tnrkitect: (Default)
So, I've been thinking recently. As many may know, I have a new job working for the Corps of Engineers in Huntsville. My job is a Project Manager, and I manage Energy Surveys of DoD installations worldwide as we do them. I have clients (the installations) to keep happy (they are spending money from their budgets to pay us to do the work as the "experts"). I have engineers to manage that actually do the work or supervise the contractors that do the work. I deal with contract negotiations, budgets, scheduling issues, all the same stuff that I would do on a building project. The work is interesting and enjoyable, I'm continually learning, I get to travel, and the pay, job security, and vacation time can't be beat.

The only perceived drawback is that there is no design/creative aspect to the job.

By training and profession (and job description within the COE system) I am an Architect. The Corps even pays for my license renewal every year, and makes sure I have the opportunity to get the Continuing Education I need to keep my license. Yet the skills that I use for this job are the ones that do not require design.

The interesting thing is, I am OK with that.

Why?

Because I can get my design "fix" elsewhere! Who says that I can only be creative at work? Most commercial / government / military architectural work doesn't really require a lot of creativity. Your time is spent squeezing every last penny you can out of the design by only doing the minimum work required to give the customer the same old building typology dressed up in a different rearrangement of the same tired architectural tricks.

If a building has a brick facade, it is NOT a requirement that all corners must have quoins! It is not a requirement that every restroom that has upgraded decor must have an Uba-tuba granite counter top with a white, raised bowl sink and a single handle brushed nickel faucet that has an extension on it to be high enough to flow into the sink. I do not have to have only flat paint on all interior wall surfaces.

By NOT having to do design at work yet still getting paid to keep up my knowledge, it actually frees my creativity. I can reserve it for sketching, drawing or painting. I can use it for creating the miniature environs of a model railroad accurately. I can build furniture. I can moonlight, doing only the work I WANT to do. I can design and create architectural follies, or my own versions of tiny houses. I can experiment.I can renovate an old house.

The point is, my creativity is not wasted churning out the same tired design reconfigured to fit the requirements of a new building.

I get the best of both worlds.

Job security and skills maintenance, without the restrictions of having to conform my creativeness to the least common denominator.  AKA...

"How much is THAT going to cost me?"

The possibilities!

(Addendum: I must note that the above is true for my position within the Energy Division. PM's of project that deal with design MAY get the chance to design in their daily job, however I am not certain as I have not seen the way they allocate work.)

tnrkitect: (Default)
I, like many across the nation and the world have looked on as oil continues to gush forth from the seabed over a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico. My emotions went from horror, to anger, to resignation fairly quickly, as the realization set in that we should get used to occurrences like this on a regular basis.

I was going to explain how we came to be looking for oil a mile below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico, however Gail Tverberg recently posted an article at TheOilDrum.com that explains it much more succinctly than I can: With so many oil resources, Why can't we just drill somewhere else?

I will not recap her points, except to say that at its root, the reason the blowout occurred is our society's insatiable demand for oil. This demand is a result of oil's incredible usefulness for increasing productivity and mobility. Combine that demand with a corporate disregard for safety, and the result is the explosion and subsequent uncontrolled leak into the ocean that may not be stemmed until August.

Now, aside from the environmental horror and disgust at the actions of BP, you may wonder why an architect is concerned about oil and energy in general (scroll to bottom of the linked page to read the posts in order). I mean, after all, architects just design buildings, right? read on for the answer )

In short, I and other architects can use our knowledge to help you and your business save money by positioning you for the future, ensuring that your building needs are met in the most efficient means possible within your budget, reducing your energy needs, and thereby increasing profits.

Or, you can continue business as usual, and in a small way, be responsible for future disasters such as what is now occurring in the gulf, as we search in more difficult and dangerous places for our energy needs.

The choice is yours.
tnrkitect: (Default)
Recently, we have been experiencing one of the "joys" of home ownership. We have noticed that the roof has developed a few leaks, and there are serious waves in the roof in a few areas that need to be fixed. One of the leaks is over the front porch, which is not that bad, except that the moisture has gotten into the planks of the porch floor, causing them to swell and begin to buckle. One of the other leaks is coming down inside the exterior wall between the laundry room and the covered deck, and I have not torn into it to find out what needs fixing yet.

So, we get to put a new roof on this 1920's Victorian Cottage of ours this spring. (There goes our tax return) We love the house and the neighborhood though, so it's is somewhat of a labor of love.

Speaking of the neighborhood, one of our resolutions this year has been to go on daily walks (well, mostly daily) as a way to get more exercise. Luckily, our neighborhood has sidewalks, (gotta love living in an old streetcar suburb), so it makes it easy to do. We also enjoy seeing the houses in the neighborhood as we walk.

On a recent walk, we grabbed a flier from a house down the street that was for sale to see what they were asking. The price was good (roughly what we paid for this one) and I was amazed to see that what I thought was a 1 family house actually had 3 apartments in it. Two of the three are rented, and the income from the two units is more than the mortgage would be.

I have been considering refinancing this house, so I knew what the banks say we can afford, and knew that we should be able to swing approval of a second, investment mortgage on the place down the street. So I talked to a mortgage broker with experience in investments that was recommended to me by a Realtor friend.

The money required at closing on an investment is higher, which although a bit difficult, could be worked out, however there was one major deal breaker. Because we were not going to be living in the house ourselves, we would have to show proof of liquid reserve assets equal to or greater than 6 months worth of mortgage payments for both the investment property and our current house.

This works out to needing to have in ready cash over $26,000 at closing on a $90,000 property. I don't think so! So, we are going to pass on this opportunity, even though it is an excellent one, and will make someone a tidy profit.

The discussion with the broker was not all bad though, as we also discussed the refinance options on this place, as well as the renovations we are considering. It turns out that we do not qualify for a standard refinance (at a lower rate) with money out for renovations based on equity in the house, as we do not have enough equity built up to qualify.

What we DO qualify for however is an FHA 203(k) loan. This is a HUD program that essentially offers FHA insurance on a purchased home based not upon the purchase cost, but rather upon the purchase cost plus the cost of renovations, so long as the house will be worth the higher mortgage (or more) after the work is done. This is also available for refinancing existing homes.

Now, our current house is a 2 (technically 3) bedroom 1 bath, story and a half cottage. The story and a half references the fact that there is a large attic room with a window, complete with some sloped walls, but not a true 2nd floor, thus, story and a half. The attic room is not considered part of the square footage of the house as it is not heated or cooled. There is also attic space to either side of the room that can be converted into additional rooms.

We have discussed the possibility of converting the attic space into livable space in the past, and have a rough idea of what we want to do with it. The renovation will add two bedrooms, a large closet and one full bathroom to the house, plus a bonus room sitting area.

With the 203(k) program, we can get the renovations financed, and at a lower interest rate than we are currently paying. We will be paying a little more, but we will go from having very little equity to having around 20% equity in the house. This will make the house more sellable in the event we have to move, as well as giving us a nice profit from the increased equity. Even if we don't move, it will let us get stuff done we want to get done on the house, and make this great house even better!

Since we only have one opportunity to get everything done at once, we will also include other improvements to the house that we want done, such as opening the fireplaces back up and restoring them, as well as the repairs to the wall at the laundry room and a few other miscellaneous items, to include energy efficiency modifications.

The one downfall to this is that we have a maximum of 6 months to complete it all. With my working full time, I can not honestly commit to doing the work myself, even though it would allow us to have even more equity in the house after it was done. (They make you get a loan equal to the cost of having a contractor perform the work, but if you do the work yourself, they will only disburse the cost of materials, and the balance will be applied to the principle at the end.)

Our first step for this will consist of developing a work write-up and cost estimate. They recommend a homeowner having a professional do this as it saves time. Lucky for me, I am a professional, and can get our cost estimator at work to double check my work. ;-)

This write up will be used to determine the construction budget which will be added to the purchase price / refinanced mortgage amount and combined with a comparable property report from a Realtor to form the Preliminary Feasibility Analysis the banks and HUD use to determine if it is a good loan to make.

Once HUD / the banks do everything, the loan officer starts putting things together. Along with the financial aspects typical for a mortgage / refinance, they also require a complete set of architectural exhibits showing the scope of work. This is better known as Construction Documents. Again, HUD strongly suggests that the homeowner hires someone to do this, and yet again, I will be able to accomplish this part myself. :-)

I plan to document the process here, from the development of the feasibility study to developing the plans, through to completion of construction.

Stay tuned!
tnrkitect: (Default)
The town of Kent, Connecticut has issued an interesting RFP for the renovation and expansion of the Kent Memorial Library.

http://kentmemoriallibrary.org/?page_id=1855

Although our firm is licensed to practice in Connecticut, the RFP specifically states a preference for firms located within 150 miles of Kent, and since Knoxville is 795 miles from Kent, we have decided to pass on putting something together on this.

However, I am very intrigued by the RFP, so I will share it with you in the chance that you can do something with it.

The existing library resides in a two story, 1,100 s.f. building built in 1922 with later additions that expand it to approximately 6,000 s.f. It sits on a lot of approximately 21,640 s.f. They also own a recently vacated firehouse of approximately 3,800 s.f. on this property.

The program calls for an expansion of the library to 14,000 s.f. with the stipulation that the original building must be renovated. The later additions and the firehouse can be renovated or demolished as required by the submitted design.

The library also has an yearly outdoor book sale which requires 1,200 linear feet of table space which operates from Memorial Day through October and provides a significant annual revenue stream. Any design must include display space for this activity.

The library sits within the Kent Historic Village District, and therefore any design must receive their architectural review board approval as well as normal planning and zoning regulations.

The design proposals must be submitted no later than 5:00 PM on November 1, 2009.

The RFP can be found at the above link, and judging by the images found on the library association and town's website, it is a chance for an architect to show off his/her ability to pull off a major expansion that meets the library's modern needs yet complements the historical context of it's locale. They are requesting proof of sustainable design experience, so throw that into the mix as well.

If you are within the preferred radius of Kent for submissions, check it out!
tnrkitect: (Default)
In this profession, I often run across a common misconception, that of an architect's primary job consisting of designing houses. Unfortunately, I have to disabuse people of that notion, and explain that typically, houses (at least in the U.S.) are designed and built by contractors.

For instance, in the State of Tennessee, an Architect is not required to be involved in the design of a house unless it is over 5,000 square feet in area, greater than two stories (a basement typically does not count as a story), or is to house more than two families.

What this means, is that the majority of the housing stock in the U.S. has had little to no input from an architect. Instead, they are typically stock plans, of the types you find in the checkout stand in Lowes or Home Depot, that the builders have figured out how to build as cheaply and as quickly as possible.

They are laid out in subdivisions that are optimized to squeeze the most number of houses into the least amount of land regardless of the orientation of the land or natural features, and they take no consideration of how the house is sited on the lot. They feel that the best way to build is to bulldoze everything into a moonscape, especially when the lot is tree covered, claiming that it is too hard to construct a house when there are trees around. Then they plant spindly sticks that will start actually providing shade in 10 years or so, if they survive.

The houses are not placed on the site with any respect to where the sun is, nor do the builders care. If they use a more expensive heating and air unit to compensate, then that just means that the overall cost rises, and ultimately, their profit.

Now, the above is not to say that all builders are like this, but when you look at the corporations that build the largest number of new housing in the U.S., and then you look at their product, you realize that the design decisions were made by the bean-counters trying to lower the cost of the "product" and good design has no bearing.

What is it that an architect brings to the table that is missing from this equation?

First and foremost, an architect is hired to act in the homeowner's best interest.

They are supposed to meet with the homeowner and help them determine what they need, what they want, explain what needs and wants combined do to costs, and then turn these elements into a functional, aesthetically pleasing design, that will not only meet building codes but often times exceed them, and be economical to build. They will work with the owner to take the initial design and adjust it to be the perfect blend of wants and needs, then once the design is set, proceed into creating the construction documents which will allow the concept to be built as designed. These include not only the nuts and bolts of how things go together, but also include written specifications of all the disparate elements that make up the design, from stone, brick or wood, to showers, tubs, faucets, counter tops, and light fixtures. The architect is required by law to keep abreast of the latest technology and techniques in the construction industry, which means that he can ensure that the design utilizes the best solutions for the homeowner.

Once the construction documents are complete, the architect should perform construction administrative services. This is where they visit the site and work with the contractor to ensure that the house is built according to the construction documents. When on the building site, the architect is there acting on the homeowner's behalf, using his knowledge of construction to ensure this happens.

Of course, the few paragraphs above do not even begin to convey all that an architect can do for a client. There also will be MANY people that will claim that an Architect is a waste of money. They will claim that an architect doesn't know how a house goes together, and that they produce shoddy drawings, leaving the contractor to fix the mistakes. They will claim that the architect is wrong with his design, because it is not "the way we have always done it."

I will admit that these can be issues. However, I ask you, would you go to an eye doctor for a hernia operation? Architecture is as varied a profession as the medical field, and has just as many specialists.

All of the above potential drawbacks can be avoided simply by selecting a competent residential architect, and remember that you get what you pay for. If you chose your architect based on who has the lowest fee, you are setting yourself up for sub-par performance of their duties, as they will either not have the experience or need to cut corners to avoid their loosing money on the job, or they are so desperate for work that they will work for peanuts just to pay the bills for one more month (even though the job will take much longer than that to complete.)

Also, although a good commercial architect is capable of designing your house, the conscientious ones will often recommend a colleague in their firm or the local community that specializes in residential work, unless they want to take it on as a favor to you. Trust me, they are most likely NOT making a profit on you, but are working to keep a valued customer happy.

For those who's contractor tries to persuade you not to use an architect, just remember this; a typical contractor wants to get the job done quickly and cheaply, then move on to the next job. A competent architect will ensure that your house is built correctly, and according to the plans.

I know I'll get some heat from the building trades for this, but I stand by my assertions: If you want the house of your dreams built correctly, hire a competent, residential architect to turn your wishes into reality and oversee the construction. The money will be well spent.
tnrkitect: (Default)
I am mentioned in 2 articles & the school I worked on is in a 3rd in the Michael Brady, Inc Sept.Newsletter(PDF)http://tinyurl.com/kpmvzb
tnrkitect: (Default)
Historically, one of the quickest ways for a firm to make a name for itself as a "design" firm was to enter and win an architectural competition. Although the prize was seldom enough to pay for the time spent on the competition, the firms that entered felt the risk of losing money was acceptable for the potential media and reputation boost that would occur should they win.

With the number of architects and designers that are currently under- and unemployed due to this recession, I suspect that the number of entries for design competitions will be up this year, so if you wish to enter, be sure and bring your "A" game to the table.

With that said, here are a few competitions that are currently open. My listing of them does not constitute any sort of endorsement, but they are active and accepting entries.

HB:BX
http://www.enyacompetitions.org/

HB:BX is an open international ideas competition to design an arts center that culturally reinforces the physical connection between the Manhattan and Bronx Highbridge communities of New York City. This competition is hosted by the Emerging New York Architects Committee (ENYA), AIA New York Chapter, in cooperation with Artists Unite and the Bronx Museum of the Arts, and it is meant to draw awareness to the current efforts to restore and reopen the bridge. This competition is a forum to explore the urban and community improvement that may come with the achievement of such a momentous milestone. Thus, ENYA challenges emerging architects and designers to explore how disused historic structures can be reprogrammed into vibrant urban centers. Competition entrants are also challenged to rethink the relationship between infrastructure (aqueduct, railway, highway) and it's urban context. These architectural issues, universally relevant to any growing city, take on a more site-specific nature when considering the historic importance of the High Bridge and the topographic challenge posed by the steep riverbanks of the Harlem River. Also grounding this competition to its local context are the unique clients who ask the entrants to reconsider architecture's role in the creation, displaying of and experience of art. The competition expects entrants to use the program as a connector to bridge the ideological gap between such two different arts organizations as Artists Unite and the Bronx Museum of the Arts with the local residents.

Competition launch: September 10th 2009
Early Registration Deadline: November 15th 2009
Late Registration Deadline: December 15th 2009
Submission Deadline: January 15th 2010

Registration Fees begin at $35 for a single student up to $300 for teams of more than 5 people.

________________________________________________________

California Senior housing Competition
http://www.nfh.org/competition.html

Two San Francisco Bay Area housing non-profits, Suburban Alternatives Land Trust (SALT) and Northbay Family Homes (NFH) have, in the past 30 years, facilitated the building of 4,000 homes - half of htem affordable to low-moderate income families. Together, SALT and NFH are sponsoring an open competition to develop ideas that optimize their site's potential uses, including ideas that address the need for senior housing in a suburban setting. The Project site is located in the City of Novato, Marin County in a recently developed area know as "Bahia." Construction is planned to begin upon securing financing.

Designers are encouraged to develop and present ideas that reflect SALT's mission: assisting low-income individuals and families to secure good housing, become homeowners and improve their economic position by working with donors of land to maximize and leverage tax advantages and benefits generated in the course of developing a full array for land use options for each parcel, including affordable homes, jobs, recreation, agriculture and open space. Site planning and housing designs must demonstrate: innovated sustainable solutions that can also be applied to meet future housing needs, a zero net energy goal, multiple benefits including job creation, carbon and cost reduction, and opportunities for local food production / agriculture.

Competition Launch: July 20, 2009
Deadline for Registration: November 16, 2009
1st state submissions due: December 14, 2009 @ 5 pm

Entry Fee: $100

_________________________________________________________________________

Air Force Village Chapel Competition
http://afvchapelcompetition.com/index.html

The men and women of the U.S. Armed Forces devote their careers to serving our nation and safeguarding the freedoms on which our democracy is built. Their dedication and committment of these brave individuals is exceptional.

Air Force Village is a special retirement community devoted exclusively to military personnel. Established in 1964, it has grown and evolved over time as more retired officer families have come to be part of its special environment. Today, veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, and other postings far and near populate the community.

The campus is currently expanding, with additional housing units slated for completion in the next few years. As a result, the campus will soon outgrow their current religious facilities. The organizers of this competition challenge you to design a new inter-faith chapel for the campus, one that touches the heart and makes the spirit soar. The new structure will become the center of the entire community, and will serve as a visual focal point of the campus, as well.

Competition Begins: September 1, 2009
Registration Deadline: October 10th, 2009
Entries Due: December 1st, 2009

Entry fee: $25 for a student, $100 for a professional
_________________________________________________________________________

The Buckminster Fuller Challenge
http://challenge.bfi.org/home

Each year a distinguished jury will award a $100,000 prize to support the development and implementation of a strategy that has significant potential to solve humanity’s most pressing problems.

Your entry must address two of the following issues:
communication and media
community and social systems
economy and livelihood
education
energy
environmental health
food systems
human health
human rights
materials and resources
shelter and built environment
transportation
water

Submission Deadline: October 30th 2009
Selected Entries Invited for Interviews: November 20th 2009

Entry Fee: $50 for students, academics (employees at a university or research institution), people entering on behalf of a registered non-profit, and financially contributing members of the Buckminster Fuller Institute. All others are $100.

_________________________________________________________________________

Again, these are the design competitions that I know about, there may be more out there.

If you decide to enter, Good Luck!

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June 2011

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