Esoteric explanations, conceptual commencements, or inspirational initiations, we typically have some starting point besides the pragmatic, practical or functional. How else can one create beauty if one excludes elements or a thought process that make being human worthy?
From where does an architect’s inspiration emerge? How do we begin to generate form that has meaning? How can we make the first mark without some emotional connection to a project? A blank sheet of paper can be more of a prison than a boundless field.
Located on top of a hill adjacent to a wooded area to the East, this project of mine lent an opportunity to address an impressive view while adding on to an existing house with considerable sentimental value to the owner. The view to the South became the focus of the site planning process. However, as I look back on the early days of planning this project, I thought I was never going to be able to discover a solution that was worthy of the owner’s investment let alone the emotional attachment they had to the existing structure.
Design doesn’t flow if you force it.
With a little more than a year into staring my own practice and after teaching for more than two years, I received an email in 2004 from an interested client looking to “define the entrance both inside and out, adding a bathroom and bedroom wing and a two-car garage.” This person found me online at the “Not So Big House” website directory as well as my local AIA Chapter. The email read that their “goal is to find an architect that can help blend the building with the land to create a modern yet comfortable and harmonious environment. Are you available for his type of work?”
Uh…yes, I am.
The interview went well – they hired me without a proposal, on-the-spot. Early in the life of my own firm, I thought it was going to be easy doing the work I had set out on my own to do. Looking back, I met clients that became friends and the contractor, the best I’ve ever worked with residentially, also became a friend. If only everyone went like this one.
Design is not easy. How does one add on to and attach to a house that belonged to the client’s late brother with whom there was tremendous emotional connection? This inherited house had memories, even though it was not architecturally stimulating. Besides that, the clean shed roof with tall windows utilizing early 80’s passive solar attempts seemed complete formally on its own. One doesn’t add on to that in a meaningful way. I must have gone through an entire roll of trace searching. The first few ideas were bad, very bad.
It’s like trying to write a song, but not being able to find the right notes.
Then one day it dawned on me – don’t do it. Don’t add on to it, don’t touch it. That would be wrong, that won’t resolve anything. The very thing that was making it difficult needed to go away for us to find a solution. So often, we get paralyzed in solving problems because we arbitrarily allow variables to linger that do nothing but blind us from a better path. Let them go and see what happens.
I remember telling the client I was not going to add onto their house, but I was going to build next to it. The desperately needed entrance was going to be the link to connect them. One does not enter into either new or existing – it’s the in between – that moment.
This new glass enclosed space serves as an axial link between two dominant forms of the existing and new. We came to appreciate that the new addition should leave the identity of the original structure intact and create its own presence on the site. A new exterior stair leads up to a front patio and balcony with a wood trellis which stitches the new addition to the existing structure – lightly.
Simple. I just needed to step back, think of what was best for the client, best for the site and let go. The answer was there all along.
Would you like to know from where my friend’s inspiration comes? Read on below. #Architalks.
Eric T. Faulkner – Rock Talk (@wishingrockhome)
Inspire — A Clover
Michele Grace Hottel – Michele Grace Hottel, Architect (@mghottel)
Jeffrey Pelletier – Board & Vellum (@boardandvellum)
Unlikely Inspiration: The Strange Journeys of the Creative Process
Jim Mehaffey – Yeoman Architect (@jamesmehaffey)
Barndoors are for People Too
Tim Ung – Journey of an Architect (@timothy_ung)
Inspired by Leather Working
Mark Stephens – Mark Stephens Architects (@architectmark)
Unlikely Inspiration – Herbert Simms
Steve Mouzon – The Original Green Blog (@stevemouzon)
A Most Unexpected Inspiration