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SBJ photo by BRIAN BROWN
SBJ photo by BRIAN BROWN

Five Questions: Andrew Wells

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Less is more. That was the theme of the 2011 American Institute of Architects’ Central State conference in Wichita, Kan., and it is a motto of sorts for Dake Wells Architecture. Andrew Wells, architect and co-owner of the Springfield firm, was one of two keynote speakers at the annual conference. His presentation, “Ideas are Cheap,” examined how minimalist designs complement tighter budgets.

Keynote Calling
“I’m not exactly sure why they invited me, but I have a guess. Our practice is becoming more well known nationally and regionally, so they were just familiar with the work that we’re doing, which does seem to have a less-is-more theme to it. Extremely tight budgets have been pretty standard in our practice for a while. That’s not to say it’s not the practice for others as well – it is – but we tend to embrace that and see it as a design opportunity and look for ways to make exceptional pieces of architecture even within a really limited budget.”

Cheap Talk
“Regardless of how much money you’re spending on a project, the difference-makers are the ideas or the critical thought that goes into the design work. … The game center in the basement at the student union at Missouri State University – we did that project a couple of years ago (on) a really limited budget. We just really used things that were in the space and reinterpreted them. For instance, instead of just one kind of monolithic ceiling plane, we reorganized the light fixtures into groups, so that there were more brightly lit areas and more dimly lit areas, which creates a hierarchy within the space.”    

Design at Home
“I suppose this office is another example of how we think about our design projects. … At least partly because of our budget, we knew that we only wanted to enclose one space. So rather than enclosing all the work offices, the work stations are out and the one enclosed space is a shared space. … (The conference room) kind of floats above the floor, and it doesn’t touch the ceiling, so it reads as its own object. Because it’s the one thing we spent money on, it’s the thing that greets you as you come up the stairs. … And on the inside, it has multiple uses. It’s not just walls; it’s walls you can write on, that we can project on, that we can tack things up on.”

Thinking Green
“I think as an industry and as a country we are becoming more aware of the decisions that we make. … Our approach to sustainability is a less-is-more approach. The most sustainable materials that you can ever use are the ones that never get used.

(For example), we try to eliminate carpet or vinyl composition tile now whenever we can in favor of polished concrete floors. (Also), at the MSU-West Plains campus, we used a certain type of steel that doesn’t have paint on it, so it oxidizes naturally.

“For us, it’s not about applying bells and whistles to a project in order to make it sustainable, it’s more about being really conscious of the decisions we’re making in the design phase that allows us to build smaller, to build more effectively.”

Design Wars
“In 1977, the movie ‘Star Wars’ came out. I was 9 years old, and just fascinated by the movie to the point to where I wanted to learn more about how the movie was made. The story is that George Lucas went to all the Hollywood special effects companies with his movie ideas and they all essentially told him that what he was trying to achieve couldn’t be done. (Lucas) ended up creating Industrial Light and Magic, which is now the big giant special effects company. At that time, I thought I wanted to be an industrial designer, but as I got a little older, I began to understand that industrial designers, for the most part, design vacuum cleaners, electric motors and things that aren’t nearly as sexy. I ended up landing on architecture as a design discipline.” 
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