Not to Intimidate

March 1, 2008

From the Editor

Designers were working on a new Department of Transportation headquarters building in Washington, D.C., when 9/11 hit. The resulting need for heightened security could have driven the team to turn their neighborhood-friendly facility into a fortress. They didn't.

Designers at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, CA, were working on a new $130 million Patient Care Center and had to pack in a complex array of technology. They could have showcased gadgets at every turn. They didn't.

In fact, both groups chose to strategically hide technology. At the DOT (see "Securing Comfort"), hedges grow around bollards and cameras sit inside an overhanging cornice. At St. Joseph (see "Health Tech"), communications, backup systems, and power and fresh-air supplies are positioned behind walls.

Each facility serves its users well. DOT employees, visitors, and passers-by are protected in a way that comforts, not confronts. St. Joseph patients and guests feel the healing power of a facility that is more hospitality than institution.

Both facilities serve their function well with high-tech sophistication in smart spaces that work for those who work in them.

Sometimes the road not traveled makes the biggest difference. It's the subtle touch, the unpronounced visual, the invisibly fulfilled need. A secure facility does not need the proverbial Beware of Dog sign everywhere, and a sterile facility does not need white walls and hard surfaces only.

What they didn't do here speaks as loudly as what they did do.

Sometimes the choices are not as clear. Our cover shot speaks of what designers could do. Maybe. Architect David Fisher has designed a building that he says will generate more power than it uses, rotate on every floor, and increase construction efficiencies with a prefabricated, modular approach(see "Newsworthy: The Ultimate View"). If such a concept comes to fruition, the possibilities of what buildings could do aesthetically and functionally would multiply.

What would a skyline look and feel like with dozens of swirling architectural masses? Should technology be hidden or flaunted? The question is not only what technology could do but what it should do.

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