JOURNAL

Pace and the Design Process

By: Sam Ridge

Pace is defined as a continuous and consistent speed. The pace of the architecture and construction industries changes rapidly, with schedules becoming faster and client demands increasing. For architects and designers, this means quickly developing and adapting design concepts, organizations and forms, while balancing and shaping a narrative for the entire project.

CO Architects has extensive experience working on fast-track, complex institutional projects and has developed innovative methods to meet the new pace of the profession, without sacrificing quality or responsiveness to project goals. CO teamed with Sundt Construction in a design-build partnership to deliver the Science II Building, a new chemistry and biology facility for California State University, Sacramento. The project has seen many different forms and organizations since its beginning, and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.  

During the proposal process, CO Architects Design Principal Fabian Kremkus and I were tasked with studying the site and developing the initial building massing schemes. Typically, a proposal might consist of one or two sketches showing rough concepts for a building design. However, in recognition of the accelerated schedule for this proposal, we developed multiple design iterations and showed them to the client during an interim interview in order to get a jump-start on the design and feedback from the university.

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Proposal Schemes

Using a matrix to rate the schemes, the university was easily able to highlight the pros and cons of each, allowing our team to easily identify their goals. From this matrix, we developed the scheme further and presented it during our final interview. In a matter of days, we had developed multiple distinct iterations, reviewed them with the university, and submitted a new building design that responded to what we learned.

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Rendering of Final Proposal Scheme

Following the proposal process, Sacramento State selected CO and Sundt as the design-build team, and we quickly began working on programing and schematic design. As we updated the building massing and programming to meet the university’s needs, we also developed a narrative for the project’s design elements.

Architects use a narrative to tell a story about how a building is influenced by its surroundings, and to cement guiding principles for all design decisions down the road. A narrative also helps maintain original design concepts and goals as a project changes to accommodate the specific needs of all parties involved. For the Science II Building, we looked to the surrounding natural context to develop a narrative.

Sacramento, the state capital of California, is a metropolis set amid the vast agricultural lands of the California Central Valley. Sitting at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers, the city has a rich agrarian history with a deep connection to the rivers running through it. Sacramento State is set at a crook in the American River on the eastern edge of Sacramento. The rivers and agrarian setting deeply influenced the narrative for the project, and are particularly prevalent in our landscape design.

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Sacramento Context Map

Pulling from the aerial images of the surrounding agricultural region, where there are distinct color changes between parcels of land, the design team began to develop an organization on the site. First, laying out major circulation paths that provide an accessible route to a second-floor terrace was key. From these paths, large islands of planting, or “parcels”, started to form.  We further divided the parcels with low walls and mow strips. Each area is designed with different native plant types to create a visual distinction between each parcel. When viewed from the fifth floor terrace, it will become clear how the design resembles its agrarian roots. Conceptually, we hope the plants will begin to blend with the site over time and create a biologically diverse landscape where students can explore and study botanical species in their ‘front yard’.

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Site Plan Diagram

For CO, the narratives we tell hold a strong place in our design ethos, even as our project schedules become faster. As we design, we are always looking for influence from our clients, contractors and consultants for input on how to make buildings more inclusive and efficient, while maintaining a strong narrative. Through these efforts, we develop designs that are rooted in their place and have a significant impact on the well-being of the end users.

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