Coloring outside the Lines: A Reluctant Philosopher

For the past 20 years I’ve been designing buildings for BLDD.  For much of that time as a lead designer submitting and interviewing for prospective work.  Invariably the dreaded question will come up; “What is your design philosophy?” Each time I receive the question it triggers an internal eye-roll.

It’s not that I don’t understand the reason people ask; it’s just the immediate image that flashes to my mind that triggers the response. I picture myself in a black mock turtleneck and grey skinny jeans expressively talking with my hands and spouting run-on sentences filled with cliches. For those of you who know me personally, sorry for the image of me in skinny jeans now forever burned into your brain. I always hope my amusement with the question doesn’t show when asked in an interview.  Despite years of education, travel and design exploration, inside I’m still that kid in the sandpile on my father’s job site. We work, we don’t talk about work.

Perhaps at the core, I struggle to see the value in talking about why I design- the way I design.  It seems like an unnecessary effort when I have a tangible, visible product of the design effort, the work itself. Now that my role at BLDD requires me to develop and inspire our talented young designers, I’m faced with the reality that I need to better answer the question. So after many false starts (of which this may be the most recent) I finally have it and it makes so much sense now why I resisted answering it. I want all design to be exuberantly efficient.

At first when I realized, that’s it?Exuberantly Efficient! I was disappointed, probably like you are feeling right now.  I trudged on. No sense in turning back now.  Try as I might I kept coming back to it.  I abhor design that is filled with “more.”  The easy solution today is additive, more walls, more layers, more colors, more stuff.  Basically the attitude is often, “Leave all the old stuff and add all the new stuff we need.Just make it bigger and newer.” The idea that bigger, taller, more expansive is somehow better or a more significant design opportunity baffles me. In a world of more, I chose efficient.

I find myself ever more numbed by the dull wasteland of minimalism as well.  I love clean and modern as much as the next architect.  My nightmares take place in clutter filled “shabby chic” abodes. I am a modernist and a lover of simple, clean, unadorned spaces. I also question if anyone really enjoys living in a minimalist building. As Facebook and Instagram can prove, great photos don’t guarantee a great life. People want some excitement, some cheerfulness, some life in their surroundings, in a word they want exuberance.

So there it is. Exuberantly Efficient. That’s what I want to give the world.  Space you love and feel great being in, free from excess, economical in every way. I’ll explain in future articles how this philosophy impacts not only the designs we create for clients, but perhaps more importantly the ones we don’t.

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