The Silicon Review
The world we live in is filled with several architectural marvels made by exceptionally skilled professionals. Great designers are known for producing masterpieces, but only those in the field of architecture will understand that there is more than just visual appeal that makes a building great. For an architect, it is important to have the intent in manifesto and vision, a sense of responsibility to foresee, and understand that architecture can be used as a force for change. Sustainability must also be part of the plan as we face unprecedented situations due to climate change in the coming years. Designers must take into consideration how their design will have all key factors like low-carbon emission, long-term sustainability, and the use of eco-friendly materials.
Globally there are various architectural firms delivering excellent services, but one that stands out from the rest is Ward+Blake Architects. Ward+Blake Architects was built on a distinctive vision: be provocative in thought, flexible in nature, and disciplined in execution. Since 1996, the firm has gained recognition for architecture that is sensitive to its environment and successfully integrated with its surroundings. Ward+Blake creates buildings that are bioclimatically responsible, honestly expressed, technologically sound, and artfully crafted.
In conversation with Tom Ward and Mitch Blake, key executives of Ward+Blake Architects
Q. What was the motivation behind starting Ward+Blake Architects?
Tom Ward and I were both working at the same firm in Jackson, Wyoming. On a few occasions, we discussed our philosophy about architectural design. We both have a passion for relating our buildings to nature and making them fit seamlessly into their environment. There was a house that we both admired that was built in Africa and published in Architectural Digest in the early 80s. Neither of us could locate the publication, but we both remembered the house and how well we thought it related to its environment. We recognized our similar design objectives, which eventually led to starting our own firm.
Q. Has your design philosophy changed with the changing times?
Our philosophy has not changed. We are still working hard to relate our buildings to their natural environment and utilizing the same design principles we started with. We use time-tested materials and compose them into modernist solutions that respect the earth. We try hard to relate to the natural sites we work with on a regular basis. We also utilize similar design principles on projects in developed or more urban areas but take into account the built environment in which we are working. We do pay more attention to the types of materials we specify, energy consumption, and alternative energy as we have become more aware of what it means to be good stewards of our planet. Sustainability concerns, occupant health impacts, and carbon footprint have changed the way we execute our designs.
Q. How is Ward+Blake Architects challenging the status quo?
It feels like we have been challenging the status quo for a long time and don’t expect it will ever change. At a recent design committee meeting, we had committee members trying to force recent trendy design ideas on the project we submitted, but we were resistant because it felt more like decoration than design. It didn’t make sense. But we did consider their concerns and resubmitted what we felt was an improvement rather than a compromise. It won unanimous approval. We have been through similar situations from time to time and have always been able to help our clients succeed. We don’t really have a system for challenging things, but we do stick to our principles. In the course of doing so, we have won many people over to the final solution by being respectful and patient. And multiple times, we have had people come to us after the fact and say how much they opposed us but were extremely happy with the final results once they could see and understand how it actually worked. Sometimes the architectural profession is fraught with misunderstandings.
Q. How crucial is the office environment at Ward+Blake to instill creativity in your designers? Tell us a bit about the work culture at your firm.
We have an open office where everyone can hear each other’s conversations and easily collaborate. We feel this helps the young graduates get a feel for how we think and communicate with clients, vendors, and contractors. It is a horizontal approach so that everyone is involved in the tasks at hand. No one is pigeonholed into menial drafting tasks. Everyone is allowed to contribute their ideas and expected to be informed about what they are doing. Principals and Senior Staff who are managing projects are openly available for questions. The young professionals are expected to communicate with them to fully understand what they are drawing and question anything they think may be incorrect. Our young graduates are tossed into the Refiner’s Fire from the get-go, but they quickly catch on to what we expect and learn to question as well as ask about what they don’t know. We are happy to teach but are less tolerant if someone is not trying to learn.
Q. Could you tell us about your firm’s pro bono design work and the 1% Initiative?
We decided to participate when we found out about the 1% Initiative, even though we are a relatively small firm. This initiative invites participating firms to donate 1% of their total annual hours toward projects for Non-Profit Organizations. To date, we have provided these pro bono services to the American Alpine Club by doing design work and construction documents that bring the Grand Teton Climber’s Ranch into compliance with current ADA standards.
Q. What is your vision for the near future for Ward+Blake Architects?
It feels like we are reinventing ourselves all the time in spite of adhering to our core principles. It is a never-ending process of trying to improve on what we do. Our vision is to continue improving our design skills and expanding our residential/commercial portfolio with some interesting adventures in other project types. It is always energizing to take on new adventures in architecture.
Meet the leader behind the success of Ward+Blake Architects
Tom Ward: Principal and Partner
Mitch Blake: Principal and Partner
Both are polar opposites in a lot of ways but come together in a common philosophy of architectural design. “Maybe it is our differences that have kept our firm together for the last 26 years.”