.  Class.  Ever.

I preferred applied math to pure math anyway.  And now, I'm just looking at the problems from the other side of the lens.  These 10 amazing examples of architecture inspired by mathematics showcase what I mean.

Why I enjoy doing architecture: I am one of those people who use their right and left brain almost equally.*** The practice of architecture fans the flames of my artistic/creative side and feeds my analytical/logical mind.

***Of course, this is not a requirement.  Take this test to see where you stand.  And read my post architects come in all shapes and sizes, to identify your architect avatar.

Actually, these are reasons why I became an architect and why it’s a good fit for me.  They are not why I continue to be an Architect.  And that brings me to…

The long answer:- You see, at several points in my life I’ve taken the opportunity to question whether this is the right career path for me.

  1. Right after I graduated. 85% of my friends who graduated with a B.Arch degree branched out into other fields – advertising, industrial design, graphic design, landscape architecture, construction management, business, engineering, etc.  5 years in architecture school and they had had enough.  I did the opposite and decided to spend another 2 years in (grad) school!
  2. Right after I decided to pursue licensure. I found out that my undergraduate degree was not recognized by NCARB (if you don’t know, you don’t need to know), and my graduate degree (from UT!) was not accredited, so I had to accrue 8 years of work experience before I could start the ARE (Architect Registration Exams, i.e. the licensing test).  @#*$!!!  I waited patiently (silently plotting) and then took 9 exams in 9 months (one during every month of my pregnancy) and got licensed.
  3. Right after I had my first child. I realized that the firm I was working at was not very family friendly and I either needed a new job or a new career.  I had just got my license!  So I got a new job.
  4. Right after every dreaded “salary talk”. Ugh.
  5. Right about now! Hind-sight IS 20/20.

I have, on a couple of occasions, talked about changing careers - that usually lasts until I get over my funk.  I am either too persistent or too stupid.

Or I found my real reason WHY.

THE BIG WHY? If you’ve heard Simon Sinek’s TED Talk Start with WHY, you know that the core reason WHY you do something is a very elusive thing.

I like to think of architecture as ideation.  Architects create ideas.  Small ideas and big ideas.  Ideas that can change our energy consumption, enhance our quality of life, stimulate our senses, connect us to our family, friends, and neighbors, beautify our surroundings, solve our mundane and most gruesome problems, and in so doing, change our lives and our future.

The end: Architecture is a tough profession.  You don’t make much money, you have to work really hard (it takes a toll on your body too), and there are no fast results - much like anything worth pursuing in life.  It’s the long game.

I like being an Architect. I love the practice of architecture. It's my craft.



* Read Bob Borson's post on Life of an Architect, Architecture and Math (it'll shed some light on that reference)

This post is my contribution to #ArchiTalks series organized by Architect Bob Borson, who writes Life of an Architect. To see other architect blogger’s musings on "Why I am an Architect", click on links provided below.

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect @bobborson Why I am an Architect (and not an Astronaut)

Marica McKeel - Studio MM @ArchitectMM Why I am an Architect

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect @LeeCalisti Why I am an Architect

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC @L2DesignLLC Why I am an Architect

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design @modarchitect Purpose in the Profession

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect @mghottel Why I am an Architect

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC @MeghanaIRA Why I am an Architect

Michael Riscica - Young Architect @YoungArchitxPDX Why did you become an Architect

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL @sramos_BAC I like to make and create

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect @bradyernstAIA The Agrarian Pantheon

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect @bpaletz I am what I am

Emily Grandstaff-Rice - @egraia Why I am an Architect

Summer Break in South Padre #ArchiTalks

This post is my (first) contribution to #ArchiTalks series organized by Architect Bob Borson, who writes Life of an Architect. To see other architect blogger’s musings on "Summer Break", click on links provided at the end of this post.

As it turns out, I am on vacation as I write this post.  Ever since my daughter started school, summer break has elevated from “Woohoo! Less traffic!" to a real phenomenon once again in my life.  If you have kids, you know that a summer vacation is the perfect excuse to rekindle cherished memories from your childhood, make new memories with your children, and keep you from becoming that “dull person” that everyone is trying to avoid - you know, the one who is “all work and no play”.

What better than a road trip to the beach to celebrate summer and keep that ugly dullness at bay?!  So, we headed southeast on the long road to the Gulf coast- destination South Padre, with a pit stop in Mustang Island.  While they are both part of the Padre barrier islands with sandy beaches stretching out for miles, the latter is preserved as a state park, whereas the former has developed into a popular beach destination, also known as "the place to stay away from during spring break".  Here’s an image contrasting the two.

Mustang Island State Park above, South Padre Island below

I'll let the oceanographers and environmentalists write the articles bashing the foolishness and unsustainable nature of development on barrier islands.  As an architect though, I want to talk about how disappointed I was in the nondescript nature of the built environment on the island.  I was not expecting the Greek Isles, but I was also not prepared for the same ol' urban built-scape one would see on the mainland.  Some (like my husband) might argue that "people don't go to South Padre for the architecture", but I counter with "that's a shame, because it is a lost opportunity".

South Padre, the town, has been built from sand up over the last 50 years and the island is only 1/2 mile across, with a bountiful lagoon to the west and a beautiful beach on the east.  Aforementioned foolishness aside, what an incredible opportunity to create a deliberate, vibrant, walkable community.  If you cannot envision what I am talking about, take a look at the numerous projects undertaken by Duany Plater-Zyberk & Company, who gave us Seaside, Florida and Alys Beach, Florida.  Now, take a little detour to those websites, and tell me you are not compelled to go there.  Humans are attracted to beauty; and in these two examples, the built environment enhances the natural beauty of the landscape.  And there are two aspects that enable that - a master-plan (driven by new-urbanist principles) and spectacular architecture.

Unfortunately, South Padre lacks both.

I'm not going to launch into an urban design critique, but if you are an urban designer, please let me know what you think.  There are 23 beach access points (with plenty of parking!) that are "walking distance" from wherever you stay.  Too bad that your walk will only be about the (beach) destination, not the journey.  Sure, there are a few "nice" houses, condos, and hotels on the beachfront.  But as a whole, the town is visually blah, without any architectural character.  Au contraire, I saw poor examples of every possible style, ranging from mid-century modern to Mediterranean, and Cape-Cod to kitsch.

See those houses - I am not crazy, right?  And these were the "interesting" ones.  Is this island architecture?  Maybe it's the new "coastal look"!  Perhaps, those walls are actually high-tech one-way-see-through walls that I have not heard of.  Of course, there isn't a native architectural vernacular - the town is fairly young (incorporated in 1973) and birthed solely for tourism.  Most of the development took place in the 80's and 90's, and most provide affordable housing for the million transient visitors a year.  The condo we stayed at was as generic as anything you can find anywhere.  The air conditioner struggled to keep up with the heat and humidity.  It is probably over-sized,  but it didn't have any help from the building's design.

Thankfully, City of South Padre has adopted a Comprehensive Plan to rectify some of these deficiencies.  A new master planned community on the north side called The Shores looks promising.   It follows Smart Growth principles (prescribed by NOAA) and defines a cohesive architectural aesthetic (much similar to Seaside, actually).

Building on the beach/coast is the ultimate test of conquering the elements - shifting sands, fluctuating water table, corrosive salty air, high humidity, strong (hurricane) winds.  It's risky business even when all these concerns are properly addressed.  And when they are not, buildings fall apart right in front of your eyes.  That or your maintenance bills are through the roof!

But hey, I'm on my summer break.  I am going to turn my back to the city, dig my feet into the soft sands, sit back under my rainbow umbrella, open a cold beer, bust out my sketchbook, and color outside the lines.  It will take many days of repeating this same exercise to help me decompress, reset my brain, and tap into the reserves of creativity that get buried deep under the rigors of daily routine.

Cheers, Sharon.

Bob Borson - Life of An Architect @bobborson Architectural Bucket List

Matthew Stanfield - FiELD9: architecture @FiELD9arch Summerbreak?

Marica McKeel - Studio MM @ArchitectMM Summer Break = Extreme Architecture

Jeff Echols - Architect Of The Internet @Jeff_Echols Summer Break and Aunt Loretta

Lee Calisti, AIA - Think Architect @LeeCalisti Summer Break

Mark R. LePage - Entrepreneur Architect @EntreArchitect 2 Simple Systems That Will Transform Your Studio

Lora Teagarden - L² Design, LLC @L2DesignLLC Vacationing with an Architect

Cormac Phalen - Cormac Phalen @archy_type Miles and Miles of Road

Andrew Hawkins, AIA - Hawkins Architecture, Inc. @hawkinsarch Summertime

Jes Stafford - Modus Operandi Design @modarchitect Summer Getaway

Rosa Sheng - Equity by Design/ The Missing 32% Project @miss32percent #Architalks 10 - Give me a Break!

Michele Grace Hottel - Michele Grace Hottel, Architect @mghottel #Architalks 10 - "summer break"

Meghana Joshi - IRA Consultants, LLC @MeghanaIRA Architalks: There, but not there

Amy Kalar - ArchiMom @AmyKalar Summer Break

Michael Riscica - Young Architect @YoungArchitxPDX The Architecture Students Summer Break

Stephen Ramos - BUILDINGS ARE COOL @sramos_BAC Architect: Gift or Curse?

brady ernst - Soapbox Architect @bradyernstAIA The Education of an Architect

Brian Paletz - The Emerging Architect @bpaletz Summer Vacation

Tara Imani - Tara Imani Designs, LLC @Parthenon1 A Brilliant Summer Break

Eric Wittman - intern[life] @rico_w Summer Break [or] Summer School

Brinn Miracle - Architangent @simplybrinn Summer Break