good clients and difficult sites make for good buildings

After a really honest and inspirational meeting with a client I received this email:

“I have been thinking more about our conversation on Friday (which I enjoyed greatly). I am not afraid of pushing the envelope. One of the things I notice when I look at Haertling’s really good homes is that he dared to be different, and I am sure in the face of questioning, criticisms, outrage even. I have found, that when folks say, “I don’t like it,” it’s usually their de facto reaction to something out of the ordinary, something they don’t get or don’t want to – because it’s not what they are used to seeing in their favorite glossy mag, TV show or what’s around them. Often the collective “I don’t like it” has been a good barometer for me to say I am – at least design/art wise – pushing something in the right direction.

Whether it is materials, form, contrast, going for a variance, etc., I want us to dare to be extraordinary. Be skeptical of the “I don’t like it.” Usually it means I am moving in the right direction. I feel strongly that we have the opportunity to do something as iconic as the best Haertling house, and that to do so, it may be ignoring the protests of those who rarely leave their comfort zone.

The more you tell me about yourself – “I love building and buildings” – the more I am glad we are working on this together. I want you to push yours, Courtney’s and my imaginations. That may not be easy for Court and I as we both have wild imaginations. I sense that you do to. When Courtney says, “I don’t want my house to look like every other modern house built in Boulder, I know what she means. We were driving by the new bank building on the corner of Walnut and 28th – being built right now, and I said to her that all these buildings exhibit the same three factors – three materials, one of which is steel and one of which is stone, usually with stucco in some earth tone color, production architectural overhangs, squares and rectangles, butterfly, curve, es, or single sloped roof.  This seems to be the case with the Nuevo-modern homes that have sprouted up around town in the past 5-10 years.

Ultimately, I would rather have 100 people say: I just don’t understand,  or piss off a few neighbors maybe, than to make everyone feel comfortable because they think it looks like it came out of Dwell or Sunset or some other derivative of the 2000s perception of modern.”

I have a lot of respect for my clients.  They do what I am not sure I would be willing to do – trust many thousands of dollars and many months in someone to design something for which there are no test drives, no prototypes to walk through, no real-scale, real-time testing.  Only after most of the money has been spent can we stand in the nascent construction and begin to get a notion of what the final space will feel like.  Sure, they can read drawings, study models and sketches, but those are fairly abstract compared to the built reality.  In the end, they have faith in me and that is not taken lightly.  That they also want me to step out onto the unknown with them, for them, is a staggering responsibility and frankly the most thrilling prospect I can imagine.  By showing no fear, clients help make us fearless.  As architects we must reward that bravery with something truly amazing.

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