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Big city next to big nature. Making sure a city’s infrastructure stays in tune with the environment. These are challenges that cities around the world struggle with. Van Dyck and LMN are facing them head on—and succeeding.
“To us, the most successful projects are ones that really don’t look or act like buildings,” he says.
“Architecture becomes an exercise in creating spatial solutions that are so intertwined with the environment around them that you almost don’t realize they are there.”
It’s hard to imagine the citizens of Vancouver not realizing the 1.2-million-square-foot convention center is there, but, to clarify, he points out that convention centers in some cities can seem like hulking gray structures dropped into empty lots. LMN works hard to avoid that outcome.
“Our approach to design is unique; we see ourselves curating a process that integrates people and their desire for memorable and meaningful places, places that blend in with a city’s landscape.”
And they are great places. LMN won seven awards from the American Institute of Architects for Vancouver Convention Centre West, including the Honor Award for Architecture in 2013. World Architecture News also named the convention center Sustainable Building of the Year. Most recently, LMN won the 2016 AIA Architecture Firm Award, the institute’s highest honor.
Van Dyck, an architectural history major at Connecticut College, couldn’t have imagined this type of success as a student, when his focus leaned more toward the backstory of buildings than design. The history of how a building was designed was where his interests lay, but this passion inadvertently set him on his career path when he realized designing buildings wasn’t much different.
He learned this lesson as an intern under family friends Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, the husband and wife duo considered amongst the greatest architects of the 20th century. The internship morphed into a job with their firm, VSBA Architects and Planners, after graduation. Then it was on to Yale University for graduate school in 2001.
One of his professors at Yale, Gregg Pasquarelli, recruited Van Dyck to work for his upstart design firm, SHoP Architects, now a prominent firm in New York City. (SHoP Architects designed the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, home of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and the NHL’s New York Islanders.)
Looking for “less of a rat race,” Van Dyck moved with his wife to Seattle in 2008. Even though he arrived with no job prospects, Van Dyck was able to secure a position with LMN because the firm was attracted to his fresh, East Coast perspective and his interest in emerging technologies.
Digital fabrication through new software programs and robotic tools, Van Dyck says, is how buildings will be made in the future. It's “designing through making.”
For the 2013 Seattle Design Festival, LMN took a crack at building its own structure through digital fabrication. “The Octahedron” is a 1,000-square-foot installation synthesized with a digital model linked to a fabrication tool run by a computer. Design ideas were crowdsourced from across LMN’s staff, who also helped assemble the installation.
“The process was educational for all of us,” Van Dyck said. “When you’re always designing, it’s easy to never make anything. We want to maintain a connection between designing and making parts of the project so, when we’re on site, we’re talking to the craftsmen from a place of experience.”
LMN’s next project will be its biggest yet—literally. The proposed 4/C tower in Seattle will rise 1,029 feet and 93 stories, the tallest building west of Chicago.
Van Dyck said LMN looks at each project as a “laboratory” for how it might design larger projects in the future. There’s no word yet if 4/C will have grass on its roof, be fabricated digitally or provide footing for a championship parade (probably not).
The Seattle tower will differ from anything LMN has done before, but it will share a common approach with the firm’s other designs: the tower will connect the residents occupying the workplace, the immediate neighborhood and Seattle to a shared space.