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Discerning Words | Seeking the Who

Updated: Apr 17

Words, they have been with us our entire existence, minus those first few moments of life where we desperately longed to communicate with our care giver to serve up some more milk or that much needed snack. But over the years, as time quickly passed, we began to use words for many purposes. They are tricky boogers. Both lifting up and tearing down. Expressing both love and hate, truth and lies. Provoking every emotion known to mankind, and probably every action as well. Words are counted by others as being cheap or shallow, and yet others as deep and priceless. Many research papers have been devoted to the exploration of words and studies including the number of words we use each day and who uses words more frequently than others. And while words can often be used carelessly, they can also provide an amazing window into who we are and what exists in the innermost part of who we are.

Words, as they relate to architecture and design, are often used to list out spaces and functions. And while these are important, they do not address that which I consider most important. That being the who. This is what our design studio longs to know about our clients. This is information not found at the surface and is most often not predetermined or expected by our clients to discuss. The who of our architectural clients or the who of a new product is what allows the design to wade into deeper waters and intentionally remove itself from the shallow end of the design pool. This journey is what often times confirms or denies the images of spaces and places that clients often bring to “inspire” us. While images of found spaces or places can provide some insight, they can also be a distraction. I know it is hard to just imagine something from nothing, and we do have a lifetime of experiences to draw from. So, to be quite honest, it can be a little scary, especially if we are working with clients who like to be in charge and have everything under control. Discovering the who is anything but controlled. It is also beyond a prescribed solution. Do this and you get to the who. Follow this formula and who simply appears. Not going to happen. The who does not have parameters. The who can be both shallow and deep. The who is elusive. Elusive even to oneself. Have you ever tried to describe who you are? Or maybe more importantly, why you did something? I believe that you cannot get directly to the who. It won’t let you. It’s tricky and as mentioned earlier, illusive. I often discover with clients that the who is not one thing but a herd of things. A herd, similar to sheep, that as a whole, constantly changes form and does not stop moving. Trying to understand it is similar to watching a shepherd who is struggling to keep his sheep together. And then there are the lost sheep, but that will need to be a different conversation.

We believe that great architecture has arrived at the who. For the who allows architectural form to move beyond the prescribed thoughts and preconceived ideas of both the client’s and the architect’s point of view. The who allows for a surprise, a twist, a magical moment that can be clever, provoking and meaningful to both the client and architectural community. The who does not necessarily follow a design style. It is not found in an architectural or interiors magazine, book or on the Internet. It is found from within. But as much as it is found from within, it can only be found with trust. Yes, it can be frightening for both a client and / or architect to let go of that which has already been designed and tried by others, or in the architect’s case, has been used on numerous previous projects and involves no new thought or risk. So yes, risk is involved. But returning to trust, the trust of a client is of utmost importance. As trust is defined, it is a firm belief in the reliability, ability and strength of someone or something. Without the trust of our clients, the who is never reached and a projects greatest potential is never achieved. But with it, our best work as designers has been created. We have always said that as a studio, we are our best clients. The international design community has confirmed this for years with our acceptance of numerous international awards and accolades mostly given to projects designed by and for us. I am 100% certain that the reason for this is that we trust ourselves immensely. We trust that while the solution is not immediately seen, we know we will get to the solution, and we know that it will be deep, impactful, meaningful, and cost effective.

So, we welcome the phone calls and emails from those that want to make their project or idea meaningful, those willing to take a risk and discover new possibilities together. For seeking out our clients who and listening to their dreams is what makes our role as architect and designers immensely gratifying.


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