An award-winning architect discusses how he balances artistic vision with pragmatics and finds the inspiration of a sense of place when designing a dream home. Very few people will ever be lucky enough to see a dream home come to fruition. Building a home that achieves more than just a sum of the parts and resonates with an intangible sense of place is easy to talk about, but elusive to actually achieve.
Mark de Reus, AIA, founding partner of de Reus Architects, is the go-to visionary architect that a select few call on to bring their own homes from dream to reality. Mark de Reus states that there is most definitely an artistic approach to finding a sense of place. “The ethos of achieving this singular quality is our firm’s over-arching goal with all projects. There are certain elements and qualities that distinguish a truly great home—one that feels appropriate and true, rather than a formulaic box or kit of parts for which the owner has just spent a lot of money.”
Choosing the right architect
It starts with finding an architect who can embrace the conceptual nuance of sense of place and can translate that into a dream home. “Usually new clients come to us as a referral, which is very flattering,” says Mark. Before meeting him, potential clients have often developed a short list of architects they believe possess a design aesthetic compatible to their sensibilities.
“It is a natural human trait to attach ourselves to a design that is appealing to us as individuals,” says Mark. “Over the years, the compliment we receive the most consistently from clients and people who know our work is an appreciation for the diversity of our designs from one project to another.” He adds that it is this pursuit of individual design expression that sets the firm apart from many architects whose designs repeat from one home to the next.
“What a client must grasp is that their relationship with an architect is personal and collaborative,” explains Mark. “Whether constructing a primary residence or vacation home, the client and architect must connect, because building a home is an intimate and collaborative experience.”
A design process revealed
Once a client shares their dreams along with their requirements, Mark and his team commence the design process. “The final design of a home never emerges from a single vision or theory. There are many contributing influences embedded in the built work,” says Mark. “For us, architecture is experiential—we must create a new home with the sense of place that is both tangible and appropriate.”
For de Reus, the final design is not immediately apparent when starting a project. “The design process is organic: ideas spring forth and evolve from a set of circumstances that include the client’s needs and desires; ideas evolve from the architect’s intent, the demands of the site, and the context of the setting.” He says that somewhere in the act of designing a building and balancing all the considerations is a sense of the familiar. “It is when the design effort seems to get quiet that truths seem to fuse together and conflicts are resolved.” His favorite part of the design effort is when the artistic vision comes forward out of the melee. “Some projects are easier than others, and some take more time.”
The design process usually takes six to twelve months and encompasses preparing the construction drawings. For some clients, it is difficult for them to envision how a plan on paper will appear when it is built, so it is important for the de Reus team to convey ideas with sketches, water color perspectives, 3-D renderings and scale models.
The initial site planning fits the building to the land and finds inspiration from place. “Each side has a context that comes to bear toward finding appropriateness and a sense of belonging,” says Mark. After working in many locations around the world, living in Indonesia, and embracing many cultural influences that relate to design, de Reus has developed a unique toolbox of abilities that have come from these experiences.
Artistic tension is a tool Mark likes to employ in the design effort. He finds that fusing various influences together within a concept develops a richness of experience: asymmetry within or alongside symmetry, the casual against the formal, the axial and the episodic, and the monumental next to intimate scale. For him, it is a way of combining influences into an integrated vision and crafting the experience of the building.
Finish materials are studied and selected for their contribution to the architectural concept and anchoring toward sense of place. “We like to use beautiful natural materials and let them read clearly as they are. An honest use of materials left natural will resonate in natural settings.” It has been de Reus’s experience that his clients have an appreciation of the beauty of natural materials.
Mark de Reus designs the entire site by shaping the gardens and buildings together to create continuity between buildings and environment. “This addresses what the land reveals to the design, and it incorporates the natural influences of light and wind and the emotive nature of materials while working with a keen sense of craftsmanship and detail. Also, our architecture emerges out of a respect for work that has preceded and finds innovation from tradition.”
Tropical Experience: Architecture + Design explains approach
“My motivating factors in writing Tropical Experience: Architecture + Design were sharing my enthusiasm for the practice of architecture, discussing the qualities of timeless design, and showing how we evoke the spirit of each place by noting the unique circumstances for each property, as well as the collaborative relationship between a client and architect,” says Mark. His book is a series of design stories pulled from de Reus Architects’ most prominent projects in Hawai’i, Mexico, Belize, and more.
The award-winning architecture firm, de Reus Architects, is based in Hawai’i and has a Sun Valley office. Mark de Reus has been widely recognized for his tropical designs for resorts and residences. Over his 33-year career, Mark has received numerous design awards and has been featured in several international design publications. In 2010, Architectural Digest recognized Mark de Reus as one of the world’s top 100 architects and designers in their AD 100 list. In 2008, HGTV featured de Reus and the Seaside Hale residence on the show “Amazing Waterfront Homes.”