3x3x3: THREE months, THREE projects, THREE-thousand clients

Good design starts way before architects start sketching. Top architects are often distinguished from the rest partly because they insist on direct contact and close relationships with their clients as a way to influence even the most preliminary aims of a project. Take Frank Gehry, who recently turned down a chance to design his first Manhattan skyscraper because he was told he would have little or no contact with the clients and users of the building. He, like many architects, knows that the seat next to the client is the power seat, the place from which compelling design intentions are created and then sustained and developed into great projects.Unfortunately, many talented young designers go years if not careers without fully exploiting or even having that client contact. Sometimes large offices simply do not arrange enough seats at client meetings for young designers to join in. And sometimes by the time designers do occupy such seats, they are already accustomed to designing without client exposure and have difficulty incorporating this new opportunity into their design process.This field studio is a crash course in leveraging real-life client contact into real-life design guidelines for real-life projects. It is hoped that the rewards of this client contact will inspire students to insist on similar contact during their future work experiences.The projects involve three existing schools in Roxbury and Dorchester, soon to be renovated by the city of Boston. The client groups comprise schoolchildren, teachers, parents, neighbors, community leaders, funders, and city officials. Each project will occupy approximately one month of the semester.With such a short time-span, each project will be treated as an extended brain-storming session with one week in intense research and programming, one week on individual masterplan explorations, and one week on a collaborative final masterplan of key interior spaces and circulation, school grounds, and even local streetscapes and traffic patterns. Each school will be presented with a summary booklet of the month\’s work with which the building committees will pursue their projects.There will be a client meeting at least every other week, with preparatory work for each. Students will run meetings with the client groups. During these they will negotiate and distill the project program from the complex and perhaps contentious constituencies in attendance. They will publicly present, defend, and refine their own individual schemes and the final scheme. Along the way, students will explore approaches for verbal and graphic techniques that communicate clearly without sacrificing sophisticated content. They will be challenged to develop high design standards even when dealing with what will certainly be unusually appreciative and uncritical audiences.