Advanced Filmmaking

About a year ago I wrote about our new animation software. Since then we have created 6 animations for clients, including one for our new office. As you might expect, with every rendering we do, we learn the software better and are able to make improvements on the last model. We also obsess over the process and are always researching what others have done. I recently learned that Pixar, the animation studio, uses a similar strategy with their films and techniques. Each Pixar movie begins with a “short” which is their method of trying new techniques. This led me to some parallels between us and filmmakers. Here are a few.

The first thing we do is create the movie sequence or storyboard. This technique allows us to create the order for the images in a way that best communicates the story we are telling. Interestingly enough, this process has made this movie aficionado start watching films differently. I now pay attention to the camera changes and how the shots progress from one to the next. By doing this, I’ve learned fun things like showing details before the whole picture to build excitement. It may also mean adjusting the initial sequence to best tell the story.

One of the other things we’ve learned is to carefully consider the camera angles. Because we use Revit, the entire model is imported for animation, but it has to be modified before we apply materials. Having the right camera angle is a time saver since we only model what the camera sees, just like a film set.

Another thing we have in common with the film industry is post-processing. This is when we add the special effects, adjust sequences to match the soundtrack and make people move. It takes almost as much time to do this as it did to create the model, but it’s well worth it. Below is a recent residential project with a side by side comparison of the movie with and without the effects.

MSB Architects enjoys telling our client’s stories in the work we do. Our animations now tell a visual story before the project is built. Visit our YouTube page and tell us which animation is your favorite.

Photos by Janelle Horst.

You might be an architect if…

Ever wonder if you might be an architect?  According to popular opinion, there are some tell-tale signs such as is a large part of your wardrobe black clothes?  Do you wear rounded glasses? Do you overuse words such as “juxtaposition,” “dichotomy,” and “curvilinear”? Are you very particular about the type of pen you use?  Have you ever uttered the words “I haven’t slept in two days.” (And been proud of the fact?) Have you ever held a philosophical discussion about what a brick wants to be?  Do you have a sketchbook with you no matter where you go?

Then there are some more subtle signs that may have slipped your notice.  But all you have to do is scroll through your photos to find out if you may be an architect.  

Do you take photos of rooms or particular details that are nicely done?  Or ones that are just not quite right? (Bonus points if it’s a bathroom!)

Photos by author.

Details can be just so nice like the integration of the glulam column, how the grout line perfectly meets the window trim or the window that lets you see how the bridge is working. But then again, why doesn’t the corner grout line meet at the corner, and why isn’t the toilet straight? Photos by author.

Have you ever had to be at the top of a ladder or power lift to look at a detail that no one but you (and, like, maybe two other people) will ever see, notice, or care about?

Photos by author and Janelle Horst.

Ladders and lifts, hope you’re not afraid of heights! Photos by author and Janelle Horst.

Do you have photos of objects that are somehow important to a job but look completely random out of context?

Photos by author and Janelle Horst.

A sink a client wants to use, how a plank ceiling is actually attached, structural steel bits and bobs, sample materials, special tape for the vapor barrier? Who knows? Photos by author and Janelle Horst.

Have you ever considered a correction to your work pretty and taken a photo of it?

Photos by Janelle Horst.

Redlines galore! Telling people how to fix stuff has never looked so good. Photos by Janelle Horst.

Do you have an awkward high number of photos with your boss in them?

Photos by author and Janelle Horst.

Plenty of photos of Scott end up in our camera roll, sometimes just a piece of him. Apparently, he points at things a lot. Photos by author and Janelle Horst.

Waiting Is The Hardest Part

Whenever I think of the new office right now, the Tom Petty song “The Waiting” starts playing in my head. Not the whole song, just “the waiting is the hardest part” line over and over. Which brings us to a status update on our big fire station to new office space conversion. So where are we?

The Bids

While most of the prices are in from a variety of subcontractors, we are still missing a big one. Framing and drywall have been fairly elusive for us to nail down for one reason or another. For me, it’s been like seeing a rainbow. It looks so close, but when you reach out to touch it, it dissolves into air. A few times, I’ve thought we’ve got a good number now, only to have it vanish as I reach for it. Ok, not literally, but you get my drift. Waiting for this number to solidify is frustrating because it’s the one holding up our construction loan. Current status: waiting, but running out of patience.

The Permit

On the plus side, I was able to check “apply for building permit” off our To Do list. It was a relatively painless process for me since I have a team of architects here that complete the process regularly. Lucky for me, Janelle accompanied me to the permit office to tackle the pesky questions that made me panic. When asked if we were replacing the roof, I did a really great impression of a deer caught in headlights. Fortunately, Janelle swooped in for the save with the right answer. Whew! Another plus was the fact that we applied for the “Partners in Economic Progress (PEP)” program. Because we qualified for this incentive, I didn’t have to write a large check to submit the permit application. We are anxiously waiting for the permit to be issued. Current status: waiting.

The Incentives

As I mentioned, we have applied for the PEP program, which offers incentives such as waived building permit fees, expedited plan reviews, consultation on Historic Tax Credits, a grant/reduction in property tax and discounted parking. We were fortunate enough to qualify for the program, but it also meant requesting “Enterprise Zone Qualification” forms with the county. Again, not a bad thing, as there are additional tax incentives involved, but it was more paperwork and, of course, more waiting for approvals. Current status: waiting.

When the project is all said and done, I’ll probably say another aspect of the project was really the hardest, but for now, I’m agreeing with Tom Petty.

Architecture in Pop Culture: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Look, it’s no secret that I’m a bit of a Potterhead…..okay, maybe a big Potterhead. I wasn’t initially in love with the books since they are “children’s” books and I expected them to be a fad. I didn’t want to jump on a bandwagon, especially if the books were complete rubbish. While I saw and enjoyed the first movie (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone), it still wasn’t quite enough to make me go read the books. It wasn’t until years later when I was commuting to Baltimore that I started listening to the books. After the first three books, I was hooked. I loved the books, I loved the narrator, I loved everything about it. Five years after the last Harry Potter film came out, JK Rowling has given us new wizarding world material to drool over in the form of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

One of the things I have thoroughly enjoyed about JK Rowling’s work has been the world building. Both Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts have a basis in real places, London and New York, respectively. Brianna’s already written about the world of Harry Potter here and here, so I’ll explore Fantastic Beasts set in the roaring 20s (1926 to be exact). While you can find lots of information on this topic via the internet or by watching the movie (yay!), there is also this sweet book:

Here are a few of the real life locations seen in the movie.

Magical Congress of the United States of America 

For MACUSA, the Woolworth Building was the perfect place for America’s wizarding government. Completed in 1913 and designed by Cass Gilbert, the building was the tallest in the world when it was completed. The 60 stories worth of building is a showcase of Beaux Arts design with ornate Gothic sculptural detailing.

The top thirty floors are currently being renovated into thirty-three condominiums. These units start at just under $10 million. If that’s a little steep, try a tour of the lobby by going to this site.

The interior (for the film) was inspired by the Sienna Cathedral. The Sienna Cathedral is a Gothic-style church in Italy. It was initially built in the early 11th century. The existing church features work by some of Italy’s most prominent artists of the day. Interior wise, the building has soaring ceilings, typical of Gothic cathedrals, with striped columns and a blue ceiling with gold stars – a good fit for the wizarding world, yes?

By ricardo andré frantz (taken by uploader) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons


City Hall Subway Station

The City Hall subway station was built in 1904. It was designed by Heins and LaFarge and featured work by Rafael Guastavino. The station was intended to be the “crown jewel” of the system and reflected the City Beautiful movement. To create a beautiful station, the architects incorporated richly toned tiles of red, green, and cream, vaulted ceilings, and three glass skylights.

While the station was closed in 1945, tours are now being offered via the New York Transit Museum.

By Julian Dunn from New York, USA (Old City Hall Station) [CC BY 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons


Central Park Zoo

Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux designed Central Park in 1858 via a design competition. The Central Park Zoo did not have any official buildings until 1934. Prior to this, a menagerie and was located behind the Arsenal building.

The photo below is of the Delacorte Clock which was dedicated in 1965. It is located between the Wildlife Center and the Children’s Zoo.

Photo by Ann Oro


The series continues with Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindlewald hitting theaters in December of this year. The trailer looks like we’ll be exploring the architecture back at Hogwarts. Plus, they mentioned Paris – Beauxbatons Academy of Magic anyone? Check out the trailer below:

(Feature image by Martin Pettitt)

Adventures in General Contracting

If you follow our blog, you know the news. Scott and I bought a building. The joy was immediately followed by sticker shock and depression. We’ve rebounded from that and as the next part of our journey into office ownership, we’ve decided to do our own General Contracting. No problem, right? Scott has years of experience on one side of construction. I have a good “death stare,” organizational skills, a tight grasp on the purse strings, and flexibility with where I can do my work. Well, we barely scratched the surface of this adventure and I’m going to say it’s not for the fainthearted.

I wonder if this comes in a hard hat version.

To date, Scott and I have met with a series of subcontractors. Scott knows most of them and I sometimes go along for the ride. I take some notes and maybe ask a few questions. My favorite meeting was with a guy that kept his back to me and only addressed Scott. Someone doesn’t know my veto power. One person wanted to bid ala carte, couldn’t get us a price for more than 2 weeks and didn’t want to start before 2019. I especially liked that he didn’t want to cut the hole in the floor for the new stairs. Now, I’m no expert, but how hard can it be? Draw a square on the wood floor upstairs, get a large saw and follow the line. I think the hardest part is making sure you’re not pulling a Wile E. Coyote by standing on the part you’re cutting.

When we aren’t meeting with contractors, we are dealing with paperwork and bureaucracy. We applied for and received a grant from the Invest Hagerstown program. This is huge for us because even with the revised design, things are still pricey. We submitted our application for permits through the Historic District Commission (HDC). Being new to this, I wasn’t prepared for the initial recommendation to be something different than what we submitted with an unknown price tag. I swore a lot. Scott told me I wasn’t allowed to go to the actual meeting, just in case I couldn’t keep it in check. Fortunately, I have a good architect, who did some research and made some changes that were satisfactory for both us and the HDC. Win, win!

Time for a happy dance!

I’ve yet to really dive into my new general contracting career, but I’ve learned a few things. Hire good people, keep your cool, and schedule the wine delivery early.

I need to edit the timing of this item from my To Do list.

Architectural Advice from a Novice Hiker

For vacation this year, my husband and I finally made the journey to Montana. We split our time between Yellowstone National Park and Glacier National Park. While there, we hiked over 100 miles and learned a lot about ourselves along the way (like how I really should have gone to the gym before we left for the trip). I also noticed how certain things in hiking align with architecture, but mostly the process that I see our clients go through. Below I give you 8 pieces of architectural advice from a novice hiker.

1. The highs and lows are what make the journey.

Some people like a flat easy path to hike on, but I can tell you that those were all super boring. The scenery never changed. If you want great views you’ll need to go high. Like hiking, you’ll be excited to start the design or construction process, full of energy and ready to tackle anything. Then you’ll trip over a rock, discover a major issue in the foundation, and you’ll swear the mosquitoes are in love with you. You round the corner and see your building taking shape and you remember why you started this in the first place. Other hurdles will surely be thrown your way in the process and you’ll feel like all your money is being squandered away. Don’t worry, one day the clouds will part and the angels will sing.

Left Photo: Just starting out on the longest hike we did. Middle photos: Progressing throughout the day and slightly hating myself. Right Photo: At the top and loving the view. Why yes, that’s four lakes and over 20 visible miles.

2. When you think you can’t go any further, keep going.

Every time I thought I couldn’t push to the next turn or make it up another hill, I kept going. And it was always worth it. When you can’t handle the design or construction process any longer, keep going.

One of the scariest hikes. Photos by Dustin Horst.

3. Know your limits.

While you should push yourself, know when you need to walk away from a trail, an architect, or a contractor.

4. It’s okay to shed a tear.

Not gonna lie. After our longest hike with our biggest elevation gains, I shed a couple tears because I was so happy to be done and simultaneously exhausted. I also held back tears of pain a few days later when I thought I could go uphill no longer.

5. Stay hydrated and use the pit toilets.

This is a self-care reminder. You’ll never complete the trail if you don’t drink water and you’ll hate yourself for not using the pit toilet when you had the chance. During the design and construction process take care not to burn yourself out. Lots of decisions will need to be made, but you can’t do that when you’re thirsty and need to use a restroom.

Pit toilets for the win!

6. Weird things are sometimes the best.

Nature produces weird things sometimes. Take the Grand Prismatic at Yellowstone – all that bacteria creating crazy colors. It’s gorgeously weird. When an architect or contractor suggests something weird, perhaps take a step back and consider it for a moment. You might find it to be beautiful.

Grand Prismatic Spring. Photos by Janelle Horst.

7. Don’t go alone.

Have a support system to help you through all the difficult moments.

Support systems like this make things way more fun! Left: Photo by Kelley Shradley-Horst. Right: Photo by Dustin Horst.

8. Carry bear spray.

Please don’t pepper spray your architect. But do be vigilant about your surroundings. Be cognizant of the process and don’t be afraid of it, just be prepared.

Left: Yellowstone National Park warning sign. Right: Glacier Nation Park bear warning sign. Photos by Janelle Horst.


Side note: Due to fires in recent years, certain historic structures have been destroyed. The Glacier National Park Conservancy works to provide funds for the restoration of the historic Sperry Chalet along with other environmental management and conservation, accessibility for all visitors, and educational opportunities. If you enjoy visiting places like this, consider aiding them in their work by checking out their website.

It’s going to cost what?

One of the more challenging tasks as an architect is explaining to clients why the construction bids came in over their budget. It’s never a comfortable discussion, but one I have had many times. This occurred on our latest project, except it wasn’t a client’s project. You guessed it–it was our new office. This is the first time I’ve been on the receiving end of this bad news. To make it more interesting, the cost wasn’t just 5-10% over budget, it was almost 50% over budget. I anticipated costs being high, but not this much. I said to myself, “It’s going to cost what?”

The bid came in around 10 am on a Thursday. Honestly, the rest of the day was a blur. I was in such a state of shock that I don’t remember working on anything else. Our sympathetic loan officer, Karen, brought some pizza to help us process the news. While we ate, we took a hard look at the bid to see if there were simple ways to cut costs. Since I review bids regularly, I looked to the big-ticket items first. But the question staring me in the face was how do you cut 50% of the project and retain the essence of the project? This was going to take some bigger thinking.

Unfortunately, the answer was redesign. It was hard to let go of the original design, but there were no simple ways to bring the costs within our budget. So we broke out the sketch paper and printed all the previous concepts. Figuring out how we got to where we were helped focus us. Fortunately, we had some earlier schemes that looked like we could adapt. Times like these really bring us to the core design to find what is critical and what is not.

We have finished the redesign and it’s much simpler than our original plans. We are in the process of getting revised bids and hopefully (fingers crossed), the numbers will be within our budget. While it was a stressful couple weeks, it has been a good experience. I definitely have a better understanding of the stress our clients go through.

Why you should visit Iceland

When studying abroad I took a solo vacation to Iceland. I hadn’t researched anything about it before the day I decided to go, and I ended up just “winging” it. I booked a plane ticket a week before the trip and found a modest AirBNB in a suburb of Reykjavik called Kopavogur. When I arrived I realized it was predominantly residential so I had to find my way to a bus station to get downtown. I walked around Reykjavik for about half an hour before realizing that I had arrived. It rained for four out of the six days I was there, including the day I visited the Blue Lagoon. This may sound like a washout but Iceland was by far my favorite destination during my time abroad. It was a unique experience not only as a human but as a designer and here are a few reasons why:

Historic design based on necessity

During a bus tour to Vík, the southernmost village on the mainland of Iceland, I visited the Skaftfellingur Museum. I learned that since Vík is located so far South, it becomes cut off from the rest of Iceland during harsh weather conditions. Some of Vík’s vernacular architecture came about as a way of protection. In this instance, the use of turf for insulation from bitter temperatures was brought to Iceland by Norse and British settlers during the Viking Age. Apparently, it only has to be replaced every 20 years which makes it a very sustainable design option.

Icelandic Turf Houses. Photo by me.

Urban design in smaller doses

The population of Iceland is quite small and villages are spread out. It was shocking to learn that the majority of Iceland’s population lives in or around Reykjavik. The city itself is less dense than a comparable city in America. The buildings are mainly two or three story houses, while some newer construction along the water could be considered “high rise.” Each street is lined with some type of greenery and the entire layout is walkable.

Lokastígur (Loki’s Lane), the street leading to Hallgrimskirkja. Photo by me.

Contemporary architecture interlaced with vernacular

Since most structures in Iceland came about due to necessity, the newer and more modern architecture stands out while still paying respect to Iceland’s history. Harpa Concert Hall and Conference Center stands as a joint effort of Danish architectural firm Henning Larsen and Icelandic firm Batteríið Arkitektar. Its design features intricate facades that enhance natural phenomena. Perception and physical senses were a main driver for the design intentions.

View along Sculpture and Shore Way. Photo by me.

National parks and protected landscapes

An important aspect of Iceland’s landscapes is its glaciers, waterfalls, hot springs, fault lines, and sprawling lava fields. I was not expecting to get anywhere near a glacier on my trip, but one of the tours I went on took us to Myrdalsjokull which is sitting on top of an active volcano! Seeing it so close and hearing about the effects of global warming on the glaciers of Iceland was an eye-opening experience. I also traveled to Þingvellir National Park which is located along a fault line. This means that the hike to the Visitor Center follows along the Mid-Atlantic Rift, by which Iceland is divided.

Up close & personal with Myrdalsjokull glacier. Photo by me.

Visitor Center in Þingvellir National Park. Photo by me.

So…did you book your plane ticket yet?! As an architecture student, this experience helped me grasp how a country can have such horrendous weather and still be a hub of culture and history. Now as a recent graduate and intern, I look at the photos I took and remember how it felt to be in such a unique environment. Surprisingly enough, I mainly took pictures of the landscape while I was there. This differs from my normal iPhone camera roll because as someone who is focused on design and the built environment, I usually snap pictures of any building that even slightly catches my eye.