Olympic Ice

The RODI filters in our fish room.

For those that know me, you know my love for saltwater fish goes deep, right down to the water. There’s also a chance that you will get into a discussion with me about RODI water. What is that? Isn’t all water, just water? It turns out all water isn’t the same. RODI is the acronym for Reverse Osmosis De-Ionized water. It refers to the process by which water is cleaned. In this case, all the ions and molecules are removed leaving only pure water afterward. I use RODI water for my fish tanks to reduce unwanted particulates which feed algae growth. However, I am not the only one that uses RODI water. Believe it or not, it is also the choice of Olympic ice makers.

So, why use RODI water at the Olympics? How does it help with the quality of the ice surface? In a nutshell, RODI water is used to ensure the ice is flat and smooth. The tiny particles in ordinary tap water pool during the freezing process, leaving little dents on the surface. For most of us, that’s not a big deal, but when you compete at the Olympic level, those imperfections make a difference. Depending on the sport, ice quality can make the difference between gold or not.

Olympic curling. Photo courtesy wiki commons.

One sport concerned with ice quality is curling. I’ve watched some matches recently and it is mesmerizing. In case you aren’t familiar with curling, the athletes slide a stone puck, called a rock, down an ice lane. The lane reminds me of a long shuffleboard or bowling lane. The athletes move ahead of the rock, with what looks like a Swiffer, to sweep the ice. Their goal is to get the rock where they want it on the painted target. As you see, the ice needs to be extremely flat to ensure the rock glides straight and true.

If you are watching the Olympics and catch a curling event, think about the ice. And remember, someone carefully chose pure water for a smooth finish. You can also learn more from this article https://www.popsci.com/ice-technicians-winter-olympics. In any case, it’s nice to know I am not the only person obsessed with RODI water.

LEED : An Explanation

This past week, I’ve been working on a LEED project. Not schematic design or construction documents, but the paperwork side of things. While many people seem to have a general idea of what LEED is, many aren’t sure, other than some green, sustainability thing. So I thought it’d be a good time to peel away from the paperwork and discuss it with all of you.

What Is LEED?

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. It’s a rating system that can be applied to almost any building. While there are several rating systems of building sustainability, LEED is the most recognizable and generally accepted. It’s also been used by some cities as a baseline for their own sustainability requirements.

The first step in the process is to chose which of the various rating systems our building is best suited. They include:

  • Building Design and Construction (BD+C)
  • Interior Design and Construction (ID+C)
  • Building Operations and Maintenance (O+M)
  • Neighborhood Development (ND)
  • Homes

For what I’ve been working on, Building Design and Construction (BD+C) works best since it was new building using the framing of an existing building. And for the sake of this discussion, we’ll be referring to the 2009 LEED version.

Reference Guide for the 2009 version. All those papers sticking out are addenda.

LEED Categories

LEED works on a point based system. In the Building Design and Construction group, there are six sub-categories for classification of points.

  • Site Selection (SS)
  • Water Efficiency (WE)
  • Energy and Atmosphere (EA)
  • Materials and Resources (MR)
  • Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ)
  • Innovation in Design (ID)

The next step in the process is to complete a score sheet denoting which credits you intend to achieve. Some categories have a lot of points available.

Preliminary score sheet

LEED Thresholds

Each category (except Innovation in Design) has at least one prerequisite and a few credits. Credits are where you can get points – there are a maximum of 110 points. The points will show what threshold you were able to achieve in your chosen LEED rating system. BD+C has the following thresholds:

  •  Certified (40-49 points)
  • Silver (50-59 points)
  • Gold (60-79 points)
  • Platinum (80+ Points)


You may have seen these letters, but aren’t sure what they mean. A LEED AP is a LEED Accredited Professional, that specialize in one or more rating systems. This means they have studied and taken an exam to show their understanding of the program. For instance, I am a LEED AP BD+C. So from what you’ve read above, you may have figured out that I’m a LEED Accredited Professional (AP) that specialized in the Building Design and Construction (BD+C) rating system.

LEEP AP’s are useful in the process for a couple reasons:

  1. They help streamline the process by reviewing credits and ensuring their completeness. This may aid in getting additional points since a LEED AP may see synergies between credits. A credit you may not have gone after previously may have a synergy with another credit you are trying to achieve – make a few adjustments and badabing badaboom you get another point! One additional point can mean the difference between gold and platinum.
  2. You get one additional point for having a LEEP AP on your team.

MSB Architects and LEED

MSB has several LEED projects:

Left to Right: APUS IT Center, APUS Finance Center, APUS Academic Center, Lucy School

What do you think about green building practices and LEED? Have you been in any LEED rated building? If so, what did you think? Did you sit back and think, gee, this building is just like every other building or was it wow – what a great building! Or do you want to ponder everything and research a bit more? Below are two links so you can discover more:

United States Green Building Council

Green Business Certification Inc.

Alternatives to the LEED program:

Green Building Initiative or Green Globes Certification

Energy Star – not just for appliances!

International Living Future Institute

Managing Expectations

An architect’s job goes beyond design, but is just as important as design. That job is managing client expectations. Many clients have never used an architect before, so they are unfamiliar with the process. Whether they mention it or not, some questions usually come to mind for almost everyone. How long does the process take? How do you take my ideas and create a plan? When will we know what it costs? How long will it take to build? Let’s explore a few of these.

How long does the process take?

There are a lot of factors that influence this answer. If you are building a new building or addition, you will likely require site plan approval. Depending on the jurisdiction, it typically takes 6-12 months to obtain those approvals. This doesn’t mean you can’t start the process though. In fact, because it  takes approximately 6-12 months to design the building, you should absolutely start the building design. This is broken up by several phases starting with schematic design, i.e. the old fashion napkin sketch, and followed by construction drawings for pricing and permitting. For the design team 6-12 months isn’t very long, but for the client who is excited to get things started it can feel like a lifetime.

How do you take my ideas and create a plan?

This is harder to explain. As designers we have spent years exploring space, between school and real world experience. This one too high, this one too low, this one just right. It sounds like we’re reading from Goldilocks. But, it’s those personal explorations and learning about proportions, transitions, and movement that are used to create each project’s design. Once we come up with some design options, we present them to the clients. Sometimes, they like a piece of this along with a piece of that. We then redesign the space accordingly. As a new architect, this can be a frustrating experience because those components don’t always work together. It is our job to understand what you like about those sketches, which goes beyond the plan layout into underlying psychology. This might mean a change that is different, but conveys the same feeling.

When will we know what it costs?

This is one of the most emotional items on any project. Construction always costs more than you think. I blame all those HGTV shows we have been watching for the last decade, as I mentioned in a past blog. The truth is architects and general contractors don’t really know what your project is going to cost until it actually bid. Any preliminary costs are based on past projects, recent bids, or personal experience. While we can be fairly accurate in determining the cost of materials, other factors also play into the final price. For example, the construction market is constantly changing, and prices reflect those changes. We can’t determine how busy the market is, or predict the labor prices that adjust based on demand.


The key to managing expectations is to have an open dialogue with the client from the start about the process. Hopefully, when challenges arise, you have established trust to work through it. I always assume clients are unfamiliar with the process and spend significant time discussing the project from start to finish. It’s much easier to manage expectations when you’re armed with knowledge.




Storage and Organization – De-Cluttering for the New Year

Yep, the holidays are officially over. One of most often said phrases in the New Year is, “I REALLY need to clean out my closets.” If you’re like Monica from the NBC sit-com, Friends, you are a “place for everything, everything in its place” person…outwardly. Inwardly, though, you may have some storage challenges. Take a look at this clip from Friends, “The One with the Secret Closet” episode:

This is an extreme case, yes, but I’m sure you can relate. Here are some tips to help you clear out the clutter and make better use of your space.

Compartmentalize, then Organize

Evaluate the places in your home or office with excess “stuff” taking up space. You know. The stuff that ended up where it is because you had “no place else to put it.” Take the hall closet at home. Excess bags and wrapping paper end up in there. Parcel boxes you saved to avoid buying new ones. Extra pairs of gloves and scarves you’ve accumulated over the years. How do you keep all this from piling up?

First, pick the main use for the closet. Nine times out of ten, the hall closet has to double as something other than just the coat closet. You have to use it to store shoe shine kits, luggage, tools, sewing kits, extra outerwear.  Looking at what’s in there now, determine the primary storage function: Is it a hall closet that doubles as a utilities closet? If yes, separate items by type and store in plastic bins that work like drawer space.

Second, take everything out of the closet so you can accurately inventory items and determine what you actually use. Eliminate duplicate items and decide what stays, gets donated or gets disposed of. If you have six pairs of gloves, narrow them down to the top three by color, material and level of warmth, Donate the rest. If you haven’t worn ‘em in two seasons, get rid of ‘em!

Third, map out a plan for making better use of the space and its storage opportunities. For example, take advantage of vertical space using hanging shelves for excess items. These shelves average 50” high with 12″ x 12” shelf compartments that create excellent storage with plenty of leftover closet space. Add bins on the hanging shelves, as well as the closet’s top shelf, to hold groups of items.

Find New Storage Possibilities

Making better use of storage space also means being open to reassigning existing space. When we moved into our apartment, I added a jewelry armoire  to our very small bedroom because of an overflowing jewelry box. A mistake because, not only did the room become overstuffed with furniture, but the armoire became overstuffed as well.

I dumped everything out, separated “special occasion” jewelry from “everyday” jewelry, and donated anything I hadn’t worn in the past two years. Because I had done the same with clothes (see how this works?), the top drawer of my dresser was available. This became my new jewelry box. I re-purposed the ring and necklace tray from the old armoire, filled old ice cube trays with earring sets and created an eye-level jewelry box for quick and easy access.

Bins are the Answer

After taking inventory of items in a problem area and determining realistic use of them, incorporate storage bins for a more functional organization system. This sectioning of items creates extra shelf space, prevents clutter and makes things easy to find. Best of all, there is no avalanche of falling pieces, or any embarrassment that might ensue… just like Monica on Friends.


The Apprentice

This week, I want to talk about the apprentice. No, not the TV show. The apprentice I’m referring to is common in many skilled trades, but not other industries. In most cases, the apprentice is a novice, who begins learning basic tasks under the guidance of a master. We have a similar path in the architecture industry, but we use the term intern architect instead of apprentice. At least until recently, but that’s the subject of another blog. Regardless of the term, the journey from architecture graduate to a licensed architect is an apprenticeship.

Serving as a mentor can be extremely rewarding.

You might be surprised to learn that architecture school doesn’t teach you how to be an architect. Shocking, right? After 5 years and thousands of hours laboring in the studio, students graduate without fundamental knowledge. We are not taught how to create a building from scratch. Instead, what we learn is how to create an experience in physical form. We learn to create spaces with correct proportion and flow. But we aren’t shown how to design that structure in real life. Early in my career, I was critical of this approach because I didn’t appreciate the process.

The licensed architect’s role is to mentor the future generation of architects. It is our job to teach how buildings are actually put together. They need to learn how to put together a set of construction documents and to detail a building. We go to construction sites and see how things are put together in the field. They see first hand that what you draw isn’t always how it’s built. It’s a process. But, there is nothing quite like being with someone the first time they see something they designed under construction. They walk around the site with a huge smile and ask lots of questions.

While school never refers to the years before you are licensed as an apprenticeship, perhaps they should. During this time, graduates work closely with a licensed architect as your mentor. Because I hire many fresh graduates of architecture school, I have had the privilege of mentoring future architects along this journey. It is extremely rewarding watching them progress.

Harry – yer a Wizard! … and an architect?

Fans all remember when Hagrid told Harry Potter he was a wizard. And so was I–for a day.  Back in November, my family and I traveled to Orlando for my cousin’s wedding, but my sister and I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit the land of magic.  And no, for once I don’t mean Disney. I’m talking The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.  For a massive Harry Potter fan like myself, it was the ultimate experience.

Diagon and knockturn alley

So much energy and so much to see walking into Diagon Alley, between people in character talking about how the streets are packed with muggles, all the crazy architectural flair, and the magnificent amount of detail they put into creating this magical world.

First up was Diagon and Knockturn Alley. I wandered through stores like Quality Quidditch Supplies, Wiseacre’s Wizarding Equipment, Borgin and Burkes, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, and Ollivanders.  I also enjoyed some Pumpkin Juice and Butterbeer, while watching a show by Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees. Next, I experienced Gringotts, complete with breathing dragon, before taking a trip on the Hogwarts Express.

Between Kings Cross Station and Hogsmeade Station runs the Hogwarts Express, unfortunately there wasn’t time for the food trolley to come by.

Hogsmeade and Hogwarts

Hogsmeade, apparently it really is magical here because even in sunny Florida somehow the town is blanketed in snow.  Interior of the Three Broomsticks, candy heaven in Honeydukes, and the owl post where you can send real letters (unfortunately not by owl).

After a short trip on the Hogwarts Express, I visited the streets of Hogsmeade. There, I had lunch at the Three Broomsticks, bought way too much candy at Honeydukes, and caught a performance by the Hogwarts Frog Choir. I even got wailed at by the ghost of Moaning Myrtle in the public restrooms. I flew with Buckbeak while visiting Hagrid’s hut; then came Hogwarts. Wow, was it incredible!  While in line for the ride, you wind through the Potions Dungeons, Herbology greenhouses, past the statue of the architect and the house point hourglasses in the Entrance Hall, Professor Lupin’s Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, the Great Hall, Dumbledore’s office, and the Gryffindor common room.

Hogwarts from the front gates, the architect of Hogwarts, and Hagrid’s Hut, all impressive in scale.

Hogwarts interiors, the entrance to Dumbledore’s office, the house point hourglasses, paintings stacked in a stairwell (and yes they talk and move! Apparently Harry’s fourth year wasn’t the first time Dumbledore had dragons on campus, and that time didn’t go well either.), Potion’s dungeons, and Herbology greenhouses.

how on earth?

Incredible sights meet you around every corner from the images in the newspapers moving, to the intricate detail on the dragon, to Butterbeer is actually really good!  But then noticing the non magical details just made me laugh, and pointing them out to my sister was fun.

The entire experience was amazing. I walked through spaces I’d only imagined. I interacted with awesome characters. And yes, I got a wand and wandered the entire park casting spells. But even in the midst of my giddiness, I still found time to notice things only an architect would. Who else would spot the maximum occupancy signs in Honeydukes and fire suppression sprinkler heads in Gringotts? And how on earth did they get permission to have that dragon spew actual fire at people?  I couldn’t stop myself from being an architect, even when I got to be a wizard.

Lights, Camera, Action

Last year MSB Architects invested in some animation software to help our clients better visualize the designs we presented. All of our videos were the classic architectural walk-through: start outside, walk to the front door, then move from the lobby into each major space of the design. This was fine, but I wanted to dig deeper into the software’s potential, so I began intense research. I was obsessed and found some really cool things other people were doing using the same software. Then I stumbled on a game changer. This animation looked more like a movie production than a typical architectural walk-through. I was hooked on this new approach to architectural animations.

With this information in hand, we set out to tackle our next project. I sat down with my team and showed them the video. Then I uttered the phrase they’ve come to dread; “Can we do this?” And just to make it interesting, the deadline was a mere 2 days away. As always, the team rose to the challenge. We were off to the races, but not really sure how well this was going to go.

Every video needs some birds!

My team got busy with inputting the design and applying materials for the animation. Meanwhile, I started to look for music. First, I had to find an instrumental music library to sample songs. I started listening to short 1-3 minute songs. This song was too upbeat, this one to romantic, this one to fast, this one to slow, I had no idea how hard it would be to find music that fit the mood of the design. After several hours of listening, I found a song that fit.

With the music selected, it was time to change the way we do animation sequences. We studied several similar animations and how they changed camera focus, depth of field, and camera movement. We did some additional research on film making and how they compose sequences. Then it was time to make the magic happen.

We had two very late nights creating and directing our animations with the new approach. We spent time laboring over camera movements, focus change, and music. It gave me a whole new respect for film directors. Overall, it was a lot more work than I anticipated, but the end results are worth it. I hope you enjoy the fruits of our labor. Click the link below to see the finished product.

Mt Aetna Technology Park Video Link

Architect Christmas Wish List 2017

We are very quickly approaching Christmas this year and I was completely startled when I looked at the date and saw December! When did this happen!?! I don’t even remember Thanksgiving. And can someone tell me if Halloween was cancelled this year or did I just miss it? Regardless, I’ve started making my purchases for the impending holiday season. Fortunately for me, my family and my husband’s family are opting for simpler Christmas celebrations. This means my shopping list has gone down drastically, but some of you may need some assistance finding a little something for your favorite architect. So let’s get started! Below is a list of 10 things that are on my personal architecturally aligned wish list.

1. Standing Desk

I’ve had my eye on one for over a year now. There are long days at the office and sitting all day isn’t good for you apparently.

By Kennyrhoads (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

2. Architexts Volumes 1-5

Architexts is an online comic for architects. They have published their comics in five volumes for our enjoyment. They may not be funny to everyone, but every architect will get a giggle.

3. Music Subscription or Headphones

Did you know that music has been proven to boost your creativity? We need to hoard all the creativity we can get to make our projects awesome! Help us out by buying us music you know we’ll love, pay for a subscription service like Spotify premium, or get your architect some sweet noise cancelling headphones – bonus points if they’re wireless.

4. Books for Construction Knowledge

Maybe I shouldn’t tell you this, but I don’t know everything…shhh!! Don’t tell anyone else I said that. I really, really, really want a book on trim work. Not the book you get at a home improvement store – those are more idea and installation books. I want a book that shows all the typical trim shapes that are available with construction details of how they put together.


5. Books for Design Knowledge

6. Sketchbook Items

For years, the go to sketchbook for architects has been Moleskin, but any sketchbook with good quality paper in it will do. You may also want to toss in some sketching materials like watercolors, charcoal, or their favorite pens.

7. Frank Ghery’s Masterclass

We’ve been watching these in the office and they have been very good. While I don’t like Ghery’s work, it has been interesting to hear his thoughts on architecture and his process. The cost may be a little steep to purchase the entire thing, but consider purchasing one class to whet their appetite. Check out the class’ trailer below:

8. Fancy Coffee or Tea Mug

There is one coffee drinker in the office and the rest of us are tea lovers. You could gift a large mug for those late nights, a mug with a snarky message on it, or a pretty tea cup.

9. Photography Equipment

I personally need a new eye piece for my DSLR. Over the summer I bought two spare battery packs and two additional memory cards and I’d take more if someone wanted to gift them to me. If you’re feeling generous, how about a new lens?

10. Travel Opportunities

It’s good to travel, but even more so when you’re an architect. This is great if you prefer to gift experiences instead of material items. Check out this previous blog about vacationing like an architect.