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Prime’s Interview With Uptic Studios


1. Your brand developed from a “sense of increase, a rise, an ‘uptick’”. Are you finding that this swell of energy happening in downtown Spokane?

Yes, downtown Spokane has been on an “uptic” for several years and is just getting started. As the baby brother to our Westside counterparts, we do not see the large peaks and valleys of the larger metropolitan markets. On the contrary, Spokane has quietly gained steady and responsible growth and seems to be on the pinnacle of an urban renaissance. We’re not only increasing in size, but improving what we have – rehabilitating/revitalizing older buildings, such as the Fox or Bing theatres, as well as,adaptive reuse like the Saranac Commons or Jones Garage. In addition, Spokane is also cleaning up the rivers and lakes that surround us to improve our natural environment and overall quality of life. With the expansion of the Convention Center and improvements slated for Riverfront Park, as well as, the increased presence of the various State Universities and private developers, I believe Spokane has the potential to be among the leaders in a modern urban lifestyle.

2. Uptic seems to be very focused on the collaborative experience of design. Can you talk a bit about that human component of your design work?

Human experience is at the core of what we do. As designers, we are providing solutions for individuals, groups of people, and civilization at large for specific human needs. The satisfaction of this need is an experience. It is our goal to get to the essence of that experience and design a solution that not only solves the quantitative need, but touches the user at this emotional/qualitative level. The quantitative nature of a project – the nuts and bolts – is important, however the quality of the experience is what drives [us]. How does it make you feel? The collaborative process is critical in designing for human experiences, because it allows you to look through the lens/perspective of the users or participants. A great team leads to great design. By putting heads together, the product is exponentially more intuitive, ground, and delivers a well thought out solution.

3. Is there a cohesive vision or aesthetic that Uptic’s projects follow?

Uptic Studios is an innovative, human-centered and multi-disciplinary design collaborative dedicated to delivering successful design solutions. Our vision is to heighten the human experience through design, so the aesthetic of each project is dictated by the context and can vary greatly. This can be the people involved, the site, space or environmental constraints, and/or the overall project objectives (ie, an urban café’ or corporate office, versus a lakeside or mountaintop retreat and everything in between). Ultimately, the cohesive vision or common thread between individual projects is the attention given and the successful solution is derived by listening to our client’s vision or anticipated experience.

4. Can you discuss how the creative process differs between residential and commercial spaces?

Each project, whether residential or commercial, begins with a narrative or “story” outlining the project experience. We use a variety of programming tools, (ie. questionnaires, spreadsheets, diagrams, models, etc.) to define this experience “or design opportunity”. The initial strategic planning for scope, budget and timeline is an iterative process working with the client to establish the project attributes for both their personality/style (culture) and physical environment of the project. Often the differences between a residential project and a commercial project is that we are working with a couple and their extended family versus a business owner/board of directors and their employee/partner network. So…the differences lead back to this planned experience. For example, are we creating an environment that functions to cook, clean, bake and eat, while cozying up to the fire and, oh, a place to work on your mountain bike. Or…are we creating an environment to conduct business over a multinational location, while maintaining an ozone free atmospheres for the prototypes and, oh, it has to be comfortable, because we’ll be in there 40-60 hrs per week. Lastly, there is the style or culture for the brand we are projecting. And then there’s hospitality, restaurants and retail projects or an entirely different set of design variables. Ultimately, the creative process differs between residential and commercial projects because the intended experience differs and there will always be cross-over as we, as a society, strive for the balance between the ultimate live/work/play experiences.

5. How did you originally begin to pursue architecture?

Most of my youth was spent exploring the outdoors or, when forced indoors, with my brother building legos/gijoes/playing cards/link-n-logs/kitchen utencils… environments or “worlds” to explore. We did not use these toys in isolation, but combined them, reconfigured them, taped/glued/welded them; with rules changing constantly to our personal advantage. Because we were brothers, there were usually two worlds at war. We would spend days, weeks, and months working/creating the architecture of our imaginary civilizations. Looking back, this was definitely the start of my interest in design, but it wasn’t until I was midway through an undergrad degree in business at UCSC that I met the then dean of Architecture at WSU, Dave Scott, that I was exposed to architecture as a vocation. While working as a barista at the Manito Park Bench over a summer holiday, Dave would stop by for a coffee on a regular basis. I would look forward to his visits and he would share all of the exciting projects his students and faculty were working on – I was hooked. That fall I drove down to Santa Clara, packed my bags, and moved to Pullman to begin my journey in the design profession. This was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and I have not looked back. Dave is no longer with us, but he touched a lot of students and was definitely inspiration to a young kid with a lot of passion and no focus that liked to create solutions
to problems we did not know existed.

6. You studied in Georgia and London, but reside in Washington State. Is there anything about our climate or landscape that informs how you design for our region?

The Inland Northwest has amazing natural resources and we use every opportunity to celebrate this natural beauty. Our region also has very extreme and unique climate conditions that require architectural details and performance criteria not found elsewhere. In the Inland NW we can have very
hot summers, well over 100, and winters that dip below zero. We also have a fair amount of precipitation and have to address both wind and snow loads. This increases greatly in the upper alpine regions. The sun also plays an important role in design, because the axis changes it orientation in the
summer, when we want to reduce the solar gain, and the winter, when we want to capture the solar gain. Technology is changing fast, to increase performance and utilize the energy provided by the natural environment through solar wind, geothermal, etc. but as an architect it always starts with a responsible design for what Mother Nature has provided. Bringing it back to architectural terms, this would translate into larger eves to protect the spaces from the sun in the summer and let it in when the sun is low in the winter. Or to capitalize on the thermal mass provide by the earth as you nestle into a site.

7. Describe your dream home. What elements or features are important to you?

Oh geez, this is a very difficult question. The direct and constant connection with nature is very important to me. I would like to say that my dream home is glass box located between a body of water and a mountain, facing south, but there is the pragmatic reality that this text book site is rare and a home is made up of a tapestry of necessary features, functions and attributes that make up a home. I have had the opportunity to design a lake cabin for my extended family and my wife and I recently design/built a home for ourselves and 3 children. Both projects were an amazing experience filled with many laughs and a few tears, but the most important features would be the combined result of the spaces we share and the spaces we have to ourselves. We love to cook, eat and talk together, even an occasional dance party, so a central hub or great room is important. One of our favorite “features” is the ability connect directly to and move between the outdoors or exterior living room. In several of our projects we have achieved this through large sliding doors and/or a two-side bar between the kitchen and deck or courtyard patio.

8. Do you take inspiration from Craftsman-style design or any other hallmark designs/designers of our region?

Inspiration comes from every facet of my life and personal experiences. I draw most of my direct inspiration from my wife, Julie, and we have worked together closely since I started my career a couple decades ago. As of 2010 we formed Uptic Studios to design under one brand [us]. Julie and I grew up in our region and have always found inspiration from the Craftsman style by the greats like Greene & Green or the Prairie style of Frank Lloyd Wright. Both utilize low pitched roofs, with exposed, honest, structure, while extending out the eves to create large seasonal living spaces and protection from the elements. Contemporaries, such as, Tom Kundig, also from Spokane, continue to be an inspiration as he and his team at OKA push the envelope in their design solutions and interpretation of these classic styles as they meet/converge with high-performance technology and the modern lifestyles of our current and further clients. Maybe most important, we always draw inspiration from our clients, because they always bring [us] new design challenges to solve. We are blessed to work in a field that’s primary objective is to elevate the human experience and sometimes that is all the inspiration I need.

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