Collaboration and The Garden Room


"According to (Charlan) Nemeth, dissent stimulates new ideas because it encourages us to engage more fully with the work of others and to reassess our viewpoints. 'There's this Pollyannaish notion that the most important thing to do when working together is stay positive and get along, to not hurt anyone's feelings,' she says. 'Well, that's just wrong. Maybe debate is going to be less pleasant, but it will always be more productive. True creativity requires some trade-offs."' - Groupthink, the brainstorming myth by Jonah Lehrer in The New Yorker (see our January 30 post)

Photo by Richard Mandelkorn

Photo by Richard Mandelkorn

Jonah Lehrer's article brought Paul and me to The Garden Room. Here was a project that was a collaboration of four fields, each bringing their specific talents to a shared purpose. The architect's office, Dewing and Schmid Architects, headed by Chip Dewing; the builder, Jeff Adams, J. W. Adams Construction; Paul Reidt with KR+H's office and shop; and the customer, whom we shall refer to as the gardener. (Do you remember The Victory Garden that aired on PBS? The gardener was a regular contributor.) The Garden Room is a contemporary addition to her family's 18th century farmhouse, bringing views and light inside.

Photo by Richard Mandelkorn

Photo by Richard Mandelkorn

You know how they say, "great client's make great projects." Chip Dewing and Paul had discussed this in relation to working with the gardener. Chip noted that this client is aesthetically sensitive and knowledgeable, and her many years of travels to different places and different cultures make her a strong contributor to the design process.

Photo by Richard Mandelkorn

Photo by Richard Mandelkorn

In our recent conversation, Paul said, "The thing about (the gardener) is that when you put something in front of her she can be very discriminating, and she'll know whether it's what she's after or not. And if it's not what she's after, she'll just say right to you this isn't it at all. What appears at first as your failure to deliver ends up being a wonderful gift because you continue the process and find some things that you didn't know you were looking for that now provide you with enrichment and end up satisfying the program. So working with her is a perfect example of a series of failures ending up in a far more successful outcome. I love that idea!

She governed the process by defining what she wanted. And the interesting question is how did the process play out with the four contributing fields? One question is how did we know where to exercise our influence and where to withhold it? There's a lot of trust involved in successful collaboration, because part of the time you have to shut up and respect the expertise of somebody else's piece. And of course I've always wondered about how to retain the trajectory of the process so you don't end up with a mishmash of ideas."

Thinking about how we pull integrity out of the process, Paul reflected, "That's one thing that the solitary creator can always insure that there's a singular vision; a sense of continuity. So that to me is a big question about how collaboration can work properly. The article (see our January 30 post), shows that critical collaboration actually generates more ideas; and the notion of uncritical collaboration, what they call brainstorming, leaves you less to work with."

Photo by Richard Mandelkorn

Photo by Richard Mandelkorn

After meeting with Paul and replaying his thoughts, I realized that after all these years of living and breathing design and leading projects for KR+H, Paul still has questions. It makes sense because each project is unique and each a fresh beginning. I know he loves that aspect of his work, the creative process, and the spirit of collaboration. And KR+H is fortunate to have projects that we design and build as well as projects where our design knowledge simply plays a supporting role in the design of others.

Thank you for your visit to this discussion and The Garden Room. Please send Paul an email to continue the conversation - paul@cabinetmakers.com. The cabinetry and casework were designed by Paul Reidt. Thank you to Chip Dewing and Jeff Adams for introducing us to this great client! (Learn more about the project on Dewing & Schmid's website.)