Category Archives: Professional

Back East

Once again, I’ve decided to dust the cobwebs off this blog and bring it back to life. Over the past few posts I made a big deal about wanting to clear excess detritus out of my life, and the self-imposed commitment to maintaining a personal blog ended up being one of the things that got chucked by the wayside as I concentrated on finishing grad school. A quick rundown of what I’ve been up to in the interim:

I ended up staying out in Los Angeles for an extra semester and delaying my graduation for a year. This was due to a number of factors, mainly some problems I was having with my Structures course sequence being complicated by the university’s switch from a quarter system to a semester system, as well as my desire to spend some more time working in LA and see my project along to a more complete stage. I returned to Cincinnati in November 2012, but not before spending a week stranded in San Bernardino County while my Jeep’s transmission had to be rebuilt. (Buy me a drink sometime and I’ll be happy to recount that story. It’s a real hoot.)

Bad tranny

Bad tranny

By taking an extra year to finish grad school, I was given the opportunity to take another co-op placement. I ended up working for a mid-sized firm in New York City over the summer of 2013 and greatly enjoying it. I had actually been planning to spend that co-op at a local firm in Cincinnati, but applied to the firm in NYC without thinking I stood much of a chance of actually getting the position. The firm does great work and I felt that my portfolio was, at best, middle-of-the-pack compared to my classmates, and I was somewhat leery of moving back to NYC after getting seriously burned-out with the city twice before. To my surprise, I got hired and the job turned out to be the best co-op placement of my grad school career. While walking back to the subway one night, it dawned on me that, despite all my frustrations, New York felt at least as much like a hometown to me as my original hometown of Cincinnati. I eventually made the decision that I would try to move back to New York upon my graduation the following spring.

I returned to Cincinnati in August and spent the next nine months fleshing out my thesis project, which I had decided would be something small and manageable: a new Penn Station for New York. It was either that or a meditation cabin in Oregon. Meanwhile, I had begun the search for post-grad school employment. After several months of false starts and dead ends, I received two offers within minutes of each other late in the spring semester: one from a local firm in Cincinnati that does a lot of fairly bland workplace design, and another from a small boutique firm in New York that does mostly high-end residential and hospitality projects. I picked the latter option, and began preparing to move to New York while I finished up my thesis.

In April, I successfully defended my thesis and completed my Master of Architecture degree from the University of Cincinnati. While finishing my bachelor’s degree in 2010 was a huge relief at the time, it felt more like a formality than anything else; it was just my permission slip to enter grad school. This graduation ceremony, though, was the real deal. Looking back several months later, I still can’t believe that I actually did it.

Pro tip: When you can't win over the thesis jury with quality, overwhelm them with quantity.

Pro tip: When you can’t win over the thesis jury with quality, overwhelm them with quantity.

World of PainWith hardly any time to catch my breath after graduation, I put all my stuff into storage once again, boarded a plane to New York, and started working at the aforementioned boutique firm the following Monday… And it immediately became clear that I had entered a world of pain. The work environment could best be described as abusive, the hours were extreme, the work was unoriginal and unproductive, and the firm’s financial standing appeared to be shaky at best. I began sending out resumes again before I had even gotten my first paycheck.

In late June, I visited Chicago for the AIA National Convention. It was my first visit back there since graduating from DePaul in 2010, and the longest I had been away from the city since I first moved to the area in 1993. It was great to see the city again and renew some old friendships, and to let go of some of the bitterness I had been feeling about Chicago since I had moved away in 2007. New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago are great cities that each have their own unique personalities, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have lived in all three at various times in my life.

Another benefit to attending the AIA convention in Chicago was a chance encounter with one of the principals of the firm where I spent my last co-op before thesis year. One thing led to another, and within a couple weeks of the convention I had accepted an employment offer at this firm and turned in my resignation at the abusive boutique firm. It didn’t happen a moment too soon; I had been expanding my job search to the west coast, and was seriously considering moving to Los Angeles or Portland if the right opportunity came up. I love New York, but it’s impossible to survive for long here unless you love what you do, and my first priority was to find a better employment situation. Luckily I didn’t have to move again; I’ve now been at the new job for about four weeks, and so far it’s been going well.

With my job search happily resolved, my next big priorities are to find permanent housing here in New York and to complete the Architectural Registration Exams. I’m hoping to have enough money saved up for my own apartment by around January or so, and I’m hoping to be registered as an architect within the next year or so.

My resolution for 2012 was to rid my life of distractions as I finished grad school. Now that that’s done, it’s time to start building again. Wish me luck; I’ll certainly need it.

Good luck cats

The Next Horizon

Apologies for neglecting this blog lately. Being a full-time graduate architecture student at DAAP has a way of forcing one to jettison all other extracurricular activities in favor of school-related work. Now that the fall quarter is over, I finally have a chance to catch my breath and turn my attention to some of those things that have been pushed to the back burner over the past few months.

Back in July I posted The Grass is Always Greener, which describes my dilemma as to whether or not I’ll want to remain here in the Cincinnati area after grad school. In that post I concluded with, “If I ultimately decide to leave town, possible destinations include London, Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest, or back to the East Coast. Each locale has its own pros and cons, which will probably be the subject of a future blog post.” This is that blog post.

In addition to the long-term question of where I go after grad school, there’s also a more immediate question of where I’ll end up spending my 5-month co-op that begins in late March. I’ve already begun laying the groundwork for that decision, and where I end up going for co-op has the potential to strongly influence where I’ll end up post-graduation. And of course, the decision isn’t entirely up to me, as it will depend heavily upon where I can find a job. In this crappy economy, I may end up having to hold my nose and move someplace I otherwise wouldn’t touch with a barge pole, at least until the job market improves and I get an offer someplace more desirable.

That said, there are a few locales that I return to often in my mind, where I can envision myself having a reasonably good quality of life, and will probably be the places where I concentrate my job search both for the co-op and for permanent employment. The short list changes from time to time,  and will almost certainly change many more times before a decision is made, but now consists of Cincinnati, London, Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest, and Asheville, North Carolina.

Cincinnati

Home sweet home... for now.

As I mentioned before, my roots here in Cincinnati run deep, and no matter where else I end up, I’ll always be a Cincinnatian at heart. I grew up here, I have a lot of friends and family here, and I’ve made a point to get as involved as I can in local civic affairs. Cincinnati is small enough that one person can make a big splash, the cost of living is dirt-cheap, and the city has ambitious plans for remaking its urban core. I have enough professional connections that finding a job here after graduation will likely be considerably easier than in any other city.

On the downside: While I love Cincinnati dearly, I generally loathe the Midwest. No mountains, no ocean, very little international vibe, and despite some progress here in the city, the region’s political culture is loaded with right-wing ideology with strong undercurrents of racism and religious fundamentalism. In my more cynical moments, I feel like Cincinnati is where the bigotry and religious fanaticism of the Deep South meet the burned-out post-industrial landscape of the Rust Belt. The weather — featuring the most unpleasant extremes of both winter and summer — makes the mere act of going outside tortuous for entire weeks at a time. The local architectural scene, while not without its bright spots, tends to be very conservative without much in the way of new ground being broken. If I end up working here as an architect, it almost certainly won’t be in the areas of design that I’m most passionate about.

London

My life in six months?

This past September I finally took my long-awaited return trip to London, and stayed there for almost a full two weeks. There’s something invigorating about being in a global city where you can hear a dozen languages being spoken while walking down the street, and if I want to specialize in transportation-related design, there’s plenty of such work in London. London’s mild climate would be ideal for me, and the benefits of living in a city with such a rich history go without saying. London is also an ideal jumping-off point for exploring the rest of Europe. And while no political system is without its faults, the overall political climate in the United Kingdom is much more to my taste, and working in the UK would provide job benefits that Americans can only dream about. Depending on how the currency exchange rates fluctuate, I might also be able to repay my student loans in a much shorter period of time.

The biggest catch, though, is that it’s in a different country. Finding an employer willing to sponsor me for a work visa would be a big challenge (especially when so many British and European Union architects are already out of work), and if I were to live there permanently, getting professionally registered as an architect with my American masters degree and work experience would be at least as challenging. Moving that far of a distance across an ocean would present its own logistical problems. London is a long way from home both in miles and in culture, and while I consider my Anglophile credentials to be pretty solid, nothing would change the fact that I’d always be a foreigner in a foreign land. Beyond that, living in a major global city like London, with its long commutes and extreme cost of living, would present a lot of the same frustrations I found while living in New York City. On those frequent occasions when I get tired of the rat race, it simply wouldn’t be possible to jump in my car and escape to the countryside in a few minutes like I can do here. Visits back home would involve a long trans-Atlantic flight and all the hassle that entails.

While London would be ideal for  my 5-month co-op, I don’t see it being the place where I ultimately settle down after grad school. As such, there’s the possibility that whatever networking connections I make in London on my co-op ultimately wouldn’t do me much good if I decide to stay here in the US for the long term.

Los Angeles

You are entering a world of pain.

This past summer I had the opportunity to visit Los Angeles for the first time, and to my surprise, I liked it a lot better than I thought I would. The climate can’t be beat, and the city is in the process of rapidly expanding its mass transit system. I have a couple good friends out there already, and the ocean and mountains are both nearby. The architectural scene in LA is decidedly more forward-looking than that of Cincinnati.

Of course, the idealized vision of Los Angeles giving way to its harsh realities is one of the oldest cliches in the book. The cost of living — while not nearly as high as that of New York or London — is still very high, crime and general quality of life would be big concerns, and having the ocean and mountains nearby won’t count for much if I have to sit in traffic for two hours to reach them. Visiting Cincinnati would involve a 4-hour flight. While not nearly as long as a flight from London, it’s still a major hassle.

The Pacific Northwest

All else aside, if I could pick any region of the country in which to settle down based purely on its climate and natural beauty, it would be the Pacific Northwest. I briefly lived in Eugene, Oregon from late 2004 to early 2005, and not a day goes by where my mind doesn’t wander back to the mountains, forests, and waterfalls of the Oregon Cascades. While living in Eugene I visited Portland a couple times and liked what I saw of it. Similar in size to Cincinnati, Portland seems to have made all the right decisions regarding its future as a city, while Cincinnati has made many wrong ones. Seattle is less familiar to me, except to say it’s somewhat larger than Portland and has the benefit of being on Puget Sound. Both cities offer an attractive quality of life in a mild climate, a reasonable cost of living (although Seattle is a bit more expensive than Portland), incredible natural beauty outside the city, and a more progressive architectural climate. Portland has a well-developed light rail and streetcar system, while Seattle has ambitious plans for expansion of its own light rail system. I’ve never been to Vancouver, BC to date, but I haven’t yet heard a bad thing about it.

I'd be willing to put up with a lot of bullshit Monday through Friday if it meant being able to drive to a place like this on Saturday.

It’s hard to think of many downsides to the Pacific Northwest, but there may be a few potential pitfalls. The job market in Portland is notoriously bad even in good economic times. Lots of people want to live there, but there aren’t enough jobs to go around. This puts downward pressure on wages and upward pressure on the cost of living, and I’ve heard people half-jokingly say that almost every bartender and barista in town has a masters degree. I’m not sure what the situation in Seattle or Vancouver is like, but I imagine it’s similar. While I wouldn’t move to someplace like Portland or Seattle without first having a job lined up, this could pose a big problem down the road if I got laid off or otherwise had to look for work again. As with London, moving to Vancouver would require getting a visa, but I understand it’s generally easier to get a Canadian visa than a British one. While living in Eugene I found myself bored once I had explored most of the area, although I attribute that more to being unemployed and broke in a smallish town than to any inherent flaws of the region. I also remember feeling like I was about a million miles away from my friends and family back east, and I could see that being a potential problem. But I didn’t have social media like Facebook and Twitter at my disposal in 2004, and the world feels much smaller now than it did back then.

Asheville, North Carolina

Oregon Lite

I almost hesitate to include this on the list, but I lived there for a couple years as a kid and I was back there for a couple days last spring break, so I may as well mention it. Asheville is similar in size to Eugene, and offers many of the same advantages: a mild climate, a beautiful setting in the mountains, and a relatively progressive college-town atmosphere with a strong emphasis on the arts and brewing. Asheville also has the advantage of being only a 6-hour drive from Cincinnati, making weekend visits back home relatively easy.

Unfortunately, Asheville is the largest city for many miles in any direction. Whenever I got bored in Eugene I could always drive a couple hours up the road to Portland. Driving a couple hours in any direction from Asheville only puts you smack in the middle of Deliverance country. Driving back home to Cincinnati from Asheville takes about the same amount of time as flying to Cincinnati from Portland or Seattle. And there’s even less of an architectural scene in Asheville than in Cincinnati. If I end up working as an architect in Asheville, I certainly won’t be designing transit systems or other major infrastructure projects. But maybe that’s okay, and I would certainly consider Asheville if the right opportunity came along.

So, that’s the list as of today. I reserve the right to revise it, refine it, or scrap it altogether in the future. All in all, I’d say the Pacific Northwest has the most advantages and the fewest disadvantages, and I’ll admit that area of the country has been on my mind a lot lately. But it’s too early to say for sure where I’ll end up, and like I said before, it’s not entirely within my control anyway. If nothing else, though, it will be interesting to see where the road leads.

The Grass is Always Greener…

Sometimes I wonder how my life would have turned out if my family had never left Fort Thomas in 1984. Maybe I would have stayed here in the Cincinnati area my entire life, married soon after high school, and settled down into a middle-class subdivision with a yard and some kids. Or maybe I would’ve run screaming to New York or Chicago the first chance I got, never looking back at Cincinnati with anything but resentment and loathing. I know plenty of Cincinnati-area natives who have taken each path.

You can't go home again. (photo: Tim Lindenbaum via flickr.com)

As it turned out, we moved away when I was ten, and I haven’t spent more than four continuous years living in one city since then. As a kid I didn’t have a choice in the matter, but as an adult I’ve embarked on long-distance moves for academic reasons, better career opportunities, a better lifestyle, and most recently, an overwhelming desire to just come back home to Cincinnati. Anybody who has read the archives of this blog will know that some of these moves have been more successful than others.

Chicago was the closest thing to an adopted hometown I ever found outside of Cincinnati, but after living there three times for a total of eleven years, I feel like I’ve exhausted all my possibilities there. Many of my closest friends have moved away, and most of my recent jobs in Chicago have felt like dead ends. During a weekend visit to Chicago last year, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was walking around in the empty shell of a life that had ceased to exist a very long time ago.

I guess you could call it the 18-month itch. Once the novelty of living in a certain place has worn off and daily life has settled into a routine, the wanderlust starts to kick in again. It doesn’t help that I struggle with clinical depression, and when it’s at its worst, I often find myself with a strong urge to leave everything behind and start a new life for myself somewhere else. I’ve even acted on that urge a few times (my decision to move from Philly to New York in 2004 and then to Oregon later that year would be two prime examples), but so far my attempts to outrun depression haven’t been successful.

By almost any measure, Cincinnati has been pretty good to me since I moved back here in March of last year. I’ve fallen in with a great group of friends, I’ve begun my long-awaited M.Arch. degree at one of the best programs in the country, I have the nicest apartment I’ve ever lived in, and I’ve even learned a lot more about the bar business than I ever thought I would. No matter what else I do in life and where I do it, I think the Cincinnati area will always be home to me.

But even before I moved here, I knew there would be a dilemma I’d have to face, which is the question of where I’ll ultimately settle down once I finish grad school, particularly in regard to rewarding career options. Assuming I remain in the architecture business, the odds of finding something here that excites me would be fairly slim even if the economy were in better shape. If the economy stays the same or gets worse, any job I take here in Cincinnati would most likely be a survival job until something better comes along.

One of my main design-related passions involves transit design and planning

, and even if Cincinnati were to build its proposed streetcar line and get started on a bare-bones light rail system, there will probably never be enough of that type of work here to sustain a career. I also have an interest in high-end hospitality and custom residential design, but again, other cities offer far more opportunities in those areas than Cincinnati.

There’s also the question of what kind of city Cincinnati really wants to be in the coming years. Right now we’re fortunate to have a mayor and some city council members who appreciate the potential this city has, and are doing what they can to make the city an attractive place for new blood. (The aforementioned streetcar project is a big part of that.) But it’s an uphill battle. Cincinnati has lost over 10% of its population from 2000 to 2010, which continues a long trend of depopulation that began in the 1950’s. Suburban-based “Tea Party” groups have allied with some professional rabble-rousers within the black community to slam the brakes on anything that might make the urban core a viable destination for young professionals and start-up businesses, and our local media is quick to whip up fear and resentment against any idea that might threaten their anti-city narrative.

Artist's interpretation of Chris Smitherman and Chris Finney conspiring to derail the Cincinnati streetcar project.

Add the fact that Ohio has a teabag-waving governor and congressional delegation who seem hell-bent on turning the entire state into a third-world country, and the future for Cincinnati looks pretty grim. I have a lot of friends who see Cincinnati as the next Portland or Austin, and while I hope they’re right and I agree Cincinnati has that potential, I find myself a bit pessimistic lately. Potential is one thing, but capitalizing on that potential is something else. I love my hometown and I’ll continue to do whatever I can push the city forward while I’m here, but don’t want to tether my future to a sinking ship.

Aaron “The Urbanophile” Renn writes about the perils of “boomerang migration”, when young creative types from the Midwest expand their horizons in search of better career options or a certain lifestyle, and later come back and try to make a difference in their hometown:

I think boomerang migrants are more likely to encounter problems reconciling themselves to a place than those who move there with no connection. I’ve mentioned the problem of “that’s little kids stuff” before. People, especially those from smaller or less hip destinations, are very cognizant of their plebian origin. You see this manifest itself when they move to bigger cities. They immediately realize their inadequacy and set about in earnestness trying to get beyond it. This frequently takes the form of contempt from where they came from. Again, I’ve noted that the place that probably has the worst brand perception of smaller Midwestern cities is Chicago. Why is that? Well, because all too many of the people who live there came from those same smaller places and are desperate to prove their big city bona fides. As someone once said, contempt for where you came from is the signature attribute of the arriviste.

Returning, all of this comes rushing back. Particularly when perceptions have legitimately changed. When I was a kid, Ponderosa was my favorite steak place. Now, after years of eating USDA Prime, I can never go back and experience Ponderosa in the same way again. I probably don’t enjoy today’s steaks any more than yesterday’s, a topic worthy of its own post, but I’ll never be able to capture that past experience. The act of moving away from home unmoors us from the limits of our origins. It’s no surprise that the college educated are more likely to migrate. It isn’t just the skills, it’s that four years away from home opens a world of possibility in our eyes. Even at 22, if you return, it’s to a different place than you left, because you’re a different person. Because those who didn’t leave haven’t experienced this change, there’s an estrangement from your past. You no longer fit in. There’s something wrong. The cliche is true: you can never go home again.

I can certainly identify with this on a number of levels. For now, my focus is on finishing grad school, and I’ll remain here for as long as it takes to do so. But in the meantime, I can’t help but wonder if I have a long-term future here.

Where I go after grad school will largely depend on what sorts of opportunities are available at that time, and what type of city Cincinnati wants to be. My fear is that I’ll ultimately end up having to make a choice between A) a good standard of living along with proximity to friends and family here, but at the expense of more fulfilling career options, or B) a more rewarding career, but saying farewell to Cincinnati and all the things I enjoy about living here.

If I ultimately decide to leave town, possible destinations include London, Los Angeles, the Pacific Northwest, or back to the East Coast. Each locale has its own pros and cons, which will probably be the subject of a future blog post. But wherever I end up, I suspect there will always be a part of me that wishes I was somewhere else.

And Now for Something Completely Different…

This past Friday we had sort of a St. Valentine’s Day Massacre at the office, with about 10% of the staff being laid off. Yours truly was among them, thus ending my 2.5-year tenure at Dattner Architects. I’m not holding any bitterness against my now-former employers; while every job has its good days and bad days, my time at Dattner has been an incredible learning experience, and I’ve never been treated with anything but the utmost professionalism and respect while working there, and I’ll look back with fondness on my time there.

This didn’t come as a complete shock, as the writing had been on the wall for a while. Thanks to a couple of large projects via the stimulus program, our office was able to maintain a decent workload for about a year longer than most other architecture firms, but all good things must end sooner or later. There had been a noticeable slowdown in our workload over the past couple months, and more often than not, I found myself without much to do during the day. The thought of getting laid off had occurred to me, and I had already begun to develop a contingency plan in case the axe dropped. This past Friday, when I was asked to come in to the office of one of the partners for a meeting, I instantly knew what was about to happen. It was time to institute my contingency plan.

As this means the end of my 2.5-year at Dattner, this also means the end of my 2.5 year residency in New York City. I moved here in 2007 with high hopes and grand ambitions. Some of those ambitions have been fulfilled, and some have not. When I moved here, I figured I’d be going to grad school here in New York City, presumably at Columbia or some other big-name school, and get a job with some boutique firm that does ultra-modernist hotels and condominium interiors. Instead, I ended up postponing my grad school plans for a while, and developing a strong interest in transit design, urban planning, and civic architecture.

As the economy went down the toilet, and I came to the realization that I had reached an age where a sense of stability and comfort were much more important to me than being in the middle of all the action. My thoughts increasingly turned back to my hometown of Cincinnati, and what it might mean to move back there for grad school and possibly even settle down there for the long term. Instead of Columbia and a bunch of East Coast Ivy League architecture schools, I ended up applying to the University of Cincinnati, Ohio State, and the University of Kentucky for grad school. At the same time, I found myself increasingly burned-out with New York City. There are still many things I love about this city, and I won’t rule out the possibility of moving back here sometime in the future, but for now, this city simply isn’t my natural habitat.

In the meantime, I’ve become increasingly involved with the local blogosphere and online community in Cincinnati, and have already added my voice to those advocating for improved mass transit and urban planning in Cincinnati. In the relatively short time I’ve been involved with these people who are relentlessly pushing to make Cincinnati into a better city, I’ve already developed a number of good friendships, and I know I’ll be welcomed with open arms when I return home. This is in addition to the numerous old friends and family members who have always been there to welcome me home whenever I found myself in town for a visit.

With my job now no longer keeping me here in New York, I’ve decided to leave NYC and move to Cincinnati at the end of the month. I’m hoping to start grad school at UC (or if not UC, then at least nearby OSU or UK) in the fall, so my unemployment benefits and savings should last until then, and I’m actually pretty psyched about finally going back. That said, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous as hell. Finding a landlord willing to rent to me will be a challenge, and if I don’t start grad school or land a job in six months, I’ll really start to panic. Also, the last time I lived in Cincinnati was 25 years ago, when I was 10 years old. Going back is certain to bring up all sorts of old memories and weird emotions for me.

I’ve reserved a Penske rental truck for the weekend of February 27th, and if all goes well, I’ll be arriving in town sometime on the 28th. As of this writing, I have no idea where I’ll be living, but I have a couple of strong leads.

At this point, I don’t have the slightest idea how this will all work out. In six months I may end up in Columbus or Lexington, or moving in with my parents in North Carolina. At some point I may end up frustrated with Cincinnati’s notorious provincialism, and run screaming back to New York or Chicago. No doubt there will be times I wish I was back in New York City, or longing to expand my horizons even further, perhaps as far as London or the West Coast.

But for now, I’m just happy to be coming home.

Artifacts

Time flies when you’re having fun…. We’ve just been assigned our final project in the Columbia summer studio, which is due in two weeks. Up until now we’ve been doing a lot of visual exercises and modeling of abstract concepts; now we get to design a building for a real site.

The project, in a nutshell: Some 850,000 artifacts were apparently dug up during construction of NYC’s Foley Courthouse complex, most of which dated back to the area’s past as the notorious “Five Points” Irish ghetto during the 1800’s (think Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York). These artifacts were meticulously cataloged and then stored away in what was thought to be a safe place: The basement of 6 World Trade Center.

On 9/11, eighteen of the artifacts were on loan to the Archdiocese of New York and were being stored off-site. The rest of the artifacts were destroyed when the north tower collapsed.

We’ve been assigned a site in Chinatown not far from the original “Five Points”, and our task is to design a building that functions both as a museum for the 18 surviving artifacts, and as a memorial to the approximately 849,982 other artifacts that were lost once in the gradually-shifting sands of time, rediscovered, and then lost again in one catastrophic morning. We also need to incorporate some of the ideas we’ve been exploring in the prior class assignments.

Interesting project, to be sure… Certainly beats designing “a house for a schizophrenic baker” or something like that. I have some vague ideas for how to proceed, but I still have a lot of thinking and researching to do.

Work is going pretty well… Nothing major to report, except that it’s a bit weird working at a place where most everybody seems relatively sane and well-adjusted. In some ways it’s not nearly as entertaining as working with a bunch of dysfunctional nutcases, but hopefully it will mean I won’t be spending nearly as much time pounding my head against a brick wall.

Checking In

Quick check-in here….

Columbia summer program is challenging, intense, and fun… It’s very much like a 5-week architecture boot camp. Some aspects of the program, like basic drafting and model-building techniques, are very old-school for me, and it’s been interesting to sit back and listen to the critic explain the whole concept of architectural scale (i.e., 1/4″ = 1′-0″) to a room full of people who have never heard of such a thing. On the other hand, I continue to struggle with a lot of the abstract concepts and heavy theory being tossed around. I’m starting to think that while I’m a pretty good architect, I’m a pretty crappy architecture student.

I went out and got Chinese take-out for dinner this evening, and the message in my fortune cookie was, “A smooth sea never made a skillful mariner.” Somehow it seems apt.

Things will be getting even more challenging for the final 2.5 weeks of the program, as I’m now working about 20 hours a week, which will cut into the time I have to devote to my studio projects. I was hoping to be able to get through the Columbia program without having to work, but that’s simply not financially possible for me.

Speaking of work, today was my first day at the new gig, and it went pretty well. Lots of orientation stuff, being introduced to lots of people whose names I instantly forget (I really suck at remembering names), and getting acquainted with their policies, standards, practices, etc. Pretty uneventful overall, but so far the place seems like a pretty tight ship.

Still haven’t sold the car yet, so I’ve just knocked another $1000 off the asking price.

That’s all for now….

I Got an Offer!

…And a pretty generous one at that: $17k more than I was making at my old job in Chicago. Apparently they either didn’t notice the open fly or didn’t mind.

I haven’t accepted it yet, but I’m 99% sure that I will… In the meantime, I think I’ll go out for a celebratory meal and a couple drinks.

Job Interview

The job interview went very well, I think… Nice people, good projects, cool office, they seem competent and professional, they liked my work, and they didn’t burst out laughing when we got to the dreaded salary negotiation portion of the meeting. I managed not to fart or make any inappropriate comments about politics or religion, and I even managed not to badmouth my former employers (that took some effort). I have the feeling they’ll make an offer, and I should be hearing back from them next week.

So I leave their office feeling pretty confident, and before getting back on the subway I stop into a hotel along the way to use the restroom. There, to my horror, I discover that while the zipper on my fly was up, the zipper itself had somehow come apart, effectively leaving my fly open during the entire interview (not to mention on the subway ride down and the walk to/from the office). This is a brand-new suit, and the first time I’ve worn these pants outside of a dressing room.

So now I get to make an unplanned trip down to Lord & Taylor to have them fix this thing before I have any more wardrobe malfunctions during subsequent job interviews next week.

KPF Office Tour, Other Issues

We had our tour of KPF this morning, which was interesting. Lots of nice projects and tons of cool study models stashed everywhere… At my last job, I never saw a single model being built in that office in two years of working there. I think that may become one of my criteria for evaluating prospective employers: Lots of study models = good. No study models = bad.

KPF sort of reminded me of Perkins + Will in terms of their corporate culture and general approach to design. Probably a bit too big for my taste (both in terms of the firm size and the typical project size), but as far as big corporate firms go, they’re doing some pretty nice work. The guys who showed us around were very cool, seemed to know their stuff well, and had a genuine interest in meeting with us.

Their office itself, though, was a big letdown. I guess I was sort of expecting lots of open spaces, high ceilings, clean lines, and high-tech detailing… Instead it was sort of a claustrophobic warren of various rooms, with a very 1980’s PoMo feeling to it all. It’s obvious they’ve been in that space for a long time, and everything had a pretty tired look. They’d be well-served by either renovating that space or moving into some new digs.

Long day in studio today, as we’re trying to wrap up our second project. In a nutshell, we have to build models that represent certain inherent characteristics of a number (from 0 to 9) that we’ve been randomly assigned. I have the number 9. Our critic mentioned that I seem to have a good knack for visualizing interesting spaces and a high level of craftsmanship, but that I need more of a theoretical concept — more of an agenda — to base it on. I tend to agree, as theory is probably my weakest point. I’ve always had a good intuitive design/aesthetic sense and a strong attention to detail, but I tend to find that most architectural theory goes right over my head. This dilemma was also reflected in many of the comments about my grad school portfolio a few months ago here on archinect…. Looks like I have my work cut out for me.

My first of several job interviews is tomorrow morning… This is the firm that’s gotten pretty good reviews on insidearch.org, and seems to do decent design work. In the words of one reviewer, “Maybe not the starting lineup, but definitely major league material.” Time to bust out my brand-new Kenneth Cole black suit and shoes.

I’ve since heard back from a couple other firms that also want to meet with me… I’m pretty shocked at the response I’ve gotten. I’ve sent out 24 resumes and have gotten 5 callbacks so far… In 2004, I got about the same number of callbacks after sending out over a hundred resumes. What a difference three years makes.

Columbia Summer Studio: Random Thoughts

Random thoughts about Columbia GSAPP and other issues of the day:

1. I’m thinking about starting a drinking game, in which we take a shot each time we hear the word “emergence” being uttered in Avery Hall.

2. Quote of the day: “We wouldn’t be sitting here on a theory panel if any of us had a normal relationship to practice.”

3. I’ll most likely cancel my interview with the Firm From Hell mentioned in my last post, considering I no intention of working in that sort of environment again, although part of me wouldn’t mind showing up anyway and asking them lots of pointed questions about the issues raised above. But if it’s anything like my last firm (which it seems to be in every detail), the partners most likely don’t have any ability nor inclination to change a thing about the way they run the firm, and it would be a waste of time for everybody involved for me to even darken their door.

4. Office tour of KPF first thing in the morning, and we’re touring Polshek’s office next week. There’s actually a lot of office tours being offered as part of this Columbia program (Libeskind, REX, Vinoly, Meier’s model archive, and many others among them) but unfortunately we were only permitted to pick a maximum of two office tours per person. Should be interesting.