Posts Tagged ‘design practice


Design Wisdom: Own it. Share it.

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

Own it. Share it.

As it relates to design, ownership is about an emotional or intellectual relationship.

It is incumbent upon designers to engage all project participants along the way, enabling them to invest in the outcome of the project, and in so doing, share ownership.


It’s mine, all mine

In the world of business, people often use phrases like “holding an interest” or “having a stake” or “being invested” in a particular venture. Each is referring to the idea of ownership. But what is ownership? Most people think of ownership rather narrowly – in a legal or financial sense. If someone owns property, they must have the title to it or have paid someone else to possess it.

The kind of ownership I’m talking about isn’t that literal. Ownership, as it refers to design, is about one’s emotional or intellectual relationship to the design process and/or product – hopefully both.

Ownership means possessing a sense of responsibility for: a) shaping an outcome and/or b) maintaining the value it holds. For someone to really own something, an individual must value it for what it specifically means to them. Ownership needs to be personal.


As architects or designers who work with their clients, we shape not only the final physical artifact, but the process of designing as well. Ownership in a project is primarily about being emotionally and intellectually engaged; having participants who feel empowered and effectual in shaping the final outcome. This sense of ownership therefore must be cultivated and achieved as an essential part of the process of design.

By implementing practices that help consultants, clients and contractors feel confident, capable, and in control of the outcome of the project they are working on, they feel empowered to do their work effectively. Ideally, this ensures commitment to the project vision, which results in greater creativity and thoughtfulness about how to enhance that vision over the course of the project.

In terms of the completed project, people with ownership, those who have participated in the process and understand and value the decisions needed to get to the end product – share in the pride of authorship, and as a result, hold the results in higher esteem than their unengaged peers. The happiest of clients by the end of any project are the ones who have been in the trenches with you and faced the realities of the process.

Learning to share

In retrospect, looking back on my own maturation as an architect, it seems to have been analogous to how one thinks of a kid in a sandbox. I started out playing solo in the box – learning the potential of each toy and keeping them to myself. I sought to build the perfect castle or fort. Over time I gained confidence and delighted in mastery. Soon I wanted to share what I’d learned, and as a result, unexpectedly became exposed to new ideas of other playmates. Ultimately, the process of learning and sharing itself became as important as the results.

While our culture idealizes the solo genius artist, our day-to-day sustenance is found in sharing and learning from one another – engaging our humanity. As we gain experience, there comes a shift from the impetuous, narrow, idealistic intensity of youth, to a broader, more nuanced embrace of wholeness in maturity.

Architecture indeed is a social practice. This is perhaps the biggest lesson not taught in schools.

An example from design practice

My own lifelong apprenticeship to architecture mirrors my maturation as a person. Even before reaching my teens I started by designing houses. I imagined places I wanted to live in. So, design began as an extension of self.

Emerging from architecture school I was drawn to designing for institutions – not specific institutions mind you, but to the ideals represented by institutions. (Louis I. Kahn was a huge inspiration in this regard.) Accordingly, I sought out opportunities to design museums, places of education, and churches.

Having worked as a design principal in my own practices for well over a decade now, I have come to delight in working closely with home and business owners – creating places that they truly own for themselves, not with their wallets but with their hearts. Some times this is achieved by discovering new ways for them to see the world, and sometimes it is achieved by bringing along connective tissue from other parts of their lives.

An example of how ownership can be achieved in the smallest of details comes from a recent vacation house project. One doesn’t often think of driveways as an opportunity for reflection and ownership. In this case, I had designed the driveway as a series of concrete pads separated by river-washed stone bands (for storm water penetration). As a link for the owner, I collected leaves from the vegetation of their permanent residence and pressed them into the wet concrete of the driveway pads at their new vacation home. The leaves are impressed into memory for all to see – a bridge between their two homes.

In shaping things for ourselves and others it is essential that we involve others in the journey, not simply as witnesses, but as authors – cultivating a shared ownership. 

Remember,Own it. Share it. 

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic feature the letter O, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Olive and Orange, and a photo of Owner hugging his tree.


Design Wisdom: Navigating t/here

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

Navigating t/here.

Design requires leading people from a known world into an unknown one.

While 3D visualizations are bridging the gap between initial conception and final completion of buildings, for most clients, deciding what to do still requires a leap of faith – and that means trust.


My mousetrap is better than yours

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door is a common paraphrase of a quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Don’t we all, as designers, wish we could simply build the building (or other product) of our imagination and have it be admired and purchased – like the proverbial “better mousetrap”? Unfortunately, although some designers can bring their own projects directly to the market (essentially as developers), the majority of designers must instead serve more as shepherds in guiding clients, building officials and contractors through a process of visualizing and decision-making in order to get to a finished product. A crucial skill to have as a designer is leadership ability – navigating from the known world to new frontiers.

 I’ll know it when I see it

Anyone who has been in design practice for any length of time has had a client, or prospective client, who has uttered some version of the phrase: “I’m not sure what I want, but I’ll know it when I see it”. Most people are adept at shopping. That process involves making a selection among a set of fully realized products – mostly mass-produced. So, not only is “the thing” already fully present for evaluation, it probably has been used and reviewed by a myriad of other consumers already. For more complex products there is often a “trial period”. Ultimately with most products, unsatisfied buyers have the option of simply returning the product and getting a refund. None of these factors play very well in the arena of architectural design. When was the last time someone tried to return a building for a refund?

Design isn’t shopping

While people frequently “shop” for places to live – choosing among apartments or houses available for rent or sale, these are not a designer’s clients. Designers are hired to conceive what does not yet exist. That process is more akin to that of research and development (R&D) than that of shopping. Furthermore, in architecture in particular, most often there is a production run of exactly one. Every project is a prototype essentially.

Going on a journey

Setting sail into the wilderness of R&D with your client, your job as designer is threefold: 1) Understanding them, 2) Engaging and educating them, and finally, 3) Gaining their trust. I think of the trilogy as: Doing my homework, Getting the client to do their homework, and Strengthening the ability to work together — particularly through difficult patches of the process.

If your client did their homework when they selected you, part of the reason they hired you was feeling they understood and/or could trust you. If you are hired by an individual (or couple) to design a house or place of business, there is a rather direct relationship and development of trust. However, most projects are done for “multi-headed” clients – corporations, governments, non-profit groups, etc. In these cases you are leading a group on a journey. Regardless of the type of client, practicing design is less about having the perfect solution, and more about leadership – getting people to do their homework and effectively trust one another in order to get to a realized vision.

 A world of ideas

In my experience, working with church groups and other types of all-volunteer committees represents the largest challenge for leadership (outside of large-scale, public projects). I’ve worked on projects for a variety of religious organizations over the years. How does one get from here to there with this kind of a non-hierarchical, volunteer client or user group?

Every designer has their own style of leadership. A crucial part of that is understanding who your constituents are on any given project and having a framework of how best to work with them. I have found the single-most important key to success is allowing everyone, and I mean everyone who is a stakeholder in a project, to feel that they have been heard.

 An example from design practice

Years ago I led a master planning study for improving a thirteen acre urban church and daycare/school facility. The site already had a church on the National Historic Register, an education building, an apartment building, a carriage house, a columbarium, on-site parking lots and several playground areas. As architects hired from “out-of-town” we were welcomed to our first meeting by a large and enthusiastic group of church volunteers. Everyone wanted to impress upon us his or her own version of what the real problems and acceptable solutions were…and also to tell us which of the others in the congregation we should muzzle!

There was one congregant more than any other whom nearly everyone seemed desperate to silence. The individual, a retired engineer, was convinced that the single-most important component of any master plan would be to create a new bridge for pedestrians to cross a public street from the largest existing parking lot to the historic church. Not surprisingly, this very idea struck terror into the hearts of most of the congregation.

So, long story short, when it was time for discussing people’s ideas of what was needed, the second person I selected to speak was the “bridge engineer”. (I ignored the glares of congregants who had counseled me to avoid him.) When the next speaker began by attacking the bridge idea, I immediately clarified that the session was to brainstorm and simply hear people’s ideas – not select or defend which ideas were best. In the end, people became freer to hear ideas in a non-parochial manner. And even though the bridge idea was ultimately replaced (by a less costly and less invasive design solution), the engineer became a staunch supporter of the ratified approach that replaced his initial conception. By leading the congregation to give full voice to everyone, people were able not only better trust one another, but also trust in the process of getting to a well-balanced, well-supported final solution. One which went on to receive a national American Institute of Architects design award!

At the end of the day, your skills as a designer are more about leadership than having the perfect idea. If you are unable to get a client and collaborators to realize your vision, you can’t succeed.

 Remember, Navigate t/here

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic feature the letter N, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Navy and Neon green, and a photo of skiers Navigating a glacier.


Design Wisdom: Materials Matter

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

Materials Matter.

As virtual reality becomes surreal, designers have the opportunity to make it real.

As we expand new digital design, modeling and fabrication technologies, we may find simultaneously a reawakening to the sensual potential of physical materials themselves.


Looking at history

As my 10th grade history teacher pointed out, in mankind’s quest to put an astronaut on the moon, the unexpected benefit was looking back and seeing the earth for the first time. In our present era, computational technology is at the forefront of our cultural imagination – constituting our present giant step forward. Computers and invention of the worldwide Web have, and will continue to, transform our contemporary culture in extraordinary ways. So, the question is: What will the exciting “look back” be with regards to our burgeoning digital revolution? I believe the answer lies in a re-evaluation of the nature of materials themselves.

One would be tempted to look to the Arts and Crafts movement as a somewhat comparable precedent. The origins of that movement however were rooted in reform of the practices and effects of the Industrial Revolution. Pioneer of the movement, artist and writer William Morris, sought an antidote to shoddily mass-produced decorative arts, often created under oppressive working conditions. In some respects the movement was reactionary – seeking a return to a simpler agrarian era. As such it’s not a good model for our present era.

I believe there’s a better art history precedent. The first photographs created and publically shown were unveiled in 1839 to the French Académie des Sciences, by artist-inventor Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre. These daguerreotypes as they were called were photographic images upon highly polished, silver-plated sheets of copper. Is it a coincidence that scarcely a quarter century later in the same culture, painters developed what came to be known as Impressionism?

Most contemporary art historians consider that it was primarily the development of photography which enabled, indeed provoked, artists to seriously explore the expressive potential of painting. Especially as the technology of photographic reproduction became more accurate in rendering realistic images, artists were, in some respects, “freed” from obligations of producing objectively faithful imagery. Ultimately color itself became “the subject” as painting moved into new realms by the “Fauves” and later Abstract Expressionist “Color Field” painters. That inquiry subsequently moved even beyond the use of pigmented paint as contemporary “light painters” such as James Turrell explore terrestrial optical color effects.

Real or virtual?

What is the design opportunity of the present era? The digital revolution is emphasizing conceptual thinking and virtual experiences. As a result we are becoming less bodily present. More and more, perhaps without realizing it, people are “walking with their brains”, not their bodies. As technology “frees us” to fly through virtual worlds inhabited by fantasy creatures, it unexpectedly concurrently creates a greater potential for physical (embodied) sensual experiences. Herein lays the unexpected opportunity of the present era. The newest frontier will be the re-engagement with our physical environment. We will again truly inhabit places, not merely use them in a functional way.

When was the last time you delighted in your actuality – the authentic, real-time presence of the where you were in the universe? The opportunity is to re-engage our bodies through all of our physical senses. It’s time to design to create that new bodily awareness. It’s time again to savor the smell of cedar shingles in the hot afternoon summer sun (or just smell the roses).

An example from design practice

As mentioned in an earlier post, one of my favorite buildings is the Louisiana Museum in Humlebaek, Denmark. A traditional house in a residential neighborhood was expanded into a world-class contemporary art museum. The site, abutting the coast, slopes significantly in all directions and has numerous mature trees. Rather than creating a “tabla rasa” (or clean slate) on which to efficiently set a flexible, generic exhibition gallery, the architects (Jørgen Bo and Wilhelm Wohlert) intentionally chose to respect and harness the natural particularities of the existing site. As a result, the exhibition space is attached to the original house, but is broken into discrete pavilions, strung together as a necklace, each oriented to unique site views. The connecting “string” is a casually mendering glazed corridor which actually slopes with the adjoining ground and bends here and there – at once showcasing and avoiding disruption of mature trees along the way. I can’t think of a more successful synthesis of culture and nature.

Clearly the architects and client could have found a cheaper alternative than literally working around trees and slopes, but not one that would have so substantially contributed to creating the most heavily visited museum in Denmark. It is a true joy experiencing a particular place, engaging ones mind and body.

The opportunity of our present era is to reawaken our senses and bodily awareness. In this pursuit, the materials of our craft will take on renewed significance.

Remember, Materials Matter

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic feature the letter M, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Maroon and Mint, and a photo of Material-free (virtual) house.


Design Wisdom: Leave Leavening

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

Leave Leavening.

Most times the best answers (and designs) are open-ended and invite further inquiry.

Ever been in a conversation with a “know-it-all”? First, it’s not really a conversation if someone feels they already have all the answers. Great design, however, is like good conversation: it invites participation.


Why leavening?

Leavening is essentially a fermentation process used in baking to produce air bubbles that cause breads to rise. The metaphor here is about making space – literally and figuratively. Without leavening, breads can be dense and impenetrable. As a designer, you’re creating (in whatever medium) objects, performances, or buildings that you want others (your audience or user) to find engaging and accessible. For our purposes, then, leavening is about providing space for audience members to inhabit in some form – physically, emotionally and/or intellectually.

Leaving room for the imagination

Think of a world devoid of imagination. Everything would be reduced to nuts-and-bolts knowledge. Just the facts. There would be no room for “What if?” Without imagination, our world would be a pretty dull, predictable, mechanistic environment.

It might be tempting to say that imagination is in the eye of the beholder. After all, anyone who’s spent any time around young children has witnessed their endless capacity to imagine all sorts of amazing things in the most banal of environments – like the laundry basket transformed into an intergalactic space station. But simply to leave imagination to the beholder is a cop-out by you, the designer — and a serious lost opportunity for the audience.

An essential mission of a designer is to engage others – to provide room and encouragement to experiment, wonder and fill in the blanks. Leavening is what makes the design all the more engaging for the consumer.

Leaving room for serendipity

Besides creating space for the consumer’s imagination, you need to leave room for serendipity. By serendipity, I mean chance encounters or juxtapositions, or more fundamentally, room for discovery. In this sense, “leave leavening” means allowing some openness for spontaneous and even quirky personal responses, which in turn means surrendering some control over how other people will experience your design. Like a place without room for the imagination, a hermetically self-contained “know-it-all” design is also dead. Having chance encounters is an essential part of the human condition.

Making room for serendipity is easily illustrated in architectural practice. Dating back to at least when Louis I. Kahn was designing the Salk Institute laboratories, there was increasing awareness that scientific breakthroughs weren’t the sole provenance of the lone scientist toiling in his laboratory, but rather often occurred at the nexus of private reflection and collegial exchange. At least since that time, we’ve understood that providing space for random social interaction can be as essential as places for structured work in learning and research environments.

Think about it this way: If students were found to learn best from staring at an instructor or display surface, why would any classrooms have windows? The passing bird may offer more to the lesson than anyone might expect!

An example from design practice

As this “Design Wisdom” series has evolved, I’ve realized that I use the label “design practice” to mean any form of creative authorship for public consumption. In that sense, it applies to virtually all artistic fields — so it’s not unfitting that I turn to creative writing as the source of an example from design practice.

Back in college, I took a writing class as an elective. It was a crash course in looking structurally at stories – with the twin goals of increasing our appreciation of the craft of writing and helping us write better ourselves.

One of the exercises involved writing a careful description of a specific place from memory. It was important that it not be an invented place, but rather a real place from our personal experience… a place we knew intimately. We then exchanged papers with another student and silently read each other’s place descriptions. Finally, the entire class was given a list of specific questions such as: How big was the place? What was the predominant color? How would you describe the smell of the place? How did the place make you feel? What kind of light was there?

We had to answer the questions based on the other person’s description. The results amazed me. I had described my grandmother’s long wooden Greek Revival porch in Upstate New York, choked with concord grape vines in the summertime. My partner in the exercise intuited some answers right in line with my own memory – the size of the porch, for example. Other characteristics, like the quality of light and sense of feeling I had in the place, were rendered in a quite different (but very compelling) way by the other student – based on his own sensibilities.

The “take-away” for me was two-fold. First, as definitively as we might try to “nail down” every detail of our project, some features will inevitably remain (and should remain) ambiguous. Secondly, a reader (or viewer, or audience member) must be able to find room in your design to inhabit and make their own. In that long-ago classroom exercise, I realized that “my” place description became richer for having shared it with someone who could enhance it with his own perceptions.

If you’re designing to engage an audience, your work shouldn’t end the conversation. It must leave space for the imagination and serendipitous discoveries. 

Remember, Leave Leavening.

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic features the letter L, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Lapis Lazuli and Liver, and a photo of statues which Leave us wondering.


Design Wisdom: Improve Iteratively

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

Improve Iteratively.

In the design process, what happens after you have that big “aha!” moment?

Arriving at a core concept or gestalt idea for a project is exhilarating, but if you don’t know how to sustain and advance the idea further, you’ll be left with something akin to a sugar crash.


Life’s more than one big parti

For those of you who didn’t go to architecture school, the word “parti” (pronounced par-TEE) may be unfamiliar. It means the essential scheme or concept of a design – something that is both distinctly recognizable and irreducible. In other words, no matter how much you shrink or distort a design, its parti remains discernible. Often a parti can be represented as a napkin sketch diagram, made with five or ten strokes of a pen.

So, imagine that you’ve gotten to the place in the process where you have a parti or conceptual armature for your design. Now it needs to be fleshed out into a building that someone would actually want to inhabit. No one wants to live in an empty diagram, no matter how beautiful! So how do you go about fleshing out the diagram?

Working without a recipe

As you might imagine, it’s a long journey from an initial parti to realizing an inhabitable, indeed enjoyable building. And guess what? It’s anything but a linear path. Fundamentally, design is the art of cooking without a recipe. (If you’re cooking from a recipe you aren’t designing, you’re simply replicating a previously realized design effort.)

You develop your “cooking” ability by using your learned skills, tools, and intuition. Starting with a core ingredient, you assemble other ingredients using your best judgment to create a flavorful concoction that you hope the intended recipients will savor.

What do you think of when you picture a chef at work? Someone constantly tasting, observing, smelling, touching and listening to everything going on in the kitchen. Total sensory and mental engagement.

It’s a matter of research and development

So what do you, as an engaged designer, do to develop your “soup,” as it were? Add an ingredient, then another and another – all the while with engaged senses and intellect, receiving and processing the feedback from your client and perhaps from colleagues as well.

Rarely can you calculate the exact amounts or cooking times in advance. It’s a matter of trial and adjustment — in effect, a taste-testing process. Going from the initial taste of the basic ingredients to the iterative stages of testing, you gradually work your way to an ideal mingling of increasingly nuanced flavors.

As you can see, creating a successful design isn’t a simple matter of filling in a pre-ordained pattern or structure. Instead, it requires the discovery of an original pattern, followed by a nuanced fine-tuning of the basic context using the resources at your disposal.

An example from design practice

A touchstone design experience came early in my career — not by developing a design of my own, but in experiencing another artist’s work unfold in a totally unrelated field. The artist was the legendary jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, making his tour of 53 solo performances in 1983. By that time I had discovered his seminal album The Köln Concert. I have to confess, though, that my decision to go to the concert was as much about having an opportunity to see the venue in which he was performing as it was about seeing him actually perform. The venue was the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Upstate New York, completed in 1875 and now a National Historic Landmark. Renowned for its excellent acoustics, it retains its original seating arrangement to this day.

The performance that evening was entirely acoustic piano. He performed without printed materials, relying entirely on his memory and improvisational skills. The fluidity of tempo changes and clear flights of manual dexterity were amazing to witness. But one particular passage, used for probably not more than a minute or so, transformed me. About a third of the way into the concert, using a repetitive short passage of low notes in a rather percussive manner, he started to subtly modulate the tempo – slightly slower, then slightly faster, then back. All of a sudden it was as if some giant engine kicked in. The entire hall reverberated. He eased back out of it and then back into it again as if to assure us, and perhaps himself, that it wasn’t a mistake. He was playing to the natural resonance of the hall. It was an amazing testimonial to bringing skill, awareness of context and nuanced tuning together to produce something extraordinary.

Fully engage your senses and intellect in an iterative, incremental process to navigate unknown territories with the greatest potential for unprecedented success.

Remember, Improve Iteratively 

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic feature the letter I, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Ivory and Indigo, and a photo of pianist Improving Iteratively.


Design Wisdom: Delight in Diversity

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

Delight in Diversity.

Why is diversity in design practice so often simply tolerated rather than enthusiastically embraced?

If your business is business as usual, you might think of diversity as the foe of efficiency. But if you’re seeking new clientele and ways to adapt to an ever-changing world, diversity could be your best ally.


Diversity: Friend or Foe?

Diversity tends to be the enemy of streamlining, simplifying and doing things quicker. Diversity gets in the way of creating a consistent style or process. When we need to map out a different approach to a design problem, we have to step outside the box. This takes time.

By contrast, the “business as usual” approach automatically reduces or eliminates choices or options. This means greater efficiency — less time spent categorizing, selecting, organizing. Therefore, the threat posed by diversity would appear to be the risk of not producing something at the lowest possible cost.

But what’s the real cost? Even if you’ve carved out a specialized niche, your goal isn’t turning out identical widgets at the lowest cost. The basic premise of design is the creation of something that is different, so the celebration of diversity should be axiomatic. In practice, it often appears to be the opposite. Design diversity among competitors is often mistakenly seen as threatening. But think about it:  people doing things differently from you aren’t your competitors; your competitors are the ones doing the same thing as you.

First, a Global Perspective

Before we look at the dynamics of your business and competition, let’s gain a broader perspective as to why diversity is important. First, the more tools we have at hand, the more adeptly we can fashion solutions that meet our needs (and the needs of our clients). A hammer is great for driving a nail, but not so good at drilling a hole.

Secondly, we live in an ever-changing environment that defies human comprehension. The resources we use and value today invariably will not be the same as those we will find useful tomorrow. A skill that languishes unappreciated today might suddenly be in high demand tomorrow.  A diversity of options boosts your capacity to adapt to changes. In this light, diversity can be thought of as a form of wealth that supplies you with a contingency plan for your future.

It becomes obvious, then, that cultivating diversity is essential to your long-term success. But what value does diversity bring to your day-to-day practice?

The Practical Utility of Diversity

On one level, we’d all like to practice design without competition. But that’s not a real option – especially in the shrinking world of our global economy. In fact, designers need competition in order to do their best work. Competition forces all of us to question what we do and why. Because it forces us to dig deeper, competition ultimately serves as a driving engine of evolution and growth.

In the marketplace, sameness is your worst enemy. Picture yourself surveying a store shelf. If everything on the shelf seems to be indistinguishable from the next item, you (as a consumer) will either grab the closest one or find the cheapest one. Trust me, as a designer you don’t want a potential client selecting you based simply on convenience or cost. Your success as a designer depends on being recognized as different. This is the day-to-day utility of diversity for your practice.

For the good of your practice, you want to cultivate and emphasize that diversity in the marketplace. This doesn’t mean that you should try to embody diversity single-handedly. You have to focus on your passions and what you do best. Use the diversity of the marketplace to highlight the areas that differentiate you from your competitors. For instance, there are many architects doing work very different from what I choose to do. I genuinely admire and find inspiration in the diversity of work presented by others – but I’m not interested in doing what they’re doing. My best successes are when clients (and prospective clients) can see the diversity I bring to the marketplace and engage me because of what sets me apart.

An Example from Design Practice

The value of diversity can be readily apprehended through travel. My first trip overseas was to study in Copenhagen, Denmark. By then I’d seen countless images of centuries-old European cities with bold insertions of cutting-edge contemporary work. Think of the Pompidou Centre (a.k.a. “Beaubourg”) by Piano+Rogers, the Lloyds of London building by Richard Rogers, or the more recent “Gherkin” by Foster and Partners.

As an American in Copenhagen, I was surprised and impressed by a sensibility that embraced both old and new. Here was diversity of design within continuously unfolding cloth, rather than as competing rivals. This principle was driven home most forcefully through my contact within the intimate scale of small individual shops and dwellings I encountered in the historic center of Copenhagen. For instance, a street-front shop might be housed in an 18th-century brick and stone building, where the heft and coarseness of the original materials was lovingly preserved along with a deep patina of wear, but skillfully contrasted with new frameless glass display windows and exposed, sleek contemporary lighting and mechanical systems. The effect was palpable — old and new alike gaining potency through juxtaposition with design elements that represented “otherness.” Here was a beautiful example of vitality emerging from diversity.

Think of your design practice as an object. Like an object it gains its value in large part by standing in contrast to those around it – in other words, by asserting the power of diversity.

Remember, Delight in Diversity

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic feature the letter D, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Drab and Daffodil, and a photo of Diverse tools.

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