In our latest Issue of INNOVATE, we asked Associate Architect Heath May to share with us a few tidbits about the design of the Straits Forum Convention Center. Here is what he had to say:
Q: Did any of the concepts have special meaning to you? Did the highly political nature of the project arouse passions about architecture or bettering humanity?
A: ‘One Roof’ has very special meaning to me. My original title for this concept was ‘Balance,’ and my intent was to convey, in form and space, the idea of mainland China, this juggernaut of political and economic influence and power, meeting the geographically tiny and ideologically defiant Taiwan in a place that served to place both parties on equal terms, to level the playing field. I wanted to show this balance, which in my mind also expresses the delicate instance when things are in stasis, still, and yet screaming with the life, tension and energy embodied in the place at that particular moment in time. I’ve always held a deep admiration for the underdog, the little guy bowing out his chest in the face of certain loss, and I think that shapes my view of certain things, and explains the feeling that I had to express this – it was one of those things that I had to say.
Q: What was the process like developing the concepts: Embrace, Flight or One Roof?
A: The process of developing the concepts differed with each. With ‘One Roof’, for instance, I knew within the first hour of studying the history and context of the project how I wanted to express the notion of 2 different people coming together to share thoughts on equal, balanced terms. The concept for ‘Flight’ came from studying imagery of the region and discovering the indigenous birds—Eddie and Michael wanted to express the gracefulness of a bird in flight. The idea for ‘Embrace’ came as a result of sketching loosely, then interpreting the lines as the abstraction of an embrace—Leo further developed the initial idea after finding the meaning behind the intersecting lines.
We presented 3 initial ideas, and the pace was frenzied when considering the element of time, but very methodical, at least for me, in that certain events had to happen before continuing as I developed the concept. The process wasn’t, and isn’t ever, linear, but we still have method to the frenzy.
A major frustration for me was presenting 3 concepts. My frustration lies in the reality that the client then simply chooses one, often without fully comprehending the history and ideas behind each, and the one chosen is often different from the one I feel has the most potential to solve the problem.
Q: Who were the teams/individuals involved and what roles did they play?
A: Eddie Abeyta led the effort as Senior Designer and Principal of the team. I facilitated as design team leader, with Leocadie Ahmes and Michael Strohmer working in the capacity of project designer. Robert Du worked hard as Project Manager and our point man on the ground in China, facing the difficulties of translating both detailed programmatic requirements as well as the poetic intangibles of our concepts. We collaborated extensively, critiquing each concept, which we split up between Leo, Michael and myself, with Eddie guiding all 3. A friendly competitive spirit almost always exists within the design team, in which we push each other to ensure the final product is something we are all proud to have helped create.
Q: Was there anything else that stood out about the design process or team?
A: The process during this project was one of the most enjoyable I’ve had during my 5 years here with HKS. I gained a lot of insight into the thought process of our team, and I was honored to work with such talented, motivated, and dedicated designers. Leo is among the most talented out there in terms of 3-D modeling and visualization and she uses her Interior Design background to understand spaces well. Michael Strohmer took a very abstract concept of flight and communicated this beautifully with the sweeping arcs of the roofs of that concept, my favorite part being very tip of the roof touching the ground at a single point, lending a lightness that expressed flight without being literal. Eddie did what he does consistently, which is bring out the best in the team, motivating everyone to push themselves and each other and inspiring the team with his work ethic and dedication to quality design.