The importance of Design Development

In driving around Fairfield County, nothing seems to aggravate us more than a poorly designed house.  Putting aside (for the moment) the obvious candidate, the McMansion (or spec house) – this blog post will focus on a number of poorly designed houses designed by architects.  We’re not talking about houses designed by some young architect working out of their garage, but popular architects, doing prominent and expensive work around Fairfield County, that seem to obtain work simply because their work is viewed by the public as “good” because it is prominent and expensive.  Well, it’s not.

One of the common characteristics that we notice in these houses is an incredible lack of restraint.  It seems to us that these architects think of residential architecture as a checklist of architectural elements and products.  Stair tower (check), stone base (check), Subzero (check), copper finial (check), etc, etc, etc.  Further, it looks as though they feel that the more items that you can check off the list, the better the house.  How else to explain the overuse of the cupola in today’s residential landscape?  Nothing against cupola’s, they are great in the appropriate setting.  But really, they cannot all be appropriate settings. 

 How is this “more-is-more” design mentality produced?  Here is what we suspect.

 In the beginning of the design process, the architect and/or client bring together images (whether physical images ripped out of magazines, or mental images) of what they would like in their house.  There is an image of a kitchen that they like, one with a beautiful antique floor, a light fixture they love, and another with elegantly profiled brackets, etc.  – the thought being that putting all of the elements that the owner loves together will make a successful house for that particular owner.  The more stuff that the owner loves, the more the owner will love the house.  But this is akin to thinking that, because each individual ingredient in my pantry tastes good, simply putting them all together will create a successful dish – and the more the better.

 Secondly, we suspect that the Architect don’t really value, or know how to do, design development.  Our guess is that these designers, go straight from initial design concept (schematic design) into construction drawings without taking the time to test design ideas and refine the project.  It is not a coincidence that many of these same houses have forms and rooflines that clumsily crash into each other.  This is not only a pet peeve of ours, but a sign that care was not taken in design development to resolve these design issues.  Granted, it can sometimes be an arduous process.  It is oftentimes difficult to resolve interior spaces with a well balenced, composed exterior.  It takes time and a dedication to hone the design until a graceful solution is found.  Since the design process can be sped up be neglecting design development, this seems like a win-win for the owner (who gets their house designed quicker) and the architect (who can push a project quickly thru the design stages). 

 But, the design development phase of the project is, for us, one of the more important of all of the phases.  For us, quality residential architecture is born from a design process that is less about addition of more-and-more, but one of subtraction - an iterative process of editing and refinement.  We feel the proper balance and composition of architectural elements is more important than their quantity.  In the long run, you will be happier with the results.