SMALL SPACE + EXPANSIVE THOUGHT = BIG IDEASS

Meet the client, Jessica LaneSSMALL SPACE

Jessica served as a helicopter pilot and flight instructor with tours in the Persian Gulf and around the Mediterranean as a US Naval Academy graduate, She worked to implement socially and environmentally responsible business practices in organizations before attending The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. After grad school she worked for Cambridge Energy Research Associates, and recently she started a garden design business. 
 
Jess’ positivity goes way beyond the nerves of titanium you'd expect from someone who could land a helicopter on a battleship in windy, rough seas.  The construction process hardly phased her.  I’ve never seen anyone treat each contractor, consultant and vendor with more kindness and patience.  She hired me when her current designer wasn’t coming through for her on her kitchen renovation and expansion.  One unusual obstacle we encountered would disappoint any project owner: the previous designer had gotten the wrong information about the front yard setback, and he’d designed the addition accordingly.  Although I questioned the building official on his interpretation that ran counter to my experience, we kept the plan based on his plausible explanation.  Weeks later, the city denied the contractor a permit.  Back to the drawing board with less square footage and some wasted time!  But also with an opportunity to rethink the plan.  Instead of being angry, Jessica said calmly, “I know the new design is going to be even better.”  
 
Music to my ears!  Although careful research does help eliminate surprises, designing any size project is a fluid process with new discoveries along the way.  A client that trusts the process to the extent that Jess did contributes to a better design.  The tighter, angled setback we now were up against cried out for an interesting shape – a circular “bow” front with windows giving a more expansive feel and better views than the larger rectangular space we had before.  The shape pays tribute to the garden Jess designed, to her new adventure in the business of creating gardens, and to her magnanimous qualities. 
 
 
 

WHY A GREAT TEACHER'S LEGACY MATTERS           

Recently Metropolis Magazine interviewed me about architect Charles Moore’s Hood Museum at Dartmouth College, which is undergoing an expansion. Reflecting on my time with Charles in grad school and as his colleague brought an overwhelming sense of awe.  As a young architect it meant the world to me to work on the Hood at Dartmouth, my alma mater, and the Charles Moore school of thought continues to feed kindred aspirations in my work today.  

The article examines a controversy over the addition by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, whose work I greatly respect.  My memories of working with Moore correspond with what journalist Vanessa Quirk wrote perceptively in the article. http://www.metropolismag.com/Getting-Under-the-Hood-Is-the-TWBTA-Renovation-Really-As-Bad-As-Critics-Claim/

In 1981, while I was working at Moore’s Connecticut office, British architect James Stirling invited me to be a guest critic for his Yale studio final reviews.  Stirling had been short-listed for the Hood and had assigned the project to his students.  This gave me a sneak preview of the challenging site, similar in difficulty to Stirling’s Harvard Fogg Art Museum addition, my class’ assignment two years before.  Like our project for the Fogg, none of the students pulled off a convincing solution.  

Charles was enthusiastic about the sliver of land between Wallace Harrison’s Hopkins Center, a midcentury modern precursor to his notable Lincoln Center, and Wilson Hall, an 1885 Romanesque Revival library turned museum.  The architecture of the Hop was the antithesis of his own work, but he valued his friendship with “Wally,” as he fondly called Harrison.  He respected the styles of both buildings and joined them brilliantly with his harmonious design.

“…Moore’s genius lay...in creating complex architectural journeys. He was of course interested in drawing references to history and pop culture, but for him, sensitivity to place and context—to landscape, as well as the surrounding built environment—was key.

“ ‘Receptivity,’ Moore wrote in 1985, ‘is at the heart of our beliefs as architects.’…Moore ought to be remembered first and foremost as a pioneer of socially responsible, participatory design.  As dean of the Yale School of Architecture, he cofounded the Yale Building Project in 1967.  Stephen Harby, a Yale faculty member and former colleague, suggests that Moore’s refinement of the participatory process, which put users on a level playing field with ‘expert’ architects, is ‘one of his important contributions to architecture.’  All of these aspects of Moore’s process come together, rather ingeniously, in the Hood Museum.’”  (Quirk, Metropolis Magazine)

During workshops with the large building committee that included college administrators, I admired Charles’ genius when it came to thinking on his feet, responding to ideas around him and yet maintaining a sense of integrity about his design. With a new suggestion he might tear off a piece of our model and replace it in a different way, saying, “You mean like this?” 

The administration wanted to make the arts – and especially the museum – more inviting to students and accessible to their daily lives.  The resulting design is a series of connections – bridges and corridors – defining enclosed exterior spaces, tangible metaphors for that goal of accessibility.  It “creates this wonderful sequence of invitation, of discovery unfolding. [It’s] a choreography of experience that works all the way from the outside through the courtyard and inside the building.” (Buzz Yudel, one of Moore’s partners, for Metropolis Magazine) 

The Moore-inspired hands-on teaching at Yale was an exceptional foundation.  The First Year Construction Project helped me break through barriers when many 1980 employers were reluctant to send a young woman to the construction site. The school prides itself on its pluralism – a dynamic spectrum of approaches that parallels Moore's sense of inclusivity.  Cesar Pelli, whose genius was polar opposite to Moore’s, commented on my solution for the gargantuan British Library in MJ Long’s studio, “Your idea is good, but you need to clean up the garbage.”  I can still see the broad grin he would break into after cutting to the chase. 

That streamlined, clean, Pelli approach undergirds my design process, but in school I related most to Moore’s gentle sensibilities.  In his housing and urban design studio he questioned why the exuberant rooftop gardens in my sketches had somehow become “lone pines” in the final drawings.  This still reminds me not to over-refine a design or a painting.  Happiest memories are field trips to Charleston, Savannah, Boston, New York and Providence with Charles and my classmates, experiencing the best of American urban design and architecture. I’ve continued this enthusiasm for experiential design when I teach.  Google Earth images can’t substitute for exploring surroundings and historic precedent on foot.  For an informed and sensitive design response, it’s essential to recognize the qualities of a place at a visceral level.

Moore’s prolific writing, teaching and design continue to inspire my work: in humanistic scale, relaxed sequences of experiential spaces, and love for historic urbanism and context.  It’s there in receptivity to each person who will be affected by a design, and in the joy I find in working out a solution within the complex constraints of urban design, renovation, and historic preservation.  This kind of legacy plays a crucial role in improving our world.

 

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