Listening to The Site

I am often struck by how sub-conscious the design process is. In an atmosphere thick with facts, the solution often relies less on conscious management of those facts and more on a meditative process. After gathering the facts (the design program), it is often best to shut them out altogether, sit comfortably at desk, and wait for the solution to strike the hand. I am sure this has parallels in all creative disciplines. But architect’s block can be as real as writer’s and then, “when all else fails”, it pays to go to the site and listen. Spacial cues form, missed opportunities appear, priorities are established and paralysis vanishes.

This is true for a project we are now undertaking along Main Street in New Hope, PA. Our client, an established creative force in his own right, and I have struggled to get the answer right. We had developed a house (really fabulous house) for the lot, but over time priorities have changed and that solution suddenly felt too big. I went back to the drawing board with a new program, other facts came rolling in, and the air grew thick – the solution obscured by old facts and new ones all piling up – too many to manage. I sat blankly with no sense of what to do. So I shot off an email to my client which read in part:

I think it might help to get out to the site again and see what the place tells us about approach.

The results are astonishing. As we chatted (not necessarily about the project), the air simply cleared, boundaries solidified, the program shifted into order and I literally drove away, sat down and sketched a solution. It is by no means cooked but the design’s bones are good.