An update, since the world is waiting on me

I think most of these blog posts have to do with me continuing to want to add to the site, but then I never get around to it.  So then a few months go by, and then I decided to write another blog post about how I would like to continue to write blog posts.  I suppose it is some vicious cycle that I just can’t seem to get out of.

Figure 1.  The Blogging Cycle.

Figure 1. The Blogging Cycle.

Actually, I have written a few things, but it has been for my company’s website.  However, I have still decided to hold off on publishing those, because… Well, it’s hard to show anything on my website!  Everything is either in design, in for permitting, or under construction.  As interesting as underground plumbing rough-in is, images of select fill and PVC pipe don’t really state my mission.  But, I guess one sign of me not writing here is: things are actually still going well on the company front.  One of my “career maker” projects is well underway, and maybe I can pay myself (meaning my credit card) back for all of these company expenses.  Although starting an architecture firm is relatively cheap compared to other businesses, it seems like it slowly creeps up on you, especially when bankrolling it without a partner.  Throw on top of that – the decision to do this was right after I made a decision to acquire my first income real estate with a good friend of mine, so say goodbye to tens of thousands of dollars that maybe… I could have used on the business!  I guess by the end of this year, I might add up all of the costs associated with this venture.

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Here is my lease property. It has since been painted, and it is nicer and cooler than my own house.  It is also fully leased.  Yay.

I may have written this here before, I’m not sure, and this Saturday morning, over a nice cup of coffee, or eight of them, I’m not interested in researching it – but the reason I wanted to start this was frankly because a mentor of mine told me:

“if you want to do something in this world, and no one else is doing it, go do it yourself.”

So here I am.  Right now I don’t really look like I’m doing anything differently – I have a small architecture firm with a good team of consultants and contract labor, trying to stay lean through the start-up times, but I plan on truly building it.  However, that’s just the start.  I began the company to eventually develop real estate, which has also been done, and the architecture is a means to help start that venture.  I’m starting my first two development projects, so the business is slowly getting off of the ground, but the deal cycle on those is extremely long…  and the design side keeps growing, so I can’t complain.  The ultimate goal here is to have a design-oriented real estate development company. Honestly I don’t know many successful ones, and none in the area.  So here I am!  Just a chick getting out of the shell, but riding a little wave of success on my way out.  Even though there is nothing on the company’s website, I’m pleased to say that ever since I started this, I have been slowly putting myself into a position to make a real impact on our industry and our city, and I’ll be excited to move expand to the next one (I have a city in my long-range sites).

I took a trip to Marfa in September to write out business plans and get a lot of stuff down on paper.  And take a handful of photos.  I’ll be coming up on six months of that trip, and it will soon be time to revisit and revise it. I looked it over during the New Year, and I know there is a lot that will already need to be changed.  Yes, I’m actually living the advice of writing a business plan, and treating it as a “living document!’  Right now, I guess it is for my benefit only.

View of the Rio Grande as I wrote the first draft of my business plan.  Click the image for my shots of Marfa.

View of the Rio Grande as I wrote the first draft of my business plan. Click the image for my shots of Marfa on Flickr.

So more boring stuff coming your way:

  • Want to start an architecture firm?  This is what it cost me… This will be late in December.
  • I have an upcoming trip, late in the summer, which will include the Philippines and a good portion of China.  This trip will include visiting my sister, who has not left just yet, but has set up her blog here.  I’m also planning on making connections in China, both for development and another little business I want to explore.
  • I’m trying to upload “everyday photos” which aren’t posted every day, but I need some activity on the site!
  • I’ll probably write about my experience on my first half marathon.  Running Sucks.

That’s all I have on the docket right now, other than maybe some shop talk here and there… But for whatever reason, writing and publishing this garbage information is therapeutic to me, so just bear in mind… It’s all about me here.

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A new path

So I tried to run a bit from it, but it looks like the inevitable will still find you, one way or another.

Well, that perspective, now that I write it down, probably has rubbed off on me from reading too many of Dean Koontz’s Odd Thomas novels over the past few weeks.  In it, the character has some clairvoyance to him – he can see dead people.  Its been done before (a lot), but in this case, as with most writing that I enjoy, his perspective on life is the reward for spending my time reading these books.  One recurring theme is this: everything has a natural order to it.  Even with his “supernatural” skills, he has learned that trying to trick fate into doing something else typically just postpones it at best.

Several months ago, I decided to strike out on my own… but then I didn’t.  I got an offer to come on with another firm – they let me finish some projects that I had already started on the side, and all was supposed to be good…

But of course, it wasn’t.  I know it is always typical when someone woos somebody on with promises that not everything is delivered… but it turned out rather quickly that the situation we cooked up did not fit.  So this week, we adjusted that.

The adjustment is this: I can now fully pursue what I want.  This has effectively let me start off on my own.  I still office with them, I still work with them.  I will maintain key clients.  But, I have more than I want to do than pure architecture, and in order to follow those dreams, I have to go off and do this – if anything, just for me.

It’s a little scary.  I have enough work to pay my bills, but of course your perspective changes very much so  going off on your own – your outlook changed from 3 months ahead to 3 years.  There is plenty to be nervous about, but plenty to be happy about.

So what do I want to do?   I want to develop.  And I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be.  I’ve made my first multifamily acquisition already, but will be looking to build some small for-rent and/or sale product.  I have big dreams of other projects; some might be what I might call “game changers” in the market here in Dallas.  But… One has to keep their sights.  Even though I am an architect, broker, and I have built my own designs before as a general contractor, the stigma of being an architect is a hard one to overcome – especially when starting off of on my own.  So, after some soul searching, I have decided to start small.

I figure this – if I can make a living designing small projects, I can make a living developing small projects.  And move forward from there.  I might take on partners, but…  I’m not making that a barrier to going ahead and starting.

So, there you have it.  My official launch date will be September 1, 2013.

To new days ahead.

 

Sun rises over ruins a few hours outside of Mexico City.  I took this picture nearly two years ago, and it was about that time I was starting to find some purpose in what I wanted to do.

Sun rises over a small town and some ruins a few hours outside of Mexico City. I took this picture nearly two years ago, and it was about that time I was starting to find some purpose in what I wanted to do.

Internet’s Broke

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When I started at Corgan, Associates (1996) as a high school intern, the company (One of the top 5 in Dallas) was one of the first architectural firms to get on the Internet.  We were also one of the few with personal email addresses: One of the largest civil/structural engineers in town had a single AOL email address for the whole company, and another engineer I worked with had to be dealt with entirely by phone and fax.

For a few months, management decided we were messing around on the Internet too much, and shut it off.  I remember someone remarking: “oh no, they took away our toy!”

This morning I walked in to complete CHAOS.

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OH NOES, THE INTERNET IS DOWN!!!!

We have remote connections to a main office.  I use a cloud based system for much of my work, and I can’t get information from my laptop to my desktop (right next to each other) without using a thumb drive.  Why?  Because the laptop is tethered to my phone and cannot connect to our local server.  Its one or the other, and I have chose the Interwebz.

So I can write this blog post.

(OK, and respond to a client email but that’s not as funny).

This ranting reminds me of last night, when I went to a restaurant and realized I had been going there for twenty years (vomit).  This morning I got mad because I had to wait for a grown man to take 10 minutes to fill his tires up (he didn’t know how, and obviously didn’t know what a tire gage is) and my thoughts drifted to how modern men can’t do anything manly any more (watching sports does not count as manly, sorry).

I’m turning into a cantankerous old man at 33.  What is wrong with me?!

Design: relevant?

So I receive an email today from our business development guy: “the reason your lost work with [your client] is because your work was not timely and accurate…  Good design is irrelevant.

I design neato things I can’t talk about until they’re almost under construction. So you get a massing model of something that doesn’t look like anything.

Now, we are doing another project with this client.  I had thought we had lost it.  Turns out he meant another project, which, honestly, we did not have the bandwidth to do at the time.  So after several hours of worry burning a hole in my Saturday afternoon, that got clarified.  I had not lost a project for reasons unknown.

But it got me thinking: our industry is pleagued with people screaming about what’s wrong with our business. The most common crap I hear is that our work is becoming “commoditized.”  I started reading one book which began with a mantra about commoditization and how technology was going to “fix” that.  I stopped reading.  Lets start here:

Commodity:

1: an economic good: as

     a : a product of agriculture or mining;

     b : an article of commerce especially when delivered for shipment; or

     c : a mass-produced unspecialized product

2: something useful or valued 

3: obsolete: quanitity, lot.

4: a good or service whose wide availability typically leads to smaller profit margins and diminishes the importance of factors (as brand name) other than price

5: one that is subject to ready exchange or exploitation within a market

(source: Merriam-Webster dictionary; m-w.com)

I am guessing that the whining comes from definitions 4 and 5.  The funny thing about architects is that we think we are special: the fact is, all industries struggle with this every day.  Even, say, manufacturers who produce items in high saturated markets, like common raw materials or whatever widget you want to think of.

Something else that looks like nothing

So a service industry is screaming worrying about the trouble of being commoditized?  Are all of you saying that price is the only driver?  Surely not.  I used to work at big firms.  Those firms do not charge small fees.  But people keep coming back to them.  So price, in itself, it not the issue.  All of this complaining about our fees not being big enough due to “commoditization” – to me – is just crap.

How do you add value?  Isn’t that what being in a professional service business is all about?

Hmm.  How about listening to your client?

The whole reason I got that project was good design…  I took a new look at a project that had already gotten all of the way though CDs.   The new development team wanted to take another stab at it because the original program didn’t match their requirements, but at the end of the day due to a down and dirty exercise between planning and building officials I was able to pull out $2 Million from the project due to pulling off an entire floor while removing full subterranean parking.  Does that mean the other architect was bad?  I don’t think so.  There are many reasons why designs end up the way they are and I always give the benefit of the doubt – there was a reason why it was the way it was.  In fact, because of the timing, the zoning had changed and the density was able to be increased after that design was done (so I did, actually get more units with less floors).

So I thought that was relevant.

I still think it is.  But, it did take me a while to complete.  There was lots of back and forth with the client.  There were a lot of late nights, tense conversations, negotiations with authorities, to get it done, and it took a while.  And I was just starting a company.

So it was hard, and we produced.  And we grew.  We hired some great talent that made a tense situation much better.  I thought things had improved until I got that email… Then it turned out things had improved, I had just taken it the wrong way.  However, it got me thinking: do I KNOW what my clients want?

I think I do.

I was told good design was irrelevant.  I don’t think it is.  But: do I KNOW what they want?

Everyone is different in this industry. I’m amazed, for instance, at the time for design and construction that is given for people in the high end residential sector.  We don’t have that luxury in the commercial business for the most part.  Being given a year to design an office building… is unheard of.  So one has to expect that every type of client is different and each set of priorities is different.  The trick is knowing what those things are.

There is a lot of market data about high volume sector like retail or B2B organizations or whatever.  What about smaller service oriented businesses?  Typically we work with people on a very personal level: you’re almost friends.  Sometimes you become friends.  Sometimes you start as friends and are never the same thereafter.

How do you know what your client wants?  What is important to them?

Oh Dear God.  You have to ask.

A unique perspective on the Statler Hilton – Dallas

The Statler-HIlton has been a favorite building of architects in Dallas for… well, probably as long as it has been standing.  Opened in 1956, it was on the cutting edge of design and hospitality.  Beyond the remaining exterior architecture, which is to be fully restored, there is still some remaining evidence of the hotel’s grandeur despite the extensive demolition.   OPened as the Statler-Hilton in 1956, it was obviously developed as a Statler Hotel but renamed at the opening, as Hilton bought the chain in 1954 – long into the development process of the hotel.  Nearly 20 years earlier, Conrad Hilton relinquished a Hilton built in 1925 in Dallas to a former officer of the HIlton company, which is currently Hotel Indigo on Main Street.

As far as I can tell, this is the only hotel to carry both names.  It was most recently the Dallas Grand Hotel, which closed its doors in 2001.  It has been admired by design enthusiasts ever since, all of them hoping the building wouldn’t be leveled.  The building had the standard asbestos issues, but on top of that had low ceilings with a structural system which was difficult to modify (hard for the current loft market) and a problematic cutainwall system (I guess market conditions also don’t really tolerate water leakage – what snobs).

So, new ownership has embarked on the journey to revitalize the building with apartments and retail.  My friends at Merriman, Associates Architects are leading the design effort.  I have found it funny that there is still so much unknown about what to do with all of that space – There is about 100,000 square feet of space available for retail on the ground and mezzanine levels alone.  Parking will be in the basement, which was always a concern of mine, as the (nasty) parking garage which served this hotel was torn down and replaced by Main Street Garden.  Still, when the tour guide was asked a question about how a specific space would be used, the typical answer as a shrug.

A few gems are still around, including this mural uncovered during demolition.  Apparently someone thought this was unfashionable at some time or another, but the mural pictured above was created by New York artist Jack Lubin.  It was actually hidden behind the kitchen.  Very few of his works are left.

The Empire Room Supper Club.  The iconic windows seen here have remained mostly intact, which is pretty amazing for an abandoned building with windows this so close ot the street – quite  available to be smashed by rocks.  The “Empire Room” name somewhat worries me – the same name was given to a room atop Elm Place, which sat nearly vacant for years and is my other favorite building in Downtown Dallas.  Fortunately it too is going to be restored and given a new life – I just hope their plans don’t involve defacing the skyline with more crazy LED’s – I think we’re up to our limit on that for a while.  I might post something on that one sooner or later.

If one visit the Omni Hotel in Dallas, this ballroom doesn’t look like much of anything.  If memory serves, it sits at around 13,000 square feet.  However, at the time, this was huge.  If I remember correctly, the tour guide said this was the largest ballroom in North America when it was built.  Its obviously seen better days…  This was another area that… they’re just not sure what to do with.  It is equipped with a car lift which is visible fromthe outside, which hoisted vehicles up to this floor from Jackson Street for car shows in in the hotel’s prime.

Welcome to the back door of “The Dallas Room” in the basement of what I think was the Dallas Grand Hotel.  I couldn’t find anything readily available on Google about this particular establishment, but it has seen better days.  I bet whatever went on down here was on the up-and-up.

This light fixture makes baby architects cry.

This was one of those finish outs that doesn’t quite fit with the rest of the building.  We didn’t venture own there, but the light fixture at the front entrance lets us know what to expect.

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Below are some other fun pictures… You can also see them on this set on Flickr, but they are all just the same images .  Whatever your preference.

Why I do what I do

Although this may not look entirely interesting to some, this is why I do what I do.  There is no other feeling that is close (that I have experienced) to the feeling of seeing something realized that was once only a thought.  Here are some progress photos of a project I have in Fort Worth – one which helped us take off.

Tour of the New Parkland Hospital

On Friday I had the opportunity to tour the new Parkland hospital.  I have worked on a lot of medical projects over the years, which has included some hospital work, but the scale of this project is staggering.   We were fortunate enough to take a lift all the way to the top floor, which has a spectacular view of downtown.  Its a shame I might only see this view again under less enjoyable circumstances:

I did, unfortunately, only take my phone with me.  So, the pictures may not be awesome, but I’ll just let them speak for themselves:

One of the interesting things about this hospital is that they are already running into programming issues: for example, they designed this ER space to handle 108,000 cases (I think thats per year, but I might be mistaken).  They are now seeing at their current facility 140,000 cases.  Maybe someone is betting on better overall wellness.  Although I think I retweeted something from CNN last week that says our country will 42% obese in 2030.  Who knows?  I forget.  Time for a cheeseburger.