Inspiration and Inadequacy – All at Once

It is Sunday night and I find myself sitting in my usual location preparing to write the next post on Life of an Architect … except I am experiencing a problem that is making this particular post difficult to write. It’s not that I don’t have anything to write about, it’s that I have too much to write about, which I will confess is worse than having too little.

I have been out of the office for almost two weeks – which rarely-to-never happens. I attended the American Institute of Architects National Convention in New York for a week and then immediately after I rolled into a week-long vacation in Maine. I’ve never been to Maine before and since it was geographically convenient, it seemed like the right time to go. Also, it has been hot as Hades in Dallas lately and I wanted needed a break from the heat.

Here is a quick graphic to illustrate my point:

Weather Comparison - Texas versus Maine

The top is Dallas with the high temperature’s indicated … anything over 95° got a red circle. The bottom is where we stayed in Maine (technically we stayed on Swan’s Island but this was the closest daily temperatures I could find in my 15-second search). Everything below 95° got a blue circle. Dallas pretty much cleared 100° every single day during this last two weeks while that daily high in Maine was somewhere in the low-70’s.

I am not kidding you when I say that my wife started looking for property in Maine during our vacation.

I’m not sure how many of you actually attend conventions, but I definitely have a love/hate relationship with them. Conventions have evolved over the past several years for me – what was once about acquiring continuing education units, taking tours of buildings, and catching up with friends around the country, has now become more about proper time management, meetings, and obligations. I’m not complaining (much) but the speed and demands requested of my time has changed in a way that makes conventions feel like I’m still working, but without the benefit of having a desk, proper access to wifi, and all while responding to emails on my phone, which a way worse than texting … and I hate texting.

I did manage to go on two architectural tours during my time in New York – the first was to Grace Farms, completed in 2015 by the Pritzker Prize-winning firm Saana. Beautiful building located in New Canaan, Connecticut, even prettier setting.

Grace Farms by Saana - photo by Bob Borson

Grace Farms by Saana - photo by Bob Borson

Grace Farms by Saana - photo by Bob Borson

The next tour I managed to take was of the 1964 New York World’s Fair – which was organized by Robert Moses and built in Flushing Meadows – Corona Park.

New York World's Fair Globe - photo by Bob Borson

New York World's Fair Philip Johnson Pavilion - photo by Bob Borson

New York World's Fair Philip Johnson Pavilion - photo by Bob Borson

Most people under 50 years-old associate the Philip Johnson-designed New York State Pavilion viewing platforms with the movie “Men in Black”. These structures are unfortunately in an advanced degree of decay and our ability to see them was limited to some distance away.

I was able to run through the Expo during one of my afternoons – which was a shame really as I would have liked to have spent at least a few hours wandering through all the booths. There were a few that I made a specific effort to visit –

SketchUp at AIA National Convention New York

I have been a fan of SketchUp since its release and it’s been pretty amazing to watch how the platform has grown over the last 17+ years. I also have the good fortune to be speaking at their bi-yearly SketchUp 3d BaseCamp event that is taking place in Palm Springs, California, September 24 through the 28th. If you are planning on attending, sign up for my lecture and make a point to say “hello”.

ArchiCad at AIA National Convention New York

I also spent some time in the ArchiCAD booth checking out all the amazing things they have going on – which was a lot! Despite the fact that my office is on Revit, I still feel the need to keep an eye on what everyone else is doing so I can manage my technological expectations. I posted the picture above to my Instagram “stories” account and was flooded with comments from people singing the praises of the software. I have to admit that the fans of ArchiCAD are extremely vocal in their support, that alone makes me think this is software I need to pay attention to it.

I ended up leaving the convention earlier than planned so that I could meet up with my wife and daughter in Boston while en route to our family’s summer vacation – this time it was spent on Swan’s Island, Maine. I jumped on an Amtrak train in Penn Station in NYC and rode the 4 hours to Boston in relative style (i.e. – I sat in the “Quiet Car”, put my headphones on, and looked out the window). At first light, Saturday morning, picked up the rental car and started our 6-hour drive North.

Cabin Rental in Main - Swan's Island - photo by Bob Borson

This was the cabin we rented for the week. It was just the three of us and was ridiculously oversized for our needs … but the location was perfect.

Maine front yard - photo by Bob Borson

Maybe it’s the Texan in me but whenever I see this much lush green flora, I instantly think “There are going to be a lot of bugs here …” and unfortunately they did not let me down. Nobody else in my family looks as battle-tested as I do, most likely due to the fact I am delicious and I am confident that there is a mosquito newsletter that is distributed that maintains my whereabouts at all times.

Maine - View from the rock - photo by Bob Borson

This was the view from our property. While I would like to say that this is a singularly amazing view, it turns out that just about all of Maine looks exactly like this.

Still looks pretty good to me …

Maine coastline - Low tide - photo by Bob Borson

This is the same spot as the previous picture, this time at low-tide. Twice a day, the tide rolls in/out and the water drops about 10′, exposing what is technically the ocean floor. At the bottom, that’s my wife for scale.

Maine - View from the rock - photo by Bob Borson

Main Coastline - photo by Bob Borson

Not going to lie, just about everywhere in Maine looks exactly like this photo. I think I took this picture on day 5 of my vacation, and despite its obvious beauty, I remember framing the image up and thinking “Meh … I’ve already got a hundred of these.”

Morning View in the fog - photo by Bob Borson

Since Texas is a gigantic state, most of the time I have spent “on the water” has taken place in lakes, and unlike oceans, they are not subject to the ebb and flow of the tide. As a result, it always takes some time to get acclimated to there being water at one moment, and then there not being any water a few hours later. The picture above and immediately below is basically the same place separated by approximately 3 hours.

Morning View in the fog - photo by Bob Borson

Cooking on the deck in Maine - photo by Bob Borson

One of my requirements for cabin living is an outdoor cooking area. Despite this being vacation, we rarely ate out. Mostly we had no choice since we were on an island that didn’t have any restaurants … but so what? When I have the time to prepare food with objectives other than “eating” I actually like to cook. When I tell other architects that my backup plan was to be a chef if the whole architecture thing didn’t pan out, the response I hear the most often was “me too”.

cooking a steak in a cast iron skillet - photo by Bob Borson

Unless you are a vegetarian, you have to admit that this steak hints at the promise of something incredible. I do wish that I had a pepper mill and kosher salt to finish rather than the customary rental cabin generic salt and pepper shakers (but I wasn’t going to let that hold me back).

One of the unplanned, yet wildly enjoyable side trips that popped up on this vacation was the opportunity to meet with architect Eric Reinholdt at 30×40 Design Workshop.

Bob Borson visits 30by40 Studio
30 by 40 Design Studio

Ironically, I have been aware of Eric for a few years – it’s hard to have a blog like mine and not receive emails from people saying “Have you seen the videos this guy is making? You should totally check them out – they’re amazing!

Well, they are amazing and you should totally check them out.

I posted a picture on Instagram during this trip and someone asked if I was going to go visit Eric … and considering that I had no idea where he was, my initial reaction was “probably not” until I looked up his address. You have to understand that Eric lives on an island off the coast of Maine, kind of in the middle of nowhere, so when I punched up the address and found that I was only 20 miles away from his office, an email was sent off asking if he had time to host me.

Bob Borson visits 30by40 Studio
Eric and I are both Norwegian … except I’m a bigger Norwegian than he is

As evidenced by the picture above, he was able to accommodate me into his schedule. I was able to spend a few hours with Eric at his studio despite the fact that he was hosting Australian podcaster extraordinaire Amelia Lee, and what started as a casual visit turned out to be an extremely fruitful use of my time.

Thanks Eric and Amelia!

Bob Borson - Maine Selfie
my best “Popeye the Sailor” impersonation …

So it’s time to circle back around to the main topic – inspiration and inadequacy. The past two weeks have been literally packed full of amazing projects and people – the sort of people who are singularly amazing at what they do. I have been blessed to have surrounded myself with high-quality individuals and it’s really easy to find inspiration in their work. The flipside to spending time with highly successful people is that I frequently leave with this feeling of “what more can/should I be doing?”

Bob Borson Master and Commander
Bob Borson … Master and Commander

The grass is always greener and I am aware that from the outside looking in, I have it pretty good – and I do – but I don’t readily settle or accept the status quo. I see what others are doing and feel like I need to step it up. Things are both good and could be better … but we can always do better, right?

Cheers – and here’s to do doing better,

Bob signature FAIA

Source: Life of an Architect