A Fistful of Design Dollars

Our academic and institutional clients sometimes express an initial wariness about Centerbrook’s inclusive and interactive design workshops that can involve a wide spectrum of stakeholders. They worry that too many people participating with too many ideas will generate an unrealistic and unaffordable wish list, leading to disappointments and controversy.

In fact, the workshop effect is quite the contrary. People learn and actually listen to one another – and the architects – and come away appreciating that their respective interests and ideas can, indeed, have to be reconciled within an overriding project vision and budget.

Eastham Library:

Eastham Library: "Turnip Tender"

Berkshire Country Day School:

Berkshire Country Day School: "Penguin Pound"

To help instill a healthy respect for finite resources – as well as the importance of establishing priorities – Centerbrook prints its own vernacular currency. These ersatz one dollar bills are easy enough to spot: where George Washington’s solemn face normally presides, you might see a turnip, or a great blue heron, or Othniel Charles Marsh, M.A., Ph.D., LL.D., the legendary Yale paleontologist.

Before you drop a dime on us with the FBI, please understand that these simulated bucks are in limited circulation, exclusively for use during the initial stage of our design process. Rather than encouraging inflation or frivolous spending, they inject focus and discipline into the proceedings.

The only catch is that, just as in real life, there isn’t enough money for everything. A finite supply of currency induces clients to think about what they truly value, to establish priorities. Given equal stacks of bills, our clients and their designated stakeholders are tasked with spending their pretend tender on hypothetical aspects of the project. Perhaps they would like to spend more on sheer space, and use more pedestrian mechanical systems, or vice-versa. They may feel that the look of the place is critical to their mission, in which case they’ll need to lessen the size of the building, or some other elements. If they determine that security needs to be top notch: well, then something has to give elsewhere in the project.

Mary Cheney Library:

Mary Cheney Library: "Library Loot"

Mass Audubon Society:

Mass Audubon Society: "Audubon Bullion from the Feather Reserve"

For decades, Centerbrook has used this “Shopping Spree” as a component of its interactive design process, as one of many tools to engage clients, building users, and other stakeholders in decisions affecting program and architecture. The finished building, after all, will not be used and viewed every day by the architects, but by students, faculty, staff, visitors, alumni, or museum-goers.

During participatory workshops, members of the community are invited to voice their concepts and concerns, to listen to the ideas of others, and to react to design options presented by the architectural team. The “Changing Hats” exercise asks participants to assume an alternate identity – as a researcher, or project donor, or first time visitor etc. – and to approach the project from the perspective of that person. The “Beauty Contest” presents various building design types to gauge architectural predilections.

The result of all this pretend spending and group interaction is that the final design is informed by a variety of sources, hard facts, and ideas, and the client community feels invested in project. The architects get a much better sense not only of the community’s priorities, but of its unique culture as well. When everyone gets in on the ground floor, they fully appreciate the tough choices that had to be made.

Maria Mitchell Association:

Maria Mitchell Association: "Star Buck"