Architecture as a tailor-made suit

by Maarten van Bremen on May 4, 2012

A successful building feels comfortable and fits like a glove. Obviously I would say.

Late 2011, GROUP A has received the Rotterdam Architectural Public Award for the BP Rotterdam Refinery offices in the Port of Rotterdam. To me the most striking comment came from one of the voters, who argued and concluded the end-user had visibly been the focus in the design proces.

Again, obviously to us, that’s the way we have been approaching our projects for years now. Just see the highly acclaimed concepts and developments of the CaballeroFactory in The Hague, the European headquarters for Sabic in Sittard, and the interior for Pels Rijcken lawyers and notaries in New Babylon The Hague.

What is it that makes these projects to such a success for both users and us architects? A successful final result can only succeed by carrying out an optimal process. Consequently we have taken the overall design lead from beginning to end in all these projects. This is not about just translating clients brief. This is about being involved from the start, defining requirements, and inspiring and guiding the design- and projectteam towards the concept. This is about carefull attention for detail and implementation, the elaborate nature of the design, and the integrated flexibility. This is about commissions that should in our vision, most preferably include Design Development, Detailed Design up to Aesthetic Supervision, as well as involvement in the start-up period after completion.

This vision and approach can be applied to both an underground metro station entrance, a residential home, an office building, or a redevelopment. There is no difference. It all comes down to identifying with the user, and showing a great understanding of what is relevant at what time. From urban design up to the smallest detail, our only focus is to design with the user, a perfectly fitting building. In other words, a tailor-made suit. A place where one feels at home. Balanced and comfortable in its approach and arrival. Pleasant and inspiring to move through. A great place to work, relax or live in.

A successful building will also be the result of excellent communication and cooperation between parties involved. Obviously once more.

Our best designs have emerged from an intensive collaboration process with user and client: ideally the same party. Getting to know each other and respecting the other’s point of view from an early stage on, will be reflected in the resulting brief and requirements. Being open minded, committed to the team effort, and having a clear view on the final result, is key to this, no matter how large the design task ahead. The same attitude and motivation will apply for the implementation stage, in which an intensive collaboration process with both the contractor and user/client is essential to us.

How different with European tenders. In these procedures the architect will rarely be able to consult the user during tender stage, whereas this same user most likely will be part of the evaluation committee. Such tender processes are characterised by guidance from given brief, memoranda, and Q&A sessions only, and do not provide an accurate feel for what the user aspires and motivates. As these European tenders are mostly of a complex and sensitive nature, often tendering agencies perform the intermediate role of delegated client. Quite often resulting in an even more distant and abstract process, away from the user. For us it is not yet clear these so called professional tender procedures will eventually lead to better designs. The risk of ‘ready-to-wear clothing’ is lurking, whereas we, GROUP A, highly value client’s own identity and uniqueness being felt in their individual design ‘footprint’.

Especially in times of economic slowdown, ‘tailor-made’ should be preferred above ‘ready-to-wear’. Not only is a suit more durable (sustainable), it also distinguishes one from the rest of the pack. Above all the user should be feeling comfortable in his own building environment. A pleasant and stimulating working environment has no doubt great impact on a business organisation: less absenteeism, improved social cohesion amongst staff, more meetings and workshops to be held in the office, improved work ethic, increased productivity, and easier recruitment of talented staff.

All ingredients together, GROUP A believes should be embraced and deployed by the architect in the overall design process, we consider to be ‘the context’. This context in its broadest sense will always be the basis for our designs, in which we as architects direct building proportions, materials, and the look-and-feel. We could be considered being the tailor, suggesting the fabrics to be used, the arrangement and ‘cut’, and the finishes, suited best to our client.

Indeed, a ‘tailor-made suit’ !

Download here the dutch version of the article: Architectuur als maatpak door Maarten van Bremen van GROUP A

CaballeroFabriek The Hague, photo: ScagliolaBrakkee


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