Exclusive ILMA Interview with Tara Imani, AIA @Parthenon1 (Part 2)

What better way to ring in the new year than to highlight one of our new designer colleagues discovered on social media?

Tara Imani, AIA, CSI, is a registered architect and owner of Tara Imani Designs, LLC, a solo practice in Texas, focusing on residential renovations, commercial space planning, and architecture. She has been blogging for over a year now, beginning with her debut blog post on AIA KnowledgeNet in October, 2010 where she explored what is now a commonplace question in the field of architecture: “Is the Architecture Profession in Need of a Makeover Despite the Upturn in the Economy?” (<—You can click on the highlighted title to link to the blog and join the conversation).

The Parthenon ruins in Athens. "For complex visual and psychological reasons, it's an extremely powerful building."

The Parthenon ruins in Athens. “For complex visual and psychological reasons, it’s an extremely powerful building.”

Architect Q&A:

11)   Who / what has been your greatest influence in design?

This is a very interesting question because I try not to be defined by a certain style- I consider myself eclectic.  In thinking more deeply about this, I have to say it was my formal education at Ohio State that has by far been the greatest influence on me.  Sub-consciously when I sit down to design, I think about how we would go about solving various design studio problems and what would Professors Doug Graf, John Regan, Ben Gianni or Mas Kinoshita say about “that idea!”  It is incredible to think what an indelible imprint our design professors make on our creative thought processes.  Not to mention the influence of seeing how other students handle certain design problems.  We learn from each other.

Aside from my background, I draw inspiration and learn new ways of doing things by reading various architecture magazines.  But each client and project is different and it is important to respond to the immediate context, specific program needs, and design based on those parameters while addressing the required jurisdictional planning, building, and ADA codes (which are baseline requirements and should be exceeded).

“Every new project is essentially a blank canvas.”
~ Tara Imani, AIA

ILMA-001

12)   Which building type would you like to work on that you haven’t been part of yet?

There are so many building types I have not yet worked on.  I would like to take existing programs and improve them such as Student housing at universities, solving urban and suburban decay, revitalizing neighborhoods, redesigning and adapting existing facilities to new uses.  All of these projects excite me.

I would love to be part of a think tank team that tackles big problems.  I like a challenge and to work with people who want to make a difference and aren’t afraid to try something new.

I’m very entrepreneurial and loved being part of my family’s start-up, creating everything from marketing materials, the company logo, branding our image, hiring new people, determining our core services, implementing new software systems and setting up the daily operations.  Every day was an opportunity to wear many hats.

13)   How do you hope to inspire / mentor the next generation of Architects?

I was asked to co-author a book on how to become an architect for emerging architects.  This was in August 2011 and I have yet to complete it.  I was gung-ho about the project and had actually been waiting for an opportunity to write such a book.  However, it has proved more difficult than originally anticipated—due to the rapidly changing A/E/C industry (with Revit, a move to BIM, IPD, and changes to LEED including a new International Green Building Code, etc.).  I was concerned that my lack of certain credentials would impede the book from being read.

The industry has changed so much due to technological advances that “seasoned architects” are in a reverse position of needing to be mentored and re-trained ourselves.

It is impossible to lead others without leading one’s self.”
~ Tara Imani, AIA

I get my inspiration and compass directions from architectural thought leaders such as James Cramer, founder of The Design Futures Council and Design Intelligence whose website and publications offer cutting edge information: www.di.net.  And staying active in social media also helps stay current on what other firms are doing- such as Tweet chats hosted by the AIA or reading posts on www.aia.org ‘s Knowledge Net forum—a place where mostly architects go to ask questions and share hard-won wisdom with one another.

And I look to outside sources in other arenas such Twitter where you can interact with such innovative leaders as Tom Peters, Vala Afshar, Lolly Daskal, and Frank Stephens whose thoughts and ideas can inform architecture in ways our otherwise insular profession has not had in the past.

The Louve Museum in Paris featuring IM Pei's glass pyramid at night

The Louve Museum in Paris featuring IM Pei’s glass pyramid at night

14)   What does Architecture mean to you?

This question reminds me of an ongoing conversation/debate we had on AIA’s Knowledge Net site a few years ago where we all tried to define “What is good design?”  Many of us easily fell back on Vitruvius’s Firmness, Commodity, and Delight (my favorite definition to date) while others said “modern” and still others wanted to focus solely on sustainability which, to me, is an underlying aspect that runs through all areas of design and is a pre-requisite consideration in the earliest stages of the design process.

When I hear the world ‘architecture’, I think of beautiful buildings like the Louvre museum in Paris or the Pantheon in Rome.  Architecture is synonymous with Aesthetics and cannot exist without a parti (French word for concept/diagram); a unifying concept/idea that makes sense of the project’s many parts.  This is what sets mere functional buildings with true architecture—that unspoken feeling of sublime awe when you experience a Gothic Cathedral (or so I’m told… I haven’t been to one- yet).

15)   What is your design process?

My design process is iterative.  It starts with meeting with the client and listening to their needs.  Vetting clients is very important and sometimes (even though as they say “beggars can’t be choosers”) it is best to turn down a project if the client refuses to understand the legal requirements of certain tasks or doesn’t have an adequate budget—unless you can assist with a creative solution to help them find a way to build it for less cost or come up with a way to assist them in raising the necessary funds.

“The client needs to respect the design capabilities and experience of the Architect.”
~ Tara Imani, AIA

Once the project goals, budget, scope of services (what I will do), and the fee (most important) is determined and agreed upon, the next step is to get a signed contract and a retainer fee.  Then, it is appropriate to begin to solve the design problem.

Sometimes, it is not possible to accomplish what I just wrote in the above paragraph as clients might be trying to decide if a particular site or lease space will work—in those cases, I can provide the client with a feasibility study for an agreed upon fee.

A lot of factors come into play that some clients might not be aware of—building codes differ by jurisdiction, fire codes are critical to comply with, occupancy loads are determined by square footages and use, construction budgets will be stretched.  It’s not a matter of merely “drawing up a set of floor plans”.  It’s a matter of orchestrating a confluence of design factors and meeting client expectations.

photo 2

16)   If you could not be an Architect, what would you be?

This is another intriguing question.  For years I was driven by a need to make others around me happy.  This led to being at everyone else’s beck and caw while ignoring my own needs.  It’s a delicate balance to pursue worthy goals without being selfish.

To answer your question more directly: I would like to be a writer or an actor.  I also enjoy dancing and the performing arts, so being an entertainer or speaker would be fun.

I feel I can do anything I set my mind to.

I’ve already mentioned some of my pursuits in play as a child; some of the other interests I had were creative writing, espionage, and organizing messy rooms/drawers/closets (even if it was someone else’s house).

Funny fact about me: At age 34 or so- when I was having a moment of frustration in the family business- I decided I would pursue my hidden desire to be a spy, so I called the FBI and asked them if they were hiring. LOL!  I really did that.  They said yes, they were but that the maximum age to train a new agent was 36.  I did the math and thought that it was too late to do that.  Naturally, I thought of the next thing: being a private detective.  So I opened the Yellow Pages and called a few (there are only a few listed anyway) and got an interview with one.  He was an older, handsome man much like the TV character Matlock.  Without looking at my resume or discussing anything, he looked directly at me across his big wooden brown desk and simply got right to the point and said, “Miss, you don’t want to want to be a Private Detective.” Insert uncomfortable pause. “Trust me.”

Of course, I was not satisfied with his answer. I needed to know specifically why:  Would I have to carry a gun?  Was he ever shot at? I think I asked him if the job required having to sneak around dark alleys at 3:00 a.m.

Well, he wasn’t specific in his responses other than to shake his head yes to all of the above and more.  I could tell his mind was made up so I took his advice and forsook any notions of suburban espionage.

17)   What is your dream project?

I would love to work on a Hollywood set although I’ve heard the pace is maddening.  My dream project is actually writing a book about Julia Morgan and having it made into a screenplay that I would get to co-direct.  I envision it as an epic period piece along the lines of ‘Titanic’ spanning her whole life- like a series- and showing to the finest detail what life was like for women in 1893 Paris when Julia was accepted on her third attempt into the L’Ecole des Beaux Arts.  I’ve envisioned various actresses playing her role from Julia Roberts to Angelina Jolie.  I think John Goodman or Brad Pitt would make a great William Randolph Hearst (Julia’s lifelong client).  So, it sounds like a match made in Heaven!

Click here to read Part 1 of this interview.

Tara’s Contact Info:

Tara Imani Designs 10333 Richmond Avenue, Suite 150 Houston, Texas 77042 Ph: (832) 723-1798 Fax: (832) 300-3230 Email: Tara@TaraImaniDesigns.com

The Villa Almerico-Capra (The Rotunda) by Palladio

The Villa Almerico-Capra (The Rotunda) by Palladio

Also Check Out:

We would love to hear from you on what you think about this post. We sincerely appreciate all your comments.

If you like this post please share it with friends. And feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss ideas for your next project!

2013 is going to be great ~ Sending you lots of love, hope, peace, health, happiness and prosperity! 

Sincerely,
Frank Cunha III
I Love My Architect – Facebook

FC3 ARCHITECTURE+DESIGN, LLC
P.O. Box 335, Hamburg, NJ 07419
e-mail: fcunha@fc3arch.com
mobile: 201.681.3551
direct: 973.970.3551
fax: 973.718.4641
web: http://fc3arch.com
Licensed in NJ, NY, PA, DE, CT.


Exclusive ILMA Interview with Tara Imani, AIA @Parthenon1 (Part 1)

What better way to ring in the new year than to highlight one of our new designer colleagues discovered on social media?

Tara Imani, AIA, CSI, is a registered architect and owner of Tara Imani Designs, LLC, a solo practice in Texas, focusing on residential renovations, commercial space planning, and architecture. She has been blogging for over a year now, beginning with her debut blog post on AIA KnowledgeNet in October, 2010 where she explored what is now a commonplace question in the field of architecture: “Is the Architecture Profession in Need of a Makeover Despite the Upturn in the Economy?” (<—You can click on the highlighted title to link to the blog and join the conversation).

ILMA-Parthenon

Reconstruction of the Acropolis of Athens from NW: The entrance (Propylaia) to the Acropolis is at the bottom right, so that the first side of the Parthenon to be seen is the West side, the rear side.

Architect Q&A:

1)   When and why did you decide to become an Architect?

I discovered my love for architecture, interiors, and fine furnishings at a young age.  I enjoyed going furniture shopping with my mom and would find myself critiquing the various layouts in the showroom, wondering why the designers did it that way and wanting to try different layouts or do something similar in my own way. Maybe you’ve done this yourself, too, when you were growing up: rearrange the furniture in your parents’ home when they were out of the house for a while.  I did that to my mom on a few occasions and it met with much resistance.  That started at an early age, too- as soon as I was strong enough to move stuff around or coax my brother into helping. My passion for architecture started with house plans. After cleaning out the lower level hall closet and finding my parents’ stack of builder house plan books, I was hooked.  I began drawing my own floor plans and elevations, pinning them up on the wall in my bedroom.  My 5th grade bff (as the kids say nowadays) saw them and remarked at how much patience such detailed drawings would take; but to me it was sheer joy.  I never noticed the time. It was my dad who first told me I was going to be an architect.  And since he was an electrical engineer, he kept me well-supplied with proper drawing tools—sketch pads, quadrille paper, charcoals, pens, and pastels for rendering elevations. So I knew since 5th grade that I was going to be an architect.  In 8th grade, I did write in my journal that I wanted to be an interior designer.  So, I today, I am both—with a focus on Interior Architecture and space planning.

2)   What were some of the challenges of achieving your dream?

The biggest challenge has been overcoming fear.  The first fear was the looming board exam that I had heard mentioned whenever I told an inquiring adult what I wanted to be when I grew up.  So, along with my dream, I had a fear attached to it—of this monster test where I mistakenly believed I would need to bring the equivalent of my dad’s metal trunk full of books and reference materials to pass the exam. The other challenge was time management and the constant tension of wanting to spend time with loved ones (my boyfriend who became my husband) versus cranking out the project.  So, self-discipline and deferred gratification are two critical traits any architecture student will need to master early on if they want to be successful.

photo 1Gehry's Disney Concert Hall as captured by Photographer Mathijsvanden Boschhttp://500px.com/MathijsvandenBosch

Left: Tara’s website; Right: Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall as captured by Photographer Mathijsvanden Bosch.

3)   Any memorable clients or project highlights?

Every client and project has been a memorable experience and learning opportunity.  My most favorite firm to work for was Chris Abel Architects, AIA in Laguna Beach, California where we did high-end custom residential design for both new builds and renovations.  It was a beautiful place and location and everything about it was miraculous.  I worked for months helping Chris hand-draft a 5,000 sf beach home and additional guest house for a beachfront site in Kauai (using a now-ancient drafting arm- this was circa 1992).  The other memorable project I did with Chris was a two-story master bedroom suite and first floor pottery studio addition adjoining to an existing living room via an indoor atrium; it was a very eclectic home overlooking both the Pacific Ocean and the Aliso Viejo Canyon- the style can best be described as modern adobe exterior with an oriental interior motif (Chris designed a huge circle-shaped opening leading into the atrium which contrasted with the sloped adobe fireplace and otherwise rustic décor).  The most difficult part was getting the infamously strict Laguna Beach Design Review Board to approve the project and meet the height restrictions while ensuring the uphill next door neighbor’s view would not be blocked.  That was my first project to manage.  The client was very unique; she liked to wear (what we secretly referred to as) “leopard skinned bowling shoes” and during our morning jobsite meetings she preferred to drink her orange juice only after it’d been warmed in the microwave.  She was very astute and noted: “This is your first project, isn’t it?”  I didn’t quite know how to respond, so I simply acknowledged and clarified that no, it wasn’t my first one to work on, but yes, it was my first one to manage.  I knew I had a lot to learn about everything—especially about how to deal with clients and how to manage the bidding and construction process.  The latter point is a story for another day!

4)   How does your family support what you do?

Architecture can be an all-consuming business and few people can succeed while being loyal to their family (time-wise, etc.).  My father encouraged me to apply to architecture school and my mom enabled me to attend The Ohio State University by securing the necessary loans.  Otherwise, I was working as a bank teller for Buckeye Federal bank immediately following high school graduation.  The manager was upset when I left to go to school as they had put us new hires through three weeks of intense professional training at their special facility. So, two types of support are necessary—financial and emotional.  One without the other will not be sufficient. Over the years, family support has been touch and go.  But my dedication to architecture—whether consistent or not—remains my responsibility and no one else’s. In 1992, only five years after graduating from school, my husband and I made a decision to start a home health care and infusion therapy company with his sister, an RN.  It required us to move from southern California to Houston, TX.  My co-workers at Chris Abel’s firm thought I was crazy to move to the “armpit” of the south.  But work had been very slow and I was lucky to be employed at a time when many of my contemporaries were working outside the field.  It was a huge time of change, too, with firms transitioning to AutoCAD. I stayed in the healthcare business until 1998 and returned to architecture 6 months later.  I was able to find work because of the social connections I had made while studying for the licensing exams—so I always kept one foot in architecture while I was helping run the health care company.  And my family supported me by allowing me to take a paid 3-month sabbatical to study and pass the remaining exams.  I passed all except one- the design exam which became two computerized exams that I took and passed a few years later after our daughter was born.

5)   How do Architects measure success?

I can only speak for myself. When I think of a successful architect, I think of someone who has achieved a solid portfolio of built work spanning many years and whose buildings, designs, and/or residences resonate with their end-users.

6)   What matters most to you in design?

Design is a vast subject and covers so much.  I value beauty, good proportions, quality materials, and durability.

7)   What do you hope to achieve over the next 20-30 years?

That’s a long time.  Your question has prompted me to realize I really only think in terms of today and the next year—of course, I envision a great future for my family for many years. Professionally, I would like to continue in the area of tenant build-outs, space planning, and interior design.  I have been begging my husband for years to team up with me to renovate houses and I think he’s about ready to do so.

FLW Guggenheim NYC-Framed-Sml

Photo: Frank Cunha III

8)   Who is your favorite Architect? Why?

I can say that I am not an avid follower/groupie of any particular architect except that I love the designs of Andrea Palladio, the 14th c. Italian architect famous for his beautiful houses, symmetrical designs, and arched windows.  While a student, the theories of Finnish architect Alvar Aalto resonated with me— his inclusive programs (as opposed to Mies van der Rohe’s exclusive, stark plans). I also love many of Frank Lloyd Wright’s homes and especially his Guggenheim Museum and I love Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles—I guess in part because I have been there and experienced it. These days, I’m revisiting various architects’ manifestoes to get fresh ideas and perspectives. There is one architect I admire for her sheer perseverance as much as her work: Julia Morgan who was the first female architect in California who started out as a Civil Engineer and who endured many trials and challenges on her path to becoming a successful Architect.  Ironically, her work was absent from the curriculum at OSU.

9)   What is your favorite historic and modern (contemporary) project? Why?

My favorite historic project is The Parthenon in Athens, Greece (built between 447 – 438 B.C); I admire it because it is such an iconic image exemplifying all that is beautiful and graceful in architecture.  It is the inspiration behind my twitter handle: @Parthenon1. My favorite modern (contemporary) project is the Denver Airport design by Fentress Architects; I love tent structures and am so intrigued at how well-integrated the forms are with the rest of the structure and successfully done despite the harsh climate of wind, snow, and ice.  It, too, is a beautiful iconic image with the white peaks of the tents rhythmically rising, echoing the mountains beyond.

10)   Where do you see the profession going over the next few decades?

This is a particularly challenging question and one that I see many of us in the Architecture/Engineering/Construction industry grappling to answer every day on social media sites- what I call the new agora or Roman forum- such as Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+.  To read many tweets, posts and forum discussion threads is to realize that we’ve all embarked on a mysterious expedition to define the Next architectural manifesto that will solve the world’s problems through innovative, sustainable design.  It feels very much like we’re on the precipice of a major breakthrough but we haven’t yet been able to put it into concise words or build with new forms and materials. There are many thought leaders I look to such as Rachel Armstrong from Britain with her Architecture 2.0; and Ed Mazria who conceived and developed Architecture+2030 (a program to train architects to systemically address CO2 emissions from buildings). Definitely sustainable design, adaptive reuse and retrofitting existing buildings to be more “green” (yikes, I can’t believe I’m using that word!) and high technologies are going to govern how architects practice for years to come. I recommend reading “Building (In) The Future- Recasting Labor in Architecture” compiled and edited by Phil Bernstein and Peggy Deamer—according to at least some of the essays, the future of architecture is going to be much more fabricated off-site and mechanized like the car industry.  IKEA is one example of this with their new pre-manufactured housing.  I personally don’t like this trend but am keeping an open mind toward it.  I don’t want to see the loss of art and craft and design in the move toward BIM (Building Information Modeling) – another buzzword among many others such as IPD (Integrated Project Delivery- how a project is funded for risk/reward-sharing in profits).

Click here to read Part 2 of this interview.

Tara’s Contact Info:

Tara Imani Designs 10333 Richmond Avenue, Suite 150 Houston, Texas 77042 Ph: (832) 723-1798 Fax: (832) 300-3230 Email: Tara@TaraImaniDesigns.com

San Giorgio Maggiore by Palladio

San Giorgio Maggiore by Palladio

Also Check Out:

We would love to hear from you on what you think about this post. We sincerely appreciate all your comments.

If you like this post please share it with friends. And feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss ideas for your next project!

2013 is going to be great ~ Sending you lots of love, hope, peace, health, happiness and prosperity! 

Sincerely,
Frank Cunha III
I Love My Architect – Facebook

FC3 ARCHITECTURE+DESIGN, LLC
P.O. Box 335, Hamburg, NJ 07419
e-mail: fcunha@fc3arch.com
mobile: 201.681.3551
direct: 973.970.3551
fax: 973.718.4641
web: http://fc3arch.com
Licensed in NJ, NY, PA, DE, CT.


How Can Architects Produce More Effective Construction Documents? by @FrankCunhaIII

Ask the Architect


by Frank Cunha III

What are some inherent problems with producing Construction Drawings?

  • Some details are not build-able.
  • Budget.
  • Schedule.
  • Inaccurate references and/or dimensions.
  • Missing information.
  • Coordination (or lack of).

How can we make the construction process better?

  • Make better CDs (drawings and specifications) upfront instead of waiting for a problem in the field to solve later.
  • Make drawings sufficient. Do not keep adding drawings, but coordinate the ones you have – in other words know when to say when. The drawings will never be as complete as you would like, but do not compromise the coordination of the drawings.
  • Remember: the drawings have to be sufficient to meet the required “standard of care.”
  • As time goes on the cost of a mistake rises (exponentially). It is important to avoid mistakes early on preferable before bid or construction phase.
  • Quality Control (QC) is too late at the end of CD phase or Construction phase.

What are some goals during the Construction Document phase?

  • Productivity (design with standards for efficiency when ever possible).
  • Thorough, user friendly (for the code officials, general contractor, and subcontractors).
  • Sufficient information.
  • Good coordination.
  • Consistency (look and feel of drawings).

How can Architect, Engineer, or Designer manage information more efficiently?

  • Have standard sheets and details (cover sheets, partition types, toilet details, window details, door schedule and details, finish schedule, millwork/casework schedule and details, sealant schedule, miscellaneous metals schedules, etc.)
  • Focus on “atypical” details.
  • Show dimensions, quantities on a single drawing to avoid conflicts. Do not repeat similar notes. Put all of typical notes on one detail and refer other details back to typical detail.
  • Follow principle of single statement – reduction of redundancy.
  • Be frugal: use time and resources wisely.
  • Avoid using similar scales (i.e., 1/8” and 1/16” OR 1/4” and 1/2”) whenever possible because information will be similar. Jump up or down at least 2 scales to avoid redundancy.
  • How are words and #’s perceived? Reference with words rather than #’s. Keep key notes straightforward and simple.
  • Wall section should be a “road map” like a plan where vertical dimensions and details are referenced. Avoid referencing typical conditions where possible.
  • Think of CDs as a story board (i.e., “defrag” your working drawings like you “defrag” you computer). Begin with the end in mind!
  • Include a schedule and instruction system at the front of the set to make it easier for the contractor to reference. Do not split up details that are related (i.e., keep plan, details, section details together not on ‘standard” sheets 20 drawings away from referenced drawing; keep references close, preferably on the same/next sheet when possible). This will make the subcontractor’s work easier and the construction process more efficient.
  • Save time by creating schedules for sealants and miscellaneous metals so you do not have to include them in every detail.
  • Coordinate, cross-reference, and remove redundancies from construction drawings and specifications.

How can an Architect, Engineer, or Designer save time on Typical Details?

  • Create a default: Select the most common type of door and state that is the typical door unless otherwise noted. Try to minimize the documentation of exceptions by creating different typical conditions. This way you only have to document the exceptions or atypical situations and avoid redundancy.
  • Try to figure out what is different that the default and illustrate those conditions.

We would love to hear from you on what you think about this post.  We sincerely appreciate all your comments.

If you like this post please share it with friends. And feel free to contact us if you would like to discuss ideas for your next project!

Sincerely,
Frank Cunha III
I Love My Architect – Facebook

FC3 ARCHITECTURE+DESIGN, LLC
P.O. Box 335, Hamburg, NJ 07419
e-mail: fcunha@fc3arch.com
mobile: 201.681.3551
direct: 973.970.3551
fax: 973.718.4641
web: http://fc3arch.com
Licensed in NJ, NY, PA, DE, CT.