Brianna so kindly reminded me that I’ve already done a blog about redlines, but I’ve transitioned from the person receiving the redlines to the person creating the redlines. Let me tell you – it’s a whole new world y’all!

Since Scott basically taught me how to redline, I create my own similar to his. Red, then, is for the overall corrections to be made. Blue is for general notes made to the person that will be receiving the redlines. Blue, then, is typically a more “teaching” color used to explain or question a particular item. I also use blue when it no longer makes sense to use red. For instance, in a wall section or other detail where the information is very dense, I’ll use blue to note the air/vapor barrier because that dashed line can be easily lost in the other information. There are all also different kinds of redlines a person might receive ranging from the typical construction document redlines to snarky ones.

Schematic Design Redlines

These are loose and sketchy. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t.

Schematic design redlines completed on an iPad and through sketching.

Construction Document Redlines

These are more refined and technical in nature. This type is the most typical and, in my opinion, the most time consuming to create. They come in several forms – notes directly on drawing, trace paper over the drawing, graph paper drawing, and details or text from previous projects.

Fully detailed wall section, door schedule, landscape detail, and text notes.

Redlines for Redlines

This type is when I’ve already completed a sheet, but then realize something needs to change so I have to go back to the previous sheet and redline my own redline.

Oops! Didn’t need those doors after all!

Fun Redlines

These generally come when you’ve just started redlining or after you’re so tired that everything is funny.

Missing floors, silly drawings, and laughable comments.

Snarky Redlines

These typically occur midway through redlining a construction set when you’re past being funny and starting to become a bit edgy.

If you leave it blank, the response might be a bit snide.

Edgy Redlines

This type will occur once you’ve been redlining a set for a while and you see things that shouldn’t need to redlined or you intended to be silly, but it came out like this:

Wrong! Fix!!!


In the end, redlines are a system of checks and balances. They ensure that the drawings are coordinated and correct. Redlines of any type are a valuable learning tool, not only for the person receiving them, but also for the person creating them. As I improve in my redlining abilities, I learn better how to communicate my ideas with my peers and I gain a more thorough understanding of the products and methods of construction that we use everyday. All of this means a better building for you.

Virtual Reality, yes or no?

Here at MSB Architects, we love technology and how it lets us get our ideas across clearly to our clients. One technology that has been around for decades, but is finally becoming mainstream is Virtual Reality (VR). It’s a fun toy, but is it a tool for MSB Architects? After much internal deliberation, I think the answer is yes, but not at this time.

Earlier this year we started exploring ideas for our next tech investment, which included Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality, and 3D animation. I am a technology junkie and was drooling at the idea of adding Virtual Reality for our clients. As a gamer, I was familiar with the interface and how they work, but until recently they have not been an economical choice. We had an opportunity earlier this year to test drive the latest VR technology, thanks to High Rock Studios. It demonstrated some great possibilities for client experience and showing various design options in a fully immersive environment.

The VR headset is quite the fashion statement too!

However, one of the downfalls of VR technology development is a lack of smooth movement within the environment. You tend to bump into walls and furniture as you navigate around the space. This awkward movement is the primary reason I decided the timing was wrong for MSB to go virtual. When I started thinking about how we typically present design ideas to clients, I imagined how we would accomplish this with VR headsets. The first stumbling block came when I realized only one person can wear the headset at a time. Which is problematic considering we rarely have a client meeting with only one person. We could project the image for others to watch, but it wouldn’t be the same experience. It’s also imperative that we have a smooth experience when we present design ideas. We want clients focused on the design, not the technology.

In the end, we chose to invest in the 3D animation software as a first step towards a more virtual environment. I am certain in the near future we will reconsider Virtual Reality, but we’d like to see it become more natural first. Technology is critical, but it’s important to invest in the right technology. For MSB Architects, we judge our investments on how it improves the client experience. While VR is really cool and can be a great tool, I think it needs to get a little farther. What do you think?

Working with an Interior Decorator

The thought of working with an interior decorator can seem daunting. Follow these basic steps and your experience will be satisfying, meet your expectations and, hopefully, take you on an adventure that translates what you love into how you live.

Step 1: Find an interior decorator.

To find an interior decorator, you can start by searching local listings. Ask for referrals from related home decor companies like paint stores, furniture stores, realtors, property management companies, home builders and developers.  Search websites and narrow down potentials based on experience, project profiles, before and after photos, design philosophy, etc.  And lastly, don’t forget to ask your friends and colleagues if they know of a good decorator. A positive referral goes a long way.

Step 2: Make a list of questions to ask your potential decorator.

During the hiring process, it is as important to learn about the decorator’s design experience as it is to learn whether your personalities complement each other’s. Designing someone’s home is very personal, after all. It is also important to understand the “housekeeping details” – the billing structure and how the design process works. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What is your design approach? This gives insight into communication style and how they will uncover necessary information.
  • What are the steps in the design process? Knowing this helps you understand the project’s timeline, as well as the services and expertise provided.
  • How do you bill for your time? It is good to understand up front how you will be billed.
  • Who are some of your top resources for furniture, paint, flooring, lighting, etc.? This provides hints to how adept the decorator is at finding the right product at the right price point. It also alludes to quality expectations.
  • What have other clients said about you? Client satisfaction can speak volumes.

Step 3: Do your homework.

Once you have found an interior decorator, you have some homework to do before the first planning meeting. Make a list of your project goals, determine your budget, and clip photos of sample designs that reflect your style / the look and feel you want to achieve. Start thinking about answers to questions the decorator will ask about your tastes and preferences, per the room/rooms to be decorated. Colors, finishes, textures, patterns, window coverings and design styles all will come into play. You should also take a furniture inventory that includes what stays and what goes.

The Boy/Girl Scout Rule: Be Prepared

The more prepared you are during the project orientation and goal-setting stages, the more likely the design and implementation phases will flow smoothly, with enhanced communication and less room for misunderstandings.

When all is said and done [and decorated!], the mark of a good decorator-client experience is one where the clients have learned to better recognize their own style, have collaborated on a finished space that is truly them and, hopefully, had a little fun along the way.

Architects Need to be Reasonable

From time to time, I think It’s important to reflect on an architect’s role from design through construction. Generally, my focus is on things like how to improve the quality of drawings, how to improve our construction cost estimating, and how to better communicate with our clients. Today, however, I am turning a critical eye to the profession as a whole.

An architect’s first job is to serve our clients. They depend on our experience and professionalism working with contractors to deliver their design. This is an awesome responsibility, but some architects take it too far. I have known architects that use levels and flashlights to check for perfect plumb and smoothness of a wall. In most circumstances, this level or perfection is not necessary. Now, I am not suggesting that contractors shouldn’t be held to a quality standard, but it should be realistic. In cases where extreme perfectionism is the enemy of progress, architects look bad.

Use your tools responsibly.

Product substitutions are another area where architects shoot ourselves in the foot. As part of the design process, architects list all the products needed for installation.The contractor uses this list to create a bid, as the actual item is priced. In most cases, there are multiple manufacturers for each product. Substitutions occur when the contractor selects anything other than exactly what is on the original list, down to the manufacturer. The architect then reviews these substitutions and, if considered an equal product, approves using it in lieu of the original. Some architects refuse to accept alternates, even if they are essentially equal. Again, this violates most people’s sense of reasonableness.

Unfortunately, these scenarios are not uncommon, and gives architects a bad reputation. As architects, it’s important to protect design integrity, but we also have to know when to give. After all, you have to know what is worth fighting for and when to pick battles.

Circles, Circles, every where, Nor any square in sight.

Whether you enjoy modern art or not, its home in the architectural world is often remarkable.  From the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, to the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, artists and architects have come together to create spatial spectacles, and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York City is no different.

Left, San Francisco Modern Art Museum
Center, Weisman Art Gallery
Right, Museum of Modern Art, NYC

The Guggenheim continuous gallery. Photo by self.

Design for the museum began in 1943, with Frank Lloyd Wright creating seven hundred building sketches. Thirteen years, and six sets of construction drawings later, construction started in 1956.  Much to the dismay of many art and architecture critics of the time, Wright’s design was provoking. The a circular, winding design challenged the traditional museum scheme by creating a single, continuous experience for visitors.  Meanwhile, the exterior’s sweeping, curved, concrete ribbons contradict the square Manhattan cityscape.

The Guggenheim Museum, a curving monument in the midst of rectilinear Manhattan. Photo by self.

The interior gallery space coils up the ninety-two foot high atrium and allows visitors the opportunity to go from one “pocket” of art to another.  While viewing the art, visitors never lose the sense of the architecture beyond, and unknowingly become part of the spatial art for others looking into the atrium.  Wright intended the project to “make the building and the painting an uninterrupted, beautiful symphony such as never existed in the World of Art before.”

As viewed across the atrium, other visitors and the building to create an ever changing and unique art work. Photo by self.


Center atrium with the single floor spiraling upwards. Photo by self.

Now, not to disagree with the boss … but I’m going to.  I think that gallery spaces can, and should, participate with and contend with the art displayed.  This dynamic play between form and function creates unique impressions and interpretations for each spectator, and I believe that the NYC Guggenheim achieves this wonderfully.  While in the gallery you are infinitely aware of the architecture, but there are moments of pause to independently appreciate the artwork before stepping back into the architecture.

Left, Art pieces reside in their own spaces but the curving back wall reminds viewers of the overall architecture. Right, Stepping back into the architecture. Photos by self.

But I think possibly my favorite discovery about the Guggenheim is all the times Wright chose to embrace the circle.  Circles, Circles, every where, Nor any square in sight.

Quality lost without Unions

During my tenure as an architect, I have witnessed the decline in skilled labor on construction sites. There are many reasons for this decline, one of which can be attributed to union labor. The phrase ‘union labor’ evokes certain political and economic responses and degrees of support. Today, I am putting aside those factors and focusing on one positive of unions–the quality of work.

Construction is complicated and building involves the assembly of thousands of pieces. Unlike snap together models we built as kids, these building pieces require modification in the field. How those modifications are made are the differences between the quality of workmanship in construction. Union labor provided both highly qualified laborers and results.

How does union labor achieve these high marks for quality? It starts with a defined hierarchy within their organization. This hierarchy, or apprenticeship program, creates master craftsmen through regimented training. For example, an electrician’s first job may be to hand tools, pickup dropped screws and bolts, and clean the trash associated with installing electrical work. Not particularly difficult, but it sets a base line of workmanship. As he/she proceeds through the ranks, their responsibility increases. By the time they are a senior electrician they have spent thousands of hours in their job and fully understand all the facets and components of the work. In contrast, someone that does not go through an apprenticeship may not have the same strong foundation or pride in their craft, and the quality of work suffers.

The cost of union labor versus non-union labor is more expensive, in part due to their apprenticeship programs. Much of our construction today is price centered, and comes at the expense of better quality. This, in addition to other controversial issues with unions, has caused significant decline in union labor. Whether you like the idea of unions or not, it is sad to see fewer skilled/quality construction workers in the field today. There are few replacements for good service.

ARE 5.0, What’s New?

architect registration examination review manual

ARE 5.0 Review Manual


ARE you ready?

Architecture professionals must go through a rite of passage to become licensed–the Architect Registration Examination (ARE). The ARE is the professional licensing process by which aspiring architects demonstrate their ability to provide architectural services to the public. Since its inception in the late 1970s, there have been many versions of the ARE culminating in the standardized, edited and refined latest iteration. Thus, the aspiring architect must face the ARE 5.0

What is the ARE 5.0?

The ARE 5.0 tests the knowledge, skill and ability required in the practice of architecture. Further, it breaks down into six categories. Ensuring the ability to professionally practice architecture, each category tests ability to investigate, understand and resolve architectural issues. Ranging in scope from broad to fixed, each category addresses the extensive breadth of awareness required to become an architect.

Practice Management

Firstly, division one of the exam covers awareness of business operations, financial and risk management and delivery of services. It tests the aspiring architect’s understanding of what it takes to be an industry professional in the business of architecture.

Project Management

Further, division two of the exam covers familiarity with project management responsibilities, coordination, and techniques for daily project management. It tests the aspiring architect’s consideration of what it takes to manage all the components of realizing a project into the built environment.

Programming and Analysis

Then, division three of the exam covers attention to urban development, community influences, psychological and social influences, transportation and utility influences, climatic influences, sustainable design, and sustainable site and building concept. It tests the aspiring architect’s reflection of the real world challenges from which a project draws its scope and addresses its goal.

Project Planning and Design

Moreover, division four of the exam covers skill in designing site work, analyzing codes and regulations, reviewing human comfort review, understanding mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, building structural systems, arranging lighting and acoustics systems, achieving moisture protection and thermal insulation, and detailing architectural components and budget. It tests the aspiring architect’s precision in applying architectural information to specific implementations of building design.

Project Development and Documentation

Additionally, division five of the exam covers execution of integrating building systems, detailing structural components, meeting building code requirements, specifying wall construction types, addressing lateral forces, documenting construction drawings, and regulating and reviewing project costs.  It tests the aspiring architect’s diligence in meeting project requirements and consolidating details and specifications into a building construction manual.

Construction and Evaluation

Finally, division six of the exam covers appraisal of project delivery, construction management, contractor selection, and cost control. It tests the aspiring architect’s capability of realizing project goals through construction and completion.


Together, all divisions of the ARE 5.0 move through the broad, general needs and the definite, detailed needs of what it takes an aspiring architect to become a licensed expert in a professional practice. Therefore, the first step in meeting the ARE 5.0 is accepting the ARE 5.0.

architect registration examination review content

Review Aids


Obstructed View

This week, Scott and I moved our middle child, Nina, into her Freshman dorm at The University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, VA. Since her designated move in time was 8 am, we opted to drive down the night before and get a hotel room. We wanted to be fresh for the big day. The hotel room was nice, until the architect looked out the window and noticed our view. Or perhaps I should say lack of view.

Apparently, our second floor room was right above the entrance to the hotel. Someone had the bright idea to add a nice little peak to give it some interest. Or at least that’s my guess. Either way, it had Scott pointing out the flaw to Nina, and asking me how much I paid for the room. I got a “no wonder” when I quoted him a pretty low rate for the room. He continued to mutter under his breath about the view. Meanwhile, I moved on to other things–like making the most of the remaining time we had before Nina’s move.

We could clearly see the Waffle House sign…

By the next morning, I had long forgotten about the issue and assumed it had passed. Then I noticed Scott texting. Apparently, he had not only NOT forgotten about the view, but he had taken a picture and was sharing it with his Leadership Washington County group. They must be far more tolerant than I am about these architecture rants.

As we drove, we passed another hotel, and it had the same obstructed view behind the entrance. At least, that’s what Scott said since once again, I was paying attention to things that aren’t architecture. Like the impending drop off of our middle child. Silly me. Regardless of my wandering thoughts, Nina and I hear all about how that room should have been storage or an employee break room instead of a guest room. My big take away from all of this? Views matter. Even if it’s for a one night stay at a hotel off the interstate. Go figure.