Here's What Josh PS did in 2015 by S. Joshua Brincko

2015 was a busy and fun year. Each year has consistently been busier than the previous, and the project typology has been increasingly more exciting. We also rebranded the company from International Studio to Josh PS to focus on our more personable and friendly services. Here's a list of what happened in 2015 (in no particular order). We have attached some design process sketches below, and we will work on getting photographs of the finished work sometime soon. 

  1. Boat House on Lake Sammamish 
  2. Renovations for Seapine Brewery
  3. CKO Kickboxing Studio
  4. Design Within Reach - Seattle
  5. Faith Tabernacle Ministries Feasibility
  6. Frog Legs Children's Cooking School
  7. The Salvation Army William Booth Center Renovation
  8. The Salvation Army Pike Street Renovation
  9. The Salvation Army Warehouse Renovation
  10. The Salvation Army Lobby Renovation
  11. The Salvation Army Men's Center Renovation
  12. The Salvation Army Temple Corps Renovation
  13. Green Lake Residence
  14. Clay Residential Addition 
  15. West Seattle Basement Apartment Conversion
  16. Josh Remodeled His Own Basement
  17. University District Deck and Outdoor Space 
  18. Mother-in-Law Suite Elevator Addition
  19. Herban Feast Foundry Commercial Kitchen
  20. Herban Feast Foundry Corporate Offices
  21. Renton Residential Workshop and Deck Addition
  22. US Starcraft Conference Room
  23. Kirkland Modern Residential Stair
  24. Tiger Mountain Garage
  25. West Seattle Residential Canopy and Outdoor Space
  26. West Seattle Tudor Upper Floor Addition
  27. Steep Slope Residence Remodel
  28. Whidbey Island Cabin
  29. Neumos Green Rooms
  30. Mayer Accessory Dwelling Apartment and Garage
  31. Kirkland New Residence and Guest House
  32. Walnut Residence Addition and Renovation
  33. SODO Bakery Renovation
  34. Lake Washington Residence Renderings
  35. Bellevue Renovation and Mother-in-Law Addition
  36. Kirkland Residence Deck and Outdoor Space
  37. West Seattle Residence Deck and Outdoor Space
  38. Kirkland Office and Apartment Building
  39. Mill Creek Residence Remodel
  40. Sammamish Deck and Outdoor Kitchen
  41. San Juan Cabin
  42. West Seattle Upper Floor Addition 1
  43. West Seattle Upper Floor Addition 2
  44. Green Lake Art Studio
  45. Everguard Insurance Renovation

5 Steps to Succeed as an Architect by S. Joshua Brincko

If you can design it, you should be able to build it.

If you can design it, you should be able to build it.

Here's a list from my own experience as an architect describing what it takes to be successful in this industry. I don't think these are the only things an architect can do to be successful since everyone is different, but these are the things that I've identified that play key roles in my success in order of importance:

1. Construction Experience: The single most important thing (I believe) for any architect to possess is a strong background in construction. Think about it. We are in the construction industry, and we produce drawings which explain what to build and how to build it. If you don't know how to build anything, how could you possibly come up with a valid idea? There are a ton of poser architects out there that come up with a fanciful idea and push it over to others to "figure out." This sounds good, but it doesn't work. If an architect cannot communicate an idea, how can that idea possibly be articulated with 100% accuracy from the designer's brain, to an engineer's brain, to an engineer's drawing, to a builder's interpretation of that drawing, to the finished building? It can't! It is imperative that the architect understands construction materials, methods, and sequencing. I was fortunate to grow up with a dad that could fix anything and a next-door-neighbor who ran a construction company. They taught me everything I needed to know to have a good solid sense of ingenuity. I have further developed my skills over the years by building some of my own projects I've designed as well as some personal items around the house.

2. Solid Design Background: Learning from the best is key. I think some people might be born with a better sense of design than others, but I don't think anyone is born with a complete set of skills. Design is a trade that takes more than a lifetime to master. It is a process of coming up with a very complicated idea and building it with very expensive labor and materials to see how well the idea works. Then the architect can monitor people's experiences after they use the building for several years. This can also be compared and contrasted to other projects the architect has designed and used. After all of these experiences, the architect has something to base his or her future design decisions on. It is simply not possible for someone to be born with this experience. It must be either acquired from another architect or acquired from years of personal experience. I have had the fortunate opportunity to learn from the best starting at a very young age. Mark Hanahan started me as an apprentice in his architectural firm designing commercial buildings while I was still a teenager which gave me a head start on my contemporaries who did not get this experience until they were well out of college. Stuart Silk and Geoff Prentiss both gave me opportunities later in my career to design some very prominent projects for some very prominent people. These experiences gave me the opportunities to be exposed to so many different design problems, design advice, and design solutions. I trusted their mentoring and soaked it all in like a sponge. 

3. Relentless Work Ethic: I work extremely hard. My parents taught me this. They instilled in me that I can only earn things by working for them, and nobody will ever do that for me. I took that to the next level and simply started doing the things I wanted to do, so I could be who I wanted to be. Although I was told I was too young to have the experience necessary to take the state board exams to become a licensed architect, I took them anyway and passed them all on the first try. I knew I had the experience, and I read a stack of books taller than myself to cram all the facts and figures necessary to succeed. I am so excited to design buildings that I attack all of my projects similar to the way my kid runs to the slide on a playground. After interviewing a client and visiting a building site, steps 1 and 2 listed above kick in, and I know exactly what needs to be designed nearly immediately. Next I sit down at my desk a draw without stopping until the idea is properly depicted on paper, so a client can understand. In a matter of hours, I solve complex problems. I never really have "deadlines" because I do the work so far ahead of any expected finish date that a deadline is never actually set. I implement the same strategies with running the business and running my household. By solving problems early, this enables me to have a higher degree of quality control by having the time to consider and evaluate additional features AFTER implementing constructive feedback from clients and builders. 

4. Network of Good Builders, Clients, and Friends: Throughout the course of my practice, I have impressed a lot of people through steps 1, 2, and 3 listed above. These people call me for design help, and they refer me to their friends, colleagues, and family when they need help. It's a cycle that doesn't stop unless I stop succeeding at steps 1, 2, and 3. 

5. Diversified Sources of Income: It is very helpful for business owners in any industry to diversify. The construction industry has upturns and downturns. Designing buildings is my passion, and I don't want the ups and downs of the economy to shut me down. I plan for that by always having a backup plan. I teach college courses, I own/manage a rental property, I conservatively invest and save my income, and my wife earns an income with benefits. These income sources combined nearly guarantee I won't be out on the street next time the economy crashes. More importantly, this comfort gives me confidence as a designer to push the boundaries and innovate rather than defaulting to boring, repetitive design solutions.

What IS Modern Architecture, Really? by S. Joshua Brincko

These clients love their modern home. They asked for a traditional house.

These clients love their modern home. They asked for a traditional house.

Modern, traditional, contemporary, shabby-chic, transitional, post-modern, craftsman, etc. These are all "styles" of architecture. At the start of most projects, the client asks for a certain style. To be honest this drives me a bit crazy because styles for a building are quite dishonest. With fashion, you can use a style to convey a message by your appearance today and a new style tomorrow (or even a new one tonight). With architecture, style is like committing to the same outfit for life. You can't just easily change the style of your building like your wardrobe. Like fashion styles, architecture styles originated from the context of their time and place. The materials and climate available in a certain region dictate the look of the building or the wardrobe. With the world getting smaller due to advances in communication, science, and technology, anyone in the world can pretty much get any material they want. This enables people to choose a style that may not necessarily be appropriate for their region.

Architectural style made a major shift after the last World War. Traditional architecture had many sub-categories like art nouveau, rococo, colonial, etc. The thing all these traditional forms of architecture have in common is ORNAMENTATION. Ornamentation is the decorative part that serve no purpose other than for aesthetics. We love seeing ornate renaissance architecture because the ornamentation is so impressive. The countless hours that went into carving stone and woodwork is amazing...and outrageous. In today's terms, it would almost be considered slavery to ask someone to spend their life carving squiggly patterns on a door for a rich family's guest house. In these earlier times, the separation between the upper class and lower classes was much more distinct than today. People just don't stand for "serving their master" anymore in our democratic society. As a result of this political change, the playing field has been leveled, and we are less likely to spend our hard-earned money on a craftsman to spend years of his life carving a family crest above our door. As economics changed during times of war, ornamentation became revered as an outrageous undertaking when there were families that couldn't even afford food. A design school called the Bauhaus in Germany noticed this trend, and they made the idea of functional, simple design popular for the masses. It celebrated the idea that "form follows function." This means, if the architecture solves the functional goals, the form (appearance) will look correct. Simple, boxy objects with straight lines tend to solve design problems the best, and this developed into an "International Style." It is a style that is appropriate anywhere in the world since it responds to actual design parameters instead of cultural preferences. Since that time, simple architecture designed to best fulfill the functions has become known as modern architecture. 

I find modern architecture to be inspiring. A building designed to make living easy does just that - it makes it easier for people to live and do the daily things they need to do. This enables building occupants to be inspired by their surroundings instead of living within decorated boundaries that may or may not pertain to their particular mood, style, activity, or event that day.

Modern architecture is designed to allow the building to respond properly to the daylight of the sun as it travels from east to west throughout the day. 

Modern architecture frames the views outside while providing privacy to the private spaces within the building.

Modern architecture provides obvious patterns of flow and logical arrangement of spaces.

Modern architecture resolves everything in the best way possible: where to charge your cell phone, where to put your keys, where to put the trash/recycling, where to store your shoes, charging your electric toothbrush without seeing the wire, controlling the amount of ventilation/insulation, uses materials appropriate for the purpose of a space, makes it easy to find the front door but not easy for anyone but you to get into the front door, etc. 

Modern architecture is easier to build and maintain.

Modern architecture is not a style - it simply responds to the goals of the building occupants and the building site without letting a style compromise the answers to design problems.

Architect of the Month by S. Joshua Brincko

Mighty House Construction honored Josh as "Architect of the Month." Mighty House is a Seattle-based general contractor specializing in sustainable construction from small remodels to whole-house additions and renovations. Josh has worked and volunteered with Mighty House for several years with Sustainable West Seattle.

Check out their blog article here: 

Mighty House Construction

Mighty House Construction

7 Things You Can Do To Impress Your Architect by S. Joshua Brincko

1. Refer to simple shapes as "Forms."

Architects get tons of training in spatial relationships and how they affect people. We were trained to call basic rectangles, squares, circles, amoebas, etc, a "form." Architects simplify most things to their most basic parts (or forms) because simple things tend to work better. A door is a form, a door knob is a separate form. A wing of a hospital is a form, and the entry canopy to the hospital is a separate form. Each form serves a unique purpose, so it has a distinct shape and material.

2. Refer to window patterns as "Fenestration"

I know some German and Italian, so I know "fenster" and "finestra" (resectively) means window. I'm not sure why we say fenetration when we discuss the patterns, shapes, and sizes of windows, but it must have derived from these languages somehow. You can say, "I like how the fenestration of the living area contrasts but still relates to the adjacent siding pattern."

3. Refer to spaces as either "Public" or "Private"

Architects distill most things down to their basic properties to make them easy for clients to understand, contractors to build, and occupants to use since simplicity tends to work really well. We often categorize spaces as either "public" or "private" spaces. Sometimes we also use a category called a "transitional" space to delineate the areas between. Bedrooms, bathrooms, and storage rooms tend to be private, while living rooms, dining rooms, family rooms, and kitchens tend to be public. Grouping all public spaces in one area and all private spaces in a separate area enables easier material choices, functionality, and perception of different spaces. For example, bedrooms and bathrooms tend to be private and therefor require solid materials. Kitchens and living rooms tend to be more public and therefor more open and transparent materials are suitable. Grouping these types of rooms together enables the glassy areas to be in one portion of a building and the more closed-in spaces in another portion. This enables the building occupants to inherently understand where they are supposed to be as a visitor. This also enables groups of open spaces to be collectively oriented toward the portion of the property that gets the most natural light while the private spaces, which typically need less natural light, can be collectively located elsewhere.

4. Refer to walls as "Solids" and windows and doors as "Voids"

Simple is good because simple tends to work really well. Solids and voids are the basic elements of architecture. They create contrast. Contrast creates a good building, a good meal, a good party, a good anything. Would you enjoy a meal where every single thing on the plate was brown and tasted the same? Doubtful. Solids in architecture are walls, floors, ceilings, columns, beams, cabinetry, etc. Voids are glass, doorways, or other openings. Put a window between a wall and a column, and you've create a contrast between the two solid elements. Think of the window as: "not a window." It's just a void. The void is there simply because, the floor, walls, and ceiling exist around it. So solids make voids. The contrast can be enhanced by making the void larger, and this creates more dramatic, interesting, and light-filled architecture.

5. Talk shit about the building department

Architects are highly trained, extremely knowledgeable in all facets of construction, and have all the best intents for their projects. Staff at the building department are often like the employees you encounter at the DMV when you try to renew your license. They treat you horribly, and they think you owe them something. They also implement asinine requirements like putting a construction fence around a tiny shed to prevent debris from washing into the neighbors' yards while repairing it. For these reasons, architects love to "dis" the building department and share horror stories of similar encounters. It's like a support group for abused designers.

6. Ask your architect to spend an hour being creative on something specific

Architects often get stuck doing technical drawings and project management, and the creative parts of the job tend to get overlooked due to tough schedules, budgets, codes, etc. If you're spending a ton of money on your building, it makes a lot of sense to take a step back and ask your architect to get creative for a minute. Architects are inherently creative thinkers, and they are likely to come up with an idea worth considering before you go down the ordinary path of typical construction,

7. Talk about Mies Van Der Rohe or Tadao Ando instead of Frank Lloyd Wright

Frank is a household name, and he did some great work. BUT, there are so many more great architects out there that most other architects idolize much more than Frank. Ando and Mies are two of my favorites. They are known for their simplicity of forms and honesty in use of material. You can read about them on Wikipedia: Mies and Ando


In Architect We Trust by S. Joshua Brincko

Trust is something that must be earned. Do you trust your doctor? Your mailman? Your priest? Your teacher? Most people do with few exceptions. How have they earned your trust? You don't really know them all that well, but somehow they are inherently trusted to heal you, teach you, or deliver your mail. Trusting a doctor is much more important than trusting your mailman will deliver mail on time, but that trust is still very important.

After describing your symptoms to the best of your ability, you trust your doctor will diagnose the problem properly and quickly treat it. Why do we trust that will happen? Probably because the doc devoted his or her life to medicine, spent 4 years in college, spent 4 years in medical school, passed state board exams, and maybe spent another couple years specializing. The trust was earned from all that hard work. We trust the doctor has the same goal as we do: make me feel better. 

As an architect, I find it rewarding that I often receive that same level of trust. People consider me an expert in my field, and frankly...I am. I also spent 4 years in college, 2 years in grad school, 3+ years apprenticing under a licensed architect, and passed 9 state board exams with recurring audits on my professional development and continued scrutiny from building officials. I also have additional experience working with 4 other award-winning design firms, and also running my own design firm for over 10 years. It is also interesting that I sometimes do not receive this level of trust from some clients. It must be earned in addition to these credentials. Here's what I find interesting about it: to earn the trust in these situations, I have to first complete the work (successfully) for that client. OK, so I eventually earn the trust, but what's the point? The client still worked with me anyway before they developed the trust which creates an inefficient relationship where the client questions the choices of the architect. The whole process would be much easier for everyone if the client would trust the architect they hired. Some clients will draw their own "floor plans," insist on doors or closets in weird places that bump into toilets when swung open, or don't consider the window they requested looks directly into their neighbor's bathroom while missing the great view and natural light on the opposite wall.

Why do clients hire architects? It's not to draft lines on paper. Architects are hired to offer years of experience and input on the construction of a building. It is most beneficial for a client to let the architect "do his thing" and trust it will turn out great in the end. Imagine a patient telling a surgeon how to make the incision or telling the anesthesiologist to increase the dosage. The wrong choice can have major consequences. Buildings are major undertakings. They cost more than most surgeries, and they can also injure many people if poorly designed. This is why it is very important to trust the experts we hire. They want what is best for everyone.

Architects evaluate hundreds of options formally and informally before presenting them to clients. These options consider the easier, obvious things like spatial constraints, code requirements, and material/construction capabilities, and even more difficult things are considered such as perception of privacy, emotions evoked by space/material, and complicated patterns of flow and functionality. Based on the training and experience of an architect, these factors are all simultaneously evaluated before choosing the best possible solution. Occasionally, a client will not realize this level of thought, and he or she might demand fallacious requests inconsistent with the matrix of factors the architect must consider. This happens. Some people need or want things explained in greater detail, and it is part of the architect's job to ensure the client is making an educated choice. It does get frustrating though when a client makes a decision based on the wrong facts, incomplete facts, or no facts at all. I believe it is unethical to allow a client to make a poor choice like that, so I would rather speak up and explain why another choice is, in fact, the right one. Many clients in the past have respected me for "protecting them from themselves." If a client would ever disapprove of this type of honesty, I would question their reasoning for hiring an architect and politely request they hire another one.

Buildings are expensive, and we don't want you to make the wrong choice. It's too costly and difficult to live with a bad decision. Not only do we want you to love your project, but we also want a nice project in our portfolio. All of our recommendations result in the best project which makes everyone happy in the end.

Should You Get Solar Panels? by S. Joshua Brincko

Residential upper floor addition in Woodinville, WA with polyisocyanurate insulation, stack ventilation, and clerestory lighting...oh and solar panels.

Residential upper floor addition in Woodinville, WA with polyisocyanurate insulation, stack ventilation, and clerestory lighting...oh and solar panels.

You want to be green and live sustainably. That's a good thing. Solar panels tend to be considered the most sustainable thing you can do to your house. Why is that so? There's 2 reasons: they are can see them from the street, and everyone can admire them. Ooooo, ahhhhh...nice panels ya got there! The other reason is they are cool. The sun hits them, and electricity is magically made.

Although they are perceived as the most sustainable feature, are they really? If you evaluate the facts, they are really one of the least sustainable things you can do on the list of green design and construction principles. They are still a good thing to do, but let's discuss things you should do first BEFORE installing solar panels.

Caulk. Don't get too cocky about your solar panels unless you first get caulky with your caulking gun. Typical construction has a lot of gaps. Each time a window or door is installed, the builder essentially cuts a hole in your house. Each time a water line, sewer line, electric line, vent duct, etc penetrates through your house, those are more holes. When plywood is attached to the stud walls, there's minute gaps between the panels. When a sill plate is attached to the top of a concrete foundations, there's more gaps. You get the idea. There's gaps EVERYWHERE in construction, and those need to be filled. These gaps enable the unwanted air infiltration. Heat travels from areas of warmth to areas that are colder. That's just the way science works. So, in the winter, you pay a bunch of money to heat your house, and that warm air leaks through all these gaps. In the summer, the opposite thing happens. Caulking, otherwise known as "air-sealing," will prevent the majority of this heat loss which saves a dramatic amount of energy. 

So what does caulk have to do with solar panels? Well, caulk saves energy, and solar panels make energy. Compare the cost of a $5 tube of caulk, and the cost of a $1000 solar panel. Next compare the amount of energy a tube of caulk can save to the amount of energy a solar panel actually makes. Lastly, compare the embodied energy of a tube of caulk to the embodied energy of a solar panel (embodied energy is the total amount of energy used to manufacture, ship, package, etc a product). A solar panel saves/creates nowhere near as much energy as a good caulk job. Every building, building material, and building site is different, so I cannot cite specifics, but the energy leaking out of an un-sealed building is far more than the energy created by a few solar panels. My advice is to caulk every seam and tape every joint with an air-sealing tape during (or after) construction. This will give you much more energy savings. (Or you could just buy solar panels to create energy, and let that energy leak out of your house). Would you expect a fancy North Face coat to keep you warm with the zipper still open during the next winter blast?

Another significant green construction strategy that should be done BEFORE investing in solar panels is upgrading the insulation value of your house. This is a major savings. As previously discussed, heat travels from areas of warmth to areas of cold. So, even if you do have a tightly air-sealed house, the next easiest place for you to lose energy is through your walls, floors, roofs, windows, and doors. The building code requires certain insulation values for all of these items, but energy still leaks through unless you surpass the requirements. A simple strategy is just to change from batt insulation (the fluffy pink stuff) to rigid foam insulation which comes in boards or can be sprayed as foam. Within the same thickness of wall, roof, or floor, you can more than double the insulation value by switching to rigid insulation. Closed cell spray foam polyisocyanurate insulation can give you about 2.5 times the insulation value as the regular pink stuff. This means you are saving 2.5 times the amount of energy because you aren't allowing it to leak through the building. Is a solar panel going to MAKE 2.5 times more energy than your house wastes? No.

Another strategy is to layer insulation. You can use the less expensive batt insulation as usual, and on the exterior surfaces of plywood, you can additionally cover those with foam board insulation. One side of the boards is even covered with foil to help reflect the heat back inside. The foam boards are like a winter coat wrapped around the building, and these can also be caulked and taped to really trap the heat in. (In the summer, this also traps the heat out to keep the indoors comfortable). There's also more advanced strategies such as overlaying wood strips between several layers of insulation since heat has a hard time traveling from a solid, then through air, then through a solid again. There's also a lot of other strategies for lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, water saving, etc that you can do to save a lot of energy too.

The moral of the story is to FIRST SAVE as much energy as you can before you start making more energy with solar panels that will just be wasted again since there's so much more savings of energy when compared to creating energy with solar panels.

Once you have installed all the energy saving strategies, lets talk about solar panels! I know how to get the power company to buy that energy from you for double the regular selling price.

Math + Codes = Not Architecture by S. Joshua Brincko

Many people assume architects take tons of math courses in college. That's false. In fact, I took a course called "Math for Architects" one year. It was the standard 15 week long college math course that all college students took, EXCEPT after 10 weeks, it was determined (the passing) architecture students had satisfied the minimum requirements for the profession. So in reality, architects get less math training than most. On a typical day, I do add/subtract/multiply and maybe even divide, but who doesn't? On rare occasion do I ever need to do anything more complicated than that. 

Do architects get tons of technical training in building codes or construction practices? Nope. Short of a few mentions of it here or there in college, all of that stuff is learned on the job. I learned to build stuff from building stuff, and I learned to comply with the codes by being diligent and reading the phone book sized volumes of zoning, building, residential, health, and fire codes as needed on each project. Anyone can figure those things out if there's a willingness to dedicate the time. what does an architect actually get trained to do? We get trained to create appropriate experiences within our environment. What does that mean? Think of any past memory: Where are you? Who are you with? What are you doing? Try to think about your surroundings in this memory. This memory is likely largely facilitated by some architect somewhere. The space (inside or outside) that you were in was designed by someone.  It may have been an architect, a builder, a park ranger, your uncle, a committee, or anyone else who came up with the idea to make that place. Depending on how that space was designed, you are more likely to have different types of experiences. Was your kitchen open and filled with light as a kid? If so, you may have great memories of gatherings in that space. Was your bedroom facing a busy street with poor lighting? Were the materials interesting? Architects understand how places can inspire people and evoke certain human behaviors. We analyse so many factors including math, codes, views, materials, privacy, lighting, solar angles, ventilation, human perceptions, etc.  Everybody is different, and so is every project. All design starts with understanding the people who will interact with the space.

How do architects get this training? In college, we did tons of very time consuming projects that had various parameters involving different types of people, cultures, materials, and methodologies. Applying appropriate solutions to the assigned context was the focus of our training. Did you have any friends in college that were architecture majors? How often did you see them? We were absentees since we were required to spend countless hours (more than a full-time job) in our design studio working on these projects, getting feedback from our professors, and starting the projects over again to incorporate that feedback. 90% of the students dropped out of my program because it was so rigorous. This type of training continues on the job where architects get more and more exposure to more projects.

The good architects never stop working. We are continuously flying through our projects while we are trying to sleep. We are thinking through all the possible scenarios of how people will experience our spaces, what materials would be most suitable, the best possible way to construct it, etc. We cannot look at the world the same way we used to. Every environment is full of design decisions, and we analyse them to see if there's anything we can learn from those places. Sitting in a restaurant, we look at the chair, the bar, the lighting, the movement of the patrons, the movement of the staff, etc. We go to the bathroom just to see the bathroom, not just because we need to use the bathroom. It's a never-ending pursuit to understand how humans experience and interact with various spaces.

Sure I can help you with the budgeting, permitting, construction of your project. That's easy. Anyone can figure that out. I can help you with so much more though. I can help you with things you've never dreamed of. Things you didn't know you needed. I can help you make a place that will become a great memory.