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How to Design Environments that Grow with Client Needs and Goals over Time

By Maria Lorena Lehman — Get more articles like this sent to your email HERE.

‍Image Credit: © Majivecka | Fotolia


When designing, do you give thought to how your creation will grow with its user? Of course, this means more than simply creating flexible space that allows building occupants to interchange its functionality. To truly create an environmental design that grows and evolves with its occupant means that you, as the designer, must compose the narrative of space to meet your client’s needs and predict your client’s goals as they evolve. In other words, this means factoring for the creation of the occupant’s journey over different lengths of time – the present moment, over 5 years, over 25 years, and so on. Really, the time spans depend on your project type, your client’s goals, and your design vision.

But why is designing for different lengths of time so important?

To achieve a timeless design, it must be able to grow functionally.  And simultaneously, its beauty and meaning must transcend time. To do all of this, it is important to conduct a design research and mapping phase during the early stages of your design process. These design explorations will highlight weaknesses to be fixed and strengths to build upon – both for the present, and for the future of your client’s needs and goals. All in all, your design will more readily be able to stand the test of time, by serving and supporting its users functionally, aesthetically, and meaningfully.


At the surface a strong design is seen as one that can withstand the test of time with its strength, and this often implies that it has a static quality. Yet paradoxically, to achieve an architectural design that grows with its client, strength can be achieved through adaptability. It is critical to understand how and when to leverage design trends as they continue to progress from the flexible, to the interactive, and to the adaptive. Such trends can help you to design more timeless and timely environments that will grow with clients over the long term.

For example, a simple way to create a space that will evolve with its user is to make it an open flex space. In this way, the occupant can adjust the space to their needs. Still, this can be taken a step further. If a space is designed as adaptive, the environment can stand as a more personalized space, instead of being merely an empty space. And it is through the design’s personalization qualities that it can become more adaptive, to learn and evolve with its user and their needs and goals.

When creating your next project, spend time in the beginning stages to do appropriate research and mapping phases that will tell you how to better personalize and plan an environmental space for growth. After all, as your designs stand more adaptively, they will stand more firmly as timeless and timely environments that clients love for not just the short term, but for the long term as well.




what members are saying...
Maria: I came across your website through a reference in today's Architect Weekly ezine and am delighted I did. I'll bookmark your site and check back often. I read the first article and then the second and thirty minutes later realized how much time had passed. I've been practicing for thirty years and have always missed the stimulation of academia. I find each of your brief dissertations sort of like a day in design studio. Thanks for the inspiration.

Ron Ward
AI Group Design
I am excited to see you touch a vein of values in architecture, I have been chasing myself for years. Your depth of involvement in these very deep subjects is really beautiful and passionately dealt with and well written. Sound, color and value, shape, texture, scale, smell.... all definitive measures of the spaces we should be alert to. [...] I will savor the rest of your investigation of sensuality in architecture. I'm Glad I found you.

Dennis McLaughlin
McLaughlin Architect
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Maria Lorena Lehman is a multi award-winning visionary author, designer, and educator from the United States. Maria holds a Bachelor of Architecture with Honors from Virginia Tech and a Master in Design with Distinction from Harvard University Graduate School of Design. CLICK HERE to learn more.

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