The Seattle Public Library’s flagship location in downtown Seattle is celebrated not only for its beauty, but for its inviting, usable spaces. What makes us want to reach out and touch an artifact? What compels us to interact with the things around us — door handles, chairs, phones, or pets? For Andrew Kudless, an Associate […]

The Seattle Public Library’s flagship location in downtown Seattle is celebrated not only for its beauty, but for its inviting, usable spaces.

What makes us want to reach out and touch an artifact? What compels us to interact with the things around us — door handles, chairs, phones, or pets? For Andrew Kudless, an Associate Professor of Architecture at the California College of the Arts and founder of MATSYS design studio — it is the materials and functional systems working together in one form that put our brains and bodies in motion. How do we design beautiful things that are technically seamless and enticing? Once again, architecture and environmental design have something to teach us about working in the digital space.

Kudless spoke at the Seattle Public Library, one of his “favorite buildings in the world,” about his approach to architecture and environmental design. Two schools of thought in architecture — and all form-oriented disciplines, really — can be summed up as form versus system. As an architect, does one create a beautiful building, then rely on engineers to wrestle the building materials into submission, or does one consider material and engineering restrictions and the client’s needs first and wrangle the form into place? Kudless believes in a more parallel relationship between form and process.

Sound familiar? It should. Working in the digital space more often than the formal world, Vectorform practices its own brand of Agile design. Teams participating in our app challenge over the Thanksgiving week had at least one of each type of employee here — a designer, a developer, and a project or account manager — and even when we’re not trying to outdo one another, we brainstorm side-by-side.

The choice of location for Kudless’ lecture was serendipitous. The Seattle Public Library’s flagship location was designed with its purpose at the forefront of the concept, according to its many accolades. It’s a complicated workhorse of a space that somehow seems inviting and easy. The project is celebrated for the close relationships between stakeholders and the people contributing to its final form. Just down the street is another example of form-versus-process that Kudless likes to use in his student lectures. This piece of architecture, however, can be a chore to navigate. A valiant effort has been made over the years to turn superstar architect Frank Ghery’s Experience Music Project building into a more inviting place, but its contrast to the library is undeniable: The form dictated an engineering and materials challenge that can be expensive and time-consuming to resolve. Some support walls are several feet thick, and it’s easy to get lost inside its labyrinthine belly.

“Any carpenter could have told me this wouldn’t work,” Kudless says of a project he conceived as a digital rendering first. He’s come a long way in his iterative process in the same way many firms in a spectrum of fields like ours have. When form and process are allowed to influence one another, Kudless believes, major breakthroughs in creativity and problem-solving are within reach. The mutual challenges that cause the kind of push and pull between architects and builders, artists and clients, and designers and developers is what brings about our most beautiful and functional solutions.

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