A new porch space where customers of a downtown Bryan bakery can enjoy its goods with a cup of coffee is already attracting customers and increasing the business’ curb appeal despite being several steps from completion. The space was designed as part of a graduate Texas A&M architecture student's quest to make architecture relevant to the middle class and small business owners.
“People don't ‘get’ us,” said 2013 Master of Architecture graduate Jason Minter, about those who think of architecture, if they think of it at all, as something for wealthy clients who want big, expensive buildings.
“If designers could get out of the studio, leave their classic clients and go to the streets, go door-to-door and put themselves out there in the general public ... we could rebrand our profession, letting the general public know that we don't just build buildings," said Minter.
There’s a tendency to think that small businesses are not interested in design, but if you communicate the value of design to them, he said, "you make them hungry for design they can see and touch."
Minter is a devotee of the public design movement, in which design is driven more by service than profit. Public design addresses issues relevant to the general public with an emphasis on serving groups traditionally underserved by architects.
In addition to having his work featured in the Bryan/College Station newspaper and on several design-oriented websites, Minter’s project was recently selected to represent Texas A&M in the bcSHOPFRONT exhibit hosted by buildingcommunityWORKSHOP, a Dallas-based nonprofit community design center that showcases the impact of the public design movement.
The benefit of increasing the public’s understanding of what architecture is about goes two ways, Minter said.
“Not only does it make design more accessable to traditionally neglected communities, such as the middle class and small businesses, but it also opens a new market share to architectural practices," he said; new clients who understand how architects can increase the value of their home, business or brand.
Based on this idea, for his master's final study project Minter knocked on doors in downtown Bryan, offering to design and build a project for a home or business at no charge to the client.
After considerable effort, he found a partner in Loretta Patranella, owner of Patranella’s Bakery, 106 N. Parker St. in downtown Bryan, where he is transforming a formerly empty 6’ x 30’ front porch into a gathering space with a wall made of wine bottle planters and customized outdoor furniture, all made with recycled materials.
Minter used the crowdfunding website, Kickstarter, to finance the project, exceeding his goal of $1,450 in under a month; so far, he has built the planters, installed the bottles and some plants for the wall.
“People are visual and appearance is everything,” said Patranella, noting how her customers have already noticed the redesigned porch.
“It’s more welcoming,” she said, “it says we take pride in what we do.”
Minter's idea to offer design skills to the heretofore forsaken was bolstered after he heard Lisa Imamoto, principal of IwamotoScott Architecture, discuss how her firm was delivering cutting-edge interior design at affordable prices, approximately $50 per square foot, to startup tech firms on limited budgets. This, he said, in a city where $100 per square foot ordinarily delivers carpet and a slathering of paint.
“If affordable, high-quality, one-of-a-kind design can be achieved in a place like San Francisco, the general public should know,” said Minter, deciding that he "should go out and tell them that.”
While knocking on doors and pitching his mission to about 60 Bryan-area home and business owners, Minter gained an advantage that studio work could not have produced — he learned about their neighborhoods.
The process, he said, allowed him to identify problems as well as provide solutions for them.
“Through community engagement," he said, "a designer can learn what’s going on in a neighborhood, get to know the people and the issues, and doesn’t have to wait for a developer, the government, or an organization to take action.”
After his story was published in local newspaper, accounts of Minter's public design project and personal quest to rebrand architectural practice were shared on numerous design and sustainability-oriented websites.
“Bravo,” Mr. Minter. We need more like you,” wrote C.C. Sullivan on smartplanet.com., a site featuring progressive ideas on wide-ranging topics that intersect with technology, business and other sectors.
Archinect, a website seeking to “make architecture more connected and open-minded,” included Minter’s work in a post of its favorite Kickstarter design projects.