The Human Handprint

This weekend we witnessed the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. There is another monument in the making that few have heard about that, I feel, is just as important: The Memorial to Peace and Justice in Montgomery, AL.

An idea spearheaded by the Founder of the Equal Justice Initiative, Bryan Stevenson, and designed by architect Michael Murphy, The Memorial to Peace and Justice is an incredibly important step in the quest to heal our nation and its people.

Honoring the over 4,000 lives lost to lynching in the American South, the Memorial will be a place of reflection, as well as a place of rest until every soul can be identified and brought home.

Take 15 minutes today and watch the Ted Talk below. Be part of the solution. Be part of the change.


The Color of Your Collar


I love my sister. I love writing about my sister. She’s an amazing woman, mother and wife. A brilliant legal mind, a marathon runner, a strict vegan and the occasional background vocal to my lead on a James Taylor cover around the campfire – she is a force to be reckoned with. But my, oh my, that woman does NOT know how to use tools of any kind. Not a one. I don’t even like the thought of her using a corkscrew.

The tale of when she invited me for Thanksgiving – and, as a sidebar, asked me if I would be so kind as to bring along some basic hand tools to build my nephew a playhouse – has been told and retold for over a decade. I’ll keep this short by simply recounting the trip I made to Home Depot to buy a nail gun, chop saw, compressor, hoses, a grip of blades and a table saw after she mentioned that the lumber drop was scheduled for Wednesday morning.


I love my sister. I love building operable custom windows for a six-year-old. I do these things for her without question because she is my sister, and that’s what sisters do.

Most recently, she sent me a photograph of her hand, which she had clobbered – twice – with a sledgehammer while attempting to remove a rotted piece of wood out of a concrete fencepost footing. She had tried virtually everything she could think of to get that damn wood out, but nothing worked. And now, alas, she had a fractured hand. I refrained from openly mocking her – even though she deserved it, and even though that’s often what sisters do. Instead, I gently suggested soaking the wood in a wee bit of gasoline and lighting a match. I also suggested that she task my father with this chore, lest she burn down the back forty.

“Lo and behold, not only did your idea work, it was great family fun!” came the report. “I now have so much more respect for the hard labor that you do.”

I believe she meant that manual labor is not only hard, but that it also requires careful and practiced thought. Not that I am in prison.

By virtue of career path, my sister wears tailored suits, nylons and heels to work. She carries both a briefcase and purse made of the finest Italian leather. She drives a Mercedes. Her hair is perfect. In my movie, she wears thoughtfully chosen lipstick, a subtle spray of perfume, and a violin concerto whispers through the air while she rides a sparkling glass elevator to her penthouse office, where she is, of course, greeted with creamy espresso and Danish-du-jour.

Some of that is true.

I, on the other hand, am a hot mess of tangled hair pulled into a hairclip bought on sale at CVS, paint-stained shirts and ripped jeans. My boots are heavy and the arches are rolled toward the outside from climbing and straddling ladders. I drive a 22-foot, long-bed, crew-cab pickup truck. I carry a tape measure and a travel mug of lukewarm Lipton tea. I don’t wear makeup and I smell like the power tools and heavy machinery that pierce and sing through the air around me. I haven’t had breakfast in over 15 years.

All of that is true.

While we have chosen drastically different career paths post-college, the place where my sister and I still intersect is on a virtual Scrabble board – the white-collared attorney vs. the blue-collared contractor. My IQ is higher than hers by 2 points, which troubles her to no end and remains nearly impossible for her to admit without beading up in cold sweat. But in the middle of the night when we’re both struck up by insomnia, sitting about in footy-pajamas eating cold leftovers on opposite coasts, this is a place for us to meet on equal ground, to catch up, slow down, tune in, and have a laugh at the words we lay before one another, as much as at the secrets we share between us.

I beat her 99.99% of the time, but once in a while, I let her win. Because we’re sisters, and that’s what sisters do.


Changing the Who

Zaha Hadid's Sleuk Rith Institute, Cambodia

Zaha Hadid's Sleuk Rith Institute, Cambodia

One of the architects I work with on a regular basis sent me an piece last night from the NY Times with his own words: Note the comment re the construction industry... kindly remember us during your ascent Joan :)

With the passing of Zaha Hadid in March, there is much talk about the role of women in architecture. After reading the article (link below), I realized two things — I have never worked with a female architect (though I have met two and know of several), and I have never truly pondered the obvious absence of women in the architectural field or the ramifications of said absence on the industry.

Considering I am one of very few women in the country who work as a general contractor, I am well-aware, and know nearly all, of the handful of women who work in my capacity in Los Angeles. I also know what it means to build a company and blossom in a male-dominated field, though I've never thought of "construction" as a male-dominated field. I don't see the gender confines or a glass ceiling because, in my personal movie, they don't exist. I've simply thought of the building industry as a challenging place where I could bring something different and new to the table and, if I'm lucky, satisfy my internal creative. And I have.

Just like the women around me, and those who have come before me, I've changed things in this industry simply by being me. I hear it every day from clients, designers, architects, and the crews I stand side-by-side with in the field. I hear it from the young women who are coming up in the industry asking for direction, and from my peers who come to me for advice or a good venting. It's hard to name what "it" is because "it" is so many things. A softness that comes with being born a woman? A hardness that comes with living in the world as a woman? An openness? A determination? An understanding? A presence? A force? The ability to multitask? Communication skills? A hardy laugh? A gentle shoulder? Yes. All of that. And more. Just by the very nature of how women act and react, what we bring to the table, and to the field, changes the how and why of the industry. I suppose it's now time to get busy changing the "who."

I'm going to get on that. Stay tuned.


The Brewery Artwalk 2016

The Brewery Artwork is the longest-running original event of its kind in the country. Held in Spring and Fall, at The Brewery in Downtown Los Angeles, it is an event not to be missed.

Over the years, Dirty Girl Construction has been involved with several of the resident artists in creating custom pieces for our residential and commercial projects... and, of course, buying a few beautiful pieces of art for Joan's own personal collection.

This year, on April 2nd & 3rd, from 11:00 AM to 6:00 PM, over 100 artists at The Brewery Arts Complex will open their studios to the public. Located northeast of downtown Los Angeles, The Brewery Arts Complex is 16 acres of creative energy, artistic dreams, and a little piece of historic LA. It was an operating brewery from 1897 through 1979. Its rebirth as an arts complex began in 1982 with the passing of the Artist-In-Residence code that legalized renting live/work space in industrially zoned buildings.

The Artwork is free and open to the public. Free parking is available immediately adjacent to the facility. Visit for more information, directions and parking details.

Check out one of Dirty Girl Construction's favorite team members and artisans (also a longtime resident of The Brewery and former Artwalk President) giving a bit of history about The Artwalk in this video:

Barry Goldberg on The Brewery Artwalk