Livestrong Foundation

Architype Dialogue presents

Bob Harris

What was the most difficult issue about working on this building or the most unexpected challenge that may have influenced new thought in your project?

To be honest, the most difficult thing about this project was the schedule. Design and construction needed to be complete within a one-year period. This was a real test of the integrated design team process. Fortunately, everyone involved knew they were going to have to hit the ground running, work collaboratively on the fly, and address difficult issues in a straight-ahead manner. If not for the fully integrated design team, this would not have been successful.

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?

This project demanded that we think deeply about community. Being in a traditionally underserved part of east Austin made it important to place the design problem in context with its surrounding neighborhood. We wanted the relationship between LIVESTRONG and its neighbors to be friendly and welcoming. Rather than upstage the neighborhood, we wanted to fit in, create linkages, and become a gathering point for the community.

The internal community was also a major consideration. The LIVESTRONG staff thrives on interaction and grass roots connections. In designing the space we created a small community of networked neighborhoods for working, all organized around internal circulation “streetscape” to serve both visitors and staff. This approach created connectivity between visitors and the work of the Foundation, as well as between departments that might otherwise tend to remain isolated. We have found that this lively internal connector street combined with meeting spaces, some open which we call “parks,” has led to a high level of personal interaction and collaboration. Members of the staff are rarely fixed to their desk; The Foundation is a place of constant movement and energy. It’s a fun place to be.

In this way, architects are more about creating place than simply buildings.

How is your building possible today in a way that it may not have been before and how have trends in sustainability and technology inspired new thought and solutions?

The Foundation is an example of how people can re-imagine the structure of the workplace. They did not feel that they needed to conform to the old notion of the workplace as a formal arrangement of hierarchal individual spaces meant to represent status and impress visitors. They benefit from a more flexible approach to occupying buildings that recognizes the need to feel connected to the environment and each other. 80-90% of our lives are spent in buildings — Why should they box us in? Why shouldn’t we seek natural daylight, views to the outside, the warmth of natural material, and good indoor air quality? To settle for less is to simply accept an impoverished environment. With the Foundation’s emphasis on health and vitality, our task was to create a space that first relies on available natural elements then turns to the most efficient mechanisms and technology in support of expanding comfort beyond what is possible passively. ((For example, natural daylight first, maximum-efficiency user-controlled artificial lighting second.))

What advice or lessons learned would you give to another designer or client pursuing a similar type of sustainable project?

For designers- Think about people; how they work and want to live before jumping to formal solutions. Ask yourself what is essential to achieve in the context of the space and place. If you can, define your preferred outcomes at the beginning then stick with them. Check in periodically to ask yourself whether your progress matches your aspirations. Don’t allow yourself to fall in love with ideas that don’t support the user needs and sustainability in context with the desired outcomes. It is so easy to get off track; getting your key goals set early will help ensure the most sustainable results in the design of the project.
For owners- Keep an open mind about the possibilities.

Demand practical solutions but trust that good designers can deliver environments that surpass the norm in ways you may not have imagined. Think about the project as an investment rather than an expense and you will likely identify a multitude of ways to save money over time while building a stronger, more productive workplace. People are hardwired to respond positively to well-designed (sustainable) spaces both cognitively and physiologically. Providing good, sustainable design will pay off in increased employee satisfaction, retention, and productivity contributing to the bottom line while enhancing your organization’s identity.

In the context of this project, how is your office and design process being influenced by current trends in academic curricula and young architects? In turn, how are current projects and processes guiding the ongoing reformulation and development of academic curricula?

Young architects no longer look at sustainability as something separable from good design. They expect it to be an important component of each decision made in the project process and are disappointed when it is not. That’s pretty new. Combining that with their acuity with technology, they are now capable of dealing with the multitude of technical metrics associated with creating sustainable buildings. What they often need to build is an understanding of the less tangible qualities of sustainable design, those elements of art that speak to the head and the heart. That comes through careful questioning, observation, and doing.

As the bar is raised in the marketplace there is no doubt that academia must respond to provide the level of education that students expect. We have a long way to go, but you can find inspiration in real world projects that are making a difference in the world right now. To me and to many young architects, the profession has never been more exciting. The opportunities for creativity and smart design in this area are abundant and I think academia is recognizing the potential.

What unique or different sustainable practices or sustainable materials played a key role in this building and in your firm’s overall body of work?

In opening up the roof of this old paper warehouse to provide a light-filled interior, we had the opportunity to utilize this beautiful old lumber within the workspace where people come in contact with it. The use of a raw, natural material in the workplace creates a warmth and texture that is hard to replace and is unusual for contemporary workplaces. People crave connections to nature, so providing natural materials in less refined states that they can see, touch, and smell, does much to satisfy this innate desire.

What books are you currently reading….or would like to be reading?

Just finished going back to E.O. Wilson’s classic Biophilia and, just beginning Origins of Architectural Pleasure by Grant Hildebrand.

Architype Review thanks Bob Harris for his interview and for contributing to this collection of Architype Dialogue.

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