This month we get the real deal with Brad Will, co-founder of Ashokan Architecture and Planning (AAP), based in Kingston, NY, in the heart of the Hudson River Valley. Brad has been involved with award-winning residential projects, two major senior living centers, public design competitions, a new office high-rise, and pro bono assistance for non-profit organizations. He graduated from Cornell University with a degree in Architecture in 1984, and became a LEED Accredited Professional in 2004 with the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). AAP brings state-of-the-art design and building technology to the practical challenges of getting good buildings completed on time, and on budget. The firm built its reputation on bringing subtle and playful sophistication to each project using American vernacular forms and local traditions, but 21st Century ideas and tools for living, working and using our buildings. Both their residential and commercial work is literate, friendly, livable and generous in detail – with a design approach practical rather than conceptual in nature

Lisa Halter: Tell us how you got started in your line of work and what a typical day looks like.

Brad: When I was completing my junior year of high school, my mother had the foresight to enroll me in the RISD (Rhode Island School of Design) summer program for high school students. That was in 1978, and the five weeks I spent under the direction of renowned architect and professor Rodolfo Machado helped me build a strong portfolio. More importantly, it introduced me to the creative and fascinating world of architecture. A typical day doesn’t exist - every day is unique, and ever since I started working for myself - beginning in 1993 when I earned my license in California to practice architecture - that truth has held. I map out what needs to be accomplished, and am always aware of project deadlines, meetings, and milestones. I have come to value the quiet days when I can focus on the creative impulses that are central to my work, but most days involve communications of all types and the inevitable traveling to job sites. The latter task is so rewarding - seeing a design come to life. There is nothing like it.

Lisa Halter: Where did you study and what was your very first project?

Brad: I earned my Bachelor of Architecture degree from Cornell University in 1984. A ‘B.Arch’ is considered a professional degree, as it requires five years of study. During my years at Cornell, I was fortunate to study for a summer in Vicenza, Italy - we visited the palazzos and the Palladian villas of the Veneto, and immersed ourselves in Italian culture. I also spent a semester in Washington, D.C. and interned at the American Institute of Architects headquarters - memories of playing softball on the Mall linger! My very first project was for Wayne and Mary A. I designed an addition to their house in Andover, MA while I was still in Ithaca, and even received three credits for it as an independent study. They raised their children in the house, which they still call home 35 years later!

Lisa Halter: What inspires you and how do you go about designing a house?

Brad: I am inspired by my contemporaries, by the 20th-century masters, innovations in technology and sustainable design practices, and the stunning majesty of the Hudson Valley. How can nature not inspire all of us? In its building and site designs, AAP seeks to achieve a symbiotic relationship with the unique natural environments in which we work, play, and live. Initial design concepts come to me fairly quickly - the Parti, as it’s known in architectural shorthand, can start with a napkin sketch or scribbles on trace. In today’s computer-driven world, these early sketches evolve into three-dimensional virtual reality rapidly. This is a powerful tool for spatial visualizing for all parties of the design & construction process: owner, contractor, engineer, agency, and architect. For a house project, clear communications with the homeowner and an understanding of their goals and expectations are important first steps before any design work commences - my job is to translate the spoken and written thoughts into a spatial language that embodies light, air, enclosure and sequence, and the oft-repeated (and accurate!) marriage of form and function.

Lisa Halter: Where does an architect fit into the process of building or renovating a house and are you involved in the entire process?

Brad: From pre-project planning through the post-construction issuance of Certificate of Occupancy, that’s where the architect fits in. A site or building can be assessed for its viability and opportunities prior to any design work, and the final project inspected for completeness and correct detailing before final payment is disbursed to the contractor. The architect acts as the owner’s agent throughout the design and construction phases, safeguarding their interests and vision to ensure delivery of optimal performance and quality craftsmanship in their house and property.

Lisa Halter: What are you working on right now?

Brad: AAP has new house projects under construction in Gardiner and Margaretville, Delaware County, renovation/addition projects in design phase in Athens, Greene County and Woodstock, a church conversion in Newburgh, Orange County, a 23-unit ‘eco-motel’ in the Hamlet of Woodstock, a new church in Schenectady, and a Zero Net Energy Irish Cultural Center in Kingston - and more projects in the pipeline. These are busy days for AAP! 

Lisa Halter: That's great! What are this year’s trends and which do you dislike or favor most?

Brad: I’m not a trend-seeker or follower per se - I have been mainly focused on client concerns and projects. That said, I do my best to stay current with technology - high-efficiency HVAC solutions, advances in window and door design, and building-integrated alternative energy products. I like clean design that deftly combines smooth, durable materials with natural surfaces - stone and wood - and expressed structure that enhances space. Advancements in engineered products have made creating open spaces more affordable and dramatic, and the use of recycled content materials always intrigues me. In today’s high-speed-connected world, I find that our clients often have done research and are the ones informing us of design trends and niche products that we can then integrate into our designs when they make sense and contribute to the project in a positive, cost-effective manner.

Lisa Halter: What are your favorite design magazines or websites for inspiration? 

Brad: For actual magazines, I like Architect, Metropolis, and Architectural Record. Online, I’ll visit Smart & Resilient Cities, Green Building Advisor, Next City, EcoDistricts. There are many more, but an architect can’t tell all! 

Lisa Halter: What is the most memorable career advice someone gave you?

Brad: It wasn’t so much a piece of career advice, but a friend and architect colleague I met in California (with time spent in Woodstock, coincidentally) offered this business advice: if I was going to run my own design firm, I should own the building it operates in. That encouraged me to purchase AAP’s first office in Marbletown in 2004, and then a commercial property in Uptown Kingston in 2005. AAP was a prime tenant for six years, and I continue to have a stake in the property. Managing a multi-tenant commercial venture has taught me so much over the last 11 years, and I have architect Morton Frank to thank for his encouragement. 

Lisa Halter: If you weren't an Architect - what would be your dream job?

Brad: Outside of architecture? A world touring jazz musician.

Lisa Halter:  With that in mind, it’s karaoke night – what song do you take on?

Brad: For some reason, the Beatles “Girl” popped into my head, so I’ll go with that. It’s dark and mysterious, breathy and melodic in a way only the Fab Four could craft.

Lisa Halter: What is the most frustrating aspect of your job? And the most rewarding one? 

Brad: That’s easy under the frustration column - the endless agency meetings larger scale projects often require. Most rewarding is tough to define - I love the creative energy of the design process, watching the building being constructed (especially during rough framing), and getting to know the people I’ve met and been fortunate to work with in collaborative environments - very rewarding and stimulating indeed.

Lisa Halter: What are some of your favorite homes or buildings in the Hudson Valley?

Brad: Mohonk Mountain House is a place our family has always visited, and it remains a special place for our local family members - my wife Sari, and mother Patricia who grew up in New Paltz (right on the SUNY campus!). The buildings and gardens are situated in a stunning environment, with a balance of great care and maximum, full sensory effect. There is no place in the world that even approaches Mohonk - and it is right in our own backyard.  In Woodstock, I am drawn to the Colony Cafe on Rock City Road, perhaps because it reminds me of my Southern California days and I look at it and think “what the heck is that doing here?” Both the Maverick Concert Hall and the Byrdcliffe Arts & Crafts Colony are visceral reminders of Woodstock’s creative roots and core principles that continue today.  In a real way, successful architecture accomplishes this human trajectory: it reminds us of where we’ve been, who we are in the present, and offers a launchpad for our next adventures. Architecture is our continuum from the past to future, through the millennia.

To learn more about Ashokan Architecture and Planning - visit their website and take a look at more of their beautifully designed projects. 

Lisa Halter
Principal Broker/Owner
Halter Associates Realty