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Dialog and Subtle Design

One of my favorite professors in Architecture School was always encouraging us to pay close attention to any built environment we might find ourselves in, how it affected our mood and perceptions and most importantly, why.


From landscapes and streetscapes to the inside and outside of buildings, our built environment affects us in obvious as well as very subtle ways. Regardless of how conscious we may be of this, the way we feel in any given space (peaceful; happy; uncomfortable or fearful) is more than often a direct result of intentional design (or accident), involving a multitude of aspects including, just to name a few: materials, colors and texture, light and shadow, sound, other people and objects, movement, climate and scent.


In addition to understanding the functional, aesthetic and financial aspects of a project, one of the most challenging and rewarding tasks an Architect can undertake is understanding what their client as well as those who will use the building need perceptually. This calls for a different level of communication.


During the earliest stage of design, I usually ask my clients to give me a “wish list” for their project. What I’ve received has ranged from a few words to essays and from broad to narrow scopes of interest. From the wish list, I usually develop a much longer list of questions with the intention of first understanding the project’s functional and budget needs. Following that, we can explore the more subtle aspects outlined above.


Most people who don’t spend all their time thinking about things like this are, understandably, less aware of how the built environment affects them. But once the focus shifts to this level of design and we have the opportunity to open a dialog on the subject, many people see and appreciate the opportunity to take their project to a higher level.


Paying close attention to how the building design can positively affect those who live or work there does not necessarily translate into a more expensive project. For example, making an informed and thoughtful decision on where a single window is located in relation to daily and seasonal sunlight and view can make all the difference in how enjoyable a room will be. The same thinking can apply to a home’s entry and how welcome visitors feel as well as every other space in and around the building.


Based on good communication, this level of thinking, dialog and design will lead to a building that provides so much more to those who live and work there. As important as functionality is, a building can also become an oasis of comfort and inspiration.