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As brick-and-mortar business spaces take a backseat to Internet services like Amazon, Frank Dittenhafer of Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects discusses the future – and importance of – actual buildings.

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Scroll through images that Frank Dittenhafer assembled for a recent presentation at a real estate development symposium, and consider: What do you see?

Notice the smooth lines of a York County skatepark, the contours and the rounded edges. See the vivid colors of Lexington Market in Baltimore, and the morning light pouring through a wall of windows at a local library. Scanning those pages of pictures, Dittenhafer can see a compilation of his firm’s past projects.

But he also sees flashes of the future.

The principal at Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects believes the future of buildings will center around several key components, including authenticity and smart repurposing. Yet, at the heart of all new work will lie the same deep level of thinking – that familiar search for soul — that’s come to define the firm.

“I talk about buildings that are crafted, thoughtful and poetic,” Dittenhafer said. “We like to say we’re always trying to discover what the building wants to be.”

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Buildings of the future

The future of buildings, it seems, will likely bring fewer buildings, according to Dittenhafer. As internet services grow, sites like Hulu and eBay, Amazon and Realtor.com and countless others will mean fewer brick-and-mortar business spaces.

So, the work will matter even more.

Much of the focus will be on environments providing authentic experiences, Dittenhafer said. From York’s Central Market to the Forum Auditorium to the CODO loft apartments, customers respond to sites that mesh with their surroundings, buildings that feel perfectly fitted to their purpose.

“Across all sorts of projects, it’s the same. People want the real deal,” he said.

Dittenhafer also sees a continued push for both walkable urban settings, and hybrid buildings that are expanded from their traditional use. Libraries and churches are prime examples of the sorts of sites that must now morph into something more than they once were, in order to keep up with an ever-changing world – and retain their relevance as primary gathering places within the community .

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Repurposing, in general, will be a key factor going forward, as architects work to adapt the existing landscape to new needs and breathe life into stale sites.

“You’re always going to have buildings that you have to work with and find a way to reuse,” he said. “That’s going to continue, and we like that challenge.”

Add in the historical preservation work that Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects is known for across the area, and you have a rough blueprint for where the profession is going.

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‘Something that will resonate’

Today, architects’ tools are more powerful than ever. Data-collection and design software allow professionals unprecedented access to information about what’s been done in the past, and how it’s being done now.

But at Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects, thoughts turn toward the future. With what we’ve learned, how can it be done differently?

How can it be better?

“It’s too easy to go through the data and just rehash the same thing time after time,” Dittenhafer said. “That’s a unique aspect of our office. We take a fresh look every time – a deep, hard, thoughtful look.”

Browse a bit more through that real estate presentation, and you’ll find sites designed by other architects: a visual arts building in Iowa stacked high like children’s blocks; a Texas ranch house with a stone fireplace waiting on the patio; a home in the mountains out west, its windows overlooking a river at sunset.

They’re inspirational places, each one, Dittenhafer said.

And that’s the idea.

“With every project, we’re looking to create something that will resonate with people,” he said. “As architects, that will always be our responsibility.”


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