Recently we sat down with Gwendolyn Wright, historian, writer, professor and co-host of History Detectives. She generously gave a fantastic interview for an upcoming ARCADE Magazine issue and along the way sparked some really thought-provoking ideas. One such idea is the concept of responding in architecture. When reviewing projects (current or historical), she makes a point of looking past the aesthetics and considers what the architecture is–or was–responding to. It could be a social or cultural issue. It could be circumstances involving time, place, or money. It could be any number of things. Personally, we find the concept fascinating. The more we think about it, the more we apply it to our own work and, we have to admit, it’s changing the way we think about architecture.

So we were inspired to harness this concept as an exercise for today’s BUILDblog post. Intentionally excluding the aesthetics, we looked at the projects currently on our desks and asked ourselves: What are we responding to? What follows is a list of 5 important factors relevant to our social, cultural, geographical, and economic situation.

What we’re responding to in Commercial Projects:

1. Keeping what’s there.
Seattle is such a recent city on the map that it doesn’t really have a history (not comparatively, anyway). The rarity of older buildings (and by old we mean from 1900 to 1950) are cherished for their grit and character. These aren’t necessarily “historic” buildings like clock towers and train stations; in fact the buildings we’re referring to are rather ordinary. These are the brick warehouses that are quickly disappearing from the South Lake Union neighborhood or the industrial fabrication shops that Ballard was known for in the not too distant past. Amidst the ubiquity of the slick and polished, the people we meet want more of that original grit and character in their environments.

[Image Credit: BUILD LLC]

2. Multi-mixed.
Multi-use, mixed-use, multi-family, mixed-occupancy, call it what you like; plurality is a prerequisite. Diverse buildings are not only desirable from a community planning standpoint but they’re becoming necessary to the economic stability of a project.

3. Being pedestrian.
Condo owners prefer to walk to the grocery store. Business owners and employees enjoy popping around the corner for lunch. People are tired of being trapped inside cars all the time. Sidewalks full of life are attractive even when it’s raining here in the Pacific Northwest. When the sun comes out, anything with a Walkscore over 75 is magnetic in this town.

4. Activated neighborhoods.
People don’t want to spend time in neighborhoods that shut down at 5:00 pm. People want communities that are bustling morning, noon, and night with all sorts of different activities. People want neighborhoods that are alive.

5. Resourceful budgets.
Gone are the days of pointing the cash cannon at tenant improvements. Commercial tenants have strict budgets with a high importance placed on the return on investment. The typical commercial tenant improvements we’re working on lately fall in the range of $20 to $60 per square foot for construction costs. Money has to get more traction on projects today.

What we’re responding to in Residential Projects:

1. House-keeping.
More and more, we’re seeing that our clients like the locations they’re currently living in. The houses have memories, are in the right neighborhood, and have a sense of community. The era of climbing the real estate ladder and moving every two years is over. Homeowners want community and a sense of place.

[Image Credit: BUILD LLC]

2. All roads lead to the kitchen.
Whether our clients plan to build new or remodel an existing home, nearly everyone wants the kitchen to open up to the dining and living spaces. They want to host dinner parties (large or intimate) where guests can gather in the kitchen for a glass of wine, talk, and watch the meal come together.

3. Get out.
Homeowners, condo owners, flat owners and renters alike want some space outside. It doesn’t have to be a lot of exterior space but it does have to be sited well, near the kitchen or living space.

4. Some privacy, please!
The homeowners that approach us want master suites with a modest bedroom, a walk-in closet and a private bathroom. They typically want the master suite to be located on an upper floor where they can see the sun disappear behind the mountains in the evening or catch a slice of the territorial view.

5. Money doesn’t grow on trees.
Most people we talk to have strict budgets that have been planned for, carefully thought through, and negotiated with their financial advisor. A typical target budget for a substantial remodel typically resides between 300k to 600k; a typical target budget on a new house is usually between 550k to 800k. Most clients are interested in investing in a home, not just a house; they see the investment as adding to the neighborhood and fostering the community.

There are many more, but those are the five items that we find ourselves intentionally responding to from one project to the next. We’re finding that deliberately choosing what we respond to focuses our problem-solving skills and makes us aware of our social, cultural, geographical, and economic environment. It makes us more self-aware as architects and allows a clear path to produce exceptional results.

What are you responding to? Weigh in with your comments below.

Cheers from TeamBUILD