When I decided to take on the biggest myths in architecture, I didn’t have to think long or hard to come up with the second notion that I wanted to put to rest: working with an architect means you’ll get locked into their design “style.” In fact, it’ such a common misconception that I’ve decided to dedicate the second of this three-part series of articles to discussing the matter in more detail.
The idea that architects, especially those who are branded with a specific style or well-known project, are only able to craft designs of a similar nature is a concern that I have heard many times in conversations with prospective clients. But it’s not that simple, people! While some firms — and we’re one of them at times — are selected or a project based on what they’ve designed for someone else, that doesn’t mean that that one project is necessarily indicative of a signature style that becomes the firm’s calling card.
Sure, an architect could have white sculptural buildings to its credit, but there may be much more to his repertoire. Just because we do modernist, doesn’t mean we don’t do transitional just as well. We, and many of our peers, have designed everything from residential towers to cutting edge commercial interiors. A quick Google on our firm will likely yield results from Brookfield Place at the World Financial Center (we serve as executive architect) to Pernod Ricard or Quirky, two highly innovative interior spaces.
Even if you were looking to duplicate a look, that doesn’t mean that should be the sole deciding factor when it comes to what firm you ought to work with. Consider chemistry, in other words, how in tune you are with the people you’d interact with to design the space and see it through to completion. Remember that while you may appreciate a certain style space, your needs should be put first; the form should be conducive to the function. The project should be manipulated and subtly tweaked to come up with a solution that is user specific and — nod to last week’s piece about architects understanding dollars and cents — works within your firm’s target budget.
That’s why I strongly discourage the practice of architects pulling designs out of a drawer, making only tiny changes and then sharing them with others in the design and construction industry. I applaud our team’s ability to come up with specialized designs that are less about a particular style and more about a workplace strategy and company’s (or landlord’s) branding. While we consider ourselves a modernist firm and take our guiding principles from that background, it’s the different designers’ personalities and their unique experiences that lead to a finished, customized end product worth talking about.
Ideally the team that presents its ideas before a project is won is one that aligns with the needs of the client and can help design, support and manage that client’s needs, keeping them engaged throughout the process. The result? Style with substance!
Scott E. Spector, AIA, is a principal at Spector Group, one of New York’s premier architecture and interior design firms and a leader in corporate tenant and building owner-based design. The award-winning company has affiliate offices nationally and internationally. To date, it has completed more than 1,500 projects.