Although most clients find Locus through word of mouth or because they’ve seen our past work, now and then we go after new work by answering a request for proposal (RFP) sent out by a developer, neighborhood organization or non-profit. One of the criteria often included in an RFP is to describe our past experience for that building type. For example, here’s a requirement from a request that we recently considered – “provide detailed information on the last three completed multifamily projects that are most similar to this project, including description of project, drawings, cost of construction, and developer/owner contact information.” This is a troubling requirement and raises some interesting questions. Can architects design a building without prior experience with that building type? Are our skills as designers and problem-solvers transferable across building types?
We believe the answer to both is YES, and apparently so do our peers. Last week Locus was awarded an AIA Honor Award for the White Bear Unitarian Universalist Church (WBUUC) in Mahtomedi, MN. This is the second award granted for this church design, the first awarded last year by the Interfaith Forum on Religion, Art and Architecture, a community of church architects. An article about the church, titled “Nature Sanctuary”, is published in the Nov/Dec issue of Architecture MN.
When we interviewed for the job in 2005, we made it clear that this would be our first church design. We didn’t have a long list of past, similar projects we could, or more importantly “would”, draw from as we worked. No, we would design something unique for their community, based on a long and involved process of learning who they were and listening to their hopes and dreams for the space.
We’ve won many awards over the years, nearly all of them for building types that we had never designed before. Fortunately, our clients for those projects didn’t base their decision to hire us on our past experience for projects most similar to theirs. And we’d like to think they’re better off for it. As Victoria Safford, WBUUC minister, described when they first began to use their new space, “we’ve held four services now in the new sanctuary here, and every week it is as if we are entering the spaces here for the first time, so beautiful are the movements of light, the textures of steel, concrete and glass, the seemingly impermeable boundaries between inside and outside. The congregation is in a state of amazement and gratitude – as am I. This work you have done here is beautiful. Thank you.”