Posted in practice
on November 29, 2016 12:31 pm EST
Metrics for Excellence
How do we gauge whether a project is a success? The fundamental truth remains that good design is rooted in meeting the needs of its users; this truth is particularly important to the design of a worship center.
Ideally, a house of worship should belong to its environment but not blend into it, and it must serve as both a beacon to welcome people and a respite from the outside world.
We can discuss the metrics of budget and schedule, collect anecdotal evidence of a client’s satisfaction, and celebrate with a grand opening and beautiful photography. For architects, however, a design award is a particularly satisfying result. It’s a tangible symbol of validation, usually from our respected peers, who understand the complexities of great design and appreciate the day-to-day challenges of translating an idea into three-dimensional form.
Not every great project gets submitted for an award, of course, and not every beautiful project that is submitted wins. Is this a referendum on the success of a design? Hardly. Anyone who has survived a design school pinup has experienced a wide range of opinions regarding aesthetics, materials, form, detailing, and every other aspect of design, and knows that every design presents numerous possibilities for a successful outcome. The fundamental truth remains that good design is rooted in meeting the needs of its users; this truth is particularly important to the design of a worship center. The all-important people factor
A successful design puts people first. To achieve this goal, designers must first develop a deep understanding of the congregation. Through intensive design charrettes, the architects work with key stakeholders to discover and clarify the group’s core beliefs, unique identity, aspirations, and vision for the future. In addition to serving as the foundation of good design, this experience also helps the congregation and the design team to coalesce around shared goals, which both strengthens the team and energizes the process. Considering programmatic needs
This discovery phase leads directly into programming. To deliver the best possible design for a congregation’s vision, the facility will need to address a broad range of programmatic needs. Adequate room sizes for each function, required adjacencies, and support spaces are all part of the design puzzle—and these programmatic requirements are in a constant state of tension between the client’s wish list and the realities of budget and schedule. With clearly defined project goals to serve as a framework for making choices, however, the architect can guide the client towards a beautiful, functional, sustainable solution that accommodates current needs while remaining flexible for future uses.
When the design team has established a clear understanding of the vision of the congregation and has developed a carefully considered program, the excitement of generating the built form begins. The earliest broad brushstrokes will determine how a worship center will respond creatively to the peculiarities of its place. It must converse with the context of the existing built environment without fading from view as just another “background” building. Ideally, a house of worship should belong to its environment but not blend into it, and it must serve as both a beacon to welcome people and a respite from the outside world. Excellence in worship design is often visible at these important intersections.The art of authentic placemaking
Places of worship create an opportunity for authentic placemaking within the fabric of a community, and also serves as an important branding element for a congregation. For these designs, the team must often achieve a delicate balance between trends and traditions; the right blend of contemporary and timeless elements will depend upon the culture of the worship center. The design will convey a great deal about the identity and values of the congregation, whether it’s a stone church largely composed of traditional architectural elements, or whether it draws from a more contemporary and industrial palette of materials and forms. Determining which elements must be timeless and which elements must be able to evolve will require the skill of the designer as well as a genuine understanding of the users.
Finding elegant solutions to three-dimensional problems is part of the delight of the design process, and what motivates architects to pursue excellence in the details as well as the “big moves” of design. We find inspiration in both opportunities and constraints—and our success is measured not only in aesthetics, but also in how well resulting design serves as a tool to help the congregation fulfill its vision.
Whether or not you are seeking and winning design awards, if your design pursues these tenets, you will have created a worthy place. In focusing on the people who will inhabit a space, the program which best accommodates their needs, and the sense of place you are creating, then at the end of the day you are doing good, and doing well.