The Ties that Bind
AIA DESIGN THEORY – August 2013
Edited by Rebecca Falzano | Photography Cara Slifka
Stephanie Lull on architecture that connects with the community
Many architects strive to harmonize with nature, tread lightly on the earth, and respect the environment. They also consider the context of the neighborhood when creating the size and style of a building. Architect Stephanie Lull of Smith Reuter Lull Architects believes in another important connection: weaving the use of the building into the social fabric of the community. MH+D asked her to tell us more.
Q:How do you go about incorporating the community into design?
A: Collaboration, consensus, context, communication, capitalize on constraints. Smith Reuter Lull Architects is a small office, but we feel we have a large design team that includes the client, our engineering consultants, the contractor, and as often as possible, the larger community. We use a very inclusive, collaborative process to allow all of the stakeholders a voice in the vision for the project. Our role as architect is to take all the information offered by the collaborators, the physical opportunities and constraints of the site, and the reality imposed by the budget and to then build consensus on what the project priorities in form and function will be. Whenever possible, we turn to the surrounding community to identify uses that will build a stronger connection with that community. Opportunities for sharing of space within the building, connecting or extending paths on adjacent land, or supporting the context and vision of the neighborhood for the future contribute to a vibrant community.
Q: How do you get the client to balance their expectations and needs with their schedule and budget?
A: We use our experience in construction methods and cost estimating to help guide them. Often constraints such as rough terrain or small lot size or the budget offer challenges to creating the space required to meet the needs of the client, but often this is what leads the project to a beautifully unique solution. The architect sifts through information to crystalize the goals and dreams of the many voices into a buildable project.
Q: What are some projects OF YOURS that have strengthened ties to the community?
A: A small project on an urban site, Forage is a local market and cafe in Lewiston. The market provides customers the opportunity to buy locally grown produce, to sit and enjoy freshly baked treats, and to meet with neighbors and coworkers while watching cars and pedestrians pass by on Lisbon Street. Located across the street from our office, we visit there often, run into someone we know, and reconnect. What we did with our design accomplished two things: First, it set a tone of quality that tells viewers what they will find inside is special. This was important in a section of Lisbon Street just beginning to return from a 40-year downturn. Second, we designed a storefront that is actually all doors. This gives the owner great flexibility in how he runs his operation. He can open the doors to tables inside in the nice weather, or move his products to the street-side opening to attract customers. Like old cafes and markets, it breaks down the demarcation between inside and outside.
A larger project in Bethel, the McLaughlin Science Building, creates opportunities for connections both inside and outside the building. Shaped on one side by a school common and by a residential street on the other, the building provides a backdrop for both students and the community to gather for learning, relaxation, and celebrations. Features in support of this include a small auditorium used by the school and community organizations for performances and lectures, and window seats in the corridors and stairs create the opportunity for casual meetings, looking out over Bethel to the mountains beyond.
In Brunswick, we are working with the Unitarian Universalist Church to replace their church, which was destroyed by fire in 2011. This project included many voices and suggestions, from the children in the Sunday school to the congregation and the many community members who share in the use of the building. With a desire to welcome all and create a building that can be used during the week, we worked with the building team, Langford and Low Contractors, and the community to make sure that the building will fit into the neighborhood and provide secure use of the building by organizers of a variety of activities, ranging from music instruction to art exhibitions, dancing, small and large group meetings, and quiet meditation. At one time the congregation considered moving out of town to an undeveloped site, but they decided to remain in the middle of town at their original site, even though it is a small lot that created challenges during construction. They feel that remaining connected to the downtown so they can stay visible and in walking distance is the best way to serve their community.
American Institute of Architects
Maine AIA: 207-885-8888, aiamaine.org
Smith Reuter Lull Architects: 207-786-5623, smithreuter.com