The Simple Steps to a New Building – Step 2

Step 2 – Financing

We didn’t need a loan to purchase the building because I was able to scrape up the $1 purchase price. However, we did need financing to cover the cost of our renovations. We had gone through the pre-approval process for the loan and thought we would be good to start construction as soon as we closed. As they typically do, the bank ordered an appraisal as part of the financing process. On our end, we started asking contractors for bids to ensure the renovation was within our budget. The appraisal came in good shape. The bids? Thanks to the current construction boom, not so much. I covered that little setback more extensively here.

Since we weren’t looking to spend more money, which the appraisal wouldn’t support, we had to go back to the drawing board. Literally. Luckily we know a few people and redesigned the building to give us the same feel, but at a lower price. It meant losing some things we wanted, but they were less important than the overall price. We were able to get the numbers in line. Plus a nice grant from the City of Hagerstown to make it all work. Perfect–next step!

Well not exactly. Since we changed the design, the bank needed the appraiser to re-review the design to make sure the overall value didn’t change. Plus since it had been several months, we had to send the updated financial information to the bank. Fortunately, everything looked good and we could proceed.

Total time for Step 2: 4 months–we closed on the loan over 1 year after our bid was accepted.

Stay tuned for Step 3 in my next blog.

Captain Hook, Architect

As I’ve grown older, I’ve started to think that perhaps the villains had a point. Voldemort was scared of death. King Stephen got on the bad side of Maleficent by choosing sides in the fairy wars (fight me on this). Ursula just wanted payment for providing a service. Te Fiti/Te Kā wanted Maui to give her back her heart. For me, Captain Hook is a standout. My favorite versions of the character appear in the 1960 musical version starring Mary Martin and Cyril Ritchard (the most fabulous Hook to exist in my opinion) and the 1991 movie Hook starring Robin Williams and Dustin Hoffman. Because I think Captain Hook has invaluable lessons for people, let’s consider for a moment – Captain Hook, Architect.


Everyone needs a Mr. Smee. I would like to go in to a meeting with a stellar introduction, even if it’s a bit snarky.



This happens rather frequently and I should say that changes and curve balls are totally expected. I think all future brainstorming sessions should be via the Tarantella. While we don’t have the song and dance down quite yet, many of us in the office do crank up the music when devising schemes.



While presenting a new schematic design to a client, I try to read their body language and facial expressions. Many people can’t hide their feelings, but a special few can be incredibly difficult to read.



Everyone can relate to this in some way, shape, or form – Captain Hook just put it into words. It’s no different in the world of architecture.



Hook! Hook! Hook! Who doesn’t want to have people cheering your name?


What life lessons have you learned from villains?

The Simple Steps to a New Building – Step 1

As an architect, we get to see many clients purchase buildings, call us to help them with the designs, and oversee construction. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? We tell our clients the average timeline for a project from start to finish is usually 2-5 years. Of course, most people think “my project is simple, so it won’t take that long.” Let’s look at the steps we have taken with our simple new office to date and compare to the 2-5 year timeline. And remember, our office is primarily an interior renovation.

Step 1 – Find the Property

The first step in the process is to find that perfect property for your new office. Depending on your market area and what you are looking for in a property this can be as short as a couple weeks and as long as a couple years. We first looked at our building in February 2016. It was one of the properties owned by The City of Hagerstown that was up for a Competitive Negotiated Bid (CNB). After thinking long and hard about it, we submitted the CNB paperwork in August 2017 for the Pioneer Hook and Ladder fire station and illustrated our plans to renovate the building for our offices. In October, the City of Hagerstown accepted our offer. Perfect! Step one is complete.

Not so fast… Before we could actually close on the property, we had to do our due diligence. For us, this meant we made sure the building was structural sound, able to be renovated within our budget, and there were no other lingering issues. We allowed 90 days to complete this review. This is when we hit the first snag. Because the building hadn’t changed hands in nearly a century, the title records were a little nebulous by modern standards. This had to be resolved before we could close, so everyone knows exactly what’s being bought and sold. Ultimately, we didn’t close on the building until September 2018. That’s right, almost a year after the City of Hagerstown accepted our office.

Total time for Step 1: 2 years 7 months.

Stay tuned for Step 2 in my next blog.

What To Be Hopeful For In 2019

With the cold winter weather finally setting in and the end of the current government shutdown seemingly nowhere in sight, it seems as though 2019 is off to a rough start. Here are a few things to look forward to in 2019 and beyond.

The definition of sustainability to continue its growth and change in meaning

The term sustainability usually leads us to think of energy efficiency and conservation. It is just as important in the design of cities. But something that has moved into the spotlight is how we as humans experience the spaces in which we live. Functionality of space and design is important to how we function in our daily lives. If the city we live in lacks nature, public space, and an overall human scale, then it is less productive, functional, and livable. Making the places we live and work more sustainable has a positive effect on our well-being. We are now introducing terms into our everyday vocabulary such as “human-scale cities” and “biophilic cities,” which should give us all hope for the future of city design.

The goals that are being set for the future

On a global scale, goals are being set to make equality more attainable. The United Nations has created 17 Sustainable Development Goals that focus on subjects such as poverty, environmental degradation, and climate. These goals are set to be completed by 2030 which seems a bit daunting but is just another reason for us to have hope for the future.

About the Sustainable Development Goals

Access to clean water

Something that has stayed in the back of my mind for a few years now is Flint, Michigan and the water crisis that still affects the residents to this day. What is more worrying is the delayed response to this crisis and the permanence of its effects. But there are still many people, not just from the US, who lack access to clean water. World Vision is striving to give everyone all over the world access to clean water by 2030. This is in addition to one of the UN’s goals to avoid wasting water and reduce pollution that may contaminate clean water sources.

Further advancements in technology

The idea of a hyperloop is not new, but we might be closer to seeing one built than previously thought. Improvements to mass transit will make our destinations closer than ever before. Meanwhile, it is said that Artificial Intelligence may be integrated into our daily lives by 2050. It may even be able to help accomplish some of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

And don’t forget – the Pantone Color of the Year is Living Coral which will undoubtedly be used in many beautiful examples of art and architecture throughout the course of this year. 

Image from Pixabay.

My Rubik’s Cube

So, I have started and deleted about 3 blogs this week because none of them feel right. It’s hard to imagine with all the different architectural projects going on in our office and around the world that I am at a loss for a topic, but here I am. Searching desperately for a topic, I noticed my Rubik’s cube glimmering out of the corner of my eye. That’s right, a Rubik’s cube. Let me tell you why I have one at my desk.

Sometime in the early ’80s, when I was in elementary school, I got my first Rubik’s cube. Everyone had one that year and no one could solve it, including me. Oh, I can get one side without a problem, but beyond that nothing. Unless, of course, I took it apart–which I did quite often. Since my childhood every time I see one, I have to grab it and play with it.

Let’s fast forward 30 years to Thanksgiving 2016. My son Alex, was home from college and brought a Rubik’s cube with him. He played with it just like I had, except he could solve it–without taking it apart. For years I had struggled to solve this simple cube and now my son was easily moving the squares around while barely paying attention. I had to learn how, so I asked Alex to teach me over the break. Not only was it easy to learn how to solve it but I discovered Alex was a great teacher. He was able to break down the solution into simple tasks. Once you solve the first side there are approximately 4-6 motion sequences to solve the puzzle.

The Stages to Solve the Rubik’s Cube

How does this relate to architecture? Much like a Rubik’s cube, buildings we design have a fixed amount of 3D space (often dictated by costs) to incorporate a program, including all the rooms and special areas required by the owner. Sometimes you think Room A absolutely must go in the bottom right corner, but as you try to get the other pieces in place, Room A has shifted to the bottom left side. Eventually, as we shift things around, the schematic concept comes together and you have a finished building with all the pieces in the right spot, just like a Rubik’s cube.

The Stages to Solve an Architects Rubik’s Cube

How Girl Scout Cookies Reminded Me Change Can Be Good

Last month, my husband came home with our Girl Scout cookies order. In November, you say? That’s only the beginning. Not only did Girl Scout cookies come earlier than the usual February (change # 1), but so many changes followed I thought the world was coming to an end.

New Name, Same Cookie?

The cookies all sported different names:

  • “Do-Si-Dos” blandly changed to “Peanut Butter Sandwich”
  • “Tagalongs” became “Peanut Butter Patties”
  • “Trefoils” became the less interesting name, “Shortbread”

Try it, it won’t hurt you.

After salvaging some semblance of hope, I decided to try what appeared to be imposter Girl Scout cookies. I surprised myself. The new cookies were as yummy as the versions I grew up loving. They were just different:

  •  New Trefoil iteration “Shortbread” was more vanilla-y, less buttery. Still good.
  • “Peanut Butter Sandwich” cookies were less the buttery, crumbly outer cookie of “Do-si-dos,” and more a peanut-butter-flavored, crunchy outer cookie. (Luckily, the creamy frosting filling remained in both versions!)


And to my greatest amazement:

  • “Savannah Smiles” lemon cookies with powdered sugar I coveted as a kid, were replaced with lemon-frosted shortbread cookies (“Lemonades”) that were leaps-and-bounds yummier!


I couldn’t believe I liked something I was sure I wouldn’t.

This relates to decorating, how?

The Girl Scout Cookie Conundrum reminded me that as your tastes in food change over time, so do your tastes in decorating styles. My change of heart (nee taste) reminded me to ask clients to be open to exploring decorating ideas they may be skeptical of at first.

I put this idea to the test at a subsequent decorating seminar I presented. A What’s Your Style Quiz forced participants to examine their likes and dislikes quickly, choosing answers based on feelings at that moment. Some were legitimately surprised to learn something modern appealed to them when they were certain they would never stray from the traditional.

Changes in decorating taste are akin to hating Brussels sprouts as a kid and loving them now as your first-choice appetizer. When approaching decorating, especially if you want to refresh or revitalize your space, be open to exploring how your tastes may have changed over time. Be open to inviting surprise decor ideas into the mix. You may find a decorating gem in a modern sculpted vase that wakes up your mantle in an unexpected way.

So try that new Peanut Butter Sandwich cookie. You might surprise and, dare I say, delight yourself.

Blogger’s Note: Taste change surprises aside, I had to get to the bottom of why the Girl Scout cookies were different. After a quick Internet search, I discovered there are two bakeries in the U.S. responsible for Girl Scout cookies. The “recipes” you get and when you can get them depend on what region of the country you reside. World order restored. * Girl Scout cookie photos courtesy of the Los Angeles Times.

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.