Creativity: Where Collaboration and Consideration Meet
Erik Van Mehlman, Partner & Design Lead with BuildSense Architecture, is a steadfast supporter of collaborative design. He’s spent years fostering an environment that values teamwork and cooperation, understanding that creativity thrives when a wide-range of perspectives mindfully collide.
Creativity is the backbone of any designer’s or firm’s success, what is something you do to keep that energy flowing both individually and as a team?
We are an architecture and construction team. It is of great importance for us to maintain the collaborative environment in all aspects of our work. While we usually have numerous projects in design under different project managers or project architects, we make a point to open conceptual design with the entirety of our crew on every project. Each charrette, with so many players, results in a tremendous amount of design consideration from various points of view. It is generally eye opening for the team that will carry the project through to completion. Additionally, it keeps our team excited about new projects and familiarizes them with projects on which they may not be directly involved throughout the design/build process.
BuildSense seeks to foster delightful, healthy, and sustainable living… How does materiality play a role in delivering on that goal?
All of our projects are highly custom and choosing materials is as personal as any selection in the process. Most of our clients share our approach to delightful, healthy, and sustainable living. So, outside of their thoughts on style and appearance, most are interested in the tactile, durable, anti-microbial, and hypoallergenic qualities of their finishes. It is preferable to locate more comforting materials where one is in contact with them. It is preferable to use low maintenance materials to reduce the time and cost for care. It is preferable to use naturally clean materials for a healthier indoor environment.
What do you feel is the biggest block to your creativity? Has this changed since the pandemic started?
In my pandemic experience, finding time, not only using it efficiently, has been a problem for many people. We are blessed to be in a region of the country where design and construction activity has actually increased over this past year. This has been a double edged sword. While limits on time allocation for design have been real, I have seen areas where our design process and communications have improved in efficiency and clarity through the virtual meeting format.
Have you personally ever had a total “crash and burn” project? If so, how did the outcome shape your perspective today?
If “crash and burn” means the project never came to fruition, then yes, of course I’ve had projects die along the road. I wouldn’t believe anyone who told me that had not happened over the course of 20+ years in any industry. There are more reasons than one can imagine for a client to abandon design. However, the one I personalize most is miscommunication or mismanaged client expectations. I internalize responsibility for these occurrences wherever the breakdown may have occurred. The worst part is that 95% of the time, the information claimed to be missing or in error was indeed properly communicated to the client. As such, we have worked very hard to develop and share clear procedures for communications, process, schedule, and budget that keep everyone on the same page.
Where do you think the design industry still has room to grow? What focuses are you looking forward to seeing shift throughout the next few years?
While I am extremely excited that home design television has more people considering the design of the place they call home, it is my opinion that the majority are actually performing a disservice by misrepresenting costs and misleading viewers about what it will take to achieve their dreams. Even I am guilty of the Pollyannaish desire to reduce conveyed costs at times. I renovated my 1938 home in 2018. The time effort and energy put into numerous iterations of the architecture plans, structural engineering, planning and pricing, general contracting, demolition, on-site problem solving, portions of construction, job site cleaning, custom interior cabinets, detailing, furniture building, and more were executed by me and likely reduced total project costs (not just construction costs) by 35-40% or more. However, those types of reality check calculations are very rarely, if ever, carried out and related on home design programming. I would love to see a real information home design series; the This is what it will cost for the entire design and build process with hired and paid professionals Show.
Does creativity “strike” you? Or is it more of a deliberate process?
For me, it really depends on the project. There are some sites, programs, client requests, and/or other factors that have me sketching design solutions in the margins of my notes before the first meeting is done. All I want to do is start designing and we may not even have an agreement to work.
As the Design Lead at BuildSense, you have the morale of an entire team to maintain– how has the past year changed your leadership style? Have you found it more difficult to keep the spirits high and collaboration strong?
I am one of five members of the BuildSense Leadership Team. Our goal has been to put our staff and their families first while doing our best to maintain great jobs and productivity. I believe we have been thoughtful, considerate, honest, and fair. These are values of strength and they manifest in the entire crew. It has been a difficult year for everyone. In it all, I cannot express how overjoyed I have been when an employee has made a point to tell me how pleased they are to work for BuildSense and be a part of our team.