Sunday, December 4, 2016

December 2016 Newsletter - Inaugural Edition of Outside The Box

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Monday, January 25, 2016

21st Century Drafting Dots for Trash or Bumwad

This post is for the fellow architects and designers primarily, those of us who still know how to break out a roll of "trash" and sketch up some concepts anyway.

Trash is the term we used at Ball State for tracing paper rolls.  It is a great tool for quickly sketching over a plan or drawing to quickly sketch and develop concepts.  Other common terms are bumwad, and onion skin.  It comes in white and yellow and while the yellow looks really cool I use white as I often scan these into PDFs.

For the schematic design phase of work to existing structures, I will plot a set of the as-built drawings in red (in most cases we have to field measure and create our own) and then trace over them with a black felt tip.  Then when I scan all can see the contrast between new and existing.

To hold the trace/trash in place, traditional methods are to use drafting tape, which is a lighter stick masking tape.  Cellophane tape with the end folder over to create a removable end works okay as well.  A product called Drafting Dots was more popular for holding down drawing sheets in the days of hand drafting, and I had a box of leftover ones I tried for a while to hold down tracings.  The adhesive on them was pretty intense and damaging when removed.

My accountant uses "sign here" Scotch Flags on tax forms.  I started saving them thinking I might reuse them for documents I send to others, but it eventually occurred to me that these would be perfect for holding small drawings down, and particularly the trace that goes them.  It has just enough adhesive on them to keep them in place, yet not too much to tear off any of the paper.  They also sell plain unmarked ones which I typically use.  They are available at most office supply stores.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

A Warped Sense of Humor

So we are architect of record for a restaurant project called “Double Gallows” in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago.  It is a small neighborhood bar type establishment, and we inherited the project from another architect to help the client get a building permit.

The interior will be an exposed structure ceiling common in many restaurants nowadays.  There is a small vestibule at the front entrance and the interior designer wanted the tile to come up to eight feet but was uncertain how to terminate it.  It was discussed to put in a drywall ceiling but we would have to rework a mechanical duct to work with the new ceiling. 

So I thought of the name – Double Gallows.  Just how far might the client want to take this concept?  I decided to find out.  I proposed to the interior designer that we put wood trim at the top of the tile, raise the height enough and have a couple of faux trap doors with hinges on either side of the opening.  Then hang two nooses from the underside of the roof deck.  

Voila…double gallows!   Okay, so they didn’t want to take the theme THAT far.

But the interior designer thought it might be cool to do the trim and drape string ropes across the underside of the roof deck to allude to the ropes.  Showing that being a smart arse can lead to unusual but creative solutions.  It also shows that enjoying The Far Side and Calvin and Hobbes wasn't for naught.

Monday, December 7, 2015

A Winter Condition

The Blue Book Facebook page had a good question today: What's the coldest job site you've ever been on?  It reminded me not of the coldest site I've been on, but some of the effects doing construction in cold weather can have on a project.

We were fortunate to do a financial planner's office in the South Bend, Indiana area.  It was a new 3,800 square foot office building for two financial planners.  We had six round columns as part of the design.  Rather than create them with a column wrap, we decided to use sandblasted cast-in-place concrete columns.  Four columns were part of the main entrance vestibule and two flanked the reception counter.  We also took advantage of them to use as part of the building structure..  

Construction began in the fall of 2008, and the columns were poured into their Sonnotube forms the last week of December, and wrapped with warming blankets.   A few days later, the Lake Michigan lake effect smow machine kicked in dumping fifteen inches of snow on the area along and bringing a straight month of subzero temperatures.  The site could not be accessed until six weeks after the columns were poured.  

The contractor stripped off the cardboard forms, exposing the raised spiral rings which we planned to remove with sandblasting.  However the concrete became tempered to a point where the rings could not be blasted off.  We discussed options such as adding a skim coat of plaster to them to create a smooth surface.  In the end we decided to leave the columns as they were to keep the exposed aggregate, and used the rationale of "architectural honesty" to justify leaving the rings.

We find the rings to be fine and we're proud of the result.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Parish Center Addition

At Berneche2 Architecture we do both residential and commercial project types.  Most of our project are single-family residences (houses) but for the past two years we have been working with Queen of All Saints Parish in Michigan City, Indiana to develop a new Parish Center.  On Tuesday October 27, 2015 I presented the project to DuPage Referral Network to show an example of our non-residential work.

The initial call was that they wanted to add "a meeting room".  We visited Father Kevin and he showed us a modular classroom building that needed several repairs, and the thought was it would be more practical to do an addition versus spending $50,000 to repair a temporary structure.  So a meeting room became four classrooms, though these would now be used by church groups so Meeting Rooms was the appropriate term.

Next the thought was that a meditation chapel created in a 1999 addition was not very conducive to meditation because the school library was upstairs.  So it was decided to move that into the addition.

Finally, the existing 1965 church was designed with an undersized Narthex.  A Narthex is an entry space akin to a theater lobby, where people can meet and have fellowship before and after a service.  The Narthex for the church was more of an eleven-foot wide corridor that is not very conducive to groups.

The project has several goals:

1. The new facility will connect together a 1950 split-level school building and a 1965 church, which are 70 feet apart.  The addition main floor level will match the church.  

2. An elevator is required for accessibility.  The Americans with Disabilities Act exempts religious facilities from the need to comply as they are considered private entities.  However, other codes adopted by the state do consider churches as public facilities and therefore must comply.  It will be a two-sided elevator situated against the school and the school floor levels will extend into the elevator lobby to make the school wheelchair accessible.  

3. A two-story facility was eventually agreed upon.  The design went through two major versions.  In the first the gathering space was broken up into two parts, a large glass atrium off the main parking lot, and then a carped seating area closer to the church.  The chapel, meeting rooms, and toilet rooms were placed adjacent to the church for structural reasons.  The church committee felt strongly that the gathering space should be located right outside the church.  Concepts were developed to make this happen.  Both one and two story options were presented, the latter with intent to save cost.  While the two-story concept will cost a little more, it will take up less of the site and fewer parking spaces and outdoor areas will be lost.

4. Building codes allow churches to have minimal toilet facilities, likely anticipating that most folks are there for an hour and then leave.  For the 700-seat church there is a single men's and women's toilet.  This is inadequate for the current after hours uses, and will not be sufficient for groups meeting here.  The new facility will have two groups of toilet rooms, one on each level, and 16 new toilets/urinals will be available.

5. The four meeting rooms were designed to work as six rooms, two rooms divided into smaller rooms, as the size of the original rooms is much larger than required by most groups.  There will be two groups of rooms, one on each level, and each will be divided with operable partitions which can be opened to allow all three rooms to become one large meeting room when needed.  

6. Father Kevin truly wanted to have the glass doors between the gathering space and church to visually connect the spaces.  Originally we had these as solid doors with small windows in a three-hour fire wall to separate the two buildings.  However, this became important enough to where we will be adding a sprinkler system to the church, allowing us to eliminate the fire wall and use full glass doors.  We still need to maintain a two-hour fire wall between the school building and addition, and security of the school warrants the separation anyway.

7. One major issue being addressed are the site utilities.  When the building was constructed galvanized pipe was used for the school water supply.  The City is requiring a backflow preventer on this line as well.  There were also some utilities between buildings not documented on older drawings and some of these will have to be relocated.  The Civil engineer notified us that there is a major 

We first met with Father Kevin June 2013 to initially discuss the project.  With the initial concept we worked with their fundraising team to communicate the intent to the parishioners, which included hiring a 3d rendering company to develop a fly over animation of the project.  We were authorized to commence construction documents Spring 2015, and we are currently completing drawings and specifications to be released to bidders December 2015.  Construction is scheduled to begin June 2016 after the Parish Festival.  The construction phase is anticipated to last nine months.

It has been exhilarating, challenging, and very rewarding working on a larger project again.  I worked at a K-12 school planning firm 1995-2004 and it has been wonderful to work on a project of this scale with our own firm.  We look forward to doing many more.

Images of the progress can be seen on our Berneche2 Architecture Facebook Page.

Tim Berneche 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Taking this blogging thing seriously

I started a blog page four years ago and wrote a grand total of three blogs.  And my IT person suggested I change the blog name to something, well, English.  So we did that and we have our new website up and running.  Things are unbelievably busy as I write this in October 2015.  Of our 9.5 years in business this is the busiest we have ever been.  A good thing considering I have twin 17-year old daughters off to college next year.  Back to work!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

“What is it about architects and designers that make us willing to work hard without reasonable compensation?"

I belong to several LinkedIn groups, mostly related to my profession of Architecture.  On one of the residential architecture pages someone asked the question of:

“What is it about our make up as architects and designers that make us so willing to work hard without reasonable compensation?”

It was my intent to merely respond on that page, but copying and pasting this into the site notified me that is was almost 1,900 words above the limit (far more now with this intro), so I decided to go to my long neglected blog, post it there, and post a link to the group.

I think it has to do with several factors, and it may even differ for those of us who have always loved designing from a young age.  I fall into that category, knowing in one sense or another that I wanted to be an architect since I was 9.  I always loved to draw and sometimes it is difficult to put yourself in the mindset that this is now a business.  And if we cannot get ourselves into that mindset we may feel it is difficult to get our clients to feel the same way.

I agree that architects in general can be weak on business issues.  I went to a university where the architecture college was next door to the business college.  There was a mentality that the business college was where the jocks and greedy went for a degree and that we as designers in our altruism were above that.  Once in a while an architect would give a lecture and encourage us to take business classes, and I for one ignored that.  While it was a mistake I’ve done a few things to make up for it.

When I went out on my own even years ago it was with intent to go into a partnership with two others, an architect who was I business for 20+ years and an engineer who I thought was equally savvy.  The more I worked with both of them the more I realized that while they knew a lot about running a business they were terrible at following through.  In the long run, the slow down I the economy was a good thing because with the lack of work the incentive to form what would had been a disastrous partnership went away.

Many times I would look at what I do and think that anyone can do this.  Then I see owner napkin sketches and an inability to visualize things and realize: no they can’t.  Even for clients that are savvy I can sell myself as someone who has seen various scenarios for 23 years and can apply my experiences to their situation.

I worked with a business coach for two years and he helped me get out of that mentality.  He reviewed my billings and my work and pushed me to charge for things I always treated like something I should do out of the good of my heart.  That mentality has helped me not only as a businessperson but as a designer a well, I feel.  If the client really wants to do something that you don’t care for, bite the bullet and keep in mind it is a business and you’ll get paid to do it, as long as the request is ethical of course. 

Some of the books he had us read I would recommend to anyone in any business.  The first is The E Myth by Michael Gerber.  It is a good intro that puts one into the mentality of a struggling small business person.  It does not spell out concrete solutions but gives one a lot to consider, the most basic premise being that one needs to think like an entrepreneur and less like a technician.  Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish and Guerrilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson were other books we used.  I briefly served as a marketing person with an AV integrator who is in the process of closing his doors, I feel specifically because he could never get out of the technician mentality.  I might be wrong about that, but of the three projects I brought to him, it took him a long time to get proposals together, and on the final home I brought to him it took him ten weeks to tell me that he’s decided to focus on commercial work.  Then four months later he’s out, whatever.

I also belong to a leads club and try to network with local and regional chambers and events.  The leads club is good, and even though I have not received very many leads from it, I surround myself with people who are business savvy in aspects where I am not.  We had a mortgage broker who was at Arthur Andersen during the Enron debacle and mutual disintegration, and I’ve learned a lot from him.  People in the business community know of me and I know them, so there should be some referrals from that.  Granted I have slacked off from it a bit lately because I have been busy, perhaps partly from lapsing back into the designer mentality.  We need to be sure to treat marketing and business development as equally important to the production.

Regarding fees I started raising mine based on a few things.  First I stared a simple excel file that tracks how many hours I have and how it relates to the fee I charged.  Perhaps this is something I could see through QuickBooks if I had the discipline to learn the software, but that’s another story.  That was an eye opener to get me to see that I need to make things worth my while.  So in upping my fees I haven’t seen a rate of acceptance of proposals go down, still the same – either acceptance or I never hear back, never anyone trying to talk me down.  Ironically he only one to talk me down was a design build contractor I regularly work with, but I think now that he sees the value I bring he doesn’t talk me down anymore.

Finally, my business coach encouraged me to put together a seminar to educate the public on the profession.  It is simply called “What an Architect Does and How You Benefit.”  I went to a seminar put on by another architect on the future of the profession which was very good.  But one thing that struck me was the mentality of many of the architects in the audience who complained that the AIA was not doing enough to promote the profession.  My thought was that I’ve heard this complaint for 20 years and guess what folks – if you’re relying on others forget it.  I’ve presented once to a group of 10 and I’m looking to present to other groups as well.  I should be putting it on quarterly.  I did received favorable comments from people outside of the profession not realizing all of the services, and specifically all of the work and aspects taken to arrive at a design.  Writing this is helping remind me to get back into the marketing and promotion, and stop being mere technician!

Having twins who are now 15 and will start college in three years helps me take the business aspects more seriously as well, not to mention things I wouldn’t mind being able to do someday like build my own house or get a new car, things to not even think about until after I get the kids through college.  Or at least know that I have the ability to reach those goals.

If you are interested in seeing comments from other architects on the topic you may do so here