“To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
― Mary Oliver
Sheltering in place has slowed us down. Past clients have reached out and told me that spending so much time at home has allowed them to notice details that they hadn’t noticed before. This could be just one of the silver linings to this sad time…us slowing down to notice.
The social media design divas, our favorite shows on HGTV, and even the hours spent pouring over Pinterest boards, somehow still can’t quite feed our deep desire to find and connect with beauty.
We forget that the best design is often no design at all, or at least design that you might not notice right away. What if “empty” or “enough” or “receptive to change” was as photographable as layers of pattern, bold form, and loud color?
Calling All Disciplines of Architecture
When I call myself an architect, most people understand what I do, but lately I’ve had to clarify by putting the word building in front of the word architect. Otherwise I might be confused with IT architects, enterprise architects, solution architects, project architects, data architects, application architects, SOA architects….I could go on. Some of my colleagues are quite bothered by the tech industry’s lighthearted appropriation of the state-governed title. I suppose I could be a stickler given my 7 years of school, the two-year internship, and the six grueling exams.
On the contrary, I am just honored that a field so full of possibility and potential to create change thinks the title architect best describes some of its big thinkers. In truth, there are some genuine similarities between building architects and solution architects. Both fields are challenged to create order out of complex relationships between space, function and user interaction and we are both tasked to ensure that the functional program is inspirationally designed and fully executed.
Most importantly, both industries serve to enhance the human experience.
The problem is that the two aren’t sitting at the table together. Building architects are feverishly catching up, laying out thick sets of drawings, stacking brick and mortar, and backwards solving for the social and environmental ramifications of tech’s forward thinking. By the time we’ve looped back around to respond, the digital idea is on its third or fourth generation without a significant pause to consider it’s implication on neighborhoods, cities and the planet.
How does your architect speak to you?
I see space in my head long before it’s built. I see every surface, how it feels to be there and even how the light is going to fall.
But this vision does me no good unless I am able to communicate it to builders, craftspeople and most especially my client.
There are many ways to communicate visually and like artists, every architect has his or her style. I tap into a variety of methods, none of which are too precious or life-like. I believe that a client’s own imagination used to fill in the gaps of a loose sketch will often render a more compelling story than if I were to present a photo-realistic model.
Testing my own ideas along the way turns out to be the primary reason for drawing and modeling and produces the most interesting results.
Understanding window trim options
A window is not just a hole in the wall. A window establishes the meaning of “inside” by revealing our relationship to the outside. Windows should purposefully frame the outdoors and enhance the interior space. You may be finding a puzzling number of options out there when it comes to the finish “look” of your windows. A good architect puts significant thought into how and why your windows look the way they do.
1. Mothers are fiercely protective. They become relentless and determined when it’s time to advocate for their children. This is exactly how you want your architect to feel about your project. She will protect the integrity of her vision, your budget, and stand up for you against unseen threats.
Creative people make it a habit to notice things. The best way to process what we notice around us is to write about it, sketch it, doodle it, or make a collage with it. The hope is that by recording the way things are, we might also discover some new connections between things, that is to say…stumble upon a sense of wonder or even a new idea.
Keeping your observations in a sketchbook is different than taking a photograph or a video. The act of sketching or writing slows you down and taps into your intuition; whatever you are drawing enters a mutual relationship with you. While drawing your heartbeat slows down.
Of course the keeping of a sketchbook in and of itself is an enormous and sometimes spiritual undertaking. It requires a suspension of judgment and a confident embrace off the unknown.
I fully intended for my next project to be a new home in Calistoga with an unlimited budget or some cool artist lofts in Oakland….anything to keep me busy and upwardly mobile on my architectural path.
But instead I find myself yet again, working on something entirely non-billable that stirs great passion in me. This sounds more like the work of a fine artist and indeed this may help me explain to my accountant the unpredictable profit and loss reports for Laraarchitecture.
So today, rather than yet another blog on countertops and wood species, I’d like to share with you something I am working on that is really important.
The Crosses of Lafayette are rotting, have you noticed?
Try it……sometimes it’s just good fun!
Let’s start with a quick quiz to see where you fall!
What do with all those large prints after they’ve been bleeding red ink? Most architects will tell you there is not much energy left after a submittal of any kind whether it be a building department submittal, a city council hearing or a client presentation. Before applications are filled out, power points are presented or checks are written, we architects must be our own best critics and redline our drawings. This is always the most humbling of experiences, because I am always quite sure that I was being more careful.
The most challenging part about my work is that you have to strive to both perfect in a “nat’s ass” kind of way and also a larger than life kind of visionary. Someone who can see things before they are there and imagine a space, a feeling, a detail even before anyone knows how to build it.
Like a movie director, I imagine something and how it will play it out. What that shaft of light will do at different times of day, the changes to the life on the sidewalk around this new door, how the employees will actually use that new window sill.
Still as good as these imaginings may be, they are only as good as the set drawings describing in detail how to get there.
There is something beautiful about a set of drawings. In fact each page is a work of art in itself if it is done well. The line weights differentiate an otherwise flat image, the larger page is divided into graphically pleasing smaller ones and text is introduced into neat columns. When you squint the page is in harmony and when you take out the eyeglasses every line is perfect.
Well, if only this were always true. Thank goodness we have second chance to make it so after comments are returned to us. In the meantime, checking in with the larger visionary within, here is what I did with recent redline set of mine.
I don’t include before photos in my portfolio because I think it’s just unfair. First of all, I am not near as talented as my architectural photographer so the before shots are distracting and dark and more importantly no one ever cleans up for them.
Like those face serum advertisements where a tired model working hard to look bad is placed next to a glamorous, touched up, and well lit version of herself; it’s clearly the result of this miraculous product, right?
I’m skeptical. However, I get requests for these shots all the time and have tried to understand why people like to see them so much. Is it because they can unravel the vision that the architect had and hopefully apply some of the same strategies to their own space? Or could it be a twisted form of self-soothing……a way to commiserate with other homeowners who have lived in undone, broken or “uncool” surroundings?
I believe it’s because the middle of the project is completely skipped over in lieu of a simplified snippet of time passing. It’s instant gratification. The initial excitement at what your architect presented, the painstaking decisions, the bills, the trips to the tile store, the smell of lumber and sound of nail guns……all are conspicuously missing. Nobody wants to see a before shot, 20 middle shots and then the after. Continue reading
I field several calls a week where the first question is, “How do you work? Of course, perfecting the answer to this is a lifelong endeavor. Every time I think I’ve got it, a new type of project or a new way of doing things presents itself. All architects work differently depending on the size of the firm, the expertise, and the level of service. Unfortunately there is a good deal of mystery regarding business practices even within the industry. I will try to be transparent and helpful, but I can only share what I currently know and what applies to Laraarchitecture.
So here is the “nitty gritty” as it relates to the architectural process, your money and your time. Continue reading
I am told I have a Sunset style. Is there really such a thing? If it means I have a design aesthetic that is authentic to place….. this place called the West Coast……then I am happy to concede.
I am the third generation of a family born and raised in the Bay Area, the dry fall breeze and the smell of mustard flowers in April is in my blood. I love the outdoors I can sense what the eastern light is going to feel like on that window sill as I draw it. I pull it from deep in my memory.
What artists know that most architects haven’t yet fully embraced is the practice of drawing the dark shapes. It’s not natural when drafting on a computer to visualize exactly how the dark is going to move across the room especially when our entire focus tends to be on washing the space in the light.
I have recently revisited this lesson while gesture painting from a live model. All architects should practice figure drawing regularly if for no other reason; it will remind them to draw shadows as a solid shape. When all you have is 3 minutes to capture a form as with the drawing above, the dark and light shapes are just about all you get. What you learn is that there is no light until you have the dark defined and therefore no form. This is also true of architectural space.
Here is a silly and honest follow up to my Women in Architecture article. Fresh from the sketchbook, my daughter and I colored this together which was fun. Can you relate?
Moms and Dads, let’s repeat together…Lean in but don’t fall over!
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I often get asked if architecture is a good career choice by young women. Depending on the day of course, I usually answer yes. However, the statistics strongly disagree with me.
In the U.S., more than 45% of students in architecture school are women yet they only make up 23% of the work force. And when it comes to large firms only 17% have a partner that is female.
So where do all the girls go?
This summer I was honored, along with 6 other local architects and landscape architects to moderate a community design workshop to envision the future of the Lafayette Crosses.
This came after a moment of authentic stomach turning sadness.
On a cool day in late spring, I drove by the crosses and realized I wasn’t looking anymore. I drove around the block and stopped in front of the dry and overgrown hill and cried. I must’ve at that moment realized the crosses would inevitably have to change. I besieged the internet looking for ways to reach the founder of the crosses foundation and express my concern and willingness to help.