Category : Intern Jon’s Diary

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

sensory integration

The priority for this week was to go through the biography page for the new website and find the rest of the articles that Randy requested. Over the weekend, Randy went over the biography page and the folder with the articles I had already scanned in and circled the ones that were still missing.

I took that page, went to the magazine shelf and pulled the remaining articles. It took a majority of the week to get the articles into the computer and touched up in Photoshop. In between working on the scanning process I was doing research for the Boys Club exterior play space. After the meeting Randy had with them a few weeks ago, he was able to get some better direction of what type of play structures they were looking for.

Roger, the Boys Club director, asked us to develop a better understanding of what a playground that incorporates sensory integration looks like. After much research online and through the packet of information he gave us, I typed up a response as to what we would be doing to the design of the playground. After clearly understanding what we were trying to achieve, I went back to 3ds Viz and AutoCAD. In those programs, I worked on the files I had already begun and started to make this even more of a sensory integrated playground than it already was. I added areas and structures  for kids to spin on various types of equipment. An overhead canvas shading device was incorporated to provide shade but also add to the “ship” like theme.

After working on the Boys Club playground design for part of the week, Randy wanted me to focus my attention on finishing up the magazine articles. I set the Boys Club project aside for awhile to completely zone in on the task at hand. Within in an hour, I was making steady progress and could see that I would have this finished by the end of the week. By the time Friday came, I had finished the scanning process and was back to work on the Boys Club project.

The weekend promised to be a fun one. Meg’s two sisters and cousin flew in town from St. Louis Friday night and stayed through part of Sunday.   We showed them the Old Market District and ate dinner at Stokes. The food was great (as expected) and atmosphere even better. We stayed so long, we “closed” the restaurant. On Saturday, we showed them around the parts of Omaha we were familiar with. One of the points of interest was the pedestrian bridge. By the end of the weekend, I was pretty worn out and got myself prepared for another week of work.

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

embedded knowledge

With the Boys Club play structure on hold for about a week or so, Randy put me back on the website project for this week. The deadline for the website to be up and running is June 1st, so it’s getting down to crunch time. All of the projects that will be listed on the new website have a maximum of seven photos per project. Along with the photos is a description about the specific project and a list of magazines if it has been published before.

A neat feature about the new website is that if you mouse over the magazine title, you can select it and it will take you to the full article. Here’s where I come in. You only get to read those articles because I manually scanned in each individual page that contained information on the project. Once the pages were scanned into the computer, I took them into Photoshop and touched them up. Because a lot of the work Randy does is favored by many different magazine editors, a lot of the projects get published.

Going through the shelves of magazines, thumbing through pages to find the appropriate article is okay for about two days, but after that, it gets monotonous. I definitely didn’t picture last fall when I knew I was going to be working here this semester that I would spend days scanning in magazine articles, but here I am. In one sense, it’s very encouraging to think that I had a very important role in contributing to the website. The other upside to scanning articles all day was that I used that time to my advantage. By entering all the articles into the website, I was able to learn even more about RBA. Some of the information from projects I already knew, but other bits of information were foreign to me.

While working at RBA, I have been focusing on being a “sponge” in the office and everywhere we go. The more I can learn from this firm, the better off I’ll be later on. Randy has learned much of the knowledge he has through real life experiences. Often times, we experience similar real life situations in the office and because Randy has dealt with an issue like it before he knows how to solve it. For instance, when I was working on the Bisson bathroom renovation, the client asked for more storage space in the shower. Because Randy has worked on a bathroom that had a built in shampoo and soap holder, he knew some specific details that would work for that application. This is the type of knowledge base I have begun to develop at RBA.

I know my embedded knowledge has already begun to develop because there have been times in the office that a particular detail would have stumped me a year ago, but now I was able to sail through smoothly. I didn’t expect to gain as much knowledge as I have at RBA. Looking back, I really didn’t know what to expect. This is the first firm that I have worked for and definitely one I have learned tons of information from.

The weekend came with warm weather. With Saturday starting out warm and sunny, Meg and I decided to give the farmers market downtown a try. We ended up spending about an hour walking around looking at all of the fresh produce and eventually found ourselves walking around the downtown area. It is good to see that Omaha is taking the initiative to revitalize the downtown area. There is a lot of construction in new and old buildings and they’re doing things that are going to bring more people to the downtown area. One “big ticket” item is the new baseball stadium they are building across from the Quest Center. Not only will the Omaha Royals and College World Series be played there when it opens, but it will bring people and money to the downtown area. I also recently heard that Omaha is going to be the home of a new arena football team. Since the Nebraska Cornhuskers are the only football team (if you can call them that) this state supports, it will be good to give the city some diversity and a chance for citizens of Omaha to watch football right in their hometown.

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

experiment or die

Randy started the week with a discussion of what was on the agenda for the week and the goals to meet by Friday. My work on the Kobe Steakhouse project was going to be put on hold for awhile. Instead, I would be working to finish the Bisson bathroom renovation and develop a working plan and 3d Viz models for the Boys Club playground renovation.

The Bisson bathroom was an opportunity to sharpen my AutoCAD skills. Most of Monday was spent researching different details for shower curbs and the way the glass wall in the shower was fastened to the wall. After searching the web and not finding an exact detail, I decided to try and detail the shower curb and wall detail myself. Once the detail drawings were constructed to the best of my knowledge, Randy reviewed them and made some changes. Being able to be creative with details and developing different ways to meet the needs of a requirement is something RBA encourages. It all comes back to the laboratory idea. Experimenting and trying new things is one of the best ways to learn. When it comes to other firms, a lot of them are too stuck in their ruts of doing the same thing for every little detail. They lack creativity which translates to mediocre projects.  At RBA I see a direct correlation between experimenting as a design philosophy of Randy’s and remarkable projects.

After the details were drawn in CAD, I printed a test set for Randy to review. Next, he red lined the final changes, I fixed all of the issues, printed a final set, and delivered them to the client. This was a fun, new experience for me. I asked a friend of mine if the firm he works for trusts him as an intern to interact with the client. He said, “They’ve (the firm) never given me the opportunity.” With the Bisson drawings finished and delivered, I began my next task; the playground renovation for the Boys Club.

If you don’t know much about the Boys Club playground requirements, here’s a brief rundown. The operators of the Club ask that the play area be a sensory integrated playground. Sensory integration is the process of the brain being fully synced with the rest of the body. For example, if it’s hot outside and you touch a metal pole, your hand knows the surface of the pole is hot and relays that information to your brain so you can react. A lot of the boys have trouble with sensory integration so by designing a playground that can help them to develop these vital skills will only be beneficial. The play structure I’ve been designing incorporates the use of water features, equipment that spins, etc., to help develop the boys sensory skills.

Once the drawings and 3d Viz model were completed, I printed out a few of the documents and gave them to Randy for his meeting with the Boys Club later that week. By the end of the week, the Bisson clients had reviewed their drawing set I delivered and asked Randy about a few design changes. Having discussed the drawings and both deciding the changes would be appropriate, I made the alterations to the construction documents, printed out the set, and redelivered them to the client again.

After a full week of AutoCAD and 3d Viz, I was ready for the weekend. This time, the weekend brought me back to Manhattan (just can’t get enough of the place)! Actually, I went back to Manhattan to visit friends and resign my apartment lease for the upcoming year. While back at KSU for a weekend, it hit me how much I really do like working in the professional field. It’s going to be very hard for me to get adjusted back to the “studio” atmosphere next fall. Although at RBA we work in a similar studio environment, it’s not the same.  RBA is just so real. Fresh. Exciting.

After catching up with friends and taking care of the lease signing appointment, I was ready to head back to Omaha. Somehow, even though it’s been months, I still haven’t lost the excitement of living and working in Omaha. I know it’s no Chicago, but it’s nice, easily navigated, and not too far from anything. Definitely a city I will be looking to come back to after I graduate from school and if I’m lucky, with Randy Brown Architects.

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

no protection used

Monday, Randy began the process of sorting through all of the projects that he wanted to put on the new website and made a new folder for each project with the images that would go with it. While he was going through all of the files, he realized some of the images he wanted to use were missing so Meg and I went to the CD archive to retrieve missing images. I know I stated it before, but having everything backed up in multiple locations has been advantageous more than once since I’ve been at RBA.

Since the courtroom and the missing files, I have made my own equipment and files a little more secure. I went through my computer and backed everything up to my external hard drive and then isolated them from each other in case some tragedy occurred.

After missing files were replaced, the web engineer requested that all the images be a certain size and DPI to be sure it would look right on the website.  Randy told us while we were pulling all of the project images together that, “You are in a very unique situation. Unlike all of the other interns, you will know every significant project that we (RBA) has been involved in.” When I thought about this, I couldn’t agree more. The experience we have had so far at RBA is unlike any of our classmates who are also doing the 6 month internship. In most firms, the new guy (me) doesn’t get to interact with the boss (randy). Starting my architecture career at RBA was a blessing before I even knew it.

With temperatures rising into the middle 70’s on Tuesday, we decided it was the right time to do some long, over-due spring cleaning. We organized our paper file system and filed away all idle projects. Next we did something that most offices wouldn’t do.  Meg and I were sent to the shop to retrieve a number of box fans. Next, we removed the protective covers from the front and back sides of the fan frame so the blade was exposed and mounted them throughout the office. With the help of the fans drawing cooler air up from the basement and pushing the warmer air out of the office, we can leave the  windows open and the AC unit off.  No complaint here.  Randy said we can were shorts on days no clients are coming by. 

By the middle of the week, we finished odds and ends around the office and took on a new project called Kobe Steakhouse. Randy had been in contact with the clients for about a year now and finally gave us the go ahead to start the design process. Before we began designing, we took a lot of the same steps we do in school. By this I mean, we studied other Kobe Steakhouses and what about their design we wanted to improve upon, wrote a list of items the client said they needed, and studied what would work, design wise, based on the proposed location. After a few iterations, Randy reviewed our progress and began to steer us into a direction that could really be something special.

Thursday night, Meg and I heard that a Pecha Kucha was going to be held in the Old Market area. It was good to see this culture change. After being in an office environment for three months, the atmosphere and age distribution was more like being back in Manhattan or studio. We sat at a table with other University of Nebraska Lincoln architecture students and learned a little bit about their architecture program.

Intrigued by the Pecha Kucha session held by UNL students, Meg and I decided to take a 45 minute drive to Lincoln and see what was going on in Lincoln. It turned out it was the Spring Game for UNL so about 80,000 other people came to Lincoln as well. All in all, the day turned out very well. We were able to see Lincoln at full speed with lots of people and entertainment.

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

screw up once…..

Feeling refreshed from the Easter weekend, Randy started Monday with a brief office meeting. On Friday of the previous week, Randy held an open discussion meeting with the website engineers and together came up with some ideas/deadlines for the website. One of the ideas taken from the meeting was to create our own custom backgrounds for each page of the website.  My task for Monday was to gather various charcoal and graphite drawings Randy made years back, scan them into the computer, and experiment in Photoshop to create possible background options.

This is a design element you won’t see when you look at other websites. Everything about the new website is taken into consideration; from how the background appears to what happens when you click on the RBA logo. To me, this is essential if you want to be taken seriously. When I visit another architectural firm’s website, I automatically form opinions about the firm and even about their work just from how the website is displayed. At RBA, we are aware that visitors do this so we want to make sure the first impression is nothing less than a remarkable one.

After a few hours and numerous options later for possible background ideas, I discussed them with Randy. He pointed out that zooming in on certain areas of the charcoal drawing would be much more dynamic and would really give the feeling that these were “hand-made” and personal rather than stock backgrounds like the ones you find in PowerPoint.

By the middle of the week, we had decided on a particular look for the backgrounds. Randy assigned Meg and myself to produce as many variations for backgrounds as possible. In the end, the backgrounds really complimented each page of the website. A few of the charcoal drawings were scanned with such a high dpi that we were able to zoom and show the roughness of the paper texture under the charcoal.

Thursday came with a new challenge.  I like to think of the work Randy presents to us as challenges; they allow the opportunity to try a number of ideas to conquer and master each task. If I were to go about fulfilling my tasks with the mind set of “because it’s my job,” there would be no room for inventiveness or clever ways to solve a unique situation. For instance, on Thursday, Randy assigned me to scan in as many of the magazines we were published in as possible that day. Because there are probably over 50 of these, I started scanning quickly and realized I could be more efficient by touching up an article in Photoshop while one was being scanned. By the time I finished the touch-ups, the scanner had stopped and I could start the process over again.

While I’ve been at RBA, I’ve been looking for flaws in the way that I work and zoning in on them to become more proficient. Not only will this help me with my job at RBA, but I can take this back with me to Manhattan and finish up school as a more refined young intern. Working at RBA is a lot like being in studio in some aspects. In school, we are encouraged to try new things. If you do something wrong, that is the time to learn from it. The same goes for RBA, Randy always tells us to push the envelope. And if we end up doing something wrong to not worry about it buy rather learn from it. When I left Manhattan I was a little worried about making mistakes and the consequences they would have in an office atmosphere. But being worried about that makes rigid, boring designers. Randy wants employees who aren’t afraid to screw up once and awhile.

The weekend was adventurous as Meg and I went back to Kansas City to visit friends and see a Royals game. Turned out that the Royals lost, but it has been two weekends of baseball games in a row. Can’t get much better than that!

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

ahha moments

The week started on a good note. With the Easter holiday at the weekend, I told Randy I needed to take Friday off so I could travel to Minnesota to see my family. After that was on the table, the weeks assignments shifted a bit but nothing too drastic. Randy planned for Meg and I to finish our office work on Monday and Tuesday and then spend the rest of the week in shop finishing out the bench.

After the meeting I headed straight to the computer as I knew I had a lot to accomplish in the office over the next two days. As Randy has been working with the web engineer on redesigning the firms website, I have been scanning articles from magazines and newspapers into the computer. The idea for this is to show visitors on the new website that we have been published by various magazines in the past. A list of magazines we’ve previously been published in will show and from there you can click on the magazine title. For instance, if a visitor to selects the Dwell Magazine tab, issued date, front cover and article will be right there to read.

This is a smart tool to put on the new website. To me, seeing that a firm has been published in some big name magazines gives credibility. You automatically know that there is some thoughtful work produced from this architectural office or the magazine editors wouldn’t have wasted their time with it. Ever since Randy told me what he intended to do with scanned articles, I’ve been conducting a little research. I’ve randomly gone through a few architectural  firms websites to see if anyone else has done something like this. The results were surprising. I didn’t find any websites that had the magazine they were featured in along with the article. One architectural practice had a list of magazines they’ve been published in, but the article wasn’t attached.

The rest of the week was down in the shop. This time, no hat, gloves or even a jacket were required. Wednesday and Thursday turned out to be the two nicest days of the year so far. With an idea for the bench and what we had to do to finish it, Meg and I worked together to help speed the process up. We had most of the bench mocked up and held together with wire when Randy came down to take a look at our progress. He pointed out a few adjustments, quizzed us on a couple design decisions and was out the shop door two minutes later. After he left, Meg and I were both impressed with Randy’s imbedded knowledge he spoke of earlier in the year. He has a creative eye and after years of experience, he has the ability to see what the bench still needed done to it before it was even finished. After we made the necessary adjustment to the bench, it was one of those, “ah, ha” moments when you think, “Why didn’t I think of that sooner!” With Thursday at an end, it was time for the holiday weekend.

One of the highlights of the weekend besides seeing my family from Minnesota was I got to see the Twins new baseball stadium. My cousin had an extra ticket so on Saturday afternoon, we made our way to downtown Minneapolis to see the game. It was strange to see everyone looking up and all around at the architecture of the stadium. It’s usually only me looking up at ceilings and exterior walls and all my non-architecture friends wander what I’m doing; but this time, everyone was doing that. The Twins ended up beating the Saint Louis Cardinals, eight to three, and I got to see some really great sports architecture.

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

twisting metal

The week started on Sunday evening. One of my coworkers, Chris, sent me a text message telling me to meet him at Pandora’s Jewelry jobsite on Monday morning. Since Randy was in New York meeting with publishers for most of the week, he gave Chris the “ok” for me to help him for the day.

Since the Pandora Jewelry project is an interior renovation, the demo crew had been in the space the week before gutting all of the existing lighting, walls, and fixtures that weren’t going to be of use for the new space. Randy is big on saving old equipment (lights, fixtures, etc.) for reuse in other projects so Chris and I had to remove all of the salvageable pieces to my truck to take back with us to the shop. While I was in the space, I looked around and was intrigued by the “behind the scenes” things you don’t normally see in a finished space. I learn faster by seeing how something was built in person than by being told. At RBA, learning by doing has so far proven to be an effective way to learn things quickly. This is the type of experience you can’t get in the classroom. I also know from talking to friends who have worked in firms that they didn’t have this type of opportunity to learn from.

For instance, my friend Tim told me a firm he worked for never took him to the job site to see first hand how things are built. For interns and recent graduates, I think it’s extremely important for them to get as much exposure to the real thing as possible. It’s one of the quickest ways to learn new things and take knowledge from the classroom to the field.

 The middle of the week was spent down in the shop. Randy assigned Meg and I to dive in and figure out a buildable design for the bench. Numerous attempts at building the study model to full scale seemed unlikely so it was back to the drawing board. The first thing we did was to just start bending and experimenting again. We didn’t try to make the bench pieces look like the model at all. After most of the day of twisting metal and analyzing the results, we stumbled upon a design that could be tweaked into something very cool. Learning in the RBA environment has proven, in some ways, to be very similar to studio. There aren’t any wrong answers. It’s a very open and collaborative learning process, and everyone offers suggestions and advice when you are having difficulties with something.  I think that’s why our bench doesn’t look a thing like the mock up model we built. Instead we were able to twist and form the metal until it evolved itself.  We designed at full scale, making and thinking.

On Thursday, Randy sent me an email asking to begin work on a new project called Mini Red. The project is single family home located in a high dense neighborhood, in the middle of suburban Omaha. Randy wants this to be the first high density development within the sprawling suburban surroundings. You literally have to drive through a sprawling, cookie-cutter neighborhood to get to where this new development is going up. All of the homes in this new development will be within close proximity of each other and each home will be unique from all the others. It’s good to see that Randy is taking a stand at sprawl. He wants to show that not all neighborhoods have cookie cutter houses, with manicured lawns.

One of the many things that I am learning while working at RBA is the ability to work on more than one thing at a time. Randy refers to this as throwing as many balls up into the air and keeping them there without any balls falling to the ground. Before I came here, I wasn’t big on this whole juggling idea, but I have learned that I can do a lot more by doing a little bit of everything instead of wasting my time trying to take one thing from start to finish.

The weekend proved to be nicer than any of the other so far. Meg and I loaded up the bikes and headed downtown to do some touring. We biked our way to the pedestrian bridge which straddles the Iowa and Nebraska borders. The bridges completion is fairly recent and since opening in 2008 has become an Omaha landmark. After a few hours of biking around and discovering new areas of the city, we stopped by the site where our bench will soon be located. It was helpful to see the site and picture in our heads how the bench will be placed on the site. After making a few notes about the site, we loaded the bikes back in the truck and got ready for the next week of work.

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

we shoveled gravel

Over the weekend, Randy sent an email of things to do Monday morning before we got started with the rest of the week. Meg and I were assigned to go to the shop and move all of the bent steel pieces outside of the shop and unbent pieces up to the loft. After that, we went to the tool bench and pulled numerous hammers, pliers, and screw drivers and laid them out in stations. A little confused by his email, and why he was asking us do this, we finished the task. Later we learned RBA was doing some community service and the local Boy Scout troop was going to be using the shop later this week to work on their projects.

With the shop ready for the Scouts, Randy came in and told us to meet him in the driveway. Even more confusing than his weekend email, we grabbed our jackets and met him outside. As we approached the driveway, a dump truck had just finished spreading a load of limestone somewhat evenly on the driveway. During these past few weeks, the snow has begun to melt and we entered a thawing stage. The water from the melted snow has been running down the driveway and taking all of the gravel along with it. Our job was to grab a shovel and “earn our keep.” The dump truck did a fairly good job on the upper half of the driveway but towards the bottom, we had to even it out a bit. Once again, this type of work is something that I am used to and was eager to begin the task.  I was impressed that Randy never asks us to do anything he wouldn’t do-  so he says- and today he shoveled and raked the gravel along side meg and I.

After about an hour and a half of shoveling gravel, we finished leveling the driveway and headed back to the studio. The rest of the day was less physical, but just as intensive. Randy had three projects that were missing Assassi photos (high quality images) on the network. My job was to go to the CD archives and find the discs that had the Assassi photos of these projects on them. After going through binders filled with discs of various projects, I realized how prepared Randy is for disaster. Everything on the computers in the studio is backed up on discs and for certain projects there are doubles of discs in different locations in case something happens. Coming from K-State where I hit the save button every five minutes and back my hard drive up frequently it was no surprise to see his amount of preparedness. One too many times I have been caught by power failure and had to redo something that took too long to do the first time. After retrieving the three CDs with the files I needed, I downloaded them onto the studio computers and updated their project folders with the high quality images.

Following that, Randy put me too work on the most urgent deadline, the UCLA exhibition board that will be on display at the UCLA gallery in April.   Randy asked me to do a couple different options for the board layout and then we’d discuss one that had potential and go from there. By the end of Thursday, we had locked into a design idea and Friday would be spent refining it.

Friday, Randy was in Wichita talking to the client for a new project, Kobe Steakhouse. While he was there, I was working on possibilities for the UCLA board. After playing email tag for most of the day, we got the board to a spot we were comfortable with and on Monday, the remaining “kinks” would be worked out. If it weren’t for email (and Randy’s iPhone) Friday would have been a total loss. Technology enabled us to communicate and transfer information to each other even though we were hours apart. Conflicting schedules aren’t as much of a problem as what they used to be.

With the weekend here, Meg and I went to what might be one of my favorite Mexican restaurants, Roja, which I learned was designed by a former RBA employee who now teaches at UNL.  Roja is very different from all the other Mexican/American restaurants I have been to. A very lively and upbeat environment makes this a fun place to socialize, not to mention, the great food! Saturday I spent doing a little homework. Not just school homework, but researching the Omaha area. There are many places just outside of downtown, such as the Dundee District, which offer different cultural experiences. As soon as the weather decided to cooperate, I am excited to walk around and engage the environment.

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

aren’t any books to guide us

The beginning of the week started like most other weeks. We held our usual Monday morning meeting in the conference area and listened to what the week ahead had in store for us. For me, it sounded like I was going to have the chance for a change of scenery.

Promptly after the meeting, Randy was off to a client meeting and told me to meet him in the shop at 2:30 that afternoon. With the deadline for the take a seat project coming up by the end of March, Randy wanted to get a start on the bending and building process of the bench.

Before I had to meet Randy in the shop, I had spent most of the morning filling our jobsite tool bucket with the appropriate tools. Having a tool bucket with everything you might need when you go to a site has proven that it can be very beneficial and time saving. For instance, our first weekend on the job (at the photo shoot) Randy asked me to grab the tool bucket from studio and bring it with me. When he asked me to go grab a philips screw driver, tape, and even wire strippers to fix the fluorescent lights, it was handy to have all of that in the bucket.

With the bucket refilled and ready for its next job visit, I headed down to the shop to get things organized and ready. First thing on the list before Randy showed up was to go out behind the shop and get as many pieces of rebar out of the snow drift. With the frozen rebar pieces thawing in the shop, I organized the space a little better so we could actually begin to build the bench.

By the time Randy showed up, the steel was ready and the shop had some order to it so bending these 35 foot steel pieces was achievable. Twisting the steel with a pipe bender was a new experience. In fact, Randy said that he had never even done something this extreme before either so today was going to be mostly trial and error.  Randy said (and I believe him) “we are bending and twisting rebar in ways no one has done before- there aren’t any books to guide us through this.”

After a few hours of manipulating the rebar and getting a feel of how to work the steel into various geometries, I was pretty tired, but also satisfied. Doing that type of work reminded me of all the previous jobs I have held in the past that involved manual labor. Most people I know in studio would frown on doing that kind of work, but I like working with my hands. When I graduate from school, finding a firm that allows this type of creativity is number one on my list for potential employers. Sitting behind a desk all day, every day is more than I can handle. Hopefully, I’ll be able to avoid this… but who knows.

After the fist day of bending was completed, Randy told me head to the shop in the morning and bend some “u-shaped” pieces and then just start bending the steel into whatever it became. He stated, “It really doesn’t matter if the bench isn’t even close to what the model looks like; all I want is for someone to look at our bench and say, ‘how in the heck did they build that!’” That is what I really like about working and learning at RBA. It’s not just going to work and putting in the hours; it’s about having the ability to try new “experiments.” Everything is one of kind.  Original stuff.

After a few days in shop trying out different ideas for our bench, Randy pulled me back into the office to finish a few last things before the week’s end.  My task was to scan in articles of our projects that have been published in various magazines and newspapers. The idea for these scans is that they will go on the new website Randy has been working on.

When Friday at 5:30 came around, I was out of the office and on my way back to Kansas City. My sister and her husband came in town from Minnesota and I met them and some of my other friend’s downtown for the Big 12 Championship on Saturday. After the depressing loss of KSU to KU, I headed back to Omaha on Sunday evening to prepare for another week of work.

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

3,750 business cards

The week started without our usual Monday morning meeting. Randy was out of the office for the week on a client meeting in Utah.  In the meantime, he left a laundry list of things for us to finish by the end of the week.

First priority of the week was to finish the data base entry task. At the end of last week, Meg and I began the tedious process of sorting hundreds of business cards. As I have stated in previous journals, Randy has a main mission for the year and that is to be a more organized office thus allowing for improved efficiency. In order to achieve this assignment, the business cards and other contacts, were organized and placed into specific categories. For instance, there was a pile of business cards for previous clients, a separate pile for architects, another one for contractors and so on.  Randy spent hours organizing the cards into piles.  3,750 cards to be exact.

After all the contacts had been placed into their appropriate category, they were entered into Microsoft Outlook. It was interesting to me that Randy was only concerned about entering a name, phone number and email address. I asked him if I should enter any of the mailing addresses but he said “no.” As Randy stated it, “no one mails anything to each other by ‘snail mail’ anymore; it’s all done by email now.”

By the end of first half of the week, Meg and I had each entered hundreds of names and were getting faster and more efficient on ways to enter them into the data base. Since the art of entering names and numbers into a data base isn’t rocket science, it gave me a chance to think about why we were even entering these names into the computer in the first place. For instance, the business cards in the rolodex are doing the same thing the data base will do. I know Randy is working on getting the office more organized but what was the urgency to enter all of this information. It didn’t hit me until Chris asked us if we had the number for a specific contractor he needed to call. He told me the name, I typed it into the search box, and there it was. Name, number, email, etc.; that was all it took to realize this was going to save time when looking for specific people. With all of Randy’s contacts in the computer, we are able to eliminate the nightmare of having to find a contact in the rolodex.

After an entire week of entering contacts into the data base, I was ready and in desperate need of a weekend. Since the snow has begun to melt, everything that was once buried by the 15 or more inches of it has made its way to the surface. One thing in particular I noticed was the number of bike trails Omaha has to offer. Being outdoors and riding bikes are two things I have loved to do since I can remember so Spring can’t come soon enough for me. Riding on the trails and seeing different parts of Omaha is one way that I am going learn the city better when the weather improves. Coming to Omaha after living in cities like Kansas City I feel guilty for not giving it a chance from the beginning. But week after week, it has been showing potential that it is a city with potential and would be a place that I would like to come back to after I finish graduate school. It has everything that a city needs to be successful in a tighter, compact area. In other words, I’ve found that I don’t have to go far to get what I need. Hopefully by summer, I’ll be able to put my truck keys in the drawer and just ride my bike to where I need to get.

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

about 15K, they always say no

Our goal for week eight was to finish up a lot of loose ends. Three projects, Vosburg addition, Pandora and a restaurant called Wingstop, were all in their final stages of construction documents and needed to be sent out to bid. Next, our “take a seat” project that Meg started a few weeks ago, needed a set of construction documents drawn up for it so a structural engineer could be sure the bench would be safe for public use.

My duty was to draw the construction documents for the bench project. This was more of a challenge than I thought it was going to be. The bench is mostly a composed of curves, so I needed to insert a few straight pieces where they would be appropriate. Having the ability to contribute design solutions is something that most firms won’t let new employees/interns have any input on. One of my friends who works for a firm in Kansas City told me that he has offered some potential design ideas, but no one in the firm will even consider it. So far, working for RBA has had many advantages over working for a larger firm.

With the bench drawings finished, I helped Chris with Vosburg and Pandora. The Vosburg drawing set only had a few things that needed to be fixed before they could be sent out to three different contractors for bids. Pandora had a bit more design work to do on it before it was ready for contractors. The owner of Pandora decided that she wanted a drop ceiling in the new space. This seems simple except for the fact that there was already a business in this space before and a cloud ceiling over part of the store was already in place. What we had to do was figure out how low the sprinkler heads dropped to see if the spray pattern would be affected. We learned that the heads weren’t low enough to put a new ceiling in to cover the old and still have the sprinkler heads unaffected. Randy told the client it would cost about 15 thousand extra dollars to the overall project cost just to drop the sprinkler heads to the correct height. The client changed her mind really quickly when she heard those kinds of numbers.
When looking back on that situation, it didn’t even occur to me right away to think if there were sprinklers in the space and if there were, would they be affected by the new ceiling. Learning little pieces of information are beginning to form what Randy calls, “embedded knowledge.” He says the only way you can learn this type of knowledge is through years of experience.

By Thursday, Meg and I started a project that will be taking us to the end of next week to compete. Randy has done away with “snail mail” and business cards. He wants us to enter all the business cards, addresses and emails into the data base so names and numbers are much more readily available. It turns out Randy knows a lot of people. So far, each of us has made it through about 300 business cards and that’s not even denting the pile.

The weekend brought warmer temperatures and my friend Tim from Kansas City. Meg, Tim, and I decided that it would be a perfect day to go back to Mt. Crescent and go skiing. The temperature was just barely above 32 degrees so it was as good as it could get for skiing in Nebraska. We spent most of the day skiing/snowboarding and by the time we left, we were pretty worn out. After rejuvenating we grabbed a Goldberg’s burger, we took Tim down to the Old Market area of Omaha. There were a lot of people down there having a good time, but we decided that stick around longer the next time he comes in town and it’s warmer.

Monday, February 22nd, 2010

final push

The pressure was on Monday morning. Kim, Randy’s wife, had to give up her current work space so Chris and I could get the new desk built and she was more than ready to get back to her desk. Randy’s deadline was five pm Monday night. He told us that the desk had to be completed because she was moving back to her spot later that night. With no time to waste, Chris and I finished cutting the desk top pieces and then installed them in their appropriate places. We finished the last coat of polyurethane just as Kim was bringing down her laptop to set up her new desk space. Looking back I can compare that final push to finish the desk back to school and trying to get the very last bit of a project finished before a crit. One of my goals from this internship is to break my prior studio habits of delaying the inevitable and adopt a routine that is more efficient.

The middle part of the week was spent working on construction documents for a new jewelry store called Pandora. Luckily, first semester of fourth year gave me a leg up on most other architecture students. Chris told me that a lot of colleges don’t teach students about construction documents until graduate school. It felt good knowing that I had at least a bit of an understanding of how construction documents work. Not only was it helpful that I understood what to do, but it took the pressure off of Randy and Chris for them to take time out of their schedule to try and help me learn how to navigate construction documents.

My specific tasks for Pandora were to update the demo plan, and show where all the new display cases would be in the new plan. It didn’t take long to finish the work for Pandora so I moved onto another project. This one was an addition to the Bruce and Susan Vosburg’s home. The Vosburg’s are another case where the clients are very connected to what is going on during the design stages. In fact, Susan goes over the drawing set after meetings with Chris and types a list of all the things that need to be fixed before the next meeting. The next scheduled meeting was only a few days away, so after splitting up the drawing set, I was given the opportunity to pick up red lines. A lot of people would grumble at having to pick up red lines, but to me, it’s another chance to learn things about a specific project or the way a certain detail works. Every time I work on something at RBA, whether it be designing a desk or picking up red lines, it is a constant learning experience. I’m not sure you could get this range of experience from a large, corporate firm. Since the RBA office is a small art and architecture practice, I am given the opportunity to try a lot of new things.

After work on Friday, Meg and I headed back to Kansas for her roommates birthday. By the time we got there, it was ten and we headed down to Aggieville. One things for sure, I definitely don’t mind the calm and quietness of Omaha. On Saturday, we did a few things around town that we usually didn’t have time to do during the school year; it felt strange being back in Manhattan and not going to studio. Before we left for Omaha on Sunday, we all went to breakfast at The Chef, just off of Poyntz. I had never been there before, but the food was amazing. With full stomachs and light snow falling, we headed back to Nebraska, “the good life,” and prepared for week eight at RBA.

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

staying sharp

Our Monday morning meeting covered numerous topics and goals for the week. Specifically, to analyze the plotter shelf, help Meg finish up the NYC books, and by the end of the week have some plans drawn up and construction begun for a new desk in Randy’s home.

The plotter shelf (a shelf above the plotter to hold paper, ink, etc.) was a simple project that took a turn for the worse. It started out our first day on the job. Meg, Chris, and I built the original plotter shelf. Done. Next thing we know, water’s dripping through the joists onto the shelf and ruining the expensive paper. I guess the 30 inches of snow on the roof was some kind of Omaha record and roofs were not holding up well to the challenge.   My task was to design and fabricate a watertight box that could hold the paper but most importantly, keep it from getting wet. While I was designing this new shelf/box, I utilized the skills I have learned in my building systems courses of how to keep water out of a building and applied them to the design. The end result of the shelf is a much nicer detail than the original and to date, has kept the paper dry.

With that off the list, it was time to get the NYC publications finished and checked off the list. Randy had given us about a week to have the books finished for the trip and we were already beginning week two of work on the books.  Randy expressed to us that it isn’t so much that the books weren’t finished in a week because he needed them, but he only budgeted a week of work on them. This means that any hours that are worked on the books after that week is up are starting to lose the firm money. That is time that we could be spending on other projects that will bring in revenue. When back at school next year, I will be able to use some of this train of thought in my studio projects. Instead of losing money, I want to stay on schedule with my project or I’ll be short changing the design and end result.

By the end of the week, Randy showed me the spot in his home where this new desk was going to be located. I took a field measure, wrote down a few of the angle degrees (because nothing in his home has “regular” walls) and did a quick plan sketch of the space. Next was to come up with a few schemes for the desk design and discuss them with Randy. After a design was decided upon, I found the exact measurements and calculated the amount of material we would need to complete this task. To be sure all the pieces fit exactly; most of them were field cut to the specific dimension. Randy considers his home a laboratory of experiments. The only way to stay sharp is to attempt new things and see what happens. This is why I learned as much as a did from this project.

As for the weekend, Meg and I decided to take a different approach and embrace the snow. We headed to Mt. Crescent to do a little NE  skiing. Don’t let the name fool you, more appropriately, the name would be Bluff Crescent, but it was still a lot of fun.

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

international practice

Goal for the week: get as many of the New York City books printed and ready for the publishers. This might sound like a simple enough task, but it proved to be much more challenging. It’s not a matter of striking the print button over and over again; instead, it’s fine tooth combing the “G:” drive and placing the appropriate pictures, drawings, etc. in a logical manner. Once the pages are put together and all the images necessary to convey the story of the project are inserted, I begin the printing process. When I say process, it is a process. There are a lot of things that go into making these books look the way they do. The books are an important aspect of RBA. When Randy takes recent projects to the magazine editors and publishers in NYC, they are representing the firm and will hopefully be selected for print in one of their magazines.

While Monday was spent arranging books to be printed, Tuesday took a different approach. GA Houses contacted us from an earlier submission we sent them asking us to send them an interior shot of the optic Residence. This sounded like an easy request; the only problem was there wasn’t an up-to-date interior model to get an interior shot from. The solution was for Meg and I to stop work from the book printing and each try a different medium to get that interior shot. Meg’s approach was fix up the most up to date model in SketchUp and get an interior shot from it that would describe the space in a way the other drawings couldn’t. My idea was to take a section of the home from CAD and make it an section perspective. This is a technique that I used last semester for a project of mine and I new that converting a boring CAD drawing into a perspective makes it much more interesting and descriptive. By the afternoon, we had a few options for Randy and we discussed which ones would be the best to send. Just before leaving that day, we sent a few renderings from Meg’s SketchUp model and the section perspective I worked on.  Did I mention we sent them to Japan……RBA really is an international practice dealing with people all over the world.

The end of the week was a very exciting time. Since I haven’t worked as an intern in a firm before, this was my first experience with a client meeting. The DiNucci’s are clients that RBA is designing a new home for and Meg and I were asked to sit in on the client meeting. Not knowing what to expect, the DiNucci’s surprised me with their stance as the clients. I guess I thought a client went to an architect, told them what they were looking for, the architect designed them something to meet their needs following with the clients jumping on board with the design. Wrong! There were many things about the revamped design they liked, but many more things that needed to be changed. The DiNucci’s were discussing things like, maybe an instant water heater under each sink would be better than the typical large water heater in the basement. Or, if having all the ducts wrapped with insulation would be better solution to reduce unwanted noise. It was a real eye opener realizing how connected the client is to the whole designing process.   At least the RBA process is this close connectedness with the client.

The weekend was filled with downtown Omaha. It was good to get acquainted with the surroundings. Saturday afternoon, Meg and I found ourselves in the Old Market of Omaha and ate at a restaurant called Stokes. The food was really good and the atmosphere of the area reminded me of the older parts Kansas City. Walking by all of the restaurants, bars, and lounges on that street, I got the feeling that this area probably has a pretty active night life, something I would like to go back and see when the weather is a little more accommodating.

Sunday, January 31st, 2010

crypto craftsmen

“You can be very talented, but it’s the doers who get places in the world,”said Randy Brown at 8:0am Monday morning. In other words don’t lack motivation. During our Monday morning meeting, we sat around the table and discussed how we could become “craftsman” of our own trade. We tossed around ideas on what it takes to be considered a craftsman and how that trait affects the work we produce. This type of mentality is what we focused on during the week with the projects we were working on.

My specific duty was to take the Loren Eiseley Center from its underdeveloped schematic state and revamp it. It is a unique project in that it is an institution for several different things. It houses the Loren Eiseley Society, a laboratory for the Nebraska Small Energy Society, and a lab for studying the Allwine Prairie, on which it is located. One of the most difficult things about this project was finding the commonality between all of these functions for this particular institution. After spending time researching who Loren Eiseley was and what the other organizations were all about, I began to develop design solutions that would tie everything together. After a few days of focused thinking and designing, a more unified solution was determined. The concept was tightened and focused on what was important, the preservation of the Allwine Prairie.

The last half of the week was focused on getting books prepared for printing for Randy’s New York City trip. Every year, Randy travels to NYC and visits various magazine editors to have his work published in their publications. This year, Architectural Record, Contract, Metropolis, and Interior Design were a few of the publishers he would be showing his work to. What that meant was that we had to find the images that were taken of the finished projects, pull together the finished drawings and make touch ups as necessary, and put any renderings or diagrams that convey the “story” of the project into an InDesign file. I can say that helping put these books together enabled me to learn more about RBA and the work that has been done in this firm than any other learning method could have. Seeing the pictures, reading project descriptions, and working with the drawings were what made the difference then someone just describing the project. It has been a hands on experience (and still is as we have the rest of next week to finish putting the books together and printing) and has proved to be an effective way of learning.

With the work week at its end, the weekend proved to be relaxing. I went back to Kansas City Friday night and stayed there for the weekend. It was my father’s birthday so the weekend was all about family, friends, and food. Being the first time home since I left for the internship, it was nice to go back and get a change of scenery for the weekend. Feeling refreshed Sunday afternoon, I traveled back north on I-29 and prepared for the upcoming week of finishing those publication books for New York City.

Monday, January 25th, 2010

jj sandwich

The third week of working at Randy Brown Architects dealt mostly with the DiNucci project. The drawings were as far as they could go in the schematic design phase until a cost estimator took a look at them to get the estimated cost of building the home. That person estimated the cost with the plans and sections that we gave him and it ended up being much more than the clients were willing to pay (this is common) so our job for the week was to develop a “slim option.” As Randy says eating a Jimmy john sandwich.  The intent was to shave off any extraneous square footage that wouldn’t negatively affect the design.

We studied the current drawings and realized that the master bath was a problem area. It had too much unnecessary space and needed to be reworked to a more economical space. The sketch shows how one possible bathroom layout could work while trimming off square footage and cost. Once the major space revisions were done, the rest of the plan was tweaked so that there was no wasted square footage. With the plans in a more “toned” stage, the elevations and sections needed to be updated and ready for the meeting with the clients. The model also needed to be updated, and base needed to be constructed for the model. The project had a unique site and we decided that the only way to accurately build a base for the site was to actually go make a site visit.

When we weren’t working on the DiNucci drawing set, we were checking off items on the to-do list Randy created at the beginning of the week. Some of the jobs were simple, two second tasks; others were a bit more involved. I found myself figuring out a way to hang the drill bit holders to the wall without them just being placed. By working in a design profession I find myself always deciding new ways to do ordinary jobs. We could have simply stacked the drill bits on the table, but being more creative aids in a better solution. Another task that involved creativity was to run an extension cord from the center of the table to the outlet across the room. Ordinarily, someone might have run the extension cord along the wall to the outlet, but I went ran it under the floor in the basement and concealed the cord in the joists so the cord was undetectable.  The RBA way always takes long- but from what I have experienced the RBA way leads to remarkable.

By the end of week three I was more than ready for the weekend. Saturday was the first day that I can remember since I have been in Omaha that it has been over 32 degrees and sunny. It was a nice change only to be a short memory as Sunday brought back the 20 degree weather and more snow. The weekend was another chance to get out and learn more about the city. So far, Omaha has been a good experience. I hope that when the weather is a little more cooperative, I’ll be able to go back to some of the places I’ve been and learn a little more about certain areas of the city. I’ve found that Omaha has many things to offer, you just have to know where to look.

Sunday, January 17th, 2010

process is everything

After the second week of working at RBA, I recall a specific morning meeting that was held with Randy. This conference was unlike the others that we have had; this one was more philosophical. It wasn’t about, this is what we need to do today, this is what needs to be finished for tomorrow, etc. The topic was more about the ideas and values of the firm. Randy stated that “everything is a process” and that everything that we work on should continue to be “refined and evolved.”

This is extremely important in the design profession. Hearing Randy say “everything is a process” made me think back to school and how all of my designs and schemes that I draw up should always be constantly evolving and pushing toward a more efficient end result. Another topic that Randy discussed with us during that conference was that mistakes are ok. The catch is that you must learn from the mistake and not make the same one twice. He encourages us to think more openly and try new things and if they don’t work, figure out why it didn’t work and learn from it. It is a constant learning process.

After about 45 minutes of taking from the top of his head , Randy realized it was 9:00am so he quickly moved on to work assignments.  I was assigned to work on the DiNucci house project. First thing the next morning, Randy wanted several options of plans, sections, and elevations that could potentially work for this particular project. Thinking of creative schemes for this house was more difficult than I had at first thought it was going to be. One of the reasons being, this house was for clients who already had an images in their minds of what they wanted/didn’t want and how much they were willing to pay. Coming straight out of school where designing with a practical budget in mind is advised, I began to realize that an extra 500 square feet made a huge difference in a house that was going to cost 120 dollars a square foot to build.

A couple of options were laid out and Randy helped us refine one option that would probably be the best bet for the clients. We got the schematic design set finished and ready to be sent out for overall cost estimation the following week.

With a client meeting about the design revisions in the following weeks, a new, updated study model needed to be constructed to show how the new design was altered compared to the last one. Randy said that building models to explain spaces to clients is still the most effective way to make sure they understand everything that is going on.  Randy showed us the seven previous models he had built himself as part of the design process.

The weekend was a bit more relaxed than the last, and we were able to get out into the city and eat dinner at a Mexican restaurant, Roja. It was an interesting building with contrasting elements and numerous tectonic connections on the interior. On Sunday, we made our way to an older district of Omaha called the Old Market. This area reminded me of Westport in Kansas City with the numerous shops and restaurants. The slow paced weekend helped me absorb the city and get a better understanding of everything.

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

documentation!!!!!

Reflecting upon the first week at Randy Brown Architects (RBA) I realized that I learned many things that I will be able to use even after I leave this internship position. The first week was about starting the year off on the right foot and getting the office to an organized state. The flat files were all sorted and all the projects that were either finished in the last year, or on hold, were neatly stacked in the dead files storage. Many things around the office were also arranged and labeled so that they can now be more readily found. For instance, the printer stand and tool wall were constructed to help keep everything in its rightful place. Whenever there is a need for 8.5 X 11 paper, it can be found in its specific paper slot on the printer stand. Staying organized was the lesson learned.

Towards the middle part of the first week, I was assigned my first real architectural task. GA Houses publication asked RBA to submit a residential work that RBA had completed within the last year. At five pm on Friday, we would be sending out the material that GA House would publish in there famous book series  GA houses. My job was to take the elevations for this project and give Randy options of different ways to render the elevations. This was something I found very interesting and rewarding. By Thursday, I had a few options for Randy and he was able to pick the most appropriate one for what he was trying to convey in the design. I learned that because we were able to see numerous possibilities of ways to render the elevations, we were able to pick the most convincing option which happened to be black and white line drawings with black shadows. By Friday, the drawings went out and I was put to another task.

Documentation. This is something that I have learned to do as a student in school, and it was intriguing to learn that it is also done in a professional firm. Everything that goes onto paper gets recorded in one way or another. Whenever a print comes out of the plotter it is recorded on a plot chart. Part of the reason that everything must be documented is to be able to budget for supplies and also to be able to bill a client for the time and money it took to complete the task. I was asked to document the elevations of the GA Houses submission, so that we could go back and look at where we started with the drawing and where we ended with the drawing. It was helpful to document everything, from sketches to printed drawings. This is a technique that I have and will continue to incorporate into my own academic career. Knowing where I started with a project will definitely be helpful in explaining how I ended with what I did in a project.

The weekend wasn’t really a chance to take a break from the first week at work, but it was a chance to see behind-the-scenes making of a movie production. Farshid Assassi came to Omaha to help RBA film a small movie of the US Data project which received an AIA National Honor Award for Interior Architecture. The neat thing about the movie idea is that while everyone else (other firms) is just flipping through slides of their projects, RBA will have a motion picture of this project. Randy said, “It’s about being one step ahead of the competition.” This is something that you will be remembered by. The hours unquestionably went into making this a very good production and I am very interested to see the movie when Farshid is finished editing and putting it all together. Just being there watching and helping set up for each scene helped me realize how important every camera angle is and what you have to go through to be “one step ahead of the competition.”