The staff at Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects recently gathered for a company-wide forum to talk about the importance of design in all aspects of their work.

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Murphy & Dittenhafer Architects are “Design Architects.” Frank Dittenhafer, II, FAIA, LEED AP, President of the firm, never wants any of them to forget that.

“We take the position that Architecture is about inspiring people and designing environments where people want to spend time,” he says. “In any project we do, this is possible. We are more than architectural technicians.”

Getting the whole firm together to focus on this idea, have a free-flowing discussion about design, and inspire creative ideas going forward was the goal of a recent M&D staff forum. It worked.

An air of mystery

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Dittenhafer sent only a bookmark with these words on it prior to the session:

Design 7.1.19  

1 crumbs
2 edge 
3 cloud 
4 where 
5 temple 
6 fold

He led with the crumbs topic and talked weeks beforehand with a person to lead each discussion on the other issues.

What discussions did these six cryptic words lead to?

Crumbs: Dittenhafer took this idea from guitarist Steven van Zandt of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band.

“He inspired emerging musicians by leaving crumbs from other artists. I took inspirational aspects from several noteworthy architects including  Steven Holl, who inspired me as a grad student while at Penn - and still does today with his very poetic, metaphorical and experiential building designs ,” Dittenhafer says, emphasizing the importance of  understanding the unique “beginnings” and  “clarity of intention”  on every project design.

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Edge: Presented by Jonathan Taube of the Baltimore office, this focused on M&D’s entry, which will be exhibited in AIA Baltimore’s design competition for the edge of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.

“We looked at making better pedestrian connections from the Harbor to neighborhoods, which haven’t benefitted as much from development, providing new attractions for recreation, aquaculture and public markets, and using dredge material from shipping channels for a storm break at the mouth of the harbor,” Taube says.

This impressed Lauren Myatt by reminding her of M&D’s theme of designing with community impact and involvement in mind.

“It focuses on ways to create a better relationship between the Inner Harbor and the rest of the city,” she says, “and how people in Baltimore think about the harbor.”

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Cloud: About The Forum Building project in Harrisburg, this discussion led by Peter Colello, resonated with Patrick Ness.

“The Point Cloud is the future of documenting existing conditions and the construction process. This meets the challenge of showing existing conditions within drawings to allow remodeling designs without having to get on site measurements daily,” Ness says, adding this presentation showed how an office working as a team improved the design of a project.

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Where: Ness also liked this discussion, led by Blake Gifford on The Graham Center for Innovation and Collaboration – now under construction at Penn State York.

“This project went through three different designs – from idealistic to scaled down to fit Penn State’s aesthetic to a third design that struck a balance,” Ness says.

“The Graham Center team went through three or four different sites on campus, with different corresponding designs, and talked about where these designs were and how they ended up where they did,” Dittenhafer adds.

Temple: Calling entirely on inspiration, Lauren Myatt led an interactive exercise from an assignment Dittenhafer had in college: draw a napkin sketch design for “a Temple for a Child”.

“Think of a temple as ornate and grand, and how you do this for an unexpected client,” she says. “Some were simple mounds kids could climb in a natural setting; others were very detailed structures with mazes to travel through.”

Myatt says the key is “making you think about what you see in a traditional sense and questioning whether following traditional design is in the best interest of this client – our kids.”

Fold: Ness led this discussion, involving the 1741 Club at Peoples Bank Park, home of the York Revolution. This room was designed to be a more upscale gathering place, that could be used both during games and outside of the baseball season.

“The challenge is how do you create this space which is not to be used for the primary purpose of the overall place, the ballpark,” Ness says. M&D architects came up with the concept of a folded wooden ceiling, starting outside the room and leading into it.

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Key takeaways

The bottom line of the folded ceiling discussion is also a main dividend of the entire forum.

“This lesson is transferable to other projects,” Ness says.

An even more important takeaway is that all designs are team efforts.

“Design is participatory,” says Taube. “Strong ideas benefit everyone.”

This reinforced that M&D is a design firm and reminded the staff that each client has a unique set of needs, Myatt says.

“There are always things you can bring from other projects and a fresh set of eyes,” she says.

M&D colleagues can talk to each of the folks who presented at this “Design” forum about their ideas and maybe use these design directions as an inspirational “jumping off point” in another project, Dittenhafer says of the day’s key lesson.

“M&D is a creative company, a collaborative studio,” he says. “We ask questions, talk about options, and come up with unique solutions for challenging projects.”


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