The “Who” of the Home
Architects are often asked to identify their design style.
Frequently the questioner expects to hear the name of a style such as “Victorian,” “Arts & Crafts,” “French Country,” “Romanesque,” “Modern,” “Post-Modern,” “Southwestern, etc.” Although some architects may acknowledge certain influences, most will not want to respond by labeling their work as a particular style. In the absence of a clear label, non-architects often describe buildings by using the vague term “contemporary.”
Based on Webster’s, “contemporary” should simply mean something that is designed and built today. Our work could be called “contemporary” in the sense that it is happening now. However other words might better describe what is behind the architecture. I like the term “contextual,” meaning architecture which is rooted in the realities of its context. Unfortunately, this term is used specifically to refer to urban architecture designed in response to existing buildings around it.
Context and personality
Although neighboring buildings are part of the context, I would like to expand the term to include other criteria as well, such as the site, budget, applicable regulations, local resources and limitations, client needs and desires, and one of the most important, the client’s personality.
During the “programming” phase of a project, as we investigate all of these elements which make up the context and contribute to the project design, communication with the client allows us to discover who they are as a person, including their character and personality. This knowledge is gradually translated into spatial volumes, materials, and a layout which reflect the client’s personality.
Character in the home
For example, a frugal person will enjoy simple, pure lines, linear windows, and an absence of meandering hallways or walkways. A gregarious nature might be expressed in a home that reaches out to the world with projecting alcoves, balconies, multiple decks, foot bridges and bow windows. A succession of well organized, cozy and discreetly lit rooms will reflect a more introspective personality.
Someone who is meticulous will enjoy elaborate details which are well-thought out and precisely constructed. A person who is bold and daring will appreciate dynamic spaces with strong structural elements, cantilevered beams, projecting corners and slender columns. A homier person would welcome protective roofs, strong, thick walls and heavier columns.
What if a project has more than one client, and therefore a number of personality types to express? This is a frequent issue in working with couples or communities. Ultimately, the home should express the identity of the couple, family, or community as a whole, while also reflecting individual differences. The sharing and give-and-take required to achieve this is part of the challenge and fun of working together on the design to achieve a space for living which is personal and genuine, rather than a décor created by reproducing a particular style.