art + architecture + design

deafspace

hands

(edited June 4, 2017)

Deaf is a culture. Deafness is not seen in the deaf community as a disability but rather as a difference. It is not necessarily something to overcome as much as it is something to become part of. Deaf culture is rich in social behavior, tradition, values and history and just like any culture, it has its own language.

As a designer of public space, the spaces I work in will be utilized by people who are hearing and by people who are deaf. When we work as designers in any culture not our own, we research, right? I’ve spent the last year learning American Sign Language (asl) and Deaf Culture. It has colored the way I look at the design of all public space.

Although I am hearing, I live in a world that includes a deaf nephew and two nieces who are hard of hearing. My grandmother was completely deaf as far back as my mother remembered. When my sister and I were children, we’d watch cartoons with my grandmother and always turned off the sound, because Grandma couldn’t hear. Not sure that helped her a whole lot, but it did give us some measure of empathy. My own mother’s deafness was profound by the time of her death. My husband wears two hearing aids but still misses voices in certain ranges. Deafness is a normal part of our lives.

DeafSpace

gallaudet

photo courtesy Dangermond Keane and gallaudet.edu

At Gallaudet University in Washington DC, where one of my nieces graduated and then coached, nearly everyone is deaf to some degree. ASL is the common language. Founded in 1856 as Columbia Institution, President Abraham Lincoln signed a law authorizing the college to confer degrees in 1864. In 1954 the name of the school was changed to Gallaudet and now serves about two thousand students.

Those of us that are hearing don’t understand what deafness means moment to moment. Curbed published an article explaining how architecture can affect the lives of those who live without hearing. At Gallaudet they’ve developed an architectural philosophy they call DeafSpace. A way of looking at the built environment that allows for multi-sensory engagement. This philosophy rests on five principles.

space and proximity

People who require eye contact for the duration of a conversation, and those who use their hands and facial expressions exclusively to communicate require more space than those who hear. Sign language relies on the hands as well as physical expression to converse. People who read lips need to see the lips they are reading. My mother used to press her finger to her nose when she was talking with my sister or me. This meant we were to look at her while speaking. And you didn’t want to be the kid across the room confessing a misdeed…she was pretty good at getting the gist of the conversation. The configuration of space also matters. A long rectangular table that doesn’t allow eye contact between everyone participating in a conversation isn’t effective. Round or oblong furnishings allow better connection between participants. Furniture that is movable allows small or large groups to organize the space efficiently.

sensory reach

Deaf people use their other senses to understand an environment. Ample glazing aids sight, the vibrations of footfalls tell of someone coming around a corner. And people who don’t hear use shadows to read their surroundings. My grandmother used vibration to tell her where her six children were in the house and what they were up to. When I need to get my niece or nephew’s attention I wave a hand or catch an eye before speaking.

mobility and proximity

When deaf people are walking and talking, visual contact between speakers has to be maintained and hands need to be available to talk. So having to grab a door handle intrudes on a deaf conversation. As do narrow or steep stairways that require focused attention. So when designing DeafSpace, stairs and ramps are wide and shallow, sidewalks and walkways are wide, doors open automatically. Repetitive architectural elements are also emphasized to aid instinctive navigation.

light and color

Colors that contrast with skin tones aid people in seeing facial expressions and moving hands. And light needs to be bright enough to see but not so bright as to cause glare. Windows must be shaded from above so that someone facing them is not blinded by the sun’s glare when conversing. Abrupt changes in illumination levels (ie from outdoors to indoors) are momentarily blinding and interfere with conversation. Deep overhangs at entries can allow the eyes to transition and minimize disruption.

acoustics

In the deaf community, acoustics are an important consideration. Quiet is the goal, but what is quiet to the hearing is not necessarily so to the hard of hearing. Hearing aids and implants amplify background sounds making the hum of an air conditioner or background buzz or sounds that echo extremely distracting. When I’m working alongside my husband, music is forbidden. If there is noise in the background when he is trying to work or talk on the phone, his hearing aids amplify the background sound to levels that create total distraction. Restaurants without acoustical control are out of the question for us.

universal design vs accessible design

As architects and designers, especially in a world focused on accessibility, designing for the deaf presents challenges that many of us haven’t yet come to appreciate. We know how to accommodate the mobility challenged, but what about those who don’t hear? Universal Design, or design of products and environments that meet the needs of most users including able bodied, disabled, elderly, children, etc. requires that we look at accessibility from a much broader standpoint. This is something that Gallaudet is approaching with DeafSpace.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

ps….if you’re interested in learning asl, the best route is a class where you have an opportunity to sign with others. But here’s a second best option: ASLU. If you want to practice asl comprehension, check out the news at the Daily Moth.

pps….and if you want to see some beautiful music in asl, check out the video below.

 

what does restaurant design look like?

People eat out for two reasons: the food and the experience. Sometimes one takes precedence over the other, but for a restaurant to truly succeed, both must be deliberately addressed.

Last month I traveled with my daughter for a couple of weeks. We ate out….a lot. By chance we ate in 3 restaurants all owned by the same restaurant group. When we sat down in the third restaurant, I told her I thought all three were owned by the same people, or at least designed by the same group. Being my child, she of course challenged me. How could I know that? They had different names, different menus, different looks. Really they didn’t have much in common aesthetically at all.

I dug in and sure enough they are all part of the same group of restaurants. It made me wonder….what had I seen that made me so sure? I didn’t go into any of the kitchens or wait stations, so it wasn’t about functional design. I just sat down, ate my meal, visited the restroom (I always check out the restroom). Clearly, a well designed restaurant is seen in the details, it doesn’t hit you over the head.

entry

When we walked into each restaurant we were greeted immediately by a host stand. We knew where we were supposed to go to be seated. There was no wandering around wondering if we were supposed to seat ourselves, if this was the front, etc. Point of entry is one of the most important places to make an impression on a new diner. You know that pithy saying….you only get one chance to make a first impression. It matters when you are the diner walking into an unknown situation.

seating

The chairs were the right height for the tables, the tables were the right size for the plates, serveware, cutlery, etc. When I sat in each restaurant I was able to cross my legs without rubbing my knee in the last diner’s child’s wad of bubblegum. And I didn’t have to give away the salt and pepper in order to make room for my glass of water. Designers look at many things when designing seating and tables. Will the fabric on the booth create static cling when you stand up? Not a good look. Does the chair have arms so that someone larger than the average bear will be uncomfortably asking for another seat? Huge no no. Will it stand up to years of abuse or crumble under a diner after three months? Does the table have legs that will interfere with human legs?

lighting

We could see our menus and our food, and even though we were sitting next to a window we weren’t bothered by glare. Layering the light successfully isn’t easy. Yes, there needs to be enough light to make the pathway from door to table clear. That’s called ambient light. It lights the room overall. But once at the table a little more directed light is required to see the table top, the menu, the food when it arrives. And maybe there is some decorative light in various locations around the restaurant to highlight art or a wall or something that illustrates restaurant concept. Never light the diner from above…that weird ghostly look with deep shadows under your eyes won’t impress your date. If the restaurant has many windows, a designer will have considered how to protect from glare. If you’re staring at your date and all you see is a silhouette, someone wasn’t paying attention to design.

graphics

Of course there is a sign outside that says the name of the restaurant. That’s not the end of graphics though. When you’re sitting at your table, how do you know which way to go to get to the restroom? There is usually a sign, but does it fit with the decor? Is it easy to read? Is it visible from most places in the dining room? The restroom signs in all three restaurants did all three…they fit, they were legible, and they were visible. And the menus, while each was unique, fit the decor and concept of each restaurant.

restrooms

Restroom design is a big deal in my book. Designing the restroom so that it looks like it belongs in its restaurant is the biggest of big deals. If the restaurant is selling steak for $65 a plate and the restroom looks like it belongs at the gas station down the street, no designer was involved in the project. The restrooms at all three of these restaurants were the biggest give away I suppose. They were all well done and each was unique, but they all had the same sleek and efficient fixtures and accessories. My daughter thought it was ridiculous that my thinking was confirmed by a toilet. Be that as it may, the comfort of the restrooms was clearly thought about and designed. Toilets, mirrors, accessories were all well located.

is it really all that important?

While traveling we ate at a restaurant in Edinburgh that had stellar food. The chef was clearly gifted. The dining room was confusing at best. There was something that looked like a coffee bar at the entry with no host or sign to tell us what to do/where to go. The tables were too low for the chairs. The chairs were of varying heights with cushions attempting to make up the difference. The banquette back was at a 90 degree angle to the seat. I couldn’t see to read the menu. Our expectations were low, but the food was amazing. Clearly the chef had a vision for the food, but perhaps not the time/inclination/money to hire someone to design the restaurant.

Sometimes design isn’t possible for any number of reasons, but I posit that if this restaurant were well designed, it would be winning awards and gaining audience. If you’re traveling in Scotland, hit me up and I’ll give you the name. One day, hopefully, they will decide to hire a designer and match experience to food.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

haters gonna…..design

Good design stirs emotion and elicits reaction. Think about how you feel when you walk into a cathedral…is that powerful awe? Or when you visit a library and find yourself whispering. Or you enter a bustling restaurant and you light up, ready to chat up the person on the bar stool next to you. When you hold a well designed tumbler does your whiskey taste better? This is the result of design done well.

But does it work the other way? Does emotion inspire design the way design inspires emotion? Clearly yes. Unfortunately the most prevalent emotions swirling the airwaves right now are hate and anger, but even those seem to spur some pretty interesting design solutions.

when hate inspires a revolution

The Women’s March on Washington spurned marches all over the world. The positivity of these marches was palpable, and the creativity that the divisive and hateful rhetoric in the news inspired was, well….inspiring!

dating for hate

Sunset walks, rainy nights by the fire and sharing a good bottle of wine haven’t found you the person of your dreams. How about finding someone who hates everything you do? On February 8 a new kind of dating app, based on what you both hate, launches. And Hater’s web page cites our new president, slow walkers and paying extra for guac as three possible things to hate. This could be very interesting!

hate is not a dream quencher

According to Budweiser, Adolphus Busch was not met with much love when he first emigrated to the United States from Germany in 1857. But his dream of making beer was stronger than the hatred that met him. Maybe he was just determined enough to show America that he couldn’t be beaten down. Or he had something to prove. Or he just really thought he could make the very best beer. Whatever drove him through the hatred, he definitely found success on the other side.

past hatred re-vamped

Last April, presumably a bit tongue in cheek, Tucker Viemeister created a logo for Trump as nominee that was based on an older symbol of hatred. The last two weeks have not done anything to quell the fear and animosity that our most recent election sparked. It’s chilling to think that this logo may no longer be a joke.

looking at hatred through a new lens

Insitum is a design research and innovation consultancy with offices in Chicago, Mexico, South America and Spain. Their employees in Mexico have been understandably disheartened by the outpouring of hatred from our new president and his constituency, as well as his talk of walls, taxes and immigration bans. So they channeled the hatred they were hearing, and the fear they were feeling, into some productive solutions.

Create jobs in Mexico and South America so migrants would fly back home. Or presumably stay there in the first place.

Create a neutral zone in the middle of both countries and develop prisons to keep the bad guys (dudes and hombres) from the U.S. and Mexico. {editor’s thought: does this align the US with North Korea and Mexico with South Korea?}

Design a program to employ US citizens in Mexico. Because honestly, if he builds the wall, many may want to be on the south side of it.

In an effort to keep things positive, I’m looking for the good that has come from this election and our new administration. If nothing else, there are many who were complacent who no longer are. Engagement in our democracy is what will keep it alive and functioning. And I daresay that we all know that now!

Keep in touch,
Leslie

interior design is not about flowers

If you could see me now you’d see the droop in my shoulders. It wasn’t the first time someone demeaned what I have been doing with my professional life for the last 25 years. She’s a friend and she really didn’t mean to.

We were talking about credentials and continuing education required in various professions. When I told her the amount of continuing education I must take to maintain the 3 credentials I’ve attained, she smiled and wondered aloud why I’d need continuing education to decide what color the flowers should be and where they should go.

I smiled at her joke and I cried a little inside. It wasn’t a funny joke. But it does clarify an issue in my field….people don’t know what interior design is.

According to the California Council for Interior Design Certification:

An ‘Interior Designer’ is someone who can complete an interior design project from start to finish, including preparing construction documents for bidding and permitting, as well as supervising the construction and installation of the work. This person in essence becomes your agent to deal with local building codes and building departments, and licensed contractors. They have the expertise to handle all of these different players…

An interior designer works in the field of construction to create the built environment. We sign drawings like architects do, however the scope of our projects is limited to work that does not involve the structural components of a building (the parts of the building that support the roof). If structural components are involved, then a structural engineer must be engaged. If the exterior of the building (known as the core and shell) are involved in the project, then typically an architect will be engaged. On residential remodel projects a skilled interior designer can usually handle the full scope of the project.

An interior designer works in the field of construction to create the built environment. Click To Tweet

design and documentation

Prior to building any construction project, documents must be created. Prior to creating these documents a design must be completed. My job as your interior designer is to work with you to determine the needs of your project, create a design to satisfy those needs, then document that design and see it through construction. There are several steps involved:

programming:  You will answer questions about the use of your space; what works and what doesn’t; when the space is or will be used and how and by whom; what you want it to look, feel and sound like. We will talk about the function of your business and of other businesses like your business. I will take measurements and draw base plans.

schematic design-design development: I will layout the walls within your space, determine power and plumbing needs and locations, create designs for millwork and custom furnishings, design the overall look and feel of your space. I will coordinate the consultants we may need to engage for acoustics, lighting, art, architecture, graphics, etc. I will also engage fabricators to create specialty items. I will determine how the various codes will impact the space and begin a conversation with your local building and fire departments to affirm that we are designing to code. During these phases I will present the design to you as it develops and refine it to meet your aesthetic and functional needs. Depending on the use of space, particularly with commercial projects, functional needs and code compliance will drive much of the layout.

permit documents-bid documents-construction documents: To communicate your design I will create drawings and write specifications. The various consultants on the project will also create drawings for their specialties which either the architect (if there is one) or I will coordinate into a single unified set. Using these documents (which can number hundreds of pages) we will first apply for necessary permits. This process can take months to complete and will often include the submission of further documents to satisfy your local building/fire/health departments. Once permits are issued, and if this project will be bid, drawings and specifications may need further clarity and revision and will be issued to bidders to get final pricing for the project. Once bids are in and a contractor is chosen, documents will be issued for construction.

construction administration: During construction I will visit your site regularly, get to know your contractor’s superintendent well, answer questions as they arise, review items and finishes prior to installation, point out problems when something is not built to plan, keep you apprised of progress, approve your contractor’s billings so that you only pay for work that has been performed, and engage other members of the team as needed.

codes

Part of the job of an interior designer is to understand and have the ability and knowledge to research codes that are applicable to your project. When creating the design for your project, all of these codes must be addressed and complied with. Prior to applying for necessary permits, the requirements of these codes must be met in your permit documents. Codes fall into several categories:

building codes: These are codes that keep you and your employees and customers healthy and safe. We call these codes ‘life-safety’ and they include things like the width and length of corridors, exiting, fire sprinklers, the size of windows, emergency lighting. There are plumbing codes that specify how many toilets and lavatories your space must include and what type of fixtures are required. There are energy codes that limit the amount of wattage that is allowed for lighting and specify where motion sensors are required. There are local codes that can include just about anything and which I will research and discuss with your local building department as early in the project as possible.

health codes: Health codes address kitchens and restrooms in your commercial project. They also have requirements that must be met for tattoo parlors, swimming pools, medical facilities, water systems and multi-unit housing.

accessibility codes: The federal ADA regulations include very specific requirements that allow space to be utilized by people with various disabilities. These requirements are far-reaching and include things from parking lot ramps to the height of wall sconces in hallways and the size of toilet stalls.

education, credentials and certifications

There are many people out there who call themselves interior designers. Some of them are decorators who choose colors, select furniture and drapery, or, like my friend said, locate your flower arrangements. An interior designer is credentialed in some way, has specific education and knowledge, and can do the work of a decorator and much more.

education: An interior designer receives education on everything discussed above. In addition we learn about color, lighting, acoustics, three dimensional space, art and architectural history, available and appropriate finishes and materials, and even furniture and millwork design.

There are many accredited educational programs, from 3 years (post-graduate) to 4 or 5 years, which provide some type of degree. The program I completed was a 5 year Bachelor of Science program. Different programs provide differing levels of education. If you are looking for an interior designer’s qualifications, start with education but also look for advanced certifications.

certifications: As in most professional fields, there are many advanced certifications available to interior designers. The three that I’ve attained are listed, but there are others as well, particularly in the realm of sustainability.

  • CID: In some states (as in California) the term ‘Certified Interior Designer’ is codified in the Business and Professions Code and can only be utilized by interior designers who have taken the certification exam. These interior designers have specific education and have proven their knowledge of process and codes and their competency in applying this knowledge.
  • NCIDQ Certified Interior Designers have distinguished themselves by demonstrating a specific set of core interior design competencies, supported by verified work experience and a college degree. They have proven their mastery of aesthetic considerations as well as of current standards established to protect public health, safety and welfare. They have earned the industry’s highest standard of proficiency in interior design principles by successfully passing the NCIDQ Examination. (definition from the NCIDQ website)
  • LEED AP ID+C: The USGBC created the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design accreditation program to credential leaders of sustainability in the built environment. The accreditation that I studied, tested for and practice is in interior design and construction. There are other ‘green building’ programs as well as other accreditations within LEED. All indicate specific knowledge around sustainability.

So yes, an interior designer can help you choose flowers. And most designers, after years of study and practice, have a ‘good eye’. But we also have extensive knowledge and experience that qualifies us for much more than that. I hope this clear things up just a bit. And don’t worry, my feelings aren’t really hurt.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

 

opening a restaurant….the reality of budgets

can you afford your dream restaurant?

Waiting for my new client to show up for our first sit down meeting, here’s the text message I got: ‘Hey Leslie. I’m sorry about this. We’ve discussed hiring you, and it’s twice as expensive to hire you than what we can afford (sic)’. This was ten minutes into the meeting they were apparently not showing up for.

check your reality

I’ve talked about this before (here and here).  Restaurants are expensive to open. Begin with a reality check. When I ask about budget, don’t tell me ‘enough’. I’m asking for a reason….I want to help you! If you can’t do it one way, there may be another option. If you want to reach your dream, full disclosure will get you there more efficiently.

This is a relatively small world, so any architect or designer who has done restaurant work knows people who have built restaurants. We will involve whoever we need to verify what you are hoping to do. A GC can give us an idea of cost based on square footage and level of service, I can estimate fees (permitting, architecture and design, etc.) and furnishings, we can throw in some ballpark numbers for equipment, owner costs, the cost of your lease. This is a service that most architects and designers will provide without fee.

Restaurant design and construction is unlike any other retail/commercial work. Ventilation, food safety and life safety targets are higher and thus result in significantly higher costs. Be realistic, don’t pretend that you have endless wads of cash ready to spend if that’s not the case. And do understand that you’re not opening a gift boutique….a much less expensive proposition.

If you’d like to figure this out on your own, here are the items that should be on your spreadsheet. The hard numbers I’m showing are specific to the San Francisco Bay Area, a very expensive area to build. But then, salaries are also high here so there are more bodies who can afford those seats!

1. construction

Depending on your program, this may or may not be your biggest number. These are the checks you will write to your general contractor for all demolition work, construction, electrical, mechanical, plumbing, millwork, finishing. This number should include all of the sub-contractors costs plus the GC’s own labor and materials. When talking with a GC it’s important to be sure this number also includes overhead, profit and insurance.

Here are 3 scenarios that may help you determine where you fall:

  1. You’re leasing a space that is an existing restaurant with enough electrical, an existing grease trap, hoods in place and up to code. You will be modifying kitchen equipment (except hood locations), lighting, hvac, millwork and finishes. Let’s presume this is a mid-range restaurant with table service. Expect $100-150 per square foot.
  2. You’re leasing a space that has never been a restaurant but is a ‘warm shell’. That means that there is electrical and plumbing in the space. Your vision is a fast food or fast casual program. Expect $200-250 per square foot.
  3. You’re leasing a space that has never been a restaurant but is a ‘warm shell’. Your vision is high level dining with table service. Expect $300-350 per square foot.

Take these numbers as base numbers. They can easily go up. And if you plan to do the manual labor yourself, then double the length of your construction schedule (which could be anywhere from 6 weeks to 6 months depending on complexity). Remember, every day that you pay rent and are not open is also costing you. Do yourself a favor….hire a general contractor.

2. owner costs

These are wide ranging and will depend very much on your operation. As a start, here are the costs that you will need to research for your restaurant:

  • licenses (business, liquor, etc.)
  • table top: serveware, glassware, candles, condiments, etc.
  • kitchen small wares
  • artwork
  • POS system
  • branding: logo, menu, signage, environmental graphic execution/installation
  • attorney fees: don’t negotiate your lease or partnership agreement without help
  • music system
  • food and liquor
  • staff training
  • rent…for every month you are not open for business

3. kitchen and bar equipment

Grills, ranges, fryers, refrigeration equipment, ice makers, dishwashing, specialty equipment….this will be one of the highest numbers in your budget. You can verify some of these numbers online (if you have a very small kitchen and little equipment). If you choose to use your own online resources, double whatever number you come up with. You likely don’t have enough hand sinks, you forgot faucets, etc. Otherwise, talk with a dealer and get a ballpark number for your kitchen equipment.

4. furnishings and fixtures

This number will include your tables and chairs, light fixtures, host stand, some accessory items. Your designer can put together a budget number for furnishings based on your program and level of finish. Expect somewhere between $300 and $600 per seat.

5. fees

It was my fee that sunk that deal that began this article. And if they couldn’t afford my fee, my guess is they couldn’t afford their restaurant. Here are the fees you can expect to have to pay:

  • Architecture and Design: about 10%-12% of construction costs (that was number 1)
  • MEP Engineering: assume an additional 15% of design fee…this doesn’t track with design fees, but it is a decent ballpark number
  • Food Service Design (kitchen design): assume an additional 10% of design fee…like engineering this doesn’t track with design fees, but again it is a decent ballpark number
  • Structural Engineering: this will vary depending on conditions
  • Lighting Design: unless this is extensive, lighting design will come out of the design fee already mentioned
  • Graphic Design: this is the cost for design of logo, menus, signage, environmental graphics and will vary depending on need
  • Permitting: assume an additional 3.5%-4% of construction cost to cover building permit, planning permit, health department permit, signage permit, sanitation permit. Make a few phone calls as some jurisdictions tack on some pretty hefty fees that can be very unexpected. Especially sanitation.

and then

Once you put these numbers together, tack on at least a 5% contingency. 10% would be better. If all of these numbers together add up to less than your bank account, then you are good to go. If not, find some friends/neighbors/investors who also want to own a restaurant. Better yet, find people who want to be silent partners.

If this is your dream, follow it. There are plenty of us out here to help you…just ask.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

And a giant PS….shout out to my friend and colleague Lev Weisbach, architect extraordinaire, for providing feedback on this post.

a gentle look at codes

oakland-love

Oakland is Everywhere

It’s been a tough week here in Northern California. 36 people died in a fire during a party at a local warehouse. Family and friends are reeling and the artist community is in great pain. This fire occurred in a warehouse that was illegally converted to studio and living space. And the couple who converted the warehouse claim these parties are one of the ways that they raised money to pay rent on the warehouse.

People are beginning to point fingers and assign blame.

why

Before we start assigning blame, and I’m sure there is plenty to assign, there’s a bigger issue here. Why were people living in a space that was not built for habitation? A couple of reasons come to mind:

  • Like-mindedness: people enjoy living near others who share their interests, schedules, affinities, lifestyles.
    • You are an artist who works days to pay the bills and spends nights painting. But your roommate has to be up at 6 to head to their tech job. No, you can’t play music while you work. And why is there paint all over the bathroom sink you share? And that’s just a ridiculously simplistic scenario.
  • Cost: in an area where average rent for a studio apartment tops $1600 per month without utilities, many people are priced out of the ‘legitimate’ housing market.
    • So let’s say you’re a young artist working at a local coffee shop to pay the bills and purchase art supplies. You make (generously) $15 per hour. You work 30 hours per week. You gross under $2000 per month. You definitely can’t afford that studio apartment if you plan to clothe yourself, eat, bathe, heat. And if your art requires studio space there’s that rent as well. It doesn’t take long to figure out why people in the arts are left to find ‘alternative’ housing styles.

As the Bay Area continues to grow, and as costs continue to reach stellar heights, we need to think about the many communities that are being shut out. Art is important. Artists are important. Teachers and musicians and writers and chefs are all important. We need them here. We need to find a way to make ‘here’ attainable for everyone.

codes

My life work revolves around codes. Fire codes. Life safety codes. Health codes. Accessibility codes. Energy codes. Building codes. These codes are all in place for a reason and many of these codes keep us safe in our built environment. However complying with all of these codes costs money, which drives up the cost of housing. So people build without permits, ignoring codes, and creating hazards. The result is they can charge less rent.

a way forward

There is a two way street here. We need to have safe housing stock and we also need city departments to do their part in keeping that housing stock affordable. A paradigm shift is in order where citizens can trust their local jurisdictions to treat them fairly, apply minimum necessary code enforcement to keep them safe, and eliminate anything that resembles a ‘money grab’. This won’t originate with local building and fire departments….it will require the involvement of local governments to relax some of the laws around compliance.

The us versus them dynamic is destroying the ability of lower income individuals to remain in the Bay Area. Or in the worst case scenario we saw last weekend, it is literally destroying the lives of artists, teachers, musicians, writers, students. Continuing to lose these creative and vibrant people, whether by flight or as we did last weekend, will suck the very soul out of the Bay Area. We can’t let that happen. Not in Oakland, not in San Francisco, not in Marin, not on the Peninsula, not in the South or East Bay. Oakland is everywhere.

help

If you want to step up and help the victims of last weekends devastating  fire, below are a few ways I’ve found.

12/10-11: Scott’s Jack London Square is giving all proceeds from its clam chowder to the Fire Relief Fund for Victims

12/12: Duende will donate 100% of sales to the Fire Relief Fun for Victims of Ghost Ship Oakland Fire

12/14: Oakland United concert Noise Pop and Another Planet Entertainment, along with Paradigm Agency’s Oakland office present Oakland United – a night of remembrance and community. There will be performances and stories from musicians and journalists, all of which have connections to the Bay Area music scene. All proceeds for the benefit will go to the Gray Area Foundation For The Arts Oakland Fire Relief Fund.

12/14: Shakewell will donate all happy hour proceeds (4pm-6pm) to the Ghost Ship Fire Relief Fund

12-19: Cream stores in Berkeley, Oakland, and Palo Alto will donate 25% of sales to victims of the Ghost Ship fire

Encuentro will be donating a portion of their profits until next Tuesday ( for friends, neighbors and loved ones affected by the Ghost Ship fire

Peet’s will match up to $10,000 in donations made at any of its Northern California stores to the Gray Area Foundation for the Arts

Drakes Brewing Company released a new beer called ‘Oakland Love’ at both locations. 100% of sales of this limited Double IPA will be donated to support the victims of the Ghost Ship fire

Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Ghost Ship Oakland Fire Fire Relief Fund for Victims of Ghost Ship Oakland Fire is a fundraiser organized by Gray Area Foundation for the Arts

Oakland A’s and Oakland Raiders Matching-Funds Fundraiser Assistance and relief to the victims and families of the Oakland warehouse fire the night of Friday, December 2nd. Funds are matched up to $50,000 by the Oakland A’s and the Raiders.

Ghost Ship Fire: Residents Support All donations to this fund will go to the residents of Satya Yuga, aka Ghost Ship, directly funding supplies and materials needed to support their livelihood

Resources to Support Ghost Ship If you can’t spare a cash donation but are able to help in other ways, this Google doc lists people who are able lend support and resources to those affected by the fire

Oakland Firefighters: Random Acts of Kindness The psychological toll on firefighters searching through debris for victims can be intense. The Random Acts of Kindness fund helps Firefighters mitigate feelings of hopelessness by providing them with the funds needed  to help the people they encounter.

Keep in touch, take care of each other and be safe,
Leslie

 

after the election: design

after-the-election

Do you want to talk politics? Me neither. But I do want to talk about what we, as designers and architects, can do as we move forward into this new and shifted world. How will we protect the environment that may not be top of the new administration’s list of priorities? What kinds of projects will we take on pro bono in support of the disenfranchised? How can we create a world that is inclusive when our country is so divided? Closer to home, how do we provide a workplace that is all-embracing, safe and productive?

help people go home

Build houses with Habitat for Humanity. This is one of my favorite organizations to volunteer with. I’ve learned to hang gyp, tape and mud, pull electrical, wire an outlet, paint a wall, wire a switch. Helping build a building has taught me much about what’s behind those lines I draw for a living. Better still this helps people stabilize their lives. Habitat for Humanity is nationwide. Find them here.

design for everyone

We don’t have much choice about ADA. We complain and moan about having to put a ramp in a facility that wouldn’t be used by someone in a wheelchair anyway. It’s time to turn that conversation around. Let’s look for opportunities to use the principles of universal design: design that accommodates the widest range of individuals. We are a diverse population of cultures, abilities, economic levels. Designers and architects can lead the way to design that works for our aging population, the deaf, those without sight, varied cultures as well as varied abilities. When clients complain about spending money on accessibility, show them there’s another way to have that conversation.

fight for good design

There are clients out there (we won’t mention any names) whose taste is…..questionable. When working with those clients you need to stand up for good design. Don’t give in without a fight when they want to build something that offends the sensibility of the neighborhood. Do take the time to work to educate your clients about what design really is: a specification of an object, manifested by an agent, intended to accomplish goals, in a particular environment, using a set of primitive components, satisfying a set of requirements, subject to constraints (Wikipedia). Make sure your client’s goals are acceptable to you before accepting a commission. Consider walking away from a project that forces you to short change good taste or appropriate design parameters.

bridge the divide

“After seeing the legibility of the election’s results—and the connected spatial and divided geographies of urban versus rural, the coasts versus middle America, and of white versus black versus latino, and many others, I appreciate the charge to the ‘revolutionary act of knowing others.’ This is a conversation that is needed, and it cannot only happen in the space of the media and social media and politics. It needs to also happen in spaces and places where we all live, work, play, and connect. Our shared nation is as tangible as Main Street and as real as our many different types of homes, workplaces, and public infrastructures and facilities.”—Justin Garrett Moore, executive director of the NYC Public Design Commission.

Published by fastcodesign.

  • Create a workplace that allows for differing opinions and will support differing points of view.
  • Encourage conversations that lead to understanding that begins in the workplace and extends to the world outside.
  • Organize volunteer opportunities for your employees or give them time to volunteer during work hours.

consider pro bono work where it’s really needed

The new U.S. administration may not support many of the social and environmental organizations historically funded by our government. If there is room in your budget for pro bono work, see if any of these organizations are in need of a new space, a re-organization of existing space, perhaps new furnishings, etc. Do some research and work for the organizations that you believe in.

work locally

“As we consider what the U.S. presidential election means for our nation as a whole, we must not lose sight of the positive influence we as architects and designers can have on our local communities. In fact, it is on the local level where politics and policies tend to have the most direct impact on everyday citizens. So while I recognize that there is a great deal of uncertainty in the wake of the election, I take comfort and pride in knowing that we, as a community of design professionals, will continue to focus on improving our local communities.”—Phil Freelon, architect and design director, Perkins + Will.

Published by fastcodesign.

build with the environment in mind

Encourage your clients to build sustainably: use local products, reduce power needs, use products that are produced sustainably, install low water landscapes, build near transportation, keep building health in mind. Build to LEED standards or Green Globe Standards even if the project won’t be certified. Pay attention and suggest building methods that protect our fragile earth and those of us that plan to live here for a while.

speak up

The AIA came out with a statement after the election that didn’t reflect the feelings and attitudes of its members. The backlash was fast and it was huge, leading to the AIA walking back their original statement. Pay attention to what the professional organizations that you belong to are saying. Do you agree? Use the power of your peers to make a statement, start a trend, open a dialogue, support your beliefs.

any other ideas?

This has been a divisive election and has left many feeling sad, disappointed, frightened, dis-enfranchised. What else can we do to mend?

Keep in touch,
Leslie

~~~~~

ps….if you haven’t seen the book in the photo, here’s a link. There are multiple sites online where you can also download a pdf, but I recommend buying the book and keeping it somewhere accessible. I keep my copy on my coffee table. And no, those aren’t my fingernails.

who needs a mentor?

working-together-2

I need a mentor. So do you. You may be at the very beginning of your career or even still in school…a time when mentors are a common topic. For those of us who have been doing what we do for a while, mentoring may not seem like such an obvious need. It is.

consider these 3 reasons to seek out your own mentor

  • Careers are not static

In this age of technological leaps we don’t begin a career and continue on a single path through retirement. ‘Lifelong learner’ has become a catch phrase on every resume and in every job interview. Over the course of your career you will need to learn new skills. Mentors can guide you to find the training you need, suggest skills to pursue and even teach some of those skills.

When I was a young designer, CAD was just entering the workplace. To stay relevant I’ve spent hundreds of hours learning to use the newer technologies that allow me to continue to do my job. My mentors along the way have both taught me the skills I need and directed me to find the training they couldn’t teach.

  • You are making a career shift

You’ve been in the trenches for years and you want to change directions and go into management. You’ve got great design skills but marketing taps talent and connections that you haven’t had an opportunity to use. Commercial office space designs fill your portfolio….now you want to change directions and do some retail design (or residential, or hospitality, or health care…). Or maybe you’ve been doing this a long time and now you want to teach.

Finding a mentor that understands the direction you want to go, someone who has even traveled that path is invaluable. They’ve been where you are and can help you to see your options for change.

  • You are bored

A mentor will challenge and inspire you. Perhaps you’re bored because you’ve been doing the same thing the same way for years or decades. Maybe it’s time to tap a new source of business. Or augment your business with a new set of skills. A mentor will see you and your process through a lens different from the lens you use. Just as designers use the critiques of others to solidify design solutions, we can all benefit from the critiques of outsiders to refine and sharpen the direction of our careers.

finding a mentor

So now that you’ve decided that a mentor is worth seeking, where should you look and how should you approach? There are programs that work like dating sites. You can cast a wide net using social media. Networking events might be an option. But the bottom line is that a mentor/mentee relationship is just like any other relationship. It requires give and take, a personal connection and that magical chemistry. So I’d skip those first three suggestions.

  • Forget the term ‘mentor’

…this is a relationship. Giving it a title is uncomfortable. The most useful mentor relationships build on themselves, so very likely you already know several people who might mentor you. Don’t formalize a request (‘will you be my mentor?’), instead ask a question. Ask for a specific piece of advice. If this relationship is to evolve into a mentoring relationship, this will be the beginning. If not, you will know to look elsewhere.

When I first began writing a few years ago, I reached out to a friend who is a journalist. I asked if we could get together because I had questions about how to charge for my writing. She offered me her ‘friends and family rate’ to answer my questions. Clearly she was not interested in mentoring. I continued my quest.

  • Look to people who respect you

One great way to begin an effective mentoring relationship is to find someone to whom you’ve already proven yourself. Someone who knows your work and your abilities. This individual will already be in your court and may have the time and inclination to help you build skills, change direction, or otherwise grow as a professional.

  • Do you need to build skills?

If you’ve been living and working in the same geographical area for some time, there are people already in your circle of acquaintances who can help. Don’t let age or title narrow the pool. If you are looking for specific computer skills, perhaps someone younger would be an appropriate mentor.

My son has a friend who is a wizard at PhotoShop. While he can’t give me career advice, he can help me boost my skills. And while he is helping me learn PhotoShop I can help him explore career options.

  • Do you need perspective?

If what you’re looking for is perspective and direction, you may need to reach out to someone who’s been working in your field longer. A superior in your current position might be an option, or perhaps someone you know outside your firm.

One of my early mentors worked for an architectural firm and served as architect of record on several projects that we did together. He eventually convinced me to leave my job and come to work at his firm. When I needed help or advice, he was always my first stop.

  • Don’t be shy

Talk about what you want to do and where you hope to go with it. Talk about it at networking events. Talk about it at parties. Reach out to friends you haven’t seen in a while, and those you saw last week, and mention your plans. You have a much bigger circle of contacts than you realize. Let them be part of your path…many people enjoy being a helpmate.

I was at a party last night talking with a woman I’ve known socially for a decade. She dabbles in art but we have no common business connections. I mentioned that I am going to start teaching design and she offered to connect me with her cousin who has been teaching design for several years. Here’s a connection, and possibly a mentor, that I never would have known about if not for a casual mention in a social setting.

  • Reach out to strangers

While reaching out to strangers goes against everything I’ve already said, sometimes it is appropriate. If you are changing careers or looking for a career shift, you may need to look outside your circle of acquaintances. While I don’t suggest putting a request out on social media, I have been known to offer to buy lunch for someone who worked in a business that I found interesting. Answering ads for jobs is another way of meeting people in the business you hope to enter. Just be sure that you have enough to offer for this to be worthwhile. Be clear about what you have to offer and where you are still building skills and knowledge. Attend professional development meetings, seminars, conferences, classes. Reach out to the people you meet.

  • Give back
    • This has two components:
      • Offer what you can to your mentor. Buy lunch, proof a website, offer design advice, write a letter… Don’t let this be a one-way relationship or it won’t last and it won’t be fruitful. No matter where you are in your career, you have much to offer.
      • Mentor someone else.

Good luck on your quest! And if you need a mentor in my business, I might be a good place to start!

Keep in touch,
Leslie

 

the best ideas

brainstorm2

The last brainstorming session I led was a complete failure. It was a few years ago, before I’d read all of the articles telling me how useless brainstorming really is. As a writer, I’m a big fan of the ‘free write’, where you pick up a pen and a piece of paper and sit quietly writing whatever comes to mind. This is a great way to clear out the cobwebs and get to a place where your writing starts to come together and head in a cohesive direction. I saw brainstorming as the same concept but used collectively. Not so much. Every idea that anyone threw out was immediately beaten to a bloody pulp before another idea was suggested. All of the beating made many in the group fearful of throwing out any ideas at all. We got nowhere.

brainstorming=the loudest person wins, everyone loses

Now I know….brainstorming doesn’t work. But we creatives still need ideas. And group think by its very nature will generate more ideas, and a wider diversity of ideas, than can any one of us sitting alone. There are a couple of methods that have been developed in the last few years that seem to yield better results.

ask questions

Frame-storming (coined by Tina Seelig at Stanford and used by Matthew May in his book ‘Winning the Brain Game’) turns brainstorming on its head. Rather than generating ideas, a problem is set forth and participants generate questions. Hal Gregersen of MIT calls this question-storming and the Right Question Institute calls it QFT (question formulation technique). This method seems to engage more participants and incur less judgment, thereby allowing more ideas. The QFT method follows five steps.

  1. Design a ‘question-focus’: this is best presented as a statement of the problem being addressed.
  2. Generate questions: in small groups assign one person to write, all others throw out questions for a designated time period. No discussion or debate is allowed.
  3. Improve questions: groups work on questions, refining some and expanding others.
  4. Prioritize questions: each group selects its favorite questions, shares them with the larger group and everyone votes on the best questions, those that provide new avenues into the problem.
  5. Define next steps: create an action plan on whatever question(s) rise to the top.

write

Dr. Tony McCaffrey developed a technique he calls brain-swarming. A problem or goal is written at the top of a white board, available resources are written at the bottom. Individuals use sticky notes to write down ideas for tackling the problem. Discussion and refinement occurs as the board is filled in.

Leigh Thompson and Loran Nordgren, professors at the Kellogg School, have developed a process they call brain-writing (the phrase was originally coined by UT Arlington professor Paul Paulus). With brain-writing, ideation occurs first and individually. Once ideas are written down (or in Nordgren’s case they can be recorded on an app he developed called Candor), they are brought to the group and discussed.

Both methods of write first/talk later have proven to yield more potential solutions from a larger percentage of participants. Everyone has an opportunity to participate equally.

in the context of design

So let’s say you’re in a design charrette, what might these techniques look like? Pretend the goal is to design a SLO food restaurant in New Orleans.

Frame-storm

Questions like ‘what is available locally in NOLA?’, ‘who would buy SLO food….locals or tourists?’, ‘is there a history of SLO food in NOLA?’, ‘what about local traditions?’, etc. might shape the discussion.

Brain-swarm

The top of the white board would say ‘SLO food restaurant in NOLA’, the bottom might list available SLO foods, budget, existing conditions, available fabricators, time constraints, etc.

Brain-write

We all come at design differently, so the brain-write approach would allow each participant to address the problem/goal from their comfort zone. If it were me, I’d begin with the dictionary and move to online research into place. Someone else might begin with images.

Next time I’m called on to lead a brainstorming session, I’ll try one of these methods instead. Sounds like a lot more fun than beating mostly bad ideas to a bloody pulp.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

 

 

designing designers

designing designers

Photo via VisualHunt.com

There is a lot of information out there about how to do your design job. Whether you design space or tech or brand or something else. But what about how to be a designer?  How do we design ourselves to be the best designers we can be?

Heather Phillips of Fast Company interviewed 3 designers to get their take. Here is a synopsis of their thoughts, along with my own additions, about finding, growing and keeping your best design self present.

find your superpower

What do you bring to the project team? What’s your gift? How do you know?

  • Track your activities
    • Track what you do, when you do it, and how you feel after doing it. The tasks that leave you feeling great and energized are probably the tasks you are really good at.
  • Be clear about where you fall short
    • Don’t hide your flaws and shortcomings….flaunt them. Look for opportunities to work with people who are good at the things you are not so good at. Learn from them.
  • Talk to past clients, peers
    • Ask for a testimonial to use on a website, business card, or just to save for future needs. Other people will be able to highlight strengths that you haven’t thought of. They can define you relative to others they have worked with which will help you understand how you stand out.

create your space/day/team deliberately

Do you thrive in a chaotic environment? Are you at your creative best after lunch? On Tuesday? Is there that one team member who saps your strength? Who feeds your strength? What conditions do you need to be creative and productive?

  • Divide your time between work that feeds you and work that doesn’t
    • Set aside specific times for administrative work if that doesn’t feed your creative self. And make sure that your most creative time of day/week is set aside for creative thinking. Don’t waste it on email.
  • Know yourself and fight for what you need
    • Take time off when you need to attend to family or personal needs or just to regroup. Set a meeting schedule that works with your personality….don’t let meetings interfere with your creative time. Eat when you are hungry. Sleep when you are tired.
    • Create a workspace that works for you.
  • Be conscious about how team members affect you
    • If you are forced to work with someone who challenges you (and not in a good way), don’t let that define your place on the team. Keep in touch with team members who you work well with to maintain balance.

you are good

When negative thoughts bubble up (and they will), how do you keep them from blocking your creativity? When a project isn’t going how you’d hoped/planned/promised, what is your recourse?

  • This may be ‘imposter syndrome’, your own inner voice telling you that you are a fraud
    • Imposter syndrome burbles to the surface when you are working at the edge of your comfort zone. Embrace the opportunity and dig in…learning fosters creativity.
    • Change your posture. Really. 
  • Check yourself.
    • Are you tired? Hungry? Stressed about something outside of work? If so, fix these things first. Eat, take a walk, meditate, exercise, nap.  You are most creative when your body is functioning at its best.
  • Review a successful project in which you participated.
    • Remind yourself of your contributions….how you helped the project to succeed. What wasn’t working that you were able to correct. Make a list of what you brought to the project.

The more deliberate you can be in designing yourself as a designer, the easier it will be to overcome the obstacles that you will face. You’ve got this.

Did I miss anything? Let me know….

Keep in touch,
Leslie

There will be obstacles. Design yourself to overcome them Click To Tweet

designing politics

If you live here in the good ol’ US of A, your feed is full of he said she said. And sometimes he did she didn’t. Or he said she did but she didn’t really because he did. It’s gotten pretty raucous and very unpleasant.

So let’s focus on the whimsical designerly aspect of this presidential race and forget about the personalities. We all saw that unfortunate logo created when Trump and Pence first joined forces. Well that seems to have disappeared completely from the campaign. And good riddance. But logos aside, both the democratic and republican tickets are selling merchandise with various images telling their stories. And they are not alone.

Harper Macaw and Design Army teamed up to make partisan chocolate. However you lean, they’ve got you covered. Red statespeople can eat chocolate with raspberries wrapped in an elephant in a raspberry smoking jacket (rich old money). Left leaners can pick up the nut covered bar wrapped in angry nuts. Tea partiers are offered chocolate with English tea wrapped in old sailing ships floating amongst tea crates. Taxation without representation lets DC residents bite off Uncle Sam’s head in their frustration. Flip floppers get salty and sweet since they can’t make a decision and stick with it. And filibuster is full of pretzels and peanuts and covered with angry words.

Monka Dunk Creations has some interesting toilet paper. Embroidered. You need this, right?

political tp

Dumps for Trump poop bags. Much more interesting than the bag the newspaper came in. Once filled are we supposed to mail it to the man?

political poop

Bernie nails….he may not be a candidate anymore, but you can still bern your nails.

political bernie nails

Political pins have been around forever. Hillary’s campaign asked 45 artists and designers to create their own. I’m with her isn’t the end, apparently it was the beginning.

So there you go. Wear a pin, eat some chocolate, get a manicure, walk the dog. Stop looking at your feed. And send me more fun election paraphernalia.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

workspaces are still growing up

living in a gray world

Photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC

office space of the last millenia

When I began my first office job I was relegated to a gray cubicle surrounded by other gray cubicles that were just tall enough so that if I stood I couldn’t quite see over the top. Outside of the gray cubicles the office walls were painted beige, the ceiling was t-bar with drop in fluorescent fixtures and the only adjustment on the chair was the wheels that allowed it to roll from here to there.

If we were late to work, meaning arrival time after 8:05, we signed in. Breaks were at 10 and 3 and lunch was at noon. There was no lounge area, no ping pong table, no nap room. We had a cafeteria. Also beige. In those days we worked quietly, alone, in our cubicles and on average each employee was expected to take up about 400 square feet of space over the course of a day. If we collaborated at all it was very quietly in our own cubicles.

google zurich-camenzind evolution

Google Zurich meeting pods, photo courtesy coolhunter.net/carmenzindevolution.com

office space in this millenia

Then Silicon Valley took off. Laptops were born, wifi became commonplace. Telecommuting became a possibility. And the buzzwords of the day/year/decade became design-thinking and collaboration. No longer were employees expected to work in a vacuum creating whatever it was they were tasked with creating.

By 2014, employees in the US were allotted about 190 square feet. Offices don’t look anything like that first office I worked in and employees aren’t relegated to their own cubicles to spend their eight hours. Amenities can include things like:

  • flexible spaces for work and meeting/collaboration
  • casual lounge spaces with living room furniture, bean bag chairs, hanging chairs, hammocks
  • water features both inside and outside
  • nap rooms and nap pods
  • healthy vending machines
  • gardens
  • whiteboards everywhere to aid collaboration
  • food….lots of food
  • coffee….possibly surpassing the food
  • party rooms, slides, fire poles, ping pong, billiards, foosball and arcades
  • exercise rooms, swimming pools and spa areas
  • pet friendly spaces
  • color everywhere….is that an amenity?

office space that really works

It’s a whole new world out there. And yet, have we achieved the ideal? Are all of these amenities giving employees what they need to do their best work happily and creatively? An Oxford Economics’ survey executed at the end of 2015 says no, we’re not there yet. According to respondents, what employees are missing is quiet.

photo courtesy steelcase.com/fastcodesign.com

photo courtesy steelcase.com/fastcodesign.com

Fast Company put together a list of how we designers can work with employers to remedy the noise complaints and keep some of the other amenities that employees enjoy. Some of the suggestions are well worth considering.

  • Address adjacencies…keep quiet spaces near other quiet spaces.
  • Designate spaces for concentration…spaces can be visually connected and still be separated by doors that close.
  • Offer choice…provide enough differentiation in space that employees can relocate to whatever space fits their current need.
  • Include phone booths/rooms…give loud talkers a place to talk.
  • Provide movable partitions…movable acoustical partitions allow employees to create quiet spaces.

We’re getting there. Office space is certainly more inviting, and a lot more interesting, than it was once upon a time. But it’s not time to get complacent yet designers. We still have work to do.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

is it right?

all photos/video courtesy openbuildinginstitute.org. donate to their kickstarter here.

all photos/video courtesy openbuildinginstitute.org. Donate to their kickstarter here.

Do we, each of us, have a right to shelter and food?

A friend of mine uses a Martin Luther King quote as part of his email signature. It seems especially poignant right now as we weather a social climate that is exceedingly animus.

Cowardice asks the question – is it safe?
Expediency asks the question – is it politic?
Vanity asks the question – is it popular?
But conscience asks the question – is it right?
And there comes a time when one must take a position
that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular;
but one must take it because it is right.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

In addition to social ills that include race relations, economic challenges and religious non-understanding, there are those among us that need help with the basic human needs of shelter and food. As a society are we obligated to provide these basic human needs?

Marcin Jakubowski thinks that making home and hearth more affordable, and less resource intense, is not only do-able but right. He is working on an open source initiative to make affordable eco-housing widely accessible. Along with a host of consultants on everything from energy to compliance to architecture, he calls his endeavor the Open Building Institute. He knows it can work because he has done it. And he believes that you can do it too.

kickstarter link
The idea is that each one of us, either with friends or hired help, can build a home. The Open Building Institute will provide the knowledge: a library of modules and instructions, building materials production facility, training, even a certified builder if you so desire. You begin with what you can afford…could be a tiny starter module with a kitchen, bathroom and loft. As you can afford you add an aquaponic greenhouse for growing food and fish, maybe a separate bedroom, perhaps another bathroom and a library or office. The home is made from CEB (compressed earth blocks) from on site soil, uses solar panels for energy, hydronic in-floor heating. The home operates off the grid and grows as finances and needs change. No mortgage (unless you mortgage the land), no power bills, lower grocery bills.

I’m 100% in favor. Yes, I do believe that we all have a right to shelter and food. And we also have a responsibility to work toward that end. If you want to support the Open Building Institutes Kickstarter you can be part of this solution. Donate $20 and get a book laying out the OBI method. Donate $500 and you can participate in a 5 day build and learn all the nuts and bolts of this system.

In case you were wondering, I have no connection to Marcin Jakubowski or Open Building Institute. This project was forwarded to me by a mutual friend, Nat Turner, who you may remember hearing about in Parti* Notes.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

dear favorite client

dictionary

You hired an interior designer for a reason. Your local building department said you needed one. The health department suggested that a designer could get your restaurant open more efficiently than you could. Maybe you wanted to streamline your office space. Or you’re one of those really wise people who knows your own limitations and architecture falls outside of your skill set.

You’re a left-brainer who thinks in spreadsheets and actuarial tables. What can you expect from a creative? What do they do exactly? And how?

there isn’t just one design process

Well dear left-brained client, we’re all different. We all do things differently. We approach projects differently and access solutions differently. We each have a creative process that is, at least in some way, unique to only us.

words

My process always begins with words. Lots of questions which always lead to more questions. Then I sit down and begin looking up definitions of the words that were answers to the questions. The dictionary is my first resource when I begin a project. And words guide my creative process until the project is complete.

movies

Marcio Kogan, a Brazilian architect, sees his projects as movies. He walks through a scene in his head, creating his building as he does. Clearly he has a sense of humor…once the project is built he often creates a film starring the now real project.

camping

David Darling and Joshua Aidlin camp out on the site of their future project. They feel living and sleeping at the site allows them to ‘extract a building’ from the location rather than adding a building.

playing with clay

Anna Heringer calls part of her process ‘claystorming’….conceiving her ideas by shaping hunks of clay. Like grown-up play doh.

cartoons

Niroko Kusunoki of the Paris based architecture firm Moreau Kusunoki creates intricate pen and ink cartoon style drawings, complete with thought bubbles, to place buildings in their surroundings and refine how they work.

photo courtesy moreau kusunoki/architectural record

photo courtesy moreau kusunoki/architectural record

Some designers begin with sketches, some with 3D renderings, some with photos, some with movies or music or art. Many with a combination of inspiring sources. We use whatever creative avenue works for us, then almost magically –and often in the shower, or upon waking in the morning, or while walking the dog—we are able to peel back the layers of the problem and reveal the solution.

embrace the process…and your designer

So get to know your designer before you hire your designer. This is a personal relationship as much as it is a business relationship. You may not understand how your designer thinks, but you need to appreciate how he or she gets from where you are to where you want to be. And you must trust your designer to know and follow their own process.

The perfect client, from our perspective, is the one who not only respects our creative process but embraces it. With every project we begin it is our hope that you will be our new favorite client.

Keep in touch,
Leslie

dear design school grad, redux

 

la quinta plan

Congratulations graduate!

You designed your way out of college with all of those sleepless nights and huge pots of coffee. I bet you know every show on television after midnight. Now that you’re ready to create the next greatest building interior, here are a few tips from the trenches (well at least the trench that I work from).

If design doesn’t feed your soul, don’t do it.

I was a senior in business marketing when I switched to design. Business school did not inspire me and someone suggested interior design. First I laughed (right, pick pillow and curtain colors for a living?) Then I started talking to professionals in the field. What I heard sparked a fire in me that I couldn’t articulate and hadn’t felt before. So based on my gut reaction, I added another two years to my college career and made the switch. I still can’t articulate the feeling, but I do know that if I am not creating, drawing and solving problems that create better lives for my clients, I don’t breathe as well.

If design itself doesn’t feed your soul you still have options: sales, facilities, move coordination. Find your niche.

There are no shortcuts.

When you graduate you won’t be designing the next cover project for Interior Design Magazine. You will be creating presentation boards, putting documents together that show other people’s designs to their best effect, putting together finish schedules, specifying furnishings that someone else chose, cleaning up the conference room. Your job is basically to make other people’s jobs easier. This is the path.

  • Study hard
  • Learn the amazing computer programs that are available to you and offer these skills every chance you get
  • When you finish a task ask for another
  • Expect to work long hours when a deadline is approaching and don’t make plans the evening before a presentation….you will have to cancel

I began my career in small design firms so that I was exposed to the full breadth of design projects. My projects weren’t spectacular (small office spaces, very basic tenant improvement work), but I learned how to run a project from start to finish. If you choose to begin your career for one of the larger firms, you may work on more prestigious projects, but you will do a smaller piece of them. You know your personality, so move in the direction that best fits who you are. And whatever you do, do it well. The devil truly is in the details…mess up the details and the senior designers in your firm won’t want you on their projects.

You are a problem solver first….never forget that.

Pretty isn’t the highest priority. Your first job is to solve your client’s problem, and before you can do that you must understand what the problem is. Research your client’s business, ask questions about your client’s lifestyle. Understand your client’s family, customers, employee needs…whatever is appropriate to this project. Determine the best way to make this project function so that your client’s life is better as a result. This is how you solve their problem. Then make it pretty or hip or cool or dark…aesthetics are important, just not the first order of business. A project that looks good but doesn’t work well is a failure and you won’t get hired again.

Learn all you can before you begin and then learn some more.

There are certificate programs and short degree courses. Take the long course. Design is not just color theory and lighting science, it is a way of looking at the world. The only way to get there is to take the long course…and understand that there is no end. In order to create successful design you will need to understand the world as it grows and changes. Keep reading, talk to experts in other fields, pick the brains of the contractors and fabricators you work with, travel, take pictures. The world is an exciting place and everything you learn will make you a better designer. Get accredited and certified in whatever areas you have interest. That alphabet soup behind your name helps to tell your story.

Pretty pictures aren’t built projects.

Part of every design job includes an understanding of the local jurisdiction’s rules, operating procedures and building codes. You learned some of this in school….learn more. Anyone can draw pretty pictures (well almost anyone), but can these pretty pictures be built? Learn how to research this information and the senior designers in your firm will be begging to have you on their teams. Even if this never becomes your area of expertise, know enough to ask appropriate questions as a design begins to gel. It seems to get more difficult all the time to navigate the myriad rules and regulations that sometimes feel like roadblocks, so get used to finding ways around. I learned early on (thanks to my friend Ed), that the best way to complete a project successfully is to meet with building officials before design has even begun. Explain the project goals and ask for guidance to avoid potential bumps in the road.

Welcome to the world of design! I hope it fills your soul and makes you as happy as it makes me.

Keep in touch,
Leslie
NCIDQ (this means I’ve studied and passed the national interior design certification exam)
LEED AP ID+C (this means I’ve studied and passed the LEED exam for interior design and construction, a green building certification)
CID (this means I’m a certified interior designer in the state of California and can sign my own drawings)