More than Chairs Series: Exploring Design with Daniela Holt Voith
This is the first installment of our More than Chairs Series brought to you by Eustis Chair. In this installment, Eustis Chair interviewed Daniela Holt Voith, Principal with Voith & Mactavish Architects LLP to learn more about Voith & Mactavish Architects LLP and her approach to architecture and design.
Please share a brief overview of Voith & Mactavish Architects LLP.
“The dual studio mantras are “Innovation in the context of Tradition” and “We believe in beauty.” Our practice focuses on design for education and historic preservation. We also have developed expertise in theater design. All this is supported by our interest in planning, interior design and landscape.”
How did you find yourself in the design and architecture world, and please share more about your education and background?
“Honestly – my parents sent me to my room in 11th grade to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up. I came up with architect as the answer. Despite that bit of early clarity, it was not a linear progression. I went to Bryn Mawr College and later to Yale for my Masters in Architecture. I held a number of different jobs working with architects in summers and so on. I also teach introductory design at my alma mater.”
How do you approach your projects?
“I start from a careful study of the site, and a full understanding of how the building needs to function. I look to design precedents in terms of building type, and also study precedents that are interesting in terms of design approach. With all of that in my head, I usually start with a notion about how the plan might sit on the site and be organized. Then its an inside out, outside in process letting the plans and sections influence the elevations and volumes and visa versa. My goal always is to make beautiful buildings and spaces that function really well. More than that – I am very interested in making more of the whole context while designing a powerful piece of architecture.”
For an elaborate project, what is a rough timeline from start to open? What are some of the phases and milestones for those that haven’t done a major project?
“Often there is about a year of design effort and twelve to eighteen months of construction. We think of the design phases as: schematic design, which is conceptual and loose, but shows organization and design intent. In design development, the next step, we start to make the building more real – in this phase we start thinking about systems, materials, and integration of structure and mechanical systems. Then when that phase is approved we move into the heavy lift – construction documents, which will form the basis of the contract between the client and the contractor. In this phase, which is about 40% of the design effort we dimension and detail the way the building will actually be constructed. This includes all the work from our consultants. Specifications are also necessary to support the drawings. Then the drawings and specs can be sent out for bidding. During construction, we are present to help the contractor interpret the drawings, answer questions, solve issues that come up and help with last minute changes that sometimes are requested.”
What are some of your most memorable projects over the years, and what makes them stand out in your mind?
“I think of relationships as much as the buildings that result. I love working with people who are truly interested in buildings of lasting quality, that are designed with sustainability and environmental responsibility in mind. More than that – our clients who have a sense of collaboration and mutual respect – are my favorites. Out of this has grown many very long term relationships with our clients. Our 24 year long, and ongoing relationship with the Millbrook School stands out, as does our work with the University of Pennsylvania Law School. Drexel University and West Chester University have also been wonderful to work with.”
What are you most proud of?
“So that is not quite a fair question – a bit like asking which is your favorite child? I put my all into each of our projects, as does the amazing VMA team. While we are working on a project – it is the favorite, if you see what I mean. But if you really insist on some standouts – here are a few that vary greatly in size and type. I am a basketball junky – so when St. Andrew’s School asked us to design an ultra sustainable field house my heart leapt. We are currently designing a building for the Lehigh College of Business, which will be very modern and I am super jazzed about that one. The recently completed dining hall for Millbrook School, and one that we did for Lawrenceville stand out because of the importance of these buildings to their communities. The Grange at The Hotchkiss School – is great because of its innovative program, and our work at Penn Law – new classrooms stand out for their stunning beauty and historical fabric.
How is your team’s work shifting and changing due to COVID-19?
“Well – we have been working from home – as I think many many people are. Its harder and slower, but still very effective. I end up at exhausted from all the concentration required during video conferencing. Some things we just
cannot do from home – so we have been in the office to look at samples, review materials and further along our interiors projects.”
Where do you find inspiration typically vs now?
“My process and core values are the same. During this shut down, I find myself thinking more now about the state of the world and where we are headed. I think more about justice and equality and my roles and responsibilities. I have also been playing my alto recorder more – going back to my favorites of Telemann and Bach.”
What are some of your favorite dishes and foods?
“I lean toward food that is global in inspiration, is expressive of locale, and is right for the time of year. In winter I like hearty warm food – a great beef stroganoff for example. In summer, I might just go for a salad. Recently I have been experimenting with beet salad with goat cheese and pistachios. I love sashimi any time. Every day it is different.”
I would love to be sharing our conversation in person over a nice glass of wine or cocktail. What would we be having?
“Currently I am loving wine that is grown locally – in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania on land owned by VMA’s very first client, Karamoor Vineyard! They produce awesome reds – Meritage and their Cab Franc are great. Here’s to you!!!”