The cornerstone of our philosophy for design is working with our clients to create a family-like relationship between our design team and the client “families”. We ensure that this relationship is based in openness, kindness, and respect, which allows each member of the team to bring their own specific knowledge to bear on the issues facing the team. Our firm has found utilizing “round-table” discussions where each of the key members of the team can openly, and frankly review and discuss issues to be very successful. In this technique a proposed plan of action can be developed, revised as needed, and placed in front of the Owner for their final decision.
This process, based on these question and answer sessions has served us well for many years. One example of this is from several years ago, where Dan was asked to go meet with two shareholders (the committee chair, and the pastor) for an outreach ministry expansion. Disagreements between these two individuals about this project had led to a breakdown in communication, as well as hurt feelings. Dan met with both shareholders, and the interaction was initially very tense. By acting as a third party, Dan was able to ask the committee chair and the pastor questions, and get each’s answers in a kind way so that they began to realize that the differences between them were more procedural differences than differences in principle. The result was an open and productive discussion between all three, which allowed a scheme to be developed to meet the needs and fit within the available budget.
This role of being a mediator as well as an active listener extends beyond our own office to include our consultants as well. Our family of consultants includes colleagues with whom we have worked for many years. One in particular is Paul Sack of Sack and Associates (and its successor firm F/S Engineering). Paul shares our belief in relationship building discussed above. This has been abundantly clear over the years as his profound understanding of his mechanical, electrical, plumbing area of expertise is combined with a sensitivity to the project as a whole.
As a specific example, while working together on Sherburne Public Library, the design process was pointing to the use of the existing lower level as active library space. This level had been treated as a “basement” for many years, however, during our listening session discussions, Paul indicated that with a carefully designed mechanical system, the humidity levels could be controlled, and with a lighting design, sensitively integrated with the proposed architectural work, the space could be made not only acceptable, but lovely. Being able to fully utilize the lower level proved to be the key to allowing the Library to stay in the building, and was only possible because of the combined input of the Owner, Paul and the rest of the team.
Another one of our long term consultants is Terry Horst of Terry Horst Landscape Architecture. Terry and Dan have worked together since the middle 1980’s. That long collaboration has allowed each to understand the other and be able to work creatively together to offer solutions to clients. An example of this is the Parish Center at Christ Church in Manlius. The existing historic building demanded that the sitework and architecture be integrated in such a way as to protect the original building. Terry and Dan suggested the creation of an exterior “courtyard garden” that allowed the new (rather larger) building to be set off from the historic structure, with connecting links at each end to provide circulation. The Parish was delighted by this suggestion as it provided circulation throughout the facility that was sorely needed, while not compromising the historic stained glass windows of the historic church.
These open and honest discussions do not end when the design process is complete, they extend into the preparation of construction drawings (blueprints and specifications) and into the construction phase as well. On many projects, particularly residential projects, the ability to work with the Contractor as the details are being developed has permitted the project to be tailored to better meet schedules, by selecting materials and techniques that are readily available. A simple example of this is a discussion early on as to what type of foundation system is used. A masonry (concrete block) or cast in place concrete foundation system in many cases will function equally well, and the decision can be made, with input from the Contractor, based on availability of materials and what makes the best economic sense. Contractors can be a wonderful source of particularly local knowledge as to what systems can be obtained most easily, as well as what is best suited for the local workforce’s expertise.
These sorts of examples are found throughout our work with contributions from all members of our team. They all show a mutual interest in good design, as well as a lack of ego amongst all of us. In order to sustain the above mentioned open, respectful and kind environment it is necessary to set aside one’s own preconceived notions and work collaboratively no one is trying to be a prima donna or show off, everyone is working to find a solution that meets the Owner’s needs and provides the best end product.