Dwelling on… what it means to be a professional




Kick It Into Gear

Well HI there! … Been a while. This blog, MODwelling, is usually on a two-week-between-posts-schedule. It’s been three. This demands an apology to the two readers followers of MODwelling. I chose that blog name because it reminds me of dwelling at home, dwelling on thoughts, and it starts with ‘D’ fitting with MOD. Sorry about that y’all. This leads to an announcement [trumpets – da da DAAAAAA] … MODwelling will now post EVERY MODAY! This means some posts will be like quick jabs or special share of a drawing or picture or something expedient like that.  It also means it will be easier to remember which Monday to post – EVERY Monday!




First Time For Everything

Last week was special for a couple of reasons.  I wish I could have posted for one of them. My favorite blog series, #Architalks, had the theme of MY FIRST PROJECT. Click the links below to read those posts from last week. The other reason, we will get to that.


Here is my catch up contribution to the #Architalks theme. Warning, these next bits of writing include a lot of “my my my…” so bear with it because each project has a lesson, which is about “you you you” learning a little something or taking away a nugget of architectural truth.


Sun Wind Cube Project - Circa 1991

Sun Wind Cube Project – Circa 1991

My first project as an architecture student was, the traditional first year project, a Sun Wind Cube. A 12’ h by 12’ wide by 12’ deep residential shelter that is totally passive, lit and heated by the sun, cooled and ventilated by the wind, and with core insulated spaces to stay warm in cold months. This taught me the importance of sighting a building and maximizing the way that prevailing winds and sun angles add to the quality of the space, regardless of any active (or mechanical or electrical) systems the building relies on.


An 'L' Shaped Rotating Door Allows Flexible Privacy/Access

An ‘L’ Shaped Rotating Door Allows Flexible Access/Privacy

My first project as an independent designer was a pool house renovation for a couple, friends back in Memphis, that included a nod to Steven Holl’s hinged space; a door that revolved and locked in four different positions and yielded four different levels of privacy/access to the adjacent spaces.  This an example of presenting ideas to clients while maintaining respect and deference to their project visions.  They ended up holding off on that project, but would have preferred the more traditional renovation option, had they decided to move forward… BUT enjoyed seeing my ideas and “had never thought of that…” referring to the hinged space.  I love hearing a client say they “had never thought of that…”


My first project as a licensed architect was a renovation for Henderson County Public Schools Department of Health and Student Nutrition. This was a small and simple project, all interior work, but when I went to sign and seal it, felt more like a thousand story sky scraper, being the first time my signature went over that seal. The safety and welfare of a building’s inhabitants is a pretty big deal! That is the cornerstone of an architect’s code of ethical practice.

Responsibility, Liability, Accountability.

Responsibility, Liability, Accountability.

My first project for Modus Operandi Design (MOD) was an adaptive reuse project for a company in Asheville’s River Arts District call Pinnacle Products International. The main service provided for this project was a code compliance consultation, known as an “Appendix B” in the business, referring to the Code Summary sheets in the International Building Code that every permitted project must complete to be approved. Again, a small and simple project that felt pretty big. This time my signature was also represented by the stamp of the corporate license for my firm, another level of responsibility and liability that all architects have in practice.


historic hendersonville mainstreet-architect-asheville architect-hendersonville architect-custom design-stage design-tda

New Stage at the Hendersonville Visitors Center

My first project for MOD that was a new build was the live music venue for the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority. This was completed more than two years ago, and has seen many hours of live music fun and dancing on Main Street Hendo! I had planned that more commercial and institutional opportunities would have come from that work, just like I had planned that my first new residential build would lead to more and more work in that vein. (Keep it up, Jes! Every Bulldog has their day….)


Persevere to Succeed

Persevere to Succeed

Reality Bytes

It doesn’t always work that way.  I am sticking to my quest of running a firm — struggling through the lows while strategically leveraging the highs. The bigger work will come sooner or later.  In the meantime, every industrial code compliance consultation, garage renovation, and proposal that is still sitting on a potential client’s desk gets my full focus and attention to each square foot and every detail.  That is why it is called architectural practice and that is why we are professional.


house under construction_00002

There Is Actually a Custom MOD Home In This Picture – Under Construction

Lifelong Lessons

The first firm where I had a summer job was a serious volume hospitality concern where the minimum work week was for 65 hours and the minimum party to maintain morale was as intense. The firm owner there told me that being professional was coming to work and giving it my 100% regardless of what was going on in my personal life, or the level of interest or sexy-factor of the project at hand. He advised that each project was every client’s livelihood and priority, so they should each be treated with upmost respect and urgency.  He also shared the wisdom that this level of performance on the more grungy renovations, dirty work administrative code consultations, and minimal interior retrofits lead to the headline commissions and the front page new builds.


We Are Professional

We Are Professional

Execution On Learning

That professional attitude is why it was very rewarding to hear a client’s subtle surprise last week when we were wrapping up a call about his family’s garage re-roof/solar panel installation. I shared that I was back home for my mother-in-law’s funeral.  I had maintained the means to keep his project moving, regardless of an unexpected trip back home.  I had put his project first in the call, from my mobile office that included the connectivity and information needed to address his concerns and questions. I had closed with a touch of personal information that allowed him to express his condolences.  Any opportunity there is to have a personal connection with a client is a good one. But it should be down played, after the project is well along, after business has been taken care of, and hopefully on a more positive note.  None the less, when people do business together, I think it helps in both ways when the human element is present, when it is alive and apparent that we are all in it together, and there are more important things than the business at hand.


My Late Mother-in-law, Jeanne

My Late Mother-in-law, Jeanne

In memory of Jeanne Hamelrath, 1942-2015


Here are all the posts, in no particular order, from my bloggeratti architect friends that post for #Architalks. Check them out, tweet, share, comment, etc.


Bob Borson – Life of An Architect (@bobborson)
My First Project: The Best Project Ever Designed That Wasn’t

Marica McKeel – Studio MM (@ArchitectMM)
My “First Project”

Jeff Echols – Architect Of The Internet (@Jeff_Echols)
My First Project – Again

Lee Calisti, AIA – Think Architect (@LeeCalisti)
first project first process

Mark R. LePage – Entrepreneur Architect (@EntreArchitect)
Our First Architecture Project [#ArchiTalks]

Lora Teagarden – L² Design, LLC (@L2DesignLLC)
#ArchiTalks: My first project

Cormac Phalen – Cormac Phalen (@archy_type)

Jeremiah Russell, AIA – ROGUE Architecture (@rogue_architect)
my first project: #architalks

Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
The First One — A Tale of Two Projects

Rosa Sheng – Equity by Design (@EquityxDesign)
Why every project is my “First”

Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
“My First Project”

Michael Riscica – Young Architect (@YoungArchitxPDX)
The Early Years of My Architecture Career – My Role

brady ernst – Soapbox Architect (@bradyernstAIA)
I Hate Decks

Eric Wittman – intern[life] (@rico_w)
[first] project [worst] crit

Sharon George – Architecture By George (@sharonraigeorge)
My First Project – The First Solar Decathlon #Architalks

Emily Grandstaff-Rice – Emily Grandstaff-Rice AIA (@egraia)
Project Me

Daniel Beck – The Architect’s Checklist (@archchecklist)
Fake it ’til you make it

Jarod Hall – di’velept (@divelept)
Define First

Anthony Richardson – That Architecture Student (@thatarchstudent)
my first project

Drew Paul Bell – Drew Paul Bell (@DrewPaulBell)
My First Project

Jeffrey A Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Top ten tips when faced with a challenging Architectural project

Aaron Bowman – Product & Process (@PP_Podcast)
Community 101

Samantha Raburn – The Aspiring Architect (@TheAspiringArch)
6 Major Differences between my 1st School Project & my 1st Real Project

Kyu Young Kim – Palo Alto Design Studio (@sokokyu)
My First Project – The Contemporary Cottage

Nisha Kandiah – TCDS (@SKRIBBLES_INC)
The Question of Beginning