Well know for their Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Planning practices, Sasaki Associates is pushing a new direction within its firm to bring the ‘making’ of the build environment back into their work. Leading this charge are Pablo Savid-Buteler, Managing Partner, and Brad Prestbo, Senior Associate. They have both been instrumental in building the firm’s own fabrication shop (FabLab) and encouraging all staff to use its resources. They even host a design and fabrication challenge in the office for new employees. Most recently, the group designed and built furniture which can be found around the office.

One landmark project for the FabLab and Sasaki’s Landscape Architecture studio is the ‘Kit of Parks,’ a transportable, lightweight, and durable collection of outdoor furniture designed to help communities create pop-up-style parks in their neighborhoods. The project first debuted at the ArchitectureBoston Expo (ABX) in 2015. The new Chapel at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut is another example of the firm’s focus on craft, making, and construction. Attention to detail is clearly evident in every aspect of the project. 

Prestbo, who has been focusing on construction details and project delivery for 20 years of his career, is also Chair of Sasaki’s Technical Resource Group. Read below where he describes the projects mentioned above and how the firm is embracing maker culture throughout its practice.

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The Neue Guild [NG]  What is your area of design expertise?

Brad Prestbo [BP] Our professionals are engaged in architecture, interior design, planning, urban design, landscape architecture, strategic planning, graphic design, and civil engineering. All disciplines are represented in the ownership and management of the firm, giving our work a practical dimension that focuses on designing projects that are buildable.

NG  How did your firm begin?

BP  We are founded on principles of innovation, collaboration, and perpetual learning.

Hideo Sasaki was internationally respected as a landscape architect, planner, teacher, and mentor. He instilled the firm he founded with a spirit of critical thinking and open inquiry. He pioneered the concept of interdisciplinary planning and design. Hideo insisted that every project be put in its cultural, historical, geographical, environmental, social, and economic context—an approach that is even more important today than it was then.

In 1953 Hideo founded the firm that would evolve into Sasaki, and in the same year, he joined the faculty at Harvard. He was educated at the University of California, Berkeley and at the University of Illinois, as well as at Harvard. As chairman of Harvard’s Landscape Architecture Department from 1958 until 1968, Hideo helped revolutionize the study of landscape architecture by tying it to the larger issues of planning and by breaking down the traditional barriers between practice and teaching. He invited busy practitioners in a variety of disciplines to teach briefly in his department, enriching the curriculum and connecting it to the real world. He brought promising students into his firm, and they put his practical, interdisciplinary approach into action.

Throughout the last six decades, Sasaki has made an indelible mark on the built world around us. We work in our own local community, throughout the U.S., and around the globe. We have garnered over 500 national and international design awards across all firm disciplines.

We honor the memory of Hideo Sasaki and continually strive to expand upon the unique way of working that is his legacy. Our innovative approach, boundless curiosity, and passion for what we do infuses each of our projects and propels us into the future.

NG  Do you have a favorite part or phase of the design process?

BP Each phase of the design process brings its own challenges and rewards.  We find the same level of excitement of endless possibilities that come from the very first sketch to walking a construction site obsessing over a detail.  To us, each project is a gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art.

NG  What’s an area of design with which you’re unfamiliar but would like to be more familiar?

BP One of the areas that we are exploring is how to bring making back into the design process.  We don’t think this as something new. Our firm is 60+ years old, and from a historic perspective, this idea of planning and design and making has been part of the office for a long time. Our firm is a bit unique in that it unites many disciplines under one roof.

We develop strategic solutions for big problems and we’re very interested in building. This idea of implementing as means of verifying these other loftier goals of planning has always been something we’ve thought about. Look at a continuum over last 30 years — there have been many interesting experiments to bring technology together with material experimentation in a very direct way alongside notions of software development that have come to fruition in recent years in a way that it has made it readily available to more people.

Our colleagues in academia are talking about maker culture as part of their curriculum. Maker spaces are a staple of our typical programming for many many building types. It’s going beyond that, permeating curriculums in a way that there’s a desire to experiment with concrete outputs.

On the other hand, maker culture is also permeating the domestic experience as well. You can have 3D printers in your home. There’s an expectation now that designers offer making as part of their service. This is so exciting!  It allows us to re-engage with craft, material development, and experiential learning by way of an alternative route intentionally mediated by technology.

In our practice, the idea of doing design and iterations of design by means of computer interface allows us to quickly verify assumptions. It allows us to use modeling as ways of developing hypotheses around certain outcomes of projects. It relates to sustainability, the behavior of buildings and plans, and understanding programming, such as program organization, optimization, massing studies for towers, this digital exploration and form finding is integral to our process.

NG  What inspires your work?

BP  Today, simultaneous revolutions of mobility, connectivity, and identity are changing our experience of work and, along with it, our relationship to place. At Sasaki, we harness this power to make human hopes and dreams into sites and structures. This has been our core tenet since day one.  In every project, new possibility is translated into new action. We think beyond the building, beyond the site, beyond the grid, to design for people and for society.

For us, that action is making in our “FabLab”, which represents much more than having a single space to develop prototypes or print specific designs — it is a mindset that brings our many disciplines together through hands-on, collaborative working processes and it is a way of thinking about the possibilities of project implementation of a project regardless of its scale.

NG  Can you tell us more about how the work at Sacred Heart University is connected to your interest in fabrication?

BP  We have always been interested in fabrication and exploring how things go together.  For this project, we built lots and lots of models – using them to explore design options and details, all at different scales.  The final version of the project was presented in model form, and is what we actually based on drawings on!  This is a complete reversal of the typical process where you create drawings and then build a model.  In this project’s case, we literally measured the model and created drawings from it.

Once we had the building drawn up we started to design the pews and chairs.  We didn’t have a full wood shop in the office at the time, so we collaborated with Bill Bancroft, a wonderful furniture designer, and teacher.  The best way for us to evaluate the design was to build prototypes and use them.  The pew lengths were big enough that they replaced our desk chairs, and we would work from sitting on the pews.  Nothing will tell you more about the comfort level of your design than sitting in it for hours while designing the next version of it.  This iterative feedback cycle is tremendous.  We went through a few chair designs before we developed one robust enough withstand my abuse – I still have a bad reputation for how many chairs I broke.

The most complicated piece to design and fabricate is the woven wood scrim of the pipe organ.  We needed to balance acoustic transparency (so the organ could be heard) and still make it visually dense, all the while weaving pieces of solid wood like a textile.  It took quite a few mockups and prototypes at different scales to develop the system of parts to realize the design.

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