Archive for September, 2015

We all remember the Rolling Stones Song which states “I can’t get no satisfaction”. I’m here to say that they were wrong, or at least not completely correct.

I had the privilege of attending a grand opening party at one of our projects Tuesday evening. The guests gathered in and around the clubhouse at The Apartments at Goose Creek in Fishersville, Virginia. The building proved to be exactly the right size for the gathering and the design was well received by the guests as they wandered around checking the place out.

It would seem a no-brainer that this was a satisfying experience to the architect of record.  Seeing people’s reaction when they entered the building where they could immediately see a panoramic view of the Alleghenies in the distance and the half dozen geese hanging from the ceiling makes what we do worthwhile.

As the evening wore on and the sky made its transition from day to evening, the exterior lights came on and changed the building to its nocturnal persona which was also well received by the guests and confirmed that the design lighting levels were correct. The use of photometric software proved to be valuable, as the lighting levels made the trek between the clubhouse and the model apartment comfortable for the guests.

I have to admit that I received a lot of complements on the project as the evening progressed, but I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge the team that made the vision a reality. Goose Creek is the second consecutive collaboration between the three participants. I have to acknowledge our client, Denise LaCour of Denstock LLC whose vision over our 25 plus year collaboration has changed the landscape of our community in very positive ways. I would also like to acknowledge our contractor, KBS, Inc. that transformed our documents into reality. Their management and on site teams were top notch. My partners and staff were instrumental in producing the design and documentation. This collaboration bears out the quote attributed to Tony Bennett of the University of Virginia Men’s Basketball program which states “If you want to do something fast, do it alone. If you want to do it well, do it together”.

So as our practice of architecture continues, it is impossible to avoid the feeling of satisfaction that comes from watching the work of a great team perform well.



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My two favorite subcontractors are Not Me and I Dunno (apologies to Bil Keane).

As a recovering contractor (I built stuff in a previous life), I often had to deal with the conflict between subs resulting from the popular misconception that the organization of construction specifications into divisions and sections dictates their scope of work and division of labor. The classic scenario that illustrates this misconception comes from plumbers and site utility contractors, but is true for other trades as well. Typically, the plumber would extend pipes to a point five feet outside the building. Likewise, the site guy would bring utilities to a point five feet from the building. It seems that neither gave a moment’s thought as to who would actually make the connection, and the general contractor often would get stuck with making the connection at the interface between the work of the two trades. Imagine the chaos that results when there are three trades involved in a single connection (yes I’ve actually seen this happen).

This scenario results in construction delays while the parties involved argue over whose responsibility it is to make the connection. Imagine the chaos also when it comes to getting submittals from these guys when wearing my current hat as an architect. All too often, Paragraph 1.2.2 of AIA A201 is ignored – probably more out of ignorance than anything else.

Now that I’ve complained, let me introduce something positive to the conversation in the form of CSI’s Certified Construction Contract Administrator program. A CCCA brings to the table a working knowledge of contract documents; after all, the CDT is a prerequisite to the certification. CCCAs are particularly knowledgeable in the roles and responsibilities of the various parties to the construction process (as distinguished from the parties to the construction contract). They handle the administration of a construction contract with competence and professionalism. A CCCA is familiar with bidding and negotiation procedures, Division 01, conditions of the construction contract, and can distinguish between construction observation and inspection.

A CCCA has demonstrated his/her knowledge by successfully sitting for a certification exam. The exam is arduous enough that one is unlikely to be successful without a thorough knowledge of the subject matter. The exam is based on the CSI Contract Administrator Practice Guide, Project Delivery Practice Guide, MasterFormat and other CSI formats, construction contracts, and general conditions. The exam is administered during two periods each year lasting approximately a month in the spring and again in the fall. CSI publishes the CCCA Candidate Handbook to facilitate exam preparation and act as a guide for the candidates studies. Information about the CCCA is available at http://csinet.org/Main-Menu-Category/Certification/CCCA .

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I spent most of the day at The Apartments at Goose Creek, one of our projects that has just opened in Fishersville, Virginia. This is another project put together with our most prolific client, Denstock LLC in collaboration with repeat contractor, KBS Incorporated. This group has teamed on a couple of projects already and we have four more on the boards.

One of the highlights of the day was the test of the aquatic wheelchair by rolling it down the ramp into the pool, turning it around in three feet of water, and rolling it back up the ramp onto the pool deck. The aquatic wheelchair is available to residents who would not otherwise be able to use the pool. The pool design was the result of a collaboration between developer Denise LaCour and Adrienne Stronge, CSI of our office.   The obvious feature is the access ramp that takes you into the pool regardless of ability. The pool also features an elliptical splash pad with vertical water jets for those hot summer days. The splash pad is also accessible. The ramp follows the edge of the splash pad which is the smaller of two overlapping ellipses, the second being the pool itself. There is a tiled bench wall, also an elliptical edge, that allows one to sit and enjoy the pool from the middle without getting wet.

The decision to install the ramp arose from the fact that using a lift calls attention to a person’s disabilities and would only useable to a small percentage of the resident population. By utilizing a ramp as an integral part of the design, in addition to the wheelchair bound individual that can now use the pool, there is a safe route for our older residents to enter the pool without fear of falling down stairs.

This pool is just one of many features of the project that were designed to be accessible to all of the residents. We are making a concerted effort to include more than simple compliance with accessibility laws, after all, simple compliance is the LEAST anyone could legally do. The design of this project furthers our calling as a team to provide shelter to all individuals.20150915_155510

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Don’t know if you’ve noticed, but we Boomers have been turning gray in recent years. That means that there are two and soon to be three defined younger generations in the workforce. As time marches on, we will inevitably pass the world on to folks that are younger, whether through retirement or otherwise. Are we ready for that? Will our businesses and associations survive without us? Therein is where our priorities should lie.

Regardless of the generalizations that have been uttered about younger generations, I have to say that today’s young people are NO DIFFERENT than my contemporaries were at a similar age. Yes, we have different tools with which to deal with life, thanks to today’s technology, but the deep down issues are universal. All generations at any given age share the same hopes and fears.

With that said, as each individual and each subsequent generation enters the workforce, they will inevitably have questions. How else would one learn? The thing is, those of us that have been around for a while need to be willing to mentor and share the knowledge gained from years of experience. If we act appropriately in this regard, those on the receiving end of this intentional transfer of knowledge will be able to avoid our mistakes and create things that were not possible thirty or more years ago.

It is my goal, therefore, to share my technical knowledge with anyone willing to listen, then get out of the way so that I don’t micro-manage how they put the information into practice. That allows me to get great pleasure out of looking over someone’s shoulder and see how much faster they can produce something than I can (but I must confess that I have to remind myself of this).

So I will continue to intentionally mentor, hopefully without being overbearing.  It’s the least I can do to help ensure that what I have learned will not be lost.  After all, young people are the future!

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Once again, my CSI membership and attendance at Construct over the years has paid for itself. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve posted anything, so I figured I should pick up where I left off.

This afternoon, I was having a conversation with a local plan review official and the topic of fire safety entered the conversation. The bulk of what I brought to the conversation I learned at the 1992 CSI Convention in Atlanta.

Prior to that convention, I was a big believer in compartmentalizing buildings with rated assemblies to prevent the spread of fire in lieu of installing a sprinkler system. As I learned at that convention, it is virtually impossible to do this perfectly, and the result of such imperfections is rapid spread of fire through narrow openings where a firestop may have been missed during construction. Where there is a small orifice (perhaps a ¾” hole drilled for a wire that was subsequently deemed unnecessary) a virtual blowtorch is created resulting in flashover of the adjacent space in a surprisingly short span of time.

My professional firefighter friends have taught me a thing or two about the behavior of fire in a building and how to fight it as well. This has led me to advise clients to add a layer of gypsum board to the underside of the joists spanning an unfinished basement to buy a little time for firefighters to rescue building occupants.

Even though this allows a few extra minutes of structural soundness, there is no substitute for fully sprinklering a building. If the fire is extinguished (or at least knocked down) there is far less smoke generated; and therefore, the occupants have a chance to escape the potential for a smoke related fatality.

Moral of the story is this: if we sprinkler and protect the building, in so doing, we protect the occupants. Life safety is what it’s all about. As far as I am aware, only one of the buildings coming out of this firm has ever burned, and there were no injuries. My understanding of fire started because of my participation in CSI and the predecessor of Construct.

Later this month, many of us will return to Construct where we will catch up on the latest in building technology, pick up a years worth of HSW requirements, and who knows, we might just save a life as a result.

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