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Undergrad to Grad school: Benefits of pushing through to the end!

It took 3 years before I decided to go back to grad school, but one does wonder what it would’ve been like if I had done them back to back. So I asked my dear friend…

Q: “As one who went straight on to get her masters of architecture, what would you say are the benefits over taking a gap year?”

A: Do you stop half way through a marathon?

To train for a marathon, takes time, effort, sweat, long distance exhaustion, and you, at your most glorious moment of running, want to stop before the dream is finished?

I think the difference for me was once I had my brain wrapped around the idea of “becoming an architect,” my realization was that undergraduate school was not accomplishing that goal. For me, undergraduate school turned out to be just a stepping stone into graduate school. Since graduate school was always the goal, it wasn’t a hard decision to continue on.

I would say there are several benefits to this. I was able to focus on school, traveling and meeting with people of different graduate schools, and never once having to wonder about sly college nuisances as follows:

  • Will my scholarships and grants transfer after I take time off?
  • Where will I get a professional job or just a job that pays the bills while I “find myself?”
  • Do I move back home over a year’s break? Or move out completely? If I moved out completely I would find myself completely emotionally exposed for graduate school as my parents, at the time, would likely have turned away from me and that decision.
  • Would I be accepted into a 2-year program instead of a 3-year program after a break year?
  • I was already “training” to be in school anyway, why lose my momentum?

The only difficult decision was finding a graduate school that worked for me but yes, I went onto graduate school and I don’t regret it. I was exhausted my final year, but now that I’ve graduated, I can’t help but know my time wasn’t wasted, my work will pay off, and my current marathon is complete!

How To Manage Your To-Do List

 

Are you the kind of person who has to write to-do lists in order to have a productive day?

I definitely am, but there always seems to be a problem with this method. One, my list is never a reasonable amount. I always write down more than what can be accomplished in a day leaving me feeling disappointed at the end of one. Two, procrastination sets in. I’m always eager to cross an item off my list so I tackle the easiest ones first. Small victories but nowhere close to winning the war. What I’m left with is the most challenging longest tasks rolling over to day two and yes sometimes even day three. What the heck, if I’m being honest here let’s just say next week.

I hope as you’re reading this you’re not judging my struggles in life. Can you relate or are you a person who has a firm handle on your everyday tasks? Maybe you’ve established a hierarchy and have the discipline to stick to it. For example, today these tasks must be completed then you can tackle the easier ones as a prize.

Another problem I’ve come across is choosing tasks that take the most time but are more enjoyable than others. So in an attempt to be productive, I fall short. For me, this all boils down to how I organize my list. Gone are the days of quickly jotting down my scrambled thoughts on scratch paper. This is serious life planning I’m setting up for. Bring out the two ply!

My clever solutions:

Since my most important tasks usually get lost in a sea of words, it’s time I organize. From now on I shall separate my list into two columns, simple daily ones and important ASAP tasks. Now it will be painfully obvious how much I’m neglecting my main responsibilities.

Another simple solution is understanding the difference between day to day tasks and goals. Goals are usually your big picture, not to be accomplished in one day and not to be included in your regular to-do list. By identifying and separating them out, this will clear up your to-do list and further, clear your mind. Furthermore, your goals list should also be separated into two columns, short term and long term. Short term goals, once reached, will give you that resting point and strength to continue on to accomplishing that final goal.

My clever examples:

Daily Tasks:

  • Book dentist appointment

ASAP Tasks:

  • Apply for jobs

Short Term:

  •  LEED GA exam

Long Term:

  • Complete all my AXP hours

 

With the right mind set, good organizational skills, and two ply paper anything can be fixed!

What is your solution to tackling the days tasks?

The Healthy Workplace Nudge

You know how they say curiosity killed the cat? Well sometimes it gets you off your butt to ask a simple question.

Recently I’ve started reading the book, The Healthy Workplace Nudge by Miller Williams O’Neil, a recommendation by a friend. I’ve only just started but what I’ve digested so far is the imperative need for leaders to understand that they are the key factor in the positive or negative health of their employees. If you’re a leader it’s your responsibility to create a healthy work environment because even after they leave work the stresses of the day are carried with them.

The big picture so far …

We are in a snowball effect that starts with poor physical and mental conditions that leads to increased health bills to increased federal taxes trying to keep up with employee health benefits and finally to corporation layoffs to keep profitability up.

It’s a never ending cycle of stress related chronic illnesses, but before we go too far down that road let’s bring it back to the focus of our environment. As designers we hold the tools to directly affect a person’s emotional state. Yes we have that kind of power! Wait for it… and with it comes great responsibility. If you understand this connection then you also have the power to change it.

For example, the cubicle life, with its 5’ 6” heights and opaque walls does nothing to encourage office interaction or movement. Now compare this to a particular architecture firm in San Antonio and there isn’t an enclosed office or cubicle in sight.  Instead there are desks whose only separation is a one foot tall clear partition; its primary purpose to contain ones explosion of paperwork.  You might even walk into this firm and see a single man working by the front office window completely separate from the other sea of desks.

This is exactly what I saw upon entering the building and immediately thought this is what the book was talking about!  Sitting, waiting for my 8:30 meeting I couldn’t help but keep looking at this man’s strange workplace by the window. What was the story behind this outlier? With a grunt of courage and a hope that I wasn’t about to be an unwanted distraction I decided, “why not, curiosity never killed the cat.” Right?

Coming to a stop at his standing desk, with my shoulders barely reaching the top, I offer my most cheerful, “hello!”

Turns out he was trying to create “office buzz” for this idea where we don’t always have to work in the same spot. Mobility, it’s the key to happiness! It represents freedom and creativity.

Yes, yes and yes! Here was the perfect example of an employee identifying a stress related problem, taking initiative and through a simple movement was going to create a healthier work environment.

This might not be the solution to all your problems, but breaking down your work day and identifying your stress triggers will allow you to take control of your happiness and health. Never settle with the normalcy of stress, accepting it as a part of life or using it as an indicator of a day’s success or productivity. Search for those solutions and change your life! Let’s live healthier!

I can’t wait to dive further into this book as the meaning of a healthy work environment transcends my architect’s perspective and becomes more than just design, but rather a complete reworking of the corporate world. This is an indicator of a great book. The ones that make us pause and think after each page or research topics after each chapter, the ones we can’t wait to share. As I continue on, hopefully this has made you want to start.

Who is your favorite Architect?

Rome, Italy

Is it just me or do you get asked this question too?

Whether you’re a design professional, or an artist of any form, it seems people want to know where we get our inspiration from and it makes sense. In the design world we look for inspiration from the greats.

I remember one professor saying, “what you’re envisioning for your project, it’s probably already been designed before so don’t be afraid of researching and gathering ideas from other people. It’s not stealing or cheating it’s the way we learn, from the best, from history.”

Although I almost expect it now, this question always frustrates me because after all my years of schooling or personal artwork I have never found a single architect who is my favorite. I’ve never felt an attachment to one over others or the urge to single one out. I don’t know if this makes me a poor aspiring architect but it definitely makes me feel like one. Maybe I should spend some weeks researching and finally pick one if not to at least have an answer to their question.

If I answer, “I don’t have one” or try to sound a little more apologetic with, “I’ve never been able to narrow it down to one” listing several architects off the top of my head to appease them, I nevertheless get the same result, disappointment.

I’m sorry! During school I had projects that ranged from healthcare clinics to fashion retail with a great variety of architects and architecture to gather inspiration from. I never lingered on the thought of who was my favorite. Granted I was never asked that question in school.

I guess it also boils down to knowing yourself to know your favorite designer. You choose your favorite through loving his/her style and for me choosing my favorite style of design has always been an elusive antagonizer.

Maybe the fault lies in the question, with people asking for a single inspiration. Maybe my original answer of “I’ve never been able to narrow it down to one” is the perfect answer. Maybe I’ll give you an answer of my top three or five and you will be impressed. Most importantly, I will finally have an answer that I am proud of and excited to share.

As a challenge, next time you see me, ask me who my favorite architect is and be prepared to be dazzled! Maybe one day you’ll see a post about my favorite architect/architects but for now I ask you…

Who is your favorite architect/ designer?

Are you living your life to the fullest? Yes you are! But please read on to be sure.

Remember that post I wrote? The one about struggling to go out, but once you’re out something great usually happens or you met someone interesting? If not read it here!

Well, it happened again!

_

I had made it to the party, step one.
Now to find my exit buddy, step two.

Trying to look at ease and confident, I search. Finally, I spot a friend of mine. It’s just the two of us talking for a bit but then somehow we are joined by an older couple (late 30’s). The man, at least a foot taller than me, decked out in black and sporting jewelry across his wrists and fingers, is full of buzzed energy. The woman beside him, a calmer opposite.

We are taken through his entire life it seems. He, an open character with very expressive movements, starts to encroach on my invisible defensive bubble. Naturally, my arms start to cross and my body starts to lean away. To take matters to another level he starts smoking which I was taught to disagree with.

He says he can read people and after he’s finished with his assessment of my friend he turns to me. According to him I was trying to appear relaxed and comfortable even though I wasn’t, I didn’t trust him, and I was sheltered.

I couldn’t deny it. He was right.

He continued on to say I wasn’t living my life to the fullest when one, I rejected his offer of trying a cigarette, two, denied his invitation for a ride on his motorcycle and three, wouldn’t consider joining a women’s biker club. I also had a lack of love for people because I was too cautious and wary, which was after I didn’t want to give him a hug goodbye, but instead offered a handshake.

He definitely hit some sore spots when he said I was only 24 and already living my life in a cage, to which I also couldn’t deny. I’m not a big partier. I stay in most nights, but sometimes I do think maybe I should go out more often. I actually started to think about taking him up on that bike ride.

What I didn’t realize until later with the help of a friend is that what brings me joy and fulfillment is not going to be equal to the man who rides motorcycles and is in a biker club. From his perspective it would be entirely true, but to me my life has been filled with both highs and lows, all perfectly crafted by the one Himself. I am both introvert and extrovert and everything in between, and only I can dictate what living my life to the fullest looks like. Live on your own terms in whatever capacity that may be. Don’t let yourself be discouraged by your life choices because it may not look the same or as glamorous as someone else’s.

However, I will take his advice on being more open to trying new things and maybe saying yes where I might’ve said no. Give it some thought and ask yourself if this “yes” will make you stronger, independent, confident, or better as a person. If not, maybe this one you can skip, give yourself respite for the next one. Finally, nobody wants to live their life with regrets so your deciding factor is ultimately “will I regret this if I don’t do it.”

I am living my life to the fullest if I am chasing my passions, creating art, exploring self-expression, finding moments to slow down and type my stories out, chasing knowledge, spending time with family, meeting new people and making them laugh, hanging with friends, and finding ways to serve God.

How are you living your life to the fullest?

What should be taught freshman year: The Architectural Design Process

Picture an empty lot in a downtown area full of energetic life and healthy go-getters. This area, filled with heavy pedestrian traffic, connects multiple shops, outdoor restaurants and parks. A client wants to build a library on this lot. How do we address the vibrant high energy surroundings with a building that is typically simple in style and quiet in nature?  

Hold it! Rein it back in! I was losing you for a moment wasn’t I? Your creative mind was taking over. You were starting to think of ideas, finding your fingers itching for a fine tipped pen, eyes searching for your notebook with images starting to take form.

But how do we sort through all these ideas and pick the right one? It’s called the Design Process!

I like to think of it as the process that keeps our imagination in check. Some might think it crippling to our creativity, restraining designers from reaching their full potential, while others might appreciate a bit of structure.

My freshman and sophomore year there were no real clients just very loose guidelines built to unleash your inner creativity. Since I was new to design my ideas were erratic. It wasn’t until my junior year did I really understand the meaning of “program” and how it fit into the design process. Having this process organized made me feel like I was designing with a purpose and that I had an achievable end goal.

Had I had this bit of knowledge earlier maybe it would’ve made projects seem more realistic and professional. Crazy forms are fun, but in the end we love believing our designs are buildable, for real people in real situations, in an environment we made safe.

Whenever I was brought a new project my mind would go straight to the exterior form of the building. I still haven’t mastered it, but the goal is to slow down, allowing yourself time to soak up the necessities – the program and scope.

Each person will have their own process, that is why I suggest early on in school to start noting what works best for you. This will be extremely helpful your senior year if you have a group project and are in charge of delegating, showing you when and where most of the work is needed.

This is my basic design process that I picked up through the years.

Design Process Questions:

  • Ask what the goal or mission of the project is – Who it’s for? Who will be using it?
  • Building Program – What are the needs and functions of the space?
  • In each room- How much space will be adequate for the number of people occupying it?

Create a list of all the major spaces and rooms you will need and the maximum number of people suspected to occupy each space. From there calculate the average square footage acceptable to house that number of people. Once you have your volumes you can start to adjust them to fit your surroundings. This is where your site comes in.

  • Site Analysis- What are the conditions around it? What is affecting the space – people, transportation, buildings, geography – and how are you going to respond to them?
  • People – Type of demographics, Age groups, culture.
  • Transportation – Ease of accessibility to site, bikers, parking spots, high congestion areas.
  • Buildings – How will existing structures compliment or negatively affect your site? High rises might provide great shading areas. Don’t forget to look past your block and see what factors from afar might affect your site.
  • Entry points – Where is your main point of entry going to be? Secondary access points.
  • Geography – Is it a hilly or flat landscape? Will you have to work around trees? What is the suns axis in relation to the site? How will climate conditions affect your indoor/outdoor spaces?

Once you have the program and site researched you can finally start to think about the form.

  • Will it be best to have one building, two separate spaces or multiple?
  • Will it be placed parallel with a street or shifted off axis? In the center of the lot or off to the side?
  • One story or multiple?
  • From here you can start your Parti Diagram

One of the fun things about school is you can create almost anything. With that being said there are always things to consider and be mindful of. Architecture is not selfish. The purpose of the design process is to avoid creating a building that will alienate the rest. We are not here to intrude on a community but to be integrated seamlessly elevating the surrounding conditions in the process.

What does your Design Process look like? Have any thoughts to add?

My first interview: Dora’s Tips to Financial Success

One rainy Saturday morning I found myself sitting in the back of a coffee shop, shaking water droplets out of my hair and settling my hands around my warm coffee mug to dry. I was in fact waiting for someone, my mentor for the day, and despite the dreary weather I was excited. This was to be my first interview. Now I should say it was a relative’s sister so the stakes weren’t too high, but it was to be my first nonetheless!

I pulled out my notebook and pen, readjusted it a couple times, and fixed my eyes on the door.

And waited…

It seemed I had picked the perfect location on the perfect day. Because no matter how much trouble rain puts us in no one can deny the comfort of coffee in the ambiance of a coffee shop. On this sort of day we find ourselves less in a hurry…

And almost in sync with my thoughts she walked in.

Owner of 7 rental homes and 1 commercial property, I consider her a treasure of wisdom and success. There are a lot of measures of success, but for this part it is about how early you can retire and still live comfortably without working or worrying about running out of money.

To best understand a person’s success, we must first understand their beginning.

______

That is right where Dora took me, right to her childhood roots. As most people, we learn first from our parents and if you have siblings, even more so from them.  Describing her siblings as prodigal, running out to spend their money, it’s no wonder where she learned her lessons of saving. Her dad seeing her determination took it further, showing her the value of loans, borrowing and paying her back with interest. Oh, the fine early lessons of an absorbing adolescent!

Our conversation jumped here and there, with tangents reaching all the way to her sister’s wedding, but she always returned to the three most important lessons in her life, accrediting saving, keeping a budget, and having a mentor as her financial rules to success.

Tip 1 – Save

Save and don’t give the excuse that you aren’t financially stable enough. She grew up in a time when the minimum wage was $1.99. Even then she saved, bringing her lunch to work everyday and finding cheap or free entertainment. Saving is not all about understanding your finances, but includes making sacrifices. Most of the time these sacrifices, if you do them often enough, will work its way as routine into your life.

Tip 2 – Make a Budget

For those of us that are not natural savers you will need to create a budget. You will have to see how much money you are making in one month and how much money you are spending in one month. Separate your spending into categories and use a month to experiment with how much your bare minimum could be. Yes you are saving, but the point isn’t to be miserable but to understand that you don’t need as much as you think.

Tip 3 – Find Yourself A Mentor

You might think that you don’t need a mentor but let me ask you, have you ever looked back to your school days and thought why did I do that? Hoped for a redo? We say that now because we’re older, more mature. We need guidance, even in adulthood; we just have to be brave enough to ask. Dora’s favorite financial mentor is Dave Ramsey. She of course has had multiple influencers throughout her life and humbles herself by realizing she wouldn’t be where she is today without them.

Part 2 of the interview coming soon…