My AMA Experience

You know those contests you see on TV or the internet, the ones that give away an all expenses paid trip to here or there? Well, they are real! Last Friday I won an all expenses paid trip to Los Angeles for the American Music Awards (AMAs) through a Facebook contest via ABC Action News.

Music has been my life for as long as I can remember. I took piano lessons as a child, joined the school choir in second grade, started an all-girl rock band in high school, and then went on to be a vocal major at Florida Atlantic University. I have worked at music venues and wrote for the entertainment section of local newspapers, covering all things music! I go to concerts and festivals all over the country. So, naturally, when I got the phone call from ABC Action News Tampa, telling me that I had won a trip to the AMAs – I started balling. Happy tears, of course, but literally crying like my cat had just died. The prize included (2) American Airlines flights from TPA to LAX, (2) nights at the Luxe City Center Hotel, (2) Red Carpet VIP Passes, (2) tickets to the AMAs at Microsoft Theatre, and $100 AMEX gift card for transportation.

Excitement gave way to dizziness. My legs felt weak and a thing layer of sweat formed along my forehead. “Deep breaths,” I told myself, trying to calm down. I wanted to call my parents, but I didn’t want to freak them out. Once my heart rate descended down to its normal rate, I dialed Coast2Coast First Aid/CPR Toronto and my mom. As soon as my mom answered, all of the emotions returned and I let out a resounding sob… and scared her half to death! Through sputtered sobs, I told her about the prize. In my family, we have what we call “The Cillian Luck,” which, up until that moment, stood for bad luck. She deemed me free of the family curse, and then asked to be put on the waiting list as my guest. As soon as I won, I knew that I would be taking my boyfriend as my guest, but a waiting list quickly started to form once my friends and family became aware of the situation. Some people even joked that they were scheming to get me to break up with him she they could replace him!

After the initial shock of winning such an amazing prize, I realized I only had one week to prepare for the trip of a lifetime. Naturally, being a girl, the first thing that crossed my mind: “What the heck am I going to wear?” Luckily I have a friend who studied fashion, and currently works at Dillards – so I immediately contacted her and asked for help. My mom graciously offered to pay for the dress, so we went shopping on Monday night. I must’ve tried on 40 dresses – I started to feel overwhelmed. My mom suggested that I pick something that I might be able to wear again, rather than just one time. With that in mind, I tried on a green sequin Gianni Bini cocktail dress – and knew it was the one! My friend approved, and even offered to let me borrow some of her accessories to complete the look! I had found my dress and was ready to move to the next stage of the process: paperwork and waiting on the prize to arrive in the mail.

My AMAs Outfit

My AMAs Outfit

On Tuesday I drove to the ABC Action News station in Tampa to fill out the paperwork. The only down side to winning a prize like this are taxes. I filled out a W9 form, as well as a waiver. Upon completion of the paper work they gave me a nice gift bag full of ABC swag. This just keeps getting better and better! I was informed that our tickets and travel information would be arriving via Fed Ex overnight – and the panic set in. What if they lost my marvelous package? What if they didn’t put the correct address on it and someone else gets it? Can you guess what another family trait the Cillian’s have? Yep – we worry too much. But the envelope arrived on Wednesday morning in one of the most beautiful A&G Envelopes I have ever seen, safe and sound. I ripped it open like a kid rips open presents on Christmas morning. It contained (2) VIP lanyards, (2) tickets for the show, hotel information, and a letter from ABC congratulating me. At that moment it started to sink in: I am going to check off a huge bucket list item. Once again, I couldn’t hold back the tears.

Lanyards & Tickets

Lanyards & Tickets

The American Airline tickets arrived via email late Wednesday afternoon – and we experienced our first hiccup: they misspelled my boyfriend’s last name. Panic mode set in again – I tend to over react in these situations. After a few deep breaths, and putting my big girl thinking cap on, I decided to call customer service. They took care of it right away – no questions asked. What a relief! I was worried that, since I did not purchase the tickets, I would not have the authorization to change the name. Kudos to you, American Airlines. You’re the real hero!

The rest of the week was a blur of work, packing, and trying to make arrangements with some of my friends that live out there. Before I knew it, it was Saturday morning and we were on our way to the airport (at 5am… yuck!). I hate flying and honestly just airports in general. My overcautious-self packed our show outfits into a carry on bag. I felt like that good ole Cillian Luck would probably kick in finally, and cause our checked bag to disappear forever. After checking in, we discovered our second hiccup: we were not sitting together. I realized then that calling to fix his last name caused our seats to be changed. So not only would I have to be on a plane for five hours, but I would be sitting next to a complete stranger. “Get over it Kate,” I thought. “You just won this amazing prize!” I quickly changed my attitude.

We made it to LAX around 12:30 (3 hour time change included!). LA is very similar to St. Petersburg, well, weather wise. It was a hot 86 degrees when we walked to the Taxi line at LAX. We grabbed a taxi and headed to the hotel. Thank goodness for the carpool lane. It saved us! Traffic in the “normal” lanes was horrendous, even on a Saturday afternoon. But it was going to be a very busy weekend in the city. Besides the AMAs, there was also a huge Auto show and 2 NBA games!

Saturday flew by – after checking in we met up with a friend in Hollywood and before we knew it we were fast asleep. Sunday morning I woke up at 6am (9am in St. Pete – the 3 hour time change definitely made things difficult). It was the day of the show and the butterflies in my stomach had already begun! I went to the hotel restaurant and ordered breakfast to go. We sat in our room and ate and watched football (the Tampa Bay Bucs game was on at 10am out there – so weird!). I found a hair salon near by and went to get my hair done – I like to leave that to the professionals because I am not good at that, and I really wanted to look perfect!

We were ready to go by 1:30pm, which was good, because we had to be in line by 2:00pm. Microsoft Theatre was right across the street from our hotel – so convenient. Around 2:15 we were shuffled onto the red carpet, into a gated area across from all of the news station cameras. We were directly across from E News! I quickly sent out text messages to family and friends to let them know to watch the E News Pre Show. 20 minutes later, my friend sent me this picture, showing Charlie Puth being interviewed, and a very happy blonde in the background (hey, that’s me!).

We spent about 2 hours on the red carpet before heading inside the theatre. The cold rush of AC felt amazing. But the thing that felt the most amazing was sitting down and taking off my shoes! I don’t know how girls wear heels all of the time – I hate them! They look great but, man, do they hurt! As soon as we were in our seats, we couldn’t believe how amazing our seats were, and how beautiful the theatre was – and right on cue, I started tearing up. I felt so blessed to be able to experience something like that – especially because of how much music means to me.


Our seats inside of Microsoft Theatre

The show started promptly at 5pm with a performance by J-Lo. For the next 3 hours I danced, laughed, cried, and cheered. It was a whirlwind experience in every aspect. My favorite performance was Coldplay, but honestly everyone was fantastic (well, maybe not One Direction… I didn’t think they sounded good at all). I will cherish this moment for the rest of my life!

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An Architect and His Tools

Tools2“What are these plastic triangles, and why do you have so many?” I asked my boss one-day while cleaning out a filing cabinet. He said they were 45° or 30°/60° triangles used for drawing. I immediately flashed back to my high school geometry class – yuck! But seeing those rulers got me thinking… what other special tools do architects use? I found a blog by Bob Borson to get some more information on the topic.

The first thing on Borson’s list: A big ass desk. “While you don’t need to have a big desk, it sure helps,” he writes. Here at Architect Larry LaDelfa, we definitely have big desks – actually we have 3 big desks, and a couple small ones up in the loft. Space to work is essential, in any profession, but especially in architecture. Most days my desk is clean. But on filing days, the surface is lost in a sea of papers and file folders. Larry’s desk is usually in disarray – project drawings, invoices, check books, and pens/tools scattered here and there. But hey, he is an architect! And a very busy architect at that, so he can have a messy desk. He hired me to help clean, organize, and file – so lately the office has been looking spick and span!

Number 2 on Borson’s list is tracing paper. “At any given moment in time, I have 10+ rolls of tracing paper in my office,” he writes. “I use this semi-transparent paper daily and can’t imagine doing my job without having some on hand.” I also found a roll of this tracing paper this morning while cleaning out a filing cabinet. It was my first time seeing it in the office – but I knew what it was right away. Larry does not use this much, at least not that I have noticed. All of the drawing is done on the computer through web design! He got nostalgic on me after I showed it to him, pointing out the unused desk and the bar that held the paper in place. I could tell from the dust that it hadn’t been used in a while. Apparently the paper has several nicknames: onionskin, bumwad and trash paper, to name a few.

Next up: architectural and engineering scales. An architect’s scale is a specialized ruler designed to facilitate the drafting and measuring of architectural drawings, such as floor plans. An engineering scale is used in making blue prints in a specific scale. It is commonly made of plastic and is just over 12 inches long, but with only 12 inches of markings, leaving the ends unmarked so that the first and last measuring ticks do not wear off. “I don’t need this many and I can’t really explain why I have so many other than they secretly get together at night and reproduce (architectural scale + engineering scale = metric scale… I think),” he writes. I have one of these on my desk. I thought it was just a fancy ruler… well I guess it kind of is just a fancy ruler. I love how many new things I learn on a daily basis here!

The next tool on Borson’s list is his camera – a Nikon D90. “I love my camera and use it all the time,” he writes. “I’m pretty sure that the partners in my firm consider it the office camera since it gets used to take most of our project photos.” Larry also has a camera, but it is currently at home. He loves photography so it goes home with him a lot.

What other tools could an architect possibly need? Well we aren’t even half way through the list yet, so obviously a lot more! Next up are the tape measure, clipboard and a Fluke 416D Distance Meter. “We measure a lot of houses in the course of doing our jobs – even if we get architectural plans of the project we are going to work on, we verify everything,” Borson writes. “Having an assortment of measuring devices on hand makes the job go a lot smoother.” I have noticed a collection of tape measurers laying around the office. I even got to help measure one day on site! Larry has a snazzy clipboard too – it’s made out of some fancy type of wood with his logo engraved into it. I have not seen a Fluke 416D Distance Meter yet… but maybe I just discovered the perfect Christmas gift for Larry! Thanks Bob!

Up next are Architectural Reference Manuals. “Possibly the most boring thing on the list, but an important part of the process,” he writes. “Between code books, City requirement development code books, framing manuals, flashing guideline (SMACNA) manuals, etc. – half of the books on the shelf in my office are technical in nature.” The back wall of our office could be mistaken as a library. Larry has been in this business for 39 years – and he has definitely accumulated a book/manual collection to prove it.

Now here is something I can totally understand – a Measure Master 5 Calculator. As I have stated before, I hate math – mostly because I am not good at math. “I use mine all the time to add up dimensions,” he writes. “I used to do that sort of thing in my head, but once I realized that making a simple addition or subtraction mistake could cost a lot of money to fix, I don’t do it anymore.” Larry also uses a calculator when adding up dimensions. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

We are finally half way through the list. I bet you didn’t think an architect needed so many tools! I didn’t either! The next item is pretty obvious – pens! “Architects are nothing if not particular about the pens they use… and I am no exception,” Borson writes. “With the exception of two duplicated, I use each sort of pen shown here for a specific purpose.” The photo shows 8 different types of pens/pencils. Only a week into working for an architect, I noticed that many architects use the Pilot Precise V5 Extra Fine pen (in black and red). That is the specific pen that is used in our office, and I see it in Borson’s photo as well.

Next up on the list is a smart phone. “This phone has changed how I go about doing my job and I am always amazed by architects I see who are proud as they announce that they don’t use a smart phone… and that makes you sort of a dumb-ass (pardon my language),” he writes, matter-of-factly. “It is a handy, convenient, and powerful tool.” I whole-heartedly agree with everything Borson writes. Having a smart phone is just a smart move in today’s business world. It is the equivalent to having a computer, in your back pocket. You can use it for marketing, social media, email, a calendar, a calculator… the list is endless!

The next one isn’t really a tool specifically used in architecture – but it is a common item you will see at an architecture firm – headphones. “When I was in a communal work space, headphones allowed everyone to find their own “zone” and get down to some serious production,” he writes. “I listen to a lot of music while I work, but I don’t actually hear it very often, it just becomes white noise.” I am the designated music player most days at the office. I put on Pandora first thing every morning, but keep it at a reasonable volume. Besides, my music selection is so awesome that headphones are not necessary around here.

The next architectural tool is tape dots (aka drafting dots). Drafting dots are self-adhesive and firmly hold drawings, fine art, and blueprints in place while you work. They are easy to dispense and repositionable, and come in a convenient pull-tab box. “What can I say… I love drafting dots,” he writes. “When I was in college and barely had enough money to buy an egg roll, I used a roll of masking tape to hold down my drawings. Now that I make enough money to eat all the egg rolls I want, I splurge and get drafting dots.” This is another item I have not seen at all in our office. But, again, all of the drawings are done on the computer, so these are not necessary (for our firm) anymore. I am intrigued by them, however, and hope to come across a box one day. The look like flimsy poker chips!

Up next is a cordless mouse. “If you work on the computer all day and you still have a cord attaching your mouse to your computer… well, to put it nicely – you are a caveman,” Borson exclaims. Hey – to each his own! Maybe some architects like to have the cord to save money in battery cost. Or maybe that is just what they like! Either way, one this is for sure: in today’s world of architecture, a mouse is a must!

Another useful tool for architects are magazines. “Getting to take a look at the work of others, new products, techniques, and technologies is a productive way to spend 30 minutes a day,” he writes. Larry has several magazine subscriptions. I agree with Borson – they are a great tool for inspiration and education too!

The last tools on the list are toys… wait, what? I will let Borson explain this one: “Lastly are the toys – things that serve no purpose than as diversion follies whose singular role is to keep your brain creatively locking up. In my office I have Lego’s, basswood fish, robotic bugs, etc., and etc., and Cubebot. Cubebot was a white elephant gift at the company Christmas party – except I bought it and Scott Taylor in my office ended up with it. I used to steal Cubebot and put him in “compromising” positions, but it drove Scott crazy so I went out and got my own.” I do not see any toys in this office, but Larry does have a large amount of art hanging on the walls.

After reading this blog post, Larry pulled out a clunky electronic, that looked like a mix between a hair dryer and a drill. It was an electric eraser! Arthur Dremel of Racine, Wisconsin invented the electric eraser in 1932. It uses a replaceable cylinder of eraser material held by a chuck driven on the axis of a motor. The speed of rotation allows less pressure to be used, which minimized paper damage.

Even as long as that list is, there are still more tools out there that every architect needs! And every person is unique, so they won’t always use the same tools. What tools do you use that Borson didn’t mention?

Paper Cuts and Carpal Tunnel

File_000I had no idea being an Executive Assistant for an Architect would be such a dangerous job. Okay, maybe it’s not dangerous – I am just accident-prone. But the past few weeks have been a whirlwind of paper cuts and carpal tunnel, brought on by excessive amounts of filing large, out-of-control drawing files (24” x 36” bounded stacks that can weigh up to 15 pounds) and hours of blogging and social media marketing. Have I mentioned how much paper work we save here? Oh, I have? Well, excuse me while I complain some more about my paper cuts and dig a little deeper into the reasoning behind an architect’s borderline hoarding tendencies…

Filing paperwork is a business standard. It’s smart to keep records of orders, invoices and correspondence. I totally get that, and architects are a prime example of excellent record keeping. My inner journalist wants some answers – are all of these documents/drawings a requirement for architects? Or is my boss just old school and super organized? Or maybe both? My carpal tunnel wrought fingers diligently type away and discover the website for The American Institute of Architects (AIA), which features a complete section dedicated to Contract Documents.

“The AIA publishes nearly 200 agreements and administrative forms that are recognized throughout the design and construction industry as the benchmark documents for managing transactions and relationships involved in construction projects.” No, that is not a type-o. Nearly 200 different documents can be used in the architectural process. “The AIA’s prominence in the field is based on 125 years of experience creating and updating its documents.” The organization dates back to 1888, the year they published the first Uniform Contract, designed for use between an owner and contractor. They published the first standardized general conditions for construction in 1911. They are on the sixteenth edition of those general conditions, published most recently in the year 2007 (A201™ –2007). Some of the original documents provided include: invitation to bid, instructions to bidders, form of proposal, form of agreement, form of bond (more on the subject at; and general conditions of the contract.

“AIA documents maintain a symbolic relationship with the industry, each profoundly influencing the other. The AIA regularly revises its documents to account for recent developments in the construction industry. Standardized documents for design-build, sustainable projects, for different types of construction management, and for international practice have been published in recent years.” Of course, these documents are just suggestions for the architect – they are not required to submit them. They are merely guidelines to help them be successful. “AIA documents are intended for nationwide use and are not drafted to conform to the law of any one state. With that caveat, however, AIA documents provide a solid basis of contract provisions that are enforceable under the existing law at the time of publication.”

Another section of the AIA website provides information on how long you should keep project files: “From a legal standpoint, a primary reason to keep your records is to protect against risk of liability. Some state licensing regulations also may require that you keep project files for a certain number of years. In addition to complying with the applicable state regulations, you should keep project files for the number of years during which claims can be filed for damage on building projects. The state statutes of repose and statutes of limitation, which vary from state to state, describe that specific length of time. If any of your work was done out of state, the other state’s laws should be taken into account.”

According to Florida Construction Law Update, “In Florida, construction defect lawsuits typically must be filed within four (4) years from the latest of the following scenarios: the date of actual possession by the owner, the date of the issuance of a certificate of occupancy, the date of abandonment of construction if not completed, or the date of completion or termination of the contract between the professional engineer, registered architect, or licensed contractor and his or her employer (§ 95.11(3)(c), Fla. Stat.). If the action involves a latent defect, “the time runs from the time the defect is discovered or should have been discovered with the exercise of due diligence.” However, in an effort to avoid creating what seems like an unlimited statute of limitations for construction lawsuits involving latent defects, Florida’s Statute of Repose requires these construction law actions to be commenced no later than ten (10) years after the latest of the above-referenced scenarios.

Each new project we acquire immediately gets a set of folders to keep track of documentation: accounting, bidding, construction, correspondence, general and meeting minutes. Sometimes other folders are necessary (depending on the project) such as RFIs, CCCRs, and shop drawings. All of these folders contain important information relating to the project. I have learned that it is very important to keep these files handy because of questions from any party involved that may pop up.

I conclude that my boss is not showing signs of hoarding tendencies. He is only doing what is suggested to succeed in his field and by law! Eventually my dainty fingers will form callouses and get used to large amount of filing that is required in my position. For now, I might need to invest in a first aid kit – I don’t want to get blood on any important files!

How to Write About Architecture

Writing has always been my “thing.” As a child, I would write stories and proudly read them to my parents. As a teenager, I would keep a journal to express my feelings via angst-filled poems or song lyrics. My passion for writing turned into a Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism and several years of freelance writing for Creative Loafing Tampa and tbt.

Now, as a blogger/assistant for an Architect, it is important that I acquire a valuable understanding of how to write, specifically, about architecture. I discovered an excellent article written by Paul Keskeys titled “How to Write About Architecture.” He offers five helpful hints for capturing the complexities of the built environment, without being repetitive or full of clichés. In the article, he explores the book 10x10_3 – an expansive volume on emerging architecture firms by 10 distinguished writers, which proves that it is possible to write about buildings and their architects while still engaging readers outside of the field.

1. A Personal Perspective – It is important to instantly engage readers by “conjuring up intimate imagery and adopting an unusual first-person perspective.” Don’t be afraid to use colorful language and add your own personal opinions. As an example, Keskeys sites Bart Goldhoorn (founder and publisher of Project Russia) because of his use of personal preconceptions of the avant-garde designers at CEBRA:

“A decade ago, when reflecting upon Danish architecture, I imagined quiet, pipe-smoking, corduroy-clad men, a bit dull perhaps, producing responsible and ecologically sound architecture with a light postmodern touch. At best one could expect neat modernism. The architects at CEBRA… do not fit this image of Danish architects.”

His approach to the subject painted a vivid and elaborate picture for the reader, making it more interesting and relatable. “The writer’s honesty and personal perspective adds clout to the visceral project description that follows.”

2. Visceral Imagery – Visceral by definition means characterized by or dealing with coarse or base emotions; earthy. “As a highly visual construct, architecture is best framed by words that conjure emotive images in the mind of the reader.” Bring the building to life in the reader’s imagination, as if they were standing right in front of it. Keskey quotes Shumon Basar as an example of this point:

“Hundreds and thousands of brightly colored confetti were strewn across the floor, a carpet of delicately disorganized paper detritus. A few black chairs were scattered about. The rest of the pavilion seemed empty, almost abandoned, bereft of the usual feverish desire to explain, show off, divulge, or disclose.”

This picturesque description breathes life into a simple office space.

3. Rhetorical Questions – “While most architectural journalists will be wary of Betteridge’s law ‘Any headline that ends in a question mark can be answered by the word no’ – there are some instances in which questions can be utilized to strengthen an argument.” Asking the reader a rhetorical question can guide them into a deeper evaluation of the topic. They will ponder it in their head, and read on to see what you wrote on the subject, then compare. Keskey sites Joseph Grima, a New York-based architect and critic, as a prime example:

“To understand the true measure of the accomplishments of Bjarke Ingels… consider this: when was the last time reporters from every corner of the world were seen scrambling to cover the opening of a building by a thirty-three-year-old architect?”

The question presented does not need to be answered. It is simply there to emphasize the unsurpassed achievements of such a young firm.

4. Metaphors & Similes – It is very common for writers to use metaphors and similes to help the reader get a better understanding of what they are describing. “When trying an unfamiliar food,” Keskey explains, “we often ask the question: what does it taste like?” It is a natural human reaction to seek clarity via comparison – and this also applies in architecture. Metaphor and simile can provide beneficial observations into the many different qualities of a space. Keskey sites Andrew McKenzie, the editor-in-chief of Architectural Review Australia to illustrate his point:

“A good example is the Leaf Chapel in Kobuchizawa, a wedding chapel conceived as two leaves. One is glass and stationary, the other perforated white steel that lifts as the groom lifts his bride’s veil.”

For the large majority of readers who won’t have the chance to actually visit the chapel, his reference to leaves and the bridal veil offer a palpable vision of the building’s rare features.

5. Personification – Obviously it is important to describe the physical characteristics of architecture, but using more unique and playful adjectives and jargon will elevate your writing and bring it to life. Keskey uses a portion of an article written by Carlos Jimenez to portray how great of an effect personification can have:

“The SGAE Headquarters is a porch-like building whose elongated screen wall is a marvelous concoction of tumbling and irregular granite pieces, all held captive in a resilient dance of weight, light and gravity.”

The use of words such as “tumbling,” “held captive,” and “dancing” give the building dynamic, human-like qualities.

This article has given me a deeper confidence to write about architecture. Describing the different attributes of a building or space can be very similar to writing a reflective essay on a unique individual. Each structure can be treated as a living thing in order to help bring it to life in writing.

Here are the buildings that were described in article. Did you picture them like this when reading?

  1. Bakkegard School by CEBRA
  2. Agriculture School by Office Kersten Geers David Van Severen
  3. The Mountain by Bjarke Ingels Group
  4. Leaf Chapel by Klein Dytham Architecture
  5. SGAE Headquarters by Antón García-Abril and Ensamble Studio




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