Creative Collaboration

AIA DESIGN THEORY – September 2014
Edited by Rebecca Falzano | Photography Nicole Wolf

Brian Stephens on the process of creation and building community


Residential design is a creative process like no other. As an architect, Brian Stephens of Blue Studio feels fortunate to have the opportunity to design sculpture to be lived in, on, and around. “It’s an exciting challenge, as every design experience and resulting composition is completely unique,” says Stephens. “Each work is shaped by the individuals who will reside in it, the special place it will stand, and the entire team of collaborators who participate in creating it.” Stephens believes that understanding, building, and nurturing those relationships is key to a successful process and beautiful design. MH+D asked him to tell us more. 

Q.How do you incorporate clients into your design process?

A. It’s personal, but it’s not at all about me. I use design principles and precedents but I design for my clients. It’s my job to understand their spatial needs and aesthetic desires. I ask many questions, but mostly I listen. The process is interesting and challenging. It can be intensive, intimate, and fun. We often touch on sensitive issues of personal space, finances, and expectations for their future. The design process can sometimes meanderand may not be entirely predictable. An elegant solution can always be found if we give it space to take shape. It’s important forme to develop a client relationship where we share and respond to design ideas. I need to have a good understanding of and communication with my clients. If we are engaged and committed to allowing the design process to unfold naturally, a richer design can be the result.

Q. How does collaboration with other team members fit into the process?

A. Architecture is not created by one person. I often work with a team of professionals who all contribute their expertise and influence the design. AlthoughI begin by assimilating the information and generating the artistic vocabulary and forms, together we integrate the landscape, structure, mechanical systems, and interior furnishings into one cohesive design solution. When the drawing is done, a clearly expressed visionand effective communication is essential to the process. But design is not complete when construction begins. Every contractor, carpenter, tradesperson, and installer breathes life into the project. As all participants are empowered to contribute their knowledge, skill, and experiencethe quality of design and craftsmanship is dramatically improved. This is where building becomes art.

Q. How do you work through design constraints as a team?

A. Nature rules the design. It needs to respond to a unique context. Every site has a special combination of orientation, topography, access, views, vegetation, weather patterns, and existing structures. Designis also constrained by local zoning laws, building codes, and a designated construction budget. After evaluating all of the site features and constraints, I may consider presenting several different design approaches based on varying priorities of the site. Together we will determine the most appropriate resolution of focus, balance, and harmony ofbuilding andsite. The process of creating a house is complex. Residential design should be pleasing and accommodating to the user. It must also be environmentally conscience, energy efficient, durable, and able to stand the test of time. The process of creating residential works of artis rewarding and tends to emerge when everyone involved is invested in the design and encouraged to contribute to its refinement—a true collaboration where everyone can take pride and ownership. The relationships that are established in the process are often long lasting and a step towards building community.


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