Posts Tagged ‘architecture’

By:  Sam Miller, RA, NCARB, LEED AP | Senior Project Manager

Sam MillerCreating architecture involves balancing many variables.  Design professionals hold all this lightly, meditating on what to bring forward and what to leave behind.  We can think of design as living inside a container of sorts, a set of boundaries – limits on what we may do.  These take many forms: a structural material can only span so far.  Finishes are beautiful, but flammable, a hazard unless mitigated by a sprinkler system.  A client has a limited budget.  In short, boundaries are essential and real.  This is design’s first question: what is needed and where are the limits?

A wise colleague and I explored the importance of boundaries almost 20 years ago during a dialogue about what we believed constituted high quality design.  Without boundaries, design usually spirals into chaos.  Creating and managing a quality design process demands an understanding of boundaries and the sense to know and keep track of changes as we go along.  Quality design process is the heart of a successful practice.

So what happens?  The strategic view is to imagine design as a continuing series of inquiries:  we seek an understanding of a project’s limits, its boundaries.  We gather information, synthesize a solution, and present ideas for feedback.  The solution can be part of the whole or a full vision of the architecture.  Once we have comments (new information) the evolving design takes up this information and the loop begins anew.  Building furniture provides a good analogue: rough wood is shaped, cut, finished and assembled into the final product.  Before the wood worker begins, he or she knows what is intended: perhaps a dining room table of a certain size, finish, and features.  These are the boundaries, part of the program for the project.  We are obliged to put a conceptual fence around a design problem whether the work is creating a potting shed or a mixed use high rise.

One of the traditional saws in architectural practice is the idea of scope, quality and cost.  There’s also time or schedule, intellectual capital, and available resources in staff, skill, creativity, and technology.  Beyond the intellectual or administrative work of design, there is the very real world of construction: can a local builder provide the skill to install a particular building system?  Will a material choice hold up over time and meet the needs of an Owner?

Over the years we have learned that as complexity increases, a certain level of unpredictability enters, then lingers.  Strange, unexpected events derail what seems straightforward.  Moving decisively from question to answer gets more complicated and difficult.  An answer to a question has four answers and not one.  Or no answer at all.  Research yields more threads to chase down.

We use the word “friction” with our clients to share the variety of uncertainties presented during design.  Friction in the process takes differing forms.  In any given project the design team not only answers to the client, but the requirements of building codes, climate, site, local jurisdictional requirements for zoning or utilities, specialized review requirements depending on the project, plus the impact of financing.  Each of these affects design.

Here is an example of principles and boundaries in a project for a client in southern Indiana.  The image below is the first notion of how to express the architecture in a manner that supports the client’s mission and communal image: modern, forward looking, innovative.

Johnson Memorial MOB - Original

First design concept from June of 2015

The vocabulary for the building was inspired by the architecture of the client’s existing facilities and the program for a 12,000 square foot medical office building with room for two future tenants on a suburban site.  Boundaries included a carefully reviewed budget process, detailed design review with the Owner’s leadership team, a relatively tight site, oversight by the State Department of Health and so on.  Below is the final rendering, a close approximation of the final appearance of the building, now under construction.

Johnson Memorial Health

Johnson Memorial Health  final design now under construction

Although aspects of the appearance are shifted and morphed, the basic shape of the design has held: a distinctive canopy to easily identify the entrance, a strong overall visual image to delight the eye, a thoughtful composition of materials.  This consistency is part of using boundaries as a methodology to steady a design concept for the duration of the process.

Technology and Progress in Architecture

By: Sam Miller, Senior Project Manager in the Architecture Department

_MG_0004

 

 

 

 

In architectural practice we may come to believe that every new technology represents an improvement, real or imagined, over work from the past. Common sense suggests this is true without further inquiry, but a more fine grained look into the past and real life work reveals some interesting oppositions to this notion.    One of the tensions within design is the desire to experiment with new materials and building systems to further the artistic and functional potentials of our work.  Choices about materials and technologies used over time is a result of the interaction of skill, location, cost and creativity.  Some technologies are lost due to shifts in how building materials are produced.

Below is a photo of the water fountain in the main lobby of Louis Sullivan’s Peoples Savings & Loan Bank in Sidney, Ohio.

Sam's picture

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo by Sam Miller

 

The green material forming the water fountain’s top is glazed terra cotta, popular in the late 19th and early 20th Century.  For ornamental detail, the material was perfect for a designer like Sullivan.  However, times have changed.  The use of terra cotta now is almost non-existent save for a small number of historical restorations in any given year and only a few manufacturers remain. The material is very expensive, only used sparingly, if at all, by designers.

Many ancient materials remain in continuous use today and have been improved via technology. Brick is an example:  current use of brick is ubiquitous in modern construction and the material effectively comes in nearly unlimited color, texture and size.  Also, materials are adapted to mimic others and provide superior durability at often lower cost.  For example, architectural precast concrete sometimes takes the place of limestone.  Precast concrete is often touted for greater durability and lower price.  The size of pieces needed, size of structure, detail, and lead time play into the design team’s choices as well.

The question we often ask ourselves in day to day practice is: How does a particular technology improve what we do? There’s movement across the entire spectrum of building materials, a relentless development of more, newer, better.  This is not always the case.  A well-made, durable material always remains just that.  And, like it or not, there’s almost inevitably a close correlation between quality and cost.  Broader questions push the design professional into thinking about quality in a broad context:  what does this do for my client?  How does it represent her institution or brand?  How does a material or system choice support the broad goals of a design concept, the needs of a community?

More often than not a single theme or organizing idea emerges from our design reveries. We discover resonance in an idea we choose to present to the client.  This is where the rubber meets the road:  If the client is pleased, the pieces begin to fall into place.  The process is seldom neat, but the steady collection of form and substance around a good design theme with a balance between technology, old or new, and respect for the financial boundaries of a client yields results that get built.  At a minimum we hope our clients are delighted.  In a larger context, if our work serves our clients and the broad public comes to appreciate the value of quality design, the results point to the thoughtful use of various technologies.  The evolution of building materials is fascinating, a continuing cycle of slow advancement in some cases and explosive innovation in others.