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November, 2020 Beer Can ABI Plunges — We’re Running Low on Cheap Beer

The November ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI took a step in the wring direction following months of progress towards the land of actual good beer. At this point, we’ve been so down for so long that we’re running low on cheap beer options. If only Costco still made Kirko Sigs Light…

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October, 2020 Beer Can ABI Brings Good Beer and Not So Good Beer

October’s ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI brought us mixed signals, with design contracts firmly over the line into quality beer territory as billings lag behind and are still sipping the crap beers.

Since Midwest firms lead the way back to good beer, we’ll salute this part of the country with Three Floyd’s legendary Alpha King. Cheers! We ain’t drank this good since February! 🍻

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September, 2020 Beer Can ABI Continues to Languish in Cheap Beer Territory

The post-lockdown dip into the cheapo beers for the ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI continues in the latest beer can stack from September. As the Beer Can ABI enters the upper 40s, we are seeing a changeover into “ironic cool” cheap beer, which is good news, but still a ways to go in this recovery. It feels like an eternity since we enjoyed quality brewskis.

As always, remember that the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans and the better the quality of those beers. 🍻

The Month in Buildings: September, 2020

Who likes looking at pictures!?! In this semi-regularly occurring series, we look at pictures and drawings of buildings from the wonderful world of tumblr.


Retail…

Rounding Corners…

MEP…

Commitment to an Idea…

Hanging Out…

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The ALL CAPS Beer Can ABI – August, 2020

Let’s visualize AIA’s ABI as beer cans. Here’s last month’s ABI alongside this year’s previous numbers. For as long as we’re below 50 on these numbers, we’ll be stacking the cheap cans.

If you have a preferred (canned) beverage, let me know and I’ll include it in future visualizations. Remember: the more we bill, the bigger the stack of beer cans.

Music for Spec Writing

This thread on Twitter caught my attention as being exactly the same, confounding question as the whole do architects need to be “good at math” question that I recently wrote about.

Architecture and music are interesting bedmates, and some day I’ll write in depth on this topic, but one part of the aforementioned thread is stuck in my mind and I’m hoping that writing this article will help dislodge it: the question of what kind of music is conducive to writing specifications.

It’s of course a question that can only be answered subjectively. Over the years, I’ve provided on-the-job crash courses in specification writing to coworkers and I’ve never touched upon the music I think would be supportive of this type of technical writing. I infrequently have music on when writing specifications because I’m a very active music listener, so I have to be careful about the kind of music I choose to listen to while doing other tasks, especially when it comes to the tasks of the practice of architecture. It’s too easy for me to get absorbed in the music listening at the expense of the architecture-ing if I’m not careful. But I do listen to music for a lot of tasks and I appreciate the intellectual exercise of finding ideal music for the task of writing specifications.

Spec’s are unexciting, yet important. They’re extremely detailed and technical. Specifications are black and white, with no gray area — literally and figuratively. This kind of work requires focus and concentration, but also something to keep the writer engaged and alert. It’s these characteristics of the task that must drive my choice in music.

I’m thinking of something that’s not too concrete, that would be distracting for the way my brain consumes music. In fact, I’m not sure it could even be all that beat-driven. The sounds need to be soft and relaxing, with occasional brief changes in tempo and/or loudness to check in with me.

The first music I tried was what came to mind as I was thinking this through for the article. Pole’s debut trio of albums from 1998 — more specifically, I played the second album from the trio, “2” on 12” vinyl through my home stereo system. I thought this would be the perfect match, but I didn’t even listen to my own requirements as outlined above. It’s a great album but far too glitchy for proper spec writing.

I had to halt the experiment for a day as I couldn’t think of what else to play and felt frustrated, as I had my heart set on that Pole record. Then I thought of an album I got this summer and have been thinking about a lot. I played it and did some technical writing updates for my BIM template and it was, in fact, perfect. This time the source music was in MP3s which went through a DAC to the studio monitors I keep in my office which provided warm, intimate sound to fill up the room and keep me focused on my spec-writing.

The album? Julianna Barwick’s “Healing is a Miracle”, which was released earlier this year. Julianna’s vocal loops and sweeps of low-frequency, room-shaking bass are what I recommend when it’s time to write some specs. I think her entire discography would be appropriate to this technical task as well. I’ll be trying some other albums and different media formats from her catalogue to confirm my assumption. Going forward, if I ever have to train anyone else in spec writing, I’ll include Julianna’s record in that training too.

If you decide to take me up on this recommendation, don’t go and stream this work — buy the damn record and support Julianna’s amazing music properly. Happy spec writing.

The Month in Buildings: August, 2020

Who likes looking at pictures!?! In this semi-regularly occurring series, we look at pictures and drawings of buildings from the wonderful world of tumblr.


Diamonds…

When DoD projects become art…

Mechanical engineer goals…

Same energy as Spruce Tree Centre (St. Paul reference)…

Relief…

Cinemas…

Underground…

Thoughts on (software) Minimalism

My last article has me thinking a lot about minimalism. I like to master a small handful of critical software titles and try to stretch the limits of what can be done rather than relying on a long list of different specialized titles that my projects have to pass through in order to create everything I need.

An unanticipated benefit of the minimalist approach is that it can save money in this age of the software-as-a-subscription pricing model, which is probably why I thought about this after that last article’s focus on software costs. It’s become important to me to weigh the amount of stuff I can accomplish with a given software title to its subscription cost. So the higher the cost, the more I better be able to do with that software. Even if a software title did just one thing that was vitally important, but cost a lot, I would rather test alternatives that had Swiss army knife qualities. A minimalist needs their software’s capabilities to be maximalist in order to have a minimalist roster of software titles.

This raises an important point: minimalism doesn’t mean software complacency. I’m always researching the software landscape and testing titles I find interesting. This part of minimalism is a lot of work, which aligns nicely with minimalist design — it’s also a lot of work to make things look simple and…minimal. Over time my standards for what graduates from testing to use on actual projects have become more stringent because of my desire to be a minimalist. Not to digress, but open standards and open file formats are a must for minimalists, as they allow you to quickly and easily change out software without needing even more software just to make that change happen.

New design technologies introduce new software — potential clutter. For example, virtual reality and augmented reality have a boatload of software titles to make everything work. Further complicating efforts at minimalism is time it takes new design technology to sort itself out in the market. Which major player will acquire the hot new startup? When will this new hardware come down in price? Which of these two nearly identical technologies will become the standard we all use? Minimalists must learn to slow down and wait for the dust to settle before committing to new technology. Minimalists are less early adopters and more early observers.

Business software adds a layer of complexity to a minimalist software approach. You inevitably need at least one or two pieces of software dedicated solely to business rather than design. This is a tough pill to swallow for us minimalists, but there’s joy to be found in winnowing the biz titles down to the absolute bare minimum too.

For a business with more than one employee, minimalism has its benefits when it comes to training on both the software and the workflows. I’ve found that a lean software library typically leads to nice clean minimalist workflows too.

I feel stressed when I see other architects and designers using a lot of software, even if they’re getting impressive results. All that extra software is clutter to me. What do you think about my minimalist approach?

Revisiting Software Costs

I saw this recent article speculating on Autodesk CEO Andrew Anagnost’s claim that his bullshit license costs for Revit did not represent a significant portion of revenues for the firms in the now-famous open letter to Autodesk. Not that we needed any analysis to know that Autodesk is full of shit, but it helps.

We know that architecture firms are too chicken to switch BIM authoring tools, which is why it doesn’t matter what Andy or the angry architects say to each other, but I thought it would be fun to see how low we could go with annual costs and see if we could match Andy’s claim that licensing fees equate to only 0.63% of revenues for the complaining firms (in this exercise it won’t be Revit’s fees though as we’re not going to get the math to work with their insanely high costs).

I’ll base my math on the same fictitious firm as the other article, which requires five licenses of everything. I’ll align my software selections as best I can to these categories which were created by the author of the other article:

Here’s my visual representing the annual software costs:

Everything here is US pricing in US dollars, excluding tax. Here’s my breakouts and footnotes for those costs:

  • Archicad: $800 x 5 = $4,000 2
  • Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, Affinity Publisher: $0 3
  • Freshbooks: ($20 x 12) x 5 = $1,200
  • Twinmotion: $0 (included with Archicad)
  • Linea Sketch: $29.99 x 5 = $149.95
  • Google Drive: $0 (included with G Suite)
  • G Suite: ($6 x 12) x 5 = $360
  • Smartsheet: ($25 x 12) x 6 = $1,800
  • Freshbooks: (see above)
  • Google Chat: $0 (included with G Suite)
  • Google Meet: $0 (included with G Suite)

The annual costs related solely to the firm’s BIM authoring tool licenses (Archicad) come out to 0.62% of revenues (you’ll recall from the original article that annual revenues were $650K), slightly ahead of Andy’s claim for Revit. I was able to get the total software licensing costs down to 1.2% of the fictitious firm’s annual revenues. Maybe Andy was talking about his competition’s costs instead of Revit??? 😉


Footnotes:

  1. I was truly baffled by the inclusion of this category and especially SketchUp in the original article, so I put in my favorite sketching app figuring this is kind of what they meant with this category 🤷🏻‍♂️
  2. Archicad has an initial cost per perpetual license around $5K which represents one-time up front costs
  3. The Affinity apps have initial costs of $49.99 each app, per perpetual license that are one-time up front costs

On Architects Being “Good at Math”

I see the back and forth of “you have to be good at math to be an architect” and “no you don’t need to be good at math to be an architect” on a regular basis. The former is stated by someone outside of the profession, and the latter is issued as a correction by an architect — not me, I wouldn’t say that — but there’s always an architect who will jump in and make that statement.

I was originally going to write about all the different math I use as an architect and ponder what exactly is meant by the phase “good at math” — is that a mathematical genius or just someone who turns around addition/subtraction/multiplication/division in their head quickly or something else? Who knows. But the vagueness of it is probably the biggest problem I have with the whole architects being “good at math” thing. This is what I want to focus on: I don’t really have a stance on “good at math” and I think (?) I want to have one. Let’s explore…

Architects come in a variety of flavors as our complex, modern times bring out the specialists in all of us. I would guess that the hands-on middle management type architects at small and mid-sized firms maybe use the most math as they have to deal with all aspects of project delivery and coordination. I’m also thinking that the techie programmer-type architects use a lot of math to help make stuff for their teams. Business-y architects who lead firms need to use business math. Geometry is foundational to designing all three dimensions of our built world, so design architects are using math regularly too. Of course, you need to do some math in order to pass a licensing exam to become an architect as well. So we’re all using math, which leads me to think that architects who say you don’t need to be “good at math” can’t possibly mean you don’t need to know any math. Next.

Am I “good” at math? I wouldn’t say “good” — maybe average or ordinary. I took math every year of high school and college and my grades were meh, so I think my teachers and instructors would agree with my self-assessment. But I know math, and if anything, using it like my job depends on it out in the real world has probably made me a bit better at it than I was in school. The most important thing about math is that the education system slowly eases you into a calculator. They like to make you figure it out the long way on paper for each type/level of math and then you’ve earned the right to do that particular math on a calculator going forward. This is an important point, because even the “you don’t need to be good at math” architects would say that being “good at math” is important for engineers. But engineers use calculators and software that does the calculating for them — and it’s this software in particular that has gotten so good over the years that a lot of math is taken out of the hands of engineers. Maybe you don’t need to be “good at math” to be an engineer anymore? I mean, have you seen how much work the computer does on a structural analytical model? It’s nuts. Of course, with BIMs, there’s math that happens automatically for architects too. Over time all this tech has had a big, positive impact on our accuracy and our ability to get the right answers.

Is being “good at math” implying that you get the correct answers to math problems? That makes the most sense, and it’s kind of important to be right for the whole health/safety/welfare part of what we do. But then why would any architect say you don’t need to be “good at math” if this were the case? Are they designing shit that’s gonna maim or kill? Damn.

This reminds me that a big, important kind of math that architects need comes from the area calculation and justification parts of building codes (actually, there’s a lot of math all over building codes, but this area stuff has maybe the widest impact over all types of architecture). The area math isn’t difficult though, I’d say it’s like junior high level algebra at worst. Here too, technology is quickly learning how to do this math for us so that someday we won’t need those mad algebra skills from 7th grade to be architects.

Perhaps this is how the “good at math” conversation will end. No one will need to know any math because technology will do it all for us. I feel like one- and two-point perspectives have essentially already gone this route since software can just let us look at any perspective of our design we want now with a click of the mouse. Even though I did know the geometry necessary for making those perspectives by hand at one time, I’d need to do a quick YouTube tutorial to get those skills out from the archives of my brain.

Where does all this pondering leave me in terms of an official stance on the architects needing to be “good at math” thing? I don’t know, except to say that I’m average at math and I’m a good architect, whatever that means.