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The Buzz: Installation Spotlight: The Sound of Green

May 11, 2009 12:00 PM, By Jessaca Gutierrez

Point Park University, Pittsburgh

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Architect's Perspective

In the new portion of the Point Park University dance complex in Pittsburgh, achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold meant a collaborative design process that didn't end when the school broke ground on the project.

"Architecture is a search for a solution. You start with a vague idea of the needs, but as you begin to draw and imagine the use of the building you learn things," Powell says. "And in the process, I think we learned that there were better ways to solve problems than what we initially had as a concept. It's a fiction I think of the movies about architects that you have an inspiration and that is the building. In fact, it's a patient search for a solution that is drawing things over and over and over and over to get an end product."

To really tap into what faculty and students needed in the new dance complex, Powell and team went through a process they call "The Day in the Life." As part of this technique, David Nash, principal of StoweNash Associates, the consultant on the project and a knowledgeable resource on the dance life, walked the architects on the project through a day in the life of a dance teacher, student, and a visiting master-class dancer. By understanding how they enter the building, where they change their clothes, where teachers teach their class, and where they have follow-up sessions, the architects were able to more easily understand what was needed from the building.

"[This] helped us to begin to understand that maybe flexibility and decentralized controls would be better for the university and all its constituents, teachers, students, guests, parents," Powell says. "There was just too much to anticipate, and if you can make it flexible, then you don't have to anticipate," he says. "It's not like game time at the University of Kansas where all eyes are at one place—all eyes are all over the place. It is the evolution of a concept that drives problem solving. It's testing ideas and testing concepts, finding out what works best, rather than having a fully formed working idea in the beginning."

Going through this process is a crucial part of the design, and it's almost as important as the final product, Powell says.

"You start with concepts, and those are very rough ideas, and then one or two ideas seem to make sense, and then you do what are called schematics—a little bit more detailed. You begin to understand the engineering systems, but they're still pretty sketchy and there will be maybe two or three schematics," Powell says. "And typically, one or two of those schematics makes sense, so you do what are called design development drawings. You develop more detail and you add even more engineering systems, but it's still very design oriented. Of course, code and ideas about products are there, but only after the design development do you begin to do the construction working drawings. But even with the construction working drawings, which are the heart of the project, you're learning what will work and what won't work because manufacturers are very much part of the project."

In the dance complex case, that process led from a centralized control room to localized powered loudspeakers. It was a design solution that came about from collaboration between the architects, consultants, and integrators.

"Systems are better integrated if the architect understands the requirements of the system, and then the systems designer understands the requirements of the architecture," Powell says. "The end result is better. Rather than a narrow focus, my advice would be to have a wide focus for the context of the systems."

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