Open for Business

Beginnings can be scary. But also exhilarating. One of the scariest things I did in my life – second to becoming a mother – was starting my own law firm. In 2011 I started Ruebel & Quillen, LLC.  I will admit, we did not plan well. In our case it was a lack of time. Due to circumstances beyond my control, it was a whirlwind three months from concept to reality.  For others, unguarded optimism may prevent them from fully developing business foundations. Fear and doubt can also thwart proper planning when the “what ifs” seem too vast to address head on. It may just be a lack of information and knowing where to start.

This article is intended for anyone contemplating a new business in 2015. While the year is still young, you can begin the thought work toward establishing strong foundations later.

Insight from Hindsight

There is not a Right way and a Wrong way to start a business. But having helped a number of clients with business startups, dissolutions, disputes (and having had my own), I am confident saying there is a Hard way and a Easier way. (Note I did not say “Easy” because there is nothing Easy about starting and running a business).

“Do as you go” is impractical.  Once the business is up and running, there will many demands on your time.  Finishing the business plan or drafting the operating agreement inevitably moves to the back burner, sometimes permanently.  When the first partner wants to leave, the tensions are too high to comfortably negotiate the business valuation and exist strategy if one was not put down in writing initially.

So here are some thoughts to get you started on the road to a better business model:

1. Start early. Pressure can breed contention, controversy, and mistrust. Negotiate the terms of business valuation, partnership, exit strategy, etc. in the beginning before the necessity arises.  While no one wants to plan to split up, business divorces are messy.  Some mess, and the emotional toll, can be neutralized if everything is understood and memorialized in writing from the outset.

2. Speaking of divorce…Yes, I call them a business divorce because there can be the same emotions, similar objectives and outcomes when splitting the assets. Going into business is much like entering a marriage. You want the business to last, to be productive, to be a great place to be everyday. But lawyers, entrepreneurs, and if I may be so bold – architects – can be idealistic, strong willed, and very opinionated. As you would a marriage partner, it is important to confirm your compatibility at the outset.  Vet the collective beliefs and desires of your partners. Discuss longterm goals and daily division of labor before you decide whether it is a good match.

3. Write out your business plan. It does not have to be a “plan” per se. It can be a vision statement, credo, your manifesto – but it needs to articulate your goals, objectives, and style.  Once you have discussed these with your partners (see above) it should be relatively easy to put pen to paper.

A written business plan not only gives you a touchstone for later decisions, but it will help your consultants (lawyers, accountants, publicist) advise you. For example, a lawyer will not choose outright which corporate structure you should elect at formation. However, if you can give him or her a good idea of your plan for the company they should present you with the pros and cons and assist you in  selecting the entity that best reflects your vision.

4. Assemble your team of consultants.  You are an expert in your field and no doubt are smart enough to do a lot on your own, but do not make the mistake of believing you have the expertise (or time) to handle everything yourself – especially once the business is up and running and grows. There are several articles outlining the which and when of consultants, but it cannot be emphasized enough: do not be afraid to change horses! Find then team of lawyers, accountants, publicity, etc. that is the best fit for your needs. And if they are not listening, are not responsive, or do not fit – find someone who does.

Be bold in 2015 and start your business! Good luck!

I would like to thank Joseph Vigil and many of my clients for insights and comments in contribution to this article.

Visually Speaking

It’s been an interesting week in my architectural career.

I just returned to my hotel after a very full day of working in our Regional Office in Los Angeles. My time and efforts have been spent compiling a drawing set for one small building within a very large development. In the next week I will spend here, that drawing set will be reviewed by several local and remote teams, redlined and reviewed numerous times, and eventually sent to the client and contractor abroad for construction.

Shortly thereafter, this project rooted in Western iconography and imagery will literally rise from the dust in the Middle East.

As the set is issued, I will remain, in many respects, a world away, likely sitting in an ergonomic task chair and ready for my next coffee break. Yet despite physically being a “world away,” the reality is that I am only one instant message or real-time email or lync call away from our Dubai office, or any other remote office that is currently engaging in the next phase of production or shift in this large undertaking.

Having spoken or indirectly worked with colleagues from our Costa Rica, Bangalore, Dubai, Las Vegas, Denver, and LA offices in the past few days, it is fair for me to say that it is projects like these that confirm that architecture is a universal language. Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of these interactions has been that the questions and solutions being communicated are being translated first and foremost through the medium of drawing.

This aspect of architecture as a universal language is one important aspect of why I decided to pursue architecture as a profession. How tempting it is to think that the world we are living in, while globalizing and in turn shrinking, might become that much smaller to a community of designers and architects willing to share their (literal) views of what the developing world will look like?

For those who have been trained to look at a plan or an elevation, a detail or an axonometric drawing, whether you are in Prague or Poughkeepsie, I have always liked the idea that despite spoken language barriers, architects are seeing the same thing. In turn, our world feels smaller, and our networks become stronger than ever when we enable the sharing of cross-cultural viewpoints and a wide range of highly different but equally informed opinions.

While construction methods and measurement systems may vary (thank you Google, for your inches to millimeter tool,) I imagine that this way of working which includes utilizing drawing and technology that facilitates an easy sharing of drawings across continents and time zones will continue to become more and more prevalent. With this comes a broader sense of shared responsibility, knowledge, and strategic development.

Where regionalism fits into this global dialogue, I haven’t yet decided. But, in a time when the world can feel cold and often divided, the idea that drawings and technology make the sharing of ideas and information both easy and enjoyable instills hope that we will continue to push ourselves to build thoughtfully and consistently across continents and physical boundaries.

 

 

The Architecture of Torture | Auschwitz – Birkenau

DSC_0275By Korey White


For the holidays I had the privilege to travel to Europe on an AIA Architectural Education Foundation Traveling Scholarship. As many of you know, the AIA EP Blog publishes blog posts from the AEF Scholarship winners periodically. I am working on that post but wanted to create a post about a side trip while it was fresh in my mind.  One of the side trips we made was to Auschwitz – Birkenau.

The title of this post is harsh. But so is the place. Auschwitz has a devastating history. It is not a place that has ever served the health, safety and welfare of people. It was built to torture and imprison the innocent. Just to recap, an estimated 2.1-2.5 million people were killed in the gas chambers from 1941 to 1945. I have wanted to visit Auschwitz – Birkenau for some time. Other than being fascinated by WWII, the reason why is inexplicable. It is not a place of beauty. It is not easy to travel to. It is not a place people are excited to see. I was overwhelmed by hundreds of emotions before we ever entered the grounds. Until I visited, I wasn’t sure of the reason why I wanted to visit. But at the memorial commemorating all of those that died on the grounds, it finally made sense this visit was so important. The memorial read:

“For ever let this place be a cry of despair and a warning to humanity, where the Nazis murdered about one and a half million men, women, and children, mainly Jews from various countries of Europe.”

The history of this place alone is overwhelming. Architecturally speaking, it defies all that we areDSC_0284 taught. This is a place that was created to harm. The system of buildings is complex. It took great thought to develop and shield buildings that housed atrocities we can only imagine in our wildest dreams. It is easy to understand why prisoners were fooled into thinking the situation was temporary, that they might be working in exchange for freedom. The day I visited was quite sunny. It was mild for December and the sun made it comfortable to walk around for a few hours outside. The buildings at Auschwitz were constructed of brick with stone steps and wood floors. If I were to blindly examine the site, I might think it was a Midwest college campus, minus the barbed wire. It isn’t until we entered the barracks that I began to feel the weight of what these buildings were used for programmatically.

Seeing the vast amount of shoes that filled an entire floor, floor to ceiling only started to put into perspective how many prisoners were housed in the confines. However, the two tons of human hair that was then made into war uniforms was the hardest to stomach and was the closest remnant that still remains of those that were imprisoned.DSC_0297

I can only speculate as to how the architects of Auschwitz felt when they designed this place. Those involved in the construction of the concentration camp did so under the Nazi regime that they might not have done otherwise. Visiting places such as Auschwitz is not only a reminder to humanity of what can happen, but it serves as a reminder to architects and the importance of promoting places that do protect the health, safety and welfare of all mankind.DSC_0439

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…