Friday, June 19, 2009

Friday Feature: Interviewing Bouler Design Group

For our Friday Feature, we interview Bouler Design Group for tips on how to achieve success in architecture and design. Students and Professionals alike will have an interest in this firm's ability to withstand an increasingly competitive market, and how they managed to achieve it through modern environmental methods mixed with traditional designs.

First, a bit about the firm. Bouler Design Group consists primarily of architect James Bouler (RA, AIA), Nicholas Pfluger (Associate), and Nadine Bouler (Creative Team Advisor). Based in Islip, New York, they have been featured in "Leading Residential Architects" by Pamela Lerner Jaccarino, as well as having written numerous articles on their innovative methods of mixing modern environmentally-friendly technologies with the traditional design types required by certain communities.

(above) The Oldfield, NY house featured house in "Leading Architects" (more)

BRANDON: Thank you, Nadine and James. Could you both start by telling us a little about yourselves, your job position(s), and credentials?

NADINE: Bachelors in Art/Architecture History, Masters in English Literature, teaching high school (and a brief stint at local college) since 1994. [ed. Nadine is also an author and has also published a children's book and three young adult novels (more).]

JAMES: Bachelor's in Architecture from Auburn University, and Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture, own practice since 1998.

B: Let's get down to what I and probably every other student is wondering right now, how hard was it to start your own architectural firm?

N: It helped to have one of us with a steady job and benefits (me). James is incredibly motivated, focused, determined so he didn't get distracted. He works well with contractors as well as the clients so that helped him get a lot of word of mouth recommendations. Advertising hasn't worked as well for us. We are still a small firm but that allows James to ensure top quality in terms of design and accuracy, as well as customer service. James has been successful because he's a great designer, easy to talk to, returns calls quickly, and works as many hours as needed to get it done. The biggest challenge was not working 24/7. James is always in touch with clients and contractors so it can be tough to turn it off on weekends, nighttime, and vacations.

(above) James Bouler gives a presentation on sustainable architecture (more)

B: I've heard a lot of debate about RA vs. AIA credentials. Do you find the benefits of AIA membership worth the annual price? If not, what extra benefits would you like them to provide?

N: We have gotten a few substantial jobs through the AIA website so it has worked for us. Having a link to our site made it worthwhile.

B: Not counting college tuition for a BS and possibly a Masters in Architecture, what additional costs can students count on having to pay for licenses, tests, memberships, fees, equipment, software, etc, before they can truly earn a living in the field?

N: If it is your own practice there is a lot of overhead, especially insurance. The computer stuff is the cost of doing business. We've also invested in our own plotter which was costly, but if you work for someone else, that's not as much of a factor. One plus is you can start your practice in your home since most clients meet you at their place.

(above) Lido Beach House proposal (more)

B: So far, I've heard social skills are the most important factor to success in Architecture. What would you say is most important to an individual's success? How about a firm's success?

N: Working well with others does help--though that doesn't mean you should be a pushover. If your role is to bring in work, it helps to network, getting to know contractors, and recommending good ones. In terms of the overall firm, a good product is important. Accuracy is key in terms of the plans and the paperwork for permits, etc. Architects also need to realize that this can be a very stressful moment in a person's life--disrupting their lives for a residential project, spending lots of money--so patience with the client is important. Also, keep the practice diverse. We take commercial, residential, waterfront, high-end, mid-range additions. It helps in uncertain times.

B: Given free reign on a project, what style of architecture would you most like to work with?

N: We'd go green and modern.

(above) Oak Beach, NY house of recycled materials and near zero-carbon footprint (more)

B: What sort architectural and design "features" by others tend to annoy you?

N: Vinyl siding. [ed. This is the number one answer I get from every architect I ask.]

B: Good, Fast, Cheap. Pick Two.

N: Good. The others are optional.

(above) Proposed Bayshore, NY house (more)

B: What's your dream project? The one that you lay awake at night and envision one day having a benefactor to pay for it.

N: A personal chapel, but james is awake at night thinking about getting projects through the DEC more than design problems.

B: What's the hardest compromise you've ever had to make on a project?

N: 1. Cost 2. Clients who don't want good design, or are too insecure to go for something that's not like everyone else.
(above) Westhampton, NY house (more)

B: Are there any vital tools and/or skills you can think of that they don't mention in school that are monumental in terms of time and/or money saved?

N: The ability to write contracts and to handle paperwork is a bigger part of the job than design school indicates--but perhaps that's best. I'm not sure that answers your question though.

B: What did you do with all your old architectural models from school? Did you keep them as reminders, or did you recycle them with each project? Or something else?

N: We have pictures of them in a box, but that was over 20 years ago.

(above) Easport, NY house (more)

B: Have you ever met or worked with any Starchitects, or other related celebrities, such as architectural photographer Julius Schulman?

N: James met I.M. Pei who had a great apartment in the city with a magnificent art collection.

B: Do you have any parting words of advice for students pursuing a career in this field?

N: Remember to remain curious about the world around you. inspiration comes from unusual places.

(above) Islip, NY house (more)

Special thanks to Nadine Bouler and Bouler Design Group for the interview. If you would like to know more about them, please visit their web-page at

Or you can contact them at:

Bouler Design Group
12 Doxsee Pl.
Islip, NY 11751
(v) 631.969.3335
(f) 631.969.3391

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