While realizing any form of architecture brings with it great responsibility, designing public space takes this sense of duty to another level altogether.
Urban design brings with it the potential to shape civic life in unprecedented ways and at an extraordinary scale, a fact that puts international design firm West 8 in a unique position. Understanding the significance of their work, the firm’s designers appreciate the power of new technology to help them realize their goals in this vital sector of the profession.
“Today, landscape has a very important function in regards of identity and public space, and this is where we focused,” said Daniel Vasini, Creative Director of West 8. “Our firm is [always] investigating the context where we inscribe our designs. We are very much interested in how we can place a new identity, but always founded in the heritage and culture of those surroundings.”
This ambitious task is made possible through great collaboration and communication, all of which is facilitated by powerful design hardware like HP’s Z2 Mini Workstation.
Created specifically with architects and designers in mind, the Z2 Mini’s processing power allows firms like West 8 to cycle through many design iterations without delay, a necessary part of the creative process for such large-scale public projects. “The first time I saw the Z2, I was really impressed,” said Vasini. “This little object was carrying power, and was carrying intelligence, and was delivering what you need.”
The workstation’s surprising power-to-size ratio is significant given the complex nature of each project, and the number of revisions required to formulate the perfect plan. “The client only sees about 10% of what we’ve drawn,” said designer Doug Brooks, “because we just iterate design, after design, after design to come up with the best solution for [them].”
This high-paced, multi-step design process was exemplified by West 8’s proposal for Houston Botanical Gardens in Texas, an undulating landscape of gardens and pathways that beautifully intertwines urban and rural sensibilities. “When we’re working at [this] scale … the computer is reading a one-to-one model in the 3D environment,” said Vasini. “So, we have to place each one of those trees; each tree has millions of branches, millions of leaves; all of that is readable by the machine.”
Thanks to its in-built processing power — the Z2 comes with current and next generation Intel® Xeon® Processor options — the diminutive workstation is able to handle the unique level of complexity found in landscape architecture and urban design. Without lagging, “the product allows me to actually model, to see the space, to rotate, to zoom in, to zoom out,” said Vasini.
West 8’s design process is a collaborative one that extends well beyond New York — the firm’s main office is in Rotterdam, thousands of miles and numerous time zones away. Fast, reliable technology is key in bridging this gap. “A lot of times we collaborate by sharing our files every night;” explained West 8’s Brittany Duguay. “We send them to Rotterdam and they’re six hours ahead of us, so they’ll eventually get to look at them, review them and then send them back when we get back into the office. It’s really like an office that never sleeps, because we get to constantly have a design processing all the time.”
Given the intricacy of projects and the tight deadlines that accompany them, it is crucial for that the communication flow remains smooth, even when spanning continents. “It will be a series of sketches sent via text message, or it will be a whole afternoon of Skype sessions,” explained Brooks. “It could be on a computer tablet, or walking around the office and looking at sketches. We integrate video conferencing into our workflow. It’s vital for us.” The Z2 Mini’s power means the team can rely on it for both design and communication throughout the lifecycle of a project.
The immense complexity of West 8’s vast projects is not for the faint-hearted, but like all dedicated designers, Vasini is philosophical about the noble pursuit of architectural ideals. “You have to be passionate about what you do,” he said. “You need really to love it, what you do … iteration is just a necessity to be able to get the best outcome. Luckily, there is technology who allow us to be less stressed and facilitate that outcome.”
At its best, public space design has the potential to transcend architectural conventions and shape space in profound ways. It can enrich a city culturally and socially. It brings people together. With the help of tools like the HP Z2 Mini Workstation, West 8 continues to seize its opportunity in this expansive realm of design, enriching the urban fabric of cities around the globe.