Process in Practice

AIA DESIGN THEORY – October 2012

Edited by Rebecca Falzano | Photography Trent Bell

The practice of architecture is multifaceted and complex. According to Mike Lassel of Lassel Architects, the architect’s role has always been that of a master builder and planner, and the design process is a natural outgrowth of a collaboration with client and consultants. “We are finding it more and more important within the profession that we oversee all aspects of the project for design integrity and integration,” says Lassel. “The process is both analytical and organic. It is also emotive and sensitive to the needs of the users, who are seeking joy and comfort.” Each firm uses its own unique analytical methodology to find the best design solution. Lassel shares his with us.

Q: Where does the integrated architectural process start for you?

A: In our work, we partner with the client to explore their wishes and help them understand their lifestyle and spatial needs. To help us integrate both the natural and programmatic aspects of a project we are attentive about learning all we can about the site. We try to find the soul of the place and listen to the client to hear what they need and want. This process is the same for a field overlooking the ocean or an urban center. We try to find what makes each place unique and how we can celebrate it.

Within a structured approach we then develop a series of analysis drawings superimposing environmental conditions, solar angles, and surrounding fabric. This analysis process is not static, and it becomes part of the language of the design, constantly merging new information as it becomes known. Equally important is the process of energy management. How do we integrate good planning and design with the science of insulation and alternative energy?

Q: How has architectural analysis evolved over time?

A: We have always addressed society’s needs for improved living and cultural spaces. We have always had to think about the environment and the ever-changing art of building. We are constantly involved in improving the quality of place and addressing our dwindling resources. Our continued challenge is to create buildings that meet our standard of living while striving to reach net-zero energy use. This constant struggle between competing needs creates an atmosphere for new creative solutions.

Historically, humans have lived in communities for safety, energy efficiency, and the ability to share skills. With the advent of the automobile and cheap fuel, we lost touch with our communities and sprawl became the norm. The high and constantly changing cost of energy is reversing this movement. Communities whose population shrank are now growing. This resurgence of village and urban life creates a wonderful opportunity for new design options working with density in a multigenerational environment.

Q: Where have you seen this in your work?

A: We are currently working on designing an elderly-housing complex in an urban setting. The public is very involved in the development process of this parcel, which requires a constant open dialogue about the design to address everyone’s questions and needs. The process was successful because of working closely with our civil engineers, landscape architects, the community, and town administration. The analysis of the urban fabric of the village center indicated a need for strong pedestrian connections between the adjacent residential neighborhood and the new adjacent library and the elementary school, with its newly landscaped gardens and walking green behind the school. The building will occupy space that has previously been open space. The design and its outdoor spaces must strategically fit within the existing framework of the historic village. Our goals are to enhance the aesthetic of this part of the village with a building that becomes part of the local fabric. This is reinforced with the integration of the elderly into the community through their connection to the library and school. In addition, this location makes the village walkable to shops and a post office a few minutes away. The new site plan also provides a well-lit and landscaped connection between it and the library, school, and a large residential area with many school-aged children. These connections are designed to foster future additions of public art and seating.

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