Union Studio designs communities. In our role as architects and planners we connect people to places; often this happens through the careful creation of a neighborhood with ample common space or a new building that is deliberately sited to welcome pedestrian traffic. We work within fractured communities with the same goal, preserving historic buildings, designing scattered-site infill housing, and creating vibrant mixed-use space that provides economic opportunity for neighborhood residents. Our expertise lies in understanding the overlapping and interwoven needs of community and client, shepherding the creation of new places that are financially and socially successful, benefiting the community and the environment.
The underlying reality that supports this mission is that Union Studio is well-versed in the range of tasks required to successfully evolve a concept master plan, to populate it with realistic and market-sensitive building design, and to translate those designs into technical documents that the team can use to actually build-out the project. This requires balancing a fluid range of planning, design, marketing and technical tasks. Often Union Studio is commissioned to perform all of these services for a project, or sometimes we collaborate with other firms to lend our expertise on a portion of a larger project’s scope.
Services that we typically provide include:
Union Studio’s portfolio of work is firmly grounded in the language of traditional architecture and in the spirit and patterns of a particular place. As students of classical proportion and detail we use both to create buildings imbued with solidity and permanence. Our architectural process typically begins with a precedent study phase, which enriches our understanding of a project’s context and provides a theoretical basis for the conceptual design phase. As we move through design development, construction documents, bidding and construction administration we balance design vision with practicality and technical skill, firmly believing that the architect must be well-versed in all trades related to the built environment.
Our respect for tradition notwithstanding, Union Studio utilizes state of the art technical tools to advance the design process. Union was one of the earliest adopters of REVIT, a state of the art Building Information Modeling tool which enables a level of data control and performance assessment that is of great value both for quality control, cost management and project scheduling.
The first step of nearly every neighborhood design project is creating a masterplan, either by developing a new community vision or refining one that is already in place. In approaching the masterplanning process, Union Studio endeavors to connect, connect, and connect; to knit seamlessly with the community and to create walkable neighborhoods of residents, services, and institutions.
Union Studio offers additional value by orchestrating all of the steps necessary to transform a concept plan to a built reality. For example, we understand that building design is not just drawing sample floor plans but also requires a thoughtful approach to site engineering, construction efficiency, marketing collateral and construction documents. By having command of the full range of constraints, from specific unit design to mass grading and landscape, we offer refinement at the masterplan level that is informed by the realities of the scope. Our approach has resulted in many neighborhoods that are used as case studies for effective incremental revitalization.
For developers seeking efficiency but not willing to compromise traditional design detail, well-executed prototype housing is a practical model that can be utilized in both market-rate and affordable contexts. Union Studio has developed a national reputation for excellent traditional design within the context of production construction techniques. Over the past ten years we have designed and managed construction of large, masterplanned communities as far away as Texas, New York and Washington State. Through this process we have continuously tested, refined and improved our palette of construction details so that they are within the canon of skills that a typical residential framing and finish crew possess, reflecting both advances in component technology as well as the relative skill set of local labor forces.
As a byproduct of our familiarity with production building and the subtleties of local market preferences and needs, we have developed a systematic way of approaching product development that recognizes the need to test and tweak floor plans as necessary to meet the tastes of the local market. In some cases we have found local preferences (as simple as the location of the master closet) that can mean the difference between a house plan selling or sitting on the sidelines. We encourage the involvement of the entire team, sales professionals, and even the public in some cases, to help arrive at the best possible home designs.
We are also familiar with common techniques for offering the highest value to potential customers by providing several “options” or “add-ons” for our unit designs that enable the developer to realize a high degree of customization and variety within a narrow range of home types and styles. By developing our unit designs in this way, we can offer a broad range of amenity and flexibility for the sales team, as well as creating the type of variety that is so crucial for creating a truly diverse neighborhood of homes.
Union Studio’s leadership and many of our staff are LEED Accredited Professionals and we have successfully delivered LEED projects at a variety of scales in recent years. However our philosophy of holistic sustainability reaches beyond technical. We believe that carefully designed places will be loved and what is loved will, in the most fundamental sense, be cared for and thereby “sustained.” As part of this goal, we endeavor to find links – physical, architectural, environmental, and cultural – from our clients’ projects to the larger community, knowing that this integration is critical to any real consideration of sustainability, as is an awareness of durability, adaptability, and permanence. The recognition that history contains a library of proven methods, and that these can offer guidance in our current focus on efficiency, frugality, and sustainability, is the inspiration that fuels Union’s devotion to truly sustainable design at every level.
Union Studio has worked with several municipalities to develop “Design Guideline” packages offered as a resource to property owners, designers, builders, developers, town officials and volunteers as they seek to guide growth and preserve the character of their respective towns or villages. Preservation of a town’s character involves a continuation of the patterns of design and the materials and methods of traditional architecture. When producing a typical Design Guideline package, Union Studio analyzes the historic character of the municipality, current zoning ordinances, and other factors that establish the foundation of the Design Guidelines, and supplements this research with clear visual references for those who want to build in a traditional language (or have no objection to doing so if other stakeholders prefer it), but could use guidance in doing so correctly.
The Union Studio team has participated in public charrettes in New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island. Typically, this process includes information gathering, soliciting input for pre-charrette preparation, facilitating workshops, gathering additional community input, and a final presentation accompanied by a written report. For example, in Jamestown, RI, we led an extensive team in this six-day charrette to address the long standing issues of affordability and controlled growth vs. preservation of island character. Public opinion was documented both on-site and on-line, design and policy scenarios were proposed, assessed by the public, and revised accordingly. Novel solutions were proposed including the first New England SmartCode to guide development based on “form” rather than “use,” and allowing subdivision of oversized lots for the provision of affordable cottages in keeping with the historic architecture of the island.
Union Studio supports all of our architectural and community design with full-service product marketing collateral, including illustrative floor plans, elevations, material and color palettes as well as design guidelines when requested by the owner. Our 3-D animations have been extremely useful at all levels of our work, not only as a tool for communicating with clients and communities but also as a tool for entitlement and sales. Providing marketing material along with the design allows for the most streamlined opportunity to connect what is on our drawing table with stakeholders as quickly as possible. We find that clients, the community, and sales teams require a quick turn-around on marketing material to satisfy a particular goals. By having both the design and marketing material in-house we are able to revise designs quickly and get valuable collateral into the right hands without delay.
Union Studio’s Helena Liedtke is a specialist in universal design, accessible design, and home modifications who has completed training in Universal Design and Home Modifications at the University of Buffalo IDEA Center. As mother to a child with special needs, Helena has focused her architectural design work on improving the quality of life of individuals living with disabilities and serious conditions and to their families through universal access, freedom, and mobility in their homes and neighborhoods. Recently, Helena founded Space2Thrive, an organization focused on ensuring that all physical spaces where children grow and live are designed for inclusion of children with and without special needs. Union Studio and Space2Thrive work collaboratively to design homes and communities where all residents can thrive and grow beyond limitations. To learn more, contact Helena Liedtke at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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