Article from Art New England
Interview by Deborah Byck Weinstein
As appeared in The August-September, 1997 issue, pages 14 -15
BB = Blaine Bershad
DBW = Deborah Byck Weinstein
Having last met at the site of his recently completed residential project, a Tudor Home transformed through the concept of fractal geometry, Blaine Bershad now sits down to discuss his work, design created in partnership.
BB: There's a philosophy based on how we live and how we work that relates to both the clients as well as to all of the employees. It's based on open communication, a concept of enhancing personal growth.
DBW: You once mentioned that everyone in you office volunteers in some capacity.
BB: Right. It's very important that we relate to the world and the community in ways that are important to us.
Architecture does not exist in a vacuum. I think that the thing they don't emphasize in architecture school is how much the client dictates to the person designing.
DBW: What kinds of questions do you ask a client when first developing there needs?
BB: I typically ask a lot of "why's". But it is a matter of knowing what kind of why's. It's more a matter of why do you think this or that is important. It's not about asking why do you want three bedrooms. I process how they want to feel and why.
DBW: And then how does this translate into your design choices?
BB: Many times I find that my clients are after a certain aesthetic that they've already decided on without really processing why they have decided on that aesthetic...In the process of asking these kinds of questions and working with the client I will see their art and their approach to space. I evaluate how they use space, how they sit at their desk, layout their closets, keep their bedroom. In the process of all of that I get a sort of attitude that a client has towards their environment.
DBW: How are these evaluations affected if a client seeks a whole new environment, a different aesthetic?
BB: One thing that I find when people are designing a new house-because they dislike certain features about the house they're living in-is a tendency to ignore those features that they do like. They take them for granted. That's just filtering. So the question is how do you get through those filters to make sure what we're doing is in fact what needs to be done.
Therein lies the concept of open communication. With many designers a client would walk into their half-built house or offices and say " I didn't know it was going to look like that." Which means that there has not been open communication. And that doesn't mean it's maliciously altered. It just means that the architect was using one lingo and the contractor another. In such a situation the client is doing something, many times for the first time, without knowing what it is they're going to get.
DBW: I think that part of that has to do clients not having the training to read and understand a floor plan. Most firms present their client's with two dimensional renderings. You're not doing that anymore.
BB: We do everything now in 3-d on computers. Our clients, for many years now, have never said that it looks different from their expectations. Instead, they all say " Wow, it's just like it was on the computer!"
DBW: Would you explain how the computer is used to render your buildings.
BB: Basically what happens is we design in the computer using three-dimensional space, providing textures to surfaces and planes. So instead of saying this room is 20 feet high over there and 5 feet high over here, we can actually put it in the computer as a 3-D model.
DBW: So then the client s are able to virtually walk through the space, change the direction in which they are looking and have the image move as if it were actual vision.
BB: Yes, but not only that. What we found, with one client in particular, was that she would come in and push me out of the way and start using the computer herself. She would just walk around her own space and would then ask me to make some alterations. I have come to realize that it is critical to show the client what we are doing before it is built for open communication. Prior to this technology, that was very difficult to do.
DBW: As I understand it, you have played a large role in adapting some of the software currently in use.
BB: A number of years ago I was working with A UNIX software. That allowed us to do visualization but was fairly cumbersome. I became so fed up with how cumbersome it was that we actually started doing software development on our own. We made some modifications so we could actively use it as a design tool, not just a presentation tool. We started designing almost totally in 3-D about three years ago and we've never gone back.
DBW: And since then, your developments have received industry recognition.
BB: There was a international competition, a 3-D CAD (computer aided design) shoot-out, where various manufacturers of 3-D CAD products were invited to participate in a three hour design competition at the World Trade Center of Boston. People came from all over the world to do this. I was one of three people on our team.
DBW: How did your team fare?
BB: We won. It is a nice feeling, particularly because much of it was due to our developments here in the office in downtown Boston. There were a number of rating categories such as design, 3-D rendering, and use of design tools. We accrued the top ratings and earned Best of Show. And now these enhancements are going to architecture firms in Japan, Germany, Italy, in Korea, and of course across the country.
DBW: What projects are you working on now?
BB: One of the things we're doing is coming up with a line of retail items that we're designing. We're also going into designing furniture and bathroom hardware and things like that. We have a new house that we're doing for a repeat client. We have a condo renovation, a stone fabrication facility and a couple of small projects such as a retail space on Newburry Street. And then we have a major renovation of my own house if we ever can get to it!
DBW: With so many projects, I imagine you own home would get put on the back burner.
BB: It's a complicated issue, isn't it? We're also busy with our own gallery and we're going to be doing mild renovations to that.
DBW: Let's talk about the gallery. It's in Provincetown.
BB: What we did, my; life partner and I, is buy half interest in a gallery, The Provincetown Group Gallery. There are a couple of reasons. One is that we are both very creative and do other things than architecture and computer engineering, which is what he does. We own a neon sculpture shop. He does a lot of photography. I wanted to have a place where we could emphasize the arts in our lives. And it was going to be fun and hard work. It was going to stretch us most importantly enhance our personal growth. It is really quite wonderful from the standpoint of expanding our sense of community and our sense of belonging to the art world.
DBW: How long have you had the gallery?
BB: About eight months. It's very hard work to expand it. We're still operating the gallery as a group gallery. We brought out a poster series, the first poster series to come out of Provincetown in many years. And what's wonderful to me is that it's not committed to specific art, but is exploratory art.
DBW: Exploratory in what way?
BB: Well, it's aggressive art. It isn't necessarily boats or dune landscapes, although we do have our abstract versions of those. It's very much a continuation of the works of Provincetown artists of the 30s, such as Motherwell.
DBW: The way you're describing the artwork very much parallels your own architectural work.
BB: It's experiential... Architecture in a built form involves transformation of materials and property which has inherently painful parts. That's true for a lot of growth-a lot of progress-that certain changes cause pain and then cause personal growth. What good is it staying the way it is? We're not staying the way we are.
DBW: And how does that translate to the client?
BB: What we offer is a very high end service, a lot of discussion. One of my clients called it "environmental therapy." People get a sense of what we're doing and why we're doing it. The client comes out of these discussions and visualizations with a sense of ownership of design, a sense of space, a sense of belonging, sense of home and sense of identity. Of course it's going to be personal. You can't get there if it's not.
Interview by Deborah Byck Weinstein.
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