Better like this? Or better like this? The Optics of Design!

In our design work we’re constantly pushing and pulling, tinkering with this and changing that. That’s fundamental to design. It’s kind of like going to the optometrist! “Better like this or better like this, better like this or better like this …”

And like the process of selecting lenses for best vision, the goal of design is to eventually arrive at a sharp, well-focused image that really works.

How do we know if one solution is better than another, if we don’t have a clear understanding of the project’s context, its priorities, aims, and goals? This is often overlooked in the design process, as we jump straight to creating combinations of ideas and forms, but it’s probably the most important part of our work. If we forget to explore the project’s aims and goals, and its constraints and context, then how will we evaluate the design? How do we know that it’s better like this, or like this?

Recently we’ve purchased a small property that needs our help and ideas. It’s a storey-and-a-half house in Kitchener’s St. Mary’s Conservation District. It’s sorely in need of rejuvenation, and that means ideas. Since we’re in ideas business, it’s a great fit. Why not put our ideas to work for ourselves? Well, that’s the plan. We’ll see how it turns out.

We started by documenting the house, the property, and the neighbourhood, and thinking in rough terms about how grand a change to create. We didn’t nail down the aims and goals of the project too tightly, in case we missed some great possibilities. Then we had some fun. Over the course of a couple of days, everyone in the office created a possibility for the house. Ten different designs emerged, and we convened a lunch session to examine and discuss them all. We even invited some real estate agents, a home stager and interior designer, and some acquaintances to the critique, to share some lunch and have some fun. They were great.

Some of the ideas were for larger additions, some for no addition at all. Each had its own level of investment and reward, its own emphasis on where to spend and where to save to achieve the overall goal. Discussion was lively, and between the ideas and the session it generated a second phase of design. What’s interesting is that no one scheme was chosen as the winner. Instead, what emerged was a realization that by combining aspects of the designs (a kitchen layout here, an idea about using the basement, a change to the rear roof line to create more second floor, etc) we could further push and pull in a sort of “Round 2”, where a stronger and clearer design emerged. Tinkering and massaging some more, and seeing how aspects of the ideas could combine, created a final design that’s greater than the sum of its parts! That’s often the way it goes, and part of the reason that design takes patience and perseverance.

Better like this, or better like this?

We’ve now documented the design for construction purposes, and the changes will soon be underway. We’ll keep you posted as we move through construction, and we’ll see how the ideas continue to enrich and transform the property.

We’re excited to see how the journey goes!


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