Category Archives: Designer Spotlight

Design Strategist

Jennifer Busch

david-01lowres_web1David Ashen’s eponymous New York-based firm, dash design, has been delighting the senses since 2001, from the global retail concept for Godiva Chocolate, to a nation-touring pop-up shop for rapper Jay-Z’s Rocawear brand, to the 2003 reinvention (now defunct) of the infamous Limelight nightclub on 6th Avenue in Manhattan. Yet for all Ashen’s seemingly “cool” connections, what lies underneath is a regular guy who feels strongly that “design equals strategy” and believes first and foremost in creating projects that are innovative and thoughtful for his (mostly) hospitality, retail and restaurant clients. The fact that his work regularly draws media attention has not changed his attitude—a noteworthy point in this era of design stars—that his work is not about him. “My success is solely about whether our work helps my client succeed,” he says. And inevitably, it does. Interface caught up with David Ashen in New York City to find out more about his winning ways.

IF: How would you describe your design process in one word?

D Ash: Strategic

IF: Where do you turn for inspiration in your creative process?

D Ash: I need to get out of my office. I like to walk around. I walk into stores, exhibits, to see anything visual. I like to drive. I get in my car and I drive around neighborhoods to see what’s new. On Saturdays and Sundays I drive through the boroughs [of New York City], and try to stay a little off the beaten path, or I drive to my country house.

IF: What do you enjoy most about your work?

D Ash: I like interacting with my clients and getting into the problem solving, understanding their businesses. I like developing the big idea with the client, then stepping back and watching it all get executed by my team. The most joyful part is developing the relationship with the client and helping them grow. And I like to learn from each project.

IF:  What do you believe to be the primary value of good design to your clients?

D Ash: I think design is one layer of a formula. It’s an ingredient…a really solid ingredient. In retail good design will help drive your customers to buy things. In hospitality it will make people feel good. If it looks good and functions well it should drive some experience or behavior you are trying to elicit.

IF: What are you currently working on?

D Ash: I just finished a retail banking concept for Akbank in Istanbul, The Lexington Hotel in New York, and a restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Shanghai. I am working on a hotel renovation in Aruba, the second Urban Farmer restaurant for Sage in Cleveland, Mikimoto in Hong Kong, and the next generation of Godiva stores. I’m also working on a restaurant for Iron Chef Jose Garces, in Moorestown, NJ. [Interestingly, Ashen has designed hotels and stores in New York City, but never a restaurant.]

IF: How does flooring contribute to a space?

D Ash: We often start with the flooring. It is sometimes the hardest surface to work through. Floors and walls set the tone for a space. Carpet is often very personal. In hospitality, carpet either makes a statement, or it doesn’t make a statement.

IF: If you were able to give one piece of advice to young designers just starting out, what would it be?

D Ash: Listen.

IF: What is your favorite space you have ever been in?

D Ash: I had a weird, spiritual experience in La Tourette, a convent designed by Corbusier. I visited the chapel there when I was in grad school. The space was so specifically designed for sound and light. It could only work for what it was designed to do.

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Into the Wild

Jennifer Busch

Jason Gamache - Lucas Weisser_blogThere are few better places in the world to connect to nature than Alaska, so it stands to reason that Jason A. Gamache, AIA, NCARB, LEED-AP BD+C, of McCool Carlson Green in Anchorage, is passionate about sustainability—and particularly passionate about sustainable learning environments. He pioneered contemporary sustainable design concepts in Alaska, managing LEED certification on the State’s first three LEED certified schools (and its first two LEED Certified buildings for the municipality of Anchorage), is the founding chair for the Alaska Green Schools Committee, represents Alaska in Washington, D.C., as a congressional advocate, is a board member for the Cascadia Green Building Council, and was a founding member of the International Living Future Institute. Gamache is also the only USGBC Faculty in Alaska, and holds one of six positions on the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools Advisory Cabinet. If that’s not enough, he is currently the president of the Alaska Chapter Council of Educational Facility Planners International (CEFPI), where he facilitates the State’s CEFPI middle school student “School of the Future” design competition. Alaska boasted international winners for three consecutive years.

IF:  How would you describe your design process in one word?

JG: Immersing

IF: What do you enjoy most about your work?

JG:  One of the most interesting aspects of practicing architecture in Alaska is that the work often includes adventurous travel and your office can require a few hours on a Boeing 737 to get from one side of it to the other. The immense space that we work in lends to great opportunities in vast environments. One day you might be working on a small health clinic on a remote island or a rural native village, and the next day you might be designing a major international airport or large sports arena in a denser urban area.


IF:  How has your geographic location influenced your design philosophy?

JG:  Our geography has heavily influenced our work in Alaska. It includes four major climate zones—Arctic, Continental, Transitional and Maritime—where temperatures can range from the 90s to the -50s and the weather ranges from dry to wet. In addition to the temperatures you might also be designing for summer conditions with endless sunlight, as well as short winter days with prolonged darkness. For an example of scale, Alaska is twice the size of Texas, more than one fifth the size of the contiguous 48 states, and would stretch from the east coast to west coast at its farthest points. These environmental design criteria drive us to be diverse, efficient and practical in our solutions. Not only do we design for harsh environments, but we also give special attention to project planning, material procurement, and construction scheduling, which prove to be critical elements of the process. We are working on the development of sustainable design in Alaska, reconnecting indigenous building practices with modern innovations. The mission is to create beautiful buildings that exist harmoniously with nature, complement the landscape, and can be sustained through diverse climate conditions. The need to be sustainable is an inherent condition.

IF:  What do you believe to be the primary value of sustainable design in the education environment?

JG:  The heart of sustainability comes from implementing smart design strategies and transcends the act of being “green”.  The term “green” has sabotaged the idea of sustainability. “Green” and “sustainable” are not interchangeable terms, as you can have a green idea that is not at all sustainable for a particular project. When you institute smart design as the baseline, sustainability is an outcome of good planning. Looking deeper, being sustainable is about being able to sustain… to sustain life, life sustaining. It’s a sustaining ability. Focusing particularly on educational facilities, I believe in an approach to sustain life and do that by creating healthy, safe learning environments (for faculty and students) that are cost effective and energy efficient (economically sustainable). Faculty and student health is critical regardless of the facility type, and it’s also essential for teaching and learning. Unhealthy learning environments are not only potentially harmful to the body, but also create barriers to education, especially in a classroom where the transmission of knowledge occurs in a traditional sender-receiver format.  We can make great strides in educational environments when we can connect the facility directly to the learning so the school becomes a teaching tool, going beyond the school as a teaching space.

IF:  What is the most interesting thing you are working on currently?

JG:  The office has many interesting projects in the works. Our focus is on public facilities, which is rewarding because this type of work is often created to add value to communities and improve the quality of life. At the moment we are working on a large sports arena for the local university as well as several other school projects. Schools are particularly interesting because they tend to become vital community centers. One is a CareerTechnicalHigh School. The project is an expansion of a new school that we completed seven years ago and has more than overcome the stigma that was once associated with the antiquated term “Av-tech”. This nontraditional school blends great design with a full academic program that is built around career pathways, and it has quickly become the community’s “school of choice”.

IF:  If you could give one piece of advice to young designers just starting out, what would it be?

JG:  Be flexible to change, allow for adaptability, and become vested in your communities. Share what you learn along the way with your competition if you are truly committed to building sustainable communities. Good architecture is created by immersing yourself in the design challenge, not reacting to the problem. Utilize the team around you to build good solutions. Architecture is not created for us. It’s created for the occupants of that building or community, and they should be fully engaged in the process.

IF:  What inspires you?

JG:  I find inspiration in acts of kindness, the generosity of others, and the behavior of living systems in nature, which are resilient and regenerative.

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Designer Spotlight: Christian Davies

Jennifer Busch

1 Davies, Christian_FITCHThe work of British designer Christian Davies’ of FITCH has been recognized extensively in the industry, including multiple first place category honors from every major retail design award in the U.S. His recent experience has covered a wide variety of assignments including Luxottica, McDonalds, Harley Davidson and Tiffany & Co. – with projects in the U.S., Europe, China, India, and Brazil. A recipient of a Chain Store Age 40 Under 40 award and a past Business Week Designs of the Decade winner, Davies recently added yet another accolade to his impressive resume by being named a 2012 Retail Design Luminaire by DDI Magazine.

Interface: How would you describe your design process in one word? 

Christian Davies: Driven.

IF: Where do you turn for inspiration during your creative process?

CD: Increasingly away from the world of traditional design and to things on its periphery. I’m totally obsessed with craftsmen right now, by builders, makers – especially those that use their hands. I want to learn how to make more and more things, to understand that the making is often more important than the object itself and to find ways to bring that into my process. I’m designing and building a garden for the first time in my life and I’m learning so much through that, none of which is really about gardening but more about proportion, sense of scale and the importance of texture and color. I’m coming back to photography after a few years ignoring it. And I’ve never had a good relationship with art, but as I’m getting older that is starting to change.

IF: What do you enjoy most about your work?

CD: The urge to design comes from a yearning to improve things. While I truly believe we are all born creative, I think you know from a very early age if this idea of making things better is something that you enjoy or not. If it is, it’s primal, hard wired, it’s always there, kind of like an itch you can’t scratch. So, the days I enjoy my job the most are the days I figure out how to scratch it. But of course, just like an itch, it’s back pretty soon.

IF: What do you believe to be the primary value of good design to your clients?

CD: I almost don’t know where to start. Good design can achieve so many things. Most of all though, a commitment to good design says something to the world about a company or a brand. It speaks to what drives them, what is important to them. I’m increasingly seeing the word design being used in manifestos and pieces on corporate culture, which is a very good thing. Of course, following through on those words is a little more problematic sometimes. But that’s where designers come in.

5 things inspiring Christian Davies


IF: Is there anything in particular happening in the design world right now that inspires you?

CD: Lots actually. I’m thrilled to see a return to simplicity, to minimalism. In my work, design is a vehicle to deliver experiences. Over the past few years we have evolved to a point where design is no longer ‘fussing’ with those experiences. Rather it’s just working to serve them up to people in the best way possible. I like that idea very much, the idea of design being a facilitator. Not always having to shout.

But against that backdrop there’s a lovely whimsy creeping back into design too. It feels very ‘20 years ago’ to me but there’s more and more design making me smile now.

IF: What are you currently working on?

CD: Wish I could tell you.

IF: What does the flooring solution contribute to the overall design of a space?

CD: I’ve worked a lot with the flooring industry and there’s almost nothing else that can have such a profound effect on a space. It is transformative in a very visceral way, and it’s always — like good lighting – something that people notice. It’s such a statement, even when it’s designed to be recessive. One of my favorite things to watch is sunlight on a floor, to see how a room changes throughout the day because of the flooring.

If you were able to give one piece of advice to young designers just starting out, what would it be?

CD: I’m seeing a real lack of passion amongst our young designers today. I’m waiting for the next big thing to come around, and I really hope it comes from someone young, but I don’t see the “spark in the eyes” as much as I would like. I teach a lot, which I enjoy a great deal, and its becoming increasingly rare for me to find truly original thinking. Before being constantly ‘connected,’ we had to go on a ‘journey’ to find the things that inspired us. (Sometimes literally.) Now it’s just too easy. And I think its getting worse. I’m reading an amazing book by Kenya Hara right now and in it he talks about the lack of depth in our modern world. As he puts it, it’s not that the human mind can’t process vast amounts of information, it’s just that today, most of that information is not very good. And so I would encourage young designers to come up with their own thoughts.

IF: What is your favorite space that you have ever been in?

CD: Very early in my career I lived in London and I remember the first time I visited the Conran Shop in Brompton Cross. That was a moment for me when it all fell into place and I understood what great design was about. I think I literally spent most of the day there. It’s in the Michelin Building which has such an awesome sense of place and of history, but then the modern stuff just slides in there. It’s an amazing sleight of hand and one Sir Terence has always been very good at. He did it at the Design Museum too, and in some of his restaurants. Sort of blurring the edges just enough that the old and the new sit side by side. I’ve always been a fan of that.


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We Are One

Jennifer Busch
Gallerie Bar & Bistro detail at Hilton Columbus Downtown Atrium in Columbus, Ohio. Photographed by Nathan Kirkman

Gallerie Bar & Bistro detail at Hilton Columbus Downtown Atrium in Columbus, Ohio. Photographed by Nathan Kirkman

In the 10 years since they founded their young design firm, rising hospitality designers Lisa Simeone and Gina Deary of Chicago-based Simeone Deary Design Group can count such projects as Chicago’s elegant Elysian Hotel (now the Waldorf Astoria Chicago), the Hilton Dallas Park Cities, and the JW Marriott Indianapolis to their credit. Currently they are working on Loews hotels in Chicago, Nashville, Tenn., and Orlando, a new restaurant concept with Richard Melman of Lettuce Entertain You fame, and a JW Marriott and a Westin for White Lodging in the red hot city of Austin, Texas. They’ve also started a residential design studio. Interface talked to this busy pair—who approach their work as a team—about the formula for success behind their prospering firm, their fascination with technology, and the all-important role of design in the hospitality sector.

IF: How would you describe your design process?

LS & GD: After we meet with the client and understand their criteria, we do research on the location, the building architect…we dig into the property to find out what is going to make it grow in the community. For us a project is as much a branding and positioning exercise as it is an interior design assignment.

14 Brush Creek Ranch Inspiration ImagesWEB

Brush Creek Ranch inspiration images

We start our critical thinking by digging into the location, and then we create a concept that is really representative of what we are thinking. That’s when we get very creative. We open up our minds to what inspires us, and we filter all this through our story.
We make very succinct decisions around every element in every phase. This elevates us above trends, so we are creating a sense of place and not just a sense of currency.

IF: Where do you turn for inspiration?

LS & GD: Inspiration comes from everywhere! It comes from fashion, jewelry, metalwork, film noir, Hollywood. Anything we find in culture we can use. We have been inspired by Jane Austen, pin-up girls, architecture, nature. We are really into how people lived at certain times. For each project we run these ideas through the filter of our concept and see how things settle out.

IF: What do you enjoy most about your work?

GD: I most enjoy the people I work with, and watching them grow and mature, and thinking that Lisa and I are helping that happen. Also, I am exposed to so many people and places and ideas and things. It makes me a much better designer and helps me grow too.

LS: I am inspired every day working with such a creative group of people. We have such a sense of camaraderie here. Being inspired and inspiring other people is what gets me up every morning.

IF: What do you believe to be the primary value of good design to your clients?

LS & GD: Design is how our clients touch their customers. The experiences we create for them help them reap monetary benefits. Are clients seeing proof in the numbers? They are! If we do a great design, that design becomes a marketing tool.

IF: Is there anything in particular happening in the design world right now that inspires you?

LS & GD: Technology. It moves so fast. The doors are flung open on the things we are able to achieve. It has become a real vehicle for expressing ideas.

IF: What is the biggest challenge facing the design profession today?

LS & GD: The biggest challenge is the speed at which projects are being built and financed. How do designers keep up with that? The creative process isn’t given enough time. Our own challenge is how to morph our process to be just as competitive and creative, and still fit into that excelled, demanding way of doing business.

IF: If you were able to give one piece of advice to young designers just starting out, what would it be?

18 Gina Deary HeadshotWEB2GD:
Everything is a learning experience. School opens the door but once you walk through that door there is a lot you still have to learn. Nothing is beneath you. Get every experience you can. And don’t be afraid to fail.

19 Lisa Simeone HeadshotWEB
Try to intern as much as possible. Understand the many different types of firms and facets of design. There is a lot of pressure to conform but be true to yourself. Don’t be timid. Let the bold idea out.

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Behind the Evidence

Jennifer Busch

Roz CamaRoz Cama, FASID, principal of Cama Inc. has built an influential career around healthcare design, a segment of the industry that many designers shy away from as being too complex or too institutional. But Cama knows that nothing can be more rewarding than creating built environments that effect and inspire healing and wellness. Interface caught up with Roz shortly after she was named ASID’s 2012 Designer of Distinction to talk to her about her illustrious career, her still-thriving design practice based in New Haven, CT, and how designers like her are elevating the conversations about healthcare reform to a higher level of thinking.

IF:  Recently you were the recipient of ASID’s Designer of Distinction Award. What does this honor mean to you?

2012 Designer of Distinction Award

2012 Designer of Distinction Award

RC:  As a healthcare designer I am honored to have my life’s work acknowledged by my peers who hail from all design sectors. The healthcare design sector does not always get its due, our budgets are typically lean and innovation in the design of our environments has been slow. The evidence-based design movement changed the conditions that held us back and in the last 13 years has allowed us to leap forward.  I am blessed to have been able to be at the right place in my career with access to the best clients and industry leaders allowing me with others to define and illuminate this game changing design methodology. The ASID 2012 Designer of Distinction Award is acknowledgement that the fruits of this effort have been appreciated farther than I would have ever imagined. It is humbling and I proudly share it with so many who have pioneered with me in this sector.

IF:  How have you seen the design of healthcare facilities change over your career as a design practitioner? 

02 princeton-rendering-patient-room-plan

The IOM report on safety gave way to the legislation of the single bedded room, proven to improve more health outcomes than any other evidence-based design intervention. University Medical Center of Princeton at Plainsboro, HOK|RMJM|CAMA 2012

RC:  When I began interior design in the late 1970s, design of the healthcare environment was driven by advancements in diagnostic equipment and the specific needs of the physician, known as nothing more than utilitarian institutional design. Reform in coding for clinical reimbursement or DRG’s gave the patient consumer choice in medical providers and the patient-centered care movement was born. This movement allowed design to respond to the customer’s perception of care through their experiences within the built environment. Industrial designers were liberated to develop offerings that aligned product with trends seen in hospitality design, but unfortunately tooled for corporate design. It wasn’t until the late 1990s when the Institute of Medicine created a game changer forcing shifts in healthcare delivery in order to improve its quality. It was then that the designer’s voice became an integral part of a multi-disciplinary conversation. Health reform is now looking for all stakeholders to deliver a more efficient and effective care model that reduces care delivery costs and accountable care will look for any innovation that contributes to the improvement of each person’s health status. Evidence-based methodologies have proven the positive effect design has on every part of a human’s life.  That we cannot be exempt from these conversations has been the change I am the most proud.

IF:  What do you think are the primary challenges facing the design profession today?

RC:  We are in a vortex of change in a rapidly developing world. Global connectedness, economic power shifts, political confusion make the waters muddy right now to see our challenges in their proper light. What I do know is that as a singular voice designers will not have to let others determine our fate. With an evidence-based approach we can be players in multi-disciplinary conversations and participate in the design of an emerging new order. We will need strong leadership and a better baseline of knowledge about the impact design of the built environment has on society and our globe. Those who will reach to a higher level of thinking and measure that which impacts human survival will influence the change needed for our next era of societal development. I want designers to be part of that conversation and influence the development of a new generation of built environment along with a kit of parts needed to sustain man and earth equally. I predict Biophilic Design will impact the field of building design more than any other evidence-based focus.

Regenerative Institution: Renovated Hospital of the Future 2025 Design Charette, MASS Design Group|CAMA, Inc.

Regenerative Institution: Renovated Hospital of the Future 2025 Design Charette, MASS Design Group|CAMA, Inc.

Evidence-Based Healthcare Design (John Wiley & Sons 2009)

Evidence-Based Healthcare Design (John Wiley & Sons 2009)

IF: What do you consider to be your biggest professional accomplishment?

RC: To have positioned myself to always be a part of the design profession’s big conversations.  My access to these conversations has been primarily through my volunteer leadership positions in the design profession with ASID and healthcare design industry with The Center for Health Design. This involvement has allowed me to push my thinking, and the evidence-based design movement. It has allowed me and my team access to some very important design projects in the field creating opportunities for thought leadership and influence within the field.

IF:  What is the most inspiring space you have ever been in?

RC:  The Beinecke Rare Books Library at Yale University here in New Haven. Designed to protect the wellbeing of rare books, Gordon Bunshaft’s inspirational setting teaches a valuable lesson in the philosophy of beauty where access to the most nurturing qualities of one’s habitat can avert extinction.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, CT

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University, New Haven, CT

IF: What would you like to leave as your legacy?

RC:That the application of an evidence-based design methodology for the built environment has as much impact on human survival as the fruits of nature. That said I have miles to go before I rest on any laurels…

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