The following are questions and answers from an interview with Nazim Nice, NCARB LEED AP, who is the Principal Architect at Motionspace Architecture + Design PLLC
Q:You’re always in the natural position of giving the design idea just based on your profession, but sometimes the client gives you there “dream idea” to you for their space. What is an idea that has stood out in your experience and how did you handle it?
Earning my client’s trust is not the result of any one single thing, but the aggregate of all of our interactions with each other. As an Architect, my clients expect expert advice, good design, and a professional level of service. From our first meeting, I demonstrate my expertise through our discussions about a potential project. This also includes listening to my clients needs and making suggestion when appropriate. In the interviewing process, many architects withhold their ideas because they don’t want to give them away without compensation. I use the first meeting to listen to the project requirements, discuss ideas, and show example images from past projects of similar solutions. After we begin the job, I view all my interactions with my clients as an opportunity to gain their trust by always giving my honest opinion, and backing it up with why one might choose a particular design direction over another. Ultimately it is the client’s choice since it is their project, but most people want to know they are making the right decision.
Q:Trust is a huge part of any construction project between the professional team assembled and the client. How do you gain that trust through the design process and still guide them in new directions that they may not understand at first?
I had a client purchase a mid-century modern home and then tell me they would love to make it into a Mediterranean style home with stucco arches, and tile roof. However, they did not have the budget to transform the interior and exterior of the home into a completely different style. After quite a bit of educating the client and discussing how we might incorporate the feeling of a Mediterranean home while still working with the clean lines, large expanses of glass, and clear structural expression of the mid-century style. By introducing materials, colors, and a few design elements from Mediterranean architecture, but reinterpreted in a modern way, we were able to achieve the client’s goals but still be true to the home’s original style.
Clients often have ambitious wish lists for their projects and at first glance it may seem impossible to incorporate everything into a project. But more often than not, I am able to craft a solution that meets the clients requirements and also adds something more. My role is to listen to a clients needs, but also identify all the problems to be solved. Many times those problems are not apparent, or even identified by the client because most people are not trained to identify architectural issues. In a recent project, we moved the front door, and created a small side entry to a home which solved circulation issues, created a small space to enter into, rather than entering straight into the living room, and allowed for access to a sunny front yard space that was inaccessible with the old entry design. When a design change solves three problems, it usually means it is a good direction to pursue. The client had not asked for us to solve these problems, but after they saw the solution they said, “it should have always been like that.”
Q:There has been a lot of emphasis on energy in the home the past few years and an ever evolving world of technology in the home. How do stay on top of some of the changes to those areas you consider each new project?
Buildings use about 40% of all the energy used in the US. Clearly we have a lot of room for improvement. The beginning of my education on energy efficiency began at the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University, which has a very strong environmental focus. During my time at Carnegie Mellon I also interned at the School of Architecture’s Center for Building Performance and Diagnostics which is a living laboratory for testing more efficient and effective ways to heat, cool, and light a building, as well as many other issues. I learned about making a building efficient but also making it more livable. People perform better in a space that is naturally lit, but does not have excessive glare. And natural ventilation makes a building healthier to be in, but users need to be able to control this to be comfortable. Design strategies and specific products have to be used in an appropriate manner with the right controls to be effective.
People typically think the amount of energy used in a building is determined largely by the products and equipment specified. This certainly is part of the equation, but the other pieces relate more to the design. Everything from siting the project correctly, to the type of vegetation surrounding a building can effect the total energy used. We try to find the right balance for each client, weighing the cost benefits and design implications to arrive at the right solution.
Keeping up-to-date on technology means constantly seeking to educate myself. I am always on the lookout for new innovations or improvements to old standbys. We keep an extensive library of products that we have used or may use and we share these ideas with our clients. Before using a product we’ll research its performance to see that it is an appropriate selection. Part of the equation is understanding the embodied energy in a product. Sometimes it does not make sense to use a product produced half-way around the world because it takes a lot of energy to deliver it to the job site. And some products use a lot of energy to produce. Many products claim they are ‘Green’ when they are actually not.
Q:Educating a client is an important role for the design team as well as the production side. What are some of the tools you give your clients to help them finalize the many decisions they need to make during the course of construction?
Educating the client starts from our first meeting and continues through the duration of the project (and often beyond since we are always available to our clients to answer questions about things like maintenance). We give our client the information they need to make good decisions. This may mean printing out a Consumer Reports article and emailing it to our client. Or in a recent trip to Vancouver, I photographed some aged Ironwood decking in Cole Harbor to show a client how this product would look if they choose to not seal it every year. We often talk to past clients to see if they are happy with products used in their projects. Of course, some decisions come down to personal preference. If this is the case, I tell my clients so they know they are not making a wrong decision.
Q:What is more fulfilling from a design stand point to work with, a large open space or the challenges of incorporating existing elements?
I actually find working in a large open site more challenging than working on modifications to existing buildings (either a remodel or addition). This is because without constraints, the options in an open site are almost unlimited. Because I can’t explore every idea, I create constraints that start to limit the number of solutions, and lead me in the right direction. Some constraints may deal with site orientation, while other constraints may be using a particular material. In one project, I designed a house using the concept of how a farm house is often added onto over time. This was because it was appropriate for the particular pastoral 13 acre site, and had a historical reference, but also this particular client often asked for spaces to be made larger and smaller. I knew a design that was dependent on very specific alignments and geometry would not work for them. Having said all that, sometimes by removing a constraint, I am able to explore ideas that can lead to the right solution. Knowing when to do this comes with experience.