DON'T FIGHT THE BUILDING
01 December 2016 - Troy Brummel
Starting a design project can be overwhelming. Designers and clients alike have a great deal to do when analyzing project goals and synthesizing them into a coherent project plan. On top of all that, today it is far too easy to become fascinated by the never-ending reels of Pinterest images. We see it; we want it and we’ve got to have it in our project. In reality, the troves of the internet’s imagery often cause a paralysis in the design process and hamper us from making the design decisions to best support our organizations. There are too many options to weigh, too many opportunities for great design lost, and no great reason to pick one solution over another.
Now, more than ever, it is important to see the buildings we occupy as the inspiration for the places we make. Buildings, while similar in many regards, are all unique, and offer the parameters necessary to guide our decision-making process with two key attributes: their unique structural systems and aesthetic character. Fighting these inherent qualities typically leads to inflated project budgets and schedules.
Structural systems are the most essential component of any building and they also define the spatial patterns that make up our buildings. If we try and force conditions into a space that doesn’t quite work, we tend to find friction with the structural system of an existing building. Most likely, one would not plan to interrupt a conference room with columns, but when our plans find conditions like these, we may find the need to modify structural elements and incur more cost to the project. While these moves may be necessary or worth the cost, depending on the project goals, modifying structural systems is not usually where clients like to spend their money.
Buildings have an inherent aesthetic based on their structural system, construction methodology, and age. We can use those to the client’s advantage in meeting their branding and cultural objectives. While aesthetics is often considered superfluous, it is human nature to surround oneself with objects that represent qualities we strive to embody. In that sense, environments set the tone for the activities which occur there. For example, exposing masonry bearing walls can convey an attitude of raw honesty or the installation of decorative wood molding conveys traditional values and a history of success. Finding buildings with the aesthetic characteristics that reinforce organizational culture and branding sets the tone carrying out an organization’s goals.
We all need inspiration from time to time and can find it virtually everywhere; however, I would encourage that the search starts by exploring your existing space. Jumping to the final details of a project causes us to overlook the higher-level problems related to how an organization functions, including the desired flow of building occupants through a space, necessary adjacencies of working groups, and functional relationships of work spaces to their supporting functions.
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