Tag Archives: Professional

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.

Nine Months

Sorry I haven’t checked in for a while…. It’s been a busy time at work.

Unlike most of my previous projects, this one is with a quasi-governmental agency that insists on doing everything By The Book™. With the corporate projects I’m used to, some guy usually says “build it”, and that’s what we do. With this governmental stuff, there’s about a million hoops to jump through before we can even talk about building stuff, and loads of paperwork for each hoop.

With my right arm mostly out of commission, AutoCAD work is very slow and cumbersome for me, but I can manage non-mouse-intensive stuff like MS-Word and Excel. As such, I find myself doing a lot of clerical/administrative stuff like meeting minutes, emails, spreadsheets, transmittals, and such. Good news is, I’m directing a couple people doing the CAD stuff, so I’m sort of like a Project Manager Lite, which is good experience and I’m learning a lot. That said, I’d much rather be designing stuff and getting it built, so all this administrative crap has me a little down.

Speaking of my right arm, I officially have one more week in the sling, and then I begin a few months of physical therapy. (I say “officially” because I’ve been going without my sling on weekends… I’m so damn sick of wearing that thing. I do okay as long as I don’t try anything weird with my right arm.) My arm’s range of motion has improved substantially since the surgery, but still has a long ways to go… I saw the doc last week, and he said I’m right about where I should be at this point. It will be a long time before I have all my strength and mobility back, though.

The pain has gone down a lot, but I still get occasional flare-ups. Nights are the worst, as there’s not really any position I can sleep in that doesn’t eventually cause my shoulder to start hurting. I haven’t been sleeping very well at all lately, and I think that’s been impacting my performance at work. Sometimes I wish I still had a steady supply of Vicodin, but the over-the-counter Ibuprofin usually does the trick, and without any weird side effects.

My next big task is to get myself into a better housing situation. I figure it will take me about 7 months to save up enough money to get my own apartment (first month’s rent + security deposit + broker fee), so I’ve opened a savings account and have begun putting away money. In the meantime, I’ve begun keeping an eye out for other roommate/share situations that would get me into a better neighborhood and possibly even save me some money. Although my current housing situation usually isn’t too bad, I’m dealing with a crappy commute from a shitty neighborhood, lots of noise issues, and I feel like I’m paying way too much for what I’m actually getting. Wish me luck.

On a somewhat related note, this is about my 9-month anniversary of moving back to New York last July. Normally a 9-month anniversary doesn’t mean much unless you’re pregnant, but in this case it’s significant because my last tenure in NYC lasted about nine months before I had a nervous breakdown and moved to Oregon. I’m happy to report that, despite my housing woes and occasional complaints about my job, I seem to be in a much better position now than I was nine months into my NYC residency in 2004. Let’s hope it keeps up.

Finally… Maybe because of the admin/clerical stuff I’ve been doing so much of at the office lately, I’ve been thinking more about grad school and how to get there. I don’t have much left to do on my undergrad degree and I have plenty of time to do it, but it still needs to get done. Hopefully I’ll be able to kick that effort into high gear this summer and fall, and not have much left to do by the time I turn in my grad school applications next winter.

This afternoon I took a walk up around City College, which at this point I would probably consider my “safety” choice. It’s local, it’s cheap as hell for in-state residents, it has good faculty and a good reputation in town, and I’m on a first-name basis with the interim director of the M.Arch. program, who was my studio critic at Columbia last summer. As a bonus, CCNY’s architecture program is moving into a brand-new Raphael Vinoly-designed facility next year. Not bad at all.

That said, I’ll probably still apply to a few of the “A-list” schools, especially Yale and Cornell. I’ve come to admire Yale’s eclectic approach to architectural education, and briefly visiting New Haven a few months ago helped me visualize the place a lot better. But Cornell in particular really got under my skin, as the whole vibe at Cornell felt great when I visited last year… I just wish Ithaca was about 3 hours closer to NYC, and that going there wouldn’t put me up to my eyeballs in student loan debt for the rest of my life. Ah well, I still have some time to sort all that shit out….

That’s all for now…


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.

Finally, Some Good News

Just letting everybody know that after almost 10 months of unemployment, I’ve been offered a job with a mid-sized architecture firm in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. I’ll be doing mostly construction administration work for now, working at the Manhattan office two days a week and out on a job site in downtown Brooklyn three days a week.

This comes not a moment too soon, as my last unemployment check just arrived in yesterday’s mail.

Thanks to all who have offered their prayers and support during my “time in the desert”, and wish me luck on the new job!

Also, keep in your prayers those who remain unemployed and especially those who have exhausted their benefits. It’s a scary position to be in. Contrary to the noises being made by the White House these days, the national economy remains in the toilet and there are still lots of people who are looking for work.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org) 

Back from NYC and Philly: Full Report

Just letting everybody know that I’m back home safely in Chicago.

My week in Philly was very productive. As I’ve already announced here, I’ve accepted a nice job offer from Kitchen & Associates (how’s that for a name?), a 50-person architecture firm located in a converted schoolhouse in Collingswood, New Jersey. I also got registered for classes at Drexel; I’ll be taking two classes per quarter for the next four years or so to finish my undergrad degree in architecture.

I’ve also settled on a place to live. There’s an apartment complex called the Village of Stoney Run in Maple Shade, NJ located on highway 73 between highway 41 and I-295. The apartment complex, while located in the midst of suburbia, is secluded back off the highway amongst a heavily-wooded area. If figure if I can’t live in the city, then my next choice would be to live in the woods. The apartments are very spacious, and have most of the amenities that I was looking for. My paperwork is still being processed, so we’ll see whether or not I get approved. (I also have backup plans in place if I don’t get approved.)

On Friday, I met up with Jersey Mike at 30th Street Station, where he had just arrived from Connecticut for a weekend home from school. We didn’t do much railfanning, but we rode the Regional Rail from 30th Street to Market East, and then transferred to PATCO to Haddonfield, NJ. I gave him a ride home from Haddonfield and met his parents before we parted ways.

Saturday, I headed up to New York City. I drove up I-295 to Hamilton, NJ where I parked my rental car (a nice 2002 Pontiac Grand Prix) and waited for the New Jersey Transit train to Penn Station. During my wait on the platform, a couple Amtrak trains pulled by AEM-7’s roared through the station at 125 MPH. Impressive.

Once in New York, I wandred around a bit on my own before meeting up with the SubTalk crowd for lunch. While wandering around on my own, I took a (3) express from Penn to 72nd on a train of R-62’s, where I grabbed some breakfast at a nice little bagel place at 77th and Amsterdam. From there I walked to 86th, where I waited in sweltering heat about 20 minutes for a (1) local to Times Square. By the grace of God, the R-62 I eventually boarded was as cold as a meat locker and not as crowded as I feared. At Times Square, I transferred to the Shuttle to GCT, where I wandered around a bit and browsed through the Transit Museum gift shop. After grabbing an iced coffee at a nearby Starbucks, I boarded a train of Kawasaki R-142’s to Bleeker Street. My first impressions of the R-142’s are generally favorable, although I think the R-62’s have a much cooler sound, and that stupid “Mr. Ed” voice is annoying as hell. Due to some sort of delay, it was announced that my train would be skipping Bleeker and a couple other stops, so I had to get off at Union Square and wait for the next train. This was my first time at Union Square, and those platform extenders are by far the coolest I’ve seen! After a short wait, I boarded another train of Kawasaki R-142’s to Bleeker.

I walked eastward down Houston Street hoping to browse through the cool surplus store near Broadway-LaFayette, but for some reason it was closed. (Their posted hours indicated that they should have been open.) Having about 30 minutes to kill before lunch at Katz’s, so I browsed around a bit in the local shops before heading over to Katz’s. After a short wait, I met up with Kevin Walsh and Francis Sibilla. After spending an eternity in line, we finally grabbed a table near the back and chowed down. I barely made a dent in my sandwich, and to be honest, I’ve had better reubens here in Chicago. My meal seemed to be more about quantity than quality, and several flies buzzing around didn’t help my impression. Katz’s was okay for just one visit as a tourist, but I wouldn’t make it part of my regular rotation of favorite restaurants.

After lunch, Francis parted ways, leaving Kevin and I to our own devices. During intermittent periods between downpours, Kevin led me on a marathon walking tour of lower Manhattan. We covered the Lower East Side, parts of Chinatown, South Street Seaport (where we took a much-needed rest), the financial district, Ground Zero, TriBeCa, and SoHo. I feel like I walked about 30 miles, but it was well worth it. I saw plenty of cool things that I had never seen before, and of course one can’t have a better tour guide than Kevin Walsh. Back up at Houston Street and having walked a huge circle around lower Manhattan, Kevin and I caught a northbound (6) train to GCT. Once at GCT, we parted ways; Kevin headed home on the (7), and I waited for a northbound (5) train so that I could experience the Dyre Avenue… And I waited, and waited, and waited… Finally, I boarded a northbound (6) train, where it was announced that the (5) was running as a shuttle between 125th and 149th, and then in another section betweem 149th and Dyre. So, ruling out a six-seat ride to Dyre and back, I rode the (6) to 125th, where I grabbed a very crowded (4) train to 149th, then transferred to a (2) train to 96th/Broadway, and then finally a (1) train to 86th.

Once at 86th, it was about 9:00 PM and I had about 30 minutes to kill before meeting up with David Greenberger, so I headed over to the Starbucks at 86th and Columbus for some much-needed rest and refreshment. 20 minutes later, I finally forced myself out of the comfy chair and walked back down to 86th. I met David just outside fare control, and we took the next southbound (1) train to Columbus Circle. Once at Columbus Circle, we poked around a bit and scoped out some signs of an closed-off crossunder below the IRT tracks before meeting up with RIPTA42HopeTunnel. From 59th we headed northbound on a (C) local train of R-32’s — my only venture to the B-Division all day — to 168th Street, where we transferred to the IRT once again. This was my first visit to the super-deep stations on the West Side IRT, so this was quite a sight. Due to some sort of delay, we ended up waiting quite a while for our southbound (1) train, even watching one (1) train breeze through the station without stopping before ours finally showed up. Somewhere along the way — it may have been 96th Street — we transferred to a (2) train of Bombardier R-142’s that had been diverted to the express track, and was making express stops only to 34th. I got off at 34th, as I was pretty exhausted and eager to head back to my hotel room, and we all parted company there.

Back at Penn Station, I waited about 30 minutes for the next NJT train to Trenton, which left around midnight. After a screaming child and his parents mercifully got off at Newark, the rest of the ride was quiet and uneventful. As the train was approaching my stop at Hamilton, a passenger seated a couple rows behind me was carrying on a conversation with the conductor about NJT new bi-level trains. I joined the conversation and mentioned that I was visiting from Chicago, where bi-levels rule the roost. The NJT conductor feared that the introduction of bi-levels would induce mass confusion while boarding and alighting on NJT trains, but I told him that Chicago commuters have been using bi-levels with no problems for many years.

The passenger and I both got off at Hamilton, and continued chatting. Turns out he works for the NYCTA (I forgot exactly what he does, but he had been a conductor for some years before), and we chatted for a while on the platform about trains and such. He’s even familiar with nycsubway.org and SubTalk. Before parting ways, he gave me a little MTA booklet outlining “Operators Rules and Regulations” for OPTO. It’s been a pretty interesting read so far… Thanks, mystery MTA employee!

I finally got back to my hotel in Maple Shade at around 2:00 AM, and promptly crashed.

Sunday and Monday found me running around and finding a place to live, and I suddenly found myself bored on Tuesday afternoon. So I decided to head out to Atlantic City to see what that place is all about. The thought that came to my mind was: Daytona Beach on steroids. Tacky as hell and brimming with massive casinos and blue-haired ladies sitting in front of slot machines, Atlantic City was just about what I had expected. There’s a neat little amusement part on the pier near Trump’s Taj Mahal Casino (where I had parked), and the boardwalk itself is a cool place to watch people. Later that day, I made one last visit to Jim’s Steaks at 4th and South Streets for yet another big fat steak hoagie. I flew back to Chicago this afternoon, and I’m now preparing to pack all my belongings into cardboard boxes.

I start my new job on Wednesday, September 4th. That prior weekend (Labor Day weekend) will be spent packing up boxes, loading up a U-Haul truck, driving to New Jersey with my car in tow, and unloading said U-Haul truck in New Jersey. Wish me luck!

Thanks to Jersey Mike for meeting up with me in Philly, and thanks to Kevin Walsh, Francis, David Greenberger, and RIPTA42HopeTunnel for meeting me in NYC. Special thanks to Kevin Walsh for the very cool walking tour of lower Manhattan! Watch for some photos to be posted soon.

We’ve got a nasty thunderstorm bearing down on us now, so I’d better get offline.

(originally posted on the SubTalk forum at nycsubway.org)