Perspective

Thoughts on Ego vs. User-Driven Architecture
Howard Roark wouldn't be caught dead with people in his architectural photography. Roark, the heroic ego-centric protagonist of Ayn Rand's seminal work The Fountainhead, was the type of architect to climb to the top of his creation and stand with his chest proud against the wind. For him, the work was about the individuality and creativity of man. Detractors say his architecture was to be consumed and admired rather than lived in and used. A quick skim through most of the glossy architecture mags confirms that the fictional Roark is joined in this sentiment by many of his non-fictional counterparts.

I may not have lived my architectural career guilt-free in this regard. In architecture school (a fading memory), you needn't worry with life's little hassles: budget, structure and client. It's a theoretical free-for-all where unbounded creativity wins the day. But for the practicing architect, the budgets are usually tight, the structure is real, and the client is all the more real. Our clients hire us to solve their problems and improve their lives. A strong architect will realize that the end product is the life that occurs in the space. The architecture needs to empower the activity and reflect the spirit of the users.

Much of our work at Baker A+D is out of the public eye. As of late, we have specialized in residential and educational architecture; two areas where the importance of the user experience are particularly important. However, it is a restaurant where this dichotomy of “user experience vs. purified theory” came to light. Le Corbusier famously said that “a house is a machine for living in”. That may be true, but nobody wants to have dinner in “a machine for eating in”. So as we designed Nob Hill Bar & Grill, we continually checked concepts against a simple test: would we want to be here? It was about being (not about eating, I'd leave that to Sam and Matt – the experts.) We think the results ring true, and we're pleased to say that the Nob Hill Bar & Grill just won a national design competition (read more about that here).

The connective element of the restaurant is the faceted “light cloud” that glows like a lantern above the bar. It connects the dining room to the bar area while simultaneously giving the bar a more intimate atmosphere. The use of a product called 3-form “Banana Fiber Dark” adds a soft and organic quality to the otherwise angular form. The triangulated steel structure which was fabricated by the talented guys at Modulus, is 57' feet long and is completely skinned in this 3-form material.



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