Admittedly, all creative people dream of unlimited opportunities, inexhaustible budgets, and working away in our studio’s to create that “dream project,” but in reality a project without some sort of “limitations” would be extremely difficult to work on. “Limitations,” or put more pejoratively “existing conditions” inform creative decisions, indicate potential opportunities, and give the designer something to react to. When these issues are properly recognized and utilized to develop a solution they are actually a great asset, though they can seem frustrating during the process. The resulting design solution is enriched and anchored by becoming specific, and special to its environment and inherent conditions of which it is a part.
Examples of this kind of creativity are often difficult to recognize. The resulting solution seems so “right” that it is difficult to realize that it has been informed by some sort of limitation. An extreme example of this is the “CityCorp” building in New York that accommodates a pre-existing Church Building by deconstructing the corner and utilizing a very creative structural solution.
Even projects involving historic restoration/reconstruction issues can relate to this. The additions to Sherburne Library and Jephson Campus Building A both utilize the creation of a relatively small addition to house modern items such as elevators, mechanical rooms, toilet facilities, thus allowing the main, historic, portions of the building to be fully utilized, and enjoyed, for program spaces. Both projects, by working within their specific constraints, allowed the existing buildings not only to be retained but to thrive into the 21st century.
The entire industrial concept of prefabrication spawns from a need to meet tight schedules. While not all prefabricated design showcases creativity, one only has to look at Apple,Tesla, or any number of other creators to see elegant and beautiful design solutions within a prefabricated paradigm. Prefabricated elements, when creatively incorporated in an overall design, can provide unique solutions. Our recent Church buildings at Vestal and Central Square both utilized pre-engineered frames to accommodate the clearspan requirement and to meet the budget requirements. These elements, carefully integrated into the design, take advantage of the best parts of the pre-engineered technology, without sacrificing the spatial and aesthetic requirements.
Recent advances and interest in Universal Design celebrates the potential of working within accessible requirements. Teitsch-Kent-Fay Architects, P.C. have had some wonderful experiences incorporating accessible elements into existing spaces. One such “design epiphany” was the accessible ramp to the Sanctuary at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Binghamton. The existing sanctuary is literally a series of circular coins in the center of the space, but by building a new curved wall, the width of an accessible ramp, we were able to make the platform fully accessible in an almost invisible way.
All of the examples discussed explain how design is not only enhanced by “limitations,” but actually relies on them. The most basic and powerful aspects of design, the manipulation of form, space and light, only have meaning when compared to and experienced by the user. Ergonomic design standards are quite literally “made of us.”
While it may be fun to dream about absolute freedom of design, the truth is that real, significant, meaningful design cannot flourish in a vacuum, it must thrive within the real world and be informed by and hopefully inspire those for whom it is designed.