I always love a great conversation and opportunities to network with people in architecture and technology. I recently sat down with an informative group in the space and am excited to share our conversation.
Participants include Drew Lang, the founding principal of Lang Architecture and Brick and Wonder. Lang earned a Masters of Architecture from Yale University and is a licensed architect in New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Louisiana. Brick and Wonder is a membership collective focused on connecting and supporting accomplished real estate and design professionals.
Jamie Propp is the founder of Techmenity, a Technology General Contractor and Master Planning firm focused on design, integration, and systems management for Future-Ready properties.
Amir Karimpour is co-founder of Alden Studios, a visual effects company based in New York City. He is also the creative director of Walker Vail, a jewelry design studio based in New York City, and an assistant visiting professor at the Pratt Institute.
How do you describe that value you provide on a project?
Lang: Connection. We connect people’s feelings, desires, visions, the way they live, and the way they want to live, with the spaces we create with them, and all collaborators we bring to the project.
Karimpour: We are a design communications firm producing photo-realistic renderings. We show the project in different conditions that the client could experience: just after a snowstorm, or on a hot summer day as you approach the structure. It’s connecting client to architecture, but also to a moment they want to experience.
Propp: We are often called “integrators.” While we integrate systems, philosophically, we also integrate people – with technology, and the purpose of the space.
Drew, with so many decisions to be made on a project, how do you maintain balance?
Lang: Our process intentionally keeps aspects out of the initial picture. It allows us to focus on necessary elements to establish the fundamental roots of the project. We coordinate stakeholders and provide alignment in appropriate measure.
The “connector” is also a “conductor!” Aside from client interest, what is the place of technology in the built environment? Are there table stakes?
Lang: It’s a great question and I don’t know how to answer it! It’s a moving target and both situation- and client-dependent. When acting as a developer on “spec,” we make the decision. A shift in perspective would be air quality and exchange systems.
We actually heard from a buyer: “I feel better in your house than I ever have. I sleep better and feel more healthy.”
When do you bring up technology with the client?
Lang: We ask during initial client conversations.
When would you engage a technology consultant?
Lang: It depends what the client says. Many clients initially reject the idea of technology in favor of legacy light switches or manual shades. They often change their minds and when they do, we’ll engage Jamie [Propp].
How does Techmenity assist architects, and when should they be brought in?
Propp: Ideally, as close to the ideation as possible! Every system that goes into a building (wired or wireless) must be connected to a network; we call it the “Digital Foundation.” It must support options as we move forward in the future. It isn’t costly and involves planning, strategizing, working on the design set, and placing wires (copper or fiber), thereby enabling opportunities to implement technology as the design and thought process evolves.
How long does a project take from engaging a client to their use of the space?
Lang: It varies between two to three years.
In that timeframe, technology will have cycled four times or more! By the time the building is finished, the technology installed may not have even existed when we began the design. A “Digital Foundation” becomes even more crucial. In a typical project how many parties will collaborate?
Lang: If the general contractor and all of their subcontractors count as “one,” then five to 10. It must be the client, architect, and contractor. Most projects will likely have two more including a structural engineer and MEP engineer. After that, a technology consultant (~50%) and lighting designer (~25%).
Given how many collaborators are involved with projects, it is easy to see why you created Brick & Wonder. How important is community, and why did it not yet exist?
Lang: It is of critical importance. When we meet the objective of aligning interests across projects, we are going to have much happier people working on projects, happier clients, and better results. Why not prior? For whatever reason, the existing culture is set up in a way that silos the various collaborators from one another.
With Brick & Wonder, even when people might not be active together on projects, they are in communication and have awareness of one another’s knowledge base, resources, networks, and issues encountered. Over time, with the building of trust and relationships, people come together to more naturally execute projects.
Karimpour: Within Brick & Wonder, we are exposed to people and companies we wouldn’t usually work with. If you can get people who are already involved in this process together, in a formalized setting, that allows more efficient and frequent communication; it allows for new opportunities to arise.
Propp: I love the curation of the community because it is very intentional. It’s populated to encourage relationships to naturally form. When I hear from members who are passionate about their work in the built environment, I want to engage more deeply with that member. It expands my knowledge well beyond my typical involvement.