Break the mold

So you want to build a new, modern home, but don’t know where to begin. There is surely more than one way to go about it, and methods vary depending on your goals.

Few homeowners have gone through the process of designing a home from scratch, and often don’t know where to start. Many make the assumption that calling a home builder, or design-builder would be the appropriate path. We’ve had a number of clients come to us after having gone down this path, and at that point have spent thousands, or even tens of thousands of dollars on a house plan they don’t love. Fortunately, before going any further, they’ve realized this is not where they want to end up. If a more artful, well thought out design solution is your goal, perhaps a better approach would be to work directly with an architect to craft the appropriate design first.

Our clients are generally looking for something more – something that really resonates and has deeper meaning. They’ve reached the same conclusion we have – that most of our communities are littered with poorly designed, uninspired and uninspiring structures. Especially if this is a home where you’d like to raise your family, or plan to retire in, the value of good design is something that will be experienced every day, something that improves your quality of life. We might suggest this value is immeasurable.

Undergoing a proper design process is a critical step in arriving at a successful project. This is an opportunity to learn what a project needs and wants to be. An architect will help to better understand what should be built, and why, before determining who should participate in its assembly. And the design process should be fun and enriching – a journey of discovery, exploration, and connection. At the end of an architect led project, it is quite possible you will have saved money, or at the very least, spent your money more wisely on significant and tangible ideas that provide both function and delight.

We encourage you to break the mold, and pursue a path that will help you realize your true dreams. Call an architect whose work moves you, and learn more about a design based process of reaching your goals.

Progress is imminent

Reality television shows have become commonplace. And there is a niche of design related shows that share renovation and construction projects from start to finish in the span of a single episode. This expediency, with a nearly immediate result, is sometimes anticipated in real life projects. But unfortunately, real projects take considerably longer. The design phase alone can take many months, and construction will last at least that long or longer. The final “reveal” may not take place for a year or more rather than right after the commercial break.

With the TV shows there are many trying moments that are left on the editing floor (save for a well choreographed design emergency that is solved at the last moment). But in real time, the small obstacles of a project can be more jarring and stressful. It is through these bumps in the road that we help the team maintain focus on the final vision. With careful navigation, the design will be realized and the process will prove satisfying.

Historically, we wait until a project is complete before photographing and sharing it with the world. In today’s post we thought we’d share a project still under construction. The accompanying photographs are of the new Brenner Brewing facility in Milwaukee. This amazing new craft brewery celebrates Milwaukee’s local artists as the beer carves its place in the Milwaukee landscape. Soon we’ll have photos of the finished project. Until then, here you can see some of the brewing equipment being set into place. Enjoy!

Renovations and additions interview – creating quality space

We’ve been receiving a number of inquiries regarding renovations and additions lately. And we’re not surprised – there is a large collection of building stock that was designed and built at a time when we were using spaces differently than we do today. That combined with the often needed repairs to older, maintenance-deferred buildings, we find that a comprehensive renovation can be a great way to transform a property into something far more useful and quite special. In a recent interview we were asked if we address these projects differently than ground-up designs. Below we share some excerpts from that conversation.

We approach each project very carefully and thoughtfully. We need to ask ourselves “what should be built”. In the case of a renovation / addition like our Midvale Courtyard House project, it isn’t enough just to tack on another room or add more space – that alone would not respect the existing structure or the surrounding neighborhood effectively. I see a project like this as an opportunity, almost an obligation, to reinvent the existing development. We want to seek an artful composition that reinforces a larger idea of improving the immediate environment.

The concept of renewing older homes like this is rooted in the larger ideas of sustainability and enlightened urban development. Pragmatic benefits include re-use of structure, reduction of waste, an increase in efficiency, and maintaining a proximity to the vibrant culture of an urban core. These are big ideas.

Better function for today’s modern living – this is what people come to us asking for. But it is the less quantifiable aspect of creating quality space that is the real message – space with an inherent sequence and scale, a strong connection to nature, a warmth, comfort and delight that engages the senses – this is what we are after.

Open house – celebrating essential art

This past week we held an open house in our new Milwaukee studio. The event was our opportunity to show a number of clients, colleagues, friends and guests our new space, recent work, and provide a glimpse into our thought process. We had a great turnout, and it was our sincere pleasure to toast our new space with such a wonderful group of people. We’d like to thank those of you that were able to join us. For those that couldn’t make it, we offer this photographic glimpse into our new space, and apologize that it unfortunately stops short of offering you a glass of wine and plate of hors d’oeuvres.

The underlying theme of our event was to promote the reduction of waste. When applied to our work, we feel this is a very concise description of how we approach the architecture we create. Whether we are speaking of the formal geometry of the spaces we generate, the careful application of materials used to build our constructs, or the way we effectively fit our operations into our new studio space, we think there is merit to using a reductive approach to design – reducing solutions to the essential.

We included an art installation that demonstrated the theme of the evening. Featuring the creative re-use of left-over acrylic sheet from which the letters used for our lobby sign were laser cut, we illuminated the resulting negative thus creating a larger ghosted message on the surface beyond. Saving this piece of “found art” from the waste bin, we aspire to demonstrate that beauty can be found in unexpected places, and architectural expression can be achieved through the careful placement and use of light and thoughtful fabrication.

We still have our original Baraboo studio. This rural location remains a wonderful backdrop for intensive design studies. And there we have our workshop where we fabricate larger demonstration models and life size “proof of concept” details. But the Milwaukee space is where you will find our new home base. We hope to see you there soon to discuss your next project.

Physical models

In our work, technology defines much of what we do. Our studio equipment includes powerful computers and advanced software. But with all of these gadgets at our disposal, we’ve been asked why we spend so much time making physical models. This question led me to reevaluate how model making fits in our current practice.

It’s true, we step away from our keyboards and monitors for hours or days at a time in favor of razor knives, basswood, and glue. I believe the reason for this is that we recognize the spaces and structures we design are not virtual. The architecture we make is constructed of steel and glass, concrete and wood. And for us, the art of making is important. This philosophy extends to the act of making physical models as part of our process, which allows us to approach design and detailing at a tactile level.

It is worth explaining that we build different models for different reasons. From quick paper fabrications that diagrammatically explore an idea, to full scale “proof of concept” construction detail models, we approach real issues with real materials. A visit to our studio reveals a city’s worth of tiny buildings through which my cats have trampled as they perform their catzilla routine.

For us, it is the balance of using different media and techniques, as well as working at different scales that lead us to the design solutions we generate. We feel this approach maintains a strong connection to the built work we create.

Essential siting

I genuinely enjoy the seasons. After a long, cold midwest winter the time spent outdoors seems more savory, more appreciated. As spring rolls in and green begins to replace brown and white, we start to break ground on new projects. But long before the excavators arrive on site, we spend a lot of time carefully siting our designs. We do this through an in depth process of exploration and understanding of the external and internal influences of each site. External influences include access, topography, vegetation, solar orientation, and prevailing winds. Equally important are the project’s internal goals: spaces, adjacencies, sequences, as well as desired views and vistas. Once gathered and diagrammed, We overlay these influences, and the patterns that are revealed speak to us and guide our design decisions. Too often the site is taken for granted. For us, it is such an important part of this process, and critical to the successful outcome of every project.

Tabula rasa

When asked what was the most frightening thing he had ever encountered, novelist Ernest Hemingway said, “A blank sheet of paper.” We can relate to that response. As designers, many of our projects begin in much the same way – a blank page in our sketchbook. Although each project has a unique program and specific site conditions to inform our work, we still begin each concept with a blank page. In fact, you will often hear us say we don’t have all the answers. But with each line we draw, we learn more about the project.

We think of our studio as a design laboratory. And while we are seeking artistic results, our process to get there is often more rooted in science. From a well stated problem, we can begin to perform in-depth studies, create diagrams, and generate options that lead us to the right design solutions.

As you contemplate your goals and wonder how to get there, first know that you are not alone. Don’t hesitate to give us a call and get us involved. With some analysis and study we can help take you from the blank page to a well defined road map.

New website, new blog

It may not be obvious to most of you, but by reading this blog entry you are experiencing our new website. While the format hasn’t changed significantly, perhaps the biggest addition is this blog. Within this forum we hope to reveal bits of our design process, provide insight into how we work, and explore current architectural topics. Along the way, we may visit some of our current projects to illustrate what we are thinking about. So thank you for reading, feel free to stop back often, and let us know of any topics you’d like us to cover.