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Designing Never Stops // Valerie Gaughan


Upon the completion of the Johnson County Sunset Office Building Pavilion installation, we have had some time to reflect on our process. More specifically, I have thought a lot about how we approach finding the best possible solution, especially in the small details. The design process, as defined by the Chicago Architecture Foundation, looks something like this:

As you can see in the diagram above, the process is not linear. There is no clear shot from start to finish and you are bound to revisit steps along the way. The pavilion was a unique experience for my studio to take an existing design concept and simplify the details to satisfy the budget and our level of construction expertise. The process called for us to think of all the possibilities for how this pavilion could be used and find the best architectural solution. The establishment of the program and receiving feedback on our solutions from the client was vital to determining the appropriate solution. 

Early concept renders and sketches

We used tools such as sketching, diagraming, computer modeling, prototyping, research, and precedent studies to explore all of our options. At the start of the project we thought more generally about how we could reuse the glulam beams provided to us in a unique way. For instance, the teams found uses as seating, tables, columns, and roof structures.  Ultimately the goal was for the office employees to enjoy time outside with protection against elements such as rain and the hot summer sun. From there we discovered that the most efficient design method would be to simplify the existing concept to best fit the client and our abilities. We made computer and scale models of the connection details to get a real representation of the final product. We continued to refine our design as we fabricated by using well thought out jigs and practicing as much as possible.


Even after structural drawings are signed and the permits are acquired, the design process does not stop. Once on site, out in the unsuspecting weather, with pressure on our backs to complete the project on time, we found ourselves battling the thought of the project’s end. We wanted to complete the work but we put quality and craft at the forefront. We had to get creative about how to fabricate the pavilion with the available resources and keep approaching it as a design problem. Earlier this year, I wrote a report on the Kansas born architect, Bruce Goff, to expose his design and teaching philosophy. His architectural maxim of “Beginning again and again,” stressed that every aspect of every project needs to be approached from all angles and differently than any project before and any project after. He wanted designers to liberate themselves from the rigidness of the world around them and the imprisonment of conventional ideas. Goff’s ideas were encouragement to explore all the options in our Pavilion details and fabrication methods to the end.

Image courtesy of Mike Sinclair

Written by Valerie Gaughan

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