Our Perspective: Know Your Place
Know Your Place: Old-School Architectural Thinking in our Brave New World
Author: Brian Ward, Director of Design
Colleagues delight in sharing how, acting remotely through their phone or tablet, they can peek in on their toddler at daycare, or see who has just rang their doorbell at home during a staff meeting, or even turn a few lights on for the dogs if they’ll be a little late getting home tonight. Space folds and unfolds from our devices.
And when a friend told me a story about how in a brief (non-texting) moment of distraction, his car (a Tesla, acting in self-preservation I’m sure) braked for him and narrowly avoided a certain collision with another car, I realized something: the future is here. We didn’t even know how desperately we needed this future until it was offered to us—we willingly accepted its Price. We faithfully believed in its Value.
In this light, Architecture can seem to be just a real-world scaffold on which we fasten the latest technology: light sensitive blinds opening and closing autonomously; smart thermostats sensing when we are home; Tesla batteries ready for the brown-out. Architecture is like an outlet to be jacked into, experienced almost virtually, its space thick with invisible data to be aggregated and commodified.
Architectural design responds to Progress, and even expresses a Vision of that Progress (think Manhattan’s Apple Store, or Calatrava’s transit stations). But even though Architecture has always celebrated and found inspiration in technology (think of the elevator, or Corbusier’s Towards a New Architecture), there are timeless concepts that Architecture must always get right even when embracing the latest digital trends.
1. Urbanization still needs Community: Your building’s design can help you meet your neighbors.
As designers, we must always present a vision of our world that provides spaces to form community, even as we crowd closer together in cities and technology seduces us to sit amongst each other and stare at our screens; even as Amazon delivery drones instantly satisfy our individual whims. Public spaces promoting the serendipitous and random possibilities of meeting each other IRL: there isn’t an app for this.
This design for an apartment community in Valley Forge Pennsylvania consists of courtyard buildings where residential levels sit on a podium over a ground level parking structure. A “High Line”-like pedestrian platform links all the front doors of the buildings, and bridges across roads to link buildings and people together. Design can prevent anonymity.
2. Architectural BFFs: Your building’s design can make its residents feel they belong.
Good architecture must have personality—it stands in a neighborhood context and presents its attitudes, its quirks, its affable, swipe-right likeability. A designer’s attention to detail and commitment to Quality will develop a building’s character. Some buildings stand out, some fit in. Just like your friends.
3. Care. Your Buildings can Remember the Future!
The irresistible Force of Conspicuous consumption barrels towards the Immoveable Object of Finite Resources and Architecture has always been along for the ride: raw materials are pulled from the environment for construction; the majority of our energy consumption is in the daily use of buildings and is either wasteful or efficient. Our attitudes to the stewardship of our resources are given shape in our homes and offices and schools and churches.Solar panels, water conservation, non-toxic interior materials, air quality concerns: sustainable efforts in architecture are as forward-thinking as the apps that allow you to monitor them.
This project adjacent to the Meadowlands in Secaucus, New Jersey is aiming for LEED for Homes Silver Certification. Its site reuses under-purposed commercial space, adding 469 apartments adjacent to a thriving office, hotel, and retail community.
The architectural form may hint at a nostalgia for warehouses and industrial buildings of New Jersey's recent past, but its sustainable design, contemporary units, and energy efficiency are aiming for a project that will be vital for decades to come.
How can your building remember the future?
Brian Ward is a partner at Niles Bolton Associates, and Director of Design of the 43 year old Atlanta firm creatively uniting Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Interior Design for projects throughout the United States. He is a member of the American Institute of Architects and The Urban Land Institute.