Facilitated by the UC Berkeley Career Center externship program, I spent one week in January at Struthers Dias Architects, where I had the opportunity to see this firm in action. Far from the idealized world of architecture school, I was exposed to the real-world applications of architecture in practice. Gary, Theresa, and the other staff were kind enough to include me in several site visits, where I learned about construction techniques and the cycle that each project goes through. The process of making a real and fully functional building is never fully explained to undergraduate students until their last year in school and as a current senior, I am still learning many of the things that were introduced to me from my time spent with SDA. I cherish the parts that will never be taught in class; for example, during one of the site visits to a transitional housing project, we saw that the existing building had been looted. Copper wiring was stripped, sinks and toilets were gone and entire walls were torn, revealing studs, missing plumbing and adding further construction costs. The thieves also managed to make away with the building’s main water pressure pump, which surely weighed several hundred pounds.The second thing I observed very carefully was the collaboration of workers within SDA as well as collaboration between contractors, city officials, and clients. I was impressed how design proposals were open to all members in SDA and distribution of work did not pigeon-hole a single person to a single menial task. Having all employees know and do a little bit of everything unfortunately is not how all firms internally function. All graduating seniors in my college know that our fates as CAD monkeys is nearly certain but at least it’s a relief to know that firms like SDA exist where workers will not be banished to the world of drawing toilets for an indefinite amount time. This was my second time as an “extern” in a firm and it was a great introduction to the business of architecture. I am very appreciative to everyone at Struthers Dias Architectures for welcoming me into the firm and providing such an interesting and educational experience!
As an architecture student in graduate school I got involved with Habitat for Humanity in the local community. This was a tremendous experience for me on so many levels; I will never forget the family and the impact that a new home made in their life. I also had a tremendous experience using my skills as an architect to help volunteers to build the house. It is amazing to see what people can do when they come together; a Habitat volunteer site is truly a community experience.
When I moved to the bay area I got involved with the local Habitat affiliate. I quickly discovered that this would be vastly different than my college experience. The need for affordable housing in the Bay Area is much more pronounced, the process of creating affordable housing here is more complex, and accordingly the Habitat affiliate is much larger.
I began my volunteer experience using my background as an architect, providing design services to the organization and volunteering on site when my schedule allowed. Over the years I have become more involved in the organization; as a committee member then a board member, which means less involved on site (swinging a hammer). While I really enjoy swinging a hammer (it’s nice to step out of one’s own element from time to time) I have found that using my professional training and experiences as a volunteer with Habitat for Humanity East Bay has been very meaningful to me.
While being a volunteer at the organizational level has been very rewarding, each year I allow myself to focus on swinging a hammer during Habitat for Humanity East Bay’s Build-A-Thon. The build-a-thon is a yearly event that both serves to boost the construction schedule for the organization; this year we will frame seven homes in four days; as well as being one of the affiliates major fund raisers. The event is scheduled on April 16th through April 19th. It coincides with earth day to highlight Habitat for Humanity East Bay’s commitment to sustainable building practices.
This year will mark my seventh consecutive build-a-thon. I think what is the most amazing aspect for me personally is that when you show up on the first day there is nothing but a concrete slab, when you leave on the end of the fourth day there are seven houses completely framed. It is an amazing transition that is based on the efforts of volunteers; it is a community event. If you would like to learn more about Habitat for Humanity East Bay, or this year’s Build-A-Thon, please visit www.habitateb.org/build-a-thon
Architects, as a rule (I’m not going to call it a sterotype, because I think it’s true), love to dress in black. If not black, then at least solid colors. (Never mind that black is probably the worst color for flattering pale skin – and it’s no secret that most architects spend waaaaay too many sunny days bent over the drawing board.) My theory as to why is that it’s our fear of falling prey to gimmicks, to “fashion.” Reasons for this:
- we are notoriously socially awkward, and probably too clueless to catch on to the latest trends in hem lengths.
- we are not as well paid as some might think, and keeping a wardrobe current can be pricey – especially when one has high-quality taste.
- It’s a sales job, and every aspect of our presence – from our business card to our eyewear – sends a message to clients about our design sensibilities. We need to look like a solid investment of their design dollars.
But I think none of these are the real reason. Deep down inside, I think we’re afraid of looking dated. Architectural design has been around for millennia, and let’s face it: some buildings definitely age better than others. Metallic wallpaper, anyone? We’ve all seen buildings that look horribly dated, and not in a good way.
And yet this fear of obsolescence is countered by the desire to be “cutting-edge.” Modern, hip, and a leader in our field. Here, by the way, is why in fact we keep falling into the trap of designing buildings that age poorly… Metallic wallpaper was exciting new technology at one point, after all.
Hence, this teeter-tottering between white picket fences, and corrugated metal siding. On the fashion front, what is analogous to solid wood detailing, something we can all get behind? Basic black. “It’s the new black.”
No bold florals or glamorous paisleys, no ruches or ruffles; those will look “SO last week” next week. On the flip side, no happy yellows or stable plaids either; can’t blend in with the masses -- after all, that doesn’t scream “Design With A Capital D,” does it? So we’re left with black. Dependable, timeless, yet still edgy and urban. We’re trapped.
I remember the first time I heard of this concept. I was a young (naïve?) architecture student with stars in my eyes, when attending a lecture by architect Bart Prince. In his slide show of past projects was a home he designed – and in passing he mentioned, “my client was an architect, and…”
The ripples of surprise and confusion radiated across the lecture hall! At the end of the presentation, one of my fellow students was brave enough to ask aloud the question we all were asking ourselves: “why would an architect hire another architect to design their home?” Since the fourth grade I had been keeping a folder of all the dream house sketches I could possibly imagine. Don’t architects by their very nature have a burning desire to create a custom home for themselves?
I have learned that the old saying is true: the cobbler’s children have no shoes. As many of my friends are fellow architects, I find that as a rule our homes are all in various stages of disrepair and deconstruction. Projects started and stopped abound, and we will guide our guests on tours that consist of “and here’s where I’m planning to build a _____,” or “this is where I’m working on turning this into a _____.” But what have we done? Well, not as much as we’d like… and unfortunately there’s always more.
On the flip side, when a cousin (non-architect) had a housewarming party, she took me on a tour and described the recent several weekends of rigorous work projects. Hanging pictures, putting in a landscape, adding shelves… everything was now in its place. “We’re done,” she said. Done? DONE? How could anyone ever possibly be DONE with home? It was a foreign concept to me.
Mr. Prince answered the student’s question by pointing out that in any project, there are mistakes, shortcomings, and of course that pesky 20-20 hindsight vision. His client, like all architects, couldn’t walk through a space without being confronted by all those mistakes, all that potential, without seeing how it “could have been better.” So who wants to be surrounded by all of their own shortcomings in their own home? At home, his client wanted to be able to turn that all off.
At the end of the day, wouldn’t it be nice to leave work at work? But it is possible when work is more than just a job, it’s an obsession? In the end, I think I don’t WANT to design my own home, but I NEED to. It’s a compulsion. Maybe someday I will overcome this madness, as did Mr. Prince’s client, but I can’t imagine getting there today.
Two weeks ago, the unthinkable happened – my computer was stricken by a virus! That this could happen at all is a blog post in and of itself. I was heartily lectured and ridiculed by all. Don’t you have antivirus software? (yes.) Were you surfing internet porn sites? (no.) I TOLD you Macs were better than PCs! (ugh.)
Fortunately, the office next door has the most helpful IT manager I’ve ever met, and he took pity on me. It wasn’t the first time, and it likely won’t be the last.
All I can say is this: always be friendly to those who know more about computers than you do! I am forever in debt to this kind gentleman, but nevertheless, repairs left me for two days without my most critical business tool. Up until this point, I don’t know if I had realized how utterly dependent I am upon this glorious machine. What happened to the days when all an architect needed was a pencil? And what will we do when our international (or interstellar) enemies use an electromagnetic pulse to disable all of our electronics? I shudder to think.
The week was ending and I was woefully behind on my current project by the time “my precious” was back in full working order. Luckily the deadline wasn’t until Monday, and this meant I could play catch up over the weekend. Unluckily, this meant I could play catch up over the weekend…
My client was willing to work with me in the face of this utter calamity, and made herself available during the downtime to answer my string of last-minute questions. (What color did you want the trims to be? What do you think of this solution for lighting the skylight?) The product was finished to her satisfaction, and that week we visited the building department together with positive results. And let me tell you, after that, I made two more backups of my computer’s hard drive.
Now I need to send a thank-you gift to my IT savior. Any ideas?