By Renard Teipelke
How often have you experienced it? You are part of a team that sits around a table, in the background ideally a flipchart or whiteboard. Everyone is full of ideas about the new project. There is excitement in the room. And – for sure – there is this dedicated feeling and attitude that in this project we are going to do things differently. Something that we or others have never tried before. Something that will surprise the client and spark the interest of future users. Brainstorming fills up the meeting room and the flipcharts and whiteboards become the battle plans/dream works of the future.
A couple of weeks, months, or years down the road, the project is delivered to the client and it pretty much looks like numerous other projects before and thereafter. A few sustainability features here and there, some beautiful design solutions in a couple of details, and a huge percentage of standard client-expectation-meeting results. Doing things differently served once again as a really exhilarating working title for a project. And that’s what it was once again: nothing more than a working title.
For sure, there are clients who expect traditional solutions. Also, there are numerous standards and regulations that have to be met, which might not leave much room for alternative approaches and different results. In addition, there is a cost-benefit analysis, which will demarcate the limits of creativity. But maybe there is also a certain comfortability in repeating what has worked in previous projects?!
Clients usually seek professionals’ inputs exactly because they depend on their ideas and solutions. If that is the case, it is the professionals’ advantage (and responsibility?) to do things differently. But it often requires an extra effort. As long as the money flows reliably, there is little economic incentive to change established patterns and methods.
I guess everyone reading this blog article could come up with one really different, inherently alternative design that they have seen somewhere. I was trying to list many of these, but I failed. Even if you google for actually implemented projects, which exemplify doing things differently, you will not find too many useful results. Either there are not many real examples or there is too little (digital) appetite for putting such examples into the focus of attention. This is unfortunate, as they deserve our attention and they are – at the very least – much more interesting to look at and to read about than those glittery projects by the leading architecture/design/construction companies that are erecting one “I have seen this before” after another.
I have one example for you, which sparked my interest by intercepting my established expectation-interpretation-modus of thinking: Samui Airport. In short (more here): Samui Airport was opened in 1989, upgraded in 1997, and extended in 2007/2008. The airport is a small island airport on Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand. There are a number of interesting, nicely designed and environmentally sustainable features. What really sticks out is that the airport has an open design. It is basically an outdoor facility. While shops, offices, and counters (obviously for functional reasons) have a roof, they do not form one closed-up, quarantined, air-conditioned airport complex. Instead, you can stroll around between individual buildings. The shopping area is not the standard artificial consumption zone, but it is Samui Park Avenue…an open-air walking street!
Seeing pictures of Koh Samui Airport (here), I had two thoughts: (1) Wow, this is open air. Can this really be an airport?; and (2) Well, yes, why not have an open-air design for an airport in a supportive natural environment/climate?
During the upgrade and extension of the airport, they still achieved what had to be done: More passengers, more flights, more cargo, more amenities, international standard facilities and equipment, etc. But this one key feature of removing the incarcerating and insulating style of airport roofs and walls was a quintessential doings things differently. I do not know what this leaves us with, except for: We need more of it – embrace the extra effort and share what can be done!