Considerations for international design collaborations
The Gettliffe Architecture team attended The International Ecotourism Conference (TIES) in Quito, Ecuador this spring to showcase the importance of architecture in ecotourism endeavors. Part of this process involved designing and constructing a booth to provide an architectural experience that would allow attendees to experience the space and inspire them – as all ecolodges should do through architecture. As it should be for any ecotourism project, international collaboration was a central aspect of the project and working with builders, consultants and architects in Ecuador led to creative and engaging solutions for each unique challenge. As a smaller scale project, the design of the booth served as a perfect case study and led to some key considerations for international collaborations. The team learned a lot from the challenges, the solutions and the collaborative process that led to the final design:
1. Keep an open mind. Design is an evolutionary process and collaboration can lead to unexpected but exciting avenues. Let your design evolve through the collaborative process, and embrace it. Process and outcomes can change with local expertise, availability of materials, cost implications and more. Rather than viewing theses as constraint, these boundaries encourage designs that feed off of available strategies and are enhanced by the implementation of local techniques and materials. While keeping an open mind is important, question and push back within your team. Making sure to voice your concerns over a material or a detail that doesn’t seem right, is key to ensuring a positive end result. After all design is a process, linear at times and cyclical at others. We collaborated with a few local entities (see #4) based out of Quito to realize the booth. Each had a different set of skills and their advice and expertise allowed our original design to evolve and work within the local context. Eventually the Gettliffe Architecture team met up with them in Quito and built the booth at the conference site.
It was important for us to maintain a curved profile in the booth to allow the walls to open up to the surrounding environment. When consulting the local team on the design, the availability of materials and cost of local construction drove the design to evolve, we were open to the new evolution but were able to push back and ensure the original intent remained intact.
The Gettliffe Architecture team assembling the finished booth in Quito with the project’s local collaborators.
2. Embrace the process. While allowing the design to evolve, be sure to hold on to the concepts and values that are driving the ultimate goal. Rather than getting stuck on one image or visual, bring a strong idea to the table and allow the product to flourish from the expertise that each entity brings to the table. We would develop the design at the Gettliffe studio a certain level, then meet with the Quito team to discuss and hash through details, feasibility, materials. The advice of our collaborators was always welcome and quite often, these meetings would end in adjustments or redesigning certain elements. Each revision pushed the design further until everyone on the team, in both Boulder and Ecuador , was satisfied with the result. The booth went through a number of design iterations before eventually circling back to some of our early concepts and a final design. Throughout the process it was driven by the ideas we had valued from the beginning.
The concept was based around local tradition and materiality. We were drawn to the woven patterns of the local textiles and traditional woven hats in Ecuador and incorporated these as sample of how a building should respond to and incorporate local building techniques, materials, etc. We were able to pull from this inspiration to create a shape that represented these techniques while addressing the desire to have a booth that was interactive, created an architectural experience and invited people in.
3. Ask the Local Team. It is essential to listen to and consult with the local team and be patient with the practicalities and challenges of international collaboration. Working via Skype or conference call with people you have not met in person is a much different experience than sitting around a table brainstorming with the colleagues you work with every day. Being flexible with your ideas and preconceived expectations can allow your design to evolve much further. Two good examples come to mind where the advice from the Quito team drove us to rethink a material or technique we were exploring for the design. Our choice of structural materials proved to be impractical for what we were trying to accomplish and transportation costs within the area made us reconsider the overall scale of the booth – both of these came to light during our meetings with the Quito team.
Design evolution through materiality and local collaboration. Our initial intent was to use a local wood called “cana guadua”, the local team advised us that although it was accessible and a great local building material, it was more commonly used by the coast. Quito is in the highlands and due to transportation costs it would come at a premium to build with cana guadua within the city. The material was also quite heavy and would require a larger team to assemble onsite. To stay within budget, the local team was able to source recycled wood from shipping pallets at a local resource yard and use a threaded rod connection to hold it together. Although the design had to evolve with the new materiality, the concept held true and the insight from the local team allowed us to build it on time and closer to budget.
4. Share the credit. Share the credit where credit is due. International collaboration is beneficial for everyone involved. Building a network of collaborators and international experts is essential in moving toward successful international projects. From this experience, both learning and friendships resulted from the process. Thank you to our great team in helping make our booth a reality; Juan from aFuego industrial design, Elena from Elena De Oleza Llobet Arquitectura, Diego from La Gota Design and everyone at Al Borde for bringing us all together.