The Art of Dynamic Collaboration

Edited by Rebecca Falzano | Photography Nicole Wolf

Rick Nelson on the benefitS of a design-build team

With so many cooks in the proverbial kitchen—architect, builder, interior designer, homeowner, and so on—you would think the process of building a house would crumble under the weight of all that collaboration. Quite the opposite is true, according to architect Rick Nelson at Knickerbocker Group. According to Nelson, bringing in more creative and technical minds—at the right time—leads to a smoother, more seamless transition from design to construction. “While different from the traditional design-bid-build model,” he says, “dynamic collaboration encourages the expansion of our collective imagination, which ultimately unearths a better product.” We asked Nelson to explain.

Q. What do you mean by “dynamic collaboration”? How does it benefit the design and building process?

A. As architects, we need to look deeper than the traditional architect–engineer relationship and engage with a full design-build team for inspiration and execution. With the proliferation of and growing desire for more energy-efficient and healthy homes, we as a team (from architects to interior designers to field crews) must be aware of our clients’ goals and intent, while staying on top of current industry trends, materials, and application methods. After all, we don’t want months of pre-planning to be upended by a formaldehyde-laden couch! Understanding building science is not just for the architect; it is also important for the contractors, installers, and even our clients, who will need to maintain the “science” of the home long after the crews are gone. This happens naturally when our clients are involved in the process, as they learn along the way about the benefits of the systems and the best practices for maintaining a healthy and energy-efficient home. This dynamic collaborative approach works best in a design-build environment. At Knickerbocker Group, we have constant contact with people in the field, and our process encourages a fluid design, allowing for some details to be worked out early on with a craftsman or later, during fabrication on the job site. While this process works best within the design-build model, it can also work within a more traditional architect–builder relationship if a builder is selected early and a level of flexibility is planned for in the design and construction schedule.

Q. How has technology impacted this collaboration?

A. Over the years, the way people live in their homes has changed, so how we design their homes needs to change as well. The popularity of websites like and allow clients to easily access design inspiration material and share it immediately with the entire design team. There is no longer any need to wait days or weeks to share new finds. This dynamic communication allows us to react to our client’s inspirations with our own ideas, quickly adapting the design and vision together in a truly collaborative fashion. Coupled with today’s modern technology, we can graphically present these ideas in a way that makes it much easier for our clients to visualize the spaces and the details, even when those clients are hundreds or thousands of miles away.

Q. What’s an example of this integration of disciplines in your work?

A. The importance of an architect’s dialogue with their team goes well beyond the technical to the aesthetic. As we personalize our client’s dream, we look for ways to make the home original and expressive of their unique interests and qualities. This can often be achieved through custom detailing and finishes. When we engage the craftsman as a member of the design team, their intimate hands-on knowledge of wood or stone, as well as their own creative energy, helps to imagine details that would be hard to conceive in drawing form. This approach works well with complicated trim details that seem reasonably easy to accomplish from a design perspective but may be difficult to successfully complete in the field. A chat, and sometimes a scaled mock-up, can often bring a successful resolution to a potential problem long before construction begins. By testing the constructability of our designs, we promote efficiencies down the line.

Share The Inspiration