Q & A
ASK AN ARCHITECT
Jackie Whitelam , AIA
Laura Knauss , AIA
Principal , Lionakis
Alan Ricks , AIA , Int FRIBA
Founding Principal and Chief Design Officer , MASS Design Group
What makes a good neighborhood or community — and how does that model shift between urban , suburban and exurban densities ?
To start , a good neighborhood provides the public and private space that its residents need . A city dweller may accept a small apartment so long as nearby cafés , bars , clubs and parks can be their “ living room ”. Conversely , many families want a singlefamily house in the suburbs to have space to grow and a backyard for their children to explore .
But a good neighborhood must do more . Neighborhoods aren ’ t isolated — they ’ re part of a longer community and should reflect its values . Today , Sacramento ’ s aspirational values are social equity and environmental sustainability — so good neighborhoods should aim to become more inclusive and walkable .
I ’ ve always felt that our success at the Capitol Area Development Authority was because most of us were involved in the daily care of the apartments and businesses we managed . The insights of our property management and maintenance staff helped our development staff take on projects that contributed to the neighborhood ’ s evolution . When I retired , I was grateful to have helped build an authentic neighborhood – with an eclectic mix of buildings built over time that are all good neighbors , that are all cared for .
How can design be used to create educational environments that are safer and healthier for students of all ages ?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us to further appreciate the role of schools as an essential part of the communities in which we live and work . When families and neighbors embrace their local schools , they become part of the system that also keeps them safe . Passive safety strategies , such as single main entry points and easily supervised spaces are an excellent start , but school safety begins with students ’ social and emotional needs being met — how are we making children feel when they enter their school ?
While teachers are at the forefront of the student experience , architects who design schools can also play an important role by creating welcoming spaces that accommodate a diverse group of learners . Healthy school initiatives , ( such as ) indoor environmental quality ( natural and mechanical ventilation , for example ) are proving essential to controlling the spread of the disease . Simple sustainable design strategies such as natural daylighting and view windows have been proven to increase test scores as well as student attentiveness . The choices we make for building materials also make a difference , providing a welcoming aesthetic , but also allowing ease of cleaning and maintenance of school buildings .
How do you weave human dignity and resilience throughout your design process ?
Working with nonprofits we are often told : “ We only need the bare minimum .” For organizations with finite resources , design feels like a luxury .
Part of our job as architects is to help show that good design can not only be affordable and add value — reducing the burden on these service provider , instead of having to overcome spatial challenges — we can help catalyze and ( amplify ) their mission .
When we invest in well-designed , high performing spaces we are investing in the dignity of the people who will use them . This is reciprocated by the care and respect and appreciation by those users who sustain these places . A space that is loved will endure , and that is the surest form of sustainability .
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