Touchstones of Design

Boston Museum of Science

Design Philosophy

Fentress Architects was founded in 1980 to pursue a vision: the creation of exceptional, humanistic, regional-contextual architecture. Our steadfast commitment to this vision continues to yield an award-winning portfolio of enduring works, which have also advanced the practice of architecture.

The unique and crafted approach we take to achieve this vision is distilled in our eight Touchstones of Design, which are comprised of:

  • four humanistic ideas that have guided us from the start, and
  • four design strategies that prioritize the user.

Discover the Natural Order

Public buildings involve process and commitment, periods of reflection and flashes of illumination.

This process of discovery requires a psychological immersion in the realms of client, community and site, creating the potential for a timeless design.

As people move through a building, they help shape it. It’s a natural flow, as people become one with architecture.

Celebrate the Entry

A visitor’s first encounter with a building sets the tone for the experience within.

Buildings should welcome those who enter.

Simplicity always trumps confusion.

Use Context to Create Identity

Context is more than an intellectual consideration of the history or physical appearance of a neighborhood, city or state, and it’s more than the way new will live with old.

It draws on the senses, the sights, smells and memories that define a place and make it unique.

And grows from community, and people respond to it.

Let Culture Guide Design

The collective beliefs, traditions and aspirations of a society help define and influence how individuals live.

Civic buildings capture and reflect the shared strengths of a community, reinforcing pride in residents as well as stirring curiosity and respect in visitors.

Listen Closely

The creation of great public architecture is a social act, uniting people and place in a complex and worthwhile pursuit.

A community gains a voice, and the architect translates, using their vocabulary to design a timeless building for the common good.

Stay Focused

The public process can be long, protracted, bureaucratic, complex and vulnerable to political upheaval.

It requires discipline and patience.

This means concentrating on the end goal and avoiding the distraction of day-to-day “noise.”

It’s all about the big picture, giving the community a building that serves well for years to come.

Restrain the Ego

A public building is part of the story of a community.

It needs to tell its own tale, but never overpower its purpose or the people who use it.

Nor is a building the autobiography of an architect.

Community, site and program unite in a compelling building, where discipline brings the balance of design and function.

Design for People

A timeless design is built on intangible factors such as dreams and inspiration. Truly great architecture is not controlled by catchphrases of the times. Timeless design transcends time and space. It shows genuine respect for the environment, for people and for the universe. Timeless design is, in short, about design that elevates and restores. It is about design that lasts, where function meets art in a building that is both timeless and memorable. Public architecture is designed by people for people, now, and for generations to come.