Tomorrow's Project by HunterDouglas Contract
Tomorrow's Project is a discussion platform for prominent architects and designers to voice their predictions on the future of design. Every other week, we speak to design leaders who are developing ideas for smarter ways to live and work that challenge the norms in their sectors: healthcare, education, corporate, retail, and hospitality design.
Jose Alvarez

Question: Can you explain the thinking behind the 903 Poydras Tower in New Orleans?

Jose: We always try to use contextual experiences to inform our design strategies. In this situation, we looked not only at the building's location on a major business corridor but also its proximity to the city's historic French Quarter.

As a residential project, 903 Poydras felt more in line with the ideas of the Quarter. We looked for residential experiences that take place in that neighborhood, and immediately zeroed in on the unique courtyard model.

Question: How were those ideas executed?

Jose: To recreate the social interaction found in the courtyards of the French Quarter, the design consolidates all tenant amenities at the ninth floor level in order to condense their programmatic force. Anchoring this level is the "sky lobby," a dramatic glass box that cantilevers out from the façade and offers spectacular views of the downtown skyline. This double-height lounge serves as an extension of the tenant's living spaces, with coffee bar and movie screening lounge set among informal groupings of furniture.

Outside the sky lobby is an expansive pool deck, with a tiered bleacher rising from the pool to a sunning platform at its top. Tucked beneath these bleachers is the facility's fitness center. A series of townhomes along the south side – with front door access directly off the pool deck - create an architectural edge and produce the effect of a ground level courtyard on the garage rooftop.

Question: How would you explain architecture's ability to shape people's lives?

Jose: We believe that architecture has a critical role in shaping how individuals experience the world. Stressing fundamental principles of design, our goal is to find and reveal the extraordinary in the ordinary - to understand, for example, how the details of a site or regional architecture can be utilized to link a structure to its setting and broader historical context. This analysis operates at the level of a building program as well as a site, providing insight to a project's larger cultural concerns.

For us, context operates across many levels within a project - applying equally to site or building technology as well as broader, global conversations regarding contemporary institutions. Our work aims to incorporate these concerns over multiple scales, allowing the project to resonate across many levels for a variety of users over time.

Question: What are some of the more subtle effects of design you notice that perhaps the average person wouldn't?

Jose: Many special moments in our designs are completely missed or unnoticed, but I would say that those might be categorized as some of the best ones. For example, referring back to 903 Poydras, the concept of splitting the vertical circulation and controlling the tenants' path of travel through the sky lobby forces them (without notice) to engage with their building's community, to interact, to socialize, to look around, to stop and think of coming back. This simple idea makes the building space "alive" and energetic, no labels required.

Question: With sustainability as the norm, what's next? In what new ways has architecture begun to effect people that you haven't seen historically?

Jose: More and more of the responsibilities affecting the human condition and mankind's well being are being carried by our profession. Historically, or maybe as default, our passion to understand the problems and solutions has put us in this position. Buildings are more complex, more challenging, and now in constant changing demand. We have to be smarter, current and understand how to integrate all these pieces by leading the efforts and conditions of the building design and process.

The concepts of sustainability have positively impacted the design of buildings and are still informing us of new ways to improve our designs. Still, our next responsibility as architects is to affectively open the social and built barriers and implement an extensive Universal Design platform where, at an equal level, the architecture informs, guides, comforts, and gives choices to the user. It's not a new concept but a very important one to look to next as we continue to improve the quality of life for the end user population.

Question: Ten years from now, how will the relationship between architecture and people's experience with it evolve?

Jose: Architecture slowly progresses right behind the technology surrounding it. I see us as designers integrating many of the gadgets we now use every day into our projects, like mobile media, social networking and face-to-face web conferencing. The fast pace and the increasing attitude of change and mobility will inform architecture to become portable, flexible, and modified with just a sweep of our fingertips.

Question: Tell us something interesting about yourself.

Jose: Architecture is one of the few things I'm really passionate about. It really is completely engrained in how I see the world.


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