Upon joining the team at NewStudio, one of the tasks on my to-do list was to construct and install a front door.
Let me clarify: NewStudio’s Saint Paul office is in a 100-plus-year-old, timber-framed, former industrial building. Most of the build-out was designed, fabricated, and installed by my co-workers. Pretty cool, right? When I arrived in September, the project was nearly finished. Amongst other things, trim had been trimmed, the hole in the floor had been cut, a stair had been installed, and a big glass wall had been placed. The office’s front entry was one of the few items that remained to be completed.
When I interviewed at NewStudio, I didn't give much thought to the regular-sized, regular-framed temporary door in the entry’s glass wall. I remember saying in my interview that I liked building things, and that I appreciated the process of thinking through designs by making them. I believe my remark was along the lines of “it’s astonishing what you can learn by putting something together.” Someone took note of that statement.
Ideas about the final door had been floating around the office for months. I inherited some sketches, spec sheets, and concepts. With help, I thought through aesthetic decisions, technical details, and specialty hardware. I measured and modeled. Each choice I made seemed to present more questions, and these new questions were also considered. Pieces were ordered, big-box stores were visited, and a generous pile of door materials formed. All that was left was to construct a very formidable, very massive entry door that would definitely make an impression. It wasn’t easy.
“I have a newfound respect for the industrially manufactured door,” I mentioned during a team meeting. “Or,” Sean replied, “you have a newfound respect for custom work.” I won’t subject you to the list of specific difficulties associated with scratch building and installing a 300-pound, 4-foot by 10-foot door (rest assured that these difficulties were many and varied). What is worth noting is that the process of thinking through a design by making the design forced an integrated process of planning and adaptation that, in hindsight, nicely encapsulates any good design process.
Sean was correct: I now have a higher level of respect for custom design work. While there were moments of difficulty to accompany moments of clarity during the design process, the finished product is elegant, clean, and clear in utility and form. In this one design problem I learned about simple construction, load transfers, remote-entry systems, pivot hinges, mortised handsets, thresholds, egress, steel working, and solid-core door construction. I also learned about the process of designing well: plan, adapt, and repeat.