Making modern design feel warm, appropriate, and desirable was the topic of the session, Responsive Modern Design. For Johnsen Schmaling, it’s all about applying the principles that you would for any other building in any other climate—site, orientation, footprint, materials, and environment. Plus, the firm works really hard to make its buildings rest lightly on the land. “We practice the concept of restraint,” said Sebastian Schmaling, AIA, LEED AP. “It’s a state of mind that helps us understand what we do.”

The firm uses these concepts and strategies whether it’s working in an urban setting or rural location, and on an existing house or a new house. Choosing the right materials is also a huge part of what the firm does, Schmaling said. The architects are always thinking locally and thinking about what’s available. “It’s about the precise assembly of materials,” he said. “It allows them to age gracefully.”

One of the most important elements that guide the firm, however, is the client. If the client is on board with what the firm is trying to do, then all the pieces fall into place. “The key for us is convincing clients that smaller is better, and that quality trumps quantity,” Schmaling says.

Mark Peters, AIA, of Studio Dwell, also deals with quality issues when it comes to his urban-infill projects in and around Chicago, but his issues are slightly different. “We work in the city, but people still want a quality of light and they still want privacy,” Peters said.

Peters, whose firm does single-family infill and multifamily work, said clients want their homes to have many of the same things that people in the suburbs want. His work, therefore, revolves around “creating open plans so people can walk around and creating a connection with the outside.” Multifamily work is more challenging sometimes, the architect said, because architects have to solve inherent problems of dense, attached living spaces such as noise and privacy. “We try to make production homes and plans feel special,” the architect said.

Few architects are able to do more with less than Jonathan Segal, FAIA, whose derring-do in San Diego is legendary in the architectural community. Segal specializes in turning blighted gap-toothed lots in the city into silk purses, along the way acting as developer, architect, contractor, interior designer, and landscaper. “I work only in the city,” he said, “because people want to live in the city and they don’t want to have to drive a car.” Only until architects take control of the process will things change, the architect concluded.

Finally, Lawrence Scarpa, FAIA, with Brooks + Scarpa, encouraged architects to reconsider how they site their buildings to respond to their environment, site, and region. The air conditioner, he argued, changed everything. As a result, some architects forgot about site and making buildings more responsive to their environment.

“Buildings that are responsive,” he said, “are made to work in the environment.” Architects, he said, should look at how buildings used to be built for inspiration and guidance. “Think of building orientation, provide shade, and protect the building,” he concluded.

For more about Johnsen Schmaling, see

For more about Mark Peters, see

For more about Jonathan Segal, see and

For more about Lawrence Scarpa, see and

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