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Open Studio!

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If you’re looking for something fun to do this Friday night, feel free to drop by our office (Room 425) for Open Studios night at Bok. Several tenants will be open to display their creative work in architecture, video, furnituremaking, glassblowing, jewelrymaking, and light.

4-7 pm Friday, October 11th
Bok Building, 1901 South 9th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148

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Hidden Design at the National Constitution Center

by Sara Pochedly

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I recently made my first trip to the National Constitution Center located here in Philadelphia.  As a designer I was really impressed by the permanent exhibit space.  While there were approximately 100 people experiencing the exhibits, the room was surprisingly quiet.  Looking around I could see a variety of screens playing videos, but there were no headsets, no phone apps and I could not hear any media sounds.  And then all of a sudden, I stepped directly in front of a screen and the sound arrived!  I looked to the left, then to the right, and lastly up towards the ceiling, but saw nothing.  I thought, where is the sound coming from?  And then I looked towards to floor and noticed that the flooring had changed from carpet to a metal grate and realized the focused sound was coming from the floor!  Scanning the rest of the room I soon realized that many of the exhibits had these grates.  While they were not completely invisible, these grates blended into the background, and yet they were the most impactful part of the exhibit.  They made the exhibits engaging because as you moved from area to area, you continuously walked in and out of relevant audio/video clips.  This is a great example of when good design is invisible.

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Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable designer who is a self-proclaimed museum aficionado.

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Architecture in Video Games

by Sam Katovitch

Video games are, for the most part, about building worlds.  These worlds can reflect our own, and many “realistic” games, such as racing games, exploration games, and combat games often do.  They can superficially resemble our world, but operate on different principles, or different mechanics to lend them the edge of difference.  Video games can also build worlds that never have or could have existed in our universe, with settings in the future, the past, different planets, or even alternate dimensions.  Part of what makes these varied settings so immersive and engaging is the graphical and visual languages from which they are made, and the designers of these worlds work just as hard as any architects operating in the real world. 

Making a game world takes a lot of work, and if a setting is good, it means a person or team of persons poured their blood, sweat, and tears into making it so.  If a world is detailed, engaging, and most importantly believable, at least in the context of the game, it has that elusive quality that is the Holy Grail of video game designers – immersion.  A game world that swallows up the player and lets them believe, if only for a second, that what they are doing is making a difference, has that all-important quality. 

Conversely, badly-designed settings take a player out of the experience, and a good game that is hampered by a badly-designed or poorly-implemented world is the worst kind of bad experience, especially if the story on its own is engaging.  Many independently made (aka “indie”) games suffer this problem, as many are very well written, but all the good writing in the world isn’t going to pay animators and designers enough to create a good world on a shoestring budget. 

Video game settings are also very dependent on the player’s suspension of disbelief, and their standards.  Games like Doom and Quake from the very earliest days of 3D looked great in comparison to 2D games of their day, but in the nearly 3 decades since those games came out video game technology has come a very long way.

Part of what makes video games so massively popular among mainstream media is their ability to create settings which could never existing in the real world.  The architecture of these settings varies massively based on the genre and artistic preferences of the designers and the message they are trying to get across.  The ancient, incomprehensible megastructures of Halo or Shadow of the Colossus create a sense of being a tiny, insignificant creature, wandering through the ruins of a once mighty, now fallen civilization; the towering, claustrophobic Gothic spires and ancient cathedrals from games like Dark Souls and Bloodborne contribute to a much more oppressive, deliberately angst-inducing environment.  The small villages and bustling, human-scale cities of the Elder Scrolls games are a stark contrast to the cavernous tombs, dungeons, and bandit camps the player explores in the wilderness, and provide welcome moments of relief from dangerous adventures. The oppressive city of Dunwall in Dishonored, on the other hand, is as much an enemy and obstacle to the player as the corrupt city guards and swarms of carnivorous rats the game is known for.

Portal at Voi –  Halo 3 , 2007, Bungie, 343 Industries

Portal at Voi – Halo 3, 2007, Bungie, 343 Industries

Research Hall –  Bloodborne,  2015, FromSoftware

Research Hall – Bloodborne, 2015, FromSoftware

Lothric Castle –  Dark Souls 3,  2016, FromSoftware

Lothric Castle – Dark Souls 3, 2016, FromSoftware

Riverwood Village –  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim,  2011, Bethesda Game Studios

Riverwood Village – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, 2011, Bethesda Game Studios

Dunwall Clocktower –  Dishonored,  2012, Arkane Studios

Dunwall Clocktower – Dishonored, 2012, Arkane Studios

With the growing video game industry came the burgeoning profession of video game environment designer. Designers of video game worlds may not be bound by strict building or zoning codes like designers in the real world, but they have an entirely different set of rules they have to abide by, as nothing breaks a video game’s immersion than bad level design. A video game world has to be just as well laid-out as a major civic or commercial building, because in many situations there will not be signs pointing the player’s way to the next objective. The wayfinding in virtual environments is crucial, since if a player gets frustrated and lost, they are as likely to turn off the game and go do something else as they are to keep pushing until they find the way forward. This does not necessarily mean the environments need to be simple – a great deal of skill is needed to create a game world where the paths are complex enough to challenge, but navigable enough to not frustrate players. On the low end of the complexity spectrum are games like the Call of Duty series, where the levels are linear and progress is restricted almost entirely to corridors so the players keep moving forward, thus allowing little to no exploration or player freedom, to allow greater focus on the game’s story. At the other end of the scale are puzzle games like Portal and The Talos Principle, which have more open-ended levels with the path forward cleverly disguised by puzzles and confusing layouts. There are players who prefer linearity, and those that prefer to find their own way through an environment, but players naturally gravitate to games with the kinds of environments they enjoy.

Aqueduct –  The Talos Principle,  2014, Devolver Digital, Croteam

Aqueduct – The Talos Principle, 2014, Devolver Digital, Croteam

The worlds built by video game designers may not necessarily reflect our own, but a similar amount of care goes into creating an engaging environment in virtual space as it does in reality.  Game designers may not be bound by the laws of gravity, but they are bound by the laws of player consciousness and understanding, and a game with a badly-realized world will soon be laden with negative reviews and critical panning.  Thus, video game architecture has to be carefully laid out and curated so as not to take the player out of the experience and ruin their immersion, and most importantly, it has to be believable enough to serve the main point of video games in general – to be a break from the mundanity of everyday life, and a chance to escape into a world of fantastic scenes. 

Sources:

Bloodborne – Research Hall - https://bloodborne.wiki.fextralife.com/Research+Hall

The Talos Principle – Aqueduct - http://www.croteam.com/talosprinciple/

Dishonored – Dunwall Clocktower - https://dishonored.fandom.com/wiki/Clocktower

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim – Riverwood Village - https://en.uesp.net/wiki/Skyrim:Riverwood

Dark Souls 3 – Lothric Castle - https://darksouls.fandom.com/wiki/Lothric_Castle

Halo 3 – Portal at Voi - http://halo.bungie.net/projects/halo3/default.aspx

Sam has played all these games, but mostly just draws his own worlds now (he’s an architecture student, you know!)

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Craftsman Farm, Morrisville, NJ

by Sara Pochedly

Looking for an Architectural day trip adventure?

Craftsman Farm, Morrisville, NJ: (A day trip) A quick 1.75 hour drive from Philadelphia.

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I grew up in an Arts and Crafts Style home with parents who are avid antique collectors.   

The Arts and Crafts Movement, also sometimes known as Craftsman Style or Mission Style, was an international design movement in Europe and North America that lasted from approximately 1880-1920.  The movement encouraged traditional craftsmanship and simple forms.

When I moved to the Philadelphia area my Dad was thrilled that he could finally make it to Morrisville, NJ to visit Craftsman Farm, Gustav Stickley’s Iconic Log House, and to date we have visited on 3 separate occasions.  Stickley was a very well-known turn-of-the-century (1900s) furniture maker who bought the land in New Jersey to get away from the busy New York life.  He had the intention of creating a farm school for boys, to get back to the basics of life.  Though the dream of a school never fully materialized, he built several buildings on the property including the club house which was originally intended for gatherings and meals, and later was turned into the Stickley Family Home.  He and his family lived there from 1911 until 1915 when he filed for bankruptcy and sold the house.  The house only had one other owner and was sold in 1989. The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms was formed in 1989 to protect and preserve the property.

Craftsman Farms was the only residence Stickley built for himself and is now considered one of the most significant American Arts and Crafts buildings.  Several distinctive details include the copper fireplaces, each with their own saying, the color palette, all very dark colors which give the spaces a particular ambiance, and of course, the space-specific furniture and furnishings,  many of which, have been re-acquired or replicated by the museum.

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The museum is open limited hours each week and makes for a nice weekend trip.  When you are up in the Morrisville area you can also check out the National Park Service - Morristown National Historical Park.

To learn more about Craftsman Farm or schedule your trip please visit https://www.stickleymuseum.org/

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable designer who is a huge fan of Neil Zurcher’s One Tank Trips!

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Road Trip Part 1: A Philly “Gem”

by Sara Pochedly

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Beth Sholom Synagogue, Elkins Park: (An afternoon adventure) A quick 30 minute drive from Center City, Philadelphia

You don’t really get to see a city until you have visitors.  Being a transplant to the city of Philadelphia, I have many friends and family members come to visit every year.  I have visited many of the well-known and recommended places on numerous occasions and was looking for something new.  I brought this up to the office to see if they had some off the beaten path recommendations, and Bart said “have you ever been to the Frank Lloyd Wright synagogue in Elkins Park?”  I looked at him quite puzzled—a Frank Lloyd Wright building so close?  I honestly didn’t have any recollection of hearing of this building before.  I have been to several of Frank Lloyd Wright’s other buildings, including Fallingwater, his studio in Oak Park, Robie House, Unity Chapel and Guggenheim Museum and was very interested in learning more about his work close by.

A few weekends ago when my parents were in town, we made the trip to Beth Sholom Synagogue.  We had to order tickets in advance (which can be purchased through their website) and arrived for the last tour available on a Sunday afternoon.  To our surprise we had a private tour!

The tour included an introductory video and an exhibit which includes all the letters between Rabbi Cohen and Frank Lloyd Wright, and a walking tour through the main sanctuary and the lower level smaller sanctuary. Our docent was very knowledgeable and it was a very enjoyable tour.

Beth Sholom Synagogue was one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s last works.  He actually passed away while the project was under construction.  The main architectural feature of the building is a double-walled translucent roof structure with corrugated glass panels on the exterior and plastic panels on the interior.  This structure provides a variety of ever-changing lighting conditions that can be experienced by the users within.  At night when the synagogue is in use, it glows.  There are many other unique features and details including all of the custom designed door handles, the designed furniture pieces (many still have their original upholstery) and the star-shaped lighting on the lower level.

Beth Sholom Synagogue is located at 8231 Old York Road, Elkins Park, PA 19027 and you can learn more at their website https://www.bethsholomcongregation.org/tour-beth-sholom and purchase tickets at https://www.bethsholompreservation.org/

I highly recommend checking this building out!  And thank you Bart for this wonderful recommendation!

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer and Sustainable designer who is a huge fan of Neil Zurcher’s One Tank Trips!

 

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Backwoods Architecture Reclaimed by Nature

Sagged –   This house was originally at grade, but has sunk on settled foundations

Sagged – This house was originally at grade, but has sunk on settled foundations

Words and photos by Sam Katovitch

Every summer leading up to my permanent move to Philadelphia, my family would spend a week or more in the Adirondack Mountains of New York.  We always took the same route every year, stayed at the same lodge, sang the same songs on the five-hour road trip, but climbed different mountains, kayaked different lakes, and walked different paths from the years before.  Ordinarily we would all go together on these adventures, but starting in 2016 I would drive myself since I had my own car – a beat-up old tank of a Subaru named Roz.  One day during the week we spent there in 2016, my family decided to spend the day recuperating from the hike we had taken the day before, but I was feeling antsy and decided to strike out on my own.  My fascination with abandoned buildings had also begun that year so my dad suggested I check out the old mining town at Tahawus.  Few photos of this can be found online, though some conservation is underway, mainly at the ironworks there.  I agreed it was a cool idea and set out with my film camera and hiking boots.

The nearest town to the abandoned mine was Newcomb, and then from there the road turned off into the wilderness and meandered another fifteen miles or so up into the High Peaks region – the road doubled as a trailhead for several High Peaks climbs, including Mt. Marcy.  After twisting through the woods for a few miles, I encountered the old railroad leading from the mines down to Raquette Lake, the nearest rail hub.  The road crossed the tracks twice as it wound its way through the woods.  It was clear that the tracks weren’t in service anymore, not since the mine’s closure in the 60s – the ties were rotted and the rails were rusty.  There was even a rusted barricade welded to one rail to stop stray train cars.  It was a strange feeling, being able to stop my car in the middle of the crossing and not worry about a train coming out of nowhere, and it made my hair stand up, just a little. 

Another mile or so down the road, I encountered a washout.  A stream had burst its banks further up the mountain to the left of the road and washed away the macadam entirely.  The other end of the break wasn’t visible.  I assessed the way forward and decided to try it.  My stubborn old Subaru and I battled through the washout for nearly a mile before the slide cleared and the road resumed.  I was tired and the wagon was spattered with mud but I pushed on.

Gleam –   The blast furnace was capped with Plexiglas for preservation

Gleam – The blast furnace was capped with Plexiglas for preservation

After some signs indicating the last trailhead, I saw the blast furnace, the only actively conserved part of the abandoned village.  It was a pillar of cut stone with a huge cavern in the base, and it was still soot-darkened even after years in the elements.  I regret that I didn’t take more pictures of the furnace but I was saving my energy and film, hoping for more luck at the ghost town further on. 

The ghost town itself was so much more than I could have expected.  I was anticipating a handful of buildings, all in varying states of disrepair.  Instead, I found a dozen intact buildings that had been opened by the elements, exposing their interiors to the outside, as well as the foundations and masonry from the old mill and waterwheel at the creek.  The rushing stream was full from the rain, but the piers of the mill still stood there, a dozen feet from the bank, and connected by a few crumbly arches of stone.  The creek bed was littered with fallen stones from masonry that had already perished. 

Demolition –   The plaster was mostly gone, exposing the lath and studs beneath

Demolition – The plaster was mostly gone, exposing the lath and studs beneath

The houses were mostly built between the 1940s and 60s, and the cheerful pinks and turquoises of the midcentury wallpaper and tiles were incongruous among the green of the forest, even as they were softened at the edges by the relentless work of the elements.  I didn’t go into any buildings for fear of falling through a floor and breaking my neck, but I used several rolls of film and took dozens of photos with my phone.  There is no conservation effort being made on the village itself, and the Park Service seems content to let the buildings fall into elegant – and photogenic – disrepair, ultimately being reclaimed by the forest. No doubt going back now, even only three years later, would yield a very different experience.  Seeing those old buildings as intact as they were was special, but being able to see the interiors from the exterior wasn’t promising of their overall integrity and life expectancy.  Nobody knows how many more harsh Adirondack winters the houses will survive until they’re nothing but foundation stones.

Tilt –   This house was on the verge of falling over into the road

Tilt – This house was on the verge of falling over into the road

I spent hours wandering around the old houses and offices, imagining what the lives that once occupied them must have been like.  Even now in this age of connectivity this place was basically off the edge of the map, so I could only imagine the isolation the miners must have experienced back in the ‘40s and ‘50s.  Eventually though, I made my way back to my car and returned the way I’d come.  Only when I got back across the washout ten miles later and received a dozen text messages all at once did I realize that I had had no cell service ever since passing the train tracks on the way in.              

Pipes I –   Shattered steam pipes near the foot of the blast furnace

Pipes I – Shattered steam pipes near the foot of the blast furnace

Pipes II –   Bellows pipes for pushing air into the blast furnace

Pipes II – Bellows pipes for pushing air into the blast furnace

Pipes III –   More bellows pipes

Pipes III – More bellows pipes

Stack –   The blast furnace as seen from the overlook above it, Cliff Mtn. and Redfield Mtn. beyond.

Stack – The blast furnace as seen from the overlook above it, Cliff Mtn. and Redfield Mtn. beyond.

Calamity –   The stream which powered the old waterwheels is called Calamity Brook.

Calamity – The stream which powered the old waterwheels is called Calamity Brook.

Order Up –   This was the part of the mess hall of the mining camp, order window and all.

Order Up – This was the part of the mess hall of the mining camp, order window and all.

Collapse –   Nobody knows how much longer these houses will stay standing.

Collapse – Nobody knows how much longer these houses will stay standing.

Sam is our resident film-camera expert. The images in this article were taken on film—yes, real film!

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Brussels vs. Philadelphia

by David Fisher

A little over a year ago, I traveled to Belgium with my freshman-year roommate from Drexel University and his mother.  We stayed in Brussels and spent most of our time visiting local relatives of my friend and traveling around the country.  As the capital of Belgium and the seat of the European Union, Brussels is a city full of grand European architecture.  What piqued my interest, however, was the chaotic juxtaposition of architectural styles that are found all over the city.

The typical Brussels residential street contains a surprising diversity of housing styles that butt-up against one another quite literally.  Brussels is famous for Art-Nouveau and Art-Deco architecture that embodies the principles of Gesamtkunstwerk (A German word meaning: a complete work of art) found in many European houses from the early 20th Century.  Art-Nouveau architecture makes use of iron and woodwork in sinuous details on building facades and throughout interior fixtures and decor.  Details in these houses are often nature-inspired and contain imagery of plants and greenery as an incorporated form of art into the houses’ structure and expression.  Brussels is the birthplace of Art-Nouveau architecture and has a number of famous examples of the style scattered throughout the city.  Sadly, Art-Nouveau fell out of fashion in Europe and new forms of architecture replaced many existing Art-Nouveau structures.

Because of the ever-changing taste in architecture, Brussels has many streets with houses of all shapes, styles, and sizes all packed into rows.  As I walked or drove through the city, I could see a four-story Modern apartment building neighboring a very traditional three-story European townhouse, followed by a historic or recreated version of an Art-Nouveau house.  Rooflines constantly changed along the roads and almost no coherence between buildings could be seen most of the time.  It certainly creates a unique aesthetic to the city of Brussels, but it is not one that particularly appeals to me.

Art Nouveau architecture of Brussels

Art Nouveau architecture of Brussels

Apartments in Mantua

Apartments in Mantua

Having spent the past two years in Philadelphia, I have begun to notice some similarities between Brussels and the City of Brotherly Love.  Both cities have quite a rich history respectively, and contain vibrant city centers with large administrative buildings and sleek modern towers.  In the residential areas in both of the cities, various kinds of architectural styles can be found between neighboring houses in a row.  While Brussels has a bit more extreme of a difference between neighboring houses, I have found many interesting design decisions in Philadelphia on streets with traditional row house designs.  Mantua alone has a growing diversity in rowhouse styles and house types.  With Drexel University continuing to grow and influence the North end of West Philadelphia, many vacant lots are being used for new construction to house students.  New apartment buildings can be found scattered throughout the neighborhood now and the atmosphere of the neighborhood, architecturally, can be quite disorienting.  As you walk north from Drexel’s campus, dormitories become re-purposed manors, then rowhouses from a particular time period, then renovated or new buildings, and then the same or a different traditional style of rowhouse.  For the most part, streets remain architecturally consistent as you move east and west with a couple of variations between blocks, but much of Mantua has a mixed identity of what type of house you will see.

Building styles juxtaposed.

Building styles juxtaposed.

In the time that I’ve traveled to South Philadelphia to work here at Toner Architects, I have noticed that much of the city is experiencing this same recreation of streets into interesting combinations of rowhouse styles.  All around the city there are new breaks in the grid of the city and the rooflines of houses.  Almost every house in the city seems to have its own identity that either subtly changes the order of the street, or makes a noticeable statement of breaking away from the surrounding architectural context.  It would seem that the easiest way to observe the changes happening in the city, is to observe the decisions people make regarding the forms and styles of houses they occupy.

David is a a co-op student, attending Drexel University and working full-time as an architectural designer.

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Brewerytown – First Impressions

by Bart Bajda

I’d like to begin this by saying thank you to the City of Brotherly Love for the warm welcome it has given me since moving here and I mean that literally; the weather has been too hot for comfort.  Nonetheless, this is a tale of my venture to Philadelphia and my first impressions of the neighborhood I now call home. 

One of the first steps in moving to a new city is finding a place to hang your hat.  Everyone has their specific list of must-haves and deal breakers but unlike most, my criteria was pretty relaxed.  What can I say…I’m a simple man.  Some sort of backyard, storage space, and of course a low budget were my only requirements.  Not too familiar with the city, I set out on an apartment tour across many neighborhoods curated by a rental agent.  What I quickly found was that my neighborhood options were limited based on what I needed and what I was willing to pay.  Hence, I landed in Brewerytown…oh sweet B-town.  I’m told the entire area was completely populated with breweries before Prohibition killed the majority of the business.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to live in a neighborhood so gracefully named?  Right?  Apparently not.  When I began telling everyone the great news, to my surprise, not many knew where this even was.  Somehow this seemed to be uncharted territory, even for a few native Philadelphians.  Now as soon as I mentioned the new Aldi grocery store…the light bulb went off.  Nonetheless, I began having my doubts on whether this was a good decision. 

Fast forward a few months and the doubts have all quickly evaporated into thin air and I am overwhelmingly proud to call Brewerytown my home.  This neighborhood has thus far preserved a sense of grittiness and natural urban feel, not yet overtaken by the privileged (see definition of gentrification).  Just take a walk down Girard Avenue and you’ll see Rybrew, the sister sandwich shop to Rybread with an unbelievable beer selection, coexisting with the Girard Veterinary Clinic and Cycle Brewerytown on the same block.  Across the street, Spot Burger dishes out some of the finest patties between 2 buns that you’ll find in the city.  Within a 5 minute walk you’ll find other incredible businesses like Chez Novaks, Karma Pizza (formerly Uncle Nicks), Pizza Dads, Young’s Sneaker City, Electric Temple, Brewerytown Bicycles, Otto’s, 2637 Brew, Monkey and the Elephant, Era, Brewerytown Beats, and Crime and Punishment Brewing Co., triumphantly putting the “brewery” back in Brewerytown.  The list goes on and on and I haven’t even mentioned the quintessential corner stores (or as I like to call them…bodegas) that populate almost every other street corner. 

Green Eggs Cafe—coming soon.

Green Eggs Cafe—coming soon.

If you ask me, I’d say leave it the way it is, but for better or for worse there is a tremendous amount of new construction of all scales happening as I write this.  Almost every property on 31st street from Girard to Oxford St is currently under construction or has been within the last 3 years claiming the newly minted title of 31st Street Corridor.  For Pete’s sake, there’s a Green Eggs Café opening soon on Girard Ave.  Is it an ominous cloud of doom and development that hovers above Brewerytown, or is it the necessary next step that leads to success?  Only time will tell, but for now, I will enjoy my stay, listening to the charming rumble of the #15 trolley. 

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Bart Bajda an architect and lover of cold weather.

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An Architect’s Christmas Story

Warning:  If you believe in Santa, you may want to stop here. 

As the weather becomes crisp and cold, and the Christmas decorations begin to fill people’s homes and yards one particular childhood memory comes to mind. 

In the 80s my family and I lived in a small post-war suburb in Northeast Ohio. The house was a Cape-Cod and was very small and compact like many houses of that era. Due to its size, one very important design feature was left out. The house did not have a fireplace. By the age of 4 this became a very alarming issue, as all of the popular media suggested, Santa would park his sleigh on the roof and use the chimney to enter the house and deliver the presents. But since we did not have a chimney or a fireplace, how was Santa going to find us? We had family members and friends who had similar issues and seemed to resolve this by purchasing a cardboard fireplace set. But on several occasions at the store, my sister and I had requested we purchase a fireplace set, and were very disappointed when my Mom said no. 

As Christmas grew closer the fireplace issue became a continuous conversation and I believe it became very frustrating to my parents. So, my dad bundled my sister and I up in our winter coats and boots and we made a trip into the backyard. He then pointed to the roof where a small black pipe was sticking up above the roof and told us that is where Santa enters, its like a chimney just smaller and since Santa is magic, he will have no issue finding his way into the house. This explanation made sense and we were satisfied that Santa would find us. And he did that Christmas!

See, they even have cardboard chimneys in South Philly!

See, they even have cardboard chimneys in South Philly!

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Fast forward approximately 15 years, at this point I am 20 years old attending Kent State for Architecture. During our 3rd year we have to take an Environmental Technology course. This course is our introduction to building systems such as heating and cooling, plumbing, electric etc. We begin our plumbing course work and we are learning how all of the toilets and sinks are connected to a sanitary line and to maintain the pressure balance in the pipes the sanitary lines are connected to a vent stack which extends through the roof. At this point I suddenly realize that all those years before, while standing in the backyard, my Dad was actually telling us that Santa went down the vent stack and then would have to make his grand entrance into the house…..through the toilet! I was shocked!

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In recent years we have talked about family memories from past holidays and I asked my Dad if he remembered telling us this. Sadly, he does not remember this event, but he does admit that it sounds like something he would have done. We all did get a great laugh and now have a great family story to share!

Happy Holidays!

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer, and Sustainable Designer with lots of Christmas Spirit!

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South Philly Smokhaus is Now Open

plenty of wood for the in-house smoker! (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

plenty of wood for the in-house smoker! (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

by Sara Pochedly

We are really excited to announce that South Philly Smokhaus is now open!  Eric Daelhousen came to us 2 years ago with a plan of opening South Philly Smokhaus, and after considering several locations, all in South Philly, he decided to make his home here at Bok! (Which is really convenient for the Toner Team and anyone visiting us, since he is our downstairs neighbor.) 

Eric hard at work. (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

Eric hard at work. (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

If you follow the lingering aroma of burning wood that brings memories of family gatherings and great food it will lead you to the doorstep of South Philly Smokhaus. The smoker is burning around the clock so that they can offer a wide variety of smoked meats including brisket, ribs, pulled pork, sausage and chicken quarters. In addition to the meat offerings there are a variety of sandwiches, sides and desserts. The full menu can be found at https://www.southphillysmokhaus.com. I am certain that you will find something you will like! In my opinion, there is no wrong choice, everything that we have sampled has been delicious.

As an added bonus Giunta’s Prime of Reading Terminal market has opened up its own separate counter, called Passio Prime, inside the South Philly Smokhaus restaurant bringing a delightful selection of fresh meats to the neighborhood.

mmmmm . . . meat (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

mmmmm . . . meat (photo by Bart Bajda / Toner Architects)

From a design perspective Eric did something really special by engaging a variety of companies here at Bok to help actualize the restaurant. Each company/designer brought a specific touch and combined together provided a refined version of a traditional Barbecue aesthetic.  The team included:

Architecture: Toner Architects – www.tonerarch.com

Interior design, furniture selection: Nuance Jewelry - www.nuance-jewelry.com

South Philly Smokhaus keychains: Nuance Jewelry - www.nuance-jewelry.com

Decorative paint: Done + Dusted - www.doneanddusted.us

Feature light fixture: Remark Glass - www.remarkglass.com

Countertops and tabletops: Bicyclette Furniture - www.bicyclettefurniture.com     

Sandwich bread: Machine Shop Boulangerie - www.machineshopphilly.com                    

Photography: Stevie Chris - www.steviechris.com

We recommend you stop by and grab a bite, and promise you won’t be disappointed.  But, please plan ahead and get there early, because they have been selling out daily!

Sara is an Architect, Interior Designer, Sustainable Designer and a secretly aspiring food critic.

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Get to Know Us

toner team

We are real people too!  Since we just put up the staff bios for everyone our website, we wanted to take a minute and share some fun facts about our team that are in addition to the formal bios.  You can check out the bios at http://www.tonerarch.com/about/

 

Ian Toner

Who is your favorite Architect? Alvar Aalto

What is your favorite building? Villa Mairea

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)? Prague. Went there with no expectations. It was beautiful and friendly.

What is your favorite color? Blue

What is your favorite food? Sichuan Chinese

What is your favorite song? Eye of the Tiger

What are your hobbies outside of work? 2 kids!

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type? Cat. Ugh.


Sara Pochedly

Who is your favorite Architect?  Richard Neutra (and Ian Toner)

What is your favorite building? It’s hard to choose just one, but I really enjoy the Farnsworth House by Mies Van der Rohe

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)?  Cleveland! As some of you may know, I am from Cleveland and awesome place to both live and visit.  I will have an upcoming blog post on what to do and see in Cleveland.

What is your favorite color? My favorite color in general is blue, my favorite color to wear is black, and my favorite color to paint the walls is light purple.

What is your favorite food? French Fries…wait I should probably say something healthy like green beans.  Growing up I asked my mom to make green beans so often, my siblings to this day say they can’t eat them.  I also really enjoy vegetarian Indian food.

What is your favorite song? I am a huge fan of electronic music and really enjoy Ratatat Loud Pipes.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Gardening, hiking and trying to renovate my own house with no help…

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type? Yes, a dog named Juno.  She is a Bichon Frise.


Justyn Myers

Who is your favorite Architect? Shuhei Endo for his simple material selections and undulating forms diving in and out of landscapes.

What is your favorite building?  Currently the Cira Center, I like to call it the shard.  It's a really simple design that has a powerful impact by using its natural surroundings.  The 4 sides of the building are square with the SE and NW corners sloping in.  This allows for these corners to light up during sun rise and sun set.  While the majority of the skyline is grey during these times this shouts like a beacon of color.  Cesar Pelli's approach to tall buildings is that they should never be capped off, always reaching higher into the sky.  This building is a clear representation of this idea.  Using these two ideas the building represents a shard of glass pointing to the taller buildings in Philadelphia's skyline.  It is so simple but yet so effective.

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)? Tokyo for its vibrant culture, wacky styles, it's vast night life, and delicious foods.

What is your favorite color? Earth tones of green

What is your favorite food? Cao lầu A delicious Vietnamese dish with noodles, fresh greens, pork and a little spice.  A really nice mix of cold and hot ingredients served at room temperature.

What is your favorite song?  There are so many but a couple would be "Get lifted" by George Mccrae, "Deacon Blues" by Steely Dan, "My Boo" Ghost Town DJ's, "Careless Whispers" by Wham.  These all come from the nostalgia of karaoke. Never try to sing a G-n-R song.

What are your hobbies outside of work? Event planning, costuming making, working with my hands and making things like furniture and props for events.  I also like exploring various places to send it.

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type? 2 cats, Coco & Chanel


Bart Bajda

Who is your favorite Architect?  Daniel Libeskind

What is your favorite building?  Santo Spirito

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)?  Barcelona

What is your favorite color?  Aqua

What is your favorite food?  Pad Prik Khing - Thai

What is your favorite song?  High Hopes - Pink Floyd

What are your hobbies outside of work?  Building furniture

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type?  No pets

 

David Fisher

Who is your favorite Architect? Frank Lloyd Wright

What is your favorite building? One Liberty Place

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)? Denver, CO

What is your favorite color? Green

What is your favorite food? Lasagna

What is your favorite song? Wait - M83

What are your hobbies outside of work?  Playing piano and guitar

Do you have a pet?  I (my family) have a dog and chinchilla.  Both live with my parents back home.

 
Sam Katovitch

Who is your favorite Architect?  Renzo Piano

What is your favorite building?  Grace Farms by SANAA

What is your favorite city (that is not Philadelphia)?  Paris, France

What is your favorite color?  Burgundy

What is your favorite food?  Pho

What is your favorite song?  Little Lighter by Ripe

What are your hobbies outside of work?  Film photography, writing, hiking, kayaking, road trips

Do you have a pet? If yes, what type?  One-eyed black cat named Manny

Come join us at our upcoming open house this Friday, October 12th, from 4-7. You can ask us about all our favorite things!

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Open House!

Mark your calendars, save the date!  Toner Architects will be opening our office doors for Bok Night from 4-7 on Friday, October 12 for Design Philadelphia.  Please stop by for a visit!

You’ll get a chance to see our new office and have a look at what we’ve been working on. While you’re here, you can check out our office-mate Chris Landau’s work, as well.

We are located in Bok (A hub for Design Philadelphia this year) at

1901 South 9th Street (corner of 9th and Mifflin)
Room 425
Philadelphia, PA 19148

In addition to our open house there will be multiple other companies hosting events that night at Bok including but not limited to:

Bicyclette Furniture

Firth and Wilson Transport Cycles

Gnome Architects

JV Collective

Klip Collective

Lobo Mau

made@bok

Milder Office Inc.

Mozilla

Nuance Jewelry

Remark Glass

Roantree Weaves

Stover Ceramics

Urban Aesthetics

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Adult Science Fair

by Justyn Myers

A while back I was given the chance to participate and compete in a local science fair.  When presented with the idea, the inner kid in me got real excited as images of trifold presentation boards and short sleeved collared shirts ran through my mind.  What kind of project would have the most impact, would be the most fun to build, and is something I could use after it was done?  I had figured the volcano was played out, and robotics would be too complicated given the short 2-week time frame.  I had always wanted to make a trebuchet and this was the perfect time to do so.  Now I have the opportunity to explore how it was made by going through those motions and get a chance to really understand how to maximize its potential (energy).   I’m going to run through the steps of how to make one and explain my conclusion and explore what I would do differently when I build the next one. 

The trebuchet is an ancient siege engine used for throwing large rocks. It was invented in China in about the 4th century BC, came to Europe in the 6th century AD, and did not become obsolete until the 16th century, well after the introduction of gunpowder.  Trebuchets were so popular because an army would show up to invade a castle and use the surrounding trees to build the catapult, thus relieving the army of having to carry this large thing around when travelling.

A classical trebuchet involves a falling counterweight which accelerates the throwing arm and the sling attached to it. A small speed on the counterweight provides a large speed on the end of the throwing arm and an even larger speed on the projectile in the sling because the arm and projectile have a much larger radius from the fulcrum than the counterweight does. Ideally, the sling will release when the projectile is traveling at a 45-degree angle to the ground, and the counterweight should impart all of its energy to the projectile. I decided to make a trebuchet that would use a case of soda as a counterweight, and would throw a single can of soda as far as possible.

treb 1.jpg
treb 2.jpg

Aside from the basic components of the trebuchet there are other factors to consider when building a trebuchet.  After building the initial small-scale model I made changes and added these items:

WHEELS: As the counterweight swings down, the trebuchet rolls forwards and then backwards. The forward motion adds to the velocity of the projectile, much as the forward motion of a baseball pitcher add to the velocity of a ball. The forwards motion of the trebuchet also helps to smooth out the motion of the swinging beam, adding to the control of the projectile.

COUNTERWEIGHTS WERE OF TWO TYPES: fixed or hinged. Fixed counterweights were easier to design and build. However, in an effort to harness the full energy of the falling mass, hinged counterweight trebuchets were built.  I used both and found the projectile went further with a hinged counterweight.  The hinge allowed the counterweight to fall at maximum velocity without any horizontal drag.

THINGS I WOULD CHANGE
There are a couple things I would change when I tackle this project again.  One thing would be to increase the amount of counter weight used from (1) case to (2) cases of soda because generally in a trebuchet as the weight increases the distance increases as well.  We should have cut the hole in our arm further so that the arm could reach the trigger without additional string. This would make our trebuchet more efficient.  And lastly, I would create an adjustable pin mechanism to adjust firing angle on the battle field.

CONCLUSION
This trebuchet model was an enjoyable and surprising project. The design and construction were both challenging and interesting, and this small project allows you to exercise both your mind and your hands. It was surprising because the mathematical model corresponded so well with the range and actual performance in the field. I think it can be said with certainty that the more soda you drink out of the can to be thrown (making it lighter), and the more soda you add to the counterweight, the distance travelled by the projectile increases. In addition, the greater the height above the ground the counterweight is held, and the greater the angle the projectile turns through, the greater the displacement of the projectile. For an object that is 36" tall and works on only gravity to fire an object 33 feet (as mine did) attests to the beauty and pragmatism of the trebuchet design.

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Restarting the Blog!

Well, it's been quite a while since my last entry. It's definitely been a busy year since then. We've added staff, taken on lots of new projects, been published, and even taken some time off. I'll write more about all of it in future posts.

Now that we have five (five!) of us in the office, we've decided to have everyone participate in the content you see here. Going forward, you'll see posts from everyone, on a variety of topics. Each post will have the author noted, so you can follow your favorite writer if you want to. Enjoy!

office.jpg

we know it's a mess

and we're working on it . . .

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Socializing

Maybe you get our newsletter, but want to see more of the day-to-day stuff. Maybe you like construction photos of current projects? Maybe you wonder what an architect thinks about as they move through the world? Maybe you just want the facts about someone?

Well, we have several ways we put information out there, so take your pick.

On our Facebook page, we post photos from construction sites, real estate listings for recently-completed projects, and the occasional sketch or drawing of a project still in design.

On our Instagram page, you will mostly find pictures of random buildings throughout Philadelphia (and, occasionally, other places), with our thoughts on the good, the bad, and the ugly. We also publish these photos to Facebook and Twitter.

Our Twitter feed is mostly comprised of photos from Instagram, but we occasionally drop a thought or two there. As you can see, getting down to 140 characters is a bit of a challenge for us.

We use LinkedIn to show you our resumes and to give basic info about our firm.

We've started using Pinterest more and more to communicate ideas with clients. It's easy to make boards to describe the feeling you want in a space, a particular countertop material, or even a color scheme.

If you're on one or more of these sites, connect with us and see what we're up to!

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Working Together

I recently read an article from the November/December 2015 issue of Remodeling Magazine called "The Blueprint of a Profitable Partnership", by Victoria Downing. (I know, I know, I'm pretty far behind on my magazines.) It was a good article, giving readers some tips on what an architect is looking for in a builder. To paraphrase:

  1. Will you listen, and not impose your ideas on the architect.
  2. Will you bring the architect's design to life, or butcher it by cutting corners?
  3. Will you provide accurate estimates?
  4. Will you have great workmanship?
  5. Are you up to date on the latest products and construction methods?
  6. Will you handle material selection, if necessary?
  7. Are you organized, and do you communicate well?
  8. Do you have a record of on-time and on-budget projects?
  9. Have you done projects like this before?
  10. Do you consider the architect to be an ally? Will you bring him/her in on future projects?

This is a good list; I think most people would agree that these are reasonable things to want. And it got me thinking--what do we do in our office, to hold up our end of the bargain? How can we be good partners to our contractors?

  1. We like to listen, as well. Contractors know a lot about how buildings go together--not just how things should happen, but how the actually do happen. By visiting the jobsites and hearing how contractors deal with construction issues, we can provide better designs that will contain solutions in advance, or flexibility where there are unknowns.
  2. It's important for us to explain clearly what our priorities are. Most contractors don't want to cut corners, but they also need to be cost-conscious. By clearly describing what the priorities are, everyone can be on the same page.
  3. See #2. If we clearly describe what we want to achieve, the contractor can more accurately price the work.
  4. We believe that providing high-quality drawings and a well-thought-out design will help set a tone with the contractor that high-quality workmanship is expected. We also work to modulate the client's expectations regarding what good work costs.
  5. We do our best to stay up to date on what is happening in the field. New products come out all the time--contractors may have a different focus (ease of installation, lower cost) than the architect or client does (durability, performance, aesthetics), but if we're all keeping our eyes open and are discussing new things as they come out, the team can decide together whether to use a new solution to an old problem.
  6. Certain materials just need to perform (waterproofing or insulation, for example), while others need to have a certain appearance, too (finishes, flooring, etc). Depending on the project type and schedule, the client may want to depend more on the contractor's knowledge of what is available immediately, and we are happy to have their input.
  7. We try, at all times, to have clear, consistent communication. The best result for a project comes from everyone knowing what is happening, and having a chance to chime in on project decisions. That's part of why we try to involve the builder as early in the process as possible.
  8. Sometimes during construction, something will come up that stops the project in its tracks. It might be an unusual structural situation, or a clearance that just can't be met. We try to respond to these situations as quickly as possible, with solutions that are effective and simple. That way, the project can get back on track as quickly as possible, with minimal impact on budget.
  9. We bring a lot of experience, with many different project types under our belts. We try to learn from past projects and construction so we can constantly improve.
  10. As mentioned above in #7, we like to get the contractor involved as early as possible. That way, their input can be baked right into the design. And we're always happy to make recommendations to clients who are looking for them.

Builders--do you have a project that needs an architect?

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Happy Thanksgiving

Thanks, Sara, for a great card design this year!

Thanks, Sara, for a great card design this year!

We like sending Thanksgiving cards--maybe you got one? It gives us a chance to focus on all that we have to be thankful for. We work in a growing city, with clients who value what we do. We love our work, and are grateful for those who make it possible. Have a safe and happy holiday.

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Changing our Priorities

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Sustainable Business Network's annual holiday party. It was held at the Reading Terminal Market in downtown Philadelphia, and featured lots of local food and drink. One of the most interesting things I saw, however, was a table set up by Solar States, a company that offers rooftop solar installations.

I've recently been asked a lot about solar, so I thought I'd check them out. It turns out that they offer a system that will power a typical residence and will fit on about half of the typical rowhouse roof. The system, after tax credits, costs around $10,000. This means that, for a typical household where power bills average out to $100/month, the system pays for itself in a little over eight years, assuming power prices stay the same (and we know they keep going up, right?). After that, it's "free" power until the system reaches the end of its life--Solar States warrants their system for 25 years.

Of course, this doesn't work out exactly; the system doesn't power the house at night, and at peak load times (really hot days when the air conditioner is running) it may not generate enough to power everything. So, you still need to be grid-connected for backup power. But what if you didn't?

I started thinking about solar panel efficiency. Right now, a typical solar panel has an efficiency of around 22%, meaning that 22% of the sun's energy is converted to electricity, while 78% is lost. What if we could capture more? If we got to 50%, then the same size system could produce more than enough energy for one family, even if they owned an electric car. And of course, over time solar panels will get cheaper and cheaper, even as they get more efficient.

If we had more power than we needed, produced by really cheap solar panels, how would that affect the way we think about conservation? Would we be so worried about insulation and high-efficiency appliances? What would be the point? We have an endless supply of free energy, right?

I probably sound like I'm joking, but I'm not. One of our main priorities right now is conserving energy, because energy production is mostly a dirty and environmentally harmful business. If it's not, then do our priorities change? Do we need to rethink the way we look at things? The same goes for cars; lots of people hate those "gas-guzzling SUVs". But if they were powered by electricity, and that electricity was produced by rooftop solar panels, what's to hate? The environmental movement has been around for a while and has a lot of momentum; I just hope that when the time comes, we can redirect that momentum to the next challenge. (Isn't this the problem with fossil fuel companies? They have momentum in one direction, which was useful for a while, but the world has changed. They aren't changing that quickly, are they?)

On a related note, I read this article a while back in Bloomberg Businessweek. If you don't feel like reading it, I'll summarize: some scientists are able to grow leather and meat in a laboratory. Now, before you react with how gross it is, think about why they're doing it (besides to make money): the process uses 90% fewer resources than traditional production, and no animals have to die. It's not a perfect system yet, but in five to ten years, you may be seeing these artificially-grown products being produced at a commercially-viable scale.

So, this got me thinking: does the availability of these products change the way vegetarians think about meat? Aside from the health reasons, does this change things? No longer are animals being killed. Is this a way for those who are against the killing of animals for food to come back to our thousands-of-years-old cooking traditions?

Source: Reuters

What about wearing leather? Can members of PETA wear this lab-grown leather proudly? (Hint: Yes. If you read the Bloomberg article, you saw that Ingrid Newkirk, president of PETA, said "The impact of cultured leather will be phenomenal and wonderful.")

I realize that there is something of an "ick" factor here. But think about it: conventionally-raised meat involves thousands (millions?) of animals living together in unpleasant conditions. They are subject to disease, and are often pumped up with hormones and medicine. Even naturally-raised animals are inevitably killed. What if it didn't have to be that way? (Not to mention that 90% savings on feed, water, land, waste disposal, and greenhouse gas emissions.) Lab-raised meat has the potential to be much more sanitary than current options, which often carry disease-causing bacteria that wouldn't be present in a more controlled environment. That means more confidence in the food supply, and fewer tasteless, overcooked dinners. 

Currently, I am a meat eater. But part of that is my consicously choosing to ignore many of its impacts. Same goes for driving a car. And using natural gas to heat my home (lots of fracking in PA, right?). And wearing clothes made in places with poor safety standards.

All this goes to priorities. Instead of focusing solely on energy conservation, being a vegetarian, giving up my car, lowering my thermostat, and making my own clothing (all good ideas, for now), I can choose to go farther up the chain and think about solutions that get at the root of the problem. How can we have cleaner power and more ethical food? Are these solutions good ones?

It's a design problem, really. Sometimes I meet a client who has it all figured out. They've got a problem and a solution. Usually, I can take that solution and make it work. But the best thing to do is to understand the problem first. Then, many solutions may become more obvious. This is the "genius" of design; finding multiple, viable solutions to a problem, and then being able to decide which is the best one.

So, what technologies are making you rethink your priorities?

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Thankfulness

For most of us, Thanksgiving is a time when we gather with family and eat a lot. Maybe there's football, too. There might even be a brief moment, as we start eating, when we reflect on what we have to be thankful for in our lives.

It's easy to forget those things throughout the rest of the year. We in the United States are very fortunate to be here, to live in a country where an enormous economic meltdown, as painful as it has been, didn't lead to war or massive famine. Where government deadlock didn't lead to a military coup or a complete loss of order. Where most of us can count on having electricity and water whenever we want it. There are lots of places in the world that don't have any of these securities.

But you don't have to be so dramatic about it. There are lots of people right here who don't have a basic education. Who don't have food security. Who don't have a reliable place to sleep at night. Who suffer from domestic violence. Most of us don't have to deal with these concerns.

But you don't have to be so dramatic about it. There are lots of people this holiday season who will be mourning the loss of loved ones. Who will mourn the loss of relationships due to divorce or other circumstances. Who are overseas and can't get home. Most of us are fortunate not to have these burdens.

But you don't have to be so dramatic about it. Lots of people this holiday season won't get awesome presents. They won't get expensive wine with their meals, or a new car. They may not even get that grande chai three-pump-skim milk-lite water-no foam-extra hot latte from Starbucks, because it costs too much.

This year, it's important to me to see not just the big things, but also the little things that make me so fortunate. The little ones add up to a pretty great life. I'm going to keep those things in mind when I have the urge to complain.

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone.

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