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It is a primary goal of our practice that the buildings we design and the architectural problems we solve with our clients reflect a true collaboration between equal partners. While we as architects have experience with a variety of building types and ways to approach a generic solution to our clients’ stated and written needs, only our clients understand the specialized goals and requirements of their specific building, to be constructed on their specific site, built to a specific budget, and described only in words.

As architects, we know a great deal about architecture but perhaps little about the specifics of our clients’ particular project. Our clients know a great deal about the specific needs and goals of their particular project, but perhaps little about the design process.

If a true collaboration is to result from this starting point, a common language is necessary to bridge the gap between our respective experiences and understanding.

Because the architectural design process is fundamentally grounded in the goal of developing three-dimensional solutions from two-dimensional written program definitions, we have found that the three-dimensional modeling of project information, even from the very earliest stages of the process, is the common language we are seeking.

Typically, clients expect an “architectural model” to be a part of the design process, but only at the end, when the “finished product” is carefully constructed, by the architect, for public presentation. Often, this is the first time even the committee has seen a threedimensional representation of the building they have been experiencing in drawing form for weeks of design evolution. More often than you may think, this is also the first time that many committee members fully understand the building that—they discover to their surprise—they have only observed being designed.

modelVirtually everyone, at one time or another, has played with or modeled something at small scale, whether it be as a child or with children. Thus, we have all experienced the scale transfer of placing ourselves physically into the context of a small-scale model. The “reality” of the model easily becomes clear to all of us as we imagine ourselves as a small person in that miniature setting.

This then is how we begin all our projects, by modeling for the committee, at a small scale, the selected building site in its immediate context, whether it be open fields or dense urban environment. This three-dimensional modeling of the site as it exists even before the process of design begins is often the first time many committee members actually experience the full implications of the site and its characteristics of elevation change, neighboring context, orientation to the sun, etc. Many opportunities and constraints to new building design, otherwise not evident while walking the actual site, become readily apparent. This simple model becomes the first significant step in the translation of twodimensional criteria to the architectural world of three dimensions.

This first model, therefore, becomes the means toward the development of our common language and, therefore, to our true collaboration.

On this base model of existing site conditions (see fig. 1), we then add, at similar scale, what has heretofore existed only in two dimensions—the architectural program statement. For this step, the program is analyzed and combined into areas and volumes and modeled as separate building components at a scale equal to the site model. With this program model (see fig. 2 & 3), these components can then be easily arranged as “building blocks” on the site and the overall implications of a single- or multi-floor building, resultant building volume, orientation of program areas to site context and to other program components is studied, analyzed, debated, or rearranged by the committee.

Once the program orientations and the overall building volumes are understood, we then move, with the committee, toward further development of each building component and the overall resultant building volume. With each step of this process, the threedimensional information, placed to scale on the model of the actual building site, allows every committee member to fully participate in the discussions and to help “build” the final architectural solution for the simple reason that, because of this modeling process, everyone fully understands the information being presented, debated, and resolved.

processAs seen from the accompanying photographs of a representative project, the Camden Public Safety Facility Study (figures 1 through 6), the modeling process continues logically through additional steps, each at a more detailed resolution and each proceeding from the understanding and the decisions that have preceded it.

With this process, ideas specific to each project such as project phasing, building massing, and layout options (fig. 4), detailed building massing (fig. 5), site and master plan options, to name but a few, can be carefully studied and analyzed.

The result is a truly collaborative and creative process, as all participants remain fully informed and engaged throughout. This process allows for the evolutionary understanding of the true nature of the building as it is designed on its actual site. Design decisions are not made in a vacuum of information but rather in the context of a more thorough and complex understanding of constraints and opportunities.

We also continue the modeling process throughout the construction document phase, modeling for our clients’ review and approval those details of the building that will have particular significance or visibility in the final construction.

As this design process evolves it may appear to be loose and informal, a climate ideal for the free flow of ideas. It is, however, a carefully structured process and one that often leads, through organized consensus building, to informed and unanimous committee approval of the final design.

We have developed this process over a number of years and, as far as we know, it is a process unique to our office. It is a fun, creative, and truly collaborative approach.