Frederick Robertus | On Process

“Understanding context comes with time”

Architecture is often presented as a finished product, but great design is ultimately the result of people and their processes. Architects must consciously design a process that seeks input from diverse stakeholder groups—which may include clients, end-users, contractors, developers, and the wider community. This series profiles a variety of architects and designers across markets and engages them in conversation about the design of process. [Interview by Dana Taylor]

An integrated process

Integrating all disciplines early in the project is critical to the design process. Interiors can have a significant impact on the building itself. We are sometimes perceived as the people who pick the finishes, but I believe that early integration creates a far better project. Given the opportunity to work with the architectural, structural, mechanical, landscape and client teams early on, we create more comprehensive design solutions. Everyone has a slightly different perspective, and by understanding each other’s priorities we are able to design with a more holistic approach.

Understanding context

An important part of the process is understanding things contextually. As designers, we have a responsibility to create a sense of place. This can only happen by integrating projects into their physical and cultural context. In my experience working in China, I’ve had to actively immerse myself into a different culture in order to design appropriately. In the beginning, I learned about the cultural context through research and paying careful attention to my surroundings. Collaborating with Chinese architects was also instrumental to my understanding of different perceptions of the physical environment. Most importantly, understanding context comes over time. Intentionally seeking to understand context abroad has shaped my design philosophy as I continue to work in a variety of locations.


Understanding perspective

This awareness of diverse cultural perspectives helps me to think critically when communicating with clients. Words and ideas can mean very different things to different people. The client says they want luxury, but that looks different to you than it does to me. Another big word that gets thrown around a lot is authenticity. What does that mean? Translating client intent into user experience requires a methodical thought process.

Involving the end user in the process is always important, but in hospitality projects, we may not always have the opportunity to communicate directly with them. So we rely on an interpretation of the target demographic. My mother told me a long time ago that the way I think is not the way most people think. Designers need to get out of their own heads—it can’t be driven by what I want. In hotels, it’s essential that we understand who’s going to stay here, what they want, and what opportunities that creates for us.

Applying understanding

Time and experience have shaped my design process immensely. I take pieces of every project, every job and I carry them with me. All these experiences have to come together into something honed that I can now feel very confident about. It’s hard to be truly confident as a young designer. An understanding of the complexities of the design process and the application of this understanding comes with time.

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