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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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A MOST SATISFYING DAY

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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I spent this weekend attending the CSI Middle Atlantic Region Conference in Gettysburg, PA. My time was well spent, as my membership once again paid for itself.

How so, you might ask?

The conference included a slate of excellent technical seminars. This in and of itself is a good value. More to the point, getting up and into a seminar at 8:00 AM on a Saturday resulted in my picking up a bit of information which will result in a revised detail on an upcoming project. The owner is thrilled that this subtle change will add value by saving maintenance costs in future years with little or no additional up front cost.

That said, we need to think out of the box in terms of how we do things. A professional standard of care is normally met when we do things the way we’ve always done them, particularly when it comes to keeping water out of our buildings (assuming we did it correctly in the first place). This alone should keep us out of court. This kind of thinking is about the same as saying “we’ll build it to code”, which is often touted as quality by some members of the construction industry. It is also the crummiest construction that is legal. So what happens if you do just a little bit more and, in the process, add value?

This is exactly what came to my attention because of the efforts of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter who hosted the conference. I would have missed this had I not been a member of CSI.

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Late this morning I received word of a local gas leak that closed the only entrance to a local subdivision. Aside from the inconvenience to the residents of the neighborhood, there is also a school in the subdivision. The road closures that were the result of the gas leak also prevented school bus access to/from the school.

The subdivision in question was platted in the 1960’s and as was typical of the time only included a single point of access. Over the last ten years or so, the county has used a new urbanist model and required new subdivisions to have a second point of access, and even planned an interconnection to this development from a recently constructed project. The neighbors objected to the interconnection because it would “increase traffic” in their neighborhood. Had this connection been made, there never would have been a question as to whether the students would be able to get home this afternoon. They would have simply diverted the buses from the main entrance to the back way out.

As to concerns about increased traffic, with a second entrance, the number of vehicle trips past the houses fronting on the main entrance street would have gone down. Because of the location of the neighborhood, I don’t believe anyone would be using the connection as a shortcut, other than the residents of the newer development.

Assuming both developments are of the same size and type, the traffic differential ends up zeroing out. More importantly, emergency vehicle access and school bus access is maintained.

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It never ceases to amaze me how many construction proposals contain the very short specification “to code”. What amazes me even more is that there are actually consumers who believe this statement or some variation thereon assures them of a quality project.

Wake up folks! The building code is the crummiest construction that is legal.

So you ask: “How can I get better than the worst that’s legal?”

Better quality construction starts with better construction documents. Good construction documents are usually produced by a licensed design professional. For certain occupancies, a licensed design professional is required to seal and sign the construction documents before a construction permit can be issued by the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ). In such cases, simply having the seal of a licensed professional on the drawings is in the same category of “built to code”.

Better quality construction documents often involve the services of a Certified Construction Specifier (CCS). The CCS is a certification issued by the Construction Specifications Institute more commonly known as CSI. Holders of the CCS are required to have a minimum of five years’ experience preparing construction documents and at least two years of writing construction specifications. In addition, a CCS will have passed a rigorous exam to receive the certification.

Unofficially, a CCS is an experienced professional with a vast body of technical knowledge. As a member of the building team, the specifier will often prompt the other members of the design team to think about issues such as constructability, compatibility of materials, watertightness, and similar issues.

Once a project is documented, it will need to be constructed by a qualified contractor. One characteristic to look for in the course of selecting a contractor is whether or not he/she has a CDT on staff. A CDT knows his/her way around a set of construction documents. They understand the information presented and know where to look for certain information within the set of documents. Additionally, a CDT has a basic understanding of the relationships called for in a set of construction contract documents.

With this in mind, when shopping for construction services, hire someone who holds a CSI issued certificate or a CSI certified professional.

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Recently, a local TV station ran a feature on the 11 o’clock news about a couple of lovebirds who are approaching their 70th wedding anniversary. During the teaser, I recognized the husband as someone I had worked with on a couple of projects in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Several years following the end of our professional relationship (precipitated by Earl’s retirement), I ran into Earl at the local gas station and noticed a window sticker indicating that he and his wife were members of the Order of the Eastern Star. Knowing that my wife’s grandparents were very active in that organization at the state level, I asked Earl if he had known them. As it turns out, he and his wife had known my grandparents-in-law quite well, and so it is that Charlottesville connects with Culpeper Virginia in multiple ways at multiple levels.

Since the world is interconnected through the various relationships we have, I have to think of the many wonderful relationships I have developed over the last twenty-five years as a member of CSI. The relationships cultivated through the years have resulted in enhanced professional development beyond the plethora of CSI sponsored educational programs I have attended.

By being active in the organization, I have come to know hundreds of professionals from all over the country and Canada who are willing to share their experience and knowledge. As a result, there have been multiple occasions where I would pick up the phone with a question and one of my CSI friends would be able to get me the correct answer. On other occasions, I’ve been more than happy to reciprocate.

By having this large network of friends, I have been blessed both professionally and personally because of my membership. I have to say that CSI is probably the most economical professional organization I belong to, in spite of holding membership in multiple chapters. Even if the dues weren’t what they are, the value is far higher than the memberships I have in organizations with far more expensive dues.

With that said, I would strongly encourage construction related professionals, and especially students in construction related curricula to join. Getting involved is easy, simply go to http://www.csinet.org and follow the directions. I’m certain you won’t regret it, and perhaps, someone may remember you to a mutual acquaintance in forty-some years.

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I have frequently been asked about the value of the CSI Certification Program over the seven years since I first served on the CSI Certification Committee. Those that know me are aware that I’m all about recognizing people’s accomplishments, particularly in regards to their professionalism. What better way to do this than to credential someone.

The Construction Documents Technology exam is administered during a four week window each spring and fall. The CDT is an entry level certificate that is by no means basic. Holders of the CDT demonstrate a high level of competence and professionalism. They know their way around a construction contract and are familiar with the major model contract documents. Without this knowledge, they would not have passed the exam. There is no prerequisite for this exam, so students in design and construction related curricula are eligible to sit for it, and I would encourage all to sit for it. In this day and age when jobs are rare, students graduating can use any leg up that exists, so if this opportunity knocks, jump on it and demonstrate your competence by showing up for your first job interview with a professional credential in hand.

The Certified Construction Specifier (CCS), Certified Construction Contract Administrator (CCCA), and Certified Construction Product Representative (CCPR) exams are the means to an advanced certification and are more specialized than the CDT. There is an experience prerequisite for these certifications and candidates must sit for a rigorous exam. The result is that holders of the advanced CSI certifications are experienced, competent professionals. This is useful in that upcoming job interview or marketing for those owning their respective practice.

That said, Being a CCS has helped me in landing several consulting gigs for other architects, and has helped land other work. More importantly, the knowledge that is behind the certification (necessary to pass the examination) allows me to better practice my profession.

Information on the CSI Certification Program is available at www.csinet.org/certification

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Our culture is obsessed with the future.  Marketers have used slogans like “The future is now!” and Hollywood produced several “Back to the Future” movies starting in the mid 1980’s.  There is a pervasive addiction to having the most current technology, even if it doesn’t always perform its function as well as that which it replaced.

In contrast, my father used to tell us to remember the past so as not to repeat mistakes and live for today.

I would like to propose an alternative:  Live for today, but embrace the future.  I do so by making myself available to mentor young people.  After all, the future belongs to you.

For each of you that would follow me professionally, I would strongly encourage you to embrace and enhance the future of your career.  You can do so by joining CSI (no, not the TV show, but the Construction Specifications Institute).  It is there that you can network and gain much knowledge that the schools and universities don’t seem to have the time to share.

There is only so much that you can accomplish sitting in front of a computer.  You can insert all the content in the world into a social media page, but doing so or viewing such a page will never convey as much information as a face to face conversation.  We learn much from the things others say and do, including vocal inflection and body language.  You get only words from a sterile message conveyed via the internet.  More to the point, you cannot put a hug or a warm embrace onto a computer no matter how many emoticons you insert.

To further enhance your future in the design and construction industry, you need to participate in CSI’s Certification Program.  Sitting for and passing the CDT exam will afford you and demonstrate to others that you have a level of knowledge of construction documentation that graduates from architecture and engineering schools often lack.  I am aware of several recent graduates who immediately found jobs following graduation because of the fact that they held the CDT certificate.

So, live for today and embrace the future by becoming a member of CSI and sitting for the CDT.  There are a large number of us who would welcome you with open arms and a smile.  More to the point, your future career may depend on it.

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