The Visioning Process: Collaboration is Crucial to Success

By John Rufo

As a core tenet of our design practice we step back on a regular basis to assess the processes we employ to plan and design projects for our clients. From the outset, on any project, it is critical to create a vision that guides the project through its various design stages. What the public typically sees coming from the architects is an illustrated vision in the form of a master plan and renderings, but each project gets to that point through an integrated process that we’ve come to call Collaborative Visioning. In this process one can identify 4 key steps that take our clients and us through an open exploration - from goals to vision.

1.      Establishing a Foundation

Establishing the foundational underpinnings of any project is a twofold process that allows us to both understand our client’s goals and to gain an understanding of the project context. By the time our clients contact us about a potential new project, they’ve usually studied it exhaustively, so our first job is empathetic listening and careful documentation of goals and aspirations for the project. Sometimes ideas are very concrete and other times they can be quite amorphous in nature. On a parallel track to this task is the gathering of site data and impressions of the project context that will drive aspects of site development, as well as ideas about the experiential goals of the project.

2.      Translation of Program

Most clients come to us with a proposed set of uses for the project. It’s our job to work with the client to inventory these program pieces and sponsor an inquiry aimed at heightening the potential relationships between these uses. For instance, why is one kind of tenant a logical co-tenant with another? Sometimes the most critical synergies are not contained wholly within the building program. Sometimes they are the activities that are catalyzed on site by the interaction of various parts of the project and the context that it is set in. In fact this is the hallmark of the most successful development projects and something we relish at Form + Place. So, one of the most important questions we reach for is how the interaction between uses and site propel the simple statement of program to become a framework for developing an authentic experience of place.

3.      Diagramming

Diagramming is the first step in intuiting a reasoned response to the goal of creating an authentic experience of place. While the diagram itself, often a few squiggly lines and notes with a “fat marker” on trace, may seem to be very removed from an actual experience of place, it articulates the bones of potential form- and place-making strategies that inform the very real development of plan and massing. We tend to go back to the diagram again and again in the course of the visioning process to see if the evolution of the idea is living up to the energy and richness latent in the original sketch. We look for things like porosity, transparency, hierarchy and connectivity in the diagram that hint at how specific areas of the plan might develop into great public space or where to site the more iconic architectural elements of the design.

4.      Visioning

Ultimately the goal is always to define a project that can be understood spatially as well as aspirationally. The initial massing gestures need to transform into true architectural form-making, and the void spaces in the diagram need to take on real aspects of authentic place-making. The challenge is that creating a vision is an early step in the entire development process and often little is known about the building systems or the engineering behind the open spaces and landscape features. Therefore, the vision as illustrated is making certain leaps between what can be and what should be.