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.

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