I recently had the opportunity to visit Nashville. First, there is nowhere with a better music scene than Nashville-nearly every watering-hole has at least 1 band if not two, and they’re all good. Really good. Good enough where it makes no difference if you like country music or not-when you’re there, you’ll like it. Driving around to visit various Country Music must-sees (including the very studio Elvis recorded about 1000 songs where one of our group played the same piano Elvis used to record with) I was struck most by the massive construction boom going on. There are new projects going up everywhere! There’s over 30 cranes in the Downtown area alone hoisting up new commercial buildings all over the place. The airport’s being rebuilt, and there’s massive numbers of hotels going up. And houses. Everywhere. Normally, I’d be appreciative of a building boom, but this is a bit much. First- there seems to have been no thought given at all to how such a massive buildup in such a short time will change traffic patterns, stress water and sewer facilities, etc. Second-there’s definitely no thought going into controlling or even influencing the architectural flavor of what’s being built. It’s obvious that the designs are coming from the same firms, drawing on the same influences, and none of them from Nashville. Most of the buildings I saw were what I’m starting to call “Box-on-Box” style…essentially the “contemporary” house that we see everywhere now. They’re typically designed with a smattering of wood on the outside, 3×6 panels of fiberboard, painted in various grays. Not only will these not hold up all that well over time, but they all look the same-charmless. The older, original homes of Nashville had clapboard siding and a kind of cool duel-pitched roof, low hung, down to a nice front porch. These have none of that at all-a lot of them are flat roofed 3 story monsters with no heart. Developers often are focused so much on the money aspect of their projects, they sometimes lose sight that what they create will be around for generations. We, in my industry, aren’t building disposable things. Our finished products last multiple lifetimes so I wish that the builders in a place like Nashville would reflect on what they’re doing a little, take a pause, and listen to a little Loretta Lynn or Willie Nelson before deciding to throw up another box-on-box monster. Nobody ever wrote a song like “Georgia on my Mind” standing on some deck of a glassed in house built to assuage the sensibilities of tourists from Rhode Island
Beware the internet of things! Words that echo discussions I’ve been having with colleagues, customers and vendors. Appliance manufacturers, High Tech equipment manufacturers, and the media would have us all believe that amazing benefits await us if we’d simply connect everything we use to the internet so we can be monitored, watched, notified, and updated about everything from airline schedules to how much broccoli is in the refrigerator. However, as my high school econ teacher used to drill into us-There’s No Such Thing as a Free Lunch. The cost of all these wonders of the modern world isn’t only money. Truthfully, the money to add a wifi chip to any appliance is immaterial today. Every appliance has a circuit-board, and adding a wifi chip adds a few pennies to that. But, every appliance then has to have a unique address for the wifi router to communicate with it. Without getting into the technical weeds, keeping multiple wireless pieces in stable communication with the router, each other, and the the internet isn’t all that easy-and the more pieces you add to a wireless network the harder it gets to keep each one in it’s proper lane. Some companies that specialize in having such pieces spread thru an installed ecosystem are very good at designing the protocols that keep them straight, but typically these companies sell their wares thru specialized dealers. Our AV vendor – www.k-integration.com – is one such dealer specializing in deploying systems like this designed and built by Crestron Electronics. Many firms are leaping into this space creating products that are priced for the public to deploy. Good luck with that. I can’t think of anything likely to be more frustrating than trying to troubleshoot wifi lightbulbs. Worse, companies like Maytag or Whirlpool that have leapt into the space have no real expertise in networking, internet protocols, online security etc., and have created hardware and firmware that ports into our phones via wifi networks without really considering the need or the security of doing so. Now, for sure, no Chinese operatives care what I have in my refrigerator or if I’m a glutton for microwave popcorn, but they MAY be interested in what’s on my computer or tablet, and an easy way into those is via my home network. One tiny chip inserted onto a circuit-board makes a convenient backdoor for such exploits. Lest you think such a thing is absurd- Apple, the US Government, Major US banks and others found exactly such a tiny chip installed into boards that were sold as part of server systems deployed by these organizations!! So aside from the added hassle of now having to do network troubleshooting for dishwashers and stoves, and the added nervousness of waiting to hear from one’s dryer or microwave, one has to consider that all the boards installed on these appliances come from overseas- and we have no idea what’s on them-
After Hurricane Katrina Brad Pitt (yes, the actor) decided that he would rebuild part of New Orleans. He created a company that would build Eco-friendly homes using state-of-the-art construction materials that would be affordable and hurricane proof. A recent NBC story details the problems that buyers of these homes have had since. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/brad-pitt-built-dozens-homes-new-orleans-after-katrina-now-n908651 Mr. Pitt fell under the spell of Bad Home Builder Mistake Number 1- professional builders make building look easy- it’s not!!
I’m sure Mr. Pitt had consultants and architects helping him. But the hubris of a newbie is apparent in the ensuing problems- there’s reasons why people built using tried and true techniques-and not because they were lazy or stupid or scared of using newer products. Nope. Mr. Pitt fell into the trap that non-builders often fall into-newer isn’t necessarily better. Building any home anywhere is a localized conglomeration of assembling aggregated knowledge of what’s necessary for that location into an actual finished product. What? All homes are local! What works in Anchorage isn’t going to be great in Honolulu. And now, these homes which were the subject of so much fanfare and self-congratulatory Hollywood back-slapping, are falling apart. Basic blocking and tackling-flashing and caulking- have failed. Designs failed. Brad Pitt, as a home builder backing up his product, has failed. No one is returning calls of these buyers, and the office is evidently closed-Mr. Pitt having jetted off to his next save-someone-because-he’s-so-great-campaign.
Why do I care? Because I’ve spent 30+ years honing a craft-learning the science behind my projects, assembling teams of qualified and skilled craftspeople, working on creating an exemplary customer experience for my clients, and here’s another national story about a rip-and-skip builder (sure, a Hollywood fancy one) that tarnishes my industry by being an amateur unable to either build or fix his products properly and absolutely willing to leave his clients hanging. So people that were devastated by Katrina-a natural disaster-were again smacked down by a well-meaning but colossally inadequate and self-serving actor.
As many of my customers know, I distill building processes to really being simple water control. It starts with design, then material selection, construction techniques, finishing skill, quality control and, ultimately, after we’re done, basic maintenance. If the design doesn’t take this into account, the water will go where you don’t want it and make mold. That’s game over. Right from the start. And no amount of editing can make that picture any better.
We forget, today, that most things are still made by people, in one way or another. Most experiences we share are good or bad because of the people we are interacting with. Sure, many things are stamped out by automated robotic machines-maybe most things are. But, at some point in the stream from raw materials to your hand, people had to perform some action to change sand grains into an iPhone-it doesn’t happen all by machines. I’m fortunate enough to work in an industry where most of my finished product is hand crafted. Yes, many components may be milled or stamped by machines, but the preparation, construction, installation, finishing of everything is done by hand. By people. People we know, we talk to , we learn about. People with specific skillsets that make the difference between a customer bragging about their Myers Homes product/creation and not. These people are irreplaceable. Their skillsets may be mimicked by someone else, but not replaced. For those that read my last post in October (sorry, I’ve been distracted and haven’t written since then), you might remember that our architect Bob M. was fighting toe to toe with cancer. Today, devastatingly, he lost his fight. Well, he didn’t really lose -he finished his fight. He finished his fight, after giving every last ounce of effort and courage, every last ounce of everything he had to give, to see his children grow into great kids. He finished, undefeated.
I am now building (you can see our progress on our current projects page) his last home design. Someday his children will know the brilliant and wonderful designs he created for all of us to build or appreciate. Soaring, wild staircases (annoyingly impossible to build- well, almost impossible), swooping ceiling lines, window arrangements that created wondrous interplays of light and shadow, mundane but perfect arrangements of hallways and rooms to create living spaces that you never want to leave. Solutions to design problems that are elegant, simple, practical and buildable. Plansets that are dead nuts right on perfect. That make every one of his designs unique, special, wondrous and beautiful. That make them of a lasting value. That make them impossible not to want to keep living in for forever. His children, who already know how hard he fought to be with them, will someday know how people like me also appreciated his beauty as a person, and his genius in his chosen craft. We appreciate that we benefited from his fight to stay here for them, to be here for them, because he was still here for us too.. And we, like they, are devastated by his loss.
Bob is irreplaceable.
For anyone interested, I am fighting back against Cancer. Not only for Bob, but for everyone I know that is fighting this fight, which is too many people. I ride in the Velosano bike event to raise money to fund research to find cures. Every week I train so on the day of the event I can ride 100 miles as hard as I can, to fight through, in a small way, as hard as Bob fought. If you want, you can fight too (here’s a link: http://ccf.convio.net/goto/robertmyers )
The process of building has evolved into an elaborate scavenger hunt. Having a family say “Let’s go!” begins a process that can take upwards of a year or more of time chasing around approvals, permits, labor, materials, and so on.At the very first, we need to have a plan to build from, so we turn to architects and engineers to collaborate with. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have been able to collaborate with great professionals. My architect, Bob M, is an artist with pen and paper. He’s one of the last of the hand drawing architects. Everyone in the industry now uses CAD, while Bob meticulously crafts his drawings by hand, just as our framers and trim carpenters will measure out each of their cuts when it’s their turn on the project. Recently, we submitted one of Bob’s projects to an Architectural Review Board in a local town. They were blown away at the weight of the lines, the thoughtful layouts, the attention to detail and the quality of the work. Known for typically being hard to get along with, one reviewer commented “Well, I can’t find a single thing wrong with this”. In my world, that’s about as high a praise as we get!
What you don’t see in his plans is Bob is sick. Bob’s been fighting cancer toe to toe for over a decade. Cancer’s taken internal body parts, his ability to eat, swallow, sleep, travel, meet people, or most of the normal parts of life we take for granted as casualties in his fight. Ground that Bob’s won in this fight, though, is he’s seen his kids grow up, his daughter go to college, lived a life with his family. While his body’s been whittled away to about half it’s optimal weight, his work, his mind, his artfulness remain in full force, and his drawings show those in full bloom. I don’t know if that review board will have the opportunity to review another set of plans drawn by Bob. I don’t know if I’ll get to collaborate on another house, show his plans to another family anxiously awaiting the start of their new home. Tomorrow isn’t promised to us in life, and Bob’s fought hard to make tomorrow possible. Tomorrow, though, is populated by the things we crafted, the people enjoying them, and the lives we’ve touched. Tomorrow is populated by our dreams, and, in the case of Bob and me, the homes we collaborated on for almost 2 decades. Today, I’m just happy he’s still here.