Working as a Team

I attended a great presentation at our local AIA-CRAN group recently. The topic was architects and interior designers working together. We were fortunate to get two of Austin’s top professionals in their fields, Paul Lamb, AIA, and Fern Santini. The format was more of an informal conversation between two design buffs who happened to have done a handful of successful collaborative projects together.

The evolution of a project — from stately traditional to transitional classic — required a total redesign and renovation in a high-end neighborhood. Bringing the team together at the inception of the project was emphasized as key, and this included the builder.

The designers emphasized there were no divisions or lines drawn in the sand when it came to decision making. Roles merged and everyone was open to dialogue. In other words, egos were checked at the door. This is not an easy feat within creative disciplines, where often pride and competition prevail.

It reminded me of the Editor's Comments column in the November/December 2010 issue of Residential Design + Build.

It addressed the importance of growing our peer network and putting aside the natural competitive spirit that separates us as professionals. Engaging with fellow architects and other design professionals in a give-and-take dialogue enhances our own processes and end-work, and strengthens our industry as a whole.

The Austin designers expressed that the collaborative effort itself played a big part in the ultimate success of the project. Inspiration became a joint effort that continued until completion. Ideas flowed and obstacles led to creative opportunities. Out of mutual respect, architect and interior designer shared equal weight in the creative process, bringing their own unique visions.

The high-end builder was highly valued as part of the team, and was instrumental in helping the designers stay grounded in their expectations. Weekly meetings at the jobsite kept design solutions in check with pragmatic construction techniques and cost.

Asked if design development was left largely for the construction phase, the architect explained that changes during construction are not planned as much as a natural part of the process. Interior design was given ample opportunity to evolve spontaneously as spaces took shape. On the other hand, he stressed the importance of detailed architectural drawings, both preconstruction and during construction.

The interior designer really appreciated the architect’s ability to take collective ideas and actualize detailed drawings for the builder to execute, and the owner to visualize. Similarly, the architect expressed that the team became inspired by particular furnishing details which led to further design development.

One of the challenges the designers experienced at intervals was how to get the long-distance owner onboard with some of the more avant-garde concepts. How do you help your client visualize a solution that hasn’t been done before? From discussions with the client to presentation of drawings and 3-D models, sometimes it comes down to trust and confidence held by the owner for the work and reputations of the professionals he chose for these same reasons.

With all humility, the designers quipped that sometimes it came down to relentless persistence. It struck me that it was the leadership and confidence exuded by the team. They could look the owner in the eye and tell him assuredly that he was going to love the end results.

It was the unity of creative spirit, not the separateness of competitive spirit, which took this project to an award-winning level. This project was a great example of a talented architect and interior designer seamlessly collaborating.
We experience similar partnerships with builders, artisans, landscape architects and others. When everyone shares a common vision, contributing their individual leadership, great results follow. You end up with a great team and a successful project in which everyone is a winner, especially the homeowner.

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