Thoughts from the Construction Zone

This morning I sit in the middle of the construction zone known as “The Fire House” or “The New Office.” The last remaining vestige of the old station is coming out. The building is shaking under the effort. I have mixed feelings about this because it’s the bathroom. It has to get done, but I’ve now been without plumbing for 2 days. If all goes to plan, I’ll have a toilet back Monday. While I’m always glad to see progress, sometimes the physical reality is painful.

Perhaps today isn’t the right day to discuss this. I’m tired. Physically and mentally exhausted. The renovation is progressing, but there are still hundreds of decisions left. And yes, decision fatigue is a thing. There are issues to unravel. How do we get the floor level so the glass conference room walls can be installed? What do we do when an item we paid a deposit for 2 months ago because it has a long lead time wasn’t ever ordered by the people we paid? How do I get reluctant tradesmen to come and do the work?

My Current Mood. Photo from

While I worry at night about these things that I know still need to be done, I’ve also learned some things. “We’ll be there after lunch” is code for “we aren’t coming.” Hardened construction workers can be big babies and want everything their way. Some also gossip like teenage girls. Neighbors sometimes yell at you when you go to chat about something unexpected and out of your control. There are still true craftsmen in our society. And some people still take pride in their work.

I know, this blog is a downer. But I really am grateful for this building and the new insights I am getting. Part of my frustration stems from how anxious I am to see things complete. I can’t wait to work at an actual desk again with everything I need in the same place. So I am going to take this weekend to try to rest and rally. Monday should bring working plumbing once again. And if not, “I’ll be there after lunch.”

Aw Yes, Oh No: Insights in the Profession

Do other professions have times when you think “what did I get myself in to”? I can absolutely think of a few professions that might second guess themselves. In my time as an architect, I can think of a few times when I wondered what I was doing with my life. Let’s consider then, all the “Oh, No” (aka reconsidering all life choices) moments of an architect’s life.


Give me a wall to climb and I’m fine, until about 12 feet. Beyond that, I start to have second thoughts about why my feet are nowhere near the ground. But there are many times when you’re at a construction site or field measuring where you are forced to soar to previously unimagined heights. One of the few heights I didn’t reach was a church bell tower because I was too short to reach the next platform.

At least it wasn’t scaffolding!

14 stories up with no edge makes the heart race

Creepy Basements

I quite like old buildings, especially when they are well lit. The trouble typically comes when we get to basements or dark hallways. Always remember a flashlight or headlamp – your phone doesn’t count when you’re also field measuring. You can’t hold the tablet, write down the measurement, hold the measuring tape, hold the flashlight, and be on the lookout for monsters.

Little girls holding hands come to mind…

Old-timey elevator pit access doors


Building Second Guesses

Sometimes the building that’s under construction gives you pause. Many times you consider if you should even be standing in the vicinity. While asbestos removal is nothing new, the seismic monitoring on one of our projects certainly caught my attention. Turns out the original building took the vibrations from rock removal like a champ, but we did switch to grinding the rock out of the site instead of pounding.

Seismic monitoring on your building – Please don’t breathe too hard!

Entrance to asbestos removal area.


Now that I’ve scared everyone, let’s (1) take a deep breath, and (2) consider all the good that makes an architect go “Aw Yeah”



Schematic Design Awesomeness

In general, excitement, surprise, and exhilarated anticipation are what we like to see for any proposed scheme. But when the concept takes you to unexpected territory, the schematic design gets a bit crazy. This will, at times, cause delight for clients. This makes me happy.

New project working with the idea of centrifugal/centripetal forces.

Sweet renderings

For me, there is nothing, nothing, that compares to finishing a rendering or 3d print where you’ve surpassed your previous abilities.

Completed Buildings

Okay, this might supersede sweet renderings.

Over the Edge

It’s happening. After years of being on the edge, I’m finally going over. No, despite being very close during this renovation process, Scott is not directly the reason I’m going over the edge. Ok, so he might send me over the metaphorical edge before the fire station is complete, but this is something different. And good. Also, scary.

On a day where I’m sure I can plead diminished capacity, I agreed to participate in the Over the Edge fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County. In this completely novel concept, intrepid volunteers agree to raise a minimum of $1,000 in exchange for the “pleasure” of rappelling down the 11 stories of the Alexander House in Hagerstown. That’s right, I’m dropping 115 feet off the outside of a perfectly good building that isn’t on fire.

The “course” courtesy of Melissa Fountain’s social media.

For those of you who know me, I’m not an adrenaline junkie or someone who’s always looking for the next rush. What I am though, is willing to go completely outside my comfort zone if the cause is right. By necessity, I was a kid of 2 working parents trying to make ends meet so I would come home after school, look after my brother, and complete the dinner prep my mom had started. Being a former latch key kid, I understand the types of trouble one can get into between the hours of 3 and 6 pm (or so).

I don’t know if there was a local Boys and Girls Club around me when I was growing up or if I would have taken advantage of it if there were. What I do know is the programs offered by the Boys and Girls Club of Washington County help their young people grow as students, leaders, and generally productive members of society. They help with homework, give kids options where they may have had none, and open doors to possibilities some of these children don’t know exist. They change lives.

So, to support their vital mission, I’m taking the plunge and I’m asking for help. Would you please make a fully tax-deductible donation to support my insanity and a good cause? Just use this link that will take you to the Team Vertical Avengers page and find my name. You’re also welcome to come out on April 6 and watch the spectacle. I’ve heard the first 100 people there will get a free Chick-Fil-A sandwich. Oh, and costumes will be involved. You didn’t think I’d be on an Avengers team and not dress appropriately, did you? It will be a good time and worth the price of admission. Thanks in advance!

The Future of Architecture According to Blade Runner

Blade Runner 2049 is one of my favorites and seems like a good movie to analyze in terms of its predictions of the future. Set in a not-so-far-away future, it focuses on the humanity of humans versus AI.

Miniature of the Tyrell Skyscraper used in Blade Runner, from the Museum of the Moving Image. Photo by Mackenzie Kidwell.

Blade Runner 2049 is an extension of the original Blade Runner, which set up a dystopian future for 2019 that was semi-accurate compared to our current time. The director of 2049 decided to extend the moods and themes of the first movie, rather than develop a whole new future based on today’s culture. Arguably, Blade Runner depicts a post-modern cityscape, while Blade Runner 2049 draws on 1950s-inspired Brutalist forms as a futuristic city.

Blade Runner 2049 is predicting a future that should worry us. In this world of collapsed ecosystems, the Wallace Corporation controls synthetic farming and subsequently the world’s food supply. Synthetic human replicants are hunting down other replicants. Real humans are being relocated “off-world.” This is all taking place in a dark, smog-filled city of imposing forms. Neon advertisements light the skyline aiming to grab the consumer’s attention. The cinematographer was inspired by brutalist architecture in London. But it is not the same form of brutalism that developed from a need for stripped-down architecture in a post-war era.

Much like our current cities have brutalist architecture woven in, so should the future cities. Blade Runner is more about futuristic set design and less about the reality of the future. However, it is interesting to think about the future in terms of movies that have already predicted it.

There are some films and shows that depict the future in a more positive light. For example, Black Mirror tackles themes of experimental technology, post-apocalyptic scenarios, and psychological mind games. It also gives us a glimpse into a bright and clean future with modern architecture and minimalist design. We see that while technology could lead us down a dark path, not all aspects of our society have to follow.

My Fish Tank Passion

As you may know my second passion, after architecture, is my fish tank. My obsession began in middle school when I got my first tank. It was 29 gallons and had a typical setup. Hang on back filter, fluorescent lights, and freshwater fish. The only notable items were a pair of fish called ‘Kissing Fish’. As you might guess from their name, they press lips together in the tank and look like they are kissing.

A few years later, I decided to take the plunge into saltwater. Obviously, this meant I now had to add salt to the water. However, this was not the only difference between the fish tanks. The living creatures in my saltwater tank, like corals and anemones, require additional equipment to survive. Primarily the lighting was the biggest upgrade. Most of the non-fish life in the ocean can’t move, so in addition to any food the wanders into its grip, they depend on the nutrients of the sun. Fluorescent lights don’t provide the quality of light to provide these nutrients. I was happy with this setup until an ice storm hit our area. We lost power for over a week and I lost everything in the tank. I was devastated, so it was time for a hiatus.

The cube tank. Just add water (and fish)!

Fast forward 10 years and the itch struck again. It was time to get a new fish tank. Things in the industry had changed, so I only wanted to dip my toe in to explore the options. I started with a 30-gallon all-in-one cube fish tank. All-in-one tanks are nice because they come with everything you need. Over time, I added a few upgrades but in short order, I wanted to explore other options. Six months later, I got a 75-gallon fish tank for the office. When we moved our office to Hagerstown, I upgraded that to a 150-gallon tank. Now it’s time to move again, which means time for another upgrade.

The new office will feature a 225-gallon drop-off tank. A drop-off tank is where part of the tank is deeper than another, hence drop-off. This vertical drop provides a unique cliff aesthetic which is not often seen in the aquarium world. Like our current office fish tank, this will be installed in the wall but instead of centering it, we are sliding it to the corner. This will leave the aquarium exposed on one side full side, in addition to the face. We made sure to position it close to the main entrance so everyone stopping by can enjoy. Are there any fish you would like to see in the tank?


What season is it?!? It’s Home Show Season!

MSB Architects is poised and ready for what we are lovingly dubbing a “Season of Home Shows.” Two prime special events where we can showcase the MSB Architects Interiors capabilities are upon us: The Washington Country Home Builders Home Show at HCC Saturday, March 9 and Sunday, March 10 and the Frederick County Building Industry Home Show, Saturday, March 16 and Sunday, March 17 at the Frederick Fair Grounds.

Before We Go

Since we participated in last year’s Washington County Show, MSB introduced a new logo and brand identity program. In preparation for this year’s shows, we partnered with our marketing firm to create an updated design of our booth display materials and promotional rack card to best reflect the new MSB look and feel while reminding folks of available interior decorating services.

We also developed our visit-the-booth strategy, complete with preparing a gift card for decorating services, determining good ways to engage visitors at the booth and developing a prize entry form to better uncover potential decorating job prospects.

Lastly, we took advantage of the opportunity to write an article in the Washington County Home Show program. Our piece on identifying decorating styles strives to start a dialogue on ways an interior decorator can help turn a new house into a home.

Benefits of Membership (aka Show Participation)

In addition to getting the chance to be in front of folks looking for decorating and design ideas, the show gives us a chance to network with fellow tradespeople we could potentially join forces with on projects. Home Builders clients often find themselves wondering where their new furniture will fit in their newly built home. Decorators are often asked to build a window seat or create built-in storage for a mud room. These home shows allow us to see the work of others in our industry and devise a handy referral system of qualified professionals.

Shameless Plug

Come see us at the Washington County Home Show, Booth 51


the Frederick County Home Show, Building 14, Booth 1433.

Demolition Details

The bulk of the demolition on the new building is now officially done. I was ecstatic to have some forward progress on the building. Unfortunately for this night owl, forward progress begins at O-dark-hundred. Ok, it’s actually 7 am, but I was awake and on the road before the sun was up. The things we do for progress.

Surprisingly, parenting has prepared me for some aspects of demotion. First, demo sounds an awful lot like my kids and their friends doing “nothing” in the house. The good news is, I have years of experience tuning this kind of noise out. Except for the occasional really loud bangs that shake the building and have dust falling from the ceiling, I’ve resisted the urge to duck and cover, but I’m keeping the option on the table. It’s not a great option since I would take cover under a card table turned desk, but it’s good to have options. There were also a couple of times when water started pouring from the ceiling near my desk. My mommy instinct kicked in, I quickly assessed where the water would do the most damage and moved those items first.

One of the more enlightening aspects of demolition was the dumpster. I hadn’t really considered the importance of the dumpster in controlling the schedule. On multiple occasions, the dumpster was full and caused work inside to grind to a halt. The demo guys didn’t see much sense in knocking down walls when there was no place to put the debris. A few times they did make piles and just moved them from area to area. What I still don’t understand is why it takes so long to have a dumpster emptied. We waited 3-5 days more than once. When the demo crew finally left, I asked them to remove the dumpster to free up the parking spaces. It took 2.5 weeks to get it out, even with me asking multiple times.

Hey guys, the dumpster is full.

The business person inside of me also cringed when working with the demo crew. The proposal I got was vague, so it was difficult to determine what was additional work. Now, Scott walked the building with the owner twice before we started, so the scope should be clear. Yet there was still debate on what was extra. There were also explosive “discussions” between the management and crew on a regular basis. I witnessed 3 major labor issues in 2 weeks. Workers would get angry and leave (or threaten to leave). It was very volatile.

I am grateful for all these hard-working men did in a few short weeks, but I’m even more glad to move onto the next phase.

Exploring the Duomo di Firenze

One of my favorite photos from my trip, standing on the top viewing platform of the Duomo di Firenze lantern.

In college I was lucky enough to travel to Italy for a semester abroad. We visited some truly amazing places that don’t typically make it onto tourist maps. With all these hidden gems, one of my favorite places is probably the best-known building in Florence. This week I thought I would show you the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, more commonly known as the Duomo di Firenze.

Left, center nave of the basilica, square divisions, gothic arches, and quadripartite rib vaults dominate the space. Center, side chapel and dome. Right, view of the city and the main roofs from the lantern.

Construction began on the Duomo di Firenze in 1296 and lasted for 165 years. In the end, it not only included the main basilica, but also had a baptistery and a campanile (bell tower in the Piazza del Duomo). It also had the distinction of having the largest dome in the world at the time. The dome is still a marvel as it is the largest brick dome ever constructed.

“A structure so immense, so steeply rising toward the sky, that it covers all Tuscans with its shadow”, quote from writing of Leon Battista Alberti Photo by self.

Since construction spanned such a long time-frame, the Duomo di Firenze saw a total of eight architects at the helm. Each added their own touches to the project, beginning in 1294 with Arnolfo di Cambio’s design. By 1418 Giotto had added the campanile. Francesco Talenti included the apse and side chapels, Giovanni di Lap Ghini divided the center nave into four square bays. When it was completed, the cathedral was a mere 89,340 square feet. Next was the finishing touch – the grand dome. We’ll talk about the dome in more detail in the next blog.