April 11, 2010

screw up once…..

Feeling refreshed from the Easter weekend, Randy started Monday with a brief office meeting. On Friday of the previous week, Randy held an open discussion meeting with the website engineers and together came up with some ideas/deadlines for the website. One of the ideas taken from the meeting was to create our own custom backgrounds for each page of the website.  My task for Monday was to gather various charcoal and graphite drawings Randy made years back, scan them into the computer, and experiment in Photoshop to create possible background options.

This is a design element you won’t see when you look at other websites. Everything about the new website is taken into consideration; from how the background appears to what happens when you click on the RBA logo. To me, this is essential if you want to be taken seriously. When I visit another architectural firm’s website, I automatically form opinions about the firm and even about their work just from how the website is displayed. At RBA, we are aware that visitors do this so we want to make sure the first impression is nothing less than a remarkable one.

After a few hours and numerous options later for possible background ideas, I discussed them with Randy. He pointed out that zooming in on certain areas of the charcoal drawing would be much more dynamic and would really give the feeling that these were “hand-made” and personal rather than stock backgrounds like the ones you find in PowerPoint.

By the middle of the week, we had decided on a particular look for the backgrounds. Randy assigned Meg and myself to produce as many variations for backgrounds as possible. In the end, the backgrounds really complimented each page of the website. A few of the charcoal drawings were scanned with such a high dpi that we were able to zoom and show the roughness of the paper texture under the charcoal.

Thursday came with a new challenge.  I like to think of the work Randy presents to us as challenges; they allow the opportunity to try a number of ideas to conquer and master each task. If I were to go about fulfilling my tasks with the mind set of “because it’s my job,” there would be no room for inventiveness or clever ways to solve a unique situation. For instance, on Thursday, Randy assigned me to scan in as many of the magazines we were published in as possible that day. Because there are probably over 50 of these, I started scanning quickly and realized I could be more efficient by touching up an article in Photoshop while one was being scanned. By the time I finished the touch-ups, the scanner had stopped and I could start the process over again.

While I’ve been at RBA, I’ve been looking for flaws in the way that I work and zoning in on them to become more proficient. Not only will this help me with my job at RBA, but I can take this back with me to Manhattan and finish up school as a more refined young intern. Working at RBA is a lot like being in studio in some aspects. In school, we are encouraged to try new things. If you do something wrong, that is the time to learn from it. The same goes for RBA, Randy always tells us to push the envelope. And if we end up doing something wrong to not worry about it buy rather learn from it. When I left Manhattan I was a little worried about making mistakes and the consequences they would have in an office atmosphere. But being worried about that makes rigid, boring designers. Randy wants employees who aren’t afraid to screw up once and awhile.

The weekend was adventurous as Meg and I went back to Kansas City to visit friends and see a Royals game. Turned out that the Royals lost, but it has been two weekends of baseball games in a row. Can’t get much better than that!

April 11, 2010

express the hand

My time this week was spent updating the RBA website. Randy wants the website to express the firm’s capabilities and creativity. My task for Tuesday was to retrieve all of the hand drawing that were scanned into the computers. Randy wants the hand drawings placed as the background images on the website.  RBA has many graphite renderings of earlier projects. Randy’s idea was to Photoshop these renderings to create more dynamic backgrounds.

The Photoshop procedure for these drawings was interesting.  I experimented with the contrast and level techniques to generate dynamic black and white images.  I learned different ways to manipulate an image in Photoshop. Studio experimentation with Photoshop was difficult due to lack of time. The lack of time was mainly caused by giving an inadequate amount of time to the editing phase.

The rest of the week I worked on the website. Jon and I had to find images and drawings of past projects and organize them into the new website folder. The time I spent doing this gave me a clear understanding of RBA’s past. By now I have seen almost every project Randy has completed.

This is different from LaTona Architects because I did not learn about any previous projects. Vince, the Principle, did not dedicate time to photograph a completed project or create a website. Vince did not understand the concept of the internet so he did not think a website was necessary.

After work I went to Kansas City. There I met up with friends for a Kansas City Royals Game on Saturday. It was about twenty degrees warmer than Omaha had been which made it a great day for a baseball game. Even though I am a Cardinal’s fan, it was nice to enjoy the game in a newly remodeled stadium.  The Royals and Cardinals have their similarities and differences. Both are from Missouri and have new or remodeled stadiums.  The fan base in Kansas City seems to have grown because of this improvement. St. Louis, as far as I can remember, has always had a great turn out, even with the old Busch Stadium.

It is sad to say that I have been to the Kaufman Stadium more then the new Busch Stadium, so I still do not have an opinion on Busch Stadium. Kaufman Stadium’s remodel, in my option, is a great design. From what I have noticed since the remodel is the filling of seats. The new stadium attracts larger crowds because it provides more interactive spaces. There are party decks for big groups, larger patios for people to socialize on, and some better design features.  Although the Royals do not have as large of a fan base as the Cardinals their Stadium certainly brings more attention to the stands.   It was fun being in Kansas City again.

April 4, 2010

ahha moments

The week started on a good note. With the Easter holiday at the weekend, I told Randy I needed to take Friday off so I could travel to Minnesota to see my family. After that was on the table, the weeks assignments shifted a bit but nothing too drastic. Randy planned for Meg and I to finish our office work on Monday and Tuesday and then spend the rest of the week in shop finishing out the bench.

After the meeting I headed straight to the computer as I knew I had a lot to accomplish in the office over the next two days. As Randy has been working with the web engineer on redesigning the firms website, I have been scanning articles from magazines and newspapers into the computer. The idea for this is to show visitors on the new website that we have been published by various magazines in the past. A list of magazines we’ve previously been published in will show and from there you can click on the magazine title. For instance, if a visitor to selects the Dwell Magazine tab, issued date, front cover and article will be right there to read.

This is a smart tool to put on the new website. To me, seeing that a firm has been published in some big name magazines gives credibility. You automatically know that there is some thoughtful work produced from this architectural office or the magazine editors wouldn’t have wasted their time with it. Ever since Randy told me what he intended to do with scanned articles, I’ve been conducting a little research. I’ve randomly gone through a few architectural  firms websites to see if anyone else has done something like this. The results were surprising. I didn’t find any websites that had the magazine they were featured in along with the article. One architectural practice had a list of magazines they’ve been published in, but the article wasn’t attached.

The rest of the week was down in the shop. This time, no hat, gloves or even a jacket were required. Wednesday and Thursday turned out to be the two nicest days of the year so far. With an idea for the bench and what we had to do to finish it, Meg and I worked together to help speed the process up. We had most of the bench mocked up and held together with wire when Randy came down to take a look at our progress. He pointed out a few adjustments, quizzed us on a couple design decisions and was out the shop door two minutes later. After he left, Meg and I were both impressed with Randy’s imbedded knowledge he spoke of earlier in the year. He has a creative eye and after years of experience, he has the ability to see what the bench still needed done to it before it was even finished. After we made the necessary adjustment to the bench, it was one of those, “ah, ha” moments when you think, “Why didn’t I think of that sooner!” With Thursday at an end, it was time for the holiday weekend.

One of the highlights of the weekend besides seeing my family from Minnesota was I got to see the Twins new baseball stadium. My cousin had an extra ticket so on Saturday afternoon, we made our way to downtown Minneapolis to see the game. It was strange to see everyone looking up and all around at the architecture of the stadium. It’s usually only me looking up at ceilings and exterior walls and all my non-architecture friends wander what I’m doing; but this time, everyone was doing that. The Twins ended up beating the Saint Louis Cardinals, eight to three, and I got to see some really great sports architecture.

April 4, 2010

have to think, sleeping optional

Monday, once again, started with an office meeting. My main priority for the week was the Bisson bathroom renovation.  I showed Randy my renderings I had worked on the passed week. He was able to give me some feedback about the direction I took. He asked that I try to come up with four different options. Afterwards see what worked best and determine the differences in cost. After the meeting, I revised a plan for the Corian shower option. Once I completed this, I called up a consultant from the local Corian retailer about an estimate. I found this task stimulating. By calling and talking to a consultant about a real project made me feel like I was not just an intern. I felt like I was doing a professional job. Talking to a consultant is not practiced in school.  It’s a great experience to learn how to talk to these professionals.

Interning at RBA is not like any other job I have had before. In high school and most of college, I have worked in retail, to earn some extra cash. The difference between RBA and the other places I have worked at is the work. I work really hard at both workplaces, but don’t feel as if I am accomplishing as much in a work day. At those other jobs, I worked but it was a different kind of work. I was always the top employee at these other jobs because I did what I was suppose to and I did it fast. But the work there was simple. It was easy. Here, I have to think. This is not just stocking a shelf, it’s how does the shelf function, what is the shelf made or, how would the shelf be constructed? These and many more questions must run through my mind to design houses, offices, and bathrooms. I must think more in depth about things and show what I have learned from school.  The training process at most retail stores take about 3-5 day, whereas Architecture training may take years, lots and lots I am starting to think.

Wednesday and Thursday were spent in the shop. The goal was to have the bench near completion. By the end of Thursday we were about 90% finished. The process of building this bench is something I have not experienced. This is the first time I have ever used rebar as a building material. It is easier to bend than I would have thought. I enjoy being hand on with projects. I wish there would be more product design and furniture design class available at school. I found it a great way to learn the way materials work and how they can be manipulated.

I went home for Easter weekend. I spent most of the time with my family and high school friends. It was very relaxing. I ate plenty of delicious food.

April 1, 2010

Publish or perish

How is marketing / publishing projects advantageous to the firm? What does it take to get published? How does being published in a magazine advance the architectural industry?

Marketing; what’s all the hype about? For RBA, publishing and marketing projects are tools used for numerous advantages. A few of these advantages include: getting recognition for the work, helping to spread the RBA name, leaving our legacy (in a magazine), and finally, it brings visitors to our website.

Maybe the most important reason why publishing and marketing is a good idea, is so that we can share our knowledge on a specific project with the rest of the profession. With other firms learning from the work we do and vice versa, the bar for project expectations is raised to the next level. Not to mention the competitive level for creative projects is raised as well.

Randy explained to us that he has been traveling to New York City since 1993 to meet with publishers and show them his work for potential pages in renowned magazines. A few of these magazines include Architectural Record, Metropolis, Interior Design, and Contract Magazine. He said, “Meeting with editors in person is the only way to make sure you have a chance at being published.” Randy stated that one editor in NYC receives over 100 projects a week asking to be published and of those 100 projects, 99 of them are eliminated. Moral of the story, it’s not easy to get published. So going and meeting with the editors will only help you be the one firm out of the 100 that isn’t tossed away.

When Randy said this, I referenced this back to school and sending out my resume and portfolio. With times the way they are now, I wasn’t competing for an office position between four people; it was more like 100. If you send out your resume and portfolio blindly and don’t make any follow up plans, it isn’t likely that you will be getting a call from that firm. But, if you take initiative and call them and tell the firm you want to show them why you are the right person for the job, your chances for an interview will be much higher.

Something that I can’t compare anything to is the feeling you get when you see your work in a publication. I can say first hand, it feels pretty good to turn to the next page of a magazine only to see your work right there. For instance, the first week working for RBA, Randy had Meg and myself refining the Optic House elevations for the GA Houses publication. Last week, Randy told us the issue had been printed and the work we had done was in the magazine. After seeing all the work we put into those drawings published in the magazine, it didn’t take long to see why Randy said that getting published was also an, “ego booster.” The whole studio was in high spirits that afternoon.

Reflecting back on this conversation I completely agree that marketing and publishing projects has definite advantages. From learning more by what other architects have done to using it as a recruitment tool. Many firms don’t even take advantage of the opportunities getting published has to offer. RBA has done a lot of remarkable work and some of these jobs contributed to getting RBA out into the public through magazines.

April 1, 2010

Secret to winning design awards

Get great photography!

March 30, 2010

Websites are ____(fill in the blank)

What are RBA’s website goals?  Why is a website important?  What is RBA trying to do now with it’s website?

The question was discussed in a group format. Randy, Jon, and I were all participates of the conversation. This question was brought up because RBA is in the process of redesigning the RBA  website.

RBA’s first website went live in 1997. Randy compares it to paper brochure.  There was little information expressing the firms’ philosophy and values.  Little interactivity.  Little ideas.  The current website is around five years old. It is out of date. It does not tell the real story of our office and where we are going.   All our current and recent past workis missing because the current website cannot be updated easily.  RBA’s goal with the website design is to create a system that can be constantly updated.

Technology is advancing and it seems impossible to keep up to pace.  And a user comes back to the site a few times and all of the pages look the same, the user leaves because users need frsh stuff. New experiences.   Websites are a drug for those hooked and Randy wants his new RBA website to be constantly updated with new content weekly.

Randy wants the viewer to be able to see something new on the main page every time they come to the site.  RBA’s plan to accomplish this is to have a slide show appear on the opening page. But, each time you open the page a new slide show will play. It will seem like the website is constantly changing and it will be. Throughout time the website will evolve because more projects will come, and causes more information and images to emerge on the site.  Ideas will be shared on the blogs and news areas.  Randy’s speaking gigs will be updated.  The website is becoming the archiver of everything the office does.

The website is also important because it is THE major way RBA communicates with the world. The internet is a major part of today’s lifestyle.  It is a way to organize the firm. Everyone on RBA’s network will have access.  It will be a way to communicate with clients. There will be a log in area for clients and special news features for clients to view. Drawings, renderings, and models will be capable to upload on the website for clients to view and comment upon. Client meetings will not be eliminated but it will reduce the need for unnecessary conferences.

RBA’s goal of the website is to become a two way communication vehicle. Previous websites have only communicated in one direction. They stated the RBA information and showed images.  There was no interaction with the viewer. RBA revolves around interaction. The designs and the RBA studio express and encourage interaction. It would only make sense to have the website interactive. To create a two way connection Randy is adding blogs to the website.  These blogs will be written by the RBA Studio but they will allow for anyone to give their option.  Blogs are becoming extremely popular and are being used by millions. It is an easy way to describe what is going on in the world today. They will allow us to get our ideas out there and receive feedback.  Fans will be able to learn more and follow the studio’s work.

Another goal of RandyBrownArchitects.com is to express ourselves with more than text and images. We want to use music and videos to convey our ideas.  This is a way to be the innovator.  RBA is not about the past or today; RBA is about the future. Randy wants to be a leader in the technology aspect of the design field.  The RBA website allows communication that we hope will move the architectural community forward.

March 28, 2010

twisting metal

The week started on Sunday evening. One of my coworkers, Chris, sent me a text message telling me to meet him at Pandora’s Jewelry jobsite on Monday morning. Since Randy was in New York meeting with publishers for most of the week, he gave Chris the “ok” for me to help him for the day.

Since the Pandora Jewelry project is an interior renovation, the demo crew had been in the space the week before gutting all of the existing lighting, walls, and fixtures that weren’t going to be of use for the new space. Randy is big on saving old equipment (lights, fixtures, etc.) for reuse in other projects so Chris and I had to remove all of the salvageable pieces to my truck to take back with us to the shop. While I was in the space, I looked around and was intrigued by the “behind the scenes” things you don’t normally see in a finished space. I learn faster by seeing how something was built in person than by being told. At RBA, learning by doing has so far proven to be an effective way to learn things quickly. This is the type of experience you can’t get in the classroom. I also know from talking to friends who have worked in firms that they didn’t have this type of opportunity to learn from.

For instance, my friend Tim told me a firm he worked for never took him to the job site to see first hand how things are built. For interns and recent graduates, I think it’s extremely important for them to get as much exposure to the real thing as possible. It’s one of the quickest ways to learn new things and take knowledge from the classroom to the field.

 The middle of the week was spent down in the shop. Randy assigned Meg and I to dive in and figure out a buildable design for the bench. Numerous attempts at building the study model to full scale seemed unlikely so it was back to the drawing board. The first thing we did was to just start bending and experimenting again. We didn’t try to make the bench pieces look like the model at all. After most of the day of twisting metal and analyzing the results, we stumbled upon a design that could be tweaked into something very cool. Learning in the RBA environment has proven, in some ways, to be very similar to studio. There aren’t any wrong answers. It’s a very open and collaborative learning process, and everyone offers suggestions and advice when you are having difficulties with something.  I think that’s why our bench doesn’t look a thing like the mock up model we built. Instead we were able to twist and form the metal until it evolved itself.  We designed at full scale, making and thinking.

On Thursday, Randy sent me an email asking to begin work on a new project called Mini Red. The project is single family home located in a high dense neighborhood, in the middle of suburban Omaha. Randy wants this to be the first high density development within the sprawling suburban surroundings. You literally have to drive through a sprawling, cookie-cutter neighborhood to get to where this new development is going up. All of the homes in this new development will be within close proximity of each other and each home will be unique from all the others. It’s good to see that Randy is taking a stand at sprawl. He wants to show that not all neighborhoods have cookie cutter houses, with manicured lawns.

One of the many things that I am learning while working at RBA is the ability to work on more than one thing at a time. Randy refers to this as throwing as many balls up into the air and keeping them there without any balls falling to the ground. Before I came here, I wasn’t big on this whole juggling idea, but I have learned that I can do a lot more by doing a little bit of everything instead of wasting my time trying to take one thing from start to finish.

The weekend proved to be nicer than any of the other so far. Meg and I loaded up the bikes and headed downtown to do some touring. We biked our way to the pedestrian bridge which straddles the Iowa and Nebraska borders. The bridges completion is fairly recent and since opening in 2008 has become an Omaha landmark. After a few hours of biking around and discovering new areas of the city, we stopped by the site where our bench will soon be located. It was helpful to see the site and picture in our heads how the bench will be placed on the site. After making a few notes about the site, we loaded the bikes back in the truck and got ready for the next week of work.

March 28, 2010

still communicating

There was no office meeting this week because Randy was in New York. He was there meeting with publishers of magazines to present them with the books we had worked on. Even though he was out of town he was still communicating with us through e-mail.

The majority of the day was spent refining the UCLA Alumni Exhibition Board.  Along with the revisions, we needed to send the board to a printer, in Los Angeles, UCLA had arranged.  Issues with this sort of a situation may occur. Since we are unable to review the board after printing we have to double check everything to make sure it will turn out right on the first try. One way I did this was by calling the company and asking them a few questions about their printers. Questions such as, does your printers print a full bleed and what is the file size capacity, are both important.

Tuesday I worked on revising floor plans for Mini Red. This process is a well known practice. A lot of time in Studio is used up on floor plan revisions.  Along with Mini Red, I also worked on drawings for the Bisson Bathroom Renovation.

Wednesday Jon and I worked in the shop on the Take a Seat project.  I enjoyed doing this project.  I started the design phase of this project and now and I am helping with the production phase.  The bench is being made out of rebar. It is very exciting learning how to bend the rebar into forms. I wish there were more product design classes for Architecture students. It would be awesome to learn more about the materials we are using in our designs. By working with the actually materials, I think we will be able to know their capabilities and how to integrate them into the designs.

Randy was back from New York on Thursday.  Through out the day, Randy was sending me new contacts for the database that he collected in New York.  When I was not entering contact information, I was creating a 3D Vis model of the Bisson bathroom.  The 3D model is to show the clients a realistic image of the new design.

On Friday, most of my time was spent on the Bisson bathroom. I brought the renderings from 3D Vis into Photoshop to make them appear realistic. By about 3:30- 4:00 Jon and I were back at the shop. We needed to find a solution for the Take a Seat project. The design was turning out well, but the issue was structure. The rebar was unable to support the cantilevers in the original design. By the end of the day we came up with a solution which is intergraded into the design. Hopefully on Monday we will be able to review it with Randy and complete the bench within the next week.

Saturday was cold and rainy through out the day.  Sunday, on the other hand, was gorgeous outside.  It was 56 degrees with clear skies. Jon and I decided to take advantage of the weather. We loaded our bikes and headed downtown. We have been doing a lot of research of the bike trails. Since the weather was nice, we decided to try out the river walk bike trial. It was really interesting. It runs along the river in both Nebraska and Iowa. We started in Nebraska and then ended up in Iowa for about 4 miles. The most intriguing part about crossing the boarder is the bridge. We cross over the Pedestrian Bridge. It is a really cool experience. From what I could see, the bridge attracts many people. There were bikes, runners, roller bladders, and casual walkers, all across the bridge. From the bridge we were able to bike all the way to the old market area. It was a great ride.  We were able to learn more about Omaha.

March 21, 2010

we shoveled gravel

Over the weekend, Randy sent an email of things to do Monday morning before we got started with the rest of the week. Meg and I were assigned to go to the shop and move all of the bent steel pieces outside of the shop and unbent pieces up to the loft. After that, we went to the tool bench and pulled numerous hammers, pliers, and screw drivers and laid them out in stations. A little confused by his email, and why he was asking us do this, we finished the task. Later we learned RBA was doing some community service and the local Boy Scout troop was going to be using the shop later this week to work on their projects.

With the shop ready for the Scouts, Randy came in and told us to meet him in the driveway. Even more confusing than his weekend email, we grabbed our jackets and met him outside. As we approached the driveway, a dump truck had just finished spreading a load of limestone somewhat evenly on the driveway. During these past few weeks, the snow has begun to melt and we entered a thawing stage. The water from the melted snow has been running down the driveway and taking all of the gravel along with it. Our job was to grab a shovel and “earn our keep.” The dump truck did a fairly good job on the upper half of the driveway but towards the bottom, we had to even it out a bit. Once again, this type of work is something that I am used to and was eager to begin the task.  I was impressed that Randy never asks us to do anything he wouldn’t do-  so he says- and today he shoveled and raked the gravel along side meg and I.

After about an hour and a half of shoveling gravel, we finished leveling the driveway and headed back to the studio. The rest of the day was less physical, but just as intensive. Randy had three projects that were missing Assassi photos (high quality images) on the network. My job was to go to the CD archives and find the discs that had the Assassi photos of these projects on them. After going through binders filled with discs of various projects, I realized how prepared Randy is for disaster. Everything on the computers in the studio is backed up on discs and for certain projects there are doubles of discs in different locations in case something happens. Coming from K-State where I hit the save button every five minutes and back my hard drive up frequently it was no surprise to see his amount of preparedness. One too many times I have been caught by power failure and had to redo something that took too long to do the first time. After retrieving the three CDs with the files I needed, I downloaded them onto the studio computers and updated their project folders with the high quality images.

Following that, Randy put me too work on the most urgent deadline, the UCLA exhibition board that will be on display at the UCLA gallery in April.   Randy asked me to do a couple different options for the board layout and then we’d discuss one that had potential and go from there. By the end of Thursday, we had locked into a design idea and Friday would be spent refining it.

Friday, Randy was in Wichita talking to the client for a new project, Kobe Steakhouse. While he was there, I was working on possibilities for the UCLA board. After playing email tag for most of the day, we got the board to a spot we were comfortable with and on Monday, the remaining “kinks” would be worked out. If it weren’t for email (and Randy’s iPhone) Friday would have been a total loss. Technology enabled us to communicate and transfer information to each other even though we were hours apart. Conflicting schedules aren’t as much of a problem as what they used to be.

With the weekend here, Meg and I went to what might be one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Roja, which I learned was designed by a former RBA employee who now teaches at UNL.  Roja is very different from all the other Mexican/American restaurants I have been to. A very lively and upbeat environment makes this a fun place to socialize, not to mention, the great food! Saturday I spent doing a little homework. Not just school homework, but researching the Omaha area. There are many places just outside of downtown, such as the Dundee District, which offer different cultural experiences. As soon as the weather decided to cooperate, I am excited to walk around and engage the environment.

March 21, 2010

worry about costs?

The first half of the day was spent in the shop.  Randy was doing some volunteer work for his son’s Boys Scout Troop later in the week. Jon and I needed to move the rebar, from the Take a Seat project, up to the loft and out of the way. After that, we pulled some tools off the shelves because the Boy Scouts had to identify and use them.  Also that day, the driveway received a couple loads of gravel.  Because of the extreme snows Omaha had this year, the driveway’s gravel had been plowed away.  Randy, Jon, and I had to rake the gravel to smooth it out and fill the areas that received the most damage.  The rest of the day was spent in the office.

I received an e-mail from Natural Home magazine about the Twist submittal.  Communicating with magazines is something I did not do at the last firm I worked at. At LaTona Architects, publication of work was rarely done.  It is interesting interacting with publishers about the work that has been done at RBA.

We had the office meeting on Wednesday this week. Like most meetings, we went over the jobs needed to be done, in progress jobs, and upcoming projects. One of the projects I will be working on will be the Bisson Bathroom Renovation. The project was first designed by another architect. The budget of the project is $10,000 and this other architect designed a bathroom that cost $20,000, twice the budget.  Our goal is to bring the cost down to budget, as well as bring architectural elements to the design. Because the bathroom is a small space we are going to use light, bright white to make it feel larger. Another goal for the project is to provide towel, make-up, and other storage areas without taking up much space.

After the meeting I received more revisions for the Bellows Book. The director of the Foundation sent more information and revisions to put into the book. This process of refinement is very similar to the design studios at school. I start with a design and through out the project there are many issues to work out and to be modified. The end result is to create a remarkable design. This is just what we are doing with the New York Books.

Thursday I began the Bisson Bathroom. I began with drawing up Randy’s option of the bathroom design in CAD. After that I started to look up materials and tried to find some rough estimates of prices. This was a task I have not done before. In studio, we do not have to worry much about costs. We are told to consider it, but never actually had to estimate costs. There is a lot more costs to consider then I ever would have thought about. Costs for things such as tile and fixtures are all a part of the project. I think a class where you work on a small project and have to figure out how much money it will cost to build it would be beneficial to students. I feel like if there were classes that taught this type of thing, students would be more efficient in the workplace. Thursday was a great day.

For the first time since I have been in Omaha, the temperature pasted 50 degrees. The high for the day was 64 degrees. It felt great outside, and all the snow, except the giant piles in parking lots, were melted. Since it was so nice out, after work Jon and I went for a walk on the well talked about trials. The trial we walked on was only a couple of blocks from Jon’s apartment complex. We only had a few hours before it was dark so we were not able to walk the entire trail. Hopefully, this spring we will be able to get out and ride the entire trail.

On Friday, the Dwell magazine asked for high resolution images of the Optic House to be loaded up to their ftp.  An ftp is a new term to me. I have never used one until I began work at RBA. The first time I ever heard the term used by another employee here; I was completely dumbfounded. I am glad I have learned about it because we do not use them in school. In the working environment an ftp is a very common thing architects know of and know how to use. We rarely load high resolution images or anything up to the web. I think it would be nice to have a small class to explain some of the real world terminology and techniques. There is so much we do not learn in school. One of the problems is due to the lack of time we have. I feel we have a lot of work as is, but maybe the workload could be organized to incorporate these aspects of the career into our studio projects. It seems we spend so much time to our designs, which are very important, but when we get out in the real world there is so much more to the work environment we just don’t learn in our studios. The rest of Friday was spent looking up more materials on the Bisson Bathroom renovation.

Unlike Thursday, Friday was an awful day. The temperatures had dropped throughout the day. It began snowing before noon and by the end of the work day there were about two to three inches of snow on the ground. Almost all the snow was melted by Thursday and by Friday evening the ground was covered again. But, I can’t say I am not surprised. Since I am from St. Louis, I am used to this kind of weather. I just am not the biggest fan of it after such an extreme winter.

Due to the cold front on Friday, Saturday was cold and gloomy too. Since it was not the best of days to go out, I decided to try out a recipe I have been eyeing for a while, Ravioli Bake and Supreme Potatoes. It turned out really well, surprisingly.

Sunday had warmed up a little bit more then Saturday. Jon and I went to a local nursery to browse around for a while. By the end of the day, I bought a kit to grow snow peas and had it ready to start growing. I haven’t grown anything before, but I have watched my parents grow their own veggies for years. Hopefully some of their gardening skill wore off on me and the snow peas will grow like the packet said they would.

March 21, 2010


“Why have architectural competitions? For practitioners, they offer the chance of a job without the grief of negotiation or self-promotion, and they can sometimes jump a small practice to the next level. For clients, competitions provide the opportunity to choose from many alternatives, show sympathy with architecture, and – in most cases – do it on the cheap. For the public, competitions carry the seal of meritocracy, seemingly outside familiar cronyism.” (Michael Sorkin, Architectural Record, 11.03, p.63) Does your sponsor firm undertake competitions? Why or why not? If so, please discuss the risks and benefits of competitions using as an example a competition your firm has taken part in.

The group discussion on “why we have architectural competitions” included Randy Brown, Chris Turner, Meg O’Mara, and I.

Randy began the conversation by breaking down architectural competitions into two separate categories: paid and unpaid.  The differences are obvious, but a few of the things I learned from the discussion that weren’t as evident were the number of similarities they share. Chris pointed out that networking is achieved from both paid and unpaid competitions. When accepting the challenge of an invited competition or even entering an open competition, the door has been opened to get the firm’s name out and into the public. Later in the discussion, Randy stated that not only do the sponsors of the competition benefit in the end, but the architects and firms who partake in it receive something as well. Entering open competitions that we (RBA) have no prior background experience in doesn’t mean it’s going to be a slaughter house and we won’t gain anything from it. Instead knowledge gained from researching about a specific genre of projects is something that we can add to our company’s resume for later projects.

When it comes to competitions, Randy made very clear that you have to be very cautious of who is on the jury; it is vitally important to have at least one architect as a jury member.  If there isn’t an architect as a jury member, RBA tends to steer away from those competitions to avoid wasting time.

Time is the double edged sword to competitions. It never seems to fail that a competition gets added to the list of things to do at the busiest time of the year. Even if RBA is swamped with work, it can’t be justified not to enter the competition. This is because, if it’s not a paid competition, we are at least doing paid-work while working on the non-paid competition. Sometimes RBA is forced to “gamble” and enter a competition during less hectic times and take a loss. But, if we end up winning, or receive business in the end from it, it’s all worth it. One of the projects where RBA took a risk with a competition was the Judson College art school competition. This was a paid-invited competition to design a portion of Judson College outside of Chicago in Illinois.

After hearing the discussion on paid and unpaid competitions, I’m a little surprised how much thinking must take place even to just accept or decline the competition. Coming from a background experience of next to nothing of working in firms, I always assumed that anytime a firm was asked to participate in a competition that they would immediately jump on board. But what I learned was that by accepting before thinking about the pros and cons of the competition could end up as a very costly mistake. By accepting every non paid competition you get could help you expand your knowledge, but it takes money to keep a firm working and with no money, you won’t be doing any work. In the end, I’m beginning to realize the nuts and bolts that construct the way an architecture firm works, but more importantly, how to make it successful.   Measuring success is dicey but I would say RBA has been very successful, just look at the remarkable built projects, a few of which started with a competition.

March 15, 2010

How do you get the word out?

The first way I know how to get the word out is to get the idea legitimized.    Get other famous architects to promote your idea.   Simply enter and win some design awards competitions.   There are more awards programs out there than there are Lady GAGA songs on the radio. 

Pick what awards programs best matches your project.  If it is unbuilt then win a PA Award.  If it is green-win a COTE award- or green award from Contract magazine.  Artistic interior- just win a BOY award and be published in Interior Design Magazine.  Have a small project- enter the AIA small projects awards.  Residential, enter the AIA housing awards and Residential Architect awards.  Are you emerging? Better win an Architectural review emerging architect award.   And did I mention AIA awards at local, state, regional and national levels.   Record interiors and record houses are fab.  Asid, green awards, id magazine awards, better homes and gardens has awards.  

Believe me if you do remarkable work, there is quite a few awards programs to enter.

Do awards lead to work?  Indirectly yes.  But directly lead to work?  It can happen.  I was fortunate enough to win an AIA National Honor Award just a few years after hanging out my shingle and a small mailing I did announcing the award lead to the Broadmoor Development Company Project and the Quality Telemarketing project.

Awards have been very, very good to me.

March 14, 2010

aren’t any books to guide us

The beginning of the week started like most other weeks. We held our usual Monday morning meeting in the conference area and listened to what the week ahead had in store for us. For me, it sounded like I was going to have the chance for a change of scenery.

Promptly after the meeting, Randy was off to a client meeting and told me to meet him in the shop at 2:30 that afternoon. With the deadline for the take a seat project coming up by the end of March, Randy wanted to get a start on the bending and building process of the bench.

Before I had to meet Randy in the shop, I had spent most of the morning filling our jobsite tool bucket with the appropriate tools. Having a tool bucket with everything you might need when you go to a site has proven that it can be very beneficial and time saving. For instance, our first weekend on the job (at the photo shoot) Randy asked me to grab the tool bucket from studio and bring it with me. When he asked me to go grab a philips screw driver, tape, and even wire strippers to fix the fluorescent lights, it was handy to have all of that in the bucket.

With the bucket refilled and ready for its next job visit, I headed down to the shop to get things organized and ready. First thing on the list before Randy showed up was to go out behind the shop and get as many pieces of rebar out of the snow drift. With the frozen rebar pieces thawing in the shop, I organized the space a little better so we could actually begin to build the bench.

By the time Randy showed up, the steel was ready and the shop had some order to it so bending these 35 foot steel pieces was achievable. Twisting the steel with a pipe bender was a new experience. In fact, Randy said that he had never even done something this extreme before either so today was going to be mostly trial and error.  Randy said (and I believe him) “we are bending and twisting rebar in ways no one has done before- there aren’t any books to guide us through this.”

After a few hours of manipulating the rebar and getting a feel of how to work the steel into various geometries, I was pretty tired, but also satisfied. Doing that type of work reminded me of all the previous jobs I have held in the past that involved manual labor. Most people I know in studio would frown on doing that kind of work, but I like working with my hands. When I graduate from school, finding a firm that allows this type of creativity is number one on my list for potential employers. Sitting behind a desk all day, every day is more than I can handle. Hopefully, I’ll be able to avoid this… but who knows.

After the fist day of bending was completed, Randy told me head to the shop in the morning and bend some “u-shaped” pieces and then just start bending the steel into whatever it became. He stated, “It really doesn’t matter if the bench isn’t even close to what the model looks like; all I want is for someone to look at our bench and say, ‘how in the heck did they build that!’” That is what I really like about working and learning at RBA. It’s not just going to work and putting in the hours; it’s about having the ability to try new “experiments.” Everything is one of kind.  Original stuff.

After a few days in shop trying out different ideas for our bench, Randy pulled me back into the office to finish a few last things before the week’s end.  My task was to scan in articles of our projects that have been published in various magazines and newspapers. The idea for these scans is that they will go on the new website Randy has been working on.

When Friday at 5:30 came around, I was out of the office and on my way back to Kansas City. My sister and her husband came in town from Minnesota and I met them and some of my other friend’s downtown for the Big 12 Championship on Saturday. After the depressing loss of KSU to KU, I headed back to Omaha on Sunday evening to prepare for another week of work.

March 14, 2010

concepts and ideas

The week started off with a Monday morning office meeting. We discussed where we were on the database project. I needed to contact Sean, the technical support advisor, about merging the contacts into one large file. We also went over the Metropolis Magazine and the new website. After the meeting, I began work on Metropolis. For the most part, Metropolis was extremely close to completion. There were just minor tweaks to be done. The work was similar to a studio project. At the end of a studio project you make a print and go over all the mistakes you over looked. We did a comparable process with Metropolis. After more revisions, I sent a PDF to Randy for him to review. While I waited for feedback, I updated the website brochure. This task was also parallel to metropolis.

Tuesday I spent most of the day searching the internet for home magazines. Randy wants to send the Twist Residence to multiple home magazines in hope to be published. So, I spent a large amount of my time searching for these magazines and their editors contact information. When I was unable to find contact information online, I resorted to calling the magazines. Later on in the day, Randy had sent me more revisions to make on the Metropolis Magazine and RBA Website brochure.

Wednesday I had one last job on the Metropolis Magazine. I needed to write a project description for the Data Shack. Writing a project description is learned through out school. Our professors are always pushing us in our writing of project descriptions, especially in the last year.  But, we do not get pushed on writing descriptions for someone else’s project. This was the challenge in the Data Shack description. The Data Shack was still in the design phase and I have yet to work on it. The only knowledge I have of the project is from what I have seen from the renderings. This made, what should be a fairly simple assignment, more difficult. Since I did not know much about the project, I confronted Chris about the project. He had worked the most on it. He explained to me the most important concepts and ideas. His input made the description I wrote more in depth them I could have made it on my own.

Thursday I went down to the shop to photograph the progress Jon had made on the bench. Randy asked me to take the photographs and print them off. He was going to take the images to the meeting with the city.

The rest of the work week was spent on the website brochure. Making revisions, sending them to Randy, and then repeating the process until it was completed. It is much like studio projects. The refining process may take multiple tries but the end results will show the hard work.

March 7, 2010

3,750 business cards

The week started without our usual Monday morning meeting. Randy was out of the office for the week on a client meeting in Utah.  In the meantime, he left a laundry list of things for us to finish by the end of the week.

First priority of the week was to finish the data base entry task. At the end of last week, Meg and I began the tedious process of sorting hundreds of business cards. As I have stated in previous journals, Randy has a main mission for the year and that is to be a more organized office thus allowing for improved efficiency. In order to achieve this assignment, the business cards and other contacts, were organized and placed into specific categories. For instance, there was a pile of business cards for previous clients, a separate pile for architects, another one for contractors and so on.  Randy spent hours organizing the cards into piles.  3,750 cards to be exact.

After all the contacts had been placed into their appropriate category, they were entered into Microsoft Outlook. It was interesting to me that Randy was only concerned about entering a name, phone number and email address. I asked him if I should enter any of the mailing addresses but he said “no.” As Randy stated it, “no one mails anything to each other by ‘snail mail’ anymore; it’s all done by email now.”

By the end of first half of the week, Meg and I had each entered hundreds of names and were getting faster and more efficient on ways to enter them into the data base. Since the art of entering names and numbers into a data base isn’t rocket science, it gave me a chance to think about why we were even entering these names into the computer in the first place. For instance, the business cards in the rolodex are doing the same thing the data base will do. I know Randy is working on getting the office more organized but what was the urgency to enter all of this information. It didn’t hit me until Chris asked us if we had the number for a specific contractor he needed to call. He told me the name, I typed it into the search box, and there it was. Name, number, email, etc.; that was all it took to realize this was going to save time when looking for specific people. With all of Randy’s contacts in the computer, we are able to eliminate the nightmare of having to find a contact in the rolodex.

After an entire week of entering contacts into the data base, I was ready and in desperate need of a weekend. Since the snow has begun to melt, everything that was once buried by the 15 or more inches of it has made its way to the surface. One thing in particular I noticed was the number of bike trails Omaha has to offer. Being outdoors and riding bikes are two things I have loved to do since I can remember so Spring can’t come soon enough for me. Riding on the trails and seeing different parts of Omaha is one way that I am going learn the city better when the weather improves. Coming to Omaha after living in cities like Kansas City I feel guilty for not giving it a chance from the beginning. But week after week, it has been showing potential that it is a city with potential and would be a place that I would like to come back to after I finish graduate school. It has everything that a city needs to be successful in a tighter, compact area. In other words, I’ve found that I don’t have to go far to get what I need. Hopefully by summer, I’ll be able to put my truck keys in the drawer and just ride my bike to where I need to get.

March 7, 2010

play the clock game

This week was very diverse from other weeks. The objective of the week was to complete the database project. As I mentioned starting the week before, we are helping RBA become more organized with his contact information. Randy has hundreds and hundreds of business cards all around the office.  Our job is to take the business cards and enter them into the Outlook database, so everyone can have access to them. This way everyone in the office will be able to find contact information for a specific person without spending hours digging through the business cards. Not only are we entering them into Outlook, we are organizing them within the system. We are creating categories to separate the contacts such as, clients, consultants, contractors, and other related categories. This will allow more efficiency in the office.

Typing all week long was a task I never thought I would be doing on an Internship. I learned it is a lot harder work then I would have ever imagined. Entering names, phone numbers, addresses, e-mail address, is work that does not allow any creativity. It is a job for someone with a lot of patients and not wanting to put much thought into their work. It allowed me to think about subjects unrelated to what I was doing. By the end of the week, I found myself playing games with the project. One of the games was to make myself wait until I had finished a pile of cards before I would look at the clock. I thought this would make time seem to go by faster, but it didn’t. My typing skills defiantly improved from this exercise.

The weekend temperatures outside reach a high of 45 degrees, it was beautiful outside. But, still not warm enough for outdoor activities. Omaha is well known for their great bike trails all around the area. Because the trails are still covered with snow, we decided to the find the local bike shops to find Jon a bike. The first shop we went to was The Bike Rack, located off Maple and 144th Street. It is located about half way between Jon and I. The Bike Rack was nice. They carried mainly Treks, and had reasonably prices bikes.

The next shop we found was The Bike Way. It was not as well stocked as the first shop. It only carried Specialized bikes and was a bit on the pricey side. The last shop we went to was Olymipia Cycle. It was an alright shop but they did not carry and bike names I have ever heard of. They were also overpriced in their selections. Jon did not get a bike but it was good to see were all the bike shops are located and the options.

February 28, 2010

about 15K, they always say no

Our goal for week eight was to finish up a lot of loose ends. Three projects, Vosburg addition, Pandora and a restaurant called Wingstop, were all in their final stages of construction documents and needed to be sent out to bid. Next, our “take a seat” project that Meg started a few weeks ago, needed a set of construction documents drawn up for it so a structural engineer could be sure the bench would be safe for public use.

My duty was to draw the construction documents for the bench project. This was more of a challenge than I thought it was going to be. The bench is mostly a composed of curves, so I needed to insert a few straight pieces where they would be appropriate. Having the ability to contribute design solutions is something that most firms won’t let new employees/interns have any input on. One of my friends who works for a firm in Kansas City told me that he has offered some potential design ideas, but no one in the firm will even consider it. So far, working for RBA has had many advantages over working for a larger firm.

With the bench drawings finished, I helped Chris with Vosburg and Pandora. The Vosburg drawing set only had a few things that needed to be fixed before they could be sent out to three different contractors for bids. Pandora had a bit more design work to do on it before it was ready for contractors. The owner of Pandora decided that she wanted a drop ceiling in the new space. This seems simple except for the fact that there was already a business in this space before and a cloud ceiling over part of the store was already in place. What we had to do was figure out how low the sprinkler heads dropped to see if the spray pattern would be affected. We learned that the heads weren’t low enough to put a new ceiling in to cover the old and still have the sprinkler heads unaffected. Randy told the client it would cost about 15 thousand extra dollars to the overall project cost just to drop the sprinkler heads to the correct height. The client changed her mind really quickly when she heard those kinds of numbers.
When looking back on that situation, it didn’t even occur to me right away to think if there were sprinklers in the space and if there were, would they be affected by the new ceiling. Learning little pieces of information are beginning to form what Randy calls, “embedded knowledge.” He says the only way you can learn this type of knowledge is through years of experience.

By Thursday, Meg and I started a project that will be taking us to the end of next week to compete. Randy has done away with “snail mail” and business cards. He wants us to enter all the business cards, addresses and emails into the data base so names and numbers are much more readily available. It turns out Randy knows a lot of people. So far, each of us has made it through about 300 business cards and that’s not even denting the pile.

The weekend brought warmer temperatures and my friend Tim from Kansas City. Meg, Tim, and I decided that it would be a perfect day to go back to Mt. Crescent and go skiing. The temperature was just barely above 32 degrees so it was as good as it could get for skiing in Nebraska. We spent most of the day skiing/snowboarding and by the time we left, we were pretty worn out. After rejuvenating we grabbed a Goldberg’s burger, we took Tim down to the Old Market area of Omaha. There were a lot of people down there having a good time, but we decided that stick around longer the next time he comes in town and it’s warmer.

February 28, 2010

ski mountains in NE

There were a few minor revisions to be made on the books and then they were sent to the printer. One thing, I think, could have made these books more efficient was the revision process. Randy would find other images, drawings, and descriptions to place into the books but would not save them to the file. So, this would cause a lot of time to be wasted searching the thousands of files for these revisions. I think if he would have just saved it in the file, the process would have gone faster. Another way to make the process faster would have been if Randy would have made the small editing revisions to the description elements. Instead he would write unclearly on the paper so it would take more time trying to decode the message then it would have been to retype it himself. I believe that would have help the books move a lot faster than they did. He has talked to us about time, money, and being efficient so I think those factors could have helped RBA.

Tuesday and Wednesday was spent printing off the Loren Eiseley book and making revisions to the Metropolis Magazine PDF. They consisted of the same issues and learning experiences as the other books. I exercised more of my Photoshop and InDesign skills.

Thursday and Friday started a new project. This time it was organizing Randy’s contacts. Randy wanted a universal program that can store ever contact to make finding an e-mail or phone number much easier. I have been looking up programs and found that Windows Outlook would be the best program to use.

Jon and I began entering a pile of business cards. Randy came in later that day and began sorting them into categories. He threw out the cards RBA does not need anymore. This will make the process move along quickly because we will not waste time entering information that will not be utilized.

We spent the weekend with a friend. Saturday we went back to Mount Crescent to ski and snow board.  The slopes were a lot slower this time because of the warmer weather. It was 30 degrees on Saturday, the perfect boarding conditions. Since I am still an amateur snow boarder, the slower snow helped me keep a slower speed. This means less painful landing when I fall. Saturday night we drove around town, and found the Old Market area to have a great night life. Unfortunately, we did not stay out very late, due to the snowboarding. Everyone was so worn out; in pain, and my knees were swollen. We decided to head back fairly early. But, I hope to go to some of the restaurants and bars in the Old Market soon.

February 22, 2010

final push

The pressure was on Monday morning. Kim, Randy’s wife, had to give up her current work space so Chris and I could get the new desk built and she was more than ready to get back to her desk. Randy’s deadline was five pm Monday night. He told us that the desk had to be completed because she was moving back to her spot later that night. With no time to waste, Chris and I finished cutting the desk top pieces and then installed them in their appropriate places. We finished the last coat of polyurethane just as Kim was bringing down her laptop to set up her new desk space. Looking back I can compare that final push to finish the desk back to school and trying to get the very last bit of a project finished before a crit. One of my goals from this internship is to break my prior studio habits of delaying the inevitable and adopt a routine that is more efficient.

The middle part of the week was spent working on construction documents for a new jewelry store called Pandora. Luckily, first semester of fourth year gave me a leg up on most other architecture students. Chris told me that a lot of colleges don’t teach students about construction documents until graduate school. It felt good knowing that I had at least a bit of an understanding of how construction documents work. Not only was it helpful that I understood what to do, but it took the pressure off of Randy and Chris for them to take time out of their schedule to try and help me learn how to navigate construction documents.

My specific tasks for Pandora were to update the demo plan, and show where all the new display cases would be in the new plan. It didn’t take long to finish the work for Pandora so I moved onto another project. This one was an addition to the Bruce and Susan Vosburg’s home. The Vosburg’s are another case where the clients are very connected to what is going on during the design stages. In fact, Susan goes over the drawing set after meetings with Chris and types a list of all the things that need to be fixed before the next meeting. The next scheduled meeting was only a few days away, so after splitting up the drawing set, I was given the opportunity to pick up red lines. A lot of people would grumble at having to pick up red lines, but to me, it’s another chance to learn things about a specific project or the way a certain detail works. Every time I work on something at RBA, whether it be designing a desk or picking up red lines, it is a constant learning experience. I’m not sure you could get this range of experience from a large, corporate firm. Since the RBA office is a small art and architecture practice, I am given the opportunity to try a lot of new things.

After work on Friday, Meg and I headed back to Kansas for her roommates birthday. By the time we got there, it was ten and we headed down to Aggieville. One things for sure, I definitely don’t mind the calm and quietness of Omaha. On Saturday, we did a few things around town that we usually didn’t have time to do during the school year; it felt strange being back in Manhattan and not going to studio. Before we left for Omaha on Sunday, we all went to breakfast at The Chef, just off of Poyntz. I had never been there before, but the food was amazing. With full stomachs and light snow falling, we headed back to Nebraska, “the good life,” and prepared for week eight at RBA.