Posts Tagged ‘philadelphia


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.


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.


Design Wisdom: Balance Beautifully

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

          Balance beautifully.

                 Whether you’re arranging flowers or designing a building, this concept is crucial.

We tend to think of balance as a state of harmony between extremes. We find it with difficulty and lose it too easily. Certainly, the process of finding (and maintaining) balance must be at the heart of any design practice. But balance alone isn’t enough. It’s really just the beginning.


Begin by balancing

Finding balance is about the process of inquiry – learning what works. In terms of design, finding your balance really means learning your craft. Without a fundamental understanding or mastery of craft, it’s as though you’re a toddler learning to walk – you put all your effort into merely staying upright. You might have plenty of brilliant artistic ideas, but unless you can demonstrate mastery of your craft, you’re not likely to communicate your creative ideas effectively enough to have them embraced.

Basic mastery is about achieving fluency in a medium. It’s like learning a language – the process by which you gain the ability to explore ideas and communicate them to others.

Learning your craft means equipping yourself with a first-rate set of intellectual, creative and professional tools. This learning process has a pretty steep admission price for architects. Aesthetic mastery alone involves developing an understanding of how to work with proportion, color, form, texture, and light and shadow. Furthermore, the craft of an architect requires an ability to translate ideas to real “bricks and mortar”. A fundamental grasp of the nature of materials, structure, technology, and construction methods is essential if you want to gain competence in real-world practice.

Creating beauty

In truth, though, finding your balance is a lifelong pursuit. Even masters of the craft continually try to take their mastery to the next level. This is where beauty comes into play.

Unfortunately, since the advent of Modernism, the concept of “beauty” is often seen as being morally suspect or superficial. However, I’d challenge anyone to look at Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion and say that a search for beauty wasn’t integral to the design of the building.

Seeking a deeper level of balance is what I’m referring to as the search for beauty. Without beauty, all that remains is utility. Beauty is the notion of investing a level of craft sufficiently to convey a sense of effortlessness or grace. Think of a ballet. If the principal dancer were grimacing in pain, wobbling through her steps, the audience would hardly be enchanted. Harnessing techniques (or tools) adeptly enough so that they’re no longer the focus enables you to envelop others in a search for something larger and deeper – a place where beauty is revealed.

It is significant that beauty is subjective. Your searching to achieve a level of beauty puts you in control of how to harness your craft. Your unique vision and set of abilities will differentiate you from everyone else as you seek and ultimately find what balances beautifully.

An example from design practice

Shortly after becoming a registered architect I joined the office of Venturi, Scott Brown and Associates in Philadelphia. It was a heady time for the firm, which was involved in a multitude of projects — including museums in London, Seattle and Austin. My first project there was working on the new Sainsbury Wing of England’s National Gallery of Art.

Venturi’s three-story office was crammed with models, full-sized mock-ups and drawings tacked up everywhere. At first I wondered why there seemed to be an infinite number of versions of any given portion of each project. But as I worked on the museum addition, I came to understand the vast difference between merely “solving the problem” and finding a beautiful balance.

In addition to being a brilliant theorist, Robert Venturi had an incredible sense of proportion and visual rhythm. Nothing was ever “just pick a product.” Even the skylights for the galleries, visible only from neighboring buildings, were composed as minor fugues — featuring four mullion sizes and carefully proportioned glass panes. Every detail of that project was considered and re-considered for meanings beyond utility. As a result, the pieces of the completed project don’t just balance… they balance beautifully.

Only after we’ve attained sufficient mastery of our craft — so that it no longer consumes our conscious thoughts (or those of our benefactors) — do we have the freedom to invest our fullest imagination and effort toward shaping designs that inspire.

Remember, Balance beautifully

Ed Barnhart, principal; Always by Design

*The banner graphic features the letter B, cropped by a square to its unique alphabetic essence, utilizing the colors Burgundy and Brass, and a photo of boulders balanced at Stonehenge.



Celebrating AxD Gallery: January 2007 to September 2012

Following six years of diverse and exhilarating art exhibits and events, I’ve closed AXD Gallery to focus on our primary creative passion: ARCHITECTURE. Creativity will remain at the core of AxD: expressed in the special places we continue to create in which people work, dwell and relax.

As the “AxD Gallery years” come to a close, I’d like to take this post to celebrate the many artists and organizations we’ve hosted and learned from.

Montage of a few of the works of art exhibited at AxD Gallery

From January 2007 to September 2012, AxD Gallery hosted an extensive program of exhibitions and events. Exhibitions curated or hosted by AxD included works by painters, photographers, printmakers, sculptors, woodworkers, graphic designers, illustrators, textile artists and architects. Events included musical and theatrical performances, educational workshops and classes, book readings, fashion shows, auditions, readings, film screenings and plenty of social networking events and parties. While many of these activities are called out in earlier posts on this site, in retrospect it is apparent that many are missing. Hopefully the following list of AxD participants is somewhat closer to offering a complete record of the AxD Gallery years.

Visual Artists *
Madeline Adams, Marjorie Tether Arendt, Val Bertoia, Isaac Bidwell, Michael Biello, Joe Bowman, Gregory Brellochs, Michael Broderick, Karen Brown, Jude Buffum, Gabriel Turner Byrne, David Carrow, Anne Caramanico, John Cartwright, Matt Cavanaugh, Ray Chase, Dave Christman, John Clark, Butch Cordora, Annette Cords, Pia DiGirolamo, Susan DiPronio, Austin Dodson, Eamon Dougherty, JD Dragan, Sheldon Drake, Steven Dressler, Amber Dubois, Alex Eckman-Lawn, RA Friedman, Mark Fields, JP Flexner, Joseph Game, Laureen Griffin, Yis Goodwin, James Groody, Tim Gough, Emma Dodge Hanson, Peter Hayes, Maryann Held, Shawn Hileman, Randolph Husava, Paul Davis Jones, Edward Kelley, Susanne Scherette King, Barbara Klein, Doron Langberg, John Langdon, Doug LaRocca, Robb Leef, Allen Linder, David Lunt, Mike Manley, Vivienne Maricevic, Vincent McLoughlin, Greg Minah, Carey Netherton, Maria Nevelson, Bobby O’Herlihy, Bart O’Reilly, Matthew Ostroff, Carrie Patterson, Ashley Payne, Anthony Pedro, Dolores Poacelli, Georg Purvis III, Peter G. Ray, Chris Resko, Deborah Sawyer, Nancy Schall, Jaclyn Sinquett, Michael Smith, Nancy Sophy, Mike Stack, James Stella, Christine Stoughton, Daniel Stuelpnagel, Kimberlee Traub, Marcia Treiger, Tom Whalen, Douglas Witmer, Larry Wood, and last, but actually our first artist, Chuck van Zyl.
* [Artists whose work was shown as part of a solo or two-person exhibition at AxD are shown in boldface.]

Musicial Performers
The Absinthe Drinkers (Chris McDonough, Robert McNaull, John Monge and Thomas Maxim Guerin), Dan Blacksberg, Ian Boddy, Charles Cohen, Matt Davis, Tony Enos, ensemble39 (Alexandra von der Embse, Stanislav Chernyshev, Rebecca Anderson, Zoe Martin-Doike, Jessica T. Chang, Ayane Kozasa, Gabriel Cabezas and Rex Surany), Aiden James, Rick Larracone, Elliot Levin, Evan Lipson, Keith Macksoud, Toshi Makihara, Carla Mariani, Jim Meneses, Matthew Moon, The Oubliette Ensemble (Melissa Santangelo, Jim Kydonieus, Cynthia James, Jessica Marcus and Syd Torchio), Steve & Jeanette Perlsweig, Mike Pride, Quiet Quartet (Michael Davidson, Shaw Pong Liu, Matt Plummer and Felicity Wililams), Robert Rich, Sue Russell, Nina Storey, Chris Troiani, Jack Wright, and Chuck van Zyl.

Actors & Theatre Companies
And Theatre, Bobbi Block and Tongue & Groove, Dark Star Theatre, Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium, Luna Theatre, Kevin Murphy and Room6 Theatre Co., Overlap Theatre, Philly Improv Theatre (PHIT), Plug-n-Play, The “Poe-sers”, Pub Theater, Quinn D. Eli, Sharon Geller and The Waitstaff Sketch Comedy Troupe.

Launch Events
Fashion Launch: by Ishmael Abrokwa
Fashion Launch: by AmareSinh
Film DVD Signing: “Straight and Butch” by Butch Cordoba
Fashion Launch: by Shavonne DeAnn
Film DVD Release: “The Owls” by Cheryl Dunye
Music Album Release: “Did It Rite” by Tony Enos”
Film Premiere: “Greenhouse” written and directed by AG McCants
Novel Release: Spore by Thom Nickels
Fashion Launch: “See It Be It’ by Lashon Pringle
Music Album Release: “So Many Ways from Me to You” by Nina Storey and Matthew Moon

Philadelphia Festivals (with AxD participation)
Center City “Gallery Night”
Cinémathèque International of Philadelphia film screenings
Design Philadelphia
GreenFest Philly
Philadelphia QFest Film Festival
Philly Fringe Festival
Paint it Right – an art auction and fundraising eventbenefittingThe RIGHT Foundation

Competitions and Student Exhibitions
The AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) Philadelphia Design Awards
Philadelphia University – 3rd year architecture students window display competition
Temple University, Tyler School of Art – Fiber artist thesis projects
Drexel University, School of Architecture – Student furniture projects

Gallery Awards
2010 PGN ‘Pink Penny Award’ for “Gay-Friendly Art Gallery”
2008 PGN ‘Pink Penny Award’ for “Best Place to Appreciate Fringe Art”
2007 Readers’ Choice Award from Philadelphia Citypaper for ‘Best Art Gallery’

 Other Events
There were also many “one-of-a-kind” events: show castings, movie shoots, community meetings, networking socials, New Year’s eve parties, office parties, alumni association reunions and professional association meetings. Two particularly memorable occasions were hosting receptions for the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) and Alumni Association of the Courtauld Institute of Art.

 Thank You
First let me thank Ryan McMenamin, who served as the gallery/events coordinator for all of the gallery years! In addition to the tireless efforts in mounting/de-mounting shows and events, cataloging work, meeting press deadlines and attending to countless details, he significantly broadened the range of exhibitions and events held at AxD. I couldn’t have done it without him. Secondly, thanks go to Larry Willoughby – host and drink-master extraordinaire –  who made so many openings and events all that much more fun! Thanks also to AxD staff members Justin Tocci and Christopher Stromberg who were more than willing to roll up their sleeves to hang and organize exhibitions and events. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t express heartfelt thanks to all of the wonderful and devoted visual and performing artists I’ve met in the process who have contributed to the vibrant artistic melting pot at AxD Gallery.

Ed Barnhart, founder/principal of AxD


“Nothing to Fear” Facade

Recently we were commissioned to do a design-build facade installation for Peter G.-Ray’s 2009 ‘Nothing to Fear’ painting exhibition at the Bridge Gallery on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Two years earlier we debuted his work in the U.S. at AxD Gallery with a solo show entitled ‘CUT’. For that exhibition we built rolled aluminum panels on the exterior of our gallery, creating the appearance of their being cut and peeled away.


Views of finished window at Bridge Gallery, and the painting "Cut" by Peter G.-Ray, displaying similarly hand-rolled aluminum panels.

The designs for both gallery fronts flowed as fairly direct extensions of the artist’s interests in concealing, cutting, peeling and revealing. In his work, openings, whether rendered physically in cut materials or graphically with painted surfaces, are invitations for engagement. Simply put, Peter’s work invites curiosity. As art critic Ken Moffett has noted: “G.-Ray has combined the hallucinatory surrealism of Dali with the vigor and freedom of Jackson Pollock, metamorphosing these into something startlingly new. He hungers to unite extremes: Precision and free improvisation, the intensely graphic and beautifully painted, exquisite refinement of detail and pictorial force.” All in all, there is plenty in Peter G.-Ray’s work to sustain interest and wonder.

Our design-build exercises to date have all been conducted as “charrettes” of a week or less. In the case of the Bridge Gallery façade installation we had the added constraint of performing all of the work in a single day, including round trip transportation from Philadelphia, with materials and equipment fitting inside a mid-sized sedan.

Fortunately working conditions were absolutely perfect. The weather was very mild for late February. The trickiest part of the project was securing our work to the Bridge Gallery without permanently altering the existing marble façade. We accomplished this by working the head and a jamb of our frame into existing security gate hardware and bolting the base into the concrete sidewalk. Interest in our installation piece increased dramatically as the first aluminum panels were screwed onto the frame. (See “before” and installation photos below.)


Neighboring shop owners, tourists and random passersby stopped to ask us what was going on. We handed out quite a few postcards for Nothing to Fear during that Spring-like afternoon. As we finished up at dusk, Peter G.-Ray was quite pleased with results … the debut for both of us in NYC. Two days later, it snowed at the March 1st opening reception!


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.


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]


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.)


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]

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