Making useful and engaging architecture is not about, or limited to, the logic of problem solving or service. Engaging form is enigmatic, elusive, open and hard to know fully. Only the architect who makes an enigma of the solution is involved in making art.
Philosophy is an attempt to explain life. Art is the only discipline that asks who we might become. Architecture has a consistent and pervasive impact on our lives and attempts to awaken us to experience. Artistic and philosophic intentions in architecture are intertwined. We strive to create spaces, which raise questions and awaken us to experience by inviting inductive discoveries. In this way we believe we should strive for form that is didactic.
Engaging buildings entangle us in a world of difference and description.
Explanation and its forces of simplification are necessarily pushed to the background.
Practice critically at all levels. Challenge the simplistic, nominal and conceptual bias common in our time.
Cross boundaries. Create surprise, joy, wonder, and desire. Build resistance to the endless structures of authority and instruction we live within.
Empower the possibilities of individual growth through plural network structures of experience.
Build a practice of repetition and research. Don’t simply repeat a detail.
Increase our understanding of its make-up and performance. Re-make the detail with more refined knowledge.
Make drawings, models and mock-ups that raise questions. They are the tools of design research.
Make effective construction drawings and specifications that clearly describe the construction, communicate an ethic of quality and craft and promote fairness in the process.
Never proceed without an idea. Architectural ideas are larger and more encompassing than the program or site. They entangle us first in questions of nature and culture, then gravity, light, materials, labor and use. A formal idea attempts to make the ideal present in the real, the abstract in the concrete. The ideas reduce the infinite possibilities to a manageable few. Ideas should be large enough to envelope the process, owner, staff and contractor and remain strong through the tedious and complicated phases of the project.
Overcome the fragmentary, additive reality of construction. Create figures which have internal cohesion and integrity. When confronted with a figure of integrity, we measure our own. This promotes growth.
Research, study, and explore the unknown, unproven. Avoid assembly (products). Custom work is not necessarily expensive or a measure of status. It may be a better solution or condition of experience.
Practice with integrity and character. Be a leader, responsible and fair to both client and contractor. Be a leader in the process. That is our expertise. To maintain this authority, we must know the costs, know the contractual relationships and always have good design and construction documents. Take responsibility for our leadership.
Be open to improvements and critical of your work, but do not compromise to accommodate expediency or mediocrity. Never send out drawings that are not at the level of our intentions or are incomplete.
Create a wake of interest. Build desire for our firm and work. Don’t market or sell the firm, let the work serve as an example of our values and passion.
Do design development. Allow time for strong ideas to take hold in schematic design, then do thorough and complete design development to allow the development of the scope and detail for the project in a way that prepares it for the refinement of construction documents.
Scope first, then Detail. Do details/drawings that define the scope first. Add other details conservatively. Always work toward one detail for many conditions.
Accuracy is faster than speed. Slow down, prioritize, be careful, thoughtful and sure. Mistakes happen when we rush. Mistakes cost much more time and money than any supposed savings achieved by rushing.
Control the money and the time. Do not take or start a project if the funds are inadequate or the time is impossible. Budget the project appropriately and check it at each phase.
Use the drawings and specifications during construction. Check every decision, every question, every time. “Let’s go look at the drawings, specifications and submittals.”
Follow the contract. (Write better contracts.) Don’t feel pressured to answer immediately. “Let me check on that.” Know your specification and hold it. Be formal about practice, even on the smallest project.
Feed the bird. Anticipate the construction process. Construction is a long, slow negotiation. Provide emphasis and critical information at the right time to impact and maintain the construction quality. Too early, and the information will overwhelm. Too late, and well, it’s too late.
Teach craft. Often the architect knows more about the criteria for craftsmanship with materials and construction than the contractor or subcontractor specialists. This is the result of contractors becoming managers of low skilled, low cost labor. There are few journeymen.
The ironic thing is the architect’s knowledge is second hand (head knowledge without the handwork). But by teaching craft and holding the requirements of quality during construction, we help the contractors, the industry and our projects grow and achieve quality.
Chemistry is important. A great project is only achievable if the architect, client and contractor work together with mutual respect and patience. Don’t take the project if the chemistry is not right. It’s not worth it, and it won’t be a great project.
Don’t borrow money. Work to achieve high quality buildings within the funds available. Plan carefully and be efficient. Raise fees. Keep the overhead low. Pay staff at the highest rate possible. Maintain a studio that can choose the next project. Don’t create a machine that needs to be fed.
Take time off. Travel, take field trips, experience cities, buildings, landscapes and ideas outside of our familiar settings. Keep the practice in perspective. Don’t over work. Protect creative time by controlling the schedule. Protect time off by controlling the schedule.
Maintain a teaching office/studio. Collaborate. Enrich the project with multiple points of view. Grow a studio of individuals who become excellent generalists.
Develop relationships with consultants, suppliers and fabricators. Trust them and challenge them. Be loyal to them, and they will be loyal to you.
Build on your experience. Limit the palette (ideas, materials, and products) to allow depth and greater performance over time. Keep it in the family (of ideas, materials and products). Avoid novelty for its own sake. There is no surprise in novelty.
Always start/return to square one, the square you have not thought about in awhile but the square that the person you are talking to may not have thought of at all. Restate the obvious. Review the origins.
Mock it up. Plan ahead, design presentations, design development and construction document sets, construction components and assemblies.
Listen carefully. The client knows more about the program than you do. The consultant knows more about the systems than you do. The contractor knows more about construction than you do. Listen carefully to the details, the implications, the relations. Enter the world of each discipline, but lead the process, because we know more about the whole of the process and design than the client, consultant or contractor.
An architect does more than provide a service but cannot claim the independence from constraints that would allow him or her to impose ideological dogma. An architect is a servant leader, which for us has come to mean, a teacher. A teacher reveals the public good when others cannot see it. A teacher explains the value of durability when the prevailing interest is in superficiality. A teacher strives for seriousness in a time of triviality.
Learn through research. Allow your research to teach. Instead of simply asking a question or identifying a problem, research the issues and propose answers or solutions for discussion. Keep clear notes of your research so that others (and you, after it has faded in your memory) can learn from and expand it.
Institutional memory is the keeping of records (in digital and/or paper files) of anything we do in our daily tasks that will be done again or referenced again in order to improve business efficiency and in order to harvest knowledge from past projects to produce better future work. Everyone’s basic responsibility is to utilize and maintain this institutional memory to avoid re-inventing the already invented, with the greater goal of innovation. All of our work is valuable beyond the task at hand if we record it clearly and make it accessible to others.
We need only consider our own breath to understand how we ground existence within the infinity of time and space. We take in a breath from the infinite, and it gives sustenance to the finite. Neither can be made more or less by the interaction, but it is the interaction that brings life. We are all involved in the maintenance of the process. We either promote or suppress it. Our breath is space and time, and in breathing it, we dwell in it. If our lungs cease to support the interaction, we die. In art and architecture, the things that we create should promote the interaction. The concrete must breathe the abstract. The known must breathe the unknown. The present must breathe the future and the past.
We innovate. Precedent can be valuable or it can be binding. When a problem (from a design problem to a technical detail to a procedural question) seems like an exception to the rule or like a thing that has never been done, recognize the precedents so you can criticize them and foster innovation. Force the consideration of how the present condition fits into common knowledge or is similar to something done before. If this consideration does not spark a solution, it will at a minimum, help illuminate the scope of the problem.
Architecture is public work. Over the past 158 years we have seen the profession evolve from a civic art into a service business influenced by private interests and priorities. The movement towards service has also been a movement away from risk, public leadership and relevancy. Architects now ask how to regain public value. Value cannot be claimed. It has to be created. This means risk and leadership. We should measure our work not on accomplishments of service or appearance, but on the public effects and benefits in the community. The public consequences of the work are a much larger and truer measure of the value of practice. We ask ourselves, “What are the affects and qualities that we create outside the lot lines?” This is a path to relevancy.
The practice of architecture today is often overly focused on appearance or ultra-performance, and as a result, it unwittingly falls prey to the most superficial measures of value, market taste. Form for us is neither the thing nor its consumption. We work for the space and the nature and quality of the transactions between.
The establishment of the service professional has developed as a criticism of the modern utopian project for architecture. This trend has robbed architects of the purpose (value) of architecture. A service architect, working without a culturally critical (educational) position, will be seen as necessary but not valuable. Many architects suffer a loss of “why.”
Communities have origins, stories, connections to family, institutions, the land and weather. They function or fail in a particular economy. Effective planning begins with a commitment to listening and research. Communities are complex organisms made up of human transactions, both private and public. The quality of a community is measured in its resident’s well-being and members sense of belonging, in their pride and legacy, in their sense of security and opportunity for growth. This is the planning goal; to affect these deeper measures of quality. Transportation, infrastructure, tax revenue, access to food, jobs or recreation are systems; tools and resources to make a better community. Too often planners think the systems are the community and overlook the deeper needs, stresses, and desires that characterize a community. Understanding these is essential for health revival and growth.
The foundations of innovation are established quickly. Ideas flow early from desire, need and opportunity. Most projects are defined in the first 10% of the time of work. Architects are often hired after the project is defined, after the potential for innovation has passed. Sites, budgets, scope and even aspirations are usually defined before an architect is hired. It’s not graphic talent that makes a great project. It’s the planning possible within the first moments of a project that sets the criteria to allow innovation. The quality of a project, its value and its innovations, are planned before they are realized.
Ideas require cultivation, growth and maintenance. For us, the flow of design work moves from the freedom of proposing, to planning and the iterative craft of making to the care of maintenance.
Why do we use our training on such a small part of the life of a building? Architects are trained to build worlds; full and comprehensive. Architects look beyond the limitations and see the possibilities. We acquire the knowledge to conceive of projects, provide innovative designs and to care for the buildings to extend their life. Expand practice to capitalize on our knowledge, skill and potential.
The design of a building is labor intensive. Design takes time. The design of great building projects and successful communities requires investment in a rich, long practice and cannot be achieved in a single project. The architect brings this growing value to each project. It makes no sense for the value of the practice of architecture to be solely based on the hourly wages that can fit in the limits of the owner/architect service contract. Create value. Expand practice to be measured by the value created.
If each building/intervention fundamentally changes the experience of the city, (which we believe) then the question is, “How does each project help shape the public good?” We believe developments are best crafted from the architect’s hopeful perspective of fostering cultural growth. We ask ourselves, “Is a project economically viable, but more importantly, does it contribute to the growth of the micro and macro economies?” “Does the project serve to strengthen and expand meaningful social connections and promote mature diversity and density?” “Is the project ecologically sound and healthy?” Development, for us, is a triple bottom line calculus.
Sustainable communities are best achieved by mature diversity. Dynamic communities include people of different race, gender, religion, economic level, educational achievement and provide access to a variety of housing types and sizes, recreation, institutions, services and jobs.
Meaning is established first in the architecture of visceral presences; material, light, scale, and human posture. On top of this spatial haptic foundation, use, stories, relationships and connections can be layered. Feeling first then language. Form: shape and structure first, then content.
As we get closer to an architecture of quality, it engages us with detail, material life, joinery, ingenuity and handwork. Too often modern form is conceived from a distance leaving only vapid surfaces where sealant joints become the only details experienced up close.
Public work is the value of architectural form that simultaneously serves and challenges culture. The site of public work is multivalent. At once we owe loyalties to our most intimate relationships; our partners, friends and family. Then we form space to teach and grow civitas redressing our loyalties to our streets, neighborhoods, city, and region; then encompassing even larger loyalties of our country, culture, environment, and species.
The Best Idea Wins. Innovative ideas are the most valuable asset a creative organization can offer, and as such, Duvall Decker values the voices of all collaborators in the work. Constructive criticisms and suggestions on design solutions, standard practices, daily processes, operations and quality control are expected and encouraged. While employees may be assigned to one project or work primarily for one company, Duvall Decker recognizes the value of each employee’s “Roaming Rights” to voice their ideas about another project, policy or company practice. The value of this practice is in the belief that it is the building and quality of the environment we are making that matters more than any position, authority or ego. We value learning from each other and the collaborative practice of recognizing the best idea from each of us. The best idea wins, every day.