Happy Holidays

Calvin

It is the season of sugar plums, stockings, egg nog, too many cookies, and all that twinkles. Children everywhere are asked whether they have been naughty or nice.

My children are the age where everything Christmas is magical and very fun – still too young to have anxiety about whether their behavior over the past year amounts to “naughty” or “nice.” (Which, by the way, means I have zero Santa leverage when they are throwing a tantrum in the grocery store).

This time of year also means a heavy calendar of holiday parties and networking events.  No matter how delicately I attempt to answer the question “What do you do?”, I have found there are very few things that can suffocate small talk faster than revealing that I am a lawyer.  In the pause that follows my pronouncement, I can relate to Calvin’s anxiety.

Apparently, there is a naughty and nice list for lawyers, too.

Inevitably, the next question I am asked is whether I am the “good” or “bad” kind of lawyer.  “Wait,” I think, “Give me a chance to plead my case! Not all lawyers are naughty!” Are they?

Therefore, in order to promote Christmas cheer and goodwill toward my profession I extend an offer of representation to Calvin and other similarly situated youth who may have gotten into mischief and need to plead their case to Santa Claus before those reindeer take off from the North Pole.

 

Merry Christmas Everyone!

A Year in Review

Final ReviewWhen you’re in graduate school, you think the end of the semester will never come. Long nights, Revit crashes and endless amounts of bad coffee become your life. We’ve all been there. We all know what it’s like to be cutting basswood with an exacto knife at 4 am and thinking “this is a really, really bad idea”. Every semester, I attempted to manage my time in a way that would not result in the end of semester rush. But, no amount of time-management kept me out of the computer lab in the final hours.

Finally, after seven long years and nine studios, I have found myself on the other side of the Final Review. This week I participated in the University of Colorado’s architectural final reviews for Fred Andreas’ Advanced Greenbuild Studio. This was much preferred to staying up all night, building a model and trying to look presentable on zero sleep. (Perhaps it was because I was actually able to go to bed before 10 pm all of Thanksgiving break and the following week.)

I am well aware that the architectural profession learning curve increases exponentially when you become a full-time employee and work non-stop with real world constraints. Participating in this Final Review was the first time that I actually noticed how much I have learned and grown as a professional in the past year. My mindset was different; the projects evoked different questions than when I was a design student. I kept thinking “yes, but what is the cost of using that material?” and “where is the waterproofing in your wall section?” I refrained from asking some questions because I know certain aspects of a project cannot be explored in a semester and those particular questions always annoyed me as a student as well.

The very studio that I was reviewing was the final studio I participated in before graduating last year. It was not too long ago. I remembered the organization of the semester, Fred’s requirements and the freedom to explore design solutions without a client. I even remembered some of the reviewers because they had participated a year ago. This got me thinking about the very purpose of architectural education, something that has been debated hotly in the past few years. Thoughts about education have been formulating in my head for a while but engaging in a review in an educational setting solidified that architectural education and professional employment play very separate roles in the overall training of an architect. Should employers expect students to know how to fully detail a wall section with an R-Value of 36? Who knows, I suppose it depends on what skills are important to the hiring firm. I do believe that some skills are best learned in an office setting and some skills such as critical thinking, exploration and concept development are the important skills learned in architectural school.

All professionals should be engaged in the future of architectural education. It is the common denominator between architects and it is the best recruiting tool we have to keep our profession alive. It is important to stay engaged in what is happening in academia as much as it is important to bring a professional voice to Final Studio reviews.

A few colleagues and Fred asked if I missed it. “It” being the studio review and the arduous hours spent leading up to it. I have to admit, I enjoy being employed and spending my free time on things other than homework. However, there is a little part of me that misses school. Just a little bit…

If Architecture Were Optimism

In the last year or so, reading or watching the news has become a game of roulette. Taking my chances, I scan pages or flip channels hastily in an attempt to avoid disturbing imagery and narrative in favor of landing on something meaningful and at least slightly optimistic.

Therefore, I was surprised today to find myself enticed by a beautiful, powerful image of the New York skyline on the cover page of the Sunday Times, only to read further to find a scathing article by Michael Kimmelman titled “A Soaring Emblem of New York, and its Upside Down Priorities; 1 World Trade Center is a Cautionary Tale.”

While the article lacked any mention of hostile takeovers or race riots, the negative tone of the article suggests that the newest, tallest building in North America “speaks volumes about political opportunism, outmoded thinking and upside-down urban priorities…It’s what happens when a commercial developer is pretty much handed the keys to the castle. Tourists will soon flock to the top of the building, and tenants will fill it up. But a skyscraper doesn’t just occupy its own plot of land. Even a tower with an outsize claim on the civic soul needs to be more than tall and shiny.”

Kimmelman goes on to discuss the building’s lack of mixed-use programming, pedestrian engagement, as well as a symmetrical, relatively generic composition that suggests “New York is a metropolis bereft of fresh ideas.”

“Stripped of prospective cultural institutions, as well as of street life and housing, the plan soon turned into something akin to an old-school office park, destined to die at night — the last thing a young generation of New Yorkers wanted…Mr. Childs faced a nearly impossible task: devising a tower at once somber and soaring, open and unassailable, dignified but not dull,” states Kimmelman, regarding the Skidmore, Owings, Merrill architect David Childs that designed 1 World Trade amidst many stakeholders and competing priorities.

Situating Kimmelman’s article in the context of the current media sphere and a recent Wednesday night in New York that I spent standing at the building’s base only to be told that “areas weren’t open to the public yet,” I am left with a relatively stale taste in my mouth. Despite living in a world where violent history continues to repeat itself and old and new battles are being forged daily in highly graphic means of representation, I still believe that architecture, in its purest form and definitions, should and must remain a symbol of unrelentless optimism.

While I can’t disagree that street level may not yet be deemed a success for 1 World Trade, I would like to make a general plea that critics’ switch their syntax and thinking in the way that both critique and candor are being applied to architecture.

In looking at the image in the Times, what drew me to the picture was the scale of the tower as well as the presence and strength that it holds in filling a long and painful void in the New York skyline. In this image, it is the gesture, not the detail that may be deemed most important.

To speak generally, all architecture projects are comprised of scales to consider and agendas to reconcile, areas for innovation and opportunity, and strategies considered that are already tried and tested. I can only imagine the list of priorities that 1 World Trade entailed, but am still celebratory of the feat that it was realized despite perhaps the greatest obstacles any project could possibly have—fear and memory.

Architectural projects resulting in buildings are a manifestation of hopes and aspirations. Many architects, as serial optimists and idealists, are still attempting to be brave and bold in a climate much like medicine and education, in which reporting and accountability often trump a general respect for creativity, innovation, and the idea that each project requires a unique approach and related outcomes.

As a current resident of Denver, a city that will double in size by the year 2030, I often drive around the city and find myself taking note of each new multi-family, mixed-use, office, grocery, or retail building that didn’t exist upon my relocation to Denver a little over two years ago. While I may not agree with the aesthetic or form of each development, I try to remain respectful that these projects are a result of growing and projected needs, and a general belief that as a city grows, its desire for resources, community, and transportation-oriented development will also continue to grow. Each of these developments is an optimistic response to a city investing in the future—perhaps the most optimistic concept of all.

I would argue that 1 World Trade, despite some mishaps and perceived “flawed” aesthetics, is still a successful symbol of stakeholders working with a lead architect and an architecture firm to create the most appropriate response to a tragedy at a discrete moment in history. This is the nature of creating a building meant to define a skyline view—i.e. a view that is most often captured by a two-dimensional photo in which a building is defined by its height and profile- two features that quickly become both icon and symbol.

While New York and its Financial District at street level will continue to organically change and evolve, I believe that the new tallest building in North America provides a moment of order and solemnity amidst the foreground of people, chaos, and life that remains the primary illustrative medium of any city at any given moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Flight of the Suburbs

A few months back, a friend mentioned something that stuck with me: he said that he assumes that we (meaning both of our families and most people that are our age) will have to move out to the suburbs at some point in the near future. He said this in a way that made it seem like an inevitable fact of life; that living in a dense, or even mostly dense, urban environment was something that we could only do while we were young. Once we are at the point in our lives where we are expanding our families past just our wives, heading towards the outer edges of development with ample space and cheaper housing costs are simply a fact of life.

I find myself, and most of those that are around my age (the “young professional” age) identifying with the Peter Campbell character of the hit TV series Mad Men (his preference of living in Manhattan instead of moving out to the rural suburbs… not the whole infidelity and general snake-like tendencies part). The “millennial generation” is one in which we are increasingly drawn to a more urban lifestyle because of the convenience and proximity to a wide array of activities and cultures. In fact, according to the Brookings Institute, cities outgained suburbs 1.1% to .9% from 2010-2011, in contrast to the 2000’s where suburbs grew at 1.4% and cities at .4%. Does this mean that downtown Denver is on the verge of becoming an even more vibrant city center? Will it be filled with a wide array of people and act as an urban melting pot for people of all ages, backgrounds, and incomes?

Figure 1 - BrookingsFigure 2 - Brookings

Unfortunately, this seems highly unlikely to be the case in the near future. This brings me full circle back to my friend’s take on the inevitability of heading to the ‘burbs in the next few years. To a certain extent, he is right. At our current income levels, buying a decent sized home big enough to house a family in the fairly immediate area of downtown Denver isn’t too feasible because it is either a) way too expensive or b) there isn’t anything available.

No doubt, people are noticing that many of the buildings going up around Denver are addressing the need of housing. However, these are being built as for-rent apartment buildings and not for-sale condos, townhomes, or houses. If there is such a need for housing, why is there only a single demographic (young and not quite ready to buy) being addressed?

The answer to most architects, emerging professionals, contractors, and developers is simple: the liability of building housing to own is far greater than building housing to rent. Because of this, the market has been saturated with thousands of apartments that, for the most part, are all cut from the same cloth. Subsequently, the amount of diversity that stems from these apartment buildings is about as easy to find as a non-Starbucks coffee shop in downtown.

I don’t profess to be an expert in contract law or liability (I will leave that to others… maybe even one of my fellow AIA EP bloggers…), but it seems pretty apparent that this practice is leading to developers, contractors, and architects to address a single, short term housing issue instead of creating a sustainable solution for the future. It seems inevitable that this will have to change at some point in the very near future if our city is to retain the people that are so desperate to live here and live in an urban environment.

Aside from changing laws and contracts, creating parts of downtown that draw families and various others to actually live there long term will be essential. Adding grocery stores, functional parks, and other spaces that aren’t swanky restaurants, bars, or office buildings will go a long way to convince people that living close to or in downtown is a viable option. I can’t say for sure which one of these steps should come first, but I am fairly sure that as each one comes to fruition, the others are not far behind.

If the trend of flocking towards urban centers continues, as it is projected to, addressing these issues is an undeniable necessity. It also seems safe to assume that a husband, wife, and several children aren’t going to want to live in a for rent apartment building that functions eerily similarly to a college dormitory or fraternity house either and will need more of the amenities that are so prevalent in the suburbs or various neighborhoods around Denver. Obviously, many things need to happen before this is a viable situation, but maybe we (as a generational shift), can have a say in the manner and how quickly this all happens.

Learning to Say No

noNo. Non. Ne. Nein. This can become one of the most important words we learn to use correctly. It wasn’t until recently I started to understand how important the use of no could be.

Life is fast-paced. We move quickly from work to family to extracurricular activities and back again. I have often felt the more I take on the more effective and efficient I can be. I am also a doer. I like to keep busy, to challenge myself and enjoy working with many people at different levels of engagement. My stage in life has also been influential in my ability or inability to say no. When I started grad school, I moved to a new city, knew only one person and was finding my way through a new environment. Soon after my first day of school, I became quite involved in the AIA and AIAS. I joined committees and participated in events. I said yes to every opportunity that fit within my schedule and worked towards my future goals. Many of the staff members and many of the active members of the AIA soon knew my face. Getting involved in the architecture community was one of the most valuable decisions I have ever made. I don’t regret saying yes.

As I approach one year of full time employment, I have learned that post-grad life has different priorities. For those that know me, you may still think I say yes too often. Some things will not change. Once a doer, always a doer. But I have learned to assess every commitment and make sure it is relevant to my current stage in life. I learned that some commitments were more relevant when I was in school. Not only has this assessment (and yes, relinquishing of some commitments) made room for other volunteer opportunities; I have learned what a weekend feels like! I find bliss in the freedom of coming home from work and the day being over. Sure, there are some nights that just roll into the next morning, but we all knew there would be those nights after grad school.

Not only has saying no been important to my personal development and has allowed me to spend time with friends and family, but it has also opened the door to other opportunities that I might not have been able to commit to, both at work and personally. This is not to say that dropping commitments is the way to lighten your schedule, but understanding the expected time associated with certain activities will help you to prioritize what is most important.

What I’m finding right now is how important it is to be 25 and enjoy the balance of life, work and volunteering.