How do developers and designers look at materials differently?
There are so many ways I can look at buildings:
- Socially, they are containers or places that facilitate the various activities of our lives.
- Urbanistically, they are formal objects that shape our built environment.
- Aesthetically, they can be a magnet for praise or ridicule.
- Financially, they are often the most expensive things we buy or invest in.
- Historically, they give you a glimpse into the values and technology that were available to a culture.
- Physically, they are an assemblage of materials - thousands of different materials that work together towards a singular outcome.
It is this last point where you can begin to see how a designer looks at materials for their physical qualities. Designers often have a wide range of material properties they seek, some poetic and some quite pragmatic. A designer may want something strong, fireproof, transparent, lightweight, insulating, or colorful. It is through this lens that designers can take a design concept and begin to assign and specify materials that serve all the various needs of a building.
After 20 years of architectural practice, my career is now in real estate development at Alexandria Real Estate Equities, Inc. At any given time, I have at least a million square feet of development in design or under construction in the San Francisco/Bay area. To put it into perspective, that’s about 17 football fields. I think developers and designers look at materials a bit differently, the main difference being timeframe. A designer is involved in a project for a few months for a small interiors project to a few years for a new complex building. As a developer, my timeframe is much longer. We own the land, we develop a building, we lease the building, then it continues for decades of lease renewals and countless tenant improvement construction projects within that building.
Because the developer timeframe spans decades and not just months or years, I place a high value on a few elements when considering materials:
1. Enduring beauty
2. Cost-effective operations and maintenance
3. Flexibility to accommodate ever-changing tenant needs