Architects as Builders

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To me, one of the most unique and appealing aspects about Payette is the Fabrication Lab and how it is integrated into the regular practice of the firm. I find it incredibly important that architects have the skills to work with materials, physical tools and to build at full scale. Over time, these abilities will influence our designs, our efficiency and put us in a better position to talk with contractors and clients. Alongside building mock-ups at full scale, the CNC router at the FabLab has the capacity to expedite the process of constructing scale models of our projects. This approach can greatly reduce the time and funds needed to create a comparable model, which allows us to be of better service to our clients. It is exciting to see how Payette seamlessly moves between concept design, parametric design, model making, energy analysis and visualization and prototyping throughout the timeline of each project.

In the field of architecture, based on my experience there are a few firms that hold digital fabrication as a key component of their process. In my opinion, it would be great for firms to have access to a fabrication space, but it’s still rare in most practices.  Only seven out of Architect Magazine  2016 Top 50 Architecture Firms operate with a fabrication space as a part of their practice. Payette is one of them.

Despite being a rare occurrence within the field, some architecture firms such as LMN and NADAAA highlight digital fabrication and “learning-through-making” as core principles of their work. This idea of architects as builders is not a new subject. Historically, an architect was usually an experienced artisan or a craftsman taking on the role of the “master builder.” It wasn’t until the industrial revolution where the rise of the engineer and new technology phased out the architect from the “master builder” to the role we are familiar with today.

Due to the complexity and amount of systems that go into modern buildings, I think it is understandable why the architect has a more indirect role in contemporary construction. With this being said, I find it important that architects “build” in some respect. This is why our FabLab is so appealing to me; the ability to build at full scale, to test our ideas, to experiment and to develop is invaluable. This extra layer to our practice can act as a design buffer between the computer model and the final building construction. Building prototypes allow us to find design flaws and make design decisions that we might otherwise overlook.

Going forward, I am excited to see and get involved with new ways we use our tools and test new ideas. I imagine as project teams become more familiar with the capabilities of the FabLab, we will be able to strategically weave it into our process even more so than we do now. I am even more excited to witness the trickle-down effects the prototypes, mock-ups and models have on how we design our projects.

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