When I was in graduate school, my plan was to create a vertically integrated design and development company. I loved designing things and wanted to remain close to those sorts of details, but I had already decided that I wasn’t going to be an architect in the traditional sense and that I was going to be a developer. And so my objective was to figure out a way to combine everything under one roof. How could we be designers, but also be the entrepreneurs that make buildings happen?
In some ways, Mackay Laneway House is a manifestation of that model. Through a partnership with Gabriel Fain Architects, we (Globizen Studio) have been heavily involved on the design side. Gabriel did all of the drawings and the overall architecture, but we weighed in (more than your typical client), selected most of the FF&E, and even designed things like the kitchen (with Scavolini) and the exterior signage. I wouldn’t call it true vertical integration, but we did start to blur the lines between architect/designer and developer.
One of the interesting things about this approach is that it begins to create some consistency and a bit of a branded product. The hope is that when Mackay Laneway House is fully complete, it will read as a Globizen project, which is not that dissimilar from what David Wex of Urban Capital was talking about in this recent podcast. Their projects are a specific kind of product. They generally repeat it, and if that’s not what you’re interested in, then you don’t buy an Urban Capital home.
But this also raises an important question: what is the role of architects and architecture in the case of buildings as very specific products? (This is something that we have discussed before on the blog.) Is the job of the architect to create an interesting exterior shell that then gets populated on the inside by a specific product offering? Or is it even worse, is architecture sometimes just an “empty vessel” that gets interior design and a brand slapped onto it? In some cases and with some projects, it does feel this way.
I am a firm believer in the value of architecture and design. An “empty vessel” is not architecture. It is, well, an empty vessel. And that is not what I aim for in any of the projects that I’m involved in. Creativity, function, thoughtfulness and, yes, beauty, are all important. At the same time, I think this is a valuable debate. These sorts of questions are helpful in dissecting the architecture/development value chain. And so I would be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comment section below.