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22 April 2007

SRI has "Got Us Covered"

One of the best things about our work is that we get to work with some terrific people. Southern Reprographics handles our big printing jobs. They do our presentation boards, construction drawings, and any other random thing we ask them to do. They're about as fine a bunch of folks as you'll ever meet.

One of the worst things about our work is that we occasionally have to produce building specifications. Architecture is a wonderful profession that balances artistic expression with the pragmatics of problem-solving. If you put architecture in a centrifuge and spin out all of the passion, vision, and inspiration, you'd be left with the dry pulpy residue that is building specifications. We do specifications for one reason. We have to do them. Otherwise, I'd rather save the trees by saving the paper.

Now, here's how it all fits together. We just completed a spec that is about 300 pages long. It was torture, of course. I checked it and rechecked it for consistency. I was very impatient with the task and very relieved that it was over. I emailed the files to Southern Reprographics to print. I gave them specific instructions and waited for them to call to say they were ready for me to pick up. Instead I got a call from Deanna. She said that they had caught an error in my Table of Contents. The section numbers on a few sections were inconsistent with the actual section numbers. Not only did they catch my error, they offered to fix it for me. It was only changing a few numbers in the index, but what fantastic service! It would have been perfectly okay for them to have just printed the files without even looking at them. I wouldn't have ever expected them to catch my mistake. Wow!

So, to our friends at SRI, Jacob, Deanna, Derrick, Lisa, Ginger, Debbie, Mason, Ferris, and everyone else, thanks guys! You are always a pleasure to work with. You make us look good!


Let's Slow Down

I ran across this article on treehugger last week. Being skeptical of trends, fads, and buzzwords, I felt compelled to investigate and likely dispel the whole notion as simply a marketing manipulation. It wasn't so easy. The Slow Design Movement (initiative? concept?) seems to be rising as a reaction to our mass-produced, over-processed, and increasingly inauthentic world.

SlowFood The Slow Food idea has been around for a while and is an offshoot of the greater Slow Movement. We have friends and clients who are involved with Slow Food, and it seems to be very meaningful and resonant with them. The general idea is to resist the forces of our culture that emphasize speed, mass-produced, and highly-processed food. Fast food is a perfect example of the problem. Instead, slow food emphasizes locally produced, authentic, minimally-processed real food. It also encourages the idea of slowing down to enjoy it. The whole idea seems inarguably logical to me.

So what about design? How do you make it authentic, healthy, and life-enhancing? It is necessary to answer these questions convincingly if Slow Design is going to become an influential movement. Like Slow Food is to fast food, Slow Design, for better or worse, has an identifiable antithesis. Everyone recognizes suburban sprawl. It is mass-produced, environmentally brutal, and profoundly inauthentic. Unfortunately, there have been few alternatives available in the past forty or so years. I suppose that is what gives me the most hesitation about discounting this 'new' idea as simply a flash in the periphery. It may be that our cultural conscience is ready for a new way of thinking about design. I found the Slow Home. John Brown, Slow Home's editor, is a fine Canadian who states the case very eloquently. I mostly agree with Slow Home's 10 steps and I even signed The Declaration. I'd sincerely encourage anyone who is interested in good design to spend a few minutes exploring Slow Home.
10 steps

Now, about this Slow Design thing: We may have been practicing a form of Slow Design for about ten years already. We've just never had a tag line for what we do. When we started our firm, Stacey said to me that she didn't care if she never designed another project whose first design objective was to max-out the site for parking (there was a lot of asphalt in the early days of our careers!). When she said that, I was absolutely astounded. I didn't want that either. We started our self-employment adventure with the idea that we would emphasize custom design, authenticity and function-sensitive solutions. We wanted to host an interactive environment with our clients that would allow them to participate in the design process. This would assure their satisfaction with the end product since their participation was crucial to the project moving forward. This client interaction led us to trust our client's instincts. We learned to listen very carefully. We discovered that instead of being commissioned architectural artists, we were more effective as 'facilitating architects.' The product of our effort was no less satisfying and our creativity has never suffered as a result of our open process. Rather our work was more authentic and reflective of the client's hopes, tastes, dreams, and capacity. It's slow for sure; it takes a lot of time to do it right!

So, Slow Food, Slow Design, what next? Slow Retail? Slow Manufacturing? Maybe that's coming too. Slow Energy? Slow Investing? Local products, services, or ideas, naturally produced, regionally accessible, sensitive to the environment, and responsive to regional demand. I think they're all possible. I'll be reading more about this slow business...slowly. Check our links page for additional gleanings.