Architecture is always evolving to keep in step with society. Roland Lemke, a principal in our DC office, is approaching his 30th year in the industry. He points out that while there are always fads that come and go, some lasting changes in architecture are clearly present in today’s practice. For different perspectives, Roland and two other CannonDesigners at different points in their careers discuss what has changed in architecture – and where it’s heading.

Charu McDermott has worked in architecture for 15 years. She’s noticed that “what’s hot” is always shifting with “peaks and valleys in the markets.”

“Firms that are diversified and can shift teams around are more successful,” she says. Charu has worked with CannonDesign for the last two years primarily with the Science and Technology practice.

With five years of experience, Brock Scharborough, hasn’t noticed many trends fading, but he does have an idea of what’s coming up.








Left to right: Roland Lemke, Charu McDermott, Brock Scharborough

Integrated Wellness

“There is a huge trend to integrate wellness into our designs for our higher education clients,” Brock says. “Wellness affects the day-to-day and the end goal in design. Ultimately, with wellness integrated, people are more motivated and have a better balance in their lives.”

Brock not only sees wellness in current designs, but also influencing policies within CannonDesign itself – noting the firm adopting summer hours. Brock believes that “wellness is an important aspect in work/life balance.”

The wellness trend is apparent in many projects. For Roland, the University of Florida Student Union stands out.

“The other student unions I worked on were about dining space, retail, meeting rooms,” Roland says. “On this project, they wanted the student engagement, clubs, organizations, and culture on display from the inside out.”

 University of Florida, Reitz Student Union, Gainesville, FL

Interdisciplinary & Flexible Design

For Brock, another shift in architecture is a heightened interest in interdisciplinary fusion where once-siloed disciplines now are collocated into one building to encourage innovation, ideas-sharing and collaboration. One stand-out example is the University of Maryland College Park Human Performance and Academic Research Facility at Cole Fieldhouse.

“It’s an exemplary integrated project where science and technology, health, and athletics are all working and functioning together in a higher education project,” says Brock.

Charu also sees that approach succeeding in laboratory design.

“The space is designed to change to meet its needs; it’s not specific to a user group.”

Charu points out that much of the lab planning is “moving towards being open and on a universal grid.”

What is the universal grid? “It’s spacing and methodologies that allow for the creation of pathways that can grow and are accessible,” Roland says.

To envision the grid at work, he gives the example: “The space above the ceiling can hold more pipes, wires, whatever it needs in the future. Knowing the space from floor to ceiling, to next floor, gives it the ability to be added to and accessible.”

Charu says that this type of adaptability in design “cuts down on the teardown and rebuild to keep up.”

University of Maryland, Cole Field House, College Park, MD

Moving Beyond “Green”

Designing today means designing for the future; sustainability is a key element to consider in that process.

Roland recalls the introduction of LEED and USGBC was “fairly transformational.” Now, more than 20 years later, he notes “a lot of what was LEED has become code.”

Integrating environmental considerations as a requirement of building code and reckoning what a client wants can still be a challenge.

“Some clients with budgetary constraints will seek to check the boxes, make it to code, nothing more,” Roland says. “Others will seek out that certification as it helps in their positioning.”

“I think there’s a shift in how for some companies it’s incorporated in their values,” Charu echoes the difference in clients’ approach. “The client going into a new space will see how the investment pays off after taking that first cost. If the client is going to be inhabiting the space for a long time, the return on investment will be there.”

Brock’s takeaway is there’s a widespread understanding now about sustainability.

“We’re moving away from a time of slapping a sticker on something and calling it ‘green,’” he says. “Clients have come to recognize the social, economic and ecological impacts and why sustainability matters.”

A recent project for The Potomac School has given Brock a chance to explore embodied energy and sustainable materials.

“Wood construction and engineered timber are sustainable, faster to produce than steel, offer carbon filtering, noise reduction and are growing in prominence in the industry.”

For The Potomac School project, Brock was able to integrate the use of glued laminated timber or glulam. Brock championed this innovation through county approval processes and made the case for its benefits. The building is currently under construction.

The Potomac School, New Athletic Center, Potomac, McLean, VA

Major Advancements in Technology

Innovation is often intrinsically linked with technology. The rise and evolution of technology are evident in the design and the day-to-day work of designers at CannonDesign.

“I didn’t use computers in school,” Roland laughs. “Technology transforms how we do what we do. From not existing, to what it was, to what it has become – each of those innovations made the work faster and more efficient.”

Charu reflects on the fact that when she first started, everything was AutoCad and Revit was a big shift. “With Revit and working with BIM there’s a lot more data attached to what you’re drawing.”

BIM creates 3D models that give greater detail than previous design tools. For Charu, that makes things “easier to visualize and see what needs to be added.”

“It allows for more creativity in some aspects,” Roland points out. “Now we can give contractors more information so it’s easier to design interesting shaped buildings – you can see it in every angle and form.”

Having grown with the industry from days of drawing by hand and through the improvements of CAD,  Roland sees the changes broken down as periods.

“It started with computers just replicating what you could do by hand. Just lines and circles and single drawings, unattached to each other. The next decade saw how this drawing can now manipulate this drawing. Object-based drawing is this decade and it’s completely different.”

If technology continues growing and taking some of the heavy lifting of details off designers with automated programs, is there any concern in future advancements?

“It could make our job less meaningful,” Brock muses. “We have to get in front of it, write our own narrative and make sure we’re still relevant and have a purpose.”

With an eye on future changes in architecture and design, Charu says “designers always welcome new challenges. Solving problems is a part of every job. There’s a learning curve to each project and it’s something we feed off. Without it, everything would be the same: monotonous and boring.”

 Using BIM allows for more innovative user experiences such as virtual reality technology.