Flashback to April 1991

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Apr 19, 2022 David Johnson Improving the Human Experience

From our earliest projects to those we are starting today, we work hard to continually cultivate our firm’s vision of improving the human experience. Our first project in 1991 was a new library for Webb School in Bell Buckle and what an opportunity to create a special place. The site, the donor, and the client all shared the goal of changing the experience of a library on the Webb Campus.

The building donor was an architect who created the original design for the Holiday Inn Motels across America. As a graduate of Webb School, he wanted the building to be in memory of his father who had given the original freestanding library at the school decades before and bore his name. The site allowed the opportunity to finish one side of the outdoor quad space. And of course, everyone wanted this library bearing the family name to be a signature design, notable and impactful.

This seemed like a tall order and then we were given the long list of the librarian’s requirements: daylighting, fireplace, campus views, individual and group learning spaces, and all delivered collaboratively with students and faculty in the design process. We worked hard, and opening day finally came.

At the dedication, the librarian stepped up to the podium and thanked everyone, including the donor. She shared how proud she was of the results and how it included everything she had put on her list. Then she paused, and said, “except for two things.” My heart sank. What had we forgotten? Where had we gone wrong?

Then she shared those two things: “everything except a coffee shop and a phone booth.” After a moment of hushed silence, she smiled and laughed. And she admitted that they were not included because she didn’t want them in the library. As everyone laughed, I was relieved.

We had indeed made the library a special place on campus. 30 years later, we still get great comments about the building. When those who have visited the campus learn that we designed the building, they talk about its excellence and memorability. And for those who attended Webb School and used the library on a daily basis, they often share memories of their experiences in the building.

It was true then, and continues today. We improve the human experience through thoughtful design.

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