Dec 262013

Design team and project at substantial completion.

Project No: 20131224 – Architectural Gingerbread Graham Cracker House

 When your Grandpa is an Architect, there is no limit to the creative spirit.  Combine this “seasoned” Architect with a Mine Craft skilled seven year old and you get a whole lot of Holiday cheer.  Grandpa (Brad Wright) and Grandson (Emmett Wright) began planning their gingerbread structure when Nana (Suzanne) brought home a box kit gingerbread house hereafter referred to as “the tract house”. 

Grandpa and Emmett began Schematic Design for the project the week before Christmas.  They planned for Construction to start Christmas Eve with a substantial completion date of Christmas Day. Using only materials that were readily available, they prepared construction documents. The Hotel Emmett project was to be a three story building using graham crackers for the structure and façade, and royal icing for the mortar.

List of Materials – staging on site:
3 boxes graham crackers: plain, chocolate and cinnamon (see change order No. 02)
2 lbs powdered sugar (see change order No. 01) enough to make 5 batches of royal icing
1 dozen eggs – whites only with vanilla added
3 bags pretzels: knots, sticks and snaps
1 bag cinnamon imperials
3 cans assorted color squirt icing with decorator tips
1 bag red twist licorice whips
1 box fruit roll up – roll style in variety pack
1 lb dehydrated banana chips
Assorted sprinkles per specifications
1 bag medium chocolate M&Ms – only red, green and blue to be used as indicated on drawing
Enough additional assorted candies to give oral hygienist Aunt A. (Abby) nightmares
1 duck sculpture to meet Percent for Arts Program as required by City Ordinance

Grandpa breaks the news that the third floor must go because the project is over budget. Emmett’s reaction was similar to that of some clients in the same situation.

 Design Modification: After the Notice to Proceed, the Architect determined that the project was significantly over budget. The design team modified the design, eliminating the third floor and adding a penthouse with green roof balcony.

Change Orders:
C.O. 1) Two additional bags of powdered sugar purchased by the project manager (Nana)
C.O. 2) Two Additional boxes of graham crackers procured by Architect and Intern Architect

 Security Concerns:
Significant on-site pilfering of materials anticipated and witnessed. 

There were some initial concerns about a competitor’s building that was under construction simultaneously on a nearby site. The Tract House was a prefabricated unit constructed by the unlicensed team of Harry (little brother) & Nana. Though completed quickly, they found it lacking in creativity.  They also observed that the roofing (gingerbread singles) were incorrectly installed upside down, which would inevitably lead to water infiltration problems down the road. Undoubtedly the design team of Grandpa and Emmett might be required to rectify the problem at a later date.


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Apr 102013
Suzanne bird watching with scope.

Suzanne bird watching with scope.

My wife Suzanne and I just got back from a fantastic birding trip to Quivira National Wildlife Refuge and Cheyenne Bottoms in South Central Kansas. There were all manner of waterfowl: wood ducks, red heads, buffleheads, scaup, a zillion shovelers and several hundred ruddy ducks rafted in a huge mass on Big Salt Marsh along with the usual suspects. We didn’t see a cinnamon teal but the blue and green winged were great fun to watch as they cavorted doing their spring thing. We also saw lots of pheasant and heard bobwhite quail which I enjoyed.   

Cheyenne Bottoms in South Central Kansas

Cheyenne Bottoms in South Central Kansas

In addition to the multitude of waterfowl,  we observed  American Avocets, Black Necked Stilts, Snowy Plovers, Marbled Godwits, Sandhill Cranes, Least, Baird’s and Semipalmated Sand Pipers, Franklins Gulls, Ring-Billed Gulls, Bonaparte Gulls, Says Phoebe, and an assortment of sparrows including Vesper, Harris’s, Swamp, and Song.  We recorded over 75 different species including 12 Whooping Cranes that used the Quivira area during our 4-day trip.  Two arrived sometime Saturday night at the south pool but flew off as soon as the sun came up early Sunday morning. Sunday night 10 arrived in the north pool but took off a little before dawn Monday morning with Berry Jones of the USFWS the only person lucky enough to see them. Of course we were at the north pool sunrise Sunday and the south pool sunrise Monday so wrong place both times but still very exciting knowing they had come through. Amazingly those 12 Whooping Cranes represent about 3 to 4% of the world’s entire wild population of 300-400 Whoopers.  

Solitary tree in desolate landscape.

Solitary tree in desolate landscape.

Most of the bird watching, including sightings of the 12 elusive Whoopers, was at Quivira because the area has an underground spring system that supplies water.  Cheyenne Bottoms had no water!   Only within the last month had the aquifers recharged sufficiently for the Quivira marshes to have water.  Prior to the last month they were bone dry. This area is going on its second year of no measurable rain.  Cheyenne Bottoms is a huge natural depression of ground, roughly 60 square miles of bare dirt at the moment, with minimal vegetation such as tumble weeds.  45%+ of all of the migrating birds in the Central Flyway, including all of the Whooping Cranes that exist in the World, depend on this area to rest their weary feathers on their journeys North and South every year.  Sadly the Arkansas River has no flow at the present and the area is experiencing dust storms. 

Desolate landscape in South Central Kansas.

Sprawling landscape in South Central Kansas.

In addition to the Kansas Parks and Wildlife managed wetlands, the Nature Conservancy has an additional 8,000 acres of preserve which they manage.  These areas are listed in the top ten wetlands of importance in the world.  Please take a moment and think about the importance of these areas to the continuance of a balanced Ecosystem. Our support of government organizations such as Fish and Wildlife, Department of Conservation, Parks and Wildlife, as well as Not for Profit organizations such as Ducks Unlimited, Nature Conservancy, and Audubon, etc. is critical.  Money can make a difference!  We have seen the progress made with DU and Nature Conservancy funded preservation and restoration projects on these two areas.  

Iconic Kansas windmill.

Iconic Kansas windmill.

Both Suzanne and I are DU Life Sponsors and Suzanne is actively involved in Audubon, Nature Conservancy, and Missouri Master Naturalists.  I encourage anyone who reads this to support these and similar organizations in whatever way possible.  It is paramount for a quality life in which nature with a balanced Ecosystem has a chance to thrive.

Mar 052013

Tape_measureI believe most of us can appreciate the old adage to measure twice, cut once.  Certainly anyone who has taken a cooking, sewing or shop class understands that taking the time to prepare means fewer surprises, less drama and reduced waste. For architects, though, actual measurement begins long before breaking out the measuring tape to take stock of a space.  While we might research a potential client to find out a representative set of goals or needs, the real measurement occurs when we sit down with a client to learn the individual goals and needs for their organization and/or for their particular project.  At PWA, this “measurement” is part of a collaborative process which occurs not just twice, but many times throughout the design process.  It is an interactive conversation with not only clients, but with many consultants, contractors, and other stakeholders.  Over the years it has proven the best way to get projects off to a good start, to ensure that clients are satisfied and that projects stay on track.

Jan 242013

Surveying Finding the right balance can be tough.  Sometimes it is better to take a step back and reevaluate before jumping in with both feet. The terms ‘level’ and ‘plumb’ are so woven into the practice of design and construction that few projects are completed without their application.  Take communication for instance, itself a key component of any project.  It is just as important to be “on the level” and “straightforward with someone” in digital communications as it is in face to face conversations.  And yet, with email it is easy to rattle off messages where the tone and intent may be misinterpreted or worse an emotional response is prematurely sent.  The danger of this type of communication is that it is easy to write something that one wouldn’t think of saying in person. So if you find yourself in this position, try to keep your message level and plumb, and if possible follow-up your email with a phone call or face to face meeting.  At the very least you will confirm that your message was received and understood.

Jan 042013

Prime the pump.For many in Missouri 2012 was a year of severe drought conditions.  If we wanted anything to grow we had to water well and often. The story was much the same for those of us in the Design and Construction industry.  Due to the economy the last few years have been lean in many market sectors, increasing competition for available resources and forcing us to find ways to do more with less.  Fortunately, relationships, built and maintained by the staff of PWA over many years, have helped sustain us through the most difficult and lean times.  The effort to maintain these relationships is the “water” that keeps the firm alive and growing.  So, if you are among the fortunate and thriving, take time to appreciate that which contributes to your success.  Count your blessings, water well and often!

Dec 262012

FootprintsSolutions often come when you take a break, focus on another task, and return with a widened perspective.  Also, it never hurts to get a little exercise. You never know who you might run into on the trail, in the gym or just taking a walk around the neighborhood.  Actually, it is quite common to hear Brad Wright say as he’s going out the door ‘Going for a walk around the block.’  Whether it is to get in a little mid-day exercise or to take a much needed break and get some fresh air, he is not alone in the need to step away periodically from what is all consuming and perhaps find a little perspective.  Sometimes those walks have added benefits like a fresh cup of coffee from around the corner or a bowl of ice cream from the shop down the street.  We are lucky that in downtown Columbia, Missouri we have much to enjoy within walking or biking distance and even luckier when we meet someone we know along the way.  So go ahead, put down that electronic device, and get to the business of reconnecting.  Your heart and mind will thank you.  See you ‘round the corner!

Dec 212012

EnvelopeMuch of what we do as architects and designers cannot be accomplished without the assistance of a great many people.  We are fortunate to have the support of so many people – our families, friends, clients, consultants, contractors, suppliers, etc.  While it never hurts to say ‘please,” at this time of the year, we especially want to take the time to say ‘thank you’ to all who make our progress possible.

Please keep us in mind should you need our assistance and thank you again for your confidence and support.

May your future be bright and full of the possibilities found in this holiday season.

Your Friends at PWA


Jun 152012

Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Recently the Hawthorn Chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society recognized and honored the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church with the Hawthorn Award for fulfilling its commitment to native plants in the landscaping of the new conference center, especially creating a native wetland area to reduce runoff into Hinkson Creek.  With volunteer help, the church has created a 99% Missouri landscape which is functional and lovely, full of life and color.

According to the Grow Native website at, “native plants are a good choice for landscaping whether you have one-fourth acre in the city, four acres at the edge of town or 40 acres in the country. Increasing environmental awareness, a desire to connect with nature on a personal level and limited time to devote to home landscape and land management projects are reasons to turn to natural landscapes for inspiration.”

 A diverse landscape with many naturally occurring plant species:

  • Supports abundant animal life
  • Reduces maintenance
  • Offers year ‘round interest
  • Features plantings that are less vulnerable to destructive insects and diseases
  • Needs few additional inputs such as fertilizer or chemical pesticides.

 PWA is fortunate to have our very own master naturalist on staff. Suzanne Wright, a member of the Boone’s Lick Chapter of the Missouri Master Naturalists, serves as a resource for clients interested in creating rain gardens and landscaping withMissourinatives. Additional information about landscaping with natives can be found at the following websites:

May 312012

What better way to begin our very first blog entry than with a classic photo from the PWA archives of Nick Peckham and Brad Wright, founding Principals of PWA, sitting on a window ledge having a conversation. (Caption it and we will post the best responses).  They might be talking about architecture, or perhaps dogs, ducks, or even how to save the planet.  Regardless, they are having a one on one conversation with the windows open – perfectly symbolic of the way we we work at PWA.