Reflecting on the Architect Experience

April 21, 2020

To close out AIA Iowa’s Architecture Month, RDG designers discuss what drew them to the profession, what it means to create a “well-designed” building and how they see the industry evolving amid a changing global landscape.

Each year, AIA Iowa celebrates Iowa architects and architecture by recognizing April as a statewide Architecture Month. Meant to be a time of recognition of the dedication and importance of great design and architecture across the state, Iowa’s Architecture Month is an opportunity to showcase the design work of local architects.

To close out AIA Iowa’s Architecture Month, I sat down with two of RDG’s local Iowa designers, Matt Coen, AIA and Naura Godar, AIA, WELL AP, to discuss their experiences in the field, what it means to create a “well-designed” building and how they think the industry will evolve amid a changing global landscape.

Why architecture? What drew you to this profession?

Naura: I love teamwork. Designing and constructing a building needs a diverse group of individuals working together to create something that wasn’t there before – in my opinion, it’s the ultimate team experience.

Matt: My interest in architecture began early in life. For me, watching “This Old House” on Saturday mornings and frequent family outings to museums, parks and to State Capitol buildings around the county nurtured my fascination with architecture. As my interest in architecture has evolved, the “through architecture” concept championed by the AIA has broadened my view on the profession: through architecture, so many things can be accomplished – from economic development to elevating the experience of a building visitor; through architecture, fundamental shelter and safe harbor can be found; through architecture, the ideals of a culture can be communicated.   

What does it mean to create a “well-designed” building?

Matt: A well-designed building must be derived from the user’s functional needs, which we architects can understand through careful listening. Because buildings remain “in service” for many decades, they need to respond to the environment and surroundings in which they exist, both now and long into the future. A building that is well-designed is one that offers a degree of flexibility and adaptation, and that also improves the experience of the user through light, circulation, organization and thoughtful material choices.   

What do you wish more people knew about the practice of architecture?

Naura: Architecture is about design and drawing, but it is about so much more. Architects are masters at organizing disparate pieces of information to design the perfect solution for each individual. We are the kind of people that can think of six solutions to one problem then help develop a seventh until we find the exact right solution for our clients.  

What role do you think architecture plays in times of crisis such as the one we’re facing now?

Naura: The entire world has been asked to spend their days and nights inside. Even before the pandemic, people spent nearly 90 percent of their time indoors, but now especially, it’s important to consider how a building impacts users’ mental health, happiness and comfort. As designers, we have the responsibility to create spaces where people can feel taken care of, where their health and well-being are front and center as part of our design process. I also think, in times like this, architecture can provide a kind of mental break, an opportunity to stop and enjoy the beauty of the designs around you. With this new “extra time” my family and I have certainly been spending time looking around the neighborhood to notice the details on the buildings we see. 

How do you envision the industry changing once we’ve come out the other side of this pandemic?

Matt: With or without a pandemic our profession is in the midst of significant change, and we should be ready to embrace the speed of this change. A willingness to adopt new technology for both design and building technology is a must, and we also need to take a leadership role in developing and implementing alternative and integrated project delivery methods for projects. Specific to the COVID-19 pandemic, the interaction between building users and maintaining functionality amid periods of social distancing will be a consideration. How buildings are hygienically maintained will also evolve, impacting material selections and requiring us to more carefully consider frequently used surfaces. Ultimately, amidst all of this, buildings and spaces must continually strive for positive interaction and experience while considering public health and welfare, which is the fundamental duty of an architect.   

Written by Naura Godar, Architect; Matt Coen, Architect; Erin Van Zee, Communications Director