Architecture & Design, Education, and Human Resources

Design tenets apply regardless of size

Visbeen Architects’ Matt Gerard speaks to professional architects, Kendall students.

September 23, 2016
| By Pat Evans |
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Matt Gerard believes the design process is the same, no matter the scale of the project.

The Visbeen Architects associate was the organizer the previous two seasons of designTHUNK and returned to the podium to lead the first discussion of this year’s lecture series, held monthly at the Woodbridge N. Ferris Building, 17 Pearl St. NW.

Gerard’s discussion focused on the differences in design process from residential and commercial buildings, and his conclusion was simple: Aside from scales, they don’t differ too much.

“Design is design, whether you’re working on a four-story building or a house, it’s all interchangeable,” Gerard told a crowd of approximately 40 professional architects and students of Kendall College of Art and Design of Ferris State University.

The presentation moved through various design steps looking at a Central Michigan University’s College of Education building — a project Gerard worked on while at a firm in Metro Detroit — a house he designed and a larger house he currently is working on. He also showed how the thoughts aligned to a ring he designed for his wife.

The major difference in the projects is the stakeholders, which ultimately influence the final design, Gerard said.

On the CMU project, Gerard said the design team was approximately six people, which worked with dozens of stakeholders from the university. As the number of people involved on both ends grew, Gerard said the design process became more inefficient.

“I don’t have a fix, I just find it interesting,” Gerard said.

On a house, the design team was much smaller, usually with one or two architects. The stakeholder side was much smaller, as well. In one of the residential projects he showed, there were three family members.

“One’s outspoken but one’s not, and another is outspoken but is 4 years old,” he said. “You can be much more flexible when working with residential projects with the desires from the client.”

Often times, residential clients are embarking on their only building project of their lives and dream about the house for a long time before engaging with an architect.

“I don’t know that I’ve met with a residential client that has no idea about what they want,” he said. “For most of them, this is their house for their life. They know what they want.”

Gerard said because they are generally first-timers to the design process, there is much more discussion with the clients about the design process as opposed to larger clients.

Commercial and institutional clients generally don’t have as much passion invested into the project. That’s not to say commercial clients don’t care, he said, but that if a design aspect isn’t perfect for them, they’ll end up moving on.

“Residential projects are much more personal, it’s 10 times harder to do a home than a commercial project,” Gerard said. “People live in their homes every day and every night; it’s very personal.”

Along with the differences in stakeholders comes the differences in money, he said.

Gerard said no matter the project, it’s the architect’s responsibility to keep the design as close to budget as possible.

“Everyone wants to spend less of their own money, and in residential, they care about every dollar, every dime,” Gerard said. “Unfortunately, a lot of people can’t afford everything they want, and it’s a compromise. In commercial, you can often go a little crazy.”

The next designTHUNK lecture is by Mathison Mathison Architects on Oct. 20 — a free lunch is included with registration.

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