Power Windows

Posted: May 7, 2020 in Body Count, it's the humanity, Shovels, Uncategorized

When I was in high school, I took many college entry courses in English Lit, 4 1/2 years of math, physics… as well as almost every shop and art class offered. I had no control over what I was interested i, and I was not being adequately supervised. My parents worked, and I never got arrested.

At the time, I was working in the drafting department of a tech equipment company (while I was there, they were working on a machine that could scan a sample and return the percentages of minerals within.  There was much amusement when they scanned a fly)  At the time, our CAD machine occupied an entire goddam room, and had to have a separate cooling system), but everything else was hand drawn.

Hilariously, the obviously ill-equipped High School counselor, when performing the rote pre-graduation review, looked at my transcript and could not figure it out.  He looked at me, and said, “what do you think you should be doing?” to which I replied “I am already white collar, motherfucker, and that’s a good coin for this podunk town” (maybe not in those words.  He shrugged and put the file away.  Thanks, asshole!

However, my father, who succumbed to the anti-college sentiment of a suburb adjacent to a college town, had a chance to go to land grant state school and I think regretted not going, insisted that I go to some kind of post-secondary education.  To which I said (already being a punk) well, then fuck this I am going somewhere else to college, and found a UW school in the middle of nowhere (shut up, you with the ‘aren’t they all’ comments) and enrolled in the engineering curriculum.  That turned out to be a bad fit, but we corrected course and got into pre-architecture and subsequently moved to Milwaukee.

But wait.  That’s not what I’m here to talk about.  I’m here to talk about the draft.  (wait while I refresh my drink)

No, wait, I am here to talk about historic windows.  Wait.  I’ll come in again.

I’m here to talk about drafting standards.  Ok, we’ll go with that.

During that checkered high school history, I took every drafting class offered.  I also took every shop class available, and most of the art classes.  And 4 1/2 years of math.  And 3 years of English and Literature.  (The traverse from one end of the school to the other for these wildly divergent classes sometimes challenged an ability to actually cover the distance in the class break time).  The drafting teacher (who also doubled as my freshman basketball coach) was kind of bemused, teaching a class balanced between art and science and shop, and as that kind of class had many students who were aiming for trade school.  But he discovered I had great skill at hand drafting, and while the rest of the class diligently worked on the current assignments, often struggling, I mostly blistered through them and he had to scramble to give me extra work to keep me busy. At several points, he just told me to not come in for several days until we got to something new. “Take a week off”….

I learned how to handle a pencil to create effective line weights, and what those line weights could mean.  Eventually, in college, I bought some (relatively) expensive graduated ink pens to do those time-consuming presentation drawings.

This is something being lost in the CAD environment.  Colored lines on a screen mean nothing, and do not translate to physical prints of drawing – which we still use, because we need hard copy in the field.  A friend who is in the State plan review area, agrees- he says most plans come in with no line hierarchy control at all.  One of the things I have had to really emphasize employees, especially more recent graduates is that construction drawings are a form of communication, and line weights are the inflections that help to make sense.

in an early preliminary collidge class, I was criticized for using what are derisively called “bubble trees” .  In defiance, I checked out several books on how to identify trees in profile from the library, and most importantly found many illustrations in the endpapers that showed all these various trees.  I  used these to illustrate my next project , and the amount of ink I put on the paper was so much that I had to matte the whole thing with a black border just to make it balance.  One person kept wandering back and forth during my presentation, and insisted that he could see shadows moving in those trees.

But in that high school class, at one point the instructor, I think desperate to find more things for me to do, and maybe looking to present a challenge, had me do large-scale (3″) details of windows and doors.  I fucking loved it.  But I suddenly had a crash course in how windows were built and installed.  It was, frankly, one of the most instructive and informative single episodes in my pre-professional life.

Here is what it looks like when I use those skills on a contemporary project.  And unlike those projects in high school and collidge, this is for-real and for construction, and since they are part of applying for historic tax credits, real value in actual Ameros (if you are interested, those details are now approved by the National Park Service):

X8.2-window comparison round top

Because, for the most part, most windows are based upon hundreds of years of figuring out how to make windows that work pretty well.  In recent years, window technology has gotten vastly better, but the basics that were well established when my house was built in 1904 are still valid.

Amusingly, although I went into college as an engineer but left as a baby architect, when my younger brother who was still in high school told my old drafting instructor that I was going into architecture, the guy said “well of course”.

So here I am 4 fucking decades later, working on an historic building and during investigation, we discovered that a fair amount of the original ground floor windows still exist and they weren’t destroyed and are in good shape because they were covered up at some point which protected them, which will allow for restoration.  Of course, those concealments were unnecessarily destructive, as it far too common. Out initial submission to the NPS showed new windows in these locations, but considering the condition of the existing windows, my recommendation is now restoration, with new thermal panes added to the interior for modern energy expectations.

And here I am, preparing a change to our original NPS approval, showing that we will be preserving the original windows and doors where our original application indicated new construction (since it was all concealed and we had no idea what was underneath), and I am doing details of the existing and since I did those old detail assignments in high school, I know how these windows were built.


Look at what they did to that masonry detailing. fucking vandals, it would not surprise me if it was done by the Trump family. Also love the GE marketing.

Look at the damage, done so they could put really ugly aggregate panels over everything.  I do not forgive.

Screen Shot 2020-05-08 at 1.31.15 AM

Mind you, this is what the masonry looked like when before those savages attacked it with chisels and hammers.


But I dearly love reusing buildings and historic buildings. And doing this does  makes me happy.


  1. Mikey Hemlok says:

    What a coincidence! My first ‘real’ job was in a door shop in Marin, doing prehung production doors but also custom doors, windows and trim. My boss was the son of the owner of the company, who grew up in the business and taught me how to do interior take-offs from the blueprints, how to spec doors that would actually work, how to figure out ‘Butt Bevel and Bore’ for a pre-existing opening. Later I went to Andersen Window school and learned how to spec and sell factory windows. Those you can’t build to existing ROs, of course, but had to build the ROs to fit the windows.

    Doors, Windows and Trim are considered ‘advanced’ in the building supply business and most people who work in that field are TERRIFIED when asked about them. So I was always in demand, the go-to guy who could calmly help them figure out which windows (Andersen naming nomenclature was unnecessarily complex, but once you finally understood it it was automatic).

    Eventually a major distributor (Sequoia Supply) needed to replace their ‘Andersen guy’ who was retiring, and they came and got me. First time I was recruited. Felt very good.

    There we did Andersen, Marvin, Peachtree and a couple others. Peachtree was cools as they had provided this big table with jigs and clamps that allowed you to assemble all the options – double doors, sidelights etc) out of standardized components.

    It was a pretty good introduction to what I’d eventually be doing, database infrastructure and data analytics and representation – attention to detail, understanding what you wanted to end up with BEFORE you started, all the key ‘soft’ skills I needed for later in my career.

    • LOL Marvin. Used to be a go-to spec for high quality windows. Let me tell you sometime about recently, when I was engaged as forensic architect and repair architect for a penthouse condo project, that had massive, appalling and consistent wall failures. It was a rooftop addition to an existing historic building, so it was new construction and pretty much all the exterior walls failed in the same time frame.

      Long story short, the condo association had hired several engineering firms to analyze, and they all came up with different ideas as to the cause, but no resolution. In desperation, the original developer (with whom I have had a long-term relationship), who knew I had some wide ranging experience in figuring out building failures, brought me in to get it resolved & repaired.

      After a little bit of investigation and analysis, we finally determined that the Marvin windows used on the project had a defect in detailing, which allowed for water to penetrate the frame and then migrate into the wall. We contacted Marvin, who sent a couple of guys down to ‘consult’ and we removed a window, demonstrating in real time how water could move through their window and drain into the wall construction. And this was under simple gravity loads, not wind-driven (the condo addition was on the sixth floor)

      The problem was that because of the lead time for the problem to show up, the 10 year warranty period had lapsed. So after corporate consideration, they denied any culpability, but in the spirit of generosity offered a 10% discount on replacement windows.

      I will be hesitant to spec Marvin windows for quite some time.

      We have a Wisco mfr called Kolbe & Kolbe – heard of them?

Go ahead, tell me how I fucked up this time.

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