A Close Call

You don’t have to send a cake, but a simple thank you would be nice. After all, at college back in 1985, before Jack Bauer came on the scene, I was there keeping you safe.

One night, while you were snuggled up in your cozy, little bed and with no concern for my own well being, I single-handedly disarmed a hydrogen bomb – no doubt the reason you are still around to read this. When I woke up the next morning, the lamp clipped at my bedside was missing its cord. Probably a coincidence.

Tim Bjella 1987

Snowman Ornament 2016 – There has been a Sighting!

Snowman Ornament 2006 by Tim Bjella
Bit warm you say for a snowman sighting? Well, I’ve seen one. Made one, actually.

Woo hoo! This year’s snowman ornament is finished! Yep. It is now in a box awaiting a silent night for santa baby to slide it under O’ Tannenbaum in our winter wonderland. Sorry, Robyn, you will have to wait another 250 days to open it (I know, I know. I’m such a jerk. If I only had a nickle…).

And no, the ornament above is not it (obviously). That is a snow(wo)man I made in 2006, the year our son, Beck, spent time in Robyn’s tummy, so to speak. I’m an architect, Jim, not a doctor! You have to admit, the resemblance is uncanny (to both Robyn and Beck).

For those of you who follow this blog, you know that every year I make a snowman ornament for my wife, Robyn, thus avoiding the misery of setting foot in a mall to buy her a real gift. For those of you who don’t follow this blog, you now know, too (and shame on you for not following the blog – it has poetry for goodness sake!).

Snowman Ornament 2006 by Tim Bjella

The tradition now has the momentum of an orbiting planet. I often make more than one ornament a year (usually from the scraps and waste of the first one – it’s all about saving said planet), and our tree sags from the load of almost fifty of them. They seem to breed like rabbits.

I suggested to Robyn that we should strip the needles off our next tree to trim some weight and make more space (It’d be like a Charlie Brown Christmas!). We could spray paint the dead branches green, or maybe a pretty rainbow. Or, we could just hang only a few. Some would make excellent door stops. She wasn’t buying it. She’s so sentimental.

Made in conjunction with the 2006 snow(wo)man, the locket-type ornament below commemorates Beck’s birth, nine loooong months in the making (Beck, not the ornament). I think it was worth it (Beck, not the ornament).

Beck Bjella - Christmas 2007
Beck Bjella – Christmas 2007

Read the story of last year’s ornament here.

A Change in Perspective – A Modern, Glass Home on a Mountain, or in a Valley?

Glass House

What a difference perspective makes! These two images show the same modern, glass house in Sonoma, California photographed from vantage points only fifty feet from one another (same day, same camera, same lens). Naturally, you would think they were two similar homes on dramatically different sites – one perched on a mountaintop and the other nestled in a serene valley.

It just goes to show what a slight change of perspective can do. Interestingly, it works the same way in life.

It’s Like Being a Kid Again. The Best Multi-Colored Pencil (and Pen)… Ever

Pentel Pen and Pencil

Is it the most beautiful? No.
Is it classy? No.

This pen is all about function (and memories of that 64 pack of crayons with the sharpener on the back). Need to sign a check? No problem. Color a restaurant placemat? Easy. Highlight a passage in a book? Choose fluorescent yellow, pink or orange.

I use many nice pens, but the one I carry with me every day in my sketchbook, is the Pentel Super Multi-8 PH803. Why? Because, “form follows function.”

Not much larger than a standard Pen, Pentel managed to pack in 8, yes you read that right, 8 pens or colored pencils into a normal sized barrel. You may use any combination of pens or pencils in the 8 slots.

Pentel only offers red, blue, and black ballpoint pen refills, though, so if chartreuse is your thing, you’re out of luck (unless you don’t mind customizing a refill – see below).

The colored pencils are high quality, neither dull nor scratchy. Instead of sketching with Pentel’s included black colored pencil, I substitute my favorite Koh-i-noor 4300/24 2mm lead. It’s not really necessary, but I’m likely more finicky than most.

Pentel PH803

The pen does have a couple of minor drawbacks:

  1. There is no .5 mm mechanical pencil option, only 2mm graphite, same diameter as the colored pencils. But, oddly enough, even as an architect, I never use mechanical pencils. I can’t remember the last time I used an eraser, either (it doesn’t have one, btw).
  2. The pen refills are basic ballpoints specific to Pentel. No other refills fit. I cannot express how much I loath ballpoint pens (I prefer gel ink that doesn’t skip or need scribbling to get it started). Yet, with a little effort you can customize a standard D1 Pen refill by simply trimming it with a wire cutter (you could try using your teeth, but unless you’re the tall dude from that James Bond film, I’d consult your dentist first).


The kid’s version below (PH158) is a third the cost, more colorful, but otherwise exactly the same functionality. You have to purchase the ballpoint refills separately because this one only comes with colored pencils. It makes a great stocking stuffer.

Pentel PH158


Poets vs. Architects – Part 2

Poets vs Architects 2

If, like me, you are tired of the graphic images on the nightly news endlessly sensationalizing the skirmishes between architects and poets, then read on. Here is part 2 of my plan to bring both sides together and bridge an unbridgeable rift. How? By extending the olive branch of friendship (or if that doesn’t work, by covering up the whole darn thing with a figleaf).

We can do this by combining the two – by writing architectural poetry, in my case, haiku (sans any mention of bridges, because that would be engineering. We don’t want to pick a fight with them, too. They’re even tougher than poets.).

Why haiku?

  • Haiku has a very rigid structure, a framework you must work within. This focuses your thinking right from the start. With less options to explore, you get moving quicker.
  • Haikus are short and sweet. Brevity is the soul of wit, afterall. It is much more difficult to write succinctly than to ramble, making it an interesting challenge.
  • It’s fun, like solving a little puzzle – not only to paint a picture, tell a story, raise a chuckle or eyebrow in very few words, but to find just the right words in keeping with the rule of 17 syllables.
  • You don’t have to rhyme.
  • They do not require much time to read or write (unless you labor over every word as I sometimes do. But, what else are you going to do in the shower if you have forsworn soap).

Lost… Old cobbled streets,
Gas lanterns, trembling shadows,
My horse, for Google!

Warm, cozy fireplace,
Small hole near the rocking chair,
Roaches need homes, too.

Castle lies broken,
Ancient wonder crumbling down,
All the King’s horses…

We build towers tall,
Strong, yet limber in the wind,
I fear when they fall.

Poetry in words,
There is poetry in form,
Or is that motion?

A bygone era,
Neighbors waving from porches,
Today… garages.

Lofty cathedral,
Soaring spaces feed the soul,
And starve the ego.

Pretty pink houses,
Grand Victorian ladies,
Where are all the men?

Shoebox hotel room,
Kitschy paintings on the walls,
Could be anywhere.

Read Poets vs. Architects – Part One, here.

In Honor of National Poetry Month… Help Me End the Feud.

Poets vs ArchitectsYes, apparently there is a National Poetry month. Who knew? Architecture only has a week – April 12th through the 18th (six days, actually. Not even a whole week). Yep. I know, I know, it’s an outrage. I’m sure National Architecture week is marked on your calendars in bold red ink, circled, with little hearts drawn around it. I bet National Poetry month isn’t even marked in pencil. It’s April, if you are wondering.

Despite my seething anger and resentment, I am willing to step up to the plate, take the high road, be the bigger person and set aloft the dove of peace to build a bridge between these mortal enemies, the despicable poets and the architects (by despicable, I mean kind, generous and caring, obviously. Sort of like when ‘bad’ means ‘good’, or bastard means… well, nevermind). Who will stand with me?

For this week only, the two events coincide. I propose we take this week and write poetry about architecture. Alternatively, you may write a song if you prefer (but that would be playing right into the hands of those pesky songwriters. They probably have a whole year). Nah. Let’s just write poetry that in some way embraces architecture, interior spaces, buildings, ruins, monuments, cities, towns, your house, or whatever flips your (light) switch. If there’s enough interest I’ll post your poems on this blog as a peace offering to the angry (I mean loving) poets. If not, then poets and architects are doomed to feud til time stands still. It’s on your shoulders.

So, get out your frilly little poet’s pen or your solid, dependable, built-to-last, stainless steel architect’s mechanical pencil and start poeting.

I’ll start things off with some haiku, because I don’t have the foggiest idea how to write any other poetry. It’s perfect for those of us with short attention spans. Haiku is the Twitter of poetry (3 lines totaling 17 syllables: 5 syllables on the first and third lines, 7 on the second line). For any other form of poetry, feel free to ramble on for pages if your muse commands.

An old house of stone,
I am covered in ivy,
Ooh, those mice tickle!

Grand Sistine ceiling,
Four years lying on my back,
Next time, you paint it!

Pharaohs long since dead,
Red sun broils the pyramids,
Ahhh…… It’s cool beneath.

Angry wind howling,
Why is everything spinning?
There’s no place like home.

Driving the freeway,
House after house after house,
They are all the same.

Sprouting from the ground,
A cage of lumber nailed,
Someday I’ll live here.

Up, up, up the stairs,
My heart… about… to… explode.
Yay! Stairs go down, too.

No windows for me,
I sit in a cubicle,
Yearning for the light.

Like children for mom,
Shiny, glass and steel buildings,
They reach for the sky.

Big picture window,
Sparkling clean target in sight,
I like to eat worms.

Read part two here.

Just can’t get enough Haiku? Check out my Star Wars Haiku.

Bring out your Dead! But use the Little Door, Please.

Gubbio, Italy

A quaint hill town in Italy called Gubbio sports a mystery. Why do many of the ancient houses lining the narrow, twisting streets have two front doors? Not a single double door, mind you, but two sets of doors, side by side, one diminutive.

The town is ancient, and the reason is long forgotten. Not even the town barber knows. I’m certain he doesn’t, because I asked him (although my Italian was a bit rusty, so I might have asked if his dog wears high heals while dancing in the refrigerator). To be honest, the only Italian I know is spaghetti, and that may be Chinese.

Some speculate these doors were used only when there was a death in the home, to carry out the body, an aporta dei morti (door of the dead). More likely there was a special on doors at the local Home Depotelli too good to pass up. “Well, I really need a window… but you just can’t beat the price of this door!”

Knowing a little about buildings, I personally think the first house built with an extra door was simply a construction error and the clever contractor convinced his client it was all the rage in Rome. Then the neighbors felt the need to keep up with the Jonesetti’s, and the fad caught on.

Doors for the Dead

Gubbio, Italy