April 16, 2020
The global health crisis of the coronavirus pandemic has overturned every moment and corner of our day-to-day lives. In this new micro-series, Shop Talk: Home Work, we turn to our network of friends, colleagues and collaborators for comfort and community, and discuss how they’re adapting to work and life in this unprecedented era of uncertainty.
This week, we chat with Dan Weissman about how he’s finding a balance and routine between working and parenting at home, as a senior associate who manages multiple projects and junior staff, and as a husband and father of two young kids, ages 2 and 4.
Dan Weissman designs luminous environments as a Senior Associate and Director of Lam Labs at Lam Partners. He is a registered architect and award-winning lighting designer. In his free time, Dan enjoys practicing Bach on the mandolin, making art, tending to his garden and two very active children, and loves baking two sourdough loaves a week.
Dan leads the firm’s research and development efforts which includes a variety of academic, technology, and conceptual-based initiatives. In addition to his professional practice, Dan has also taught lighting and daylighting courses at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and published numerous articles and peer-reviewed daylighting research. In 2018, Dan was named as one of 40 under 40 international lighting designers by Lighting Magazine.
Tell us a bit about Lam Partners and your role at the firm.
Our firm has just under 30 people split between our offices here in Cambridge and in Pittsburgh, and we try to maintain a sense of a cohesiveness between the two. We renovated our space a couple of years ago and it’s a really wonderful place to work. I have a view of trees from my desk which is really nice.
I started working at Lam Partners in 2005 right out of undergrad, then left the firm in 2008 to go to grad school. I pursued my Master’s of Architecture at the University of Michigan and got really into large-scale systems thinking, landscape ecology, and urbanism, and ended up wanting to pursue a second degree. I got into the Master’s of Design Studies program at Harvard GSD, and after that worked at Safdie Architects. I came back to Lam Partners in 2014, where I’m now a Senior Associate and the Director of Lam Labs, our experimental lab that explore things outside of typical lighting projects —it’s what AMO is to OMA, you could say—but most of my time involves managing and directing design projects.
What is a “typical day” of work at Lam Partners, before the pandemic, and what are some ways you’ve transitioned to working remotely?
On any given day, it’s a mixture of sitting in digital space, either answering emails, on Slack, web conferences with clients, or designing in 3ds Max—which we use pretty heavily for all of our design study work—as well as Revit, or Rhino and Grasshopper for more advanced digital work and to conduct daylight analyses. A couple of years ago, we found that instead of traveling to a client’s office every time we wanted to have a design session, we could just jump on a web conference and bring up the 3D Max model to work through together. It’s been an incredibly efficient way to design and communicate with your client. In the last couple of years, I’ve also been managing other people more regularly, which has been an interesting change of pace and a very rewarding addition to my work.
One of the things that is really interesting about our current predicament is that on a day-to-day basis my work process hasn’t really changed that much, aside from the fact that now I have to get up every once in a while to wipe a four-year-old’s butt.
What’s your WFH setup at the moment?
I did not win the coin flip of getting a private office at home. I have my work desk area in the corner of our basement rec room that our kids play in. My wife is an artist and has one of the bedrooms in the basement floor as her studio, so she’s been painting and also teaching art at a local high school. She’s now teaching over web conference, so, our juggle with the kids has been interesting.
As a father of two kids, how has it been to balance work and parenting?
I have two very small children—one is two-and-a-half, and the other is four-and-a-half—so it’s been an interesting challenge. Luckily, we are in a good sweet spot with them: They are old enough to play with each other and keep each other occupied during the day, but young enough that they aren't missing out on substantial schooling. Their preschool has actually been incredibly proactive with sending out links and doing Facebook Live events all the time, though we sort of gave up on that stuff relatively quickly. We say that we don’t want them to be in digital space all the time, but we’re letting them watch more TV and use the iPad more than usual, just because there would be no way to manage it all otherwise.
Have there been any strategies implemented at Lam Partners to help accommodate these new day-to-day challenges, particularly for parents?
We’re still learning how to balance all of that with our regular workload. But what’s great about our office is how expectations are realistic and appropriate for folks in different stages of life. It was very clear that the parents on our team would not be able to work a 40-hour work week and stay sane—so that has been accounted for in our workload. So I’m technically expected to scale back a bit, but so far, it’s actually been okay. The kids have been relatively easy and we’ve been able to balance it, but we’ll see if that continues in the next couple of months.
On a personal level, what are some ways you’ve been trying to keep stress levels at bay, as the uncertainty continues?
I’ve definitely gone down some news cycle rabbit holes that have been bad for my mental health, so now I try to avoid it as much as possible. I normally listen to a lot of podcasts, but right now I can’t find any that aren’t talking about it so I’m listening to audiobooks instead.. I cook and bake for the family, and play music. The kids are also really helpful in keeping us present because they demand attention. They don’t fully understand what’s going on outside of our four walls, and aside from when they’re being a total pain in the ass, they’re really adorable and fun.