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Architecture At A Distance: How These Firms Are Making It Work

Once a week, the staff at Mark P. Finlay Architects & Interiors assembles a row of ‘Quarantine Client Care Packages.’  “We work with our clients remotely all week,” says Alexandra Goossen, Communications Director for the firm located in Southport, Connecticut. “But this is such a tactile business, that we make sure that they get design boards and fabric and other product samples. We also tuck in a few goodies to make the isolation a little less onerous.” This is the only physical contact in a business that continues to design houses, utilizing distancing tools and electronic communication. “All indoor meetings are now remotely conducted with video conferencing and screen sharing,” says Mark Finlay. “The same comprehensive design and working drawings and 3D renderings that our clients usually see are shared digitally and physically mailed directly to them.” Lisa M. Cini of Columbus, Ohio is the founder, president and CEO of Mosaic Design Studio, a global commercial design, project management and procurement company. She has worked with the United States Air Force, the United States Navy, the National Hockey League, Coopers Hawk Winery and The OhioHealth Hospital System, among others. She is especially known for her work with aging populations. Her firm also ships boxes to clients. “We need to know how natural light affects materials. Not just color and pattern, but also texture are not accurately shown on a screen,” she says. “We do rely on 3-D imaging and Zoom conferencing. “A lot of the work we do for senior living facilities has been put on hold because that population is so vulnerable. We simply can’t go there, physically.”  Transitioning to electronic media has not been seamless. “As architects, working from home can be a challenge,” says Oscar Medellin, BIM Manager at Sheehan Nagle Hartray Architects, located in Chicago. “On our first day working remotely, approximately 15% of our production staff could not telecommute since almost all vendors on that day couldn’t sell additions to their products fast enough. We were able to overcome our vendor purchasing issues by utilizing both our Security Appliance and our Firewall as VPN (virtual private network) access points – we thus created one new public FQDN (fully qualified domain name) for no additional cost to the firm. “Additionally, our architects have been using contractor’s 360 cameras to do “virtual punch lists” since we can’t travel to the site. Using this tool we can now look at pictures and say ‘fix that divot,’ ‘paint that door,’ etc.” Moises Abraham, project manager at S3DA Design, with offices in California and Gerorgia, offers these tips for architects working with clients remotely. “Use architectural plans. A good architectural plan is almost all we need for structural design and MEP (mechanical, electrical and plumbing) calculations.” He suggests that, if they are not found in the homeowner’s attic or basement, the designer start with contacting the local municipality office.  “They might be able to give you the blueprints right away unless the house is very old. Even without the plans, the municipality office still yields valuable information about the house, so fill out the forms and get as many documents as possible from them.” Another tool he suggests using is Google maps.   “Some jobs (for instance, decks) can be generally checked using Google maps and images. A trained eye can easily detect if the structure is in good shape, or if further evaluation is necessary.” Abraham believes in asking the homeowner to draw sketches and share photos.  “Unlikely as it seems,” he says, “Sketches and photos go a long way in resolving design challenges. This method is very efficient for smaller projects that focus on particular areas of the house. A professional designer can easily guide the owner to take photos of or draw sketches of the necessary places. This combination is even more efficient than video, as such footage may contain a lot of unnecessary recordings.”

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