About Brandon Dake, AIA, LEED AP: Mr. Dake (right) co-founded Dake Wells Architecture with Andrew Wells, AIA, LEED AP in 2004 with a desire to change common misconceptions about design. The practice has since grown to a staff of seven with public and private commissions including rural and urban school districts and institutions of higher education. The practice examines the ordinary and searches for unexpected solutions that enrich the human spirit.
Your firm received an Institute Honor Award for Interior Architecture in 2010. Is it true that this multipurpose space for the Exeter Schools was inspired by a sushi roll? How much of the inspiration remains in the final design solution?
Absolutely. We often think about and explain our work through analogies. In this case, we had to solve an acoustics problem inherent in combining a gymnasium, a dining hall and a performance space into one room.
We likened the acoustically absorbent Tectum layer to the outer layer of absorbent rice, and the inner wood wrapper to the inner layer of crinkled seaweed found in sushi rolls. The analogy helps us to clarify a design concept as the project is developed and often helps our clients relate to and better understand our solution.
It’s a challenge to design a space that has to serve multiple uses. A practice gym, a performance hall, and a cafeteria each have specific—and seemingly conflicting—requirements. Can you discuss some of the process you undertook to balance these needs in a single design?
We discussed these conflicts with our client very early in the design process. The design solution came about through a process of establishing priorities with our client, so we knew how to navigate the design journey.
They have an exceptional drama department with no place for quality performances, so their top priority was a performance hall with great acoustics. This really drove the project. We went about solving the acoustics problem through a series of alternatives, each with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.
In each alternative, we also considered budget and code implications. We believe the more our clients understand the issues that we are trying to address, the easier it is for them to see how a seemingly unconventional approach makes sense. In effect, they buy in to the solution, and become champions for it, because it is as much theirs as it is ours.
Good lighting isn’t necessarily something that many of us recall from our own school days. Yet your interior is awash with natural light. How important was lighting in your design—and how willing was your client to follow your recommendations?
Lighting is almost always a significant design consideration in our work. And there are too many studies that have been done documenting the positive effects on people to ignore. We proposed daylighting the space to our client very early on, which was met with the typical skepticism due to its use as a performance space. So many clients think that performance spaces have to be black boxes, but we wanted to challenge that.
As we talked through the scheduled uses of the space with our client, we pointed out that the space would be used as a cafeteria every day, while school performances are typically scheduled after dark. We also made the case that this space would ultimately be seen as a primary social space for the school, linking existing portions of the campus together. For these reasons, our client really saw the benefit of daylighting, not to mention its ability to reduce energy costs.
We then worked with EMSI to prepare a series of daylighting studies that suggested we add the four skylights toward the center of the space in order to reduce glare and balance the space.
Our approach to electric lighting is kept simple with strip fluorescents mounted to the webs of the roof beams. This helped protect the fixtures from bouncing balls, kept conduit runs to a minimum and used the white Tectum as a sort of reflector. Flush mounted, high-impact fixtures within the wood wrapper were used to animate the space.
What is the value to your firm in receiving an Institute Honor Award? What does it mean to you personally?
It’s huge. We were so thrilled when we got the news. From a business perspective, we see it as a way to communicate to potential clients that we place a high value on design as a problem-solving endeavor. On a personal level, it is validation for all of the time and energy that goes into our work. We do this because we love it, and our hope is that we can make a difference for people. Being recognized by your peers, whom you have great respect for in their own practices, is encouragement to continue doing what we’re doing.
What words of encouragement would you offer to those who may want to submit a project for awards consideration—but who think only large scale projects get recognized?
There is a ton of great work out there that never gets recognized. But it can’t be recognized if it’s never submitted. This is the first time we’ve submitted a project to the Institute for Interior Architecture awards program. We thought that even if we didn’t receive an award, it would just be good to get our work out there in front of people and see what happens. It is humbling to be recognized with such great projects as those in this year’s program. But it’s also exciting to know that the jury can see past big scale and big budgets to recognize a project as modest as Exeter.
The AIA celebrates
Architects are encouraged to
Andrew Wells, AIA
401 West Walnut