Dylan Brady of deciBel(Architecture)))

Dylan Brady of deciBel(Architecture)))

Dylan Brady (Photograph courtesy of dBA)

Dylan Brady is a registered Architect. Dylan has been contributing to the public realm of architecture since 1992, and has delivered extraordinary buildings and outcomes in that time across Asia and Australia. Founding Director of studio505, and now Founding Conductor of Decibel Architecture, Dylan loves to be a fun dad, work in the garden, draw ideas with Pen 1.0, and deliver outrageous promise.

On becoming an architect
I had known from a very early age that I wanted to be an architect. I would be regularly lost in deep contemplation and imagination with Lego. I was also a prolific drawer and voracious consumer of science fiction. I was exposed early on to building our own home, and to architecture directly through the fact that my parents met whilst studying architecture at Melbourne University. Yes- architect parents. My dad actually warned me off architecture – he had pursued architecture whilst my mum (now separated) became a standup comedian, writer, director, actor, civil celebrant, and grandmother. As an architect, dad had worked on the construction side for many years, on major projects around the world, and he ended up teaching me many of the pitfalls that architects were falling into- a lack of construction knowledge, an irrelevance and inability to capture scope and deliver outcomes that threatened to relegate architects the ‘choosers of colour’. These were valuable lessons, well learnt and relevant to my practice to this very day. My mother on the other hand taught me humour, respect, humility and how to be a great person. A well rounded outcome strangely carved from the rocky road of circumstance. 

I have had a passion from a very early age to change the world for the better- and architecture seemed to be the best way to touch and form the world in positive ways that still allowed me to work in sculptural, physical and constructive ways.

MAHS (Design by studio505, Dylan Brady & Dirk Zimmermann, Image courtesy of dBA)

On discovering his voice as an architectural designer
Architecture has a long fuse- discovering a voice is about doing a lot of reading along the way to writing your own. I have been lucky to have had opportunities to work on major public buildings in positions of real agency throughout my career- these large projects (Melbourne Exhibition Centre and Melbourne Museum at DCM, Federation Square at LAB) set the bar for aspiration on what and how one can speak and communicate a desire for design.

I am intrigued by architecture that has a clear story- be it a process, a technique or technology, a culture, and movement or thought that imbibes the space and planning and material expression. I have a deeply intuitive design voice, and am often receiving images, forms and complex resolutions resolved and whole from some higher creative well. This is both good and bad, as it is difficult to instantly convey what strikes me and my slowing down of expression and communication is a key driver in my own ongoing development and discovery of the voice of architecture.

Teng Fong (Design by studio505, Dylan Brady & Dirk Zimmermann, Image by John Gollings, CPG)

On becoming a  founding member of deciBel(Architecture)))
I had a bit of a golden run at practice and education. I loved the first degree at Melbourne Uni, and for the mandatory 6 months of practical experience I ended up working for 3 years at DCM, on big public buildings and competitions for both Melbourne Exhibition Centre and the Melbourne Museum. When I went back to school I had done more buildings than many teachers, and so I got an off-campus studio to work from. I started entering competitions in my spare time from uni, and got shortlisted in the second one I entered, for a new swimming pool on Sydney harbour. The jury wrote to me, and mistook my address for a business name, and thus Studio505 was born as a company (studio5, level 05). Thankfully I didn’t win the pool, (ken maher at hassell did a cracker job) and I went on to work for 5 and half years on Federation Square with Lab, as the project architect for the facades and folding hard bits.

From there I went back to studio505, and invited some colleagues to join me on a mad architectural journey, that we saw through for some 13 years- making some extraordinary buildings across south east Asia and locally, before we realized that it was time to spread our wings in new directions. Decibel architecture was born at the beginning of 2016, and we are located now in our own design- being the worlds greenest rated building the Pixel Building.

dB(A) has a very clear and articulated vision and mission. We have built a solid culture up in our 18 staff, and we are very focused not simply on well crafted buildings, but on delivering and supporting a better future through their operation. We are working currently through Asia, and much more through Australia from Tasmania through to the northern territory, on projects that are hard to pigeon hole.

Teng Fong (Design by studio505, Dylan Brady & Dirk Zimmermann, Image by John Gollings, CPG)

On specific principles the firm adheres to
Purpose. We like to assist our clients in uncovering and realizing and making real their deepest purpose. We have strong artistic and technical skills, we listen carefully to the clients expectations, and look beyond those to uncover and help articulate their aspirations, which are often left ‘unsaid’ by clients. 

Clearly sustainability is something we aspire to be challenging and challenged by- we look at all opportunities to harness new massive timber opportunities and delivery and procurement methods that have intriguing opportunities within them.

Ultimately, we are looking to inspire our clients to embrace radical change, and for that embrace to be wholehearted. For the change we create to harness inevitability and guide it towards profound betterment of the environment and our cultural and economic world (which we do not see as mutually exclusive)

Punt Road (Design by Decibel Architecture, Image by Durek Visualisation)

On his responsibility as founding Conductor at dB(A)
As the conductor, my job is to inspire and guide, to hunt and gather work, to wave my hands about a lot, to tap time and ensure coherent integrated outputs and outcomes are orchestrated within the practice. I can play all the instruments (poorly!), but my job is to get all of the team playing their very best in concert with each other and the consultants and client groups.

I am at the moment doing and creating a lot of the front-end work, and setting our strategic directions, but the team are growing in confidence and agency, and my ultimate job is to make myself redundant in the practice.  

Scenic Botanica (Design by Decibel Architecture, Image: Durek Visualisation)

On recent projects that represent the firm’s unique approach
As a young practice, we have lit a lot of fuses on projects that we are very proud of our thinking on. These projects span from a new suburb design in the West of Melbourne known as Scenic Botanica, for some 875 lots on a greenfield site, that really broke all the paradigms for residential planned communities, and is looking to deliver an integration with nature and water unheard of in comparable development. We have created a more efficient, smaller footprint, higher value and water balanced suburb, that actively connects people to natural landscapes and recreation. We are in the early development phases of a mid rise residential project at 105 Punt Road Windsor in Melbourne that is designed in CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) and utilizes Corbusian over and under planning to maximize a lifestyle and sustainability in apartment design that is a niche product without the niche price.

We have also recently completed (as studio505) some stunning examples of left field thinking in Schools and Hospitals, with our work at the Malaysian Academy of Han Studies in Malacca and our colourful extension to the Nanyang Primary School changing a lot of mindsets and inspiring some real change, Our hospital wards at Jurongs’ Ng Teng Fong Hospital in Singapore have also been incredibly successful- delivering a window for every patient, and views to staggered gardens, the project improved natural ventilation by more than 200%, and created unique and inspiring ‘salutonogenic’ design on a massive new scale.

Nanyang Primary School (Design by studio505, Dylan Brady & Dirk Zimmermann, Image by Rory Daniel)

On his design toolkit
As designers we are consistently working in 3D. I work in Pen1.0, as the technology is the same as it was when I first picked one up at age 0. I still have a drawing board and light box and raft of pens and colours and the like available at hand. I sketch continuously, and drive the team to write and sketch as well, to use drawing as a tool to assist in thinking. Even our Grasshopper and dynamo gurus are drawing their folds and manipulations by hand along the path as a physical discussion alongside the parametric algorithms they are writing and building in the computers.

We build predominantly in Rhino+Grasshopper, and then into Revit+Dynamo. We render in 3DSMax, and play the full suite of Adobe Creatives across the top of that. We are utilizing Unity and UnReal engines in our realtime visualisations, and playing with AR, VR and MR all the time.

On the state of design software today
I think software today is in a perilous state actually. Everything has become subscription, and we now own nothing real. We are thus driven to continuous updates and re-learnings, which often are pushed too fast without testing by bigger and bigger software houses. I am also particularly concerned about copyright and the control being effected by the makers of VR and AR/MR like Google, Occulus rift and Samsung- they have cover all clause on the use of software that they basically own everything you do- imagine if the inventor of the microscope had done the same. Ridiculous.

On the disruption and innovation needed in the architecture industry
I think as a profession we need to stop underbidding one another for work. It is a slippery and deadly path. We become irrelevant in the long run as a creative profession if we refuse to argue and engage with the challenges of our profession, and simply underbid to feed a machine. It incentivizes the profession to do the same thing, to outsource and to discount.

A race to the bottom that has already been won in many places by inspections. We as a profession need to be able to expand our thinking, become the brief makers and drive aspiration higher, and be prepared to say no more often.

Nanyang Primary School (Design by studio505, Dylan Brady & Dirk Zimmermann, Image by John Gollings)

On the future of the industry
I think there will, like most of the world, become a greater and greater divide between the haves and have nots. The big practices will grow and continue to buy other practices and wield larger and larger discipline sets in order to ‘harvest’ enough work to survive and ‘grow’ as all shareholding companies must. The smaller practices will become more and more niche- delivering their particular brand to a shrinking market who sustain that practitioner in the manner to which they have become accustomed.

On the future of deciBel(Architecture)))  
We want to mix it up. Be a bit invisible. Be super bright and shiny. Explore some dark and cool corners. Be non-architects about some things, and drop architecture into places it has never been a bit. We want to be explorers, a bit ‘pirate-y’ perhaps. We definitely want to use our minds and hands and hearts to make this world the best it can be.

On advice he would give himself
Trust your gut. Listen a bit more. And have fun.

More Manifestos

Benjamin Markham of Acentech

Benjamin Markham of Acentech

Benjamin Markham profile photograph for Design Manifestos
Benjamin Markham of Acentech (Photograph courtesy of Acentech)

Benjamin Markham brings this passion for acoustics to his role as Principal Consultant and Director of Acentech’s Architectural Acoustics group. His projects involve architectural acoustics, mechanical systems noise and vibration control, and environmental acoustics consulting for performance spaces and other commercial, residential, and civic facilities, and he has an avid interest in acoustical models and 3DListening (computer simulations of acoustic environments). He has consulted on projects related to room acoustics, sound isolation, auditorium and concert hall acoustics, music rehearsal spaces, acoustics of worship spaces, classroom and lecture hall acoustics, environmental noise control, condominium sound isolation, and other aspects of acoustical design. A LEED accredited professional, Ben is a member of the Acoustical Society of America and was awarded the Robert B. Newman Medal for Architectural Acoustics in 2002.

On becoming involved in architectural acoustics
Outside of class I spent most of my time in the theater or music hall. It goes much further back than college though – as a boy I sang in a children’s choir and later took up the saxophone. A love of music was a big part of my childhood, and it hasn’t gone away. When it came time to choose a course of study I decided that the life of a musician wasn’t for me, and followed what I was best at academically: math and science. And while I enjoyed engineering, I realized relatively early on that I didn’t really want to be a structural engineer. I also took many architecture classes and studios and loved those experiences. Acoustics became this beautiful marriage between my interest in design, my aptitude for engineering, and my love of music. I stumbled upon this field in college and I consider myself incredibly fortunate – I love what I do.

On discovering his voice in the field
My earliest and strongest influence within the acoustics field is Carl Rosenberg. I took a class with Carl while an undergraduate at Princeton, in the architecture school. I so loved the class that I took him to lunch and asked him if he could give me a job.  He did, and Acentech has been my professional home ever since. And Carl has been a personal and professional mentor ever since, too.

There are other influences as well of course – my time away from Acentech earning a Masters in acoustics was mostly influenced by my advisor, Paul Calamia, where I focused particularly on computer modeling and simulation – a fascination that also continues; I’m proud to say that Acentech is at the forefront of the industry when it comes to the use of acoustics modeling and simulation in design practice.

Another major influence was Chris Jaffe, a world renowned acoustician with a career in acoustics at the firm he founded. When he retired from that firm he decided he wasn’t finished with acoustics just yet. He joined Acentech, helped us launch our performing arts studio – Studio A – and helped shape my thinking and that of my colleagues particularly as it relates to the acoustical design of performing arts venues. Chris remained a part of the Acentech family for several years, up to his death in 2013.

Shapiro Courtyard at MFA Boston by Acentech for Modelo.io Design Manifesto blog
Shapiro Courtyard at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA (Photograph by Jeff Fullerton, a Principal Consultant in the Architectural Acoustics Group at Acentech)

On joining Acentech
In my time at Acentech I have been involved in some capacity with well over 2,000 projects, large and small, and just about every one of them has been a learning experience. It’s a constant evolution – a bit like learning to dance. When you learn to dance, you might start with some basic steps. But the more you learn, the more you realize how many variations there are – different styles of dance, different nuances or steps or flourishes that you can contribute.

As acoustics consultants, Acentech is a bit like the partner in the dance most of the time. We take our lead from the architect, and it is incumbent upon us to make recommendations that are essential to the design and the success of the project and yet also complement the architectural vision for the projects we help to design. In performing arts projects we will sometimes take the lead for a time, but even then it’s a partnership.

The longer I am here, the more that I have come to learn how best to dance with different partners, achieving excellence in what we do in a way that not only results in a great product but also jives well with our partners’ moves.

Shapiro Courtyard at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA (Photograph by Jeff Fullerton, a Principal Consultant in the Architectural Acoustics Group at Acentech)

On specific principles the firm adheres to
Yes, there are several.

Honesty. Often designing is only part of our role; a big part of our role is also to inform, so that owners and architects and building users can make smart and well-informed decisions about their spaces. We owe it to them and to ourselves to ensure that our guidance is based on real and accurate information, undergirded by our depth of experience and rigorous analysis.

Clarity. Our best work is of little value unless we can convey our priorities – their relevance, importance, constructability, integration and coordination, etc. – in a clear and straightforward manner, understandable not just by people “interested in sound” but also by our design partners, the building owners, etc.

Creativity. It is rare that an acoustical challenge only has one possible solution. Challenges are opportunities for design creativity. We need to respond to the constraints of a project – be they budgetary, spatial, aesthetic, or otherwise – in a nimble fashion that address challenges effectively but also within the project’s larger context.

Practicality. Our recommendations must be buildable.

Forward-thinking. A focus on the practical and realistic does not mean that we cannot “push the envelope.” In fact, every project is a learning opportunity and also an opportunity for innovation – big and small – that collectively keep Acentech at the forefront of the industry.

On his responsibility as Director of Architectural Acoustics at Acentech
I have a few roles – head cheerleader, mentor, emcee, QC. But my primary focus is on my colleagues and their relationships with our clients. It is my responsibility to see to it that our project work is well distributed – that the right team is paired up with the right projects. That means that we have the best and most qualified and experienced consultants on every job, that the project work is interesting and also challenges the consultants that do the work, that the work is fairly and appropriately distributed among the staff, and that our clients are well served by our team.

UMass Boston University Hall by Acentech for Modelo.io Design Manifestos blog
UMass Boston University Hall (Photograph by Anton Grassl at Esto courtesy of Wilson Architects and Acentech)

On recent projects that represent the firm’s unique approach
Our clients have unique approaches to design, and without ducking the question I think it is fair to say that one thing that makes Acentech somewhat unique is our ability to work successfully and collaboratively across a huge range of styles and approaches. The work that we did with Foster & Partners – and their local partner, CBT – on the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston perhaps makes this point. A huge glass-enclosed atrium of stone and steel can be a cacophonous disaster if left untreated. Instead, the MFA enjoys a remarkably functional and flexible space that is comfortable to be in – whether for dining (there is a restaurant that operates in the middle of the courtyard), partying (the museum uses the space for a wide variety of functions), or simply strolling through enjoying the artwork. The room still reads as a glass-enclosed courtyard of stone and steel – but we worked closely with Foster & Partners to incorporate a range of sound-absorbing materials that fit the vernacular of the room. Some of those materials serve other functions as well – such as the stretched microperforated membranes at the roof, which reduces solar heat gain in the room. That space was a collaborative effort, to be sure. And it didn’t just happen around a drafting table either – computer modeling and simulation were a critical part of the design process. Acentech often employs acoustics simulations for spaces that are beyond their traditional function of performing arts spaces. In the case of the MFA, the trustees of the museum as well as the design team sat in the driver’s seat and walked through an immersive, three-dimensional simulation of the room during the design process, comparing the sound of the space under various design schemes. That iterative experience – we created over dozen acoustical simulations of that room – ultimately led to the acoustical design that museum patrons enjoy today.

That deeply collaborative approach is on display in other buildings too – like the recently completed University Hall building at UMass Boston. The building combines the chemistry department, the visual arts department, music, theater, and dance all under one roof – and that roof happens to be directly under the flight path to Logan Airport. In the recital hall, we incorporated a range of variable treatments in the room so that the music department can alter the room to suit their needs – from jazz to sacred choral music to classical recitals. The design of those elements was the result of our discussions with the music department about their wide ranging needs and our collaborations with the architect (Wilson Architects of Boston) and the project’s theater consultant (Theatre Projects Consultants of Norwalk, CT). And the design of the glazing – yes, there is a huge window in a recital hall in the flightpath of a major international airport – resulted from measurements we made on site of aircraft noise, rigorous analysis of window sound transmission properties, and careful coordination of the window design in the architectural context with the design team. The result is a double curtainwall system – an outer curtainwall that follows the contour of the building’s exterior and an inner curtainwall that forms a part of the musician’s platform enclosure – that are separated by an airspace that varies in depth from 5 to 8 feet. And these are just a few details in an extraordinarily multidisciplinary building that could only have been realized with client engagement and close collaboration among the design team.

On his design toolkit
The process starts with engagement with our team and our collective client – to be sure we understand the needs and goals of the project. We must be “client first.” Once design begins, we use a fairly wide range of tools – sophisticated measurement tools for assessing existing or environmental conditions, BIM software, acoustics modeling software for room acoustics design and sound system design, finite element modeling for complex structural dynamics analysis, signal processing and data analysis using Matlab routines as well as computer programs that we have written in-house, acoustical simulations programmed in Max MSP, and good old spreadsheet calculations. 3D modeling certainly plays a critical role – whether its laying out a sound system in coordination with the rest of the design team, or developing an immersive, three-dimensional sound simulation – we couldn’t do what we do without thinking three dimensionally.

On the state of design software today
In acoustics particular the state of the art has evolved by leaps and bounds in the last decade, and that evolution continues apace with the advent of readily available VR platforms, increasing computer horsepower, improved understanding of the perceptual impact of three-dimensional acoustical signals, and other advances. Commercially available design software sometimes struggles to keep up, but that’s okay – it makes it a fun time to be part of a firm at the cutting edge of using these tools to benefit design.

UMass Boston University Hall Lab by Acentech for Modelo.io Design Manifestos blog
UMass Boston University Hall Lab (Photograph by Anton Grassl at Esto courtesy of Wilson Architects and Acentech)

On the disruption and innovation needed in architectural acoustics
When we started bringing simulations into regular use in our practice, it was a game changer – it utterly changed the dynamic of how we could interact with clients, colleagues, and collaborators in developing designs. There remains a perception though that such simulation is out of reach for “simple” or “every day” project work. Either that simulation is too expensive or too cumbersome or insufficiently nimble. But that is changing – and the broader design community would do well to harness the power of these tools not just for “fancy concert halls” but for any circumstance where sound matters.

Which brings me to my second point: sound matters. Almost always. It matters in a museum, it matters in a library, it matters in a dorm building, it matters in a research center and in the office and in a hospital and in a pharmaceutical lab. The future of work – whether collaborative and open or focused and “deep work” – depends on an understanding of acoustical design in the office. The future of learning depends on an understanding of acoustics and technology in (and outside) the classroom. The future of healthcare depends in part on knowing that you can’t recuperate well or quickly if you’re constantly awoken by the buzzes and beeps that permeate our hospitals. Sound really matters, and the design community needs to know it.

On the future of the industry
I expect that the pace of design will continue to hasten. I expect that simulation, visualization, and VR will increasingly play a role in conveying design ideas to clients and among design partners. And yet lots of fundamentals will remain unchanged: great buildings require thought, engagement, true collaboration, and excellent design.

On Acentech’s role in the future
We will remain “envelope pushers” – we’ve long been innovators, whether in acoustical simulation, remote monitoring of sound and vibration, sound masking, or other realms of acoustical design – and we will thrive on the continued evolution of these and other design tools in the years ahead.

On advice he would give himself
Listen more. Talk less. We’re in an industry where listening is central – we need to listen to rooms incredibly critically and understand the implications of what we hear. We need to listen to architects and engineers and understand their priorities and objectives and constraints. We need to listen to clients and building users about their real and important aural experience. When you’re talking, you might be teaching but you’re not learning. And the younger version of me (and the current version of me!) could do well to listen more and learn from the process.

More Manifestos

Randy Deutsch of Deutsch Insights

Randy Deutsch of Deutsch Insights

Randy Deutsch AIA, LEED AP is the Associate Director for Graduate Studies and Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign teaching design, professional practice, building technology and digital technology. Randy is a BIM authority and architect responsible for the design of over 100 large, complex sustainable projects. He leads an Executive Education program at Harvard GSD, and is the author of three books: Convergence: The Redesign of Design (AD, 2017) on the nature of the ongoing convergence of technology and work processes; Data Driven Design and Construction: Strategies for Capturing, Analyzing and Applying Building Data (Wiley, 2015) on the innovative individuals and firms who are leveraging data to advance their practices; and, BIM and Integrated Design: Strategies for Architectural Practice (Wiley, 2011) tracking the social and organizational impacts of the new technologies and collaborative work processes.

On becoming an architect
As far back as I can remember, I thought of myself as an architect. I never wanted to become one, because I felt I already was one. Architecture and being an architect, in other words, was mine to lose. So, nothing drove me to pursue the profession since, even as a 5 year old, I already was one (though the Department of Professional Regulation may take exception.)

I didn’t know any architects growing up. My uncle, a big shot lawyer, was an early influence. When I was 4 or 5, on one of his sporadic visits, he stood on my basement stairs in his three-piece suit and told me that his best friends were attorneys and architects. Since he had a lock on law, I took architecture. As his friend, I must be an architect. Such was my logic at the time. Years on, it’s stuck and I’m still married to architecture.

That’s not to say I didn’t have mistresses. I loved to paint and draw, and was a professional cartoonist all through school, including college – which just means I was paid for my cartoons. I acted in plays, and wrote and submitted plays to contests – some of which I won and had my plays produced. But these were side-acts: because I knew deep down I was an architect that enabled me to experiment. And in all my years I don’t recall ever being bored – always having architecture to come back to, like a lover who’ll always take you back no matter your transgressions. What a fabulous way to go through life, I thought: being at play not only in the world, but with the world. That’s what being an architect meant to me – and still does.

From an early age, knowing what you were going to do – what you were – in life, was very liberating. No reading What Color is Your Parachute? No laying in bed staring up at the ceiling pondering alternative futures. No scheduling conferences with career counselors. So I got to work right away. At home we had a complete set of circa 1970 World Book Encyclopedias, the signature green & cream hardcover, all 20 volumes A-Z. I immediately set the article on Architecture – with a capital A – to memory. So much so, that I half-convinced myself that I designed Brasilia, until my elementary school teacher set me straight. It was, she said, Oscar Niemeyer (who was, perhaps more famously known to my adolescent self for the eponymous wiener.)

On the journey to becoming an architecture professor
Just as I was always an architect, I was always an architecture professor. I just knew it was my destiny. I loved high school so much that I’d sleep there overnight, and have never lived far from a college campus. What I didn’t know was that I would one day, post-graduation, marry an MBA who said “Professor? Over my dead body!” (Or something to that effect.) My wife wanted me to make a respectable living first (ostensibly as an architect and playwright,) so I waited until I was about 15 years into my architecture career – and actually had something to offer students – before I started teaching. Which worked out rather well. For the first seven years I taught full-time while working full-time, and today I teach full-time, write books full-time, and serve in my administrative role full time. I love what I do and don’t remember ever having a bad day.

The main difference between when I first started out teaching, and today, is the research. Since, as an academic I come from practice, I conduct practice-based research where I meet with architects, engineers, contractors, and owners to observe what they’re working or focused on and connect the dots. Looking for patterns, I’m able to anticipate what’s on the horizon. That said, higher education doesn’t value speculating on the future, so I don’t write it about it in those terms, but in terms of technology, data, and convergence.

On specific principles he adheres to
I’m a firm believer in progress. That things didn’t peak with Shakespeare, and the best is yet to come. Perhaps it’s overly simplistic, but all of my designs look as though they’re moving toward something. Nothing I work on is static: my design is integrated, data driven, and there’s convergence, right? All of my building projects capture this movement – as though they’re moving toward something. They have directionality, in that I believe buildings need to be pointing toward something: as though, like the people who inhabit and use them, they’re animated, goal-oriented. I design Type-A architecture.

On being the Managing Principal at Deutsch Insights
I’ve been a licensed architect for 30 years and have been responsible for the design of over 100 large, complex sustainable projects, some of which have appeared in Architectural Record, Architect Magazine, among other periodicals. I feel like, at least for me, that my role as an architect is the least interesting part of my story. My role throughout my career has been to recognize nascent talent and help others to see it too.

On being an Associate Director of Graduate Studies at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Officially? I oversee graduate student recruitment, admissions, yielding activities; the award of a half-million dollars in scholarships, fellowships, and teaching assistantships; enrollment, orientation and advising; coordinating reviews in graduate design studios; collaborating in alumni development efforts; and, contributing to operational and strategic planning beneficial to the school and the Director. Unofficially, how I really spend my time is helping our grad students prepare for their first year out of school, and their 10th or 15th year. One thing I do is help them land a job. Not just any job, an exceptional job. A dream job. I love having the opportunity to leverage a lifetime in the profession and industry by picking up the phone and finagling an interview on a student’s behalf; or help them think like employers and accordingly fine-tune their cover letters, resumes, and portfolios; and alert them to what interview questions to expect; or coach them to get a better salary, title, or perks. Our students are getting two or three job-offers apiece, some with signing bonuses. They need to know how to turn others down while leaving doors open. The story we tell ourselves, that architects can’t make good money, is self-fulfilling and dangerous. I’m not ashamed to help my students get what they deserve, and to help firms see what added value their hires in return will deliver. More than anything I serve as our student’s advocate, and sometimes a sponsor – if you will, a Secret Santa – assuring their careers are off to the best possible start, and continue to mentor many of them long after they’ve left the nest of school.

Years ago I used to live next door to Michael Graves, in Princeton NJ and have never forgotten how he explained when a student would interview with him, and he knew immediately that the student wasn’t right for his firm, how he would pick up the phone and call Richard Meier. And how, by the end of that day, the student was working for Meier. I’ve been the recipient and benefactor of other’s kindness throughout my career, and have tried to use that same kind of pass-it-forward mentality in everything I do.

On his book, Convergence: The Redesign of Design.
Half of what we do as architects is pattern recognition. I noticed a few years ago that almost everybody – in podcasts, articles, blog posts, keynotes – was saying that things in our industry were converging, without ever once saying what that meant. As a good academic, I wanted to start by defining the term, then determine what exactly was converging, and what that means for us in both practice and education.

Convergence: The Redesign of Design Image Submitted for Modelo.io
Convergence: The Redesign of Design (Photograph courtesy of Randy Deutsch)

We recognize that architecture is a complex undertaking requiring the input of many individuals with varying interests, backgrounds and expertise. This has not – and will not – change. What is changing is the way these individuals are working, communicating and collaborating. Their individual contributions – and the tools they are using – are converging. Those working in architecture feel pressure to work faster, at lower cost, while maintaining a high level of innovation and quality. At the same time, emergent tools and processes make this possible. Architects are expected to design, fabricate, and construct in a manner that uses fewer resources, while still innovating, adding value and reducing waste. Deliverables have to take less time, cost less money to produce, while not compromising on quality – expectations that many feel are unrealistic at best, often resulting in a negative impact on outcomes, working relationships and experiences. Old paradigms such as “Quality, Speed, & Price: pick any two” no longer apply. Owners expect all three – Perfect, Now and Free – on almost every project. I’ve found that an understanding of the convergence that is taking place is pivotal to practice – and how architects will work in the years ahead; it is critical to education – and how architects are trained and educated; and it is central in the reappraisal of architecture that this transformation will bring about.

To meet today’s demands for speed, affordability and quality – architects are integrating their efforts. With increasing demands to make decisions in real time – having met the challenges and opportunities of this moment – we are moving beyond the linearity metaphor and thinking in terms of simultaneity, super-integration and convergence.

On the state of design software today
Overall, I feel like software is in a lull. While the greatest growth area continues to be design technologists and their firms supplanting manufactures as software innovators, too much has happened too quickly and we we’re finding ourselves perpetually playing catch-up. At the same time, some recent releases of our go-to tools have let us down. On the hype cycle, we’re in the trough of disillusionment. The good news is, that means the slope of enlightenment and plateau of productivity aren’t too far off.

Revit is, while making strides, developmentally at a standstill. On the horizon, I’m concerned that Autodesk’s Project Quantum – where the project team surrounds the campfire of data – will place architects and their team members into silos. If Convergence has taught us one thing, our roles are blurring, and we’re increasingly thinking more like one another – which is beneficial. I think future software platforms need to take this into consideration.

On the future of architecture
I see opportunity in four areas. Empathy: Architects need to learn how to better understand and share the feelings of others, especially those who are most unlike ourselves. That’s how we’ll not only continue to connect with prospective clients, but also address impending automation. Second, Relevance: With CMs, owner’s reps, among others threatening to eat the architect’s lunch, we need to become better at telling others about the value we offer. That begins with a conversation we need to have with ourselves. I’m not sure we are convinced of, completely appreciate, or even understand the value we offer others. Third, Moonshot: As appealing as much of contemporary architecture appears to be, we’re really only redesigning deckchairs on the Titanic, and need to identify moonshot problems commensurate to our capacity to imagine, design and wonder. And lastly, and perhaps the most important in terms of our survival, Business Model/Platform Innovation: We need stop selling ourselves short by billing only for our time.

About Design Manifestos

Feature Interviews with Architects & Designers from Around the World.

At Modelo we are focused on connecting with all of the professionals in the building design industry including architects, engineers and general contractors. Through our highly regarded Design Manifestos, we aim to explore how these highly-talented and creative people came to pursue their crafts, who and what have influenced them most and how their unique voices have evolved over time. Part reflection. Part aspiration. Welcome to Design Manifesto from Modelo.

Interested in getting involved?

We love hearing from new architects, designers, fabricators and other skilled creative people who want to tell the world their stories. If this sounds like you, or someone who you know don’t hesitate to reach out to us through the form below. Please be sure to read our guidelines below.

Name *



Interview Goals: Clear, honest, personal reflections and declarations from designers, architects, fabricators, general contractors and other highly-skilled creative individuals

  • Minimum 1800 words / Maximum 2500 words
  • 1 high-resolution photograph of the interview subject at least 1200px wide
  • 3-5 images/renderings of each project discussed in interview
  • Photographs must be royalty-free or have the express permission of the photographer for inclusion in press materials
  • Photographs must be attributed to the photographer
  • Upload one model of one unbuilt project using Modelo
  • Contact information (email, phone number, website, etc)
  • General contractor and Structure consultant/ fabricator’s information for each project
  • Videos
  • Anything else you’d like to share

How it Works

  • Interviews are typically conducted with one or two people, intimate interviews are the best kind
  • Interviews are typically conducted via email (or phone call if preferred by interviewee)
  • The interview is then transcribed and edited for clarity and concision
  • You will receive a draft of the interview prior to publishing with the opportunity to make minor edits
  • Timelines vary, but we aim to provide you with a draft within 7 business days, once we have all required materials
  • Publication occurs first here on our company blog as well as on our Design Manifestos publication via Medium
  • We share the interview across social networks such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Pinterest and encourage you to do the same
  • Select interviews are included in our weekly email newsletter

Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos

Enrique Norten of TEN Arquitectos

Enrique Norten is the director and founder of TEN Arquitectos. He was born in Mexico City in 1954. He studied architecture in Iberoamericana University (1978) and holds a Master in Architecture from Cornell University (1980). In 1986, he founded TEN Arquitectos and in 2000 opened a second office in New York. TEN ARQUITECTOS develops research projects, design, architecture and infrastructure. Over more than two decades, the office has resized public space, in the adaptation of industrial or historical infrastructure as institutional and emblematic architectures with buildings that become topographies from everyday urban notions to emerging landscape; works and projects with social, environmental, political and financial responsibility, a sustainable cycle where architecture becomes a sequence of places converging in the city. Recently, Modelo had the opportunity to meet with Enrique and learn more about his unique approach and philosophy on design.

On becoming an architect
The truth is that I came very late to architecture. Although I probably would’ve loved it if I had more information earlier on. I didn’t know what architecture was. Nobody in my family was in the creative fields, so I didn’t have a lot of exposure to any of these disciplines. Also, I went to a very pragmatic school, as many of the schools in my country were at the time. The idea of architecture or the notion of the discipline and the profession of architecture just didn’t exist in my limited world. People were either builders or engineers. There wasn’t that option at least in my life. It took me quite a while after several trial and errors in different fields to little by little find what I wanted to do. I cannot say like many others of my colleagues can that I’ve wanted to be an architect since I was six years old. I don’t have any of that. I had to find it myself and I started falling in love with it, but I was already in my twenties midway through college or by the end of college that I started discovering this fantastic opportunity

On finding his voice as a designer
I went to architecture school in Mexico City. In Mexico, it’s different than college in the US. Here you go to college in a very general manner, we have more of the European tradition in our schools where you have to enroll directly to a profession. After trying several wrong paths I then got enrolled into the school of design. I wasn’t sure what kind of design I was looking for. Little by little I found architecture, then I had to transfer. Obviously it was my classmates and my professors who started giving me those windows that eventually I could open and fall in love with the profession. It was really the beginning and then to start understanding the huge history of architecture. I started seeing and following people, most of them dead, so I’m very grateful to all of those gone that set up great platforms for all of us.

On the experience of starting his own firm
I started my own firm basically almost 30 years ago in Mexico City. As many young practitioners I started my firm with a couple friends, we had no work so we were all teaching at the time, trying to earn a little living on the side although it was our main purpose. We tried to do a competition here, a competition there, or tried to help a friend rebuild his kitchen. That’s how you start a firm. 30 years is a long time, they go very fast though. As I’ve always said, you become successful with a very tiny project, which allows you to get a project that is 1.5x that size and you start building trust. That 1.5 becomes a 3, and that 3 becomes a 6, and that 6 becomes a 12. That’s how you start creating trust and creating attention. We were very lucky from the beginning that with very small projects, they generated national press and generated interest in our work. We were in Mexico City, which was a very closed condition. Needless to say at the time I was teaching in the United States, we had relationships with important thinkers and writers of architecture. They got interested and started publishing our work that was also recognized in our own city. There was a curiosity from other people in our own city who started betting on our capacities, which were very limited at the time. That’s how it started growing little by little until today where we have larger opportunities.

On principles he strives to adhere to
There are many things. As you know by now, architecture is a very complex discipline. I’ve always seen architecture as a reach overlap of many layers of information. Now that I look back, there are many issues that have been present in our practice or research, which is both the same and different, but in the end is one. These issues have always been there and they’re varied. Coming from a country like Mexico and a city like Mexico City, I realized that the urban issues have always been a very important source of information in our work. Those issues at the same time are very complex, they’re from social issues to all the physical issues. I believe that architecture goes way beyond the physicality of it. I could say yes, there are some urban themes that have been important to us and they go from any kind of political, social, environmental, issues of mobility that somehow influence our work. There are also many conditions of physicality and design: public space has always been a very important issue to us. I strongly believe that as I look back I realize that for us — I speak for my whole team — the importance of the object is a secondary condition to the importance of the void in the city. That’s where I started understanding the importance of what makes a city. The city obviously is made by mass and void, but what’s really important and where we’ve missed many opportunities, has been in addressing the void. The void is the part that we’re not hired to look at. We’re always hired or commissioned to look at the mass. There are many issues that have become important that have been there. Such as urban landscape, topography, territory — all of those have been sitting and laying there for all of these 30 years. On the other side, I’ve always been interested in the most pragmatic aspects of architecture, which are issues of constructions, materiality, or systems. We could just keep going with things. Many of these are retrospective reflections, but they’re important because they gave us platforms for the future, to look back and push forward.

On how his projects relate to these principles
Every project has both for us. Every project has the importance of the moment, that you become part of that baggage. Projects refer to each other. Some are more successful than others for many reasons. The process of architecture is very long. Projects may last 3 years or sometimes they last 12–15 years, sometimes more. Obviously when you start conceiving something to when it’s done, we have changed. We look at the world a little differently, things have changed. And then you start looking at all of those missed opportunities. That’s also what keeps us going because that gives us new energy to look differently at the next project. For me, it’s true. I look at all of the work that’s been done as part of that background or baggage of our firm, what I’m interested in what we’re doing now and what’s coming.

On the future of the firm
Just to keep doing what we’re doing. As long as we’re lucky enough to keep having the opportunities, to keep on working with the cities and our communities, doing architecture — those are my aspirations. Every project is important. There are not feelings that I would love to do a certain project, we’re super lucky. We have great projects, we have fabulous counterparts — I don’t like the word clients. I see them as a counterpart in a dialogue that you need to create something. We have the opportunity to be dealing with and working with fabulous peopleand great institutions and each project regardless of the program or the location — they’re amazing, unique opportunities. We want to keep them going and coming in different manners. I would be very happy if we could just keep on doing our research and trying to bring something to our communities to do the best.

On the future of architecture in the next 5–10 years
From a physical point of view, I don’t know. We don’t have a crystal ball, but from what I can tell you is something that’s changing with my immediate colleagues. Architects are taking on very serious responsibilities and many issues that have been let go. Our predecessors started with the great modern architects who created amazing work. It’s almost incredible when you look back now and realize the big revolution of 100 years ago. Because they got so involved in doing those amazingly beautiful objects, they got distracted from many issues of responsibilities. The obvious one is the issues of the environment, but those are way too discussed. They’re over-exposed already. Architects stopped being the game changers in fields of politics, of economics, of building infrastructure. Many issues that we just looked away from, when I say we I mean as a guild — the profession. I see that more and more. How many of our colleagues and my own interest is to come back and participate in all of those realms of our communal life that we should’ve kept pushing and we didn’t. Obviously we’re living through these incredible and amazing digital revolution. The initial stage of that revolution are all those new opportunities that the digital world has given to architecture are done, nobody’s interested anymore. It’s one of those little fads, I’m not interested. They’re great tools and the world is much more connected, it’s fabulously communicated. We’re all working in a big, global community, but all of that is dull. All of us have to come back to many of the basics. That’s going to be a big change for architecture, for the perception of architecture, and for the future of the profession.

On the response of the counterparts
The community at large is already starting to understand the capacities of the profession or what the profession can provide. We’re not anymore that group of elitist people that can draw a beautiful facade or that can do crazy things on the computer. That’s really boring. We have to regain that respect that our professional always had and had up to the two big World Wars of the last century. Suddenly we started fading away and ended up at the end of the century in not a very strong or good position. That’s where my generation starts practicing, weare 3rd or 4th generation of Moderns perhaps. That’s when we started reconsidering all of those issues with two big distractions. The distractions of the ’80s and ’90s that now some Historians call Post-Modernism. And the distractions of this early century, which is this new digital imagery that flooded. I see them both as bad and very similar, having lived through both.

On advice he would give himself when first starting
Don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop going way beyond the limits. As one of my professors said, “the limits of reality are in your imagination.” On the other hand, be very patient and careful. Discipline is absolutely fundamental in this profession. Success will take a long time. There are no child prodigies in architecture.


Alejandro Giraldo of THW Design

Alejandro Giraldo of THW Design

Alejandro Giraldo of THW Design

Alejandro Giraldo is an Associate and Senior Designer of THW Design in Atlanta, Georgia, which is noted as one of the nation’s top Senior Living Design firms with more than 900 commissions worldwide. Thinking forward for over 50 years, THW has been delivering expertise as a full service design firm. Alejandro has been deeply involved in the design and execution of multiple senior housing projects across the country including repositioning of large not for profit communities as well as targeted expansions and renovations.


During his previous practice overseas in Colombia, he was recognized with various architectural design awards for his exceptional work and has also had architectural design teaching experience, which he brings to THW. For the last couple of years he has been part of the team that worked closely with Leading Age in establishing the Idea House, a nationally recognized hands-on educational experience that highlights and demonstrates the latest trends in senior living design. Alejandro is also LEED Accredited Professional and a Certified Aging Service Professional CASP from the University of North Texas. Modelo spent some time learning about Alejandro’s journey through the profession and about his predictions regarding the future of the industry.


On becoming an architect
Growing up, there weren’t architects in my family or professionals in the construction industry. However, my mother was always a strong influence. As an artist with lifelong experiences with various techniques and styles, she played a significant role in my creative development.


While in high school, a good friend from childhood started architectural school. Throughout his education, I spent a great deal of time observing his work and involvement in projects. I became intrigued and excited about architecture and design as a profession. However, a statement from my father stuck in my mind, “don’t go to school because you want to “study” something, do it because you want to practice the rest of your life.” To learn more about the profession, I went to visit a couple architectural firms to experience the work environment. The next year I was accepted into architectural school and have been passionate about design since.


Lenbrook, Atlanta, Georgia (Sargent Architectural Photography courtesy of THW Design)

On discovering his voice as a designer
My education had a very strong emphasis on modern design, with influence from LeCorbusier, Mies Van der Rohe, and Louis Kahn. As well as contemporary design, including many notable architects from the Spanish architecture movement of the 1990’s like Rafael Moneo, Alberto Cruz & Alberto Ortiz, and Carlos Ferrater. Portuguese architects were influential as well such as, Eduardo Soto de Moura, and Alvaro Siza Vieira. In addition, the modern movement in Colombia from the 1950’s and 1960’s and the timeless architecture of Colombian master Rogelio Salmona, were influential throughout my studies and early practice.


For about five years, I taught in my alma mater, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana in Medellin, Colombia. That experience alone was instrumental on my approach to research, resolve and communication in my practice. Teaching keeps you updated and eager to learn like nothing else. After completing my bachelor’s degree in architecture, I became part of a team that participated and won a major public project: the new city hall for the city of Manizales, Colombia. The team leaders were atop the best architects in my city at the time. During the development of this project, we established a practice together for a couple of years and worked on several projects. Those years were full of amazing experiences and exceptional growth which influenced my career and design approach tremendously.


On joining THW Design
After practicing in South America for a few years, I decided to look for other opportunities and expand my knowledge base. I began seeking opportunities out of the country, such as Spain, the United States, and Canada. Research led me to THW Design. I saw their portfolio and grew interested in their work so I sent my resume. At the time my portfolio was formatted as a 2000 PDF file, which was not very popular, and very few people could open the files.


When I did not get a response from THW, I decided to go and visit them, knock on the door and hope to win their attention. It was an unusual approach but I was determined to make it happen. In retrospect, I could not be more grateful to the THW Design leadership who granted me an opportunity not many would have. I was a foreign architect with no experience in United States, who lived out of the country. Despite those facts, they recognized that I was self-driven and equipped with strong design skills in high rise and residential buildings. Overall, I believe it was research and perseverance, which lead me to THW and senior living design, which has been my passion for the last 16 years.


My approach to architecture and design has evolved tremendously since I joined the firm. There are several differences between practicing overseas versus in the United States. For example, languages, dimensional systems, construction systems, architectural styles and market demands. Learning to adapt was like a new beginning for me. In senior living, particularly, I quickly began to experience many examples of transitional architecture. Thus, I have learned that good design is not just contemporary, but rather, it is about being able to recognize the vernacular, basic design elements, functional needs, and geometric proportions of a project and translate those into the design solution.


A good, well-rounded architect needs to be able to apply any style to a building and can make it meaningful, timeless and contextualized.


Marquette, Indianapolis, Indiana (Images by Richard Clark Photography courtesy of THW Design)

On specific principles he strives to adhere to
Throughout each project I work on, my primary goal is to understand the region, aesthetic and architectural style and apply minimal and clean elements to elevate buildings and environments that are often viewed in a more traditional way. Also, I am always looking for ways to innovate and see beyond the design challenge to bring new and fresh ideas to the table.


On his role at THW Design
Collaboration is a large part of my daily responsibilities and I enjoy working with people, from the clients, the principals, and in-house development teams. I am heavily involved in business development as well as marketing at THW. Being involved in so many areas means that my position is evolving and it is one that is hard to define from a “title” standpoint. I am a designer at the core and that has been my main role throughout years. Design in combination with my other interdisciplinary responsibilities has given me tools to understand and interpret the clients’ needs while proposing and supporting our ideas for the project. Having a management position in the projects allows me the unique opportunity to maintain the design concepts throughout each phase of design and construction. The support from our in-house technical and operations groups are fundamental in making this happen.


On recent projects that represent the firm’s unique approach
Our name is THW Design for a reason. Our goal is “to provide strategic, innovative solutions that create exceptional environments to enhance and enrich the human experience.” We do have a collaborative approach in Design, and a knowledge base with decades in experience. Our founders had a visionary approach and aimed to be one step ahead of the evolution of the industry, something that our long tenured leadership has been able to maintain throughout the years.


Lenbrook SketchUp Models (Images courtesy of THW Design)

On his design toolkit
About ten years ago I started using Sketchup. The simplicity of the interface, the ease to construct, manipulate views, create textures and simulate shadows are incredible. I use it every day now and it is my primary design tool. It is the best way to express my ideas to the clients, which find it very intuitive and a helpful tool to understand their projects. Similarly, Sketchup models are used often by the in-house production teams as a tool to communicate with contractors. Even in early development phases like Schematic Design and Design Development, Sketchup models can be useful for early quantification for preliminary budgets as well.

Since THW Design is comprised of Land Planning, Architecture and Interiors, we are involved in all levels of design. Several years ago, we developed our own planning tool to assist clients in preliminary master planning processes, called IPP (Interactive Project Planning) which provides a framework for informed decision making, performance evaluation and high level financial modeling using proprietary software tools.

The combination of these tools, in addition to Photoshop, InDesign, are what we use in our everyday work.


On the state of design software today
Over the timespan of my career, I have gone through several design tools changes. I started with the drafting board, pencils and rapidograph pens when I started architectural school. My first experience with CAD was in the early 1990’s. The mouse was my pencil and AutoCAD became a resource for design, presentation, and documentation from that point forward. Now I am using Revit and I believe it is a great documentation tool, however, it is still very complex. That complexity makes it less useful in the preliminary design stages, especially for early adopters and “old school” users. I’m sure it will get there eventually, but I don’t believe it is quite there yet.


Plymouth Harbor, Sarasota, Florida (SketchUp models courtesy of THW Design)

On where the industry is in need of disruption
Some of the current and future challenges due to climate change, population growth, accelerated urbanization, shortage of natural resources will have a tremendous impact in the future of architecture. We need to learn how to better educate and aid our clients in understanding the changes in the different industries. We need to help them studying their current environments and see if what they have been doing for decades it is still applicable for future generations of users. I believe we need take the chance, invest in the future, be the trendsetter not the follower.


On the future of architecture in the next 5–10 years
Specialties: I truly believe in “boutique” practices, and I am not talking about size. But rather, being focused on a market and being the best at it. Focus on and aim to understand the changing culture, economy, globalization, and demographic setting. I believe that is the future direction of the industry.


On the future of THW Design
At THW, we are always looking for ways to break the mold and implement new design ideas. For example, we were doing sustainable buildings in the early 1970’s before it was a trend. Today we are opening new markets and we continue to look toward the future while maintaining our leadership in the Senior Living Design industry.


On advice he would give his younger self
Take your time to learn, find and develop your talents and do not either procrastinate, or go too fast. Everything comes at the right time. You need to define your path and make your own decisions. If not, something or someone else will define it for you.

Design Manifestos: Brad Prestbo of Sasaki Associates, Inc. | Modelo Blog Series

Brad Prestbo (Photograph courtesy of Sasaki Associates)

Brad Prestbo is a Senior Associate at Sasaki Associates in Watertown, Massachusetts. He is an architect with twenty years of experience working on some of the nation’s most prestigious campuses. A problem-solver with great technical skill, he has been part of several award-winning project teams. As chair of Sasaki’s Technical Resource Group, Brad shares his knowledge of design and detailing with the rest of firm to promote better practices in architecture. Modelo spent some time learning about Brad’s journey through the profession and about his current role at Sasaki.

On becoming an architect
I have been enamored with this profession since I was very young. But of course a young person’s idea of what an architect does is very different from my day-to-day duties now. This profession has such depth and breadth, it would take a lifetime or two to explore every dimension. I’ve been challenged and inspired so much more than what a younger me could ever have anticipated.

I owe my two grandfathers for providing the inspiration and drive toward this profession. Lake was very handy. A quiet man, he taught me about making things with a hands-on approach — which I still value today and use with my students. Oscar’s lesson was to do whatever your were doing to the best of your ability. Whether the task at hand was delivering a speech in class or folding laundry, he wanted me to give it all I had.

In between my junior and senior year in high school, I attended Syracuse University’s college program in architecture for high school students. The Syracuse program was fantastic. Taking real college-level classes, away from home, making lifelong friendships and being totally immersed in this new and exciting world was eye-opening. I was hooked. A few of us received the Citation of Excellence for the class. Afterwards I applied for early-decision to Syracuse and was accepted.

Kit of Parks (Photographs courtesy of Sasaki Associates)

On discovering his voice as a designer
As important as my professors at Syracuse were, my first colleagues at PDRP were extremely influential on my career and who encouraged me to think past the small details of architecture. But nobody was more important than my wife, who was a constant source of encouragement. The project that launched my broader ambitions was Steven Holl’s Simmons Hall at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for which PDRP acted as executive architect. This was an intense project, and led by an amazing team. Working hand-in-hand with Steven’s office was truly inspiring. I can still recall receiving faxes (!) from Holl’s office with sponge prints and updated design direction and the subsequent conversations with colleagues about how best to incorporate them, make them constructible, all the while maintaining overall design integrity. It was an awesome experience. I made the mistake of keeping track of all of the overtime I spent on that project, which was so shocking that I don’t keep track of “time” anymore.

On joining Sasaki Associates
After Simmons Hall finished up, I was starting to feel burnt out and needed a change of pace. A former colleague suggested that I talk to Sasaki, which, at the time, was looking to build up its architecture practice. Working for an office with projects all over the world that touch the lives of more than one billion people makes one consider soberly what you are designing. In school and my early employment, I was solely focused on architectural building projects. Sasaki is an integrated design practice, incorporating disciplines such as urban design, civil engineering, environmental graphic design, landscape architecture and interior design, in addition to building architecture.

But what keeps me at Sasaki in the level of integration of those disciplines. The level of collaboration we achieve fundamentally changes the way each team member thinks about the built environment because the sphere of context is expanding. This forces the team to consider aspects of the built environment differently than through only one discipline’s lens.

On specific principles the firm strives to adhere to
We try to instill an inquisitive approach to our projects, and try to understand the fundamental nature of the problem we are trying to solve. Something along the lines of exploring the “first principles” of a problem, where the problem can be broken down to elemental pieces that require no assumptions. From this baseline, the team begins building up the reasoning to resolve the problem.

For example, when working on a project for Ohio State University, we wanted to use precast concrete panels to clad the project. Conventional thinking would be to use those panels as the environmental barrier system, but this system has an inherent flaw of relying on sealant between panels to maintain the environmental integrity. We didn’t want to recommend this approach to OSU. With “first principles” thinking, we developed a strategy to hang the panels, while creating a drained cavity cladding system, maintaining our air-water-vapor barrier and providing continuous insulation. Building Design and Construction magazine honored the approach in their “Great Solutions” series.

On his role at Sasaki Associates
I practice at the intersection of art and building science, which combine in an architectural alchemy that resolves clients’ needs and embraces the surrounding context. One side of me is obsessed by technique and detail. The other is spontaneous, adaptive, and wary of getting bogged down with complicated processes. This duality manifests in being a practicing architect who works on a variety of project types, disciplines and scales; helping make people successful — from emerging professionals to seasoned veterans — through teaching, product and service development, and mentorship; and in leading a cross-disciplinary group of “pirates” doing epic stuff in our Technical Resource Group (TRG).

Helping to found, and having been part of TRG for a decade, I now act as a mentor to the next generation of thinkers and makers. TRG started off as a small group that wanted to raise Sasaki’s profile through technical proficiency.

On projects that represent the firm’s unique approach
Today, simultaneous revolutions of mobility, connectivity, and identity are changing our experience of work and, along with it, our relationship to place. At Sasaki, we harness this power to make human hopes and dreams into sites and structures. This has been our core tenet since day one. In every project, new possibility is translated into new action. We think beyond the building, beyond the site, beyond the grid, to design for people and for society.

For us, that action is making in our “FabLab”, which represents much more than having a single space to develop prototypes or print specific designs — it is a mindset that brings our many disciplines together through hands-on, collaborative working processes and it is a way of thinking about the possibilities of project implementation of a project regardless of its scale.

Kit of Parks (Photographs courtesy of Sasaki Associates)

An example of success for this kind of proposition deals with the prototyping of building solutions for a model Master Plan for one of our clients. We developed a masterplan as part of the institution’s initiative of unveiling a new teaching methodology for their entire campus system that would overhaul not only their current pedagogical models but also their spatial ones. As part of the project, we developed a toolkit of solutions or ready made components — classrooms, offices, collaborative work areas, social spaces, that could be assembled in a number of iterations to create a campus and could also be produced as prefabricated components. The first building of this type is currently being built on their main campus — this building is one part conventional building (foundations, basement) and one part prefab components that are brought to site and assembled.

In the Kit-of-Parks project developed at ABX last year, in partnership with the ASLA, we created an instant park made out of modular elements transportable via bicycle. This Instant pop-up space was really successful as part of the exhibit. The premise behind it was to develop a prototype of landscape and urban furniture elements at its minimal expression that can be transported leaving no footprint behind, a temporary site specific, but also nomadic condition.

The new chapel at Sacred Heart University serves as a beacon for spiritual life on campus. It has a striking presence on the new main quadrangle. The chapel is an important crossroads in the heart of the campus, midway between the academic world and the athletic and residential life facilities on the hill.

Sacred Heart University Chapel of the Holy Spirit (Photographs by Robert Benson courtesy of Sasaki Associates)

Developing prototypes were integral to the success of this project. We designed and built numerous prototypes, at different scales, allowing us to test materials, connections, comfort, and other factors. It was also a great way to engage the client in the design process, especially for seating elements. Building the pipe-organ scrim would not have been possible without the use of prototypes — the weaving process of each stave lead to several innovations in how to construct it.

On his design toolkit
We are in the midst of a very special cultural moment that’s been created by a convergence of several factors. The first is an exponential increase in computer processing power, which would have been unthinkable a decade ago, enables us to compute vastly complicated data sets. For example, we now run optimization and generative simulations consisting of several hundreds of thousands of iterations — using desktop computers, this would take weeks, but with a cloud service, it can be completed in a few hours. The second is immediate access to new fabrication materials and tools; not only 3D printing, but rapid full-scale manufacturing — advances in material science, especially heterogeneous composites which greatly outperform homogeneous materials used in conjunction with increased gantry sizes will open the floodgates of innovation. And the third is a general paradigm shift — in architecture schools and in practices — towards dabbling, tinkering, and greater risk-taking. This convergence means that design firms have a lot more freedom and ability to imagine high performance custom solutions, made from the most appropriate materials for that unique design, all done outside conventional delivery techniques.

Today, Sasaki maintains a dedicated “FabLab” to explore programs for office projects as well as non-billable work. Initially conceived as a lab, it has grown and permeated across the entire office space, rendering the whole office as one makerspace. We see it as one and the same as the innovation laboratory that is the office where every space (workspace, communal, recreational or other) can be subject for experimentation, such as testing different non-impervious paving materials in the parking lot, making our terrace into an urban farm, and converting our assembly spaces into virtual reality labs.

We wanted to take this same internal excitement about making and share it with the broader design community. Earlier this year, and in conjunction with the Boston Society of Architects, we co-founded MakeTANK. MakeTANK is a new committee which explores making and how to bring it back into the design process. To show off our explorations, we designed and built a demonstration pavilion to be on display at this year’s ArchitectureBoston Expo.

On the state of design software today
In my 20 or so years in this profession, I’ve never been as excited about our future as I am now. We are at a convergence of increased information sharing and software interoperability coupled with access to almost unlimited processing power and digital storage. Additionally the incorporation of new fabrication technology and techniques will transform the way we practice architecture.

Software has made tremendous advances from the early days of AutoCAD, but there is still so much more development to be done. The industry standard software packages are still at a larval stage of their development, the promise of BIM has not materialized, and practitioners who are using BIM software typically are using it for “electronic drafting.”

Today, software interoperability is clumsy at best. This includes getting different software packages talking with each other, and to different hardware. For example, have you ever tried to 3D print a version of your project from your industry standard BIM software? It’s almost better to rebuild it in a different software all together. We were so fed up with the process, we created our own utilizing voxels, then printing — super high resolution with an automated process that take minutes instead of hours.

Sacred Heart University Chapel of the Holy Spirit (Photographs by Robert Benson courtesy of Sasaki Associates)

We are really excited about where computational / generative design (ability to iterate and optimize) and advanced building performance analysis and data visualization (breaking down the vacuum of a digital environment and grounding it back in the analog via programmed material behavior, physics engines, fluid dynamics etc) will take us.

On the future of architecture in the next 5–10 years
1. We are departing from a model in which architecture is commodified and our focus is on a discrete structure or site. Instead, we are becoming social problem-solvers, actively understanding and shaping cultural, environmental, and economic spheres. And as problem-solvers, one of the solutions we can provide is built work. We need to design for solutions through collaboration and networking, within the context of our built and unbuilt environments, through disruptive innovation. The future of our profession relies on us transitioning from narrow technical experts to broad social thinkers and doers.

2. The profession must change in a few different ways. It’s critical that we empower our designers with any tools they may need. Implicit in the conversation around ‘MAKING’ is the significant impact of “DOING”. It’s really an incredibly empowering thing to put any tool, let alone a powerful physical tool, in the hands of a motivated problem-solver. It does something to the confidence and spirit, and this fosters a general culture of serious doers. Making will play an important part in our evolving practice through:

3. A return to building craft by way of alternative production means, where the typical boundaries between designer and fabricator, from conception to execution, are blurred or redefined. Design and fabrication optimized through the digital interface, producing feedback loops and corrective/editing mechanisms that accelerate and augment the iterative possibilities of those designs while providing several verification instances along the design process. Rapid prototyping and rationalization of custom materials, building elements or assembly create economies of scale and cost while allowing the mass production / fabrication / installation of tailor-made design solutions
A context where design thinking permeates all forms of education, enterprise and production, and 3-D printing allows anybody to experiment with design and fabrication, “design to build” becomes the norm.

4. The industry also needs to expand beyond our conventional fee-for-labor business model and be more entrepreneurial by seeking other revenue streams, such as product design, software development, acting as an incubator, and taking equity stakes in projects.

On the future of Sasaki Associates in the next 5–10 years
The conventional fee-for-labor architectural business model is dead. We are developing alternative business models which will allow us to deliver design excellence while creating additional revenue streams.

We are using these new business models to call into question every aspect of how we design, buy, make, move, and sells goods. We are prototyping and manufacturing building components that could be commercially available in different ways — for example, direct to consumer products via interfaces that allow them to specify different configurations. Given all the potential efficiencies of a highly integrated digital fabrication system, business process management may become the most important capability.

On advice he would give himself
Besides investing in Apple stock? I would tell younger me to help others be successful. I wish I learned this much earlier in my career. Instead of being limited to the project in front of me, I look for ways to help colleagues succeed at whatever they are doing. I think this is much more rewarding.

Also, it’s easy to get caught up in chasing your dreams and ambitions, of being fully immersed in work that you love and brings such joy to yourself. Not everything has to be perfect. With apologies to Grandpa Oscar, there is a point where it is good enough. “Good enough” should not be seen as a negative, or somehow not meeting goals that you have set, or something less than what it should be. “Good enough” is just the right amount of quality and excellence to more than satisfy your project’s needs.

Finally: don’t miss date night with your wife because of a deadline. Find joy outside of work, and you will do better at your work.

Contributors: Pablo Savid, Colin Booth

Lauren Collier of SSOE Group

Lauren Collier of SSOE Group

Lauren Collier (Photograph courtesy of SSOE)

Lauren Collier, Associate AIA serves as Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) Manager at SSOE Group, a global project delivery firm for architecture, engineering, and construction management. With 11 years of industry experience, she is a leader in SSOE’s VDC initiative and champions corporate BIM/VDC standards and develops innovative new technology strategies with her team. Her creative passion lies in developing constant improvements and innovative model/data use solutions for SSOE’s design and construction operations. She leverages technical tools for improved efficiency, performance, and quality in project execution. Lauren holds a Master of Art and Architecture from Savannah College of Art and Design and a Bachelor of Architecture from Miami University. Modelo spent some time learning about Lauren came to join SSOE and about her current role as VDC Manager.


On becoming a Design Professional
Early on, as far back as high school, I excelled in art but also in math and science. It was before STEM was being promoted as heavily as it is today. I had several excellent teachers that helped guide me in the direction of architecture and engineering. After visiting a couple schools I realized that the architecture curriculum aligned well with what I enjoyed. That came down to problem solving. The architecture career is about problem solving for the built environment. You’re able to use your creativity skills to provide solutions for your clients, be that for hospitality or commercial or industrial. Each one of the building types have a different solution. I studied at Miami University for my undergraduate. I went to Savannah College of Art and Design for my Master’s. After college I actually worked for a healthcare firm and did healthcare architecture for some time.


SSOE was my first big internship when I was in undergrad. They called me up in the spring of 2007, after having graduated with my master’s the previous year, and asked if I was interested in a technology position. It had to do with the introduction and the implementation of BIM technology throughout their organization. They knew that I already had a connection with the architectural department from my days as an intern and many of the same staff members were still there. That took me down this technologist avenue. When I came back to SSOE, my main responsibility was the implementation of BIM in the architecture department and providing them unique solutions to meet the demands of the clients.


Since then, I’ve continued to stay connected to architecture. But I would say I moved on into the project execution realm. When I say project execution it goes beyond just using BIM. It’s developing processes, using other technologies, and syncing them with BIM and other modeling techniques to improve our overall efficiencies. Right now I have a team of other technologists with diverse backgrounds and our main responsibility goes back to coming up with creative problem solving solutions to deliver our projects. We develop a project execution strategy and we find the right technology to enable that strategy.


Confidential Client (Image courtesy of SSOE)

On discovering her voice in the profession
For the first couple of years my main responsibility was technology and processes for the architectural department. I quickly grew out of that role and into leading people in that execution. I attended many technical conferences, I also joined the USACE (United States Army Core of Engineers) Industry Consortium where we defined standards for their BIM deliverables. It was exposing me to a lot of general contractors, other design firms of varying sizes, and expanded my experience and network. I decided that it was time for me to have a discussion with our Chief Strategic Officer about an idea that I had been developing. This idea had to do with going beyond using the model just for design documentation and was about pushing it into estimating, preconstruction, procurement, and construction. The design and construction industry had the potential for dramatically increasing productivity and eliminating waste by integrating our delivery model.


We needed to be on the leading edge of this movement. I soon submitted a very rough preliminary business plan and research. We had lunch and discussed the plan in detail and I was given the green light to move forward.. He not only got behind this idea but offered to be my executive sponsor. After that opportunity, additional opportunities presented themselves. Through this process, I realized that even though I was a young professional, that didn’t mean that I had to keep my ideas quiet, I had a voice and it was being heard. It boosted my confidence. Since then I’ve gone from being a team leader, to a section manager, and I now just recently got another promotion to manager of our Virtual Design and Construction (VDC) department, and as nervous and excited as I am about this promotion, I realize that I’m doing all the right things.


Confidential Client (Image courtesy of SSOE)

On her role at SSOE
Our vision for our department, we have about six people, is focused on technology and processes to help influence project execution. Our team is focused on our EPC/M projects within our construction arm. EPC/M is engineering, procurement and construction/construction management. We have more skin in the game and they’re higher risk projects. We’re doing the construction management and we’re buying the equipment — -and sometimes the project through commissioning and start-up. The use of technology is helping us drive huge efficiencies. Initially, we had been focused on pilot projects. Over the last year, those pilot projects have created some proficient standard processes that we are now implementing at an organizational level.


One of the technologies helping drive efficiencies is reality capture. I would define reality capture as using laser scanning or photogrammetry technology to capture existing environments. What we’re doing is taking this point cloud data and manipulating it and integrating it for our renovation work. This goes with using traditional LIDAR scanning equipment, drone data, and we even have a handheld device that takes a series of photos that we stitch together into a point cloud. We’re using all three types to capture existing conditions.


With these technologies, the accuracy is no longer a guessing game because we know what we’re building and where. It’s starting to change the way our documents look, how we communicate with contractors — — how we communicate with our design team — -and we’re pushing that technology to the limit. We’re very excited to see what comes next in this realm. That’s been a very big win for us over the last couple of years. We’re now going into integrating the model with estimation databases. I have a data scientist, even though that’s not his job title, who will help us integrate that big data within the model and try to drive efficiencies with that. We are a bunch of mad scientists working together to solve our projects’ needs.

On specific principles that SSOE adheres to
Project planning is extremely important to us. We have integrated not only technology into early project planning, but we’re integrating estimating and safety. We want to make sure that we’re going in with a good plan in place on how we’re executing projects so that there are no surprises. No surprises to us, no surprises to our client, and no surprises to any of the other players in the game.


Quality is a big and having a good plan going into the project matters. During execution, we take that solid plan and it helps us in the execution of the technology so we’re not lagging behind. For instance, if we know we’re going to be doing certain types of modeling or we need to be scanning, we’re executing those things before people are waiting on them. When that’s done, it’s set up correctly, and the design team doesn’t have to worry about any type of glitches because they have the confidence that it was already set up properly. Our vision statement is about project delivery. “World Class people, delivering world class projects, to world class clients, and we are going to be innovative in how we do it. We need to be agile and flexible. Things happen and we need to be able to adapt to that.


Confidential Client (Image courtesy of SSOE)

On recent projects that represent SSOE’s unique approach
Most of our team’s projects are confidential, industrial clients so they have a lot of proprietary information to protect. On a recent project, we had to adhere to a very tight, very aggressive schedule. The timeline we were given was very short to integrate an equipment installation. We had to perform demolition, rearrange production lines, and install three large pieces of equipment. The building was dated. There wasn’t relevant documentation. We had a rough floor plan from the client. We decided to scan the facility. With that scan data, we realized that the initial design of these large pieces of equipment wouldn’t fit because the columns were off in the floor plan and the existing roof steel was too low during a design review.


Upon 3D model review, we realized that the height of the equipment wouldn’t work, so we had to work with the vendors to adjust the sizes for installation. These three pieces of equipment were long-lead items and if they didn’t show up on-time, correct, and ready for installation, we would miss our tight window for installation. If this were to occur, the client would not be to start production and therefore would miss production deadlines. Due to our technical strategy and overall execution, we were able to finish the project a week and a half ahead of time resulting in extra money saved back to the project. We planned the technology, we planned the project execution, we handled the construction management, and we found the critical issues ahead of time so that they could be addressed. It was a very successful project on the backend.


Another example is beginning to estimate quantity take-off in construction before the design is complete. On this project, we were tasked with replacing roof equipment while the plant was operational. Going into it, we knew that we needed to align the support systems below the roof to be able to hold this new equipment so we scanned and modeled a scenario. We quickly estimated the quantities, realizing that we could reduce the amount of steel based on the platforms, so we came up with another design solution. We were able to calculate that with our quantity kick-off methodology, allowing the client to benefit from these design savings realized as a result of us performing a rapid design scenario. We are currently in the execution phase.


Confidential Client (Image courtesy of SSOE)

On her design toolkit
You want to use the right tool for the project. Sometimes you don’t need a nail gun, you just need a hammer, as my co-worker always says. We are very fortunate to have multiple BIM and CAD tools here at SSOE. We have our standard ones that we use regularly. We use a lot of AutoDesk products. At the beginning of a project we have to identify what the needs are for the client and project. In order to do a lot of our VDC processes, we need that BIM model it is our virtual design platform. It is a standard practice on large and small projects here at SSOE.


We are modeling all disciplines: architectural, structural, mechanical, electrical, process, and civil because we are using those models not only to create construction documents but we’re using them for planning, coordination, quantity take off, and 3D design reviews with the client. It’s not just about looking at a set of drawings or 2D documentation when we’re reviewing. It’s about immersing the client and the project team in the design. We’re continuing to push and improve that concept.


The next step is moving the model beyond design into the fabrication level and that’s where you’re able to get the construction level coordination that you may not get if you’re just doing design. When you get into construction, you’re starting to put the pieces and the parts together. That’s where I’ve seen a big opportunity for software companies. It’s about integrating all fabrication level models because in this stage you’re getting into the different model platforms. One platform doesn’t do it all well. And that’s when you have to rely on other software to aid in interoperability. It is extremely important that this federated model be accessible. It’s starting to introduce ideas like cloud platforms. It’s making it easier and acceptable for all of the project team to look at it globally.


We’re at a certain point where some of our clients will allow us to use that type of technology and computing power, but we have a lot of proprietary clients where we can’t. Their information isn’t allowed to be off of our servers or encrypted drive. We continue to push our 3D world, but now we’re coming to a point where the infrastructure that we’re utilizing is bringing us to a fork in the road. We want the infinite computing power that cloud applications can offer us, but a majority of our clients aren’t yet comfortable with this. Finding opportunities to use cloud computing and demonstrate data security for our clients will give our teams and projects great advantages.


SSOEHQ Toledo, Ohio World Headquarters Building (Photograph courtesy of SSOE)

On the future of the AEC industry in the next 5–10 years
You’re noticing a change in the delivery method of projects, from traditional design projects to design-build. A more recent trend we are starting to see are called joint ventures or IPD (integrated project delivery). These create shared risk and reward for all parties and the benefit is better decision making and quality, and a lot of 3D technology is the collaborative nature of it. The ability for all disciplines to collaborate with all design players, coming together to make better decisions, to build a better project so that we can reduce schedule and reduce risk for the owner is a game changer. You’re going to see that technology is going to continue to drive a lot of those efficiencies.


The biggest change in the construction industry will be for the players that can stay above the strategy curve in project execution and can use technology as a strategic advantage to execute those strategies; they will be the firms on top. I do believe one day that there will be a 3D deliverable. Code officials and permitting agencies across the country and in different states are starting to allow us to submit 3D models for permitting. Eventually, I see owners requesting that our deliverable be a model with these standards. We are going to have to adjust our ability to check and verify this 3D deliverable.


Currently, we have a client who requires scanning at the beginning and the end of their projects because they want to capture the existing conditions at the beginning and the existing conditions at the end. They know that the model isn’t going to stay up-to-date throughout the construction process. They want to have the data available to them in 3D. The industry is shifting. I still think we’re a couple years out.


Not only within the AEC industry, but across the industries we serve, I foresee big data becoming the next trend. It’s not just putting all of this information in BIM, it’s integrating those model elements into other databases so that we can capture vital information for reporting and asset management. Right now, a lot of people are focused on building everything in this model, where I really think that the model is integrated into multiple databases. We just need ways of using that information. That’s going to be another change that’s on the horizon and the companies that are paying attention and are a little paranoid about falling behind are the ones that are going to move ahead. SSOE has made a commitment to innovation and technology resulting in the creation of my department and is allocating resources to stay ahead of the curve.


On advice she would give herself
Advice I would go back and give to myself would be, don’t be intimidated to stand up for what you believe in. It’s ok to push boundaries because you don’t know what opportunity can come from it. Failure is ok because it can be the best way to learn. It took me a while to believe that and understand that. If I would’ve known these things eight years ago, who knows what success I could have found sooner?

Design Manifestos: Jaron Lubin of Safdie Architects | Design Manifesto Series

Design Manifestos: Jaron Lubin of Safdie Architects

Jaron Lubin (Photograph courtesy of Safdie Architects)

Jaron Lubin is a Principal of Safdie Architects in Somerville, Massachusetts. He is currently serving as Project Designer for two projects in Singapore: Jewel, a lifestyle destination at Changi Airport and Sky Habitat, a new condominium complex in the Bishan neighborhood. He has directed numerous competitions at Safdie Architects including the Xiqu Opera House in the West Kowloon Cultural District in Hong Kong; the National Art Museum of China in Beijing; and the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Previously, he was integral to the competition-winning design effort for the Marina Bay Sands Integrated Resort, most notably as resident design architect for the SkyPark. Modelo spent some time learning about Jaron’s unique approach to architecture and about his journey through the profession.

On becoming an architect
My interest in architecture started at an early age. My father is an architect and my mother is a medical illustrator. I was raised in a suburb of Detroit called Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and spent a lot of time with my family at Cranbrook, enjoying the landscape, the sculpture gardens and all the great architecture there. I worked with my father from an early age so that’s how it all started.

On discovering his voice as a designer
Discovering my voice is I think a continuous process. When I was younger, I was heavily engaged within arts and also music programming in and out of school. I went to the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to study architecture, I just knew that’s what I wanted to do. I helped my first studio critic with many small projects for several years and learned a lot from that experience. From there, I went on to travel to UCLA for graduate school. In LA, I was surrounded by some really wonderful people who I still call my closest colleagues and friends. I joined Safdie Architects twelve years ago, and Moshe has been a great professional mentor.

Jewel Changi Airport Aerial View (Rendering courtesy of Safdie Architects)

On the evolution of his role at Safdie Architects
I have always been interested in design technology and also geometry in general. Over time, I have taken on more responsibility when it comes to working with clients and consultants, and I am also helping to manage the practice.

On specific principles that the firm adheres to across projects
Each project we approach from first principles. There are of course common themes such as merging interior and exterior, finding the best fit to the site, or the best fit for say a particular cultural context. But you cannot wear a bracelet that says ‘what would we do next?’ Every project we approach with fresh eyes.

On his role at Safdie Architects
I help to oversee design teams and get to see a variety of different types of projects. My focus is also the engagement of new software and other technologies and various outreach efforts to consultants to help bring new ideas to our teams and to our process. For instance, I sit with Moshe on the Gehry Technologies advisory board. I also work with the other Principals to run the office, and all of the initiatives we undertake.

Project Jewel Facade Paneling Excerpt (Courtesy of Safdie Architects)

On projects that represent the firm’s unique approach
For the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore, our approach was to come with a strong design model that could be easily broken down into manageable bits with relatively small and focused design-engineering teams, tackling the components as individual projects within the greater whole. That is part of how we were able to deliver the job so quickly and effectively.

On another front, The Jewel at Changi Airport is a recent project that is all about integration. We wanted to create a building that felt effortless, but actually is quite complex from the standpoint of both program arrangement and built structure. It will be one of the world’s largest free span diagrid roofs, shaped as a torus, so as to create a waterfall inside the building. Our approach here was to lock in very early a vision for the job with the entire team of client, consultants, and working groups, and then because the bones were strong, all the other systems find their way into place one by one. That is of course oversimplifying things. We have a brilliant team on the ground in Singapore and a very strong group of client and engineering collaborators.

Marina Bay Sands Aerial View (Photograph courtesy of Safdie Architects and Marina Bay Sands)


On the state of design software today
The state of the users of design software today is very good. We are facing an interesting evolution, whereby we care less about the specific software and more about developing custom digital tools. For instance, for the Jewel Project at Changi Airport, we created many custom definitions to facilitate the shaping, the panelizing of the surface, and the optimization of the building. That had nothing to do with some out of the box software. The team had to craft the process that facilitated the design and ultimately the production of tender drawings. Before, I think people would say you would like one software package better than another. But now I think it’s about being more ambivalent about what you are using and coming up with a better workflow and better toolkits.

On the future of architecture in the next 5–10 years
I recently saw a presentation pairing the speed of the construction of One World Trade side by side with what technology had been developed and released in the same time span. There is a total mismatch of time scale. It was really interesting to see that by the time a building is completed, the technology that we have planned to put into it is already outdated. That’s a real problem. But we cannot simply build super-sized empty boxes that are generic to fit any future technology; we still need to build architecture. I think we will be looking over the next years to find a better model to allow architecture to be more flexible to accept new technology.

Marina Bay Sands Skypark Paneling Drawing (Courtesy of Safdie Architects)

On the future of Safdie Architects in the next 5–10 years
As issues go, as a practice we have focused a lot of attention on the topic of dense urbanism, where we seek better models for mega-scale mixed use developments. Cities are expanding at an unprecedented pace and we think more attention needs to be given to appropriate guidelines and incentives that can drive better master planning and better city design.

Another issue that is always on our agenda is the study of prefabrication in construction. In the 1960s, Moshe designed the pre-cast concrete modules that created Habitat ’67 in Montreal. But the construction industry has not yet fully embraced the potential of pre-fab. We have a research group within the office that’s focused on these issues.

Marina Bay Sands (Photograph by Timothy Hursley courtesy of Safdie Architects)

On advice he would give his younger self
For any complex project, a huge army of folks is required to get from one side of a job to the other, from concept through completion. There are so many steps along the way where things can go wrong, and it is definitely not an instant process. It is all about working with the team and how you solve problems together. I do not think you understand that at the beginning of a career. It takes a lot more experience to understand how to create a great piece of architecture.

Rich L. von Luhrte of RNL Design

Rich L. von Luhrte of RNL Design

Richard L. von Luhrte, FAIA of RNL Design was awarded Fellowship by the American Institute of Architects in 1993 for his accomplishments in urban design. He has dedicated his 45 year career to the creation of people oriented places, mixed use architecture, and projects of community importance. His work spans over 4 decades, including the original conceptual design of the 16th Street Mall when he was Chief Architect for the Regional Transportation District, to recent work in over a dozen TOD projects around the nation. Rich is active in ULI, having served on the Denver Council Executive Committee and currently on the national TOD Council.  He has lectured extensively on “Return to Town Square”, on the importance of place making in planning and urban design.  His philosophy is reflected in the master plans that he has inspired as well as the architectural projects that his firm has built.

Rich was elected Denver Architect of the Year by the AIA in 2001, and Colorado Architect of the Year in 2008. He has served as a director in Denver Civic Ventures, in Colorado ULI, the AIA, and in the Civic Center Conservancy. He served on the Board of Governors at the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Michigan, and on the Dean’s Advisory Board of the College of Architecture and Planning at the University of Colorado. Recently, Modelo had the opportunity to learn more about Rich’s unique approach and design philosophy.

On becoming an architect

Ever since I was in junior high, I liked to build things. I had this building set, American Skyline, and I built cities all over the living room. I had a model railroad as a kid and all I did was build the scenery – I never ran the trains. I thought I might like to be an engineer, but I really liked cities and buildings more than bridges and roads. So when it came time for college, my career counselor suggested that architecture might be a better fit for me than engineering. I applied to several schools and selected the University of Michigan because of the quality of the program and because the school’s reputation was exceptional.

On discovering his voice as a designer
My mentor in college was Carl Johnson of JJR, who also taught a studio on site planning for architects. I was totally enamored by his class, and I became his teaching assistant. His class opened my eyes to the fact that design is not just about the buildings, but also the spaces between buildings. I became focused, because of Carl, on urban design, and my graduate thesis was an urban design project that included a public plaza with multiple buildings.

Here at RNL, I took that passion and fostered an urban design/landscape architecture studio that focused on placemaking and urban places. My design over the years has been fundamentally in the world of master planning, and my direct design influence in the firm revolves in that area of practice. I have worked on college campuses, including the master plan for the Auraria campus, the National Renewable Energy Lab campus (a net zero building recognized as the most energy efficient building in the world), and urban design projects such as the 150-mile master plan for rail in Denver (while I was chief architect and urban designer at RTD) as well as the concept design for the 16th Street Mall (also with RTD).

On joining RNL
I worked in Chicago after I graduated, which was great experience. Then I moved to Denver, and before joining RNL, I worked for a couple of firms and in the public sector. I was the chief architect for RTD back when there really wasn’t a major public transit infrastructure in place. We were planning the future system that now exists. It was fascinating large-scale planning work.

Before joining RNL, I was actually the client, having hired the firm to design a new public transit building for RTD. As we progressed through the project, Vic Langhart, the founding partner, suggested that I consider coming back in the private sector and join RNL. I told him, “Not for a job, only for a career.”  He came back to me about a month later, with the firm having won the new master plan for the Solar Energy Research Institute, (NREL) and asked me to run the project. I said yes, and 38 years later, I am still here.

On the evolution of the firm since joining
What has evolved is the need for so much deeper expertise in every project. The complexity of our built environment, involving community entitlement issues, neighborhood consensus, financing, market, and use all have evolved to the point where even the simplest projects are complex. Also, technology has changed the ability to dig deeper and be more thorough. The reason we have become so collaborative and interdisciplinary is because every project today is about all of the variables – building, site, landscape, circulation, and sustainability – all demanding a much more collaborative interdisciplinary approach. RNL today is much more involved in problem solving at the deepest level of project performance, cost effectiveness, and long-term economic viability.

On specific principles he strives to adhere to
We put out a book a few years ago called Design for One Earth. Essentially, it’s about these 12 principles that are meant to guide architects, engineers, agencies, and advocates in the design of the built environment. These 12 environmental, social and economic priorities include: carbon, energy, water, waste, materials, land use, prosperity, vision, resilience, beauty, health and happiness. Our philosophy really centers on the question, “Can we live abundantly within the limits of One Earth?” We believe the answer is yes. But it requires bigger thinking and more responsible approach to the built environment. By looking at these 12 principles holistically, we’ve found that opportunities for innovation in our work reveal themselves.

On his role as a designer as RNL
Much of my current efforts are focused on transit-oriented development, which brings together urban design and architecture in a new way, and on urban and suburban infill projects. I’m still actively involved in the architecture side, but more on the client and project management side now. I have been principal in charge of such projects as the Denver Aquarium, the National Renewable Energy Research Institute, Research Support Building, and a number of urban infill mixed-use buildings.

On recent projects that represent the firm’s unique approach
What differentiates RNL is our holistic approach, which comes from having expertise in a broad variety of disciplines. We aren’t just good at architecture. We have tremendous talent in everything from interior design to large-scale urban planning and city design. Essentially, we found that when we brought all elements of the built environment to the table, we were able to offer more informed counsel. We like the idea of being able to control the built environment at all scales. From the building itself, to the interiors where people work, to the spaces between the buildings – places like 16th Street Mall, to the forecourt of the new Union Station Project here in Denver.

On his design toolkit
RNL is a very team-oriented practice. We work best when we assemble several creative minds to bring vision to a given project. For years, we have done a process we call the on-site charrette, where we go to the client and work through alternatives with them in their offices. These usually last several days, and while we have gotten away from doing design at the table, we often do these to review and develop alternatives with the client.  The result is that we gain tremendous consensus from the client because they are involved early and often, so they get their input realized in actual product, which evolves quickly and responsibly.

We have always designed in 3-D, using study models and sketches. The computer has facilitated our ability to do more, faster and to look at more alternatives.  We use Sketch Up in early phases, and now we do most of our 3-D work in-house with architects who have learned rendering programs.  So rather than having to go out of house, we can do in-house presentation drawings with our design team.

On the state of design software today
I am old school; I still sketch with marker and bum wad trace. For me, creativity flows through the hand. That said, I believe software capabilities today are amazing, and used correctly, they transform our ability to see more, work faster, and look at a project from different angles. I fervently believe that technology should not be a substitute for talent. Design software can be an unbelievable tool, but it is just that – a tool. The wielder of the tool still has to know how to use it to bring their own creativity and vision to life. I worry that sometimes architects use technology as a crutch, that sometimes a building gets built because the computer can express it, not necessarily because it represents good architecture. And I believe architecture is an art form. When you can use technology to enhance your ability to create your art, I think it can be a beautiful thing.

On the future of architecture in the next 5-10 years
I have taught professional practice at the University of Colorado for 11 years. I tell my students that I am deeply concerned that design today is becoming commoditized, with buildings cranked out as product for ever-lower fees and increased production. Major decisions are being made about the design of buildings long before an architect is on board.

Our profession is at risk of being absorbed by the developer, the contractor and the banker. So if we as architects wish to have a seat at the table, we have to be willing to venture outside our comfort zone, and take a more active leadership role in projects at an earlier stage.

I believe we must become outspoken advocates for the built environment if we are to avoid just providing ‘decoration’ on a building that others have essentially defined before we are ever at the table. It’s not enough to sit at a desk drawing buildings.  We have to be a visible, active member of the community and a key player in the orchestration of a project.

On the future of RNL in the next 5-10 years
RNL has always been progressive in embracing change and growth.

We have already expanded our geographical reach. The world is increasingly connected and we realized that our influence can be just as meaningful in Abu Dhabi as it is in Denver.  We have also expanded our capabilities to include landscape and planning, urban design, lighting design, sustainable design, and interior design.

From a sheer size perspective, we understand that big projects today require a higher capital investment – with new technology, 3-D printers, and other investments that only larger firms can afford to undertake. When I came here, we were 65 people, now we’re 140 people in five cities, working in 14 countries. Our reach is huge, and we’re recognized around the world for large-scale planning. We expect to continue to grow both organically and through acquisition.

Ultimately, all of this comes back to being able to offer the most robust, holistic view of a project. We want to bring added value to the table from an expertise perspective, but to my earlier point, we also want to take a bigger leadership role in more areas of a project.

On advice he would give his younger self
My advice to myself would have been to take more risks sooner. I think we could have expanded to other cities sooner and expanded our services faster. I love Denver, and I never regret being here. But I was cautious. I would tell myself to be more aggressive. We were successful faster when we allowed ourselves to move beyond our roots and grow into new things, new markets and new locations.

My other advice to myself would be to teach more. I love being around young people, and I love the university setting of exploration and vision. I loved my 11 years at the University, and continue to be involved in the University leadership on the Chancellor’s Committee at UCD, the Advisory Board chair for the College of Architecture and Planning at UCD, and for the Colorado Steering committee for the University of Michigan, the Board of Governor’s at the College of Architecture and Planning at U of M and on the board of the Arapahoe Community College. Education stimulates me and I hope to remain involved well into the future.