006: Inside an Architect’s Office

Work environments are important – they tell visitors a lot about what to expect from the place they are visiting. I almost always enjoy visiting other architects office because it seems like there is always something wacky going on somewhere. I’m not talking about the office’s of large architectural firms – no. I like going into the offices of firms with 30 people or less…15 or less is even better. It’s at the point where the budget is still the major obstacle and the possibility of seeing saw-horse desks and reclaimed bookshelves is a distinct and sometimes necessary component.

[Note: If you are reading this via email, you will have to click here to access the on-site audio player] 

Life of an Architect New Office

The Best thing About my New Office [8:00 mark]
A recurring theme on my site is transparency – I will tell almost anybody anything when it comes to all things “Bob”. I’m substantially more guarded when it comes to other people’s information but there is a synergy that is created when everybody has a voice and gets to chime in with a thought or observation about a process or design. In our office, the people here collaborate at a level that I have never seen before in 20+ years of working. I have been wondering if this is just the mixture of people in place or is there something in the water. When everything is open for discussion and opportunities for involvement are as close as the person sitting next to you, people tend to get together and synergies are created. For that reason, 5-years ago when I designed our current office, we concluded that it would be a good idea to utilize an open office plan and I was going to sit in the thick of things …

Fast forward 5 years, and I don’t want to sit in the thick of things anymore.


Layout for an Architect's Office

An Architect’s Office [8:45mark]
This was the layout of the first office I helped design – which actually worked out really well for the size staff that we had at the time. I will confess that I’m a bit nostalgic looking back simply because I miss my sweet private office more than ever.


The Unintended Effects of Open Office Space

Harvard Study on Open Plans [16:32 mark]
Open office plans don’t work and this was the study that finally proved it. Instead of face-to-face interactions improving in an open office space, they went down … by a lot.


Bob Borson's Architectural Desk

Tools of an Architect [33:55 mark]
I get asked about it all the time so I am going to record the answer here … the desk we used in our office is the Knoll Antenna benching system (here) [36:25 mark]. It’s been a great system for use and after heavy use for 5+ years, I think they still look brand new … which is impressive.


Metal Wall Shelf at Bob Borson's Desk

Metal Shelf of Awesomeness 

A Case for Building Architectural Models [38:30 mark]
We still build architectural models in my office, but not that many – and far fewer than I would like to see built. We probably average about 1 or 2 a year, but we don’t build them for the same reasons I used to crank out models in my school days. As we become more and more dependent on our computers, physical architectural models are becoming a lost form of communicating design ideas. In school, I would go through loads of chipboard and more #11 X-Acto blades than seems reasonable, to create massing and assembly models. While most of the models we build now are still in the Design Development stage, they represent a fairly resolved concept by the time we build them.


Voltron Model [3:50 mark]
A big model requires a big table … a table so large that you must have it made out of a dozen or so individual pieces because a) you couldn’t fit it through any door smaller than a loading door, and b) you couldn’t lift it using every single employee in your firm.

This is the ‘Voltron Table’ and as the name suggests it is large, comes apart into smaller pieces, and can house smaller models in addition to a single super large model. If you aren’t familiar with the Voltron model, you can see it here (Architectural Models)


In My Spare Time – Landon [47:11 mark]
[enter Landon, blog stage left]

Chicago Cutlery - Prime

Prime by Chicago Cutlery Knife Set
Being the designated veggie-chopper when my girlfriend, Rachel, and I cook has its perks;  I get to hone a useful and tangible skill which has a direct payoff and is extremely easy to learn.  It might just be one of those character traits of architects, but I enjoy mastering a skill, especially one that I find so useful.  Compared to architectural projects, which at times can be vast, multi-faceted challenges, the act of cooking exists in much smaller, bite-sized ba dum tss timescales.  Also, you are rewarded with deliciousness.  Those vegetables don’t stand a chance against this slick knife.  Let’s just hope a finger isn’t lost in my earnest to slice and dice…

Hearth and Hand Cutlery set

And, of course, the cutlery we got to match.  Just as solid and hefty as the chef knife, they’re a design object in and of themselves.  Even a good ole Cup O’ Noodles can look like a fancy feast.

Hearth and Hand Black Flatware Set


In My Spare Time – Bob [48:55 mark]
[Bob returns, blog stage right]

As a residential architect, I know how a lot of stuff gets built. I see it almost every day and I know what I am looking at. I know which tools are needed for which jobs, I know the difference between zillions of different screws and nails and when you are supposed to use which type. I am among those people who should be uniquely qualified to strap on a tool belt and get things done. Given that there are a lot of contractors that read these posts, please feel free to chime in with an opinion or advice – it will be warmly received by yours truly.

The Tools of architect Bob Borson

This is just a partial representation of the tools and equipment that I own … but there are additional items that I need. F0r what’s it’s worth, the items listed below are either a replacement for tools that have since died or have never existed in my arsenal.

Bosch 12v 3/8" 2 Speed Drill Driver

Bosch 12v 3/8″ Drill Driver
My last drill/driver came from Sears and it lasted me almost 20-years. I loved it because it showed up to work every time I pulled it out of the case. It was a workhorse for me and as such, it was huge … both in terms of size and weight. Now that I have the chance to get a new one, I am looking to go smaller and lighter.

Graco X5 Airless Sprayer

Graco X5 Airless Paint Sprayer
I don’t think there has been a trip to the big box construction goods store where I haven’t lingered in the paint aisle looking at these airless sprayers. I see them on my job sites all the time and routinely think of all the projects I would attempt if I had something like this at my side. Before, the idea of painting cabinetry seemed preposterous but with an airless sprayer??? I’m in! (I should probably add some collapsable sawhorses to this list …)

Makita Random Orbital Sander

Makita 5″ Random Orbit Sander
This is a tool needed to replace the one I’ve had for 20+ years that just doesn’t work the way it should anymore. Do I really need one? Yes … I do really need one.


Architectural offices do a lot more than simply provide a space in which the occupants do their job … they represent the culture of the office and provide a context in which people imagine what they are capable of doing. I have particularly strong feelings about the environment where I work – it’s a space that I look forward to being in, a space that makes me feel comfortable, and most importantly, it’s a space that reflects the culture of the office I am trying to create.

How is your office? Does it do any of those things for you?

Bob signature FAIA


Outro [53:33 mark] – let me just go ahead a apologize now for this one-minute of audio …
Topics include:
Fried Chicken

FireBall Whiskey and Butterbeer
Ride the Dragon
Dare program
Michael Jackson knew what he was doing


Source: Life of an Architect