Philanthropic Architecture

As an architect, there is a certain type of satisfaction when working with non-profits. It requires an understanding of how to find a balance between providing a high quality product, but in a cost effective way. The clientele and/or staff must feel comfortable, but donors should be encouraged to give. Listening to the board with multiple opinions provides design input, but everyone cannot be pleased. It is important to determine what is most important for the most successful results without becoming overwhelmed with information. Regarding time, there should be a real commitment to provide the necessary time in order to get the project right, even if the fees may not be quite commensurate. It is our duty as architects and interior designers to make a non-profit project successful, maybe even more than other for-profit projects.

Stay relevant

After working in this industry for over 25 years, though I hate to admit, I often think about Simon Cowell on American Idol (fyi, he’s not my favorite celebrity) saying to contestants, “You must be relevant.” What does that mean for an architect? It could mean different things. It could mean to adjust one’s design aesthetic, depending on the project’s location or costs or trends in the industry. It could mean focusing on different types of projects, whether residential, commercial, cultural or tenant finish outs, depending on the market. It could mean changing your source of revenues from architectural design to interiors to furniture procurement or even product design. It could mean updating your social media presence through your website, SEO or PR. We’ve done all of these periodically and consistently throughout the years. Never get too comfortable.

Use a registered architect

Let me explain how a person becomes a licensed architect. We attend a university or college and receive a B Arch, (5 year program) or an M Arch (equal to 6 years of architectural education). After we graduate, we meet extensive requirements as an intern and ultimately take the exams. Exams require a tremendous amount of studying and commitment and equal approximately 2-3 days’ worth of time to pass. It is grueling and an impressive achievement. Once exams are passed, as “registered” architects, we must continue to uphold our license responsibilities by taking a minimum of 21 hours per year of continuing education. As licensed architects, we are also licensed interior designers, require expensive insurance and have earned the honor of calling ourselves architects, which only a licensed architect may use next to his or her name. Residential projects do not require licensed architects. All commercial architecture requires the design and associated work to be completed by a licensed architect. It is illegal for a non-licensed architect to practice commercial architecture. Don’t be fooled or convinced by low fees or other reasons to hire a non-licensed architect. Non-licensed architects sometimes hire licensed architects to stamp their drawings. This is unethical. Ask questions and make sure they have a license. It will only benefit the owner and other licensed architects in our industry.

Wow!

I recently came across Vincent Callebaut’s proposal for rebuilding Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. I had never visited the original, though we studied it intensely in architecture school. The church’s architectural history and impact on what I do for a living is priceless. After seeing the renderings produced by Callebaut’s firm, it became extremely apparent to me what this world needs right now. It needs more Vincent Callebauts. His brave and extremely risky design responds to both the need to rebuild a piece of long standing, passionate history and an acknowledgment that the world is changing. Religion is changing. The environment is changing. People are changing. His design addresses all those issues in one sweeping stroke of a pencil, or computer generated vector line, whatever worked in his office. His design reflects Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris’ nod to its religious architecture, while challenging historical norms and an inherent acceptance of what “has always been right.” He turns design on its head to reinvent what Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris’ architecture has kept tried and true throughout the years. By incorporating into the design a garden for homeless people to care for and an all glass ceiling to connect to the environment, he still respects the church’s shape and form in a brilliant manner. We right now do not need to start over in this world, as some may believe. We cannot go backward as some may wish. We need to take a look inside ourselves, be honest about our history, be brave about our future and be true to our soul. I can only hope that the powers that be select Callebaut’s design. It is truly spectacular.

                   

When Indoor is Outdoor

We recently completed a restaurant project for an owner that wanted a space to function as both interior dining/bar and an exterior covered deck. How can a restaurant achieve both, one might ask? Through the use of materials suitable for exterior use like porcelain tile floors and cypress wood walls and a commercial line of outdoor furniture from a residentially known company, we achieved this duality of spaces. Glazing opens up the spaces and welcomes the outdoor environment inside. Sliding glass doors that disappear into a pocket give total flexibility to the space connecting it to an adjacent covered deck. When closed, they allow for a conditioned space, but visually allowing the patron to see outside. Large double glass doors stay open during temperate climates, but when closed, again remind diners where they are, close to the water. It is possible to achieve both types of spaces in one design.

There is no “I” in team

We have always had the pleasure and opportunity to work with clients who make decisions based on a team approach. A team brings opinions. A team brings challenges. A team brings ideas.

It always amazes me how often I hear stories about projects where the client, the architect, the engineers and the contractors are all separate, not engaged, and literally hand off each phase of their responsibility to the next person in line. The client finds himself or herself isolated without consultants or supporters. The architect completes his/her work in a bubble. The engineers get no direction. And the contractor is on his own to price, coordinate and construct.

There is no better formula for success than creating a team. Communication between each member of that team ensures that the client understands and approves the design. It ensures that the architect listens and responds properly to the client. It ensures that the architect coordinates details and systems with the engineers. It ensures that the contractor is involved from the beginning so that he understands the design, the schedule and the budget. Ultimately, it ensures that every team member has played a part in the entire process and respectively influenced the final design and project completion. That is the definition of a successful development.

Nostalgia in renovations

Sometimes, if one chooses to renovate a space with some history, whether a restaurant, a residence or even a building exterior, an opportunity presents itself for reinvention, rather than completely starting over. Renovations provide the ability for designers and architects to incorporate elements into the new design from the past. Rather than ignoring what was there before, we can figure out ways to include elements such as specific pieces of furniture, light fixtures or even a material used in one way originally but transformed into another in the new design. Renovations are often inherently nostalgic and they should be treated as such. A good renovation finds the balance between old and new, but more importantly, between creating a new experience while keeping the essence of the previous design.

Renovation is not Preservation

It is human nature to gain comfort with what was originally designed, built or installed, before a renovation. The idea of what will be designed gets outweighed by what we already liked and disliked. We may lean towards furniture that we grew up with; a bar countertop we drank at each night or even those first dollar bills the business made, put up for nostalgic reasons over the years. Our minds get caught visualizing or desiring these previous elements rather than looking forward to what a renovation can inspire.

Renovating a building or space refreshes, upgrades and even recreates the experiences patrons or residents or employees encounter once completed. Remember, there is a huge difference between renovation and preservation and we should not confuse the two. Preservation is meant to preserve what was originally built, most often associated with historic places or sometimes associated with a simple appreciation or attraction to the original design. Preservation is meant to copy or keep what was originally built.

Renovation, on the other hand, is an opportunity. It is an opportunity to make change and provide a newer, better experience than before through the use of design. Renovation can keep the essence of what was originally designed, but not exactly what was originally built.

By Jebulon (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

VR is not perfect

Virtual reality isn’t for everyone. Well, at a high quality, I actually think it is and most people love it. But VR at a low quality … can give you vertigo. The higher the quality, the less staccato the movements. It’s also more expensive, but hey, it’s only money and extremely fun to use.

It is also not for every type of space. Smaller, tighter spaces are not conducive to the 360 degree motion inherent with VR. Talk about nausea. Larger interior spaces are perfect for VR. Fly-throughs are great because they keep you moving and balanced. Though hallways can be claustrophobic, walking down a hallway can be fine as long as you’re not stationary. Exterior buildings work well. Context becomes extremely important so one feels as if it’s real and you’re actually standing outside.

VR may not be perfect, but once you experience it, it is just so cool.

In the blue trunks … 2D, and in the red trunks … 3D

So what’s better, a 2D presentation or a 3D presentation? The answer is neither. The answer is both.  The answer depends on the project and the answer depends on the end product. In all of our presentations, we have found a consistent pattern in how we express our design to the client. First a sketch, typically hand done whether rendered or not, then a more accurate plan based on an Autocad drawing, allowing us to determine real dimensions, adjacencies and site constraints. Then we take it vertical, as a model, so it can be rendered in perspective, sometimes abstractly, sometimes photo quality. And now, we put it into virtual reality for the client to truly experience the design. Ironically though, in the end, we go back to the beginning.  We create product specific to the presentation, whether for marketing, for sales or for construction. The hand done sketch may entice that idealistic buyer. Actual floor plans may succeed in gaining a team’s approval of the project and a virtual reality tour may just wow everyone for that next big job. I think it’s a draw.