John Friedman Alice Kimm Architects
Both the most difficult as well as most welcome challenge of this project involved the dialogue created between our contemporary architectural insertions and the existing historic concrete…
What was the most difficult issue about working within this building type or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?
Both the most difficult as well as most welcome challenge of this project involved the dialogue created between our contemporary architectural insertions and the existing historic concrete structure. We have designed many renovations and adaptive reuse projects, working within sensitive contexts, but in this case our desire to utilize new digital design and fabrication technologies demanded a fresh way of looking at the relationship between old and new. We actively engaged the existing structure and spaces through the creation of an architectural narrative about “flow” (one of the most important concepts in aerospace engineering) that could only be facilitated through the creation of complex, digitally designed and fabricated surfaces and volumes.
Did this project expand or evolve your role as an architect in any way? In general, do you feel that the role of the architect is changing on current projects?
In general, both in academia and within the profession, the discipline has become much more collaborative, partly due to the rise of digital technologies and an emphasis on performance, in particular environmental performance, as a generator of architectural form and expression. It is a very exciting time, as we work more closely with engineers and experts from many other fields. The increasingly interdisciplinary nature of the profession is yielding a very rich trove of architectural works. This particular project allowed us to work with a wide-ranging cast of engineers, fabricators, manufacturers, as well as with a very sophisticated group of aerospace experts, and very much expanded our own working methodology. In addition, we worked with many specialized fabricators to realize various elements of the project. In particular, our collaboration with the manufacturer 3form allowed us to bring our vision for the new building lobby – and by extension for the new identity of the aerospace department – to life. Working together via Go-To Meetings, and then through sessions at 3form’s shop in Salt Lake City as well as at our office, we were able to rationalize our design for the signature architectural element of the lobby – a panelized suspended ceiling – in order to make it affordable and buildable.
How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in technology and society inspired new thought and solutions?
The answers above speak to this question. The expanded digital design and fabrication toolset, coupled with the necessity of working more collaboratively with interdisciplinary experts, allowed this project to be realized in a way that likely would not have been possible even a decade previous. The fact that our clients are fully embedded in a field of science/engineering that deals with technology and performance at the highest possible level taught us a great deal as well. And, of course, the globalization of our economies and workflows allows us to collaborate with specialists both near and far.
In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and incoming young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?
We are constantly influenced by current trends in academic curricula, and we look to younger designers in our office to provide fresh insight (as well as the latest technical know-how) into digital advances. We then temper this with our own experience in design and construction, as well as our own knowledge base – which includes a grounding in contemporary culture. For this project, the synthesis of all of these influences within our design studio was very significant, and contributed greatly to the project’s success. One of the interesting things about this project as a whole is that it combines sophisticated digital design and fabrication techniques with inventive but traditional construction means and methods. The two realms were brought together in often surprising and always exciting ways. It was one of the most interesting construction sites we had experienced to date – and in this case, the General Contractor, Del Amo Construction, was an incredibly proactive and engaged partner – Mitch Hudson and his supervisor Kevin Cooper always had their creative thinking caps on. It was an enriching and inspiring process from beginning to end.
This type of experience, of course, influences us in the professional design studio as we move forward, but has also shaped the way we interact with students. As active educators, both partners of our firm have been able to help shape academic curricula by bringing to it an emphasis on the integration of current toolsets with the real-life challenges (environmental, programmatic, urban, cultural, user-related) that any design project brings.