Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Farewell to 2013!

As I sit here on the last day of 2013, I have been thinking back on all that has transpired. I am sure I am not the only one who does this, nor am I  the only one who enjoys writing a summary of another year gone by. I find this to be a wonderful way to catalog my journey, one year at a time. It helps to evaluate where I was, where I am and where I would like to go. To make goals, both short and long in order to maintain direction. It holds me accountable for my actions.

Not sure who first said this but it doesn't make it any less true: "When you grasp opportunity it tends to multiply". I have found this to be true for myself. Whenever you go after something that means a lot to you, whether you get it or not, that initial action in itself puts in motion multiple energy waves, or 'rings' that cause reactions in your life. We can never see the totality of the consequences of our actions, because those rings never stop. Some may grow and expand, others may break apart eventually and disappear, but for certain this is how change comes about. I have found in my life that when you are on point, meaning heading in a direction that is morally correct about something that you are passionate about, and you are diligently pursuing a worthy goal or overcoming a certain hurdle, that more doors tend to open rather than shut. Life becomes more and more grand with each passing year. Life actually becomes easier. Now I know that it is not ACTUALLY becoming easier, but I believe that when you are in tune to that deeper rhythm that things tend to fall into place easier. The healthier you are, mind and body, the more you are able to tune in.  That makes it easier to evade the pitfalls that are always around. Everyone has to deal with them-make no mistake,  no one is exempt from the curve-balls of life!

Correct attitude and reaction response plays larger roles than many people realize. We as a society try to control everything. Our jobs, our budgets, our perceived places in our day to day lives, our schedules, our patterns. But truth be told, the only thing we truly control is our attitude. Our reactionary response to daily events in our lives is the biggest determinant in what happens next. So true. And so hard to keep in check at times. For me, this is where running long hours in the woods comes into play. It gives me time to sort things out, to quiet the commotion, to let everything just BE STILL. And although I am moving, I begin to blend, instead of disrupt. I begin to relax, to soak in the moment, and to really feel alive. This feeling brings me back to center, keeps my thoughts in check, and allows me face whatever chaos is waiting for me back at home, work or in my environment.

I am extremely picky with my time, because as I grow older I  have less and less of it to myself it seems. Is it not the same for everyone? Our circles of friends evolves, we evolve. We discover that we don't have to do what so and so is doing because we have finally realized that we don't like to, and that's okay. The pressure of trying to impress a certain group or person dissolves because our world gets so much bigger. The possibilities also expand, multiply. I found that once I stepped out of my existing social circles and began to explore, many of these had been just under the surface of my day to day life. I just had to adjust the focus to see them. I found ultra running, and this really turned my spirit on to life, to the possibilities out there. Your habits will determine the quality of your life!

One of my previous Architect professors told me that these years of university time will be an amazing time of growth, more so than any other time during my career.  Currently I am on my 5th year of Architecture study. Most likely three more to go to finish the masters out. One thing I find fascinating about school is that it changes you. You evolve. Faster than you do just living day to day I think. You are not the same from year to year. All this knowledge that you are being immersed in, it just tugs you this way and that. It stimulates thoughts that lead to others that inform and confuse and baffle and lead you onward. Such intellectual growth, please, take full advantage! Every step, carrying you farther into you will become. That is exciting to think about! Where will you be in 5 years? Are you looking forward to it? If not, perhaps it is time to evaluate what you are doing with your time. What is shaping your life?

If you are not happy take the time to truly figure out why. Do that for yourself. Its worth however long it takes. I am a late bloomer, and didn't really start to allow myself to be truly happy until I was just about through my twenties. People should be able to live lives that give them some sort of happiness, some feeling of fulfillment. If not, make changes. As humans, we are creatures of habit, through and through. Change is hard, and especially voluntary.  Start small and discover what that feels like then go from there. Your confidence will grow with each victory. It is like ultra running- you don't just start out running a 50 mile race. You work your way up to it. You put in the hours, the training. I started out just running- and that led to a 5k. Then a 10k, then I ran 20 miles one day. Then a 50k...100k...(ok, thats as far as I have gotten so far). You build on your successes. You also build on your failures too, because you start to gain confidence in yourself. You begin to realize this vast world of opportunity that for whatever reason was so utterly unattainable before is now in the realm of possibility. The opportunities you seize begin to multiply.
If something doesn't work out, find the lesson in that. Adjust your focus. Even if you don't see the merit right away, chances are later in life you will. I can look back now 15 years at things I did or did not do and can make direct connections to things that are happening now. There are no wasted moments.

 I have heard many people tell undergrads of Architecture schools that they should take off some time between undergrad  and grad school to work and to figure out what areas they may want to specialize in. That way they can better personalize their elective classes to go a certain direction and begin to prime themselves to become better educated in one field of study versus another. I wholly agree, in fact, if you can, take off 5 years and REALLY figure it out. In fact, don't come back until you are dead set on your career, because to me you are just throwing away your money otherwise. I waited almost 20 years between high school and college- in fact, I never planned on going back. Didn't even initially finish HighSchool! And then all of a sudden, it was time for me to make some changes. Big changes.  I didn't know where to start, but I knew I had to do something. So I did what I had to do to get myself going down that road. I didn't look back, I just kept on going. I had absolute certainty of my ability to change my current situation. Absolute. But I was ready, entirely ready. How did I know? I can't answer that. I guess I just finally took the time to take a real hard look at things, and to be completely honest with myself.

 Honesty. How hard is it? Think about that simple word. If you are unsure, then take the time to figure it out. I don't think there are any shortcuts to that kind of understanding needed to unlock your full potential. You just have to put in the time. I may be one of the oldest students in my class at UWM, but I KNOW the direction I am going. I have all kinds of goals in mind, nothing set in stone but many wonderful possibilities. And  any one of them can become a reality, or any combination of them, or lead to something entirely unforeseen! The important thing is having direction. I have been going in this direction most of my life and didn't even know it. I spent 17 years building everything from silos to pole barns to houses, and am at a point in my life where this transition into Architecture feels completely natural. I know that this is not the normal turn of events, but like I said I am a late bloomer. If I finish school around the age of 38-39 I know the remaining 60 years or whatever I am blessed with will be amazing because when I am working at the firm it doesn't feel like work at all, it just feels right.

 If it wasn't for the recession and the bottom falling out of the housing market I could have still been building houses today, but that's not how it played out. I saw an opportunity, and I went after it. It wasn't all thought through, I knew there were wrinkles that would have to be ironed out in order to go to school full time but I put forth the initial effort to go down that road. Over the course of that first year I changed my major from Construction Management to Architecture. Because of one class, of one instructor, of one SENTENCE. I confessed to one of the instructors, that I was worried about being too old to be going back to school for Architecture. I admitted I would be almost 40 by the time I got all through and licensed. I asked him if it was too late for such a career change, perhaps I should be more practical. He told me, "Marcel, 40 is coming no matter what you do. What do you want to be doing when it gets here?" That one sentence had one of the biggest impacts on my life, ever. So simple and straightforward!

That was all I needed to hear. I jumped and never looked back. There were never any doubts after that, because once my feet were on that path and the farther I traveled in that direction the more things just fell into place. Sure it took a lot of work on my part, but I just had this feeling of calm, of security. I had found what I truly wanted to do for the rest of my life. And looking back, everything I had done prior had been leading me to this point in time. It all clicked, and that was a feeling like no other.
Being in school now, I have all that building experience to fall back on as it relates to the study of Architecture and the built environment. Its all relative, it all matters. There are no wasted moments. Everything you do in your life, has an effect on something else. Everything.

 I am already making big plans for 2014, to have my efforts echo forth into the rest of my life. I hope anyone who reads this does the same! Live worthwhile, and let's all age gracefully together. Happy New Year's Eve!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fall semester comes to a close...now what?

Many long nights and days of drafting...

So yesterday I took my last final. ARCH 300, which is a history course.
Went pretty well, considering I am not one for memorizing things straight out, I am better at really taking the time to get to understand something. I find that way you come to the realization of "do I really need to know this or is this a stepping stone?" This class had some excellent lessons, so I am glad I put in plenty of time and plenty of notes. I actually enjoy taking notes as it is  a wonderful excuse for practicing lettering! I have been doing that for the last four and a half years now, and my lettering is getting pretty decent. Straight across the page, no guidelines needed anymore. Now my boss, HIS lettering is amazing. I love to look at it, it's a font in itself. I aspire to write like that someday...my father always stressed the importance of handwriting, how it is a sign of one's character. You can always tell who the writers are, just like you can usually tell who has done a sketch or two ;)

This semester was a transition point in my career as an architect in training. It was a constant struggle to shake the 'office constraints' as my teacher called them. It is tough to forget about code and structure and just try to focus on form in its simplest existence and how it creates space and what that space can do and how it makes you feel and what it signifies or doesn't and why that matters and if it doesn't well it should because it is important. And somewhere along the way, it begins to make more and more sense.

I feel very lucky to be 35 and in school for Architecture as a full time student at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Especially with 17 years of building experience under my belt. It seems like everything I was so anxious for is just falling into place now, and while that does not make me any more patient it surely makes me more grateful for all the steps I took to get here. There are no wasted moments.

I have a habit of researching my instructors to try and figure out which one I consider to be the best fit for me. I look at where they went to school, how long they have been practicing, any accomplished works/publications, basically anything I can easily look up. Then after I figure out who I believe I stand to learn the most from, I do my damnedest to get in their class. I write emails, ask for referrals, whatever. Usually this can work because no one else does it. I look at it like this, you are already spending a lot of money for the class, why not try and get the most of it? The most bang for your buck? So far I haven't had a bad pic...maybe there aren't any to begin with. I still feel better trying to cover my ass.
 These are the four main projects we
had this semester. We went from defining form, to creating space, to creating space in relation to form, and finally to creating relationships of form and space. The model building is a lot of fun, extremely time consuming but at least it reminds me of building... on a much smaller scale.

 I have turned the apartment pretty much into a design studio/home office. Love it. The NEOLT drafting table I have is 60" wide, and I can stack 11x 17 drawings above each other- wonderful for transferring lines. When its not being used for drafting I adjust it flat and just throw the cutting mat on it and BOOM model time.
Get good tools for building models, and don't wait until the last minute to do the heavy cutting. I KNOW my neighbors did not appreciate the jigsaw at 10 pm, at which time I felt bad and broke out the coping saw...and finished all the pieces by hand sawing ( not recommended, but actually works pretty well with basswood)

You know it amazes me still how many architecture students simple cannot draw to save their lives. Most of this is coming from not practicing at all, and just resorting to creating a SKU model and printing it out and then tracing it. Congrats, you got it done and didn't learn shit. Well maybe you are a little faster at SKU now.
Now I know a lot of people do this, but I also know that there is something to said about being able to draw. Its a tool in your kit, an important one, and you are going to use it all the time to communicate. There is no other tool as fast as sketching at being able to get your thoughts out of your head and onto the paper for you to scrutinize and ponder. Its also an impressive skill once you get good at it, and I know that it played a big part in my getting hired at the firm where I still work now. Once you get out of school, you are going to be on a computer all the time. Take the time and learn how to draw while you can. Develop the skills of perspective and sketching to scale and being able to do a quick interior layout, these are gonna come up when you least expect it. I personally love the hand drawing illustrations, sketches, watercolor renderings, marker renderings, perspective drawings, etc...they are personal and they are one of a kind. The computer will never replace that. Don't get me wrong, I am on Revit for work every day and have been learning that software for the past 5 years now along with SKU and CAD and now 3ds max but even so, I am still the guy who will spend 1500 to go spend a week out in Vegas with Mike Lin and study hand graphics for up to 14  hours a day and love every minute of it (well most minutes). Learning these tools is seat time, there is no way around it. The better you know the tools, the easier you can get your ideas across. The better you can communicate. The better you will become.

 So, what will I be doing over break? Well I have six weeks to work, run, and unwind. I plan on running a project I have been working on in Revit through 3ds max. I have a few video tutorials to go through beforehand and hopefully sometime next week I can post a pic of the trial run of the rendering. Most of the renderings I do currently are in Revit, then I  touch them up in PS. I have 3ds max on my home PC and at work, so I have been WAITING to get the free time to invest the seat time and learn it. At least the basics of bringing in a model and rendering it through max. So I am excited about that...and I hope to get another marker rendering out. Been awhile and I need to keep those skills in the front of my mind, cause you never know when you may need them. And its fun, which is just an added bonus to working in architecture!