Architects do many things to get design inspiration. For most architects, the process begins with data gathering and listening to clients to determine the purpose of a building. It can also include meditative walks on the site, train trips, focus groups, visiting a woodworking shop and even going through laboratory procedures at a cancer clinic as a mock patient.
Michael Jones describes his method of inspiration as blood, sweat and tears, but it seemed the appropriate route when he took on the project of making an old food store the new home of North Mississippi Hematology and Oncology Associates (NMHO). An architect since 1994, Jones, AIA, is the managing partner of JBHM’s Tupelo office.
He was intent on making the renovation project patient friendly and wanted to see exactly what patients go through at the clinic. With only two members of the medical staff aware of his identity, Jones spent a day there incognito and was able to see the challenges of the process.
‘We do unusual things’
“To understand our clients, we do unusual things,” he said. “I was concerned about what patients go through — the process and logistics. How long do they wait? I wanted to flow through the space like a patient.”
He was given a false lymphoma diagnosis for his day at NMHO, listened to information about the illness from a nurse, had blood drawn and sat in a chemo bay taking a glucose drip for four hours.
“Even though I don’t have cancer, it was very emotional to hear them diagnose me, but it was important that I get the whole experience,” he said. “I listened to patients talk and took pages of notes. I tried to educate myself and got an idea of what they go through.”
Jones was inspired to create loops, like the spokes of a wheel, to make the space flow. In that way, patients are always progressing through the process. “Changing spaces and the environment will move then through faster,” he said. “I’m glad we could make it better for them.”
Currently Jones is getting ready to design a new police station in Tupelo and is shadowing officers. “I want to see the process and follow them all day,” he says. “I was thinking about being arrested, but I think I can get the same effect without it.”
Ann Somers, AIA, with the Jackson architectural and engineering firm of Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons (CDFL), found herself in a woodworking shop trimming leaves and stems from real magnolia branches while working on the addition to the Woolfolk State Office Building. The task was to make molds for the decorative magnolias on panels on the addition’s façade.
“Those kinds of things are fun for architects, and we find inspiration in doing them,” she said. “We had to match the magnolia panels to the iconic magnolia panels on the old building, and had a competition for artists to do the panels.”
Somers and Robert Farr, AIA, also with CDFL, says they begin the design process by determining the scope of a project’s objective. That often includes focus groups and community design workshops in what Farr calls the data gathering and learning the client phase.
“When doing schools, each has its own personality and how it relates to the community,” Farr said. “Schools particularly focus on children and that comes from the community.”
Somers was part of a group that took a train trip up the East Coast to visit five archival buildings while designing the new facility for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “Different projects present different options,” she said. “When I’m working on something, I relate everything I see to that project. I live with the project until I come up with something that works.”
Noting that the design process can be visual and spiritual, Farr says the lobby designed by Somers at the Archives and History building is uplifting, inspirational and at the same time formal.
A ‘feel’ for the site
Both say the site a building will sit on is very important, as was the case with the Willie Morris Library the firm designed. The library sits on a wooded lot in Northeast Jackson.
“The Morris Library grew from the site. It is the essence of where it’s placed,” Farr said. “I walked the site, listened to it and got a feel for it.”
He says architects are trained to think and put disparate elements together to design a space. “It is a Renaissance profession, and we must know a little about a lot and a lot about a little,” he said. “It involves thinking and being creative. It’s a weighty obligation to do it well because we forever change the sites when we build something on them.”
Michael Barranco, AIA, Barranco Architecture and Interior Design, Jackson, says he first must grasp the magnitude of a project and that comes from the client. He also feels bringing a project team together is important.
“We look at context and, unfortunately, many of our latest projects have no context,” he said, “but we’re also doing mixed-use projects that allow us to design the whole thing. Context is so important. It’s the key to making sure it will go right.”
He cites his firm’s Lost Rabbit mixed-use project as a fantastic example of starting right on a design and carrying through. Its design of Harbor Walk is another good example that forced them to think outside the box. Every client is different.
Currently, his group is designing a facility for the Mississippi Organ Recovery Center in Flowood. “It will be sustainable, green architecture,” he said. “It will encompass nature and have a courtyard.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at email@example.com.