As we have probably all learned at some point in our career, no matter how passionately we pursue great design, it pains me to admit that not every project will put you in the running for the Pritzker prize.
There will be the moving of walls, the replacement of carpet; perhaps a new building that based on cost ends up looking like…(wait for it)…. a box!
The design process is the same way. Not every moment will be filled with inspiration and an excess of technicolor creativity. FYI architecture students–there will be days of typing pricing narratives, drawing details, hours spent discussing Value Engineering options, not to mention really awkward moments spent surveying bathrooms while people silently judge you for being “creepy” as you take photos of grout joints while they wash their hands.
But for a young architect (or to be honest, most architects I’ve spoken to, regardless of career stage) even if the project or process isn’t “transformative,” I would argue that there are always unique experiences each project provides that serve as a chance to gain new, worthwhile knowledge.
For me, this was the case for a recent project I took on a few weeks ago. Already swamped with three on-going projects with corresponding deadlines and meetings, a senior co-worker asked me if I wouldn’t mind traveling with her to Wyoming to look at a lobby space for a government building that needed a refresh.
I could tell this wasn’t just a trip to look at a lobby.
I recognized this was an opportunity to do a few important things. The first was to spend time with a seasoned co-worker and mentor that I continue to learn from on a daily basis. When someone is willing teach, I am (usually) willing to listen. The second was that I just happen to really like repositioning projects. Regardless of size, the chance to reinvent a space to make it more functional and to show people the power of design in a “before” and “after” context is something I can’t really turn down. The third was personal; I am from the East Coast and had never been to the great state of Wyoming.
And so on a recent Thursday, my co-worker and I met at 7:30am in Downtown Denver, grabbed our respective coffees, and began driving due West to Wyoming.
An hour and a half later (including one slightly embarrassing photo-op at the Wyoming border) I was introduced to the wonder that is Cheyenne.
Originally from the East Coast, going on architectural site-visits in the West can often feel a bit like a field trip more than work.
So was the case for my trip to Cheyenne. I came, and I saw. What did I see you might ask? I saw some yellowish paint, wasted circulation space, a few fake plants, a sign reminding me to wash my hands to avoid “THE BUG!” and a giant wooden trash receptacle that had the words “THANK YOU” inscribed on its trash flap. I also saw a lot of potential. Potential for a new storefront system to create some programmatic separation, a new design strategy in which “less” would speak much, much “more,” some ways to rearrange furniture to create more usable space, and some existing infrastructure that could easily be enhanced to create a friendlier user experience.
On the drive home, I also saw Cheyenne’s state capital, some authentic cowboy boots, and a Western clothing store that would make any hipster with an affinity for plaid shirts and cowboy boots very, very excited.
A few weeks later I completed a successful design proposal and presentation to the client, and issued a pricing plan. While I’m happy with the design and feel it’s the right solution for the space, I can’t say I’m confident it will grace the pages of “Dezeen” any time soon.
With that said, my discussion with my co-worker on the drive home about her 30+ years of experience in the biz, not to mention her philosophies on life, a detour to drive-by her college dorm at CSU and a whole day of hard work, laughter, and a sprinkling of sarcasm proved to be an experience that has made this project one I will not soon forget.