Monday, March 31, 2014

Finders Keepers?

The office I work in is bursting at the seams! We’re constantly shuffling to accommodate our growing company. My desk has never moved, though maybe it should so I would clean it…
I’ve only been here for just over 2 years, so the fact that I have not changed desks isn’t really relevant. There is one man, however, that has managed to NEVER move in his nearly 2 decades at Shive-Hattery. He’s a quiet guy, and a guy you always need around because he knows everything about AutoCAD; I don’t think I’ve stumped him even once. He always sits down, hits a bunch of keys so purposefully and rhythmically it sounds like percussion solo, creates an awkward smiley face with a couple circles and a curved line, gets up and walks away while I stand there amazed and confused.
This gentleman recently moved desks to make way for a new hire. He’s closer to my desk now, so I think I can just shout or throw a paper airplane next time I need him to fix what I’ve inevitably broken.
After his move he kindly pointed out that he left a few mementos to the person who is to claim his former space. I didn’t know what I would find when I walked over, but I was happily greeted with all non-perishables. This was weeks ago, but I found myself telling my husband about it just a couple days ago, so I figured I should share it with others. Take note that the current year is 2014…enjoy :)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


copyright Elizabeth Seiberling, 2013

Inspiration for a performing arts center was taken from the drama that was created by the undulating fabric.
Where do designers find inspiration?

I participated in an internal meeting that asked that question. Having not really participated in a whole lot of initial design in my office I haven't had much big picture design conception other than in architecture school.

My usual go-tos in school were surroundings and history. In one project my partner and I drew a section cut through the city to help guide what the height if our building would be and find certain open spaces. We enlarged the neighborhood and searched for patterns, focusing on the voids and solids; that told us what kind of transparency made sense on the site and in the building. We got to know the neighborhood by observing their typical habits as they moved through the space and interacted with it. It was a lot of anthropological and geographical study rather than searching the internet for inspiration, though we did a little of that.

The project, a new media library in Boston, turned out to be our best and got a lot of positive reaction. If only it were real...

In other projects I have even looked to works of art as I have an extensive background in art history. Piet Mondrian helped me form a farmhouse. In his later years worked to simplify nature to straight lines. There was a lot to it, but what can't you do with that?

Upon designing a yoga center in the woods I looked to yoga positions for the overall form and feel of the space. It turned out to be long, simple and elegant.

One classmate had a knack for observing daily patterns and pathways to help her form spaces. The studies always created some beautiful artwork along the way. This gave her the opportunity to make that path more efficient, but I think it ended up shaping her project more than anything; keeping the patterns in existence and working around them.

Everything that was created had so much meaning and care found within every line that was placed on the paper. It was layer upon layer of inspiration being implemented.

I don't know if this is really how most architects operate. In practice we are guided by codes and regulations, perhaps not leaving much time to find the deeper meaning. Starchitects seems to have that luxury, whether they use it or not.

Other avenues of inspiration come from the client, their tastes and needs. This is key as it is their environment designers are shaping. Interior designers have a lot of knowledge about the effects of color which can often help a space come together and we all look at the internet to see what others have done. With the access to sites like Pinterest, the public has a lot more avenues to see great design and inspiring features. (A few people in my company have started a Pinterest page of things that inspire the Interiors team). Charles Eames said something to the affect of: "innovate as a last resort", meaning if it works there is no harm in using it literally or for inspiration. 

Inspiration is all around us, we have just to be able to see it. 

Where do you find inspiration?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Let Them Eat Cake!
This article really caught my eye at the right time.

I've had some serious writers block as a result of lots to do at work and even more to do at home.

This was of particular interest to me because I have grown up with a mother that has become a serious sculptor of cakes and candy amongst friends and family and now beyond.

I will never forget the castle she crafted for my (maybe) 4th birthday out of sugar ice cream cones, cake, icing, coconut and green food coloring. To my princess-loving eyes, it was a real palace!

The article reminded me that architecture is just as sculptural and cake and candy creation has roots in architecture. Balance and beauty play a role in both and require a great deal of care and planning to execute.

I am not saying that either must literally look like a sculpture, but both conceptual ideas are carved out of space; made of up voids and solids to create a form that stands and looks...good enough to eat!

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Day the Coffee Died

It was a dark and cool morning. The office was quiet as people made their way into work. Little did we know a mutiny was brewing in the break room...

I walked in to find two architects opening every cabinet, turning over every box.

"What are you doing?" I asked.

Architect 1: "Can you use paper towels as a coffee filter?"

Me: "You would be sorely disappointed."

Then reality set in: WE'RE OUT OF COFFEE FILTERS!

The receptionist was immediately alerted. And alerted. And alerted.

Tales began swarming about the good coffee being inaccessible as the frustration mounted. Jokes were told asking if an emergency shipment was requested, though I'm sure it wasn't a joke to some.

Meanwhile the lowly, regular coffee, with the built in filter, was brewing away ready for its 15 minutes of fame.

The underdog wins today!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

I'm not Frank Gehry and that's OK.

As I rode alongside my boss this afternoon on our way back from a meeting with an owner, we were talking about the fine line between what you learn in architecture school and the real world of practicing architecture. We talked about learning to think differently and having meaning behind each decision made in a design. I'm not sure how the subject came up, but none-the-less it did and it gave me something to think about when I should have been thinking about my next deadline.

I pointed out that there are many that leave school not knowing anything about actually working in architecture (even summer internships are not always reflective of what actually happens after graduation). I, myself, was not entirely sure what to expect when I got into the real world. I luckily had a great professor that, at the time, had his own practice and gave it to me straight on occasion, so it wasn't complete culture shock when I started at Shive-Hattery. Many architecture students think that the moment they receive their diploma they will be designing the next great skyscraper that is going to win numerous awards and be the icon of the city. In reality the first thing you do is red lines in AutoCAD and you will continue to do that for quite some time in many cases.
(I, myself, have been fortunate to have a more enriching experience than treading in sea of red lines 24/7.)

I told Alan, boss and project architect, that I was "afraid of forgetting how to design because I don't do it everyday". The conversation turned to other things shortly after, but when I got back to the office I thought more about it and realized that I actually do design every single day! I draw details (never perfect, but, hey, I'm learning), I organize plans and other components on sheets so that they read and are understandable, I also organize people; I like to call it conducting a symphony of sorts. All of that, among other things, is design even though it's not the skin, mass or plan of a building.

One must find the design opportunities in every situation. Nothing should ever leave your fingers without thought and care. I have always told myself I wanted to design meaningful things with thought and care and I realized that I do it all the time. No detail makes it out the door without intense design. It may look like a simple window frame detail, but then I think of how many people look at that frame as they look out the window.

What I should have said was: "I'm afraid of forgetting how to design extravagant, luxurious, out-of-this-world, nearly impossible and far too expensive buildings" :)

The message really goes to all students, interns and veteran architects out there...just like how your mom tells you to find the good in everyone, we need to find the design in everything. It could be an extraordinary skyscraper, or it could be the clip that holds up the cladding; it's all designed and done with purpose.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Work/Life Balance???

Part of maintaining sanity is the ever-challenging work/life balance. Architects are notorious work-aholics. Fortunately I find myself surrounded by people who are family-oriented and embrace their free time. I'm not saying that I have every weekend and evening free, but for the most part I live a normal life.
I have spent weekends with my husband discovering our city and all it has to offer. We perfect the art of the latte and usually find a movie to rent. I never miss an episode of Barefoot Contessa; Ina is my culinary hero. These days we find ourselves spending every possible moment playing with our son and thinking about what he will be when he grows up...ahem...architect.

My co-workers do home renovation projects, spend time with family, go skiing and hiking and often don't think about work. That's not to say the office is empty when I go in on the weekends. There are a number of people, and you know who you are, that might as well keep a change of clothes at their desk. I've heard that there is a pillow and blanket somewhere in the office for the occasional all-nighter.

"Work/life balance" seems to always be a buzz phrase. Why is that?
It is something most people want to achieve, but always find themselves working far more than enjoying life. I remember talking about it in grad school, but found myself more of a workaholic than anything. And I liked it that way! Jobs and school work were my life and my friends were a part of every aspect of those situations. Studio wasn't so much work but many hours of socialization with the perk of creating cool designs. I was a TA and loved it so it didn't feel like work and I was also a barista at Starbucks...I'd hardly call that work.

Now, as an Intern Architect, it's a whole different ball game. Throw in a husband and a newborn baby and I can't even seem to find my way through my sleep-deprived haze to figure out how to distinguish between life and work. I have learned that having a family and working means you're always working! You go from drawing details, to meetings, to cleaning bottles and doing the laundry without even batting an eye. "Rest" is taking care of personal business when you have five minutes after inhaling your lunch before solving the problem of "how do we support this fire wall without anything to put it on?" (true story).

If you don't have a family and rarely see your friends I suggest a vacation. There is a big, beautiful world out there waiting to be discovered, you silly workaholics.

So what is the real solution? I have attended a few seminars on the subject and walked away thinking about how it was sort of ironic that we were in a room talking about living life rather than going out and actually doing it. Oh man, we might be doomed.

There are some amazing role models and supermoms in my office with 3 kids(!!!), so I know it can be done.

I have settled on a personal solution that I need to work more efficiently during the working hours, enjoy my son and husband as much as I can in the evenings and live life to the fullest on the weekend with my tiny family. I'm only two weeks out of maternity leave and already got a project out the door without any meltdowns; I'd say that's a good start.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! No! It's a Tornado!

About 4 weeks ago I had a baby. 

This was no ordinary delivery.  With a clap of thunder and a flash of lightening came my son! What I didn't expect to come was a tornado. 

As I was wheeled through the nursery on the way to my postpartum room a calm announcement came over the intercom: "Attention staff. There is a tornado warning in the county. Please follow tornado procedures. Thank you". 

And as fast as that original flash of lightning I was pushed into a supply closet, bed and all (see photo), while the babies in the nursery were pushed into another with a nurse for each in tow. 

While I'm really glad I was not in labor at that moment (2 other women were) I wondered what if I was!? The threat of a tornado is not something you think is going to strike whilst giving birth, but it clearly happens. 

As an intern architect I'm not sure that I've really thought about tornado safety in the projects I have touched (don't worry, the actual architect did), you bet I will from now on! 

In the case of a hospital I imagine it's as much about the procedures as it is the design. A woman in labor certainly isn't going to stop pushing, put shoes on and take the stairs to the basement. They will continue laboring and relocate to the hallway or the labor room without windows carefully thought out for this exact moment. 

This is a huge shout-out to the nurses and doctors that made us feel safe. I wish I could name you because you are truly amazing, but instead I will take the opportunity to just remind designers that the unthinkable happens. Are our buildings ready for it?