Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Time is on your side

When I started my architectural career back in the summer of 2000, I marveled at my more-experienced colleagues who seemd to be able to pull a detail out of thin air. The design team of which I was part would need to come up with a way to build some oddly-shaped piece of casework or provide flashing at a weird corner where some lumpy-faced stone and a window came together, and suddenly someone who only seemed to be a couple of years older than me would sketch something believable and doable in just a few minutes. It blew my mind. How did s/he know how to do that? How long does it take to get that way? Man, I just didn't learn enough in college. I didn't even feel useful.

Turns out I just needed patience. Well, patience and the ability to keep my eyes open and really notice what I was drawing. When I would draw up the redlines I was given, I would try to figure out why I was putting the flashing there and the sealant here--wouldn't I need sealant on both sides of the window? I'd ask questions about what I was drawing, and sometimes I'd find out that my hunch was right, while other times I discovered the method to the madness I was putting into CAD. Later as I did the CA on my drawings, I would find out how right or wrong I was when I detailed soffits and casework and light coves and wall/door frame connections and so on. A good contractor will ask before s/he changes your drawings on you (and they're supposed to ask, really--it's called an RFI), and they'll explain why they want to change the drawing. You learn from each other.

Now I'm about 9 years into my career, and while that's not long in architect years, I'm amazed when I can suddenly pull a detail out of thin air when I'm drawing something. I can, more often than not, explain to a colleague how I think something should be done and also explain the reasoning behind my point of view. Sometimes my way is the best, and sometimes my colleague has the right idea. Either way, I'm still learning. It's just that now, the things I learn are more complex than what the interns on my projects are learning. Humorist Garrison Keillor once said, "Intelligence is like four-wheel drive; it just gets you stuck in more remote places." Learning about architecture and building is kind of the same thing.

What I want you to take away from this is the knowledge that you will eventually learn how to design and detail a building. The time you spend taking pictures of and measuring existing buildings, looking at old drawing sets and stealing details, and burning through redlines as if your life depended on it is well spent if you're taking a moment to really look at what you're drawing and what each line is doing. Ask questions, look over the drawings, read the specs; at some point, things will begin to make sense when you see how all the pieces work together. The point of this blog is to help explain some of these things and to answer some questions as best as I can based on my experience, and hopefully some of the things I explain here will help you understand what you're drawing and doing.

I have some topics I'm going to blog on over the next couple of weeks regarding details, specs, and drawings, but I want to hear from you: is there a question that you'd like answered or a topic you haven't seen covered here yet? Let me know in the comments or drop me an email in the sidebar of the blog. Thanks to everyone who has sent in comments and questions so far, and keep it up--I need to hear from you to make this blog useful!

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