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blogpost – place(s)

This is my third morning this week back at Morning Times. A series of vague lifestyle / professional / socio-economic decision processes have made a wreck of the few positive habits I have enjoyed cultivating, and I’ve tried other ways to use a Friday morning, but man, mornings this week have been really good.

While I’m here, let me report on the status of the global economy and culture, as seen from the ceramic lens of this cup of coffee. As far as I can tell, all’s well. I’m seated at the new communal table right in the middle, and there’s a guy at the other end drinking orange juice and reading a magazine. This may be the first magazine I’ve ever seen in this room. Of course, we can interpret that magazine through a whole series of inferences, mostly pointing to a certain stability and a concept of leisure that simply hasn’t existed since, maybe, 2003. Let’s not neglect the wholesale industrial processes that must exist for that magazine to arrive in this location – creative content generation, production of printed media, delivery to a supplier, an act of purchase, and finally into the hands of someone who brought it to this table. And the orange juice too is a sign of optimism – it’s healthy, fresh, expensive, and hard to drink in a rush.

Over the last weeks, we’ve been swimming in a conversation about place. It’s a concept that’s easy to philosophize, about why one location is important and why another one offends our sense of whatever. But, lately, the question has been coming very close to home. It’s what our clients consider almost at exactly the point when they call us. Either they’ve just made the decision and the enormous investment to pursue a location for their enterprise, or they are just about to step into that commitment and want to know what we think. That commitment to place is when the design begins.

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We have a client who is starting a fascinating drive-through franchise where location is important, but place is not. Her clientele is mobile, it’s traffic in cars only, her business plan has nowhere to sit down, even for the staff. Our design will be beautiful, prototypical and iconic – it reminds me of the mythic dandelion growing through pavement, or of Guinard’s Metro entrances in Paris. Her best case scenario would be the median of a highway or a space in a Target parking lot. An oasis in the desert, a place in no-place. I love it. But, it’s been harder to find no-place than you would think, and the jurisdictions to support her, and so we’re on hold until she does.

– Just discovered that the guy reading the magazine has a thick foreign accent – down-under? Explains a lot of things – welcome to Raleigh, thanks for bringing your magazine.

Through the encouragement of several, and the disparagement of others, I’ve started writing, what I hope will be a book, about place and the church. We’re in an awkward point of postmodernism where the churches my family attends are overtly anti-place. Sacred construction has been the highest point of architecture, ever since there was architecture, and it’s unsettling to me from a perspective of faith and footpaths, so I’m working through it. The design philosophy of church is the magnifying lens of the design philosophy of the rest of the town, and so I’m innately drawn to these questions. The “book” is in outline form now, and it’s too personal in some ways to present here, but please feel free to ask to follow along if you’re interested – all input reduces my research time!

And that gets us to the search for new office space. Our lease is up soon. And now there are two of us partners, two perspectives aiming for literal common ground. The first question is – does place matter? We can draw on laptops and our telephones are no longer plugged into any walls. We can meet our clients at their locations and stay mobile, live in our cars.

We can find cheap space outside of town – the further out, the cheaper it gets – whole warehouses of space for the price of our small office on the 7th floor.

Are we looking for amenities? What is an amenity for an architecture firm? Coffee? Toner? Printers? Peers? Parking? City hall – which city?

Is it about appearance? Will street presence attract new work, or does our work attract new work – is it inside out or outside in?

We’ve boiled it down a lot over these weeks. 1) We need cheap space, that’s a fact. 2) We need to be close to others because architecture is social. 3) We need space for our stuff. 4) We need to plug-and-play because we have a lot of work to do. 5) We need to leave a mark. Either by the traffic we generate through our new clients, or the sign on the door, or the re-design we create in a new location, we need to prove that we were there because we believe in being here. It’s the same decision process our clients make, ROI and much more.

Stay tuned for these next steps – we are.

Andrew Osterlund AIA LEED AP

OsterlundHall Architects||||

19 W. Hargett St., Suite 700

Raleigh, North Carolina 27601


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Osterlund Architects is a full-service architecture and interior design firm, committed to our clients and their work from concept through construction, and through to their next opportunity. Our firm has expertise in all project phases, including programming, pre-design and planning through construction administration and closeout, as well as interior design, including furniture, fixtures and equipment (FFE) services.

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