"We Design for Human Connection": Studio BBA on Building Resilience and Culture During Crisis

"We Design for Human Connection": Studio BBA on Building Resilience and Culture During Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed how we work. As designers are quickly rethinking traditional workflows to stay connected, in San Francisco, Studio BBA is adjusting the way they work to make sure client needs are delivered. Advocating for architecture that inspires human connection, they are creating spaces and places from the alchemy of inspiration, site, materials, vision and form.

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© Mariko Reed

Rooted in a design philosophy that aims to consider all circumstances and how they can impact the lived experience, the Studio BBA team has developed a grounded approach to the crisis. ArchDaily recently caught up with founding Principal Bonnie Bridges to explore the studio's work and its approach to the recent pandemic.

Can you tell us about Studio BBA and its mission?

Studio BBA was founded in 1992 in San Francisco. Our mission is to design places in which people are more thoughtful and energized. We are a dynamic atelier of designers who advocate for architecture that inspires human connection. I call our work “Humanistic Modernism,” it engages all of the senses (not just the visual) and considers all of the circumstances. We are boutique, selective, and specialize in design-forward hospitality, commercial and residential projects all over the world.

© Bruce Damonte

What kind of projects do you enjoy working on most?

All of them. We have great clients – and great clients make great projects. People come to BBA because they understand the value of design and our collaborative/creative design process. We don’t paint a brand on a space or materialize a Pinterest board – we instead do a deep dive into client values and express them through thoughtful, holistic design.

How is Studio BBA set up to work collaboratively and utilize technology for digital work?

We recently ditched our land lines and converted to Zoom and mobile phones; great timing as we worked out all the bugs in February and had everything working smoothly right before shelter-in-place went into effect. We love collaboration (it is one of our core values) and thrive in the chaos and energy of intense design charette sessions – we have been doing these via Zoom, but we miss the embodied energy of people in a room. We recently renovated our studio and increased our collaboration spaces: new material break out meeting space, new soft seating with large pin up space – so this will be nice to come back to. We haven’t relied on technology to collaborate internally until now, we simply haven’t needed to. We are learning a lot about how to collaborate digitally and will certainly implement some of the things we have learned during this time to our post-COVID 19 office.

© Eric Rorer Photography

Recent events with COVID-19 have been swift. How have you adjusted the way they work to make sure client needs are delivered?

We are taking the long game – and setting ourselves up to survive and thrive. We have a small and nimble staff that are completely committed to project success and since “project success” can mean many things in a time of crisis, we stay flexible in our thinking and doing. As leaders, we stay calm, focused and dedicated to providing the best work we can do during this time.

But, we miss each other! We do zoom check-ins three times a week, once in lieu of our regular Monday morning office meeting, another for “Teatime” on Tuesday morning, and another for “Happy Hour” on Thursday afternoon. We use this time to reconnect, reengage with each other and provide each other some love and support.

© Eric Rorer Photography

How does remote work influence day to day collaboration amongst staff?

It’s a bit more structured – since it happens during scheduled times and via Facetime or Zoom. And, we are a materials-centric architecture firm; reviewing our materials in person and in natural light is a critical step. Our designers have material boards spread across their apartments and use Facetime to discuss them with each other. We shoot each other lots of short emails, we hop on quick calls and text each other about project updates, design direction and questions.

© Bruce Damonte

What are the biggest challenges of remote work?

It seems silly, but internet bandwidth. I have two daughters home from college, using zoom for multi-hour seminars every day. Our designers live in apartments with other professionals that have similar teleconference needs. We can be really prepared for a remote presentation or virtual site meeting, but it all comes down to whether our routers can support us. Aside from that, we are all energized by people, and motivated to fuel human connection in space. We are committed to pausing this to focus on public heath, but we are eager to get back to normal and connect with others in more natural ways.

With many firms transitioning to remote work, what tips would you provide to firm leaders?

Support your staff – every person is coping with the anxieties of this unknown and we can offer a lot of value via compassion and understanding. We can’t expect that people will be more productive during this time, but can expect open and clear communication and feedback. We thrive on feedback at BBA already. Also, for those of us running small businesses, be open and honest with your staff. It’s better to collaborate on a solution than to be a cheerleader and hold all of the responsibility alone. Now is the time to reach out and ask for support from your teams.

© Mariko Reed

As you look to the future, are there any trends you think should be front and center in the minds of architects and designers?

We hate trends! It mis-categorizes things that are popular to things that are relevant. I’ve been operating this business through three recessions, so I’m used to riding these waves and seeing how they shift what is relevant within the design world. I see businesses focusing more on their telecommunication systems (and spaces), in tandem with compelling effective workplaces. I see our vulnerable foodservice industry taking a huge hit, and only the most beloved ones (i.e. the ones with a real human face and values that drive the business) will remain successful through this wave. And we see the need to design houses with nooks or rooms for working/learning from home – for multiple people (without creating overly large homes). We are confident that people will understand, in a much deeper way, the value of social spaces in the public realm that support and encourage human connections. That is a “trend” we can start and get behind!

© Bruce Damonte

With all of our projects, but especially in hospitality and food service, we witness the incredible personal efforts that go in to making a “place” – making and serving food is an offering to our cities that benefits our livelihood and shared culture. With the daily development of COVID-19, we see incredible resilience in the foodservice community – not to make a buck, but instead to hold their ground as leaders and space-makers for our city. From what we can tell online, most of our clients are holding their ground, for as long as is safe, including: Mister Jius, Mamahuhu, Lord Stanley, Equator Coffees, Tartine Bakery, The Jesse Hotel & Estella Restaurant, Stonemill Matcha, Sightglass Coffee, Messenger Café, Nico Restaurant, Little Gem, The Mill. We recently created a batch of BBA zoom backgrounds for all of these well-loved places – so you can “be” in them during your meetings.

We invite you to check out ArchDaily's coverage related to COVID-19, read our tips and articles on Productivity When Working from Home and learn about technical recommendations for Healthy Design in your future projects. Also, remember to review the latest advice and information on COVID-19 from the World Health Organization (WHO) website.

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Cite: Eric Baldwin. ""We Design for Human Connection": Studio BBA on Building Resilience and Culture During Crisis" 10 Apr 2020. ArchDaily. Accessed . <https://www.archdaily.com/937137/we-design-for-human-connection-studio-bba-on-building-resilience-and-culture-during-crisis> ISSN 0719-8884

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© Bruce Damonte


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