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The Guggenheim Journey: Intentional from the Inside Out

Tracie SimmonsArchiCAD, Design, Firm Stories, Portland

Jeff and Jenny GuggenheimHISTORY: Jenny Guggenheim was prompted by a classic incentive to open a business – she was laid off. The financial slide in 2009 hit many of the Pacific Northwest’s design firms hard and no one was hiring in the interiors departments of the architecture giants. So she rented a desk at the architecture firm where her husband Jeff was interning and launched her interior design practice. It was the first time the couple had worked side by side. When Jeff obtained his license in 2012, Jenny invited Jeff to join the firm. The Guggenheim Architecture + Design Studio has grown slowly to include three additional employees today.

PHILOSOPHY: Fully integrated interior design and architecture. “We want to avoid the feeling of entering a house and the interiors are disparate from the exterior.” The firm also aims for a timeless quality. “Materials born of the earth – stone, wood, naturally occurring materials from the regions – that’s one way to create timeless buildings,” said Jeff.

PROJECTS: The award-winning work of the Guggenheim studio is built on the benefits of integrated services, thinking about interiors from the beginning of the work to the end. Most small firms don’t have a dedicated interior designer on staff. “We’re an interiors focused architecture firm,” said Jeff. Their portfolio includes restaurants, cafes, church work, residential, medical and exhibition design – all very much interior architecture projects.

PRACTICE: Complementary skills and mutual respect are keys to the Guggenheims’ success. Jeff emphasized Jenny’s ability to develop a solid program for projects by asking good questions, listening deeply to clients, discerning their needs and creating a project program focused on meeting them. He praised her skills as the “editor,” the one with the creatively critical eye to sort and filter a figurative stack of design ideas to present the best to the client.

Jeff described himself as looking at how big picture design ideas work together to create form and space, and then pivoting to translate those artistic concepts into something that can be built. It means working with layers of function, connection, and construction details to both perform and look the best way possible.

“The hardest details are the ones that look simple,” said Jeff. Creating details which are clean and intentional is a key to their work. “We don’t rely on a details library, we find every project wants to be its own thing. We like the exploration of creating something new every time, specific to the client, the site conditions. Everything that happens is intentional.”

COMMUNICATION TOOLS: When they started, AutoCAD seemed to be the only option, but it was an awkward fit. Guggenheim Studio transitioned to Archicad three years ago, looking for a communication tool that worked with their integrated approach to design. He found learning Archicad as a group to have the side benefit of pushing them to evaluate and question every step in their process. Now they are fine-tuning the framework for taking a project through each stage from schematics to construction documents.

“It’s been a challenge but created new opportunities to grow as an office and streamline our processes, to re-evaluate how we do design,” said Jeff. “I feel like we’ve hit the sweet spot.” Although they aren’t using Graphisoft’s BIMx presentation and coordination app yet, he sees it coming in the near future.

FINAL WORDS OF WISDOM: “Don’t shy away from working with your spouse. It’s been an incredible journey together, to work with someone you know so well and complements your skills.” Jeff says they’ve intentionally not created a clear divide between personal and professional lives and both have benefited from the symbiotic relationship. “It’s great to work with someone whom you know so well, are married to and is your best friend. No regrets, one of the best decisions we’ve ever made.”

Written by Sue Lani Madsen, AIA Member Emeritus, Freelance Columnist
You can reach Sue Lani at [email protected]