Creating what doesn’t exist today

I’ve been designing building projects since the 1980’s. Gradually I came to realize that not only do I “visualize” spaces, but I think spatially about a lot of things: abstract ideas, a strategic process, even a budget. It has only been more recently that I discovered that there is a name for what I do: “Design-Based Thinking”. The name has helped me understand what I do even better. Here is what I am learning.

Essentially, design-based thinking looks for the relationships between possibilities and tries them out. This approach has been found to be very effective when dealing with highly complex situations, or decisions with high stakes. It is a preferred approach when the desired outcome is innovation – creating what doesn’t exist today. Clearly, designing and planning home alteration projects, and certainly, new homes, can benefit from this approach.

What if you could test out an idea everyone else thinks is crazy?

Most people think about their home as a space they live in. When the time comes for them to make changes to their space or find a new space, what are their options? Well, there is Houzz, or Canadian House and Home, or even an Open House down the street. The problem is that it is highly unlikely that they will find something that replicates their own home.

What happens most often is that when homeowners start looking they begin to see “features” – a stairway, a kitchen, a fireplace, a new appliance finish – and they see “style” – mid-century, traditional, transitional, etc.. It becomes difficult to avoid thinking about their project without thinking in terms of the features and style. I call this “feature-based thinking”, or “style-based thinking”. This way of thinking lends itself to seeing homeowners as consumers first. A consumer is battling with the belief that there is a product out there that will resolve their experience.

But homeowners are not consumers first. At some point, they go shopping, but the starting point is their experience living in their home. That experience can be understood in terms of the relationship between people and the space they live in.

I got a call from a couple who’s dishwasher had broken down so many times that it was time to replace it. They called me because they wanted to use the breakdown as the reason to do something much bigger – renovate their kitchen, dining and living room. Their relationship with the dishwasher would change if they replaced that feature. But the experience they would have with the space was a design question, not a feature question.

What if you could actually find a way to see and “experience” your ideas and dreams in your space before you even raised a hammer or crowbar, even before going to see your banker? What if you could actually try out several options with several budgets?

Most of us know what a prototype is. Car manufacturers often show off their prototypes at car shows. They use the prototype for testing, for getting customer reviews, and for finding completely new solutions. The prototype we see may be the first model or it may be the fifth in a line of prototypes.

Would you feel differently if you knew there was a way to visualize changes before they happened?

Using a very effective and responsive 3D software application we can “build” your existing house. From there we can develop any number of “prototypes” for you to consider. We can take a camera inside and let you look around. We can put trees and driveways around so you can see what your new house will look like on your property. We can provide you with the drawings you need to go get pricing. We can ask an engineer to review the model for structural issues. Here are several examples:

FINDING SPACE: I was recently asked to design a staircase in a very difficult space. The parameters were very specific. I must have “built” a half dozen options for the homeowner to view and consider. It was easy to see the pros and cons of each version. It is highly unlikely that we would have found the solution we did without the 3D modelling. The staircase model let the homeowner experience the fit.

THE WISHLIST: I couple came to me recently with their wish list. I designed several additions for them to consider. They landed on the one that had everything they wanted, in the way they wanted it. We took the design concept to the builder that TLC recommended and the price came back well over their budget. It was totally obvious that they couldn’t have everything on their list, so together we worked out what needed to go and created another prototype! This time the price fit into their plans. They could have built the addition with all the features, but their experience would have been very compromised. They avoided a terrible mistake, built the addition and stayed right on track with their retirement plans.

This kitchen is full of features and style, but it is the design that gives each element a relationship to the other elements and creates a new experience in this home.