Perkins+Will’s Elina Cardet on the Emotional Challenges of Architecture

Saxon Henry Saxon Henry

Architizer continues to explore how architects experience the emotional realm during the process of design — presenting the points of views of some of the profession’s most actualized practitioners. Today, Perkins+Will’s Elina Cardet — recently named interior architecture and design director at the firm’s Miami office — shares her experience with the emotional aspects of the creative process.

Saxon Henry: Do you have a standard emotional starting point once you know you are going to take on a project?

Elina Cardet: I am so glad we are ready to openly discuss emotion as part of the creative process of design. Design is a complex endeavor, of course, where research and analytical thinking play a foundational and critical role, but for me, and my guess is for most designers, almost always, it’s emotion that propels me into action at the start of a project. I try to find that emotional connection either to the client’s purpose or their culture, or try to anticipate the users’ experience and the subjective reaction to the work.

How do you enter that new challenge?

At every start, every beginning of a project, I find myself going in from an emotional place of curiosity, optimism and excitement. It’s at that beginning where possibilities are almost endless and potentialities feed the creative process.

Do you know when you’ve “got it,” meaning you have a feeling when you’ve achieved the best possible design for a commission?

Absolutely, and I think most will agree, that as we study design options and explore solutions, inevitably some feel “right” at an intuitive and visceral level, even when compared to solutions that may be analytically correct.

Not always the right solution makes it through the implementation process, but it’s interesting to see how sometimes, we “know,” we “just know,” the right one from the start. And that “AHA” moment tends to be an emotional or intuitive impression.

Miami-Dade College Academic Support Center by Perkins+Will (2012)

As an architect matures, do different emotions come into play, or do you feel your temperament is a set piece of your personality?

Experience has added the feeling of confidence and fearlessness in asking “what if?” at those initial stages of a project and starting up a dialogue to maximize creative opportunities.

I do think we do gain a certain level of control over our temperaments, with a lot of work, over time, but the natural state of the personality remains.

Do you do active charrettes in your studio with your teams, and, if so, how do those impact the overall process and vision?

Yes, design charrettes are key. Depending on the team, this can take different forms, but I enjoy the most wallpapering huge walls in the studio with images, sketches and words, contributed by everyone and then being able to weave a narrative with visual thread. A new little world emerges out of those sessions.

When you are walking through a fully realized, built project, what different emotions do you experience?

Mostly, I feel grateful on so many levels.

First, for having had the opportunity and the experience. Great projects require great clients, great partners and a great team. I feel so very fortunate to have worked in each and every project so far!

Feeling proud comes second, and I must admit, feeling exhausted and in need of a serious vacation comes third.

Vera Wang Soho Flagship, New York; via Olive Godden

Do you have an example of a project that surprised you upon completion?

How the color-changing lights at the Vera Wang Soho Flagship [a project Cardet worked on at her previous practice, Gabellini Sheppard Associates] fundamentally changed the emotional read of the white box space really surpassed my expectations.

For weeks we worked numerically and analytically to help program the color lights, to different color scenarios that worked with the Ready-to-Wear collection that was being launched for the opening. But experientially, the color light-infused environment yielded an immersive ephemeral experience that was visual, physical and emotional.

Do you remember from your architectural studies and readings if any altered your perspective on the practice and took you to a new plane of thinking or feeling?

I am fortunate to have been exposed to an incredible education both at Penn and at Columbia, so that, as a whole, changed me. But there was a little book, out of print at the time, not in any syllabus, which I borrowed from a classmate as a “light read,” before a trip, which drastically altered my awareness of how subjective reality really is: Ways of Seeing by John Berger. Today it’s still very relevant and thankfully you can order it online.

Ways of Seeing by John Berger; via Maharam

Do you find any one type of project more emotionally challenging than any other?

In residential design, when working with a private client, it is the most emotionally challenging, in my opinion. For couples in particular, the design process can become a forum for their emotional issues, often unresolved. Deep-rooted aesthetic and aspirational differences come up to the surface, and finding a path for the decision-making process can be challenging.

When you look back, can you identify a particularly powerful period in your career or a project that stands out for you in some way thus far?

I tend to think one’s next project is one’s best project, and as I start this next phase of my career in Miami at Perkins+Will, I feel tremendously optimistic and excited. I am thankful for the past eight years at Gabellini Sheppard Associates, New York, which were incredibly formative and changed the way I consider details as an indivisible part of the overall design concept.

Top image: VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre by Perkins+Will (2011)