A Journey that Changed My Life!

Introducing the newest member of Firm Ground, Vedshree Joshi

“The World is a book and those who do not travel read only a page” – Saint Augustine.

Two years back…. I stepped into the “Land of Dreams”, (USA) to pursue my master’s degree in architecture. I always believed that architecture is a dynamic profession and changes with time, place and people. Thus, to learn architecture from a different perspective I decided to study abroad and have a better understanding of the profession. Jokingly, my two years journey can literally serve as a blockbuster movie plot with twists, turns, suspense, a struggle for acceptance and a memorable journey of finding oneself. Let’s unroll it a little bit….

With an effort to always push myself and stretch my boundaries, I choose Ball State University, Indiana for its unique offering for Master’s in Architecture with Certification in Social and Environmental Justice which focused on sensitizing student’s perspective through addressing people-oriented architectural issues. While I was completely prepared for the challenges of a rigorous program, I faced several challenges like adjusting to a new life in a new country, suiting to the prevalent culture and having a work-study balance. The most important thing I learned was that independence brings more responsibilities and my day-to-day life here in the United States helped me to cope with this new independent lifestyle.

Growing up in the hustle and bustle of Mumbai, Muncie (Ball State), and the cornfields provided relief to my rush. Reminiscing my first few weeks here, I can just say that being 24,000 miles away from my family didn’t feel fun at all in the beginning. From going to the bank, buying my own groceries, surviving without a car, cooking, cleaning, and still managing my classwork felt extremely overwhelming. Two years down the line, I think all those daily challenges paid off transforming me into a self-dependent person. I always felt blessed to have wonderful classmates with whom I have built a lifelong relationships, like Taylor, Molly, Erica, Emma, Nick, and Trevor who always helped and supported me through all the tough times, be it assisting in my roommate issue or helping me understand the difference between “shower” and “bath” or “high” and “drunk”.

My College Memories

My College Memories

            From changing apartments 6 times in two years, living in 3 different cities, 2 different states and traveling to 8 major cities like New York, Chicago, Boston, Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Milwaukee, and Madison, I could not ask for any more of a thrilling and adventurous life. Before you ask, when did I actually study? Let’s focus on my curriculum. Having a very technical approach towards architecture in my 5 years undergraduate degree, I sought to learn research-oriented designing. My Chicago Stockyards project with Prof. James Kerestes opened my world to understanding design through a novel (Rhino) software-based approach. On the other hand, with all my electives directed towards Social and Environmental Justice certification, I researched over several social aspects affecting the architecture of the United States like ethnic enclaves formed by refugees, the cultural quilt and the de-industrialization in cities like Gary, IN, Detroit, MI (Fourth World Theory). Coming from a third world nation, the United States always served to me as a technologically advanced nation. These classes helped me understand America through a different lens sensitizing my approach towards architecture. All this research finally culminated into my final thesis project which tried to address diversity on Ball State’s campus through architectural setting. The idea not only created a havoc in my life but also affected my mental well-being dealing with blows from several people like my thesis advisor who decided to give me a real-life feel of the idea I was working on.

Frank Gehry’s building on MIT Campus

Frank Gehry’s building on MIT Campus

Steven Holl’s building on MIT campus

Steven Holl’s building on MIT campus

            After dealing with mental stress and trauma, and fighting depression, here I am finally graduated with flying colors and commencing my post-masters work with Firm Ground Architects and Engineers in Minneapolis, MN. As I find myself immensely lucky to meet such amazing people like Tom, Jeff, Dave, Gillian, Abbey, Ryne, Nick, and Glenn here, I am also gratified by their accepting and caring nature. Minneapolis has always been my favorite place while I visited it two years ago or now when I am actually living here. While I got connected to so many people here, I never felt that I have only been here a month ago. All thanks to my FG A & E people and my roommates who connected me to a wider spectrum of people.

Hudson Yards, New York

Hudson Yards, New York

Last but not least, every time I felt like quitting during my darkest times, I always felt that an invisible power was holding my back and supporting me with my parents trusting me throughout. Nonetheless, I can now confidently say that I have evolved to be a better person than I was, and I am extremely thankful to all the people involved in this process.

-Vedshree Joshi, Job Captain

“Tough times don’t last…. Tough people do…!!!!”

View of Chicago for the 103rd Floor

View of Chicago for the 103rd Floor



 

Automation in Architecture: Developing a Symbiotic Relationship

Automation is a word that has become, in equal measures, intriguing and terrifying in many industries. The discussion around automation turns increasingly political and contentious as jobs in many markets begin to evaporate due to the increasing availability and affordability of automated alternatives. Despite this, architecture is one field that has thus far remained relatively unscathed by the negative effects of automation, and the reason is fairly simple: It is extraordinarily difficult to replace the effect that the human touch has on architecture and design.

That is not to say however, that automation is not making waves in the field of architecture. It is easy to imagine huge skyscrapers designed entirely by AI when you begin to associate automation with architecture, and this is something that has been explored to some degree. ArchDaily has documented several cases of artificial intelligence and machine learning being used in the design process, and the results are often… Interesting.

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The pictured experiment, titled Evolving Floor Plans, took the floor plan of an existing elementary school in Maine, taking into account the square footages and general layout of existing spaces, and reconfigured them along the lines of different criteria such as ‘optimal traffic flow,’ ‘minimal material usage,’ and ‘fire escape paths.’ The results are eye-catching to say the least, but while the resulting generated floor plans may be more efficient in some metrics, ultimately, they sacrifice in many others. First of all, the organic forms suggested by the algorithm sacrifice greatly in buildability. The human experience is also basically out the window, as spaces like gymnasiums have been rounded out into circles despite being typically restricted to specific dimensions to accommodate various sports and activities. The hallways are also a complete mess of branching hallways of varying sizes, shooting off at all kinds of different angles and trajectories. Imagine actually navigating a space like that.

While there is some value to exploring ‘optimized’ layouts of spaces, ultimately, the inability of the AI to consider the human experience when generating building layouts severely hampers it from being useful at this stage of the design process. The resulting bubble diagrams may provide some useful insights, but generally speaking an experiment of this nature does not offer much more than some interesting art pieces, and a springboard for conversation about automation in architecture.

On the macro scale, as we have seen, automation is in an extremely primitive state when it comes to architecture, however many interesting strides have been made in automation at medium and small scale applications within the industry. Another interesting experiment presented by ArchDaily is an algorithm called Finch which generates multi-family unit layouts based on size/dimensional constraints.

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One of the biggest hurdles in the early stages of designing multi-family projects is fitting the desired unit count and mix within the constraints of the site. Many firms use standard unit layouts and sizes at this stage of design already, and the ability to quickly push and pull these standard units could allow designers to much more quickly generate multi-family layouts that address client needs and site constraints.

The ability to automate things like unit layouts, especially at the early phases of the design process, could allow us to deliver more accurate and detailed schematic floor plans to clients, while affording us the ability to focus more intently on things like common area layouts and overall building form. Though this technology is not readily available in a working state yet, when it does become widely available it could revolutionize the early stages of multi-family housing design.

Though it doesn’t exactly make for flashy headlines, some of the most useful and realistic applications of automation thus far in architecture have primarily been at the micro scale. By eliminating much of the workload imposed by the many time-consuming and esoteric tasks involved in the creation of construction documents, such as generating door schedules, drawing connection details, and numbering doors and rooms, architects can hope to expend more time and effort doing quality design work instead of getting bogged down by busy work.

The introduction of BIM software, such as Autodesk’s Revit, as the industry standard for architectural drafting has already helped make massive strides in streamlining and simplifying the drafting process. While Revit has already made some tasks like scheduling doors, defining wall assemblies, and tagging important building elements significantly quicker and simpler than it used to be. Working within the framework of a BIM software comes with its own foibles as previously simple tasks like drawing accurate staircases and troubleshooting errors have generated new headaches of their own. However, the beauty of BIM software is that it is extensible in nature and allows the end-user to create their own solutions for approaching some of these tasks via Add-Ins and Extensions. Revit allows the creation of scripted ‘macros’ to automate some smaller tasks, and recently has also introduced its own visual programming tool called Dynamo which takes inputs and outputs from Revit and allows the user to modify data within their projects via scripts.

This is where the biggest and most significant strides have been made within the realm of automation in architecture. As designers are able to simplify and reduce their time spent on minor tasks, they can better focus on delivering quality projects and good designs to their clients. Automation is not replacing people in architecture; it is enabling the people within the industry to do their jobs better. The future is not going to be cities full of buildings designed by AI, instead, it is going to be a future where architects can ultimately provide better work because they aren’t bogged down by the menial tasks involved in design and drafting.

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A quick look to the future shows what this idea could look like in practice. Recently a BIM software called Modumate became available in a limited and early access form. This software promises to be a one stop shop for building design, allowing designers to place and tweak building elements in a real-time 3D modeling space. The software claims to then automatically generate all of the drawings, details, and schedules required for construction of the building with minimal human intervention. On their own website, they claim that designers could “get back 50-60% of the time spent on documentation.” While the lofty promises of this particular software can easily be called into question, the idea behind it is still incredibly promising. What if we could design freely and cut out all the unnecessary fluff? Though we may still be a long way away from something like this becoming reality, the mere existence of a concept like this foreshadows and incredibly promising future for building design. The field of architecture may be able to survive automation yet, by simply embracing it and developing a symbiotic relationship with it, rather than letting it supplant the human element that makes our work so special.

Integration vs. Balance

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the idea of life integration vs trying to get to a “work-life” balance.

The argument is that balance is never possible because “life happens”, I’ll add that “work happens” is also true.

In our hard fought attempt to create balance we often find we are dropping the ball in one area or another to stay on top of our to do lists, calendar appointments, family obligations, personal wellness, etc.

Taking steps to make sure you take care of yourself so that you can create a more integrated life should take precedence. But after one business lunch after another, a quick grab at a drive through or skipping a meal to get to an appointment on time we often feel like its been weeks since we’ve sat own to a healthy meal.

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If I try to take a full weekend off from work, I find I spend the rest of the week running behind and end up using the following weekend to catch up on work rather than relaxing or taking care of the stuff at home that needs to be taken care of.

So… what does life integration look like? Well I am sure it looks different for each of us and it is certainly going to have a different mix of parts depending on your age, family, and work responsibilities.

I will admit that for me integration is a bit easier at 58 that it was at 48 or 38. With no children at home and a retired spouse, there are many things that used to demand my time that I just don’t have to worry about anymore.

However, as the owner of a vital and growing design firm, I have many more people who depend on me and my vitality and business development strengths.

Also, since my wife retired there is pressure to travel more, be more schedule flexible and… oh yes, help plan and pay for our son’s wedding!

I am working on integration by attempting to work into my daily routine more movement (i.e. exercise) and better sleeping habits to make sure I am taking care of myself and stay sharp to face the challenges that roll into my line of sight on a daily basis.

I will schedule out several weeks at once so I can guard certain special event times and in the office times.

Occasionally, I will employ a little used tool in my arsenal, I just say no. Saying no can be a freeing experience. I had a conversation with a friend of mine who just turned 60 this week. He told me that if he doesn’t want to do something or that it conflicts with something important to him, he now says no with no excuses. No means I am choosing not to do that thing or participate because its my choice to say no, no excuses or apologies. He’s tougher than I am!

This past weekend I did check out from work almost completely, attending a men’s retreat without my laptop along. The good news is I tried not think about work for three days. It’s too bad they have improved the cell service in Deerwood, as now our phones work as well there as they do in town so that unless I were to throw the phone into the lake and still have a thread back to the real world reminding me of work related things!

Our focus for the weekend was integrating compassion into our lives. Oh great, one more thing to do daily…but compassion isn’t so much a task as it is an overlay. Reminding yourself that others have a lot going on in their lives, see above, and working with them in an honest and empathetic way helps bring integration of self into the daily activities that keep us going every minute.

Being fully present wherever you are, and whoever you are with, is what matters. Love your whole life, do the things you are passionate about and overcome the feeling that “I’m faking it” or that “this will never be right”. Its right for you and you are authentically doing what you love and being with people that are important to you, family, friends, clients, and associates.

So forget balance, be present and love your whole life, integrating it into a single whole you!

 

Hey… I would love to see you! Give me a call to schedule a meeting a couple of weeks out! We can find a healthy fun place to grab a bite to eat and to catch up on life!

-Tom Wasmoen, CEO/Managing Principal

Safe & Sustainable

Infinity can be reached with a little planning and sustainable operation. Our beautiful sailboat can, for some, reach those deep feelings and distant lands. We need to plan for sustainable operations and a safe return.

Understanding a little history sheds light on the building codes that specify minimum standards for construction to protect public health and safety. Our own state of Minnesota building code was established in 1965, yet, many standards developed only as recent as the accessibility code in 2007. The ADA (U.S. Dept. of Justice Americans with Disability Act) arrived in 1990 and affords protections against discrimination and provides accessibility accommodations. Back in Minnesota the first time the state building code is required to be enforced statewide began in 2008. Which finds us better equipped to design and construct access to the built environment.    

We at Firm Ground design buildings and places to be sustainable even in the smallest ways. Our experience and planning strive to provide aesthetics, and operational value, and involves thought and research even with the little details, through the health, safety and building code standards.

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Behind the Scenes: Firm Ground Has a New Library!

At Firm Ground, we’re looking to keep the most up to date information of building materials and products at our fingertips to give our clients the best options to build a better space to suit their needs.

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In our library, we keep literature and physical samples of architectural and interior building materials, lighting, furniture, and acoustical products. We have an open-door policy to let product reps come and update their product offerings during business hours, but we do ask that any meetings to discuss new product be arranged ahead of time to make sure that the applicable team member is available to meet. Have a product that you would like us to see? Come on by or drop us a line! We would love to meet with you!

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Keeping our materials and literature organized allows our team at Firm Ground to work more efficiently to simply find inspiration, or to find the perfect material to satisfy the design requirements. During the design process, we find it helpful to be able to pull schemes together to best be able to visualize the space. Having the most up to date samples allows our team to pull together fresh material schemes.

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Material scheme for a breakroom and conference room remodel

A little about the design process:

 

It all starts with Schematic Design phase. First, we meet with our clients in a programming meeting and we listen to their wants and needs for a new space. We ask key questions that will assist us in initial space planning to provide creative solutions to make their space function the way that they need. In this meeting we may also have a Visual Listening session to gain a general idea of what the client wants for the aesthetic of their space. Next, our design team will get to work in drafting the preliminary space plan and go through a code analysis to determine what code considerations that the specific space might require. This part of the process is largely about how the space will function. Once we review the plan with the client, we will take the notes and comments and move on to the Design Development phase to continue developing the project.

 

The Design Development phase includes refinement and revision of the initial design. Our design team will begin to make the project come to life by adding details and integrating the interior material inspiration. This portion of the project is about how the space will look and feel. The design team will begin pulling material schemes together for the client to choose from. The client will them begin to make final decisions on the layout of the plan and material selections so our team can begin drafting the construction documents. Once decisions are made, there should be enough information for the contractors to begin pricing out the project.

 

The Construction Documents phase begins when preliminary pricing is received. Our design team can then make any revisions to the design necessary to satisfy any budgetary and time constraints. We then draft the details for the documents necessary to tell the contractors how to build the project. These documents will also be submitted to the city in order for the contractor to be able to pull a permit, if necessary.

 

Once the contractor has submitted for the building permit, our work moves into the Construction Administration phase of the design process. At this point in the project, our design team responds to questions from the city, or the contractor, to make construction run smoothly to hopefully provide an end result that our clients will love!

 

10 Steps to a Great Hotel PIP

One of the most stressful events in hotel ownership can be the dreaded Property Improvement Plan or PIP from your respective hotel brand. These programs ensure consistency across brand properties to give customers a consistent level of service and comfort that can be invaluable to keeping a hotel full. The obvious downside to these plans is they usually cost the property owner hundreds of thousands of dollars on changes they may not agree with or be ready to accomplish. The best way to make this process as painless as possible is to remember the following ten points.


1.      Clean your hotel and do routine maintenance before PIP inspection.

The overall impression of a property can weigh heavily on an inspectors mind. If they perceive the property to be old and dirty they will mandate as many changes possible to bring it up to the highest standard. Some dirty grout can cost thousands when you are forced to re-tile the space because it didn’t show as well as it could have.


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2.     The most important detail to be worked out in a PIP is the schedule.

The overall schedule can help make sure the construction starts at the most opportune time of the year so your hotel is not torn apart in the busy season. Once the project goals are defined, scheduling work and laying out phases with a contractor can mean the difference between guests not noticing construction and asking for a refund. Work hours are critical and basic, but you can also stage sections of the hotel to be renovated. Consider doing all room on each floor at one time. This way guests do not need to traverse through the construction area. The plans will also need to accommodate breakfast areas when the lobby is down and other common space.



3.     Review hotel PIP and rank importance of requirements.

Depending on the brand there is always leeway to bush back on changes being required. Make sure you are not pushing back on the wrong thing. One of the biggest mistakes that can be made in this area is trying to do minimal work to common areas. The first impression of a hotel is critical. You want your guest to walk into a bright new clean lobby as it sets the tone for their stay. This is true even though they will be spending 98% of their time in their room. With a great first impression you start out on the right foot rather than spending the rest of the guest’s stay trying to overcome a negative impression.

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4.     To mirror the world outside, hotels are increasingly putting more emphasis in technology and electronics.

In the past, PIP projects required changing finishes and furniture. As technology creeps into every facet of our lives it does so too in hotels. Soon every room in the country will need it’s own WIFI with large capacities for multiple tablets and devices. We also see requirements for streaming services for every room whether it is provided by the hotel or just needs to be accommodated for guest’s devices. All of that streaming content needs better infrastructure as well as services that may require multiple connections to service providers if there are speed limitations in the area. Ever increasing as well is power needs for rooms. Places to charge phones, tablets and laptops are being required in every corner and this could mean upgrades to electrical panels and service in addition to adding outlets and USB ports.




5.     As with any construction project this process takes longer than you think.

This is especially true of hotel PIPs because of all the approvals needed. The design team needs to work with you, the owner, to make sure the changes fit your style and budget, but those changes all need to be approved by the central office of your brand flag. Those reviews and comments often take 30 days before you receive feedback requiring changes or authorizing the construction to proceed. Unless you plan to do everything the brand corporation asks for exactly from prototype, assume there will be some back and forth before the plan is accepted.

 

6.     Decide early if you want to follow brand standards strictly or try to make your property somewhat unique.

Emphasis is being put on brand standards of care and comfort but allowing hotels to have unique pieces to help create a local feel people want on vacation. While this is gaining traction with many brands there still will be some negotiation. It is also not safe to assume your unique feel will be less expensive than the brand standard.

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7.     Be prepared to pay extra for accessibility upgrades.

Handicapped accessibility is nothing new but there is an increased emphasis on these requirements. Hotels are one of the largest targets for lawsuits dealing with accessibility. In all PIPs there will be requirements to conform to federal accessibility laws. For existing hotels this can be very painful and expensive. There are times when some of the more expensive changes can be excused by the brand but that still leaves the hotel owner open to lawsuits as the owner. There are ways to escape upgrades mandated by the brand, but owners will need to sign paperwork assuming all responsibility for accessibility deficiencies.

Working with the design team alternatives may be found that can effectively respond to the intent of the Federal Standard. If the property has historical significance the flexibilities are greater. 

 

8.     One of the best investments for your money is hiring quality designers and contractors.

Both parties are going to help you accomplish all the goals above. At the end of the day the disruption to your guests is going to be the most expensive part of the remodel. Having outstanding professionals help you through the job will keep the plans running smoothly and make sure the project matches as close to your vision as possible. They also allow you to stay focused on what you do best. If you want, or need, to spend long hours on this project that means you are losing time being as profitable as you can be. A great project team will relieve stress not add to it.

 

9.     Once the renovation project is over there is still one final important piece to the cycle.

You need to take professional photography of the newly remodeled spaces. A PIP is aimed (whether it feels like it or not) to increase revenue. Customers would rather stay at a new hotel rather then the old one. In order to show off the money you have invested get quality photographs taken and put them all over your website, Facebook, Instagram, and local newspaper. Make sure the reservation services of the Brand Flag also has these photographs on their website.

 

10.  The overarching piece to this process is everything is negotiable.

Brand corporations and circumstance may not play in your favor but with a great team having your back, the PIP can be molded into be what you make of it. Remember to take advantage of the buying power offered by your Brand Flag and promote the remodel to everyone including the local Chamber of Commerce and Convention Bureau!

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The Senior and Multi-Family Housing Movement

The United States is at a turning point in regards to its housing needs and desires. There is a growing trend in people less apt to own their home and more likely to live in a multi-family building. This trend is not being driven by millennials alone, a large portion of this move consists of baby boomers. For years now we have been seeing Minneapolis explode with apartment buildings. This push is to serve a market that for a long time has been under served but also is accommodating a shift in thinking. At Firm Ground we have been riding this wave.

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 The big driver of this move it a change in life style. Both millennials and boomers are looking for the same thing. They want to live in vibrant high energy communities with building and neighborhood amenities. People are moving out of their houses to downsize in space and maintenance. Once the kids have moved out many couples are left with large unfilled single-family homes. This change is giving people the option to choose an encore living arrangement. In these new apartment buildings, people are benefiting from on-site exercise facilities, common rooms, pools, roof top decks, and the opportunity to live in an urban location. All these appeal to a broad audience.

 

The other sector leading the push for apartments is the catered living and memory care facilities. For early baby boomers this is becoming a needed service. One in 10 people over the age of 65 has Alzheimer’s. With a large portion of the population aging, companies are looking to fill this niche. These facilities are all about adapting to the residents and their specific needs. An important factor in the built environment that we are designing for is around the change in sight. As eyes age they need more light. The best light to provide is natural sun light in a controlled way. The natural light helps aid in circadian rhythm for sleep and alertness during the day.

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It is not necessarily a new trend but there is a larger focus on incorporating natural light into the entire building. Some of our current projects are adding clearstory windows to bring light into the center of the building instead of just the perimeter. There have also been advancements in LED technology that can shift light sources throughout the day from a cool blue light in the morning to a warm orange feel in the evening. These subtle changes help reinforce the body’s natural cycle and improve the resident’s health.

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 With these changing needs and attitudes on housing the American dream is shifting. Owning a piece of property is not seen as a necessity to fulfilled living. It is the environment we live in that is the largest contributing factor and people are putting a higher value on that. While we can’t expect apartments to continue to be built at the same rate they are currently, I think an increased percentage of people will find themselves wanting to live in multi family buildings in more dens environments in the decades to come.

-Jeff Schuler, Project Architect, Partner

Behind the Scenes: Revit Management & Capabilities

For the better part of our existence Firm Ground has wielded the mighty Autodesk software Revit. We use Autodesk products constantly for all architectural drawings, from conceptual design to construction documents, but what is it, how do we leverage it, and what happens behind the scenes to provide our clients with the most fulfilled design experience possible? Well, I’m here to give you a brief rundown of the tools we use to produce pure architectural gold.  

As part of our software subscription we enlist a product called FormIt Pro, a tool for developing early conceptual design. It has a similar interface and feel to SketchUp (some of you might be familiar with Sketchup, the key here is streamlined and user friendly). Because of its familiarity FormIt provides for quick development of conceptual design. With only a few lines drawn and a subsequent click or two the user can take two dimensions to three. Moreover, with a Revit “plug-in” your now 3D conceptual building in FormIt will easily transfer into a Revit file where is can be further developed. FormIt can be a powerful tool for taking quick conceptual designs to the next phase.

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In taking the next step from conceptual design to beyond we use Revit, our workhorse. This is where we hone our schematic design into construction documents. Revit’s out of box set of features, such as consultant coordination, building performance analysis, and visualization provides clear wayfinding for our clients through the entire design experience. We can provide our clients with visualization for several design options, walk throughs and an almost instant revision of floor plans; clients will know exactly how their projects are being developed and truly feel like a part of the process. Ultimately, Revit is an extremely powerful tool for both our consultants and clients and were always attempting to find new ways of leveraging its full potential.


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Things to come: our effort over the upcoming months will be to establish a clear workflow to use Revit’s building performance capabilities. We will be utilizing Insight Building Analysis a software that works beautifully with Revit to give early benchmarks of a conceptual building’s performance.  A great way to design better buildings and save cost over the long haul.

-Jacob Perez, Project Designer

Advocating for Our Clients

Okay, I am going to admit something here… getting up on my soapbox…bear with me…

I attend neighborhood meetings for projects we are working on with our clients and there is often some surprise at the reactions they receive from neighbors towards them and their proposed project. It can sometimes be quite shocking how passionate people can become about something new they don’t understand or that scares them somehow.

Residents, neighbors, and business owners need to take this active role in the design process and what happens in their communities. In a perfect world I would love to have them come to learn, ask questions, make suggestions, and take part in the process in a positive and growth oriented way. Looking at the long term, “planting trees they won’t be around to sit under”, making their communities better and more economically sound.

It’s our job in the entitlement process to educate the city officials, neighbors, and others concerned about a proposal so they can appreciate the amount of work that has gone into a project by the time it is realized.

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We do quite a bit of work in the supportive housing market. It is a personal passion of mine to make sure that we educate and provide equitable housing for everyone including people with mental health issues. There is so much that isn’t talked about or is misunderstood. We try to bring clarity.

The major point I always try to convey is that these are people in your own neighborhood. It’s the person that lives next door to you that has struggled for years with depression, the person across the street you’ve waved to for years but never really got to know whose life begins to cave in around them with the sudden loss of a loved one. The elderly fellow down the street who jumped in the car to run to the store and ended up in Hibbing because he got lost on the way to the store down the street that he’s gone to for 30 years. There are literally hundreds of different mental health diagnoses and mostly its people who need a little more love, tenderness, and care in their lives than they can find by themselves.

I say let’s give people a chance to create living environments that support our neighbors and friends to find solace and healing in a carefully structured and protected space. And let’s let them be able to find that space in the same neighborhood they’ve lived in and loved all of their life.

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And don’t worry that it will affect your property values adversely, it won’t, and it doesn’t, in fact the opposite is true. New development of any kind will raise values around it not depress them.

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At Firm Ground we design buildings to be good neighbors, respond to landscaping, buffering, and traffic safety. Building codes, zoning ordinances, licensing regulations, health inspections, and the entire entitlement process ensure that any new building will meet the high standards of the community, fit its environment, and generally be a good neighbor.

Okay, time to put my soapbox away!

No wait, one more thing! We advocate for our clients, we stand at your side, tell your story and work with you to present a project that meets your needs and the those of the greater common good. Call me to talk more about how we help navigate the entitlement process, we are experts.

-Tom Wasmoen, Principal, CEO

 

Tour of Prague with Nick

In October of 2018, I traveled with one other friend (my former classmate and fellow future architect) to Germany with the primary goal of experiencing Oktoberfest. We spent a total of 10 days in Europe, with most of that time spent in Munich for the various festivities of Oktoberfest. While Munich is a beautiful city with interesting architecture in its own right, we decided we had to take a purely architectural diversion to the Czech capital city of Prague. Having spent nearly all of our money on German beer and authentic lederhosen in Munich, we were incredibly fortunate to find out that you can experience a large amount of Prague for extremely cheap.

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We stayed on the outskirts of the city center, in a neighborhood by the Vltava River called Karlín. The locals were keen to tell us how the neighborhood had been devastated by a 100-year flood in 2002, we even had dinner and drinks in a pub where the high-water line had been marked on the wall (about 14 feet above our heads. Yikes!) Though many historic buildings in the neighborhood had been restored (including the tiny old house we stayed on the second floor of, along with the giant Catholic cathedral across the street) in recent years, the neighborhood had reinvented itself as a hub for international business, sporting many new and interesting office buildings on just the opposite side of our little house from the centuries-old cathedral.

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We probably logged over 20 miles on foot during our two full days in Prague, which was exhausting of course, but I will stand by it as the best way to experience the city. Nearly every street, especially the closer we got to the Old Town, had interesting and unique buildings, many of which were hundreds of years old, and all of which had a story to tell. Beautiful, sweeping views of the entire city were in high supply as well and we often found ourselves on top of the hills and bluffs that surround the Vltava as we explored some of the many parks that surround the city.

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Eventually, we wandered our way over to Prague Castle, the “largest medieval castle in the world” which looks over the entire Old Town and the Malá Strana (meaning Lesser Town, quite literally the smaller portion of the old city which lies on the same side of the river as the castle). The castle is so massive that it encompasses many different palaces, houses, and churches just within its walls, and entrance to most of it is free. From here it was only a short walk across the Charles Bridge to the Old Town Square, which boasts the highest concentration of beautiful old buildings in the entire city, but also unfortunately the highest concentration of tourists.

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Though Prague’s history and culture fared well through both World War II and Soviet occupation, some relics of these periods remain. One such relic towered over us, just by the house that we stayed in; the National Monument on Vítkov Hill; featuring a huge, stark brutalist building and a giant equestrian statue of historic Czech figure Jan Žižka. From here on top of Vítkov Hill, you can easily see the city’s other major brutalist monument, the Žižkov Television Tower, which is considered by many to be one of the ugliest buildings in the world. Setting our own opinions aside, we made our way over to and eventually up to the top of Žižkov, where we found some of our best views of the city yet.

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Of course, we couldn’t leave Prague without visiting one of its modern architectural landmarks, Frank Gehry’s ‘Dancing House’. Though neither me or my travel companion were converted to Gehry-believers, we did both agree that the house was at the very least intriguing and impactful. It seeks (and succeeds) to defy the architectural norms and conventions of the surrounding city. Like it or hate it, much like the rest of Prague, it is whimsical, unique, and unparalleled in its storytelling.




 

 


This round, we bring you Jacob Perez!

After another unplanned hiatus, we bring you Jacob Perez, one of our talented Project Designers.

 

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Some time ago I embarked on a 2 ½ week road trip and visited 10 national parks on the west coast and four corner states, it was the one of the most adventurous times of my life. If I could live anywhere I think it would be on the road in a state of perma-travel, there are so many places to experience.

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What is your favorite book to read?

Reading for me comes in waves; I’ll consume a lot of text for a time and take periodic sabbaticals to reinvigorate the reading journey. One of my favorite reads is “The Seven Mysteries of Life”, written by Guy Murchie it has held my attention off and on for quite some time.

 

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What's the most daring thing you've ever done?

The most daring thing I’ve ever been a part of was traveling with a telecommunications tower crew; for just over a year I was a tower technician working in the Dakota’s and at times climbing over 500 ft daily til a project was finished.  I’ve never been afraid of heights prior to taking this position but it certainly tested my limits

 

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 What are your hobbies?

The big one for me is fishing. I ice fish in some of the harshest blizzards and in the summer, I spend as much time in the boat as I can.  Also, my wife and I recently adopted a retired Greyhound; he’s been a terrific addition to the family which has inspired the new hobby of dog walking. Wynthrope (our new greyhound) was born to sprint so we’ve also taken him to amateur “straight racing” events for fun.

 

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What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

My ideal weekend would go something like this: a nice slow morning and brunch with my lovely wife at J Selby’s or Birchwood Cafe, followed by a brisk walk or hike with our pup near Minnehaha regional park. I would of course leave just enough time to sneak a bit of fishing in. Lastly, I’d top it all off, with something of a deserving film from a few of my favorite directors: Paul Thomas Anderson, Wes Anderson, or Gustavo Santolalla which pairs nicely with a glass of sangria or barley wine.

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Introducing our newest Intern!

Kelly joined us last summer as an intern from the University of Minnesota. She stayed for part of the school year before studying abroad in Denmark. Now she is back with us and here to tell us a little about herself.

If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be?

Definitely going back to Copenhagen, where I studied abroad this past semester, so I could eat as much rye bread and brie as possible

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What did you want to be when you were small?

I used to do horseback riding competitions and dog agility classes, so probably an animal shower or rider, maybe a veterinarian. Anything that would involve hanging out with animals all day.

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What is your favorite childhood memory?

Going to the farmer’s market on the capitol square in my hometown (Madison, WI) with my family on Saturday mornings.

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What's your favorite family recipe?

My grandma’s molasses cookies, probably because it starts with 9 cups of flour…

What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

Outdoors, either going for a bike ride or hike and sitting around a campfire.

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What are your hobbies?

Experimenting in the kitchen, the latest adventure has been all things fermented (kombucha, kimchi, and sourdough pictured) 

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The (former) eternal intern Ryne

If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?

This one’s easy: Pizza. There’s nothing better than a hot circle of sauce, melted cheese and whatever toppings you can dream of.  I consider myself a connoisseur of frozen pizza specifically, but also really enjoying making my own zah from scratch.

What are your hobbies?

In the sudden surplus of time I’ve had since finishing up grad school, I’ve tried to fill it with hobbies old and new.  Reading, watercolor, camping/travel and film are some of my favorites.  I thoroughly enjoy hanging out with my cats Poppy (short for Poptart) and MJ (Michael Jackson/Jordan).

My baby girl Poppy

My baby girl Poppy

Hamm's and watercolor, what's better?

Hamm's and watercolor, what's better?

What’s your favorite zoo animal?

Rhino, it is my nickname after all.

What is your favorite childhood memory?

Travelling to all 50 states during summer road trips with the family, 49 of which were reached by car.  You see some incredible stuff when travelling by car that really sticks with you.

What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?

Old school video games, that I play with the same crew that I did in elementary school. Mario Party, Mario Kart and Pokemon will never get old.

When not playing Nintendo, we go to New York

When not playing Nintendo, we go to New York

What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

Architecture/design, what else did I do for 6 years in school?

What is your proudest accomplishment?

My master’s thesis project was gratifying as I feel like I able to fully represent my design voice with ideas and concepts I had been developing throughout grad school.

One of the thesis final drawings

One of the thesis final drawings

If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

Whenever I get back from a trip I always ask the question if I’d want to live where I went.  Most times I answer yes.  Places that have stuck out on this basis are New York City or Portugal.  Ultimately though I think I’d prefer to live near large expanses of the outdoors, either the desert or Boundary Waters.

BWCA

BWCA

 If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?

Lebron James- not only my favorite basketball player of all time, but perhaps one of the most inspiring humans on the planet

Werner Herzog- if you’ve ever seen one of his films, then you know how mesmerizing it would be to hear him tell stories around the dinner table

Then I’d give both Lebron and Werner a plus 1 because I’m sure whoever they brought would be equally interesting (and it’d make conversation less awkward at first)

MJ loves sitting in bags, rolling in the dirt and drinking toilet water

MJ loves sitting in bags, rolling in the dirt and drinking toilet water

Next Up! Sophia Jungbauer!

This week, we meet Project Designer Sophia Jungbauer!

1. If you could live anywhere, where would it be?

As an anthropology major, I love traveling to new places to explore new cultures and cuisines. I have a lot of German heritage and Europe in general is way ahead of the United States in terms of sustainability so I could see living in Germany for an extended period of time. 

2. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Risotto and Brussel Sprouts and Cabernet

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3. What are your hobbies?

I’ve always been a runner but post collegiately I’ve enjoyed trying out mountain biking too. Only 15 stitches so far! I also enjoy Nordic Skiing and have been helping coach Saint Paul Highland Park’s team (my alma mater) the past two years.

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4. If you could go back in time to change one thing, what would it be?

I think that experiences shape who you are, and everything happens for a reason. C'est la vie. That being said, somebody should have stopped my kindergarten bowl cut from happening….

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5. What's the tallest building you've been to the top in?

My aunt and uncle lived in NYC, so I had the chance to go to the top of one of the World Trade Centers in 2000 when my family was visiting for Thanksgiving.

6. What did you want to be when you grew up?

My dad grew up on a farm in Aberdeen, SD and he gave me his cowboy outfit. He also read my sister and I the Misty of Chincoteague books and Sand Dune Pony so I wanted to be a cowgirl.

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7. Are you related or distantly related to anyone famous?

My aunt Katie (Class) Marquard is a two-time winter Olympian who competed in long track speed skating. My mom’s side of the family all skated so I was on skates as soon as I could walk. I competed with Midway Speed Skating Club at the John Rose Oval until I was a senior in high school.

8. If you had a warning label, what would yours say?

Caution, clutz alert. May be a hazard to herself. (see #3)

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9. What's your favorite family recipe?

My dad is a really good chef and makes a killer Venison Diane. The best family recipe is my great grandma’s overnight buns, which are a sweet roll, like Hawaiian sweet rolls, but way better. My mom usually cooks them for all the holidays.

10. What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

Trail running followed by a big glass of chocolate milk and oatmeal pancakes. Then relaxing with a book in a hammock (with a bug net) and taking a nap

Grand Marais

Grand Marais

11.  What are you looking forward to this summer?

My husband and I are going to have a very busy summer! We have 8 weddings on the schedule for 2018, and will be celebrating our own first wedding anniversary on the day of the royal wedding. We are also in the process of building our own 28’ Tiny House on wheels! Also it’s baseball season and we’d like to make it to a Twins game or two!

Forest Park, Portland, OR

Forest Park, Portland, OR

Lets take a trip with Sarah

We are going to round out the month of April with our Interior Designer, Sarah Thuen. Sarah is also the newest member of the Firm Ground team!

Visiting Duluth

Visiting Duluth

1. What is your favorite thing about your career?

I love my interaction with clients. Its great hearing their vision for a project and seeing the reactions when the space actually starts coming to life!  

2. What did you want to be when you were small?

A lawyer – not sure why? If you know me now you know this would have been a terrible fit for me!

3. If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be? 

Tacos! You can have them more than one way!

Mochi

Mochi

4. What are your hobbies?

I love being outside in the summer and on the boat. Winter is for my travel time! Anywhere that has a beach is must for me!

5. Are you a clean or messy person?

Clean – I HATE clutter!

Bergen, Norway

Bergen, Norway

6. What's your favorite family recipe?

Norwegian Lefse! It’s a tradition at Christmas. Butter, Cinnamon  & sugar is the best way to have it for me!

The Man Who Started it All

This week we will meet Tom Wasmoen! As you may or may not know, Tom is the founder of Firm Ground, our CEO, and Managing Principal. We let Tom answer a few more questions so you can really get an idea of who he is, and what he brings to our organization and to you!

1. What is your favorite thing about your career?

Where do I begin, I love meeting new people every day and building relationships that last for years and years. Watching the team grow and stretch and get better and better with each passing year is the most rewarding part of what I do. Getting to build is also a pretty fantastic aspect of my career. The variety of projects and the success of our customers has to be number one on the list!

2. What is your proudest accomplishment?

My family!

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 3. What is your favorite book to read?

I read all the time and have a pile of books on my bedside table. Topics include business, science fiction, mystery, and historical fiction.

4. If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be?

Timesheets! Ha ha, just kidding.

I love meeting people and working through their vision for their projects. It’s the best part of the process and I would love to do it every single day!

5. If you could go back in time, what year would you travel to?

I had extended family in Chicago in the 1930’s of some prominence, my mom and her family travelled to Chicago to visit them. I have a bracelet her folks bought for her at Chicago World’s Fair in 1933. I would love to see the fairgrounds in 1933 and Chicago during that time. The style of the architecture and Art Deco created for the fair influences the design world still today!

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6. If you were a super-hero, what powers would you have?

Action Comics just issued #1000, Superman Celebrates his 80th birthday this year! Superman is the best, his greatest superpower is his capacity for Love! It is the basis of his being. The flying part is cool too!

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 7. If you could go back in time to change one thing, what would it be?

I would go back to Valentines Day this year and have done a better job of ducking as I crawled through the roof scuttle on a jobsite and not banged my head!

I read a lot of time travel fiction, anything else can really screw up the timeline and I like the way things are going right now so I’d keep it as it is!

8. If you could share a meal with any 4 individuals, living or dead, who would they be?

PT Barnum, Albert Einstein, J Paul Getty, and my grandfather Tom Burke

9. What's the tallest building you've been to the top in?

I’ve been to the top of The Sears Tower in Chicago, its where I asked Barb to marry me, and we’ve been to the top of the Empire State Building in New York together too!

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 12. What is your favorite childhood memory?

Riding our bikes to Clancy’s Toys at 50th & France to see how much we could get for our allowance money! Clancy’s Toyland was a magical place that I have never seen recreated anywhere, certainly not at Toys R Us or even FAO Schwartz in New York.

13. What three items would you take with you on a deserted island?

Barb, a satellite phone and a strong tent!

14. Do you collect anything?

More than Barb would like!

·         Hot Wheels, Corgis & Matchbox

·         Antique toys

·         Chicago World’s Fair ephemera

·         Antique postcards of amazing architecture

·         Disney

·         Books

·         Comics

·         Baseball cards

·         Lead Soldiers

·         Bells

·         Building sets from the 1960’s

·         Star Trek Stuff

15. What's your favorite zoo animal?

Just love Giraffes. Would love to live someplace where we could raise them!

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16. What's your favorite family recipe?

Not sure but it probably has something to do with Mac & Cheese!

17. What would you sing at Karaoke night?

What wouldn’t I sing on Karaoke night? Right now, I am totally hooked on the music form the movie The Greatest Showman! I’ve also been caught belting out a Garth Brooks song or two during a Karaoke night!

18. What did you think you would grow out of but haven’t?

A love for toys & the graphic design of comic books and the smell of fresh baseball cards coming out of the wrapper! And hell yes, I miss the gum!

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 19. What is the strangest thing you have come across?

On the beach, we found these sea creatures attached to the rocks, they looked like purple nerf balls and they weren’t jelly fish, they had a firm skin. They were kind of creepy…

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20. If you could convince everyone in the world to do one thing at one point in time, what would that thing be?

Pick up garbage in the ocean, along the beach, etc. and figure out how to safely recycle or reuse all of it!

21. What would be your ideal way to spend the weekend?

Travelling and exploring someplace new! Later, curled up with a book and a bowl of Mac & Cheese! A weekend trip to Disney World would also be an exceptional way to spend a long weekend!

22. What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?

Toys of the 1960’s especially Mattel Hot Wheels!

Architecture, the Partnering aspects of Design Build!

 

Getting to Know David Hanks

This week in our getting to know you series, Senior Project Designer, David Hanks!

1. Past accomplishment that drive my each day?

To this day, my years spent in the boy scouts, taught me to be prepared.  This moto is with me at work, to accomplish quality in all I do. The Ideal Scout bronze statue was given to me at age 14, and sets on my desk as a daily reminder.

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2. If you could live anywhere, where would it be? 

Minnehaha Falls sings the songs of life, water brings that life. Life includes work, enjoy it all.

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3. What is your favorite book to read?

J.R.R. Tolkien,  The Silmarillion, Part Three, the Quenta Silmarilion about the lives of the elves, and their love for life. We can work hard and gain the pleasures of being together.

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4. What are your hobbies?

Playing UNO card game with my kids. Quality, fun, and learn to be a better sport, even at work.

5. I wanted to be an architect in the seventh grade: Career day found an architect in my class, and that set the seed for my schooling.

Meet the Team! First up, Jeff Schuler!

Happy Monday! Welcome to our new installment on our blog where you get to really meet our Firm Ground team. In the upcoming weeks you will get a little more in depth view of who we are. Each team member has been asked a series of questions and asked to provide a few photos. First up we have Jeff Schuler, Project Architect and Partner at Firm Ground.

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1. What is your favorite thing about your career?

My favorite part is when we get to the end product of design when everyone can finally see what we have been talking about come to life. The most fulfilling part is when we get to the construction portion and we get to see something appear out of nothing and being able to collaborate with contractors to work through challenges to complete the project.

2. What is your proudest accomplishment?

Receiving my architecture license after 5 years of school, 4 years as an intern and seven 4-hour tests. It was the culmination of many years of my life working towards one goal.

3. What did you want to be when you were small?

Taller

4. If you could choose to do anything for a day, what would it be?

I love to drive and race cars. If I could do anything it would be driving a Ferrari through the alps with no speed limits.

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5. What's the tallest building you've been to the top in?

As every architect finds themselves in their life the tallest building I have been to the top is the Empire State Building

6. Are you a clean or messy person?

I am clean at home and messy at work.

7. What's your favorite family recipe?

The running joke I have with my family is my favorite recipe “wacky cake” which is a chocolate cake without eggs, the more common name as “depression cake” because it was perfected during the great depression when they could not get eggs.

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