Posts Tagged ‘Awards

10
Sep
13

Design Wisdom: Practice Passionately.

The “P” element in my alphabetic mnemonic list for successfully practicing design is:

Practice Passionately.

When you are “in the zone” of your craft, you feel it, and others do too. Cultivate it.

If you’re not engaged in what you’re doing, no one else will be either. If you’re not learning and passionate about what you’re doing, it’s time you made some changes – for everyone’s sake.

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Feel the excitement

One of the most fundamental joys we experience as human beings is the mastery of a skill. Starting as a beginner one feels exhilaration in doing something successfully for the first time. But this isn’t true mastery. Mastery isn’t about if you will succeed, but how well you succeed. True mastery, in art forms especially, isn’t just a matter of attaining a result – it’s about how well you performed in getting there. Think about a chef or a musician. Their mastery is not about being able to reproduce a recipe or tune, but in how they perfected or subtly transformed the composition.

In the company of a Master

Ironically, it seems to me, the pleasure experienced by witnessing someone else’s mastery is often far more intense than that felt by the artisan themself. (Indeed, masters are far more likely to be self-critical than self-congratulatory!) Think of the last time you were in the presence of someone at the top of their game. It’s enough to give you goose bumps.

The witnessing of mastery is a large part of why watching the Olympics or many other spectator sporting events are so popular. And it’s not just sports. Television has profiled people in virtually every walk of life from fishing to sculpting to car repair – showcasing people’s expertise and passions. In literature, John McPhee has written numerous penetrating accounts of people and their vocations (e.g. The Deltoid Pumpkin Seed on body development, Looking for a Ship about a U.S. Merchant Marine, and A Sense of Where You Are which chronicled Bill Bradley’s college basketball career. As we become witnesses (spectators) to mastery, we feel respect and awe for the accrued knowledge and heart that the specialist has brought to bear on their chosen vocation.

The rewards of passion

As an architect (or designer of any type) you want to be at the top of your game. You want to be challenged and excited – indeed passionate – about the work you are doing. It makes life more interesting – for you, and everyone else. The greater your mastery and passion about your art, the more likely you are to attract people who get energized by you and your passions. So it’s a win-win.

An example from design practice

Probably the most damning praise I have ever gotten was from a residential client. It went something like this: “My husband and I know that we didn’t take your design advice on one particular issue and proceeded otherwise, but in retrospect we wish you had advocated more strongly for what you believed. You were right.” Ouch. Double ouch.

The lesson there was that one’s role as a designer is definitely a balancing act. While a designer has to listen and be attentive to a client’s interests and requests, it can’t be at the expense of their own experience, intuition and passions.

In working on another residential commission, I presented an initial design scheme to a client. I felt that I had addressed all of the issues that the client had put forth in her brief and responded to the context of the community very deferentially. After asking a few clarifying questions, she asked: “How do you feel about the design?” I paused a minute, wondering how candid I could afford to be. Somewhat ruefully I replied that although I thought the design was very efficient and that her neighbors would be very happy with it, truthfully I wasn’t very enthusiastic about the design. It wasn’t really expressing what was unique about her family or the site. To my surprise, she responded “If you’re not happy with the design, than you need to go back to the drawing board!”

I felt myself very lucky to have had a second chance. The redesign was everything that the first one wasn’t. I felt my design passions re-energized in developing a scheme I wholeheartedly could get excited about. As a result the client also caught the excitement and it went on to receive an architectural design award as well. The lesson learned is to prepare what you’re passionate about on the first go ‘round. One might not be lucky enough to get a second chance.

Do your homework in approaching each design project and then proceed with passion. The enthusiasm will likely be contagious.

Remember, Practice Passionately.

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic features the letter P, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Pistachio and Persimmon, and a photo of a violinist Practicing Passionately.

12
Feb
13

Design Wisdom: Create Courage

The “C” element in my alphabetic mnemonic list for successfully practicing design is:

          Create Courage.

                  Design is a journey to a new place. New means risk. Why go there?

If you don’t have a reason to take a risk, you won’t. Courage means having a bold vision that overshadows the difficulty of taking the first step and persevering to reach a goal.

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Why do you design?

Before considering how and why to take risks, ask yourself “Why do I design? Why is the client hiring me?” Namely: to make a difference. To create something that is different.

“Different” means risk. If you can’t accept risk, you’ll be consigned to maintaining the status quo. So, let me repeat: “Why would someone hire you?” For the new places you can take them. Your brand is the sum of the risks you are willing to take.

Start with yourself

As a designer you undoubtedly strive to make the proverbial “better mousetrap” (or at least one that commands attention). If you believe that making something better means turning it upside down, then you’ll need the courage to face whomever or whatever you’re accountable to – a boss, a client or the bottom line of your business ledger.

The path to courage is redefining failure. Most of us are conditioned to see failure as having made a mistake (or being told that we’ve made a mistake). Cautious souls keep reminding us that practice makes perfect, and the pursuit of perfection overtakes our need to make a difference. In other words, if you’re not doing the same thing over and over again, you’re bound to be making mistakes as you take risks on new ideas. This mindset is fatal to creativity.  Condition yourself to see not taking risk as failure.

One of the lessons I learned from working with Peter Bohlin, FAIA, was his ability to take mistakes in stride. At a design critique he would invariably start a sentence with something like, “Well, I might be wrong here, but let’s try this and see where it takes us.” Ever armed with sincerity of intent, Peter seemed incapable of feeling embarrassed by an awkward idea or change of direction. That was inspiring. It’s not coincidental that he was selected by the AIA as their Gold Medal recipient in 2010.

Make it happen

All committed designers struggle to do the best work they can. A common lament is: “I just haven’t been lucky enough to find the right client.The truth is, clients, and opportunities in general, are more often made than found.

Every client carries a load of fears and inertia similar to your own. Start by doing your due diligence. Hear out the problems and fears. Do your research and analysis of options and alternatives. Assess risks and possible consequences. Then find the compelling vision to get past them.

Your mission as a designer is to engage and excite yourself, your client and everyone else on the project sufficiently so as to redefine failure as not pursuing the compelling vision. If your vision is powerful enough, it pushes past the risks in the foreground and enables everyone’s courage to go the distance.

An example from design practice

The Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF) is a cultural institution devoted to preserving the history of the chemical sciences and promoting awareness of the role of chemistry in society. CHF’s headquarters faces Independence National Historical Park in the historic Old City section of Philadelphia, two blocks from the Liberty Bell. Their anchoring structure is a five-story historic 19th century granite bank building.

Following several renovations to their existing buildings, CHF decided to move ahead with its first addition – a new wing that would accommodate meetings for up to 300 people. When I was hired for the project, the construction manager had already been selected and I was assigned to sub-contract to them as the designer side of a joint design-build team.

Given the historic context of the CHF headquarters on a street lined with 19th century masonry facades, both the client and my construction partner assumed that the addition would also be masonry. I saw this as problematic. First of all, we didn’t have a budget sufficient to construct anything as ambitious as the historic bank building. Just as important, the institution was interested in distinguishing itself as preeminent in its field. Philadelphia is a masonry city. You don’t distinguish yourself by being indistinguishable from your neighbors.

My client needed the courage to go in an unexpected direction. I saw the existing historic building as embodying half of the institutional mission – preserving history. Now we needed to create its complement: a structure that embodied the present and future of chemistry. What if the exterior were to be constructed using materials from the periodic table of elements? After researching potential materials I settled on using solid zinc panels as the dominant element. The oxidized grey of the panels not only demonstrated “chemistry in action” but also harmonized with color of the historic granite.

The CHF addition was the first zinc rainscreen panel building ever constructed in Philadelphia. It went on to receive several design awards as a lesson in how to successfully utilize contemporary design in a historic context.

Redefining failure as not pursuing a vision can give you the courage you need to overcome the fear of making mistakes along the way.

Remember, Create Courage.

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic feature the letter C, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Cobalt and Catawba, and a photo of surfer with the courage to ride a wave.

26
Nov
08

The Materiality of Light

Rarely does one see light as a material. Most often lighting plays the role of supporting actor, highlighting the materiality or decoration of surfaces it illuminates, rather than holding the starring role itself. That changed for us this year as we had the opportunity to design the renovation and expansion of an abandoned 14,000 s.f. two-story building in Center City Philadelphia into a restaurant + nightclub. The client sought spaces that could transform from being a romantic dinner venue to pulsing dance nightclub with little effort. We turned to lighting to make such transitions easy and dramatic.

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Our inspiration for using light as the subject came from artist James Turrell’s light installations, such as “Red Around” installed at ARC, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris (shown above). While Mr. Turrell’s works from that period (1980’s) were static installations, they certainly rendered colored light as an exciting and palpable substance. By using current LED (light emitting diode) lighting technology (instead of fluorescent lamps as Turrell used in the above piece) we were able to plan a dynamic range of effects and mood environments. Use of mixed lamp sources (red, amber, green and/or blue) enables virtually any color to be achieved. Shifts in coloration and intensity can be digitally controlled as slow fades, rapid pulses or anything in between. On the exterior, the two street facades were designed as “tunable” instruments of light. Along the long façade, LED edge-lit translucent vertical “light fins” are used to create both static and animated colored light effects.

The project received a 2008 Award of Design Excellence from the Society of American Registered Architects (SARA). The jury commended our transformation of a derelict building into an urban oasis.

[23 Oct. ’08 SARA awards program – Ed Barnhart, AIA]

26
Nov
08

American Philosophical Society: Design-Build

Earlier this year our American Philosophical Society renovations received the Best Design-Build Project Award from the General Building Contractors Association (GBCA). Always by Design (AxD) provided the architectural design leadership while J.S. Cornell & Son (JSC) served as the project lead and construction manager for the four phases of this $6.15M project. This marks the second time that I’ve received a GBCA award working in a design-build relationship with JSC. (The Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Ullyot conference center addition received the Best Institutional Project Award the year it was entered.)

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In my experience, the strength of the design-build process has been in fostering teamwork and shared responsibility among Builder, Designer and Owner. In contrast to the myopic, mine-versus-yours provincialism and frequently adversarial environment engendered by a conventional low-bid process, design-build encourages thinking in terms of achieving the best shared outcome. Particularly when working with a non-profit institution relying on receiving grants for a phased renovation involving multiple existing buildings, the ability to accommodate incremental funding and concealed or unforeseen conditions is invaluable. The design-build methodology represents a very useful project delivery option, facilitating the shift toward greater teamwork. The evolution of holistic, “sustainable” thinking and availability of new tools (such as object-based Building Information Modeling (BIM) software) is allowing an even more fluid, integrated, and productive approach to design and construction.

[3 Nov. ’08 GBCA awards program – Ed Barnhart, AIA]

24
Nov
08

Mentoring in the Arts: Anne d’Harnoncourt’s example

The autumn season this year has proven bountiful for AxD, culminating last week in our receiving our first state-level design award and sixth award overall. The 2008 awards program for the Pennsylvania American Institute of Architects gave recognition, not only to exemplary projects, but exceptional individuals as well. Anne d’Harnoncourt, the late director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was posthumously given the award for Contribution to the Profession by a Non-Architect. She was clearly a beloved and dedicated leader in the field of art. Among the many exemplary qualities for which she was cited, three stood out to me: Passion, Intellect, and Mentoring of others to seek their personal best. Certainly anyone engaged in a form of art, be it painting or architecture, expects and indeed needs to bring passion and intelligence to their craft if it is to be vital, to themselves and their audience. In a culture that so readily embraces the exaltation of the individual as hero, or genius, leadership through mentoring and collaboration is frequently overlooked.

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While it may have been completely serendipitous that in the same awards program where Anne d’Harnoncourt’s leadership in the arts was recognized, our art gallery & studio received a citation of design merit, I believe there was a shared thread. In conferring the design award for the art gallery & studio, the jury noted the role that mentoring played in the project. They wrote that they were “…impressed with the hands-on nature of the project, using it as part of the educational process; it made the end product better”. While our entire staff served as their own client, user and contractor for this particular project, I believe that the process of architecture is intrinsically a social art. As architects we must strive to exert leadership, not so much through individual authorship but rather in fostering an environment of shared mentoring, growth and ownership.

[18 Nov ’08 PA AIA awards program – Ed Barnhart, AIA]




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