Category Archives: Architecture

Forensic Drafting

I’ll admit it: the reason I didn’t post yesterday is because I simply didn’t feel like it. Sure, I could have ranted about Daylight Saving Time, but I’ve already done that. Instead, I just didn’t. Mostly because the aforementioned DST stupidity and my responsibilities at work combined to put me in a decidedly foul mood.

I’ve been tasked with putting together a drawing set for one of our clients, which is fairly typical. What is not typical is that I have to use their drawing formats and standards, which are pretty much completely foreign to me and incompatible with the office standards I’m finally growing accustomed to. Compared to what I normally use, this format is woefully convoluted and inefficient.

At least I’ve been given a prototype set: an example project that serves to illustrate a typical iteration of the concept in a fairly common, simple space. The prototype set, however, is about twice as many sheets as our office’s usual format, with complementary information (say, for example, equipment plans and equipment schedules) separated by several pages, necessitating flipping back and forth every time you want to check what piece of equipment goes where. And to make matters worse, the space the prototype is laid out in is completely unlike anything that might be even cautiously described as “typical,” which makes it really hard to implement for the actual project space.

And while I was given CAD files of the prototype, that only goes so far; layering and layout conventions differ so greatly from our format, I’m basically having to recreate everything from scratch. Equipment blocks, title sheets, everything. And the format is so prescriptive, I feel like there’s no room for flexibility or creativity. I truly am just a CAD monkey.

Oh, and it has to be done by the end of the week. And it’s not like I haven’t had anything else to work on, either.

Sadly, this isn’t the first time I’ve had to jury-rig a design into some other office’s format. Believe it or not, this time is actually going more smoothly. And if we end up doing any other work for this client, those projects will go even faster. It’s just frustrating. I feel like I’m having to give a presentation in a language I’m struggling to learn along the way, without being able to use my native tongue that I know completely well everyone would understand just fine.

But no, it has to be in this super special (stupid) format, otherwise the Powers What Is might pop a monocle.

Two Steps Back

So I was at work today, slowly but surely chugging through a set of construction documents. I’m not the fastest in our office by any means, but I like to think that I’m getting better. Even if I do have to occasionally stop from comparing myself to my friend who graduated about the same time I did (they’ve been working in the field about a year more than I have, so of course our skills will have diverged). But as I prepared to set up the next drawing, I noticed that dimensions weren’t adding up.

The base plan, on which everything else was built, was wrong.

Needless to say, I was thoroughly annoyed. I mean, I’m already a bit self-conscious about how much time it takes me to produce a drawing set. Throw on top of that needing to go back and fix everything you already “finished?” Yeah, I wasn’t a happy camper.

Now, I know that it’s a good thing I caught this error now, rather than later in the CD phase. After all, if you’re building in an existing structure, it kind of makes a big difference whether or not your dimensions are accurate. And the longer you wait, the more costly mistakes get to fix. But since we use AutoCAD, I have to do all the updates by hand. Other programs, like Revit, allow you to build a digital model of your project, which is then manipulated to get the views you need. One of the advantages of this method is that if you make a change in one view (say, move a door on a floor plan), it automatically updates your other views (say, elevations or sections). AutoCAD doesn’t work like that. AutoCAD uses dumb lines, which, while they may have color and thickness data, are really not that far removed from dragging graphite along a straightedge (by comparison to something like Revit).

Anyway, yeah. I thought I was halfway done with something, but I wasn’t. I’m already worried about appearing “slow” to produce drawings, and this didn’t help. Time to put the Ranty Pants on and get the Drama Llama out of the stable.

Ivory Tower Baggage

Well, the project that was freaking me out last week is out for review, which means my bit is done for at least little while. I think one of the things that made it so stressful is it was a different type of project than our firm usually does (retail rather than restaurant), so the people in the office I’ve been relying on for advice were just about as clueless as I was. But as I tied up the last straggling loose ends, I had a bit of an epiphany.

Work is not school.

There is no “right” or “wrong” way to do things, at least not in the ways there are in academia, where you’re trying to earn a good grade. There’s no syllabus that’s been used year after year, refined until most of the bugs have been squashed and everything is internally consistent. There is no set beginning and end to a project like there is when you hand in a term paper. And your coworkers are not the same as all-knowing professors who know their aforementioned syllabus inside and out.

This may seem extremely obvious, and I feel a bit embarrassed that I didn’t notice it sooner, but it’s something that I’m still learning to grok. I think a lot of my stress came from when I would ask the local office’s project manager (not technically my boss, but they do have their own office whereas I have a cubicle) for advice or clarification. Too often, the answer was a shrug or something along the lines of “I’m not sure either.” It was even weirder when they turned around and asked me for advice in response to one of my questions.

That’s when I realized that I had truly left the cut-and-dry world of academia, and had entered a much more messy and ambiguous realm. I was no longer a subservient student, I was another professional (albeit inexperienced), with the tacit assumption that I knew something about what I was doing.

That assumption is kind of flattering, but also kind of terrifying. After all, if I know enough to work on my own, then it falls on my shoulders if something goes wrong or gets missed. And I know just enough to realize how much more I don’t know. And of course there’s my inherent perfectionism, worrying about doing everything right the first time, never mind if I’m still learning the ropes and developing my skills.

But I’m trying to let that go. Going forward, I’m going to try and remember that I am capable of doing things based on my own knowledge. I’m going to try and not worry about not having the answer all the time. I’m going to try and not worry about whether or not I did something “right” when doing it “well enough” would have been sufficient.

And if I miss something, that’s what the permit and client review stage is for, right?

But Wait, There’s More

One of the most annoying things about my job is how there always seems to be something else to do. I don’t mean that in the “Oh, you finished one project, let’s move you on to another.” That would be the case regardless of where I worked. No, what I mean is the way things have a tendency to snowball: “I have to to X, which means I need to do Y. But that requires A and B to be taken care of. Alright, I think I’m done. Oh crap, what about Z?”

Maybe it’s my lack of experience that’s preventing me from seeing everything that I need to accomplish. Grad school gave me a taste, of course, but actual practice is several steps above even that. And in school, you had a more-knowledgeable professor checking in periodically to make sure you were on the right track, to direct you towards the questions that needed to be answered. In the real world, you don’t even have that. You’ve only got your coworkers, who may be more experience than you, but not necessarily in the things you need help with. Or you may not know who to ask. Or your oversights may not become apparent until the deadline has come and suddenly the goalposts rocket up into the sky and land even further away.

I guess what I’m saying is that I know there’s a lot I don’t know. But I don’t know what that is, or where to find it. It’s a really discouraging place to be. Like I said, I keep getting to a place where I think I’m almost done, but all that does is allow me to see how much is left. It’s like when I went to Great Sand Dunes National Park as a kid. My dad and I decided to hike to the top of the tallest dune we could see. At the time this was quite an accomplishment; I don’t remember how young I was. But I remember being so proud that I had made it to the top! I had set a goal, and achieved it!


And once I got to the top, there were more, larger sand dunes as far as the eye could see. There was no way I was going to make it to “the top of the tallest,” especially with the sun setting. So we started our climb back down, slightly dejected (there’s only so dejected you can be, after all, slipping and sliding barefoot through the sand).

I guess what I’m trying to say is, the more work I do, the more there seems to be. And that seems really counter-intuitive. Maybe it’s lack of experience. Maybe it’s short-sightedness. In any case, I’m trying to not be too hard on myself, but that’s easier said than done.

Leaving On A Jet Plane

I sit in the airport, waiting for my plane to board. I am surrounded by fellow travelers, most keeping to themselves, either reading a paper or crouched behind their smartphone. Some sit on the benches, staring off into space. Others squeeze themselves into corners, next to whatever meager power outlet offerings there are. I sit facing the window, airplanes taxiing to and from the runway in front of me. Even now, I can’t quite believe it.

I can’t quite believe I’m on my way to start my new job.

I keep thinking that maybe this is just another consequence of having a variable schedule; maybe I’ve got Monday off, and I’ll have to be up at 4am tomorrow morning like usual. I still don’t quite grok that I don’t have to do that any more, that instead I get to sit at a computer during regular office hours, plugging away at AutoCAD.

And my body doesn’t believe it yet either. The past few mornings, I’ve been awake at 4am whether I want to be or not. So I’ve laid there, tossing and turning in the too-warm dark, trying to convince myself that yes, I can go back to sleep. That no, you don’t want to just suck it up and start reading. Oh, and ignore your bladder: it is filled with lies.

So if anything, I’ve been more tired than usual, paradoxically because I’m able to sleep in. I’m sure I’ll adjust soon enough, but these first few days (weeks?) are going to be odd. In more ways than one, I bet.

See, I’m also nervous about being able to perform my job duties. Intellectually, I know that this fear is irrational. After all, I’ve had experience with AutoCAD since high school, and while I may be a bit rusty, I’m sure those habits will come back fairly quickly. I guess what has me nervous is the fact that I’m going to be using those skills professionally, that my drawings will actually be used for something beyond my own education.

It’s a weird feeling. But an exciting one, too. One of the complaints I’ve had about my previous jobs is there hasn’t been a big feeling of accomplishment, that at the end of the day it’s hard to feel like you’ve made any progress. But with architecture, I’m hoping that will be different: it’s hard to feel like you haven’t accomplished anything when, at the end of things, there’s a building where once there was not.

And sure, I’m probably romanticizing the drudgery and routine of things (like construction documents, or bathroom layouts, or door schedules). But I’m hopeful that this work will be more fulfilling. Even if I’m just doing drawings, polishing the design work of others, I’ll be involved with the process. I’ll have helped make something. And that’s exciting.

And a tad bit scary.


I know, I know, I didn’t write a post yesterday. I had a lot to take care of, and by the time I got around to writing, there wasn’t enough time or mental energy left to do so. But I’m not too worried about it, because I missed the post for a very good reason.


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Decisions, Decisions…

As many of you know, I’ve recently restarted my job search. I’m sick and tired of working retail, what with the ungodly hours and scheduling chicanery (apparently other people’s “use it or lose it” vacation is more important than my availability). The search has been going well so far, but I’ve been reluctant to talk about it with others. Mostly because of how these things have gone in the past: I mention I have an interview, then have to spend the following weeks explaining to people that I didn’t get the job, picking the fresh wound ever so slightly more open.

But now I’m at a point where I have to make a decision. And I hate decisions. I had an interview last week, and it seemed to go really well. So well, in fact, that they followed up this week with some more details, and it sounds like it’s moving forward. No concrete offer yet, but one can hope. And I have a good feeling about this.

The problem is, it sounds like the offered salary hourly rate is going to be not much more than I’m making right now, working retail. The job would largely be drafting, but with the potential to take on other responsibilities down the line, like site surveys or even project management. So no matter what, I’d be getting experience relevant to my field. And the hours would almost certainly be better. It’s not a dream job, I’ll admit. But it’s closer than anything I’ve come across yet, and I’m not sure I can let this opportunity pass me by. I’d just like to move up slightly when I move on from my current job, you know?

Like I said, there hasn’t been a firm offer yet. Maybe I can negotiate a bit; I just don’t want to end up under-compensated down the line. And one can’t forget to account for intangibles, like a regular schedule and experience in my field. I don’t know. I still think taking the job would be a good idea, but I don’t know how much of that is actual rational thought and how much is just hopeful desperation at the possibility of getting out of Retail Heck.

Thoughts, oh dear friends of mine?

The Library Formerly Known As Penrose

I went to college locally. And since I was in the area today, I decided to stop by the campus to see how much had changed since I’d been there regularly. More specifically, I wanted to see what had been done with the newly-renovated library.

Holy cow.

They’ve transformed the ugly old 1970s building into an “academic commons,” complete with coffee shop, study rooms, computer labs, and oh yeah, books. The area is bright, open, and new in a way I could only imagine from my time there.

In fact, I actually had a hard time remembering where things used to be, they changed everything so much. Everywhere I turned there seemed to be a new reading area, or small study room, or mixed media audio/visual display. You could reserve rooms via a computerized door panel. There was even a touch screen map by the front door! Which had been moved, by the way (the front door).

It was an odd experience. In fact, it took me a long time to find the books. Whereas they used to be spread out between the upper and lower floors (with a fairly groovy red/orange/yellow/white color scheme in the main stairwell), all the books were now in a series of high-density moveable stacks, which I could only imagine would make for some interesting hazing opportunities.

And the names! Names were everywhere. It seemed like everywhere I turned I ran into the So-and-So Help Desk, or the Whatserface Memorial Quiet Study area (disclaimer: not actual names). I understand the fundraising opportunities that naming places after donors gives universities, but this was either more blatant than before, or I just noticed it more after being out of the

In grad school, I kept on hearing about how libraries are having to change for the modern era. I guess it never really sank in for me, though, as this shift has been fairly gradual at the public libraries I frequent. But my old college library, which recently finished what I’m sure was a multi-million-dollar renovation project, was wildly different. Books were no longer the focus. No, perhaps that’s a bit disingenuous. Books were no longer the only focus. The focus was still on learning, of course, but the vision of what learning should be for the 21st century is much more collaborative and multidisciplinary. And that was definitely reflected in the new library academic commons.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that they made a pretty good attempt to bring the external facade of the old library building more in line with the brick-and-copper (did I mention it’s a private university?) of the rest of the campus.

Graphic Design Is Hard

So in my quest to get my search for an architecture job restarted, one of the things I’m wanting to do is redesign my portfolio. However, this is proving to be harder than I expected.

My first portfolio was an interesting idea, but in practice left something to be desired. I thought that I would make it interesting, by using a non-typical form factor. I chose to go with a landscape, 5”x8” layout. This had the advantage of allowing me to do a full bleed (with colors all the way to the edge of the page), plus it was about the size of the Moleskine sketchbooks I was using at the time. It even mirrored the layout of my business cards; design synergy for the win! I then made my own covers with what I think was picture matboard, and bound it all together with rivets. Sounds pretty cool, right?

Portfolio sample page

A sample page. Sorry about the JPEG compression.

Not bad for a first try, if I do say so myself. But I’ve discovered a few issues with this approach. Deciding to do full bleed pages had the disadvantage of me having to cut down every page by hand from the Letter size it was printed on. The rivets turned out fairly irregular (they were only roofing nails and washers, after all). The resume in the back is now out of date. The layout I used took up a lot of page real estate, which when combined with the form factor, made space even tighter. And of course, it’s really hard to see any sort of detail with drawings that small.

But now, I’m not sure what to do. I definitely want to do something on Letter size, but where do I start in terms of design? Heck, even my business card is something I came across in an office store sample book, thought was interesting, and said “Hey, I can recolor that and print it on my own!” And merely scaling up the layout from the 5×8 version isn’t going to work. I’m at the point where I’m going to have to design it completely from scratch, and the sheer vastness of the possibilities before me is paralyzing.

Maybe I’m overthinking it. Maybe, since graphic design isn’t really my strong suit, I should just go with something simple. Keep it clean, don’t over-complicate things. Like my resume. A hint of color there, some light embellishment there. It also doesn’t help that it’s been a while since I’ve designed something, so my skills are a little rusty. Plus, with Facebook and Tumblr right there… well, you know how that goes.

I really would like to come up with something that I can use on all my collateral; business cards, portfolio, even website. I just need to come up with a core idea, a theme that I can implement again and again. One that’s not too pretentious, either.

That Was Fast

Have you ever had an experience where you decide do do something, and then all of a sudden things start lining up and progressing, often before you’re even ready? Well, I had an interview today.

I don’t want to say much about it, in case it doesn’t pan out (like the others I’ve had). But it’s thrown me for something of a loop, since I had to shift from “Yeah, I have an architecture degree that I’m not using” to “ZOMG ARCHITECTURE LOOK AT MY PORTFOLIO!!!1!” in about 24 hours. Including sleeping time.

So whereas I was planning to write a blog post or two, or maybe start redesigning my portfolio after work yesterday, instead my time has been spent more or less mainlining information about the firm, my own work, and the four years of education that hopefully still lie dormant within my gray matter.

It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. One that has left me rather fried. I spent a lot of the past day oscillating between wanting to get excited about being able to finally escape retail and not wanting to get my hopes up too much in order to shorten the time I spend in a depressed malaise if it doesn’t pan out.

And yet…

And yet this seems like a really cool firm. Several of my fellow students are already working there. It would be so nice to be able to finally move away from retail, to say nothing about finally getting my foot in the door of the architecture world. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t help but get excited about that.

Wish me luck.