What is your "look"?

While interviewing, I often get asked this question.  Does your office have a “look” or “style”?  While a fairly superficial, pedestrian answer would probably suffice in this situation such as, “we do shingle style houses with large sweeping overhangs that frequently enclose outdoor spaces”, this has never sat right with us.  Not only do we not have a particular “style” or “look” that characterizes our work, but I feel that there is a deeper connection that a potential client is trying to make to our work.

In his treatise De Architectura, Vitruvius wrote that well built architecture has three conditions:  firmness, commodity and delight.

  • Firmness - Architecture requires firmness in its physical construction and thus stands in relation to science.  Thrust and balance, pressure and support, material characteristics and physical limitations are the root of the language that Architecture employs.
  • Commodity - Architecture must satisfy an  external need and is thus subservient to the general use of mankind.  In this way Architecture is an expression of human needs and thus can be judged by the success with which they supply practical ends that they are designed to meet.
  • Delight - This, I feel is the center of the question of our “look” or “style” for delight is not interested in functional solutions to a clients needs or the houses mechanical/physical solutions of shelter, but the disinterested desire for beauty–a purely aesthetic impulse by virtue of which architecture becomes art.

So while it is important that our houses function well for their owners and that they are well built, an answer about the way that our firm includes a waterproofing detail on the top of the concrete footing in order to reduce the amount of moisture that can draw up into the foundation wall and thus reduce the amount of moisture in a basement space, for example, misses the point.  But so too does a description of forms or stylistic details that may be common to the houses we have designed.

What I feel characterizes our work really comes down to presence.  So while our houses may vary greatly in “style” or “look” from one another (due to the fact that we employ a collaborative approach with our clients, thus each house is greatly influenced by their lifestyles), the common idea is that our houses have a presence about them.  They may not be the house on the street that is screaming the loudest for attention, but they have an unmistakable presence.  Presence is that quality that is hard to define,  but that most people know when they see it.  Presence is the balanced use of beautiful materials and forms.  Presence is the execution of graceful proportions and refined detailing.  Presence is the relationship of the architecture to the landscape and the quality of light entering well articulated spaces.  Presence is the rigorous precision that exceeds most current design and construction tolerances and makes the architecture sing.  To bring this back to Vitruvius, presence, to us, is where the three separate conditions of firmness, commodity and delight blend into a singular work that expands the life of those who live with it.