Architects are lucky. Once you get past the few architects that complain disproportionately loud for the entire profession, you will discover that just about anyone can be an architect and have a role to play in the design and building process. Not everyone will be a designer, and not everyone will be a project manager. Some architects will stand in front of clients and communicate a vision, and other architects will stay in the office and make sure the details are watertight. The roles and responsibilities are so varied that if you want to be an architect but think you have some glaring shortcoming – I’m here to tell you that you are wrong.
Since so much of what I do as an architect is already on display, I thought I would really take a bit and think about the things that I really use as a part of doing my job. I did not include some of the obvious things like my desk phone – every job has those things and I don’t use mine any differently than any other person. The items on this list are not all-inclusive, but these are the most important items day in and day out.
In no particular order, my list of must have architectural tools include:
Sketch Pens and Trace Paper
I don’t spend
much any time drafting on the computer any more outside of the times I prepare the construction drawings for my own playhouse or when I’m preparing documents for my own house. As a result, I sketch a lot. Sometimes the sketches represent design studies, sometimes they are teaching sketches to help illustrate a concept or explain how a construction assembly comes together. Either way, I would be lost without my trace paper and sketch pens.
I know what you’re thinking – “You left your desk phone off your list because everybody uses it, so why is ‘Outlook’ on here?” I would be lost without my calendar. I use it to keep track of my time and my obligations. It used to be pretty easy to know what I was supposed to be doing and where I was supposed to be … that has changed in the last few years. Between all the work obligations, meetings with clients, weekly job site visits, committees and advisory boards I volunteer on … I can’t mentally keep all these things in place so I need a little help (other than my wife reminding me where I’m supposed to be and when).
It is a fundamental truth that Architects have an unhealthy attraction to books. I think I fall somewhere on the “barely unhealthy” end of that scale and even at that, I have dedicated bookcases both in my house AND at the office for my books. How I decided to break them in to these two groups is this – if I’ve read them cover to cover and they are NOT a reference manual – they get to stay at my house. The rest come with me up to the office so that everyone can have access to them.
So this is “My” bookcase at the office. There are a lot of really good books and manuals in there (click picture to enlarge). I am that guy who writes his names in the books because I’ve had several walk off over the years.
Big Ass Desk (Take 2)
It’s no secret that I think having a “Big Ass Desk” is an important tool. While my current desk isn’t as big as my last one (which I still miss almost every day) it’s still pretty big. It is a double workstation and I literally use almost every square inch of it every day. This is another image that needs to be enlarged to truly appreciate – because my desk is typically a disaster, even though I know where everything is. It’s only when I clean things up do I lose track of them. I think I work better when everything is all in front of me and only when I am done with it does it get put away.
- MeasureMaster Calculator – after more than 10 years, mine is starting to die on me and I have to be careful that the buttons I push actually get registered – but I still love it. I have the MeasureMaster app on my phone (which is great when I’m out in the field) but when I’m in the office, I like the actual calculator.
- Schedules and Paperwork – boring and more boring
- Binders – I actually have them in two areas but this particular grouping are for 3 particular active jobs that I need to share with the guy who site in the next bay over. For the record, I prefer D-ring 3″ binders in black. NOT 4″ D-ring binders which suck.
- Trace Paper – love me some white trace paper. I used to use yellow because it seemed more “architectural” but the white allows me to scan my sketches and manipulate them further should the need arise.
- Sketch pens (If I don’t have, like, 30 ready to go at any moment I start to get worried). I think I will always consider myself a “Sharpie” man, I have started to use Flair pens a bit more often these days.
- Awards and Recognition – sometimes it’s nice to be reminded that what you do is appreciated by your peers. I don’t feel bad for having a glory wall
- Desktop Phone – it’s a phone … who cares?
- Laptop – I have a client who likes to text, and I hate to text. So now, I keep my laptop open and next to me while I’m working so I can respond to text messages on my computer rather than my phone.
- Computer – sadly, I have become the guy who was the poorest performing computer in the office. Everyone else has mega-horsepower machines, the kind needed for running Revit. I don’t have the same needs so now I look forward to receiving other people’s hand-me-down systems.
- Sketchbook – I’ve literally got hundreds of these things; so many in fact, that I don’t have buy any for years.
- Frosty Beverage – by “beverage” I mean water. To be honest, I wish it was a slurpee, but I’m not 11 years old anymore.
- Periodicals – most of which I haven’t read
- Headphones – two pairs because I tend to damage them while I’m traveling.
- Pictures of my Daughter Kate
- Samples – typically kept under my desk but on occasion, I need to take advantage of the white surface on my desk so that I can evaluate the colors a bit more clearly.
- Shoulder Bag – same one I’ve had for years. I’m amazed at how well it has held up over the years. Upon inspection, you would be hard pressed to prove that it isn’t brand new – which is shocking – because I use it every day. This bag has also traveled with me every time I’ve gotten on a plane for the last 10 years … and that includes vacations.
Collaborator (MMBA Staff member – Ryan Thomason)
I wrote a post almost 4 years ago titled “An Architect’s tool bag” and in it I listed the tools I thought I needed in order to most effectively do my job. There are some similarities between those two lists but there is one glaring item I left off that list.Maybe it’s a sign of my evolving maturity, but I certainly recognize that I wouldn’t be where I am if it were not for the people I have had the fortune to have around me. For the last three years, the person I have relied on the most is Ryan Thomason. He has been the guy behind all the drawings and I rely on him in a very substantial way. I’ve been on the road a lot the last few years and I would bet that 90% of my calls in to our office are to Ryan. I text him on the weekends, I ask him to track down emails for me, I ask him to to organize our project data so that I can stand in front of the clients and present it. There’s no way to sufficiently convey just how often Ryan makes me look good.
If you working an office where there is a team atmosphere and like me, fail to acknowledge and recognize all the people that make our projects a reality, I think you are doing a great disservice to your team.