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Although one always expects to get a wow reaction to the "delight" of a successfully finished project, I have found that we typically hear, "Wow, I never would have thought of that!" much earlier in the design process.  The decisions and solutions derived during programming, concept, and schematic design make all of the difference in achieving that rewarding expression of delight in the end.

I find that we receive the most appreciation for the innovative thought that an architect brings to the process when we are working on addition and renovation projects for existing buildings.  These are the places where people have been living and working and confronting the limitations of their built environment every day.  They wear the blinders of familiarity, and have a hard time seeing beyond what is there.  They often can tell you how the current spaces do not work, and they sometimes even imagine adding space to fix their problems.  However, they rarely see the possibilities of radically changing the configuration and use of existing spaces or reorienting how you approach, enter, and move through the building. 

The reorientation of entry and the rethinking of how space is used is what has consistently given our firm its greatest success in all sorts of building types and with all sorts of clients, from first project homeowners to more sophisticated facilities managers.  We have employed this strategy in office and restaurant tenant finish, hospitality, educational, and residential work, and sometimes all it takes is a simple rotation in how you enter a vestibule.  Although it is far from rocket science, it is when we are most likely to hear, "I never would have thought of that."
Article originally prepared for AIA SPP Journal 35 - Topic:
"The WOW Factor - I Never Would Have Thought of That"
     A young client with a 700 sf house on a tight site needed to add some space to his tiny home shortly after he added a new wife to his life.  As with almost every residential client, he had tried to design the additional space he felt he needed, and was having trouble making anything work.  He felt he needed a new dining room and master bedroom stacked in the addition footprint that was available to him, simply because those were the two spaces his house did not currently possess. 
     Things fell into place quite neatly when we abandoned his current front door and moved the entry into the new addition.  That single move freed us to reinvent almost all of the other spaces in the original house.  We turned the old living room into the dining room, punched new access into the current hall, and moved the basement stair under the stair required to reach the new addition's 2nd floor.  This kept the kitchen in basically the same place (saving a costly move) while expanding it into previous circulation space, allowing the couple to replace their impossibly small "Barbie" appliances. 
     In the end the addition included not only a master bedroom and the displaced living room, but also bonus features the client had not even imagined given our space and budget limitations.  They gained a new entry foyer, some interesting changes in interior elevations, a feature stair and a second floor sitting room.  We got our "Wow, I never would have thought of that."  And it was all made possible by a simple move of the front door.
     For a small addition to an elementary school, the bond issue designated three new classrooms to replace temporary buildings on the site, two ADA compliant restrooms, and some additional renovation.  However, it was obvious from our first visit that the entry to the school was in the wrong place, and the office and administrative functions were buried in the interior and hard to find. 
     Like so many school buildings almost every person approaches and enters the school from the parking lot.  Unfortunately, that usually means an entry sequence past the transformer and the dumpsters, while the more formal "main" entrance remains awkward and unused. 
     The site designated for the new addition was in an ideal location for a new entry structure with the logical placement of administrative offices directly inside.  We proposed a concept design for the reallocation of space that would allow the office to relocate to the addition, and to reconfigure the current office into classroom space.  We even created a bonus science courtyard at the existing entry.
     This proposal was met with one of our most enthusiastic "This is great!  We never would have thought of that!" reactions, and provided an lesson learned.  Now when we are the ones who prepare programming tools that will affect future design, we always try to produce a document that allows for the wider possibilities that inevitably arise.
Many years ago (in the era of hand drawing) one of my instructors insisted that we take our drawings off the board and work on them upside down several times during the semester.  It forced a new perspective when one was entrenched too completely in the familiarity of a problem. 

The ability to look at a problem in a whole new way is precisely what sets an architectural approach apart from that of the average home improvement builder, or even a more sophisticated contractor who will very competently build what the client asks for without looking beyond to discover the other exciting possibilities that most certainly are there. 

The opportunity to hear that "Wow, I never would have thought of that!" reaction starts very early in the design process.  And our experience has shown us that as we enter any project, our very first opportunity to explore begins right at the front door.