Architecture of Cornwall, England by Josh Brincko

Finding inspiration can come from many sources: people, places, or things. As an architect, I get most of my inspiration from observing places and exploring different ways of doing the things I already do. This is why I regularly plan trips to areas different from Seattle where I work and live. 



Most recently I visited Cornwall which is a region in the southwest of England. It is typical of most European cities that have had to adapt its ancient infrastructure to modern technologies. As I toured through restored castles, I notice things like: how they get electrical wires to be concealed throughout walls that are built of 3' thick stone or rock. 



Not only are they retrofitting older structures, but they also have different ways of doing new things too. For example, electrical wiring and receptacles are much more advanced. Each new outlet has a switch on it. This enables you to keep things plugged in while not in use while also cutting off the electrical power to prevent "ghost loads," which is electricity that is still wasted while things are plugged in but not turned on. This accounts for up to 10% of residential electricity used. This gives us the opportunity to save power, money, and resources. This also increases safety from children playing with outlets and from power surges. This doesn't add any additional difficulty for the wiring of the outlet. 



At the kitchen, there are "kill" switches for the appliances (with labels). This allows you to totally turn off an electric oven. This keeps us safer and prevents fires. The switch is illuminated in red when the oven power is on. When finished using the oven, it was obvious to turn off the oven and to also cut off its power. This provides an extra layer of safety. 



The switches and outlets are generally just cooler too. They have many more options and finishes than the standard two choices the USA has. 



Energy conservation doesn't end with the electrical. It is also evident when looking at any newer window. The double paned glass has a much bigger space between the two panes. It's about double the standard in the USA. This reduces the amount of heat that can be transferred through the glass. This has a negligible cost difference and has no affect on the appearance. It makes no sense to me why this is not a required standard in the USA. The window manufacturers do not make their window frames to accommodate a thicker glass unit, so it will take some time before they adapt. If our energy code becomes more stringent, then the manufacturers will adapt. 



Another cool feature about the European windows is that many of the new ones have a built-in vent. It's kind of ironic. Old windows were inefficient and drafty, so they unwillingly let fresh air leak in. Newer windows are very efficient and therefor not drafty. Since we still need the flow of fresh air to keep our indoor environment from becoming stagnant and moldy, the Europeans have incorporated pop-out vent strips in their window frames to allow the windows to maintain their important thermal efficiency while also allowing a trickle of fresh air to come in and out when desired. This little innovation helps prevent newer buildings from becoming too air tight which has become a problem with our newer envelope air-sealing products consisting of advanced caulking and weather barrier wraps. 



The use of cedar was another thing I was glad to see. Cedar, in its natural weathered state, was commonly used as a decking and siding material. It looks and works great. Cornwall has the same climate as Seattle except a little rainier. Builders always complain about the maintenance wood requires, but I think this is false. Wood only requires maintenance if you want it to look new. If you are ok with the look of weathered wood, then it requires no maintenance. Cedar is a native species to Seattle, so it should be used in its natural state. 



Working with native material in the natural setting is a common theme throughout Europe and also evident in Cornwall. One notable village was Polperro which was built before than the 1300's! Many of the original structures are still in tact. Nestled along the banks of a small cove between two rocky, tree-covered hills, this fishing settlement was built to contour the topography of the area and has a similar appearance to Venice, Italy - but replace the canals with a river. They even have a stone jetty with an operable wood gate that can close off the port during foul weather. The homes are built from the rock that is indigenous to the area and covered with cement. The roofs and trims are also built with native tree species. They stagger around the port, along the river, and up the hillsides bearing upon natural subterranean rock. The natural setting and materials surely have stood the test of time and add to the charm of this beautiful village. (Also, the Crumplehorn Pub was an amazing site with its authentic posts and beams from hundreds of years ago and ales naturally cooled in its cellar.)



Another notable feature of this area is its pristine farmlands outside the villages. Somehow an island as small as England, but with a huge population, has not given in to urban sprawl. The villages remain dense and walkable, and the areas outside the towns are uncompromised farmlands. Each town tends to have a "car park" where visitors can leave their car while walking around and enjoying the local pubs, shops, and other attractions. This promotes a healthier way of life. Walking around town, no car, no pollution, and more density all equates to less "stuff." The people who live in these areas seem to be more thoughtful in the things they choose to own and have more of a focus on experiences over possessions. This way of life enhances person-to-person contact contributing to the sense of community and creates the synergy that is lacking in suburbs with homes spread apart.


The development that does occur in these areas also tends to be more thoughtful. The modern architecture is a bit more striking. Although the modern materials do not "fit" within the context of the medieval materials, it is more iconic than a lot of the modern boxes being built in the USA. The problem with the traditional English architecture we normally envisions is it is extremely cost-prohibitive in terms of labor. Those castles are beautiful with their carefully carved stonework, but those took hundreds of years to build and had much lower standards for working conditions. Today, we treat our craftsmen with more respect, we have lower taxation, and this leads to less prominent architecture. To build at this level with today's labor and code regulations would be simply too intense for even the wealthiest clients to justify. This, in part, contributes to the alternative of using modern building materials that contrast the medieval construction methods and materials. As a result, it is important to design modern structures that are equally as striking as their older counterparts.


It Ain't Easy Being a Builder by Josh Brincko

Since I have experience building just about everything, I can commiserate with builders as an architect. They have a TOUGH job. They have to actually build the stuff architects draw with a level of craftsmanship our clients will accept. As an architect, I only have to draw lines on a paper. Sure those lines can be complicated to figure out at times, but we get to sit at a heated, dry, cozy desk and draw those lines while a builder has to be out on a cold, muddy, rainy jobsite trying to figure out how to properly build those lines that architects drew.

Most of the time, the lines architects draw are not even completely figured out yet, and the builder still has to figure out how to build them properly. We also prefer to empower the builder to offer input on these items where appropriate since the person building the project is the one who truly knows best when it comes to methods of construction to achieve the design intent. It's also not possible to completely figure out how something should be built during the design phase since all of the concealed existing conditions, client decisions, code interpretations from the building department, pricing from the builder, and exact specifations are unknown at the time the plans are drawn. Much of that is left to be discovered during construction, and the architect and builder are left to figure it out at that time. All too often, the builder expects the architect to know these things ahead of time (a year in advance) when the plans were drawn. 

Since it's impossible to foresee all these conditions, the builder gets stuck reacting to the as-built conditions and trying to incorporate the intent of the drawings as closely as possible. This is rather difficult because the builder rarely knows the design intent. How could the builder? The architect invented it with the client's feedback over months and months of meetings, iterations, changes, and more changes. It's a moving target, and the builder is the only one who eventually holds the target in one place and takes a "shot" hoping the thing they build aligns with their interpretation of the design intent ambiguously portrayed in the drawings.

The best builders don't take long shots at moving targets. They understand the architect knows the big goal, so they take baby steps and ask lots of questions and provide further clarification to the architect about existing as-built conditions to get more feedback which only moves the target closer and makes it easier to hit it. The bad builders are the ones who don't ask questions and just build something. This is like closing your eyes and shooting at a target hoping you will hit it. This is a guess at the client's goals. There's a low likelihood of guessing right, so the failure rate is high. It's best to take the time to ask, get approvals, and build exactly what the client actually wants on the first try. (Ask where the target is before shooting at it).

Once builders get the appropriate feedback, they have even more challenges. They need to order materials and hope they are not discontinued from a year earlier when they were specified. They also hope the materials are not on backorder and can be delivered on time. They also need to make sure their staff is available to work when the materials are delivered to keep the project moving forward (and to prevent their business from remaining stagnant).  They also hope the weather cooperates. The right moisture level, temperature, and sunlight can be critical factors in installing many products. Builders also need to make sure they have the appropriate tools, the right sized drill bit, the battery charger for their drill, a long enough extension cord, the tube of caulk, etc. The absence of any one of these things throws everything off, requires a Home Depot run, and pushes progress behind.

The builder also needs to ensure they are being paid on time, so they can afford to buy all these materials on the client's behalf. Getting paid is also reliant on the quality of the workmanship. This is the hardest part. If there's one scratch, one misalignment, one wrong color selection, one thing the client doesn't accept, the client won't pay. This puts a lot of pressure on the builder to build exactly what the client wants.

Good craftsmanship is not easy. It takes tons of patience, dedication, time, and focus to pull off a perfectly built project. Most of the materials builders work with are expensive. One wrong cut or chipped corner has a huge financial impact.

The best builders out there take so much pride in their work, and this is why I have so much respect for them. It's a hard job, and they are the final step in bringing a client's dream into reality. It all rests on the builder's shoulders. 

I'm sure you know some builders. Take the time to encourage them. Let them know you appreciate their dedication, their backbreaking effort, their patience, and their sleepless nights planning for the next day on the job. They dig holes for you. They walk on slippery dangerous roofs for you. Think about it...You're sitting in a room right now. Who made that wall so flat? Who prevented water from leaking through that window? Who attached every single one of those floor boards together? Who cut that drywall, hung it, plastered the seams, sanded it, plastered it again, sanded it again, primed it, painted it, and painted it again? Someone did all of those steps for your enjoyment. Please thank your builders. They built the world we live in.  

Our World With Self Driving Cars by Josh Brincko

Autopilot is a very exciting topic to me because it WILL change the way we live on a scale much more grand than we have ever experienced. Smart phones and the internet have drastically changed the way and speed in which we access information and communicate with one another. Although this has been a huge change, the internet and cell phones have really not done much to change the basic ways in which we live. We still do all the same things we used to do before cell phones, but now we just communicate and query for information more frequently. Other than that, we fundamentally do the same things we used to do, but we just do them electronically. The biggest change this may have enabled is the fact that we can do more things remotely. There is less of a requirement of being in a certain location. This flexibility of accomplishing more tasks from any given place paired with autonomous driving vehicles will be the combo that will truly redefine the way we live. 

As more jobs can be "work from home" and more shopping is done online, there is less and less of a demand for us to drive. Also with drone delivery and 3D printing of products at home (yes, someday soon you will print your own Amazon purchase on your home 3D printer), the demand for driving is even further diminished. This creates less of a demand to really own a vehicle for some people. Currently, car sharing services such as Car2Go and Reach Now already serve this need. In populated areas, it is becoming easier to borrow a car than to own one. For a pay-by-the-minute rate, a city dweller can easily drive a borrowed brand new car without the hassle of making car payments, insurance payments, paying for gas (or even filling up with gas at all), paying for maintenance, paying for parking, etc. The only downside of this is you can't leave stuff in the car for later - you have to bring everything with you. Other than that, the car sharing services are very easy and cost effective when compared to buying and maintaining your own car since they are literally scattered all over cities ready for you to jump in and jump out with minimal planning. 

Autonomous vehicles will change this dynamic even more. Instead of using an app to find a car (or your own car), you will use an app for your car (or a shared car) to find you. A car could be summoned to pick you up at any time or place. Teslas already have a "summon" feature that will open your garage door (then close it), pick you up at your door, and start driving you to your destination. This technology already exists. Once it becomes more prominent, people will realize there is no need to have your own car just sitting in a parking space while you are sitting in your office or at home watching Netflix. You could rent out your self driving car during the day while you are working as it taxis other people on its own and earns you money. Or you could forego owning a car altogether and reserve one to pick you up and drop you off. You could also elect to share rides with other people along your same route. This is already an option with Uber which enables you to travel at a reduced fare by sharing your ride with random people (like a bus). 

Once the technology is perfected and all vehicles are autonomous, the real change begins. There will be no more drunk driving. No more texting and driving. No more traffic fatalities. No more need for auto insurance. No real need for street signs, stop lights, or no parking zone signs. There will be no need for stopping at all. Cars will automatically regulate themselves and will not need to stop for one another - only pedestrians. No more traffic tickets. No more parking tickets. No more speeding tickets. No more traffic cops. Yes!!!! There will be no more traffic jams. With the reduced number of vehicles and a database of everyones' travel plans, a logarithm will determine the fastest routes for everyone simultaneously. No more idiot driver in front of you doing 25 in a 45 or 45 in a 25. No more road rage. With less cars, we will need less lanes. Maybe even less pavement since streets only need to be under the tires. No more delivery drivers. No more taxi drivers. No more agricultural tractor, plow, or combine drivers. A lot of farming could be completely automated. 

The automation of movement causes less stress, creates more efficiency, and this provides for better opportunity. When we have more time available, we can live more fulfilling lives. We can focus on being people again. We can talk to one another while in the car. We can accomplish things while in the car. Everyone will always have access to a car. Kids will always have a ride to their practice. No license needed - just parents' permission.

Travel time will not be a factor. This will change the size of cities. It will be possible to  travel accross the country while sleeping, eating, working, or watching a movie while "driving." 

Autonomous vehicles are likely to be electric powered. This will cause another revolution. The current problem with electricity production is the fact that electricity cannot be stored unless you have a battery. Batteries are expensive. The power company must make more power than what is needed since it cannot be stored effectively. This means a lot of energy is wasted. Electric cars all have batteries. While these cars are sitting, they are plugged in to charge. With millions of electric cars plugged into the grid, we now have the batteries necessary to store excess energy. Excess energy can be stored in our cars, and our cars can also provide energy back into the grid when demand is high but the car is not needed. Cars will be mobile power stations that store the power created by the power company. With all of this battery power, the power company may run more efficiently and create the exact amount of power needed with minimal waste. This saves coal. This reduces the need for more nuclear power plants, more wind turbines, more solar panels, and more hydroelectric dams. This all reduces the impact on our environment. This makes it possible for all energy to be renewable and to greatly diminish our dependence on oil while reducing pollution. 

Electric cars, autonomous driving, and smart phones will all work together to actually simplify our lives and protect our environment. Many of us will not need to go to work or to the store like we used to. This will be greatly reduced. We will visit one another. We will go places together. We will enjoy each others' company. This will be an exciting time to be part of. I strongly believe my kids will never need to drive a car, and I will sleep better knowing this is one less thing for me to worry about. Will I be able to draw while "driving?"


Here's a great article on the topic:

Tesla is changing the electric grid - CNET

Why our initial consultations are not free by Josh Brincko

Here's why we charge a fee to do an initial consultation:

REASON 1: I provide valuable deliverables for your project that you will use even if you do not hire me. Prior to meeting with you, I spend around 4 hours preparing an approximate 100 page long feasibility for your specific project. I research your permit history. I determine your property's size and any environmental conditional impacting it. I analyse your neighborhood. I compare all of these factors to the applicable portions (of very complex) land use code considerations to determine the requirements impacting your upcoming project for things like setbacks from property lines, maximum lot coverage, and height limits to name a few. (These things are not really very enjoyable to do, by the way. Designing the actual building is the fun part!) This enables me to have a productive meeting with you where we can talk about factual data relating to your project (rather than speculating on it). This takes specialized knowledge and experience to prepare, time to collect/analyse/discuss, and is therefor worth something for you. Not just anyone can do this, successfully. My clients find great value in the professional services I offer. This meeting will leave you with valuable advice for how you could best spend thousands or millions of dollars on your upcoming project. 

REASON 2: I work for a modest living and need to be paid for my efforts just like anyone else. In my line of work, I get paid by the hour as it directly relates to my time spent preparing professional advice on your behalf. If I'm not working for you or someone else, I am not earning an income. I get several inquiries for new projects daily (fortunately), and it would not be sustainable for a small business owner to drive around to several potential clients' properties every day without being compensated accordingly. This is similar to your expectation with a dentist or even a car salesman. You would not expect a potential dentist to come to your home to meet with you to see if he or she would be a good fit to clean your teeth. You also would not expect a car salesman or store clerk from Nordstroms to bring a car or shirt to your home for you to decide whether or not to buy it. Just as your time is limited and very precious, mine is equally just as valuable. 

REASON 3: It would be unfair to my current clients if I gave free assistance to you but not to them. My hourly rates are set on the assumption that I can be a productive worker for a pre-determined amount of time each day, so I may earn enough money to support my family while covering the overhead expenses of running a professional service company subject to several regulatory agencies and insurance liabilities. If I spend time that does not relate to actual clients' projects, that time is just another overhead expense which only makes my hourly rate higher. I want my hourly rate to be as low as possible to provide a fair service to my paying clients. One could argue that doing "sales calls" is part of the "cost of doing business," but minimizing extraneous non-project related activities is prudent in minimizing hourly rates. 

REASON 4: I used to do free consultations, and only 5% of those potential clients ever built a project at all. I have learned that folks unwilling to pay an architect for a consultation are not typically serious about doing their project and do not value the service anyway. Since I have started charging a fee for initial consultations, 100% of the potential clients I have met have actually proceeded with building their project (and every one of those clients, except for 3 instances in the past 10 years since writing this, have actually hired me to be their architect). One could clearly see how this dramatically reduces my overhead expenses since my time can be more focused on my current clients who do pay me for my time. 

REASON 5: I'm generally pretty fun to be around, so why wouldn't you want to pay for that opportunity...just kidding.

In summary, everyone's time is very precious. If I'm not doing project related work during the day as a result of time spent on unpaid consultations, this means I have to work late in the evenings to catch up. At times that is necessary in any job, but it is important to balance work and life, so we may enjoy time with our family and friends when we are not working to support them. I have learned that working late directly causes me to hire a babysitter and see my kids less, so paid consultations are quite important for this work-life balance. There are likely architects out there that are willing to do free consultations in exchange for higher overhead expenses (and likely less information to present at the consultation), but I prefer to be more open and direct in my approach while offering a thorough and tangible service in every interaction on a project - including the initial consultation. 

A Game of Telephone by Josh Brincko

Remember that game you played as a kid where you whisper something in your friend's ear, then they whisper to the next kid, and so on, and 10 kids later the original message got hilariously messed up? This is pretty much how construction works. Here's why: 

The client decides to build something and tries to explain their desires to their architect. The architect comes up with a concept to hopefully represent the client's goals. The client doesn't quite understand the typical architect's technical drawings, so there's a lot of info that doesn't get communicated successfully back to the client to ensure it meets the goals. 

Next the architect sends these drawings to builders for pricing. The builders are all really busy and never sure if they will get picked to be THE builder. They also typically do not get paid to provide an estimate. So, they don't read the drawings all that carefully and usually throw out a largely uninformed estimate since they don't want to get too invested in something they are not yet getting paid to do. 

Once the builder gets selected, they need to quickly start building the project, and they barely have time to look into the details and understand the real goals of what the client is really trying to achieve (through the eyes of the architect). It's quite common to be halfway through construction and realize a builder never actually read most of the drawings which communicate exactly what the client wants. Instead, all too often, the builders have only read into the floor plan and elevation drawings which only explain the "big picture" and none of the details like trim, windows, siding patterns, materials, etc. This is ignored partially because the builder knows they are just going to hire a subcontractor to build those details anyway. 

So here's where the breakdown occurs. The architect interprets the client's goals into drawings. The architect hands these technical drawings over to a builder. That builder is a general contractor who gives these drawings to their employee - usually the site superintendent who is privy to NONE of the previous conversations, discussions, emails, decisions, and drawings that have been developed and approved over the past year or two between the architect and client. This site superintendent, who is an expert in construction, is now responsible for interpreting the client's vision into reality from technical drawings which were just handed to him on a rainy, muddy jobsite while being bombarded with emails and phone calls from material suppliers and subcontractors which he must hire, schedule, and coordinate to build whatever might be depicted in the drawings. Needless to say, the site superintendent never really has an opportunity to read deeply into the drawings which are the contract for construction. The site superintendent is also a different breed. This is a hands-on guy who is tasked with building the stuff in the plans as quickly and cheaply as possible. They look for ways to cut corners while also maintaining quality (if that's even possible). They also don't care much about design. They just want to know how many square feet of THIS needs to get nailed to THAT and make sure it doesn't leak. Other than ordering materials and putting them together, they really don't care about the client's vision or even have the information to do so. 

This brings us to the next miscommunication in the game of telephone. The site superintendent hires subcontractors to build various parts of the scope of work. The site super (or the "soop" as many call him) must now communicate the project goals to the subcontractor (called the "sub"). This communication usually merely consists of the site super emailing the plans to the sub. Once the sub receives these plans, he MIGHT read them and even more rarely, may actually print them to share them with his employees who will be performing the actual labor. These hardworking guys are truly a different breed than the client and typical architect. They are tasked with building what their boss tells them with predetermined start times, break times, and quitting times. They work and go home. They don't care about the client's vision or even realize there is a client or a vision. These are the guys building the "vision." Their boss gets a set of plans with 50 or so pages, and they try to find the actual pages that pertain to their specialty such as the siding or the plumbing, for example. When reading the plans, they don't read the whole set. They just try to find the pages they believe pertain to them, and they believe they know what needs to be done. During construction, they commonly find out they missed the more detailed drawings on other pages of the 50 page set of plans which they failed to find earlier.

This is where construction mistakes occur. You hear about construction errors all the time. This is why most of them happen: the person performing the work has not been informed as to what they are supposed to really be doing. So, they just build it "the way it was done last time" and assume that's the way it's supposed to be done this time. 

When these errors occur, how can they be resolved? It's tough, and here's why: The architect, who knows everything about the drawings, spots the flaws first. The architect informs the client to see whether the client is concerned (or to tell the client they NEED to be concerned). The client authorizes action. The architect informs the general contractor of the error. The general contractor tries to sweet talk around it. If the general is unsuccessful, he informs the subcontractor of the error. The sub complains that nobody told them what to build exactly. The architect interjects, "it's right here in the plans. They did their bid based on these plans. You did give your sub our plans I hope?" Then the sub and general contractor discuss in private for awhile to complain about the architect and decide if they are really at fault. The general will tell the sub he should have read the drawings more clearly and will try to convince the sub to fix it. The general must be careful because this is the same subcontractor he uses on every job, so he doesn't want to piss him off and cause him to raise his prices on the next job or hassle him with future scheduling issues on the next job. In the mean time, the general contractor's site superintendent is wondering when someone will just tell them when it will get fixed, so he can schedule the next subcontractor and finish the subsequent phase of the job. The architect must be diligent in spotting the errors and coming up with solutions to solve them. Often times, this requires the architect to come up with a new plan based on the current conditions since it may not be effective to rebuild certain parts of the work. 

As described, this "game of telephone" from the client to the laborer, who works for the subcontractor, results in errors due to the miscommunications that are all too common.

The best way to prevent the errors would be better communication. This could come in two forms: more clear drawings and/or more discussions with the laborers performing the work. We are always trying to make drawings more easy to understand through 3D software and other creative presentation methods. The subs do have to be willing to read the drawings though. Unfortunately, it is not actually possible for the architect to discuss the drawings with the subcontractor or his laborers. The architect does not have any access to these people. The general contractor hires them, and they show up when the site superintendent schedules them. The general contractor would have to arrange meetings with the subcontractor and architect before the start of the job to discuss the particulars of the job that relate to their actual scope of work, but the laborers are busy working on other jobs at that time. This is really the job of the general contractor to have these discussions with the subs before they commence their scope of work, but the general contractors usually don't "get it" in the first place. They just want their sub to get it done since they are technically hiring the sub to make it happen. It's also common language in the general contractor's construction contract that the client is not allowed to communicate with the subs and must only communicate directly with the general contractor. Since the architect is the representative of the client, the architect is therefore not supposed to talk to the subs. 

I don't care about that clause in the contract, and I never have followed it. I understand it can cause undocumented conversations, but the reality is that certain communications and understanding just need to happen. I understand when that level of efficiency is lacking, and I do what it takes to ensure the success of the project. My construction experience enables me to relate to the laborers and speak their language (I'm actually getting pretty good at speaking Spanish too since many of the laborers are from Mexico). I've developed some great relationships with laborers, and now they are actually interested in supporting me and understanding the vision. This is how it comes full circle and the vision is more clear to everyone. 

Your Architect Lives With Great Responsibility by Josh Brincko

After two US Navy ships collided with one another, a 1952 article in the Wall Street Journal said:

"On the sea there is a tradition older even than the traditions of the country itself and wiser in its age than this new custom. It is the tradition that with responsibility goes authority and with them both goes accountability." 

How could two of the most disciplined and advanced vessels of the time have collided? What lack of judgement or failure of carefully maintained equipment could have led to the precise intersection of our nation's best warships to be in the same place at the same unfortunate time? Despite all the training, technology, and safeguards, it happened then, and it happened again between a freighter and USS Fitzgerald before the summer of 2017. The US Navy owns this misjudgment, they learn from it, and they grew stronger. They continue to study their failure, enhance their technology, and relentlessly step up their training. 

This reminds me of the time in the early years of running my architectural firm when there was a misjudgement made by the captain (me) that resulted in a loss of everything on our ship (office).  

It was a couple days before Christmas. We were finishing off deadlines before the new year to earn a much needed break from another successful year finding our way in the profession. That evening, an office Christmas party was planned. It wasn't really a party. It was more of a bash. We teamed up with our friends at Alloy Design Group and Graypants Inc to celebrate the end of a great year with our friends, colleagues, and clients.

At the end of the work day, we would usually lock up shop, switch out the data backups,  and bring our laptops home with us. This day was different. We rushed to finish our work, clean off our desks, setup some food and drinks, and display slideshows of our work on our laptops, so our visitors could see what we have been doing over the past 12 months. This left no time for going home. There was too much to do between finishing work for the day and setting up for the party.

People were already starting to filter in before the work day was over. Free booze attracts visitors quite easily as you would expect. It also attracted uninvited guests. The music venue next door to our studio usually attracted a pretty rough crowd. It was no different on that night. Word got out that the design firm next door was having a big party. Seriously. It was awesome. There were strobe lights, DJ's, live streaming photo booths, dancing, and fun all around. Quite frankly, it got out of hand. I think everyone in Seattle was there. People filtered in that we didn't know, and everyone had a blast. At the end of the night, it was really late, and there was too big of a mess to clean up. So we just stashed our valuables, locked up, and went home. 

The next morning, I went to work, and went to grab my laptop from its hiding place...but it wasn't there. I thought maybe I was too tired to remember where I put it. I searched some more. No luck. I began to get frantic. I started emptying drawers and shelves. Nothing. I started looking for the other laptops. Nothing. I was now in a panic. I started to realize someone must have walked off with our laptops at the party. But they couldn't have. We hid them and locked them up. That could only mean someone was watching us, cased the place, and figured out a way to break in. I resigned to losing our laptops, but I remained somewhat calm since they needed upgraded anyway, and they could easily be replaced.

Then I felt a bit of ease. As I walked over to the server with the backup, I felt thankful that we still had our files. Those files could not be replaced. They were our life's work. They were everything we needed to do what we do and evidence of everything we have ever done. I felt thankful that we could just buy a new laptop and be right back up and running again.  

I reached between the back of a filing cabinet and a wall to pull out the backup hard drive from the server. I reached. I reached further. I swiped my arm up and down in that dusty crevice. Nothing. I stooped down and peered my eye in that dark void. The blinking blue light from the server was not blinking. The blue light wasn't there. The blue light was simply not there. The server and the backup hard drive were gone. EVERYTHING was GONE. EVERY file. EVERY document. EVERY photo. GONE. Our life's work was GONE. I didn't go home before the party, and the backup was therefor gone. 

I felt my stomach turn inside out. My mind was no longer in my own head. My thoughts were racing. I hyperventilated. I collapsed into a ball on the floor. My fingers clasped my hair. My chest was pounding. My blood was boiling. I felt extremely hot and extremely cold at the same time. I felt like I had drank 1000 coffees. I immediately thought of all the project files that I didn't have. I thought of all the things people expected me to do for them. I thought of the reasons I needed to go to work that day. I thought of the reasons that I was so busy. I felt empty. I was barely able to move but called my wife. Hardly able to speak, I whimpered, "I need you. Someone stole all my shit. I've lost everything." Right after I spoke the words, "I lost everything," I completely lost it. I sobbed over the phone and couldn't say anything coherent. She said she'd be right there.

I felt this overwhelming sense of responsibility come over me, and the thought of being accountable for those responsibilities was one of the the most intense feelings I've ever encountered. It seemed impossible to redo the things I needed to have done. I felt hopeless and alone. I was alone. I was the only one in the building at that time. The remnants of wine bottles, snacks, and Christmas decorations arounded me were a grave reminder of my total isolation at that moment. They were all a symbol of a few hundred people having fun and celebrating together the night before, but I was alone in the remnants of that same environment early the next morning with the burden of having to replace my belongings, having to rebuild all my resources, having to redo all my work, and feeling victim of some thieve's senseless crime. 

When my wife arrived, the rebuilding started. She comforted me. She reminded me that I was the one who built my business in the first place. She convinced me that I could rebuild it better than it ever was. She logically talked me through the items I needed to replace in the short term, the items I could replace later, and the items I didn't need to replace at all.  She put it all into perspective. She reminded me that I stayed at work to FINISH deadlines the day before. That meant the work was done. It was out there somewhere. It may not have been in my office anymore, but it was out there in some form. I remembered the last thing I did at work at the end of the day was to send my files to be printed at Digital Reprographics. I remembered that Clint would have a file on his computer. It was Christmas Eve. I called him. He went in to his computer and said, "no problem, Josh, I'm happy to help you." He went through his archives and emailed me everything I had ever asked him to print. He worked on his Christmas Eve to help me rebuild.

When my coworkers got to work, there was initial shock, but that soon converted over to support. Mike endeavored to find the ass that did it and beat him senseless. Callie got started right away on old computers pulling files together and redrawing drawings she had already done. All my friends pitched in. My sense of extreme isolation turned into a sense of ultimate camaraderie. The mindset changed from panic to teamwork. We were building our office from scratch, and we literally had nothing holding us back. We dumped the inefficiencies, we focused on our most effective infrastructure, and we insisted on the highest quality outcomes. Because of this awful event, we are better than we ever were. Our job is easier. We are faster at it. And we simply do it better. 

Sometimes two boats collide. There's a reason for it. Someone messed up. The mess can be fixed. Often times, the mess does not affect the goal. The US Navy continues to protect our freedom. They never stopped. There were some casualties, but this mishap will result in prevented future casualties and therefor safer protocols that result in higher accountability. They will simply do their jobs better. I am fortunate that the casualties of my mishap are negligible in comparison to the lives that were affected by the misjudgment the US Navy made. 

As an architect, I carry a great deal of responsibility. I am held accountable for listening to someone's vision, understanding their needs, and interpreting their goals all while keeping them safe and protecting the largest investment they will likely ever make. I take this responsibility very seriously. My clients' problems become mine. I own their problems, and I solve them. After I lost everything in my office, I stayed accountable. I stayed focused on the goal and immediately began rebuilding with my wife's support.

My clients never knew I lost all their work. We worked tirelessly to fix everything and keep everything on track. We created a strategy and stuck to it. If I couldn't meet the expectations, I would have still owned it. It was my fault. I learned from my mistake. I'm better for it. This is the first time I've told this story. I hope you've learned something from it. The hardest part of the whole ordeal was not knowing how I could ever express my gratitude to those who supported me. I am eternally grateful for them. 


Here's an article that discussed the recent US Navy tragedy as it was being investigated:

Why I'm not LEED accredited by Josh Brincko

To illustrate my point of why I'm not LEED accredited, read this sample question from the LEED exam.

When applying for innovation credits, a project team:

A. Cannot submit any previously awarded innovation credit.
B. May receive credit for performance that doubles a credit requirement threshold.*
C. May submit a product or strategy that is being used in an existing LEED credit.
D. May receive a credit for each LEED Accredited Professional that is on the project team.

As you can see from reading the question and possible answers (B is correct by the way), this content has NOTHING at all to do with sustainable design. The exam is doing nothing to test your knowledge of sustainable design and construction strategies. Instead, it is testing whether or not you have memorized how to implement the rating system to get a project approved by LEED. I have always had a problem with this. On a few occasions, I have sat down with the intention of studying for the LEED exam, but I have always quickly stopped when I affirmed that I was wasting my time memorizing the process and rules to fill out formwork for earning the system's credits. Anyone who knows me would certainly attest that I'm not a quitter, I am very determined, I never procrastinate, and I achieve 100% of what I set out to do. I have always been very interested in sustainable design, and I highly value its importance. For me, however, I have never valued a rating system to prove that my projects are sustainable. I just do it naturally, and I don't need a trophy, medal, or certificate to prove that I'm doing the right things for my projects. Each time I've considered studying for LEED, I did it for the sole interest in thinking I would learn some new sustainable design strategies while reading the study guides. This has never been the case. I've always been turned off by the lack of useful design information and the focus on the administrative procedure of participating in the program. 

Please don't misinterpret this. LEED is a great thing. It encourages people to design sustainably, and we need as much encouragement as we can to make the greatest difference in the sustainable design of our built environment. I am just more interested in learning sustainable strategies and putting them into practice. 

The construction of buildings and the operation of buildings have THE most impact on our environment. More than anything else combined. As a designer of the built environment, I am very cognizant and careful about the things I specify: whether it's a product, a practice, or a design solution that will surely shape the way people live and interact. As an architect, I have the highest responsibility for deciding how something will be built and how people will use a building for the rest of its life. Because of this, I have the greatest responsibility in ensuring our environment (built and unbuilt) will thrive for generations. LEED does not give me this responsibility. I do. 

Building without drawings by Josh Brincko

It is amazing how often I see builders building without the drawings or the wrong drawings. Or often without clearly understanding the drawings. The best builders study the drawings very carefully and are obsessed with good administrative and filing protocols to ensure they are reading the current set of drawings that are accurately prepared by the architect and approved by the client. These good builders understand the drawings are a culmination of often years of decision-making and approvals from the client, and they respect that a ton of thought went into the drawings to arrive at a solution that functions well, is pleasing to the client, fits within their budget, fits within their schedule, meets building and land use code requirements, and employs the most practical construction techniques and materials as deemed necessary by the project team.

I recently worked on a project where the builder was working without the drawings. To be more specific, the builder did not want to spend the $30 to print the drawings, so they just decided to "wing it." They literally had no drawings other than a written description as to what the project was. Can you believe this? I still cannot, and I lived through it. How did this happen? It was a combination of a few factors: 1. The economy was so booming that there were literally no builders available to build. 2. My design work was just so enticing that the client could not bear to live another moment without getting the project started:) 3. The client decided to pick a non-recommended builder who turned out to be non-qualified. The builder was really just a roofing company trying to branch out with projects of more scope. It turned out the roofers should really only do roofing and leave the construction and coordination of other areas to the professionals who are experienced in those areas. 

For example, the builder removed a rotting roof which was supposed to be rebuilt in exactly the same way, but they forgot to document or investigate how it was originally constructed. When it came time to reframe the roof after demolition was complete, the builder had no idea how to rebuild it since they did not take the time to document the existing conditions necessary for the reconstruction. Also, they didn't have drawings to refer to. So, the builder framed the roof with the rafters spanning in the wrong orientation. This was against the calculations provided by the engineer. Without the drawings, they just guessed. As a result, the builder had to tear it down and start over. We had to tell them to just rebuild exactly what used to be there (to replace rotted materials) and add the additional pieces labeled on the drawings. This seems pretty clear. We even told them to print the drawings. There was even a 3D view that made it 100% clear. Moving forward, the builder tore down the framing, again, and reframed the roof, again. This time, they built the roof 5" too high. This was a big deal because a roof deck would later be built onto the new roof, and that roof deck would have therefor been 5" too high making it impossible to open the existing door out onto the roof deck. The door was already there! I mean, you could literally see it. One would think it would be simple enough to build a deck so you could obviously open a door and walk out onto it. Not these guys. They built the roof too high, and they were instructed to remove the roof, AGAIN! 

I had to figure out why this happened, again. I found out they did not print out the drawings, again. They were just winging it, again. Unbelievable. I had already previously coached them the last two times on how it is obligatory to print the drawings, read them, and build exactly what they dictate. I had to remind them that the drawings ARE the contract they were hired to complete. But no. They tried to save $30 (per their boss's request) by not printing the drawings, again! The drawings are the instructions on how to build a project, so they literally had no instructions. They also had no guidance since they were the laborers doing the work - not the salesman who originally reviewed the plans with the owner and architect.  

After the third time tearing down the roof (which they could have just left the original roof in place the whole time) , they actually printed the drawings and rebuilt it with the rafters in the right orientation and at the right height. There were still a lot of problems in other areas of construction, but it illustrates the problems that can occur if the current, approved drawings are not carefully consulted during construction. This did not cost the homeowner any extra money but certainly did cost them extra time, and it cost the builder 3 times the labor and materials. It also cost me many extra site visits and emergency panic calls from the client to ensure the project would get back on track before going too far off track. I mediated the problems quickly and came up with solutions, so the client would not be liable for damages caused by the inexperienced builder.