Rebel Roberts | On Process

"Our role is to partner with the client to create something that’s really powerful for them."

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]

Interaction & discovery
A vision-oriented process is not driven by ego or dictated by style. As architects, we facilitate the discussion that involves a team of owners, users, engineers, and contractors. We are excited about interaction that leads to discovery—the different players around the table are encouraged not to be quiet.

To start, we hold visioning sessions that use imagery and questions to free up the client from preconceptions. We take away walls and ceilings and lighting. We want them to tell us where their heart is—what is it in their work that they find searingly powerful?


Developing a narrative
We move from core values into questions of daily life. In healthcare, we are concerned with issues of care and procedure, but we must also account for daily life that goes on amidst complexity. How do we create a place where that life can thrive and be nurtured? What does that life look like for a child with a serious medical condition? For her brother? For her doctor? We ask different people on the design team to champion for these user populations from the vision session onward to make sure their viewpoints aren’t overlooked. Each person considers the design from the perspective of a different user group.

Together, we develop a functional space program that is not just numerical but also qualitative and aspirational. It’s a document that describes what we’re trying to achieve. We develop blocking and stacking diagrams parallel to mock-ups at full scale. Key room mock-ups, modeled out of foam, help us understand how operational flows really work and whether or not there will be enough space.

Still thinking schematically, we go back to vision. We use case studies and visual examples of different kinds of architecture, asking our team to help us understand what they define as homelike or residential. We talk about aesthetic, brand, what this building will represent to the community. All of this becomes a narrative that links what the client says to what we draw.

Taking ownership
The goal is for the people who will occupy the building to take ownership in the design. When changes are suggested, it’s our job to hold closely to the vision while acknowledging implications of cost and infrastructure. We continue to facilitate conversation and encourage questions.

The role of the architect is not to do exactly what the client wants. But rather, our role is to partner with the client to create something that’s really powerful for them. Free of ego, free of style—through a patient process, we distill a vision and carry it through to realization.

Download the complete Design Quarterly – Experiential Design.


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