Thursday, November 8, 2012

10 THINGS MY CHILDREN HAVE TAUGHT ME ABOUT ARCHITECTURE & HOUSES

1.  Architecture & public art/fountains/displays are for touching.  


If you can’t touch it, what’s the point?  I abhor going to some lovely public place and finding a place to sit and enjoy the space, only to be reprimanded by a security guard for letting my children splash their hands in the fountain.  Or being told that picnics are not allowed on the grassy lawn.  Or that the enormous bronze animal sculpture that shines from the friction of other kids' bottoms is not meant for climbing on.

great action shot courtesy of Mike Willis

2.  Mama MUST be able to see the enclosed yard from one of the living areas of a home.


Parents of young children cannot and should not spend all day playing with their children.  They've got to let the children develop some independence at some point and the perfect place is an enclosed yard.  But parents of a certain age child must still be spies-- lurking and peeking and checking up on their precious charges.  

When we bought our current home, our eldest was an only child, 18 months old.  I had no idea that this was such an issue.  If only I could see the back yard from the kitchen!

photo courtesy of jemasmith


3.  In a parking lot, it’s not how far away you park from your destination; it’s whether there are sidewalks to get there.  


I have long thought that the most dangerous place for a person to be was the FREEWAY.  People who are on the phone with a headache having a bad day late for an appointment are driving the vehicles on all sides: people who learned to drive by playing racing video games.  People who go too fast & too close.

Now that I have small children, the freeway has dropped to second place;  first place has been awarded to PARKING LOTS.  The same people mentioned above who are now obsessed with finding the closest spot as quickly as possible have no awareness of pedestrians, especially short ones.

Who designs these awful parking lots with no sense of right-of-way and no designated pedestrian walkways?   Yup, you guessed it: architects.

And who raises these children who on occasion run out giggling into the parking lots without holding hands, and not even looking where they're going and giving their mama a heart attack?  Yup, you guessed it: me.

photo courtesy of Elizabeth/Table4Five

4.  It is much more important for something to be INTERESTING than FANCY. 


Kids love colors, textures, terminating vistas with a sense of mystery, spaces that are scaled for being alone (like reading nooks), hide-outs, murals, surprises and just plain cool stuff.

Kids have no use for expensive finishes, excessive symmetry, collections of breakable things, collections of things that don't "do" anything, spaces that are intimidating, artwork that does not have a story or at least some really cool colors, places where you have to sit quietly with your hands on your lap.

Kids are pretty smart cookies.

view of St. Peter's dome through a keyhole at
the Knights of Malta HQ piazza, designed by Piranesi 1765
photo courtesy of tiseb

5.  Park strips* don’t just provide a perceived buffer between street & sidewalk: they also give your kid somewhere to fall on his bike that’s not out in front of a car.  


* "Park strips" are the green space between sidewalks and streets.

These narrow strips of grass, bushes & trees always seemed a great way for people to feel comfortable walking next to a road... but it was more of a psychological thing to me (don't even get me talking about feng shui and chi).

Now I notice cars driving on sidewalks when a right-turn lane is too narrow; I see young kids falling off their bikes into the street. Sidewalks should be safe from vehicular traffic!

even a weedy park strip provides protection.
photo courtesy of mlinksva


6.  Beautiful & delicate is for princesses; the rest of us need beautiful, durable, and easy to clean. 


'Nuff said.

photo courtesy of Freddycat1

7.  With small children in the home, privacy is primarily an acoustic concern.  

Small children need a quiet place to take naps and sleep long before the rest of us retire to bed.  Parents need a quiet place to work, rest or meditate (even just for a few minutes) where they cannot hear the chaos of the little ones.

photo courtesy of bixentro

8.  The definition of a "usable" yard is very different when designing for a family with children.


A "usable" yard usually means that there are areas designated similar to rooms for different functions.  With children, we're talking sandboxes and swings and treehouses and ziplines and a surface for riding a bike on, all within a secure, enclosed yard.

good memories of a sandbox at Granny's when I was a kid
photo courtesy of FourTwentyTwo


9.  Using a stroller gives you a small sense of what it must be like in a wheelchair


People with wheeled pedestrian devices need ramps and assistance with steps, stairs, and heavy doors.
The wheelchair-accessible paths are sometimes very convoluted, forcing you sometimes to go all the way around a block from the main entrance to find a ramp.

Our current accessibility standards are a minimum for what is needed, a more "universal" approach would be a huge improvement.

"Man with a Baby Stroller" courtesy of DoobyBrain

10.  Drive-thrus are not just for lazy people.  


Bear with me here: small children are good for about one errand.  Getting loaded up in the car, getting out for the errand and back in the car takes all their attention and energy.  After that, you're pushing it.  My youngest is now three, and we can do two errands now without a problem.  What that means is that a lot of errands get pushed off to another day, another week, another year.  Some errands can stand to wait, others cannot.

The saving grace is drive-thrus!  Our Walgreens has a pharmacy drive-thru, which has saved us many times when we had a sick kid.  But if you need bandaids, too, you're out of luck.
We did have one great restaurant with a drive-thru (in an old bank building), but it's closed now.  So we're reduced hamburgers now if we need a drive-thru.

And what about grocery stores?  In the small Louisiana town where I lived briefly after college with my folks, there was a lovely little grocery store run by the same family for generations.  When they saw me for the first time, they knew what extended family I belonged to just by the family resemblance & wanted to know if I wanted to put it on the family tab.  (Seriously?)  You could phone in your order and they'd have it ready for pickup.  Here in Salt Lake, we've got a great local chain called Harmon's that has much better customer service than most.  After you do your shopping, if the kids are acting crazy or it's a snowy day, just get in the car and drive to the pick-up area where someone will load your groceries for you.  If only they could take it one step further and take orders over the internet so you didn't have to get out at all.  Or even just put a drive-up window at the deli counter so that you could have one drive-thru option at the end of a day that is NOT hamburgers.

Besides, drive-thrus are-- architecturally speaking-- just AWESOME.

drive thru image courtesy of Matt McGee

ally

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

HOW TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT: PART 2

"Choosing a local architect"

Once you have a handful of names on your list, go visit websites and offices.  You will typically find out what projects those firms are most proud of by what is displayed.  Call their client references and ask if they would use the same architect again.

Teamwork.  

sculpture "Teamwork" by David Wynne, 1958
photo courtesy of dearbarbie
It is imperative that you and your architect are a team.  If there is any struggle in the relationship, it will all show in the project.  Remember that you hire an architect for their expertise: use it!  Don't spend time trying to DIY their job for them.  On the other hand, an architect should be a good listener to assure that the project is not just a good project, but YOUR home.  This client-architect relationship is, for most people, a one-time thing.  And it's often not an easy relationship.  
  • There are difficulties with language (contractual language, drawings and other construction documents, aesthetics, building-industry jargon).   
  • There are high emotions tied to a dreamed-of lifestyle/home.   
  • Most people spend more money on a home than anything in their lives.  And it's A LOT of money to most of us, but it's also a LIMITED amount of money.  There are strong feelings about how it is spent.
  • In a construction project, there are always surprises. Don't let them ruin your relationships with the blame game. Every member of the team should build in a contingency to make sure that the project doesn't run over.

Questions.  

Questions, questions, questions.
This building is at the corner of Henry & Main in Honor, Michigan.
photo courtesy of takomabibliot
You should be able to ask hard questions.  Your architect should be able to give you hard answers. You should ask lots and lots of questions, especially questions that may seem like stupid questions.  An architect can only guess what you don't know about being a first-time client... and even if you are back for your 100th architecturally-designed home, there will still be questions.  So don't be shy, ask away.

The Final Interview.

Time to get out the magnifying glass.
Image "Day 174" courtesy of Okko Pyykkö 
Interviewing your short list of architects is the final step.  By this time, of course, you have seen their work and talked to former clients.  You may have decided with your gut whom you like the best.  But go ahead and let your left brain follow through with this important process.
Transforming Architecture has a nice blog entry on what kinds of questions to ask at this point, so check them out.  The right answers to these questions should confirm your choice; the wrong answers could be deal-breakers.

ally

Previously: HOW TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT: PART 1 "Finding Options for a Local Architect"

Sunday, November 4, 2012

HOW TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT: PART 1

"Finding Options for a Local Architect"

If you're looking international, you don't need my help, you probably have a team of people to help you. But even if you do get a "star-chitect" for lead designer, you'll likely still need a local architect closer to the site.

Traditionally, architects were not allowed to advertise, and though the restriction was deemed illegal in 1972 by the Department of Justice, it is still frowned upon.  Crazy, right?  So most firms do not.
Luckily, the internet was invented (thank you, Mr. Gore) and almost all firms take advantage of a significant web presence.  You won't see a billboard directing you to their websites, but if you can find them on your own, it's a good start.


So....

Option 1: the Lunch


  • Invite an architect -- any architect you have a connection to -- to a 30 minute lunch.  Everyone's got to eat on occasion (though a whole lot of architects work through lunch most days). Consider getting some take-out and bringing it to him.
  • Ask for a recommendation for an architect in a specific field (residential, schools, churches, hospitals, etc.).  
  • Describe in less than three minutes what kind of a project you're wanting to do (4000sf log "cabin" in the mountains, 1100sf primary residence in a historic flat on Main Street, adapted storage container studio in the back yard, etc.) and in what character or style (minimalist, "transitional," rustic, etc.).  [Lisa Frederick at Houzz has 82 "so your style is" ideabooks (and counting) of distinct decorating styles to help you figure out what you like.  Of course, decorating styles are not exactly the same thing as architecture (which is harder to categorize stylistically), but it's a wonderful starting point.]
  • In most cities & towns architects know enough of others in the field to be able to come up with 1-3 recommendations off the cuff or within a few days of thinking over it.
  • Spend the rest of lunch asking them about their practice and pretend it's VERY interesting; try to pick up a new word or concept or three (you might be able to use them later).
  • Follow up the lunch with a thank you and/or a reminder if necessary. 

photo courtesy of nSeika


If you don't have any connections to local architects, consider asking anyone in the building/construction industry to lunch.  Have a favorite specialty lighting store?  Ask them who they like to work with.  Maybe a new restaurant has just gone up: ask them who they used... then visit him at his office.
"Hi.  I was really admiring your new restaurant in my neighborhood, etc. etc.  I was wondering if I could have five minutes of your time (or take you to lunch) this month and ask you about hiring an architect to do my home.  I figured someone with your skills would be sure to give a good recommendation."

restaurant Duck Duck Goose in Melbourne
by local architects BURO
photo courtesy avlxyz

Sure, some people are "too busy."  Some are worried you're going to try to get some free services for the price of a meal. But many architects have healthy egos which respond favorably to too-infrequent flattery.

"Ego" installation at 2012 Burning Man
by Laura Kimpton, Michael Garlington & Jonny Hirschmugl
photo courtesy of Homies in Heaven


Option 2: Beat the Pavement 

An architect's buildings are his advertisement.

Agrippa, the architect of the Pantheon in Rome,
put his name right out front.
Photo courtesy of come cane in autostrada

Patrol the streets of your city and pick out buildings you like.  If you're looking to remodel a historic building, look at historic buildings.  If it's a beach house, look at beach houses.  And walk up to the front door and knock.  The majority of people answering doors will not know the name of the architect who designed or redesigned a building, but some will.  Note the addresses & try the county records office.  If the same name keeps popping up, you're in luck: you've found your guy.
Buildings still under construction will usually have signage out front noting the design & construction team.
[Incidentally, I give the same advice to young architects who don't know where to start looking for a job.]
This option takes more time than the first, but it assures a certain sympathy in tastes.

A little easier version is to pick up local publications for real estate or design and see what jumps out at you. But beware: sometimes a gorgeous photo is just a gorgeous photo.  That doesn't always translate into a wonderful place when you're there in person.
Same goes for a crappy photo.  I've seen some pretty crappy photos of some of my all-time favorite places.

Other Options:

Finally, there are finder websites, which are not more helpful than the yellow pages, in my opinion.
And then there are home shows, which typically have one or two residential architects with booths.  While the selection is not huge, these can be a great way to meet & evaluate a limited selection of an architect's work and communication style on the spot.

Spring Ideal Home Show 2012, Dublin
photo courtesy of Ethreon

ally

Next: HOW TO HIRE AN ARCHITECT: PART 2  "Choosing a local architect"