Building a better designer

This week the Design Brothers would like to introduce another extraordinary talent to our readers. Greg has known Bill Scholtens for several years, and they have worked very closely on many projects. Bill is a talented architect with a keen eye for design. Recently, Bill ventured out on his own to start Elements Architectural Group, and is making quite a name for himself. If you have not heard of him yet you will sure to be very soon.

His attention to detail and his outstanding working relationship with clients, contractors and vendors is one of the reasons he is so sought after. We hope you enjoy meeting him as much as we enjoyed interviewing him.

Billy_the_kid

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Photo of ‘Billy-the-kid’ at his 3rd birthday party.
That is our friend, Bill, standing on the chair with knee-high yellow socks and there appears to be a house on his shirt. Nature or nurture…..hmmm. Gotta love those avocado appliances.
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G: When did you first realize you wanted to be an architect?
B: During my freshman year of high school. I recall seeing another student carrying a large architectural drawing in the hallway. I loved to draw and wanted to find out more about these types of classes. I later met with my career counselor. I was pretty good at both science and art, so it seemed a good fit and he got me on the path to becoming an architect.

It sounds like you had a smart counselor. Who else has inspired you?
I would have to say the professors at MIT where I attended graduate school. Professors Fernando Domeyko, Maurice Smith, and my thesis adviser the late Imre Halasz, were so committed to teaching. Under their guidance, I adopted a design approach where the built environment is an extension and continuation of the natural landscape. Such great people. Such great lessons that are always with me. I try to emulate the same experience today by serving and developing the people who work in my firm.

What happened after attending MIT?
After graduate school I worked here in Chicago for architect Harry Weese for 2 years, then moved back to Boston so my wife could attend grad school. In Boston I worked for 7 years at a design-build firm specializing in single-family residential and institutional renovations. A great experience during which time I took projects from design through construction. I learned project scheduling, construction logistics, and contract negotiation, and ultimately how to build. These experiences enable me to take bigger design risks because I understand the full process.

Christopher still considers Boston home, and of course, Chicago is Greg’s home. How do the two cities differ in style?
Chicago is a great place to own a design driven architecture firm. The city has a great culture for architecture and my clients are very open to progressive design. Boston is a much older city. I regularly worked on buildings built in the 1700’s whose owners preferred to maintain a more traditional style. By contrast, an ‘old’ Chicago dates around the early 1900’s. I have really enjoyed taking my experience working on traditional buildings in Boston and blending with a more modern approach here in Chicago. Some call this style transitional. I view it more as an interesting design contradiction where nothing is transitioning; rather the 2 styles are autonomous and allowed to co-exist within the same project.

You’ve continued to design homes? What is their appeal?
I believe designing a home is one of the most difficult tasks. There are all the same technical complexities, challenges and budget constraints as in larger projects, but the process is more intimate in designing a home. Each home is unique as each client is unique. Each home has some personal features that required us in many cases to build a prototype….so in many cases a home can be more technically challenging which I enjoy exploring and solving in a poetic way.

What has been the most challenging project you have worked on?
A Lincoln Park LEED Gold rated renovation and addition de-conversion of a multi-family building to a single family home currently under construction. The project is also a pilot home for the Chicago Green Homes program. I’m thankful to have the opportunity to work on such a project- it has been a lot of fun. The home design is very complex. So many features and all within a limited budget… The home has a geo-thermal tank (not wells) heating and cooling system, day-light harvesting, solar panel to heat domestic water, interior and exterior solar shading systems, rain-water catchment systems, green roofs, a passive ventilation system that takes advantage of the building’s height by creating a stack/chimney effect of air, zoning issues, historic issues, an indoor in ground swimming pool, full home automation. There is a penthouse addition on the roof. On the interior we are using locally harvested materials — including a beautiful walnut plank floor from Walnut Grove, Iowa.

The design seeks to engage the outdoor spaces — an effortless flow between the interior and exterior spaces while respecting the environment and being good stewards of our limited natural resources. We made some tough choices during the project to keep it on budget, but I believe the project going through this ‘refiner’s fire’ has strengthened the goals of the project. You can read more about this on a green design website called Green Bean Chicago.

POOL_WITH_CHAIN

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Concept image of Lincoln Park Residence showing large window and door openings, outdoor terraces, solar shading and rain-water catchment.
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IMG_4268

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Lincoln Park Residence construction image taken recently at a site meeting.
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We had the opportunity to work together for about a year, what made you want to go out and work for yourself?
I was in my 10th year as an architect and found that the natural progression and promotion path in an architecture firm is toward management. I really love the craft of architecture, drawing, dreaming, and interacting with clients. Having my own firm has allowed me to time to travel and explore new ideas such as the light shelves shown on the Lincoln Park residence. The challenge is there is a 12’ wide piece of glass. How do we keep the hot summer sun out, allow the winter sun to warm the room and harvest daylight all year. So we created a 3D computer model of the home, set it in Google Earth and were able to study the sun moving across the home. This led us to discover that if we put a reflective roof on the sunshade we could bounce daylight through the transom glass deep into the room across the ceiling. By working for myself, I have the opportunity to engage more fully in these processes.

We had the privilege of working together recently on a North Shore home renovation. Can you talk about it a little?
I think a great architect is a great listener. This is something I aspire to. My first meeting with the client was at their home. They couldn’t decide whether to renovate, move, or tear down the home and start over. After walking through the home at length, I asked them what they liked about the home. Immediately both said ‘the pool’. I was surprised because I didn’t see a pool. To show me the pool, we went through a series of doors and rooms, out a storage room, out a door, and around the corner was this great pool. It was then I discovered that the home was backwards and proposed we keep the home, reorder the spaces, expand it, and open it to the great yard and pool. They were hesitant at first, the idea a bit radical. It is now complete and really a before/after success story.

exterior

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North Shore Residence back yard: before [1], and after [2].
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interior1

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North Shore Residence living space: before [1], and after [2].
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kitchen

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North Shore Residence kitchen: before [1], and after [2].
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How do you see your firm growing and changing?
I would love to continue to develop a deep residential client base. I intend to do this by offering high quality, unique design work, and interacting with clients, co-workers and collaborators with care, love and integrity. I believe great things happen when you treat people as you like to be treated.

How would you like to be remembered?
As someone who deeply valued his faith, family, and friends. Thanks Greg for taking the time to speak with me. Go Design Brothers!
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To reach Bill please contact the following;

ELEMENTS ARCHITECTURAL GROUP Inc
205 Superior Street Oak Park IL 60302
tel 312 363 8175 fax 708 848 4751
wscholtens@elementsarchitects.com

Enjoy your week!

Greg & Christopher

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