Discontinued… (by design).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

I had a landscape architecture professor in my undergraduate study who used to say, “If an idiot can do it, design it out!”?  As a student, it was difficult to understand the magnitude of this statement.  At this stage of learning, we executed intent without necessarily ensuring safety or function.  Those projects were about pushing the mind more and the functionality less.  Those projects (I made them too) were design naivety.

As professionals, we don’t have this luxury.  We cashed in our naivety cards in exchange for our design credentials… and we should have.


Architecture without people is sculpture.

img_2673.jpgWe have taken oaths to protect the health, safety and welfare of the general public.  We have a responsibility to know… better.  As designers, we must tap into our mama bear premonitions.  We must invoke design foresight – just as mothers foresee their children falling just before they do… and extend a hand quickly (or at least a wipe in the event we weren’t fast enough).

We must envision our vision occupied.  We must think about the interactions of our users with our spaces.  We must intentionally sculpt environments that eliminate safety risks (and keep the sunscreen out of arm’s reach).  We must design out risk while we simultaneously develop function.  And then we must wrap it all up in aesthetic value.


(design) Risk isn’t an emoji


Design risks take on many forms.  They look like many things.  They morph  based on a space being deemed public versus one that is private.  One that is residential versus commercial.  One that is interior versus exterior.  These risks may be ‘shiny’ – a crystal chandelier for example that extends into human reach or a stunning polished floor finish that doesn’t meet coefficients for slip resistance in wet areas.  It may even be a discontinued product that will only be available for install, but not for change out or maintenance.

Redesigning for risk can crush a designer’s heart.  And it has… crushed me…  It is frustrating.  It is necessary.  Solving these issues both functionally and aesthetically is (unfortunately) our problem.  Designing out risk will change the look of the original vision, but it shouldn’t jeopardize the intent.

Omit the Catastrophy

Solution seeking is part of the design process.  We have all learned from failure.  Each time we have installed something that did not work (created risk), we have added to our (design) archive collection of “I may love you, but you are off limits… don’t worry, you will always be pretty, but you will have to remain a ‘sample’ for you are a ticking time bomb”.

Some risk is unavoidable, it is why we carry contingency, but as our experience deepens, we do get better at omitting it… from conception.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

So, designers, don’t forget the risks you were too naive to understand (until you installed them), for they make you (us) better.  Instead, turn them into (design) ‘Lessons Learned‘ and actually learn from them… for they will resonate with you longer than (design) accomplishments… and they will propel you from here to there… because there is more beautiful than you ever imagined.


(design) Butterflies.

Photo Credit: 1st Dibs

Butterflies.  This delicate creature’s meaning is anything but delicate.  The symbol of the butterfly is one of transcendence.  Many associate this insect with change or transformation.  Perhaps to you, it is a symbol of the soul?  A symbol of promise?  A symbol of hope?  A symbol of reincarnation?  A sign of change?  … Or, perhaps to me.

The cliche statement “she gives me butterflies” has deep connotations and it is because of the fact that we can’t really ‘understand’.  We can “feel” the butterflies (to some degree), but we can’t always define the reason for them.  They are not palpable.  They are about Energy.  Excitement.  Newness.  Evocation.  Unexplored value.  This feeling is poignant and infrequent… and that is what makes it memorable.

The Very Hungry Designer (#caterpillar)

Photo Credit: Pinterest

This Easter, I “erected” butterflies with my children.  We began the process by building a habitat and we watched these caterpillars stuff themselves with nutrients, and embark on a journey of consecutive molting until they grew plumper and longer and finally stopped eating (it was disgusting).  We watched as they attached themselves upside down to the underside of their habitat, morph into shiny cocoons (known as the chrysalis) and “harden”.  Though they ostensibly seemed dormant, the transformation that was happening inside the chrysalis was radical.

At ages one and four, it was a challenge to explain to them (my children) what was still going on while we waited.  It was hard for them to believe that so much was still happening while the construction ‘walls’ were up.  For a child, 7-10 days is an eternity to wait – especially when they don’t really understand what will be unveiled or why it would take so long to get there.  They had to have hope.  They had to trust me.

The (design) Chrysalis


As designers, we are so fortunate to be part of transformation, everyday in every project.  We transform our minds, our environments, our users’ (thoughts), our user’s trust.  We work SO “hard” to explain and to execute our visions for those who may be visionless.

Sure, our owners and clients (reluctantly) approve layouts, finishes and budget increases, but they may not be fully aware of how the ‘approved’ elements will result in wholeness.  They may still have difficulty envisioning the vision.  So, to compensate for what is occurring during gestation (that can’t be understood) they (our clients, our children) have to have some degree of trust.  Trust in us, the design professionals to take the (deemed disgusting) caterpillars they hand us and transform them into butterflies.

Why, if not for Butterflies?

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How many times in your life can you remember “having butterflies”?  Can you think about it without smiling?  OK, if it isn’t your ex-wife can you?  I bet you can count the occurrences on one hand.  What gave them to you?  Anticipation?  Vulnerability?Surrender?

The symbolic meaning of butterflies, though intangible, can provide for each of us (designers) relative insight.  We can relate these stages of metamorphosis to our projects and even to our own lives.  As designers, we (and our projects) have experienced times of vulnerability, the need to develop (professional) thick skin, moments of weakness and ravenous hunger… and even… YES… moments of miraculous expansion.

As designers, we are the instructors of this metamorphosis.  We are creators of the Oh My!, instigators of the transcendence, and challengers of the embracement of change… and… we are so casual about it… in our practice.

So, designers, continue to be casual, (for this is where we find our humility in our work), but not just in your work (the easy part)…  go bigger… BE casual in your lives… and BELIEVE, believe in…  in (each stage of) the process.

(design) Precision.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Perfection = 1/4″?


Designers are perfectionists.  The challenge is that we rely on consultants and trades to execute the precision we envision.  So we have to establish tolerance for intolerance.  And in (design), tolerances usually come in 1/4”! Yes, this means, as designers, we need to surrender our desire for the unobtainable 1/16″ and have tolerance.

As we create, the important thing to remember is that ambiguity cannot be executed.  Our DIY formulas (if we entertain Suzie here and discredit ourselves for a moment) are ‘specific’ and they come in the form of Construction Documentation (and specifications – novel!).

Even Tolerance has Intent

Photo Credit: Pinterest

I may have left Las Vegas, but as I continue to design, I don’t ignore the odds.  I intentionally avoid (design) risk.  Design assumptions are costly.  There is a reason that the relationship between architects and engineers and contractors is not (truly) symbiotic.  You, the design professional, (remember you – the one who gets hired to think differently?) Hi there – yes you… you have an obligation to establish tolerance.

It’s important to understand what tolerance is (bear with me).  ASME Y14.5M defines tolerance as “the total amount a specific dimension is permitted to vary.  the tolerance is the difference between the maximum and minimum limits.”  So what is allowable to you?  The designer?  This is the fun part (if documents were considered fun).  This is where you get to implement your tolerance band.

Establishing (design) Limits.  (of course)

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A tolerance band is a range of (considered) allowable dimensions.  The larger the difference between upper and lower limits, the larger the band.  This is “loose” tolerance.  Ever heard of bandwidth? – how‘s yours?  The opposite of this or the smaller the tolerance band, the “tighter” the tolerance.  Did I spark interest?  Finally…

Deviating from ‘nominal’

Establishing dimensional tolerances are key in (design) constructability.  By providing them in documentation, you (the designer) can clarify your intent and give the contractor the leeway for appropriate means and methods… and he can get “back” to you… and then you can redline the hell out of his first pass at a shop drawing!  #architecturaljoy.  A.Void redundancy in documentation and this first round will go much “smoother”.  Speaking of “smooth”

Level 5 Finish – LOL!


This really is laughable, yet we continue to specify it (Level 5, that is).  But, here is the kicker… someone else is responsible for erecting it.  Not you, you little perfectionist you.

Who is responsible?… ‘that’ guy is (the one to the left)… and, ‘that’ guy doesn’t give a shit about your (documented) “finish” schedule.  He has his own agenda.  He may even be union?

Your carefully arranged, industry appropriated, architectural ‘prep and prepare walls’ ‘level 5 finish’ to “receive” ‘owner provided wallcover’ is a joke to him.  So as you indicate, remind yourself of intended tolerance and then blue tape the hell out of the wall at architectural punch!

Square Peg, Round Hole.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

I wish I could tell you that the world was perfect.  That this personality perfectionism that permeates our industry could be built that way.  It can’t.  Parts must interact with each other.  Trades must interact with each other.  Materials (even) acclimate.  So as a designer, you better follow suit…

Follow suit, then lead, and then, create!  Create AND document so the round “hole” you have imagined that those square pegs can’t fit into (without redundancy) can be built!






Intuition. from a (design) Perspective.




1. the art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.

2. a particular attitude toward or way of regarding something; a point of view.

The Design Truth

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In an interview a few months back, I was asked by my potential employer as he vetted through my design portfolio, where my ‘ideas’ come from…  This is a challenging ask, but an even more difficult answer.

As designers, there is sometimes a bit of guilt associated with this response.  A humility that we have to surrender to answer.  For creative individuals, it’s not about how we did something… it’s just about how we saw something.  This is the design truth.

We can’t provide a DIY strategy for our design intuitions.  We are (hopefully) paid for our perspectives and we should be proud of the way we add colors to the world that don’t exist.  We are needed and valued because we intuitively seduce (with intent, of course!).

(design) Seduction

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We think of intuition as a magical phenomenon—but hunches are formed out of our past experiences and knowledge.  Our visual thinking is (design) seduction and the emotive responses visual thinking yield are ‘magical’.  This is precisely why we do what we do.  Part of the ‘magic’ is the response we generate via seduction.  As visionaries, we (designers) have seen the end result throughout the erection.  We created it.  We aren’t wowed at opening by stepping into a “space” that already existed to us – for the space was in our mind’s eye from cognition.  What we are wowed by are the reactions of others as they step into
our visions.  For those wows can’t be anticipated.

Haunted by (design) Doubt?!

It is true that throughout the (design) process, we (the designers) doubt, even in our certainty.  There are many lost hours of sleep attributed to (design) doubt.  Doubt is part of the creative process.  It is our design intuition telling us that our visual thought isn’t quite vetted out.  But, really, we already know… we are aware of elements that don’t feel right.  We recognize cut corners… Vision is evolving.
Trust both your intuition and your doubt and relax.  The execution will get “nailed” especially when you are the one in control of the hammer…
Photo Credit: Pinterest



A.Void. (by design).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

There is a concept in the visual arts known as horror vacui or ‘fear of empty space’.

The term was originally used by Italian art critic and scholar Mario Praz to describe the suffocating atmosphere and clutter of interior design in the Victorian age (Wikipedia).  This was an architectural criticism that spoke to perceived environmental discomfort – ironically, intentional (discomfort).  And, this “discomfort” actually took work, (a ton of work) to create!  These ‘suffocating’ environments were rich and overloaded with detail, with thought, and with… intent.

What was missing though, at the time, was the understanding of the psychological impact of ‘void’ and the value of ‘space’.

The Modern (educated) understanding of the term is now an “inverse” relationship between horror vacui and value perception.

Empty Space doesn’t equal Emptiness

There is a natural tendency for humans to fill “voids” instead of respecting them.   We fill our closets, our pantries, our storage units and our lives (for that matter) with clutter not because we need it all, but because we have ‘room’.  We have become incapacitated by capacity.  Our Amazon cart may technically be empty, but how many items do we have ‘saved for later’ so that we can “fill” it back up instantly with a click of ‘add to cart’?

As designers, we need to embrace the value that is void and A.Void.  Avoid fearing meaningless emptiness or meaningless fullness, for that matter.  Instead, we need to intentionally implement void and give ourselves and our users the chance to perceive value.

Value Nothing, It (could be) Everything

John Pawson . St Moritz Church . Augsburg (1)
Photo Credit: Yellow Trace

It is true that modern sophistication has developed appreciation of understatement.  As we have educated ourselves (as designers), we have come to our ‘senses’.  Value is better understood via void, via emphasis.  For void renders appreciation.

I had a professor in one of my early introduction to architecture studio courses explain value and void to me in a way, well, a way both men and women can appreciate.  He asked if we (a class – full of gen-“xxx”ers) would be more intrigued to see a beautiful woman in a black bikini on a beach or a beautiful woman ‘fully’ naked on the same beach.  His answer was actually the woman in the black bikini (I know – SURPRISE!)?  See… the woman in the bikini still has a story to tell… she still has undiscovered value.  In her understatement, she evokes wonder and intrigue but the viewer is able to establish value via void (in this case via the black bikini).


In the era of Praz, ‘more’ (things) equaled affluence, but now we are fortunate to embrace a time where experiences are perceived as ‘more’ and ‘less’ may even be perceived as ‘better’ (Millennial credit here)…

So, designers… Start with too many ideas and eliminate.  Eliminate your clutter.  From your pantry, from your storage unit, from your projects, from your lives.  Embrace the trend.  Challenge yourselves to paint clutter ONE color – and eliminate the distractions.

Or…  Don’t?  Keep it and I dare you (Suzie)… to pull a chair from the bottom!

Photo Credit: Pinterest

(design) Augmentation

design augmentationOne of the greatest challenges we face as designers is respect.  Not self-respect (save that for your therapist), but respect for architectural antiquity.  Respect for the architectural history that preceded us… a past full of ingenuity and authenticity.  A past that spoke to each of us so viscerally that we were influenced to become part of it (and hopefully, this far into our careers, still are).

It is easy to start a project from scratch.  With a clean slate, design boundaries are truly limitless.  As design professionals, we exist to create, to mold, to design and to build, but it is when we have to work to reinvent the invented that the real puzzle begins.

Respect the Unrespected

It is impossible to not be excited by the new innovations and builds happening in our time.  #webetterbe.  As designers, we strive to create something that hasn’t been done before.  We are thrilled by the chance to install new finish materials or technology packages that haven’t been seen to date… to be the first to gain the recognition for their discovery… to be participants in the (design) gestation and erection of modern spaces.  This is “easy”.

So how do we get ourselves just as ‘thrilled’ at the chance to refurbish?  How do we breathe life back into architecture that once breathed on its own?  What parts do we salvage?  What do we rehabilitate, restore, preserve and/or recreate?  This journey to architectural “augmentation” begins first with… respect… (remember that?)

It’s about the Time. Period.


We all have physical features that we wouldn’t have chosen (given the option) and would be ‘thrilled’ to change, but we are a “package” deal.  We are of our time.  We may be able to make physical augmentations, with assistance, but only to a certain extent…  we are still only able to ‘improve’ upon our “bones”, our underlying core, our genetics.  As we have seen in numerous cases in the celebrity sector, augmentation, taken too far can render one nearly unrecognizable.

Funny enough though, this unrecogniz”ability” we can recognize.  We can sense when something doesn’t “fit”.  Whe know when wholeness was jeopardized…

What’s in a Face-ade?

As is true with human ‘refurbishment’, architectural refurbishment must be recreated with respect to the existing ‘core’.  For example, you can’t take a “concept-less” modern interior “package” and slap it into a mid-century facade.  It’s wrong… and I believe it to be professionally unethical.  The key is to modernize the space while respecting the history.

For me, this shift (in my work) actually became professional augmentation – and I take it personal.  Coming from a background in Las Vegas hospitality… a background “full” of augmentation (as you can imagine)… a background I learned to embrace and appreciate for its courage… (not its ‘real'(e)’state’).  A background where facades are facades… and no one expects them to be anything more than that.  It is liberating, actually.  Talk about transparency – via lace, (usually).


History Repeats Itself, yes, but… should it?

What happens in Vegas, doesn’t always stay in Vegas – so here I am!

Though my grass may not be ‘greener’, it is certainly less artificial!  So… let’s look at a personal example of some (more historically) authentic work in my ‘new’ backyard:

Photo Credit: University of Nevada, Reno
University of Nevada, Reno
Palmer Engineering Building Renovation
Built: 1940-1941
Renovated: 2017

This building is one of many on the University of Nevada, Reno campus that is on the National Historic Building Registry.  Because of the seismic retrofits that needed to be completed, a ‘new’ building was essential built within the ‘existing’ architectural ‘shell’.

In addition, the renovation required removal and reinstallation of a percentage of building materials to maintain its title of ‘historic’ as well as upgrades designed to support the high tech, advanced manufacturing, and aerospace engineering future of the University of Nevada, Reno.  Quite the juxtaposition!  Quite the design challenge!  How do you respect the antiquity, in this case, while creating a space that also serves a cutting edge function?  One that can also be used for modern recruitment but holds true to originality?

By respecting palette and patterns of the time as well as the original architectural “bones” and by properly re-placing the ‘old’ materials in an innovative way… ‘new’, contemporary life was breathed into architectural history.  The design principles of proportion and scale contemporized the ‘old’ without disrespecting it.


IMG_2520  IMG_2522 3f41106636c4e4099a24b84872c11110

If all else fails, “poke” it

So, As you are called to reinvent the invented, design and conceptualize first, with RESPECT, (and then you can resort to botox)!



(design) ‘real'(e)’state’


Have you ever sat and watched your children climb?  Have you watched them… real’ly watched them… just… run?  Children don’t worry about distance or height.  They don’t worry about the hurdles they have overcome on the path or how much ground they have already leveraged.  They don’t preface their minds with their fitness levels and weaken themselves slightly at the starting line.  Children don’t concern themselves with their abilities (or lack of abilities) or “tolerances”.  They don’t worry about HOW they are going to get “down”.

Children think about one thing… Ok, perhaps two things:

1.) They think about their destination (their goal) and 

2.) They think about who they are competing against to attain it

This is just novel to me.  This is what we are learning (and hopefully doing) as we brand ourselves, but by (this) theory, it is exactly what we once already knew…

For children, courage is core.  As much as they question, it is never themselves.  It is never their capabilities.  It is never their greatness.  Via life’s design, our children are transformed from (innately) courageous to fearful.  Perhaps this is why they are  considered our (off)”spring”?

From The BOOK of AWAKENING by Mark Nepo:

image1 (1)



According to businessdictionary.com, realestate, by definition is land and anything fixed, immovable, or permanently attached to it such as appurtenances, buildings, fences, fixtures, improvements, roads, shrubs and trees (but not growing crops), sewers, structures, utility systems, and walls.

So, by definition here, it is clarified that growing crops are not fixed, not permanent, not ‘real’estate?  In ‘real’ity though, nothing is more ‘real’ than a child’s ‘state’ and it is this ‘real’(e)‘state’ that we, as parents and design professionals, should return to for “seedlings” of inspiration, as often as possible.

Being “fixed” doesn’t deem you ‘reel’

Photo Credit: Pinterest

If we instill this courage and fearlessness we are inspired by in our (off)”spring” into our design work, we would find the immediate limitations we place on ourselves would be nonexistent.

We are taught in design school and in our careers, early on, to “push” (design) boundaries.

We know that a line cast too far out into water can always be ‘reel’ed back in (and sometimes will need to be due to ‘fixed’ design constraints) but you can’t give the same initial momentum behind the same cast once it is thrown.

Like Kahn’s “sun”, we must (re)find our greatness.  We must reinvent ourselves, our concepts, our content, our ideas.  Unlike our children, we must leverage what we have learned on our paths, on our climbs.  This distance is our professional ‘real’(e)‘state’.  The journey is what has ‘fixed’ us.  The path is what has rendered us experts.  The steps to the destination have erected credibility, established credentials and validated (design) wisdom.  We are products of the process and it is the respect and instillation of the process and principles that set us apart (from DIY Suzie).

(design) is Within Reach

My challenge to you, as design professionals, is to crack, to commit, to Crack ALL THE WAY.  Climb heights and don’t worry about how you will get back down until you “reach” your limitless destination.



In Memory of Frank ‘Papa’ Lyttle April 30, 1933 – April 3, 2018


Wishing you eternal peace in your new ‘real'(e)’state’