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CEO Roundtable: Design

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Springfield Business Journal Editorial Director Eric Olson sits down with Joyce Buxton, principal and director of interior design at Buxton Kubik Dodd Design Collective; Brad Erwin, principal architect at Paragon Architecture Inc.; Rob Haik, principal architect at H Design Group LLC; and Robert Weddle, dean of the Hammons School of Architecture and professor at Drury University, to discuss architecture and design industry trends.

Relevant design
Eric Olson: In one word, how would you characterize architecture and design right now?
Rob Haik: Evolving.
Brad Erwin: Rapidly.
Joyce Buxton: Choice.
Robert Weddle: Visible and consequential. People are paying more attention to design in this community than say 15 years ago. And they’re more aware that design helps them do specific things.

Olson: What makes you say that?
Weddle: The number of design firms since I came here about 20 years ago seems to have expanded pretty greatly. But I think people are more aware of what good design can do.

Olson: Have you all noticed that, too?
Buxton: The best illustration is probably Missouri State University. Since the time I’ve lived in Springfield, to see how architecture was functional at that time, and now when you use the word consequential, I think the campus has become consequential in the state.
Erwin: Moving here in 2003, there’s been a significant difference. I think it’s the quality of the design firms, which has helped educate the community on what design can do and what it can be.

Millennial effect
Olson: How have you seen millennials shaping design trends?
Erwin: We’re at a period where you have the baby boomers that are at a spot in their lives where they have more disposable incomes. And you have the millennials where they’re at the point where they’re kind of maturing and have that living income. They both pay attention to quality, the sense of place, the uniqueness – not necessarily going for the big brands. When you have both of those coming together, that really impacts the way we design. Even coming down to the workplace, it’s having that choice and making sure that you’re developing it for the task at hand.

Defining a cityscape
Olson: Does a city have a character that is representative of its architecture? If so, how would you rate Springfield?
Weddle: Cities can be defined by their architecture, but I think a lot of times it’s more about the stuff in between buildings – urban plans, park systems. Does nature weave in the city or not? I think you would find similar levels of architecture at similar sized cities. What we have here is great belief in living outdoors. So there’s an interest in access, certainly to the trail system, and we’re starting to see development now that will connect residential development with the trail system better. That plays a big role here in setting the agenda. I don’t know if stylistically there’s a strong kind of identity that I would say is unlike other places.
Buxton: I would say there’s not. There are certainly places that do, like Palm Springs or Chicago.
Erwin: It goes back to the improvement. There is a design style here. The quality of it is improving. That’s due to the size.

Olson: Is that a struggle for any midsize market?
Buxton: Joplin had the opportunity to have done that [after the 2011 tornado]. They could have collaborated and said, “This is a tragedy, but we have an opportunity here to put a stake in the ground and say we’re going to move forward differently.” It could have been a citywide branding and that didn’t happen.
Erwin: Part of that was due to the areas that were hit – the big-box stores. It’s hard to have a cohesive design there where you have so many different entities. Where we have that opportunity here in Springfield is as we continue to take a look at the downtown core, Jordan Valley, IDEA Commons, that’s our opportunity there to really make our mark to what’s important to Springfield. The trail piece is a big piece to our community as we move forward.

Olson: Feels like that is just kind of taking off with Galloway Village.
Haik: It’s sort of like Bentonville. Look at the culture, the arts all bridging together. You can’t buy an 800-square-foot home in Bentonville for under $400,000, but their cost of living is the same as Springfield. My question to you, Bob, is with the enrollment at Drury, where are they all coming from?
Weddle: In the architecture school, there’s always going to be the majority from Missouri. We have a pretty high percentage of students that come from out of state or internationally. Mostly because they’re not finding other schools that are as small and unique as Drury.

Generational design
Olson: There’s been news lately on development plans targeting the millennial audience, like the Vib and Tru hotels. What does that mean from a design standpoint?
Haik: From what I’ve gathered, the millennials are all about the experience and memories. Even with Tru Hotel, it’s not a cafe, it’s a pantry. It’s all about bold colors, unique spaces, flexible spaces and technology that’s baked in.
Erwin: You stuff three or four people in a hotel room and all the sudden the two to four outlets on the wall don’t make it anymore. That translates downstairs to the communal space. It’s all that high-quality space that doesn’t feel like you’re in a hotel lobby.
Haik: It’s all smaller and more functional. How not to have so many square feet and not have a three-car garage – which kind of dictates the pricing point. How do you get appraised on this cool house that’s really modern compared to a three-bedroom house with all-brick facade?
Erwin: That’s the big thing we’re going to be facing over on Oak Grove. Our development over there is in a neighborhood that needs redevelopment. There’s no other lot style around. It’s tight, it’s compact, and our architecture is going to be somewhat modern. So how do you price that from a banker’s perspective? But it goes back to that quality of space and quality of architecture.
[Editor’s note: Erwin is developing Oak Grove Commons, which is considered a pocket neighborhood with 15 single-family homes at about 1,800 square feet apiece.]
Weddle: I think these markets will come together. To tag a particular hotel brand as for millennials, I don’t know that business, but that seems like a bit of a mistake for me. I want to stay in those hotels. A lot of those values that those places promote I think we all kind of benefit from: spending more time together or even just working in a broader range of environments.
Buxton: I don’t think it’s just hotels, and I don’t think it’s just residences. It happens in businesses, too. It used to be we all had offices, then a combination of offices and workspaces, and now I think that people want choice. I’ve heard it described as working alone together. That’s not just design for millennials; that’s just design.
Erwin: It’s very purposeful workplace settings that provide better experience for everybody, which hopefully then leads to better productivity. Whether you’re a millennial or baby boomer, you want to work in a quality working environment and not something that’s straight out of the ’70s.

Future trends
Olson: What trends are happening in other cities that aren’t here yet that we can look for?
Weddle: I was recently at the High Line in New York, which I think kind of set the standard for public urban space. It’s a park; it’s also a transportation device. It’s a place where you can get lunch, you can work, you can exercise. All these things come together. People are increasingly seeking out places that visually inspire them. That’s where it would be great if, for example, the Jordan Valley Park project concludes the way it’s intended to. Even though downtown has come a long way, it’s really not quite there in terms of supporting a diverse use by a lot of different people.
Erwin: Imagine being able to create a space that could connect Ozarks Technical Community College to downtown, downtown to Commercial Street. It’s a multiple activity center that could have an amphitheater, could have some commercial dining cart space. Something like that could be a real game changer for our community to connect this population and activity centers together.
Buxton: One unique attribute of where we live is that we have relatively lots of nice weather. I think businesses are becoming more sensitive to encouraging health and wellness to their staff. I see more and more companies evolving to practical things like bike racks or showers or fitness equipment.

Olson: What is your imaginative design? What would you create for Springfield?
Weddle: A lot of it has to do with downtown reinforcement. I look at the development like Farmers Park, which I really admire, but trying to establish those kinds of spaces downtown I think would be a really strong thing for the community. We were talking about does our community have an architectural design. One aspect is the authenticity of our downtown. Both downtown and Commercial Street are late 19th century spaces that you can’t recreate today. Doing things that really reinforce downtown and really bring in a wide range of people. A food hall would be a fantastic thing. But also more public gardens and parks.
Haik: I’ll probably get stones tossed at me, but I’d like to repurpose or re-facade Hammons Tower. I’d put color on it. The Hammons Tower is our skyline. The second one is thinking of a way we could repurpose the big boxes like the Battlefield Mall.
Buxton: My dream project right now at this phase in my life has to do with senior living, believe it or not, which no designer would say. I think that as an interior designer, we have an opportunity to impact people’s quality of life and I think that they can do it with style and elegance.

Architectural era
Olson: How do you describe the current architectural era?
Weddle: I think we’re in a pretty eclectic time. In many architectural periods of the past, there was a really dominant style. That’s certainly not the case now. It’s a time when people are freely mixing and matching things.
Buxton: The trend is to make spaces more multipurpose and flexible. Not to commit so much real estate for a sole function.
Haik: The trend that we see now is more open, it’s more small, it’s better use of space. As we sit in this bank, there is stone on the wall. That’s actually a makeup of the Ozarks. Simple but efficient.

Olson: What things do you see being incorporated in these design trends?
Weddle: The way technologies are literally connecting, allowing parts of buildings to communicate with one another, those may be seen as the kinds of things that distinguish this period.
Erwin: It’s almost like the air conditioning and elevator movement. The development of air conditioning really changed the way architecture responded. The development of the elevator allowed us to really go vertical.

Job prospects
Olson: There’s much talk in every industry about a skills shortage. Is the architecture industry experiencing that?
Erwin: Fifteen hundred positions were added in the architecture profession in April. Seems like a lot, but we’re still 10 percent below the 2008 recession in total architecture professionals. Engineering has far surpassed the 2008 numbers. From an architecture perspective I am, especially after the recession, definitely more conservative. That has impacted the way we grow, the way we hire.
Weddle: There’s a lot of demand for graduates. From my perspective, there’s even more demand for five, six, seven years of experience.
Haik: We want them young so we can train them.

Olson: Do you have positions at your firms that you’re not able to fill?
[Nods around the room]
Erwin: Challenging to fill. It’s the quality of the candidate.
Weddle: There’s always been a debate in architecture education about how well the curriculum prepares the graduates to do the tasks. In some ways, this is a more major point of how willing they are to learn.

Olson: Is enrollment up or down?
Weddle: It’s up pretty dramatically – maybe 30-40 percent over the past few years. There will always be jobs for good architects.
Erwin: An architecture degree is fairly specialized. My graduating class was larger than what Drury typically puts out. There’s at least 12 individuals who do something completely different than architecture, but still relying on their training and degree to do that profession well. It’s almost like training the way to problem solve. It trains you the way to think.
Buxton: At the core of what we do is we’re problem solvers: Here’s where we are, here’s where we want to be. Being a guide on that path is kind of what we do.

Excerpts by Features Editor Christine Temple, ctemple@sbj.net.

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