What does a Residential Architect in Alaska do?

This post is based off an interview I conducted with a local magazine- you never get to share everything you want to in an interview, so I thought I would continue my thoughts here:

At a basic level Architecture is a process of problem solving, collaborating and making thoughtful decisions. This is a simplification of course, but in residential architecture things can really be quite basic. We hope that we can bring incremental value to the process of design and construction in which the average consumer might not even think to hire an architect. 

We hope to convince clients to do more than pick a plan or implement a quick sketch before starting construction.  I usually don’t want to see floor plans clients bring in from the web or that they sketched themselves. The design process doesn’t work that way, it’s organic, non-linear and collaborative. Tell us about you and your family and your lifestyle, we can always do better than stock plans.

We like to make our mistakes on paper-where it’s cheaper. The process of Architecture must come first, and the outcome of what we are designing for a specific client is very much in doubt at the beginning- that's what makes the process engaging. We spend a lot of time with clients both in our office and on their site. We have even spent time with clients helping them decide which site to purchase. We help guide clients through an extraordinary amount of decisions that must be made- at it's essence, we are keeping track of those decisions. 

What we want for a house in Alaska is one that couldn't be picked up and moved elsewhere- I want our structures to feel out of place if built in Texas or Florida. We work in a place that lends itself to a vernacular that is one of shelter, and turning inward. While we explore stunning views, and take advantage of them, we are always looking to create a home that is worth coming home to, that protects and holds you. When we talk about siting we are also looking at orientation, weather, approach, ie. the crafting of an arrival sequence, and the creation of outdoor rooms. We want to create architecture that doesn't start and stop at your front door. 

When it comes time to build we want to continue to be involved, to assist our clients and contractors, craftsman to understand not only what it is we have designed, but also why and how we arrived at our decisions. This is after all the only way that a design on paper can be fulfilled. The engagement from clients, contractors and craftsman is  critical- we can tell them the story of the house, everyone gets invested in the outcome. We encourage clients to use local craftsman, takes some risks with custom products and try out design ideas in the hopes of a better finished product. Sometimes these ideas work and other times not as well as we would like, but we succeed more often than we fail. 

What we hope is that the diligence and thoughtfulness that we bring to the process result in a house that is more than a statement facade or a collection of unique features. We hope that the entirety of the house sings and that the architecture recedes into a background of the living experience whose value is ultimately only revealed by time. 

When we get things right clients emphatically tell us so, which is what ultimately makes the process enjoyable and remarkable and the creative endeavor that it is. There is an intrinsic joy to know the story of a home's development from the first sketch to move-in day.