Category Archives: IDEAS

Restaurant Design Considerations: Front-of-the-house

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA, ADMG

Great restaurant design is a delicate and thoughtful balance of design ideas, technical considerations, and operational concerns.  Each is orchestrated and integrated in order to create an overall customer experience, from the minute he or she sets sight on the building to the moment when they step back outside.  The following are some points to consider when thinking about the design of your facility.

Exterior Image

  • Preconditioned expectations can be overcome by presenting an image that is beyond expectation.  Just because you are a cafeteria style establishment doesn’t mean you need to look like a high school cafeteria!
  • The façade must stand out.  Use of iconic elements such as a particular roof style, particular colors, use of images and symbols make your establishment stand out and memorable.  The gambrel roof of Dairy Queen or the Pizza Hut red roof is recognizable no matter where you are.  What is your icon?
  • The importance of signage is paramount.  With today’s printing and manufacturing technologies signage is affordable and just about anything imaginable in possible.  Signage if often the most recognizable element of any establishment.  Make sure it is given careful consideration from the start.
  • Landscaping can communicate levels of formality.  Appropriateness is determined by image, price level, screening needs, and climate of the establishment.


  • Solid facades vs. opaque or transparent.  Glass doors vs. solid wood and the hardware used. Graphics, vestibules, detailing.  Each offers a very distinct impression and all play an important role in your customer’s arrival experience.


  • The placement of a hostess immediately upon entry is not always the answer.  The customer expectation of greeting is linked to the psychology of service type and must be carefully considered.  Whether or not a waiting area included is another consideration, and whether or not it is just for waiting or used as a secondary sales area.  Lighting and temperature control must be thoughtful especially in colder climates.

Seating, Tabletop, Napery, Flatware, China, Glassware

  • All must be appropriate to the aesthetic, service level, durability, workflow, the list goes on.  Ergonomics are of utmost importance, especially at the bar.  Careful considerations of dining sight lines, floor materials, table mix, and materials are the keys to success.  Avoid gimmicks and novelties and leave room for flexibility and change as operations evolve!

Walls, Ceilings, Floors and Lighting

  • The walls define space, provide interest and function in areas of acoustics, display and storage.  Consider materials, colors, detailing and heights carefully, as well as durability and protection.  Ceilings are too often neglected and must be thoughtful.  Carefully weigh material decisions with mechanical and lighting requirements, acoustics, and space/volume considerations.  Ceilings can have a dramatic effect when done properly. Flooring should be easily cleaned and maintained, be safe and durable while still aesthetically pleasing.  Consider life cycle costs, acoustics, and safety!  Finally lighting; direct vs. indirect, zoning, ease of operation, energy efficiency and power requirements must be analyzed.  Not to mention the possibility of breaking the budget if you are not careful!

Above are some basic points to consider when working with the design team on your next dining establishment.  The points are basic at best and hopefully provoke thought.  The most important thing to remember is that each is important and must be considered, weighed, balanced and integrated to ensure the success of your operations!


1 Comment

Filed under DESIGN, IDEAS

How We See Architecture

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA

There are many factors that contribute to great Architecture.  One very important factor is our visual perception of the built environment and the elements that contribute to the pleasure we derive from what we see.

How the mind interprets forms and patterns is the subject of Gestalt psychology (Gestalt, German for “form” or “shape”).   It is through this study and the understanding of our brain’s hardwired inner workings that Architects are better able to design buildings that are pleasing to the eye.

So what is it about Architecture then that makes it great, beautiful, or ‘pleasing’?  Is it merely in the eye of the beholder?  Is it subjective? Why does something look “just right” to you?   Is the Pritzker Architecture Prize winner doing the same things as the guy who drew up your local big box store?  Well, it all depends…

Our mind, without us necessarily knowing it, organizes visual data using certain built-in preferences such as:

Proximity: Click Link

Repetition: Our mind will equate things as equal (spacing, etc.) when we see more of them, even though they might not actually be equal.

Simplest and Largest Figure:  Our mind will complete/subtract (from) images in order to recognize and understand the simplest and largest figure.

Figure/Ground Relationship: Click Link

The ‘parts’ we perceive are greater than the whole.  Each part or element contributes to what we perceive as the ‘whole’ and thus how we interpret and enjoy it.  It is order out of visual chaos.

Important Elements that contribute to our “delight” in seeing Architecture include:

Proportion: The mind seeks out mathematical and geometrical relationships whether we like it or not.  Some are more pleasing than others.  This concept is as old as time and is the foundation and basis for not only Art and Architecture, but music and many other sciences.                        The most well known proportional system in architecture is based on the Golden Section or Golden Mean. Also see, Modular.

Scale: The relationship of the building and all its elements to the average size of the human body.  It is our perception of how ‘big’ things are and/or supposed to be.  The parts (e.g. doors, windows, etc) relate to the whole and give us visual clues to piece together a full concept of what we are looking at and how big it is. When elements are ‘out of scale’ our minds typically are confused by this and     therefore it is less enjoyable.  More information on Scale in Architecture.

Rhythm: Click here for more on Rhythm in Architecture and an exercise.

Texture: In terms of building materials/methods, both optical (visual pattern at the large scale as compared to smaller local human scale) and tactile (what can be physically felt by the human being). Each greatly affects our perception, feelings, and understanding of a building.

Light and Color: One of the most powerful element in the perception of Architecture. Without light we do not see, and the light determines ‘what’ we see.  Colors can affect our mood and change the perception of elements.

Our mind looks for these elements whether we like it or not.  It is wired into us as human beings.  These principles are all around us in nature and we experience them every minute of every day.  The design of great architecture is not accident.

Whether it is a big box store, or any other building, if it is designed with these principles in mind then it should prove to be good Architecture and pleasing to the eye.   What is pleasing to the eye should draw more attention and hopefully customers thus helping your bottom line.


Leave a comment


Keeping Up with Materials, Methods, and Everything Else in the AEC World

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA

The other day I found myself in Target to pick up a couple of things.  As I stood and stared blankly at a wall of toilet paper nearly the size of the climbing wall at my local gym, I could not help but feel a bit overwhelmed.  Do we really need 25 different kinds of toilet paper, in 15 different package sizes in order to complete what might be the most basic of human tasks?  Because of my profession this got me thinking about just how many building products there on the market in this day and age, if they are all really needed, and just how to absorb all the information.  It is daunting enough for a full time professional, so what about owners and facility managers who wish to make informed decision for their projects?  Luckily there are some good ways to keep up with the ever growing market.

20 year ago there were not as many options in building materials, let alone methods and techniques for using them. Today many large firms employ full time people, known as ‘Materials and Resources Managers,’ just to oversee this effort.  However, for smaller firms (yes like ADMG) it can become overwhelming and honestly too expensive. Still, it is our goal to always offer our clients the best possible solutions for each project.  We of course like to use new materials and methods technologies where appropriate and cost effective, and have found several good ways to stay on top of this information and make it a manageable task. The following ideas help us, and can also help our clients, keep up with trends in the design and construction industry:

BPM Select,

They claim to be the premier building products search engine and they just might be.  Just type in a word, anything really, and like Google it will pull you up products that match what you are looking for.  It is like a big online Sweets Catalog only better.


Hanley Wood University,

Want to know more in depth information on building products, best practices for use and installation, and life-cycle information?  Look no further.  Hanley Wood University offers courses on all the above.  You can also earn continuing education credits.  Now, the spec book doesn’t become so daunting and you might even give your GC a tip or two.  Best of all it’s free.

Conspectus, Inc.,

These guys are great and one of my personal favorites.  This Company writes specifications and puts out a greatly monthly Tech Tips and News Bulletin that you can subscribe to.  It covers all kinds of things from new methods, proper installation techniques, new products, and even contracts and administration information.  They tell you what works, what doesn’t, and what to avoid.

Finally, publications such as Architect Magazine, JLC (Journal of Light Construction), Construction Superintendent, various trade magazines, and of course, last but not least, this Newsletter you are currently reading also have great information that can help keep you current with all that is going on in the industry. These methods for staying ahead of the game are not only good for smaller offices, tradespersons, but especially for the owner who doesn’t do it every day.  Nothing better than a savvy informed owner to compliment his design and construction team in completing a successful project!  Now the tools are just a click away.


Leave a comment


Holiday Design and Construction How-Tos

During the holiday season, while the real world processes of design and construction frequently slow to a crawl, you can still get your architecture fix by scaling down operations and moving to alternate building materials.  Check out the following links for some useful DIY tips to build holiday cheer away from the office.

Are you sustainability-minded?  Looking to reduce/reuse/recycle some of your old Kenny G CD’s?  No worries, make a holiday wreath out of them:

Perhaps you have a sweet tooth and have always wanted to design your own home.  Simply construct the holiday classic – how to build a gingerbread house:

Or maybe you are the extreme outdoors type…build yourself a survival shelter out of nothing but frozen precipitation.  How to make an igloo (there is snow up on Mount Baldy):

ADMG would like to extend our wishes to all for a happy and healthy holiday season!


1 Comment


Remembering Our Roots: Principles in a Technologically Based AEC World

Ryan Davis, Assoc. DBIA

Back when I was in good old architecture school at the University of Michigan, CAD was a mandatory class.  Although it had already been in use in the professional world for years, few students really took advantage of CAD in order to complete their coursework.  We still used mylar, vellum, lead holders and pens.  We cut chipboard and balsa wood to make scaled models in our design studios.  It was time consuming and, even for the time, seemed a bit archaic.

The reluctance to utilize available technology in school was a matter of time (deadlines), proficiency in that technology (time vs. effort), and a need for a stronger communication of the art and discipline of design and construction (design principles). Therefore, we most often defaulted to the traditional methods we were taught.  We knew how to use technology, but we did not rely on it.  That was the key.

It is today, I will admit, embarrassing to confess my inability to intelligently communicate certain classical principals to people when I talk about my profession. I can talk about the codes, new materials on the market, going ‘green’ or the latest version of Revit, but had somehow forgotten most of my classical architectural training.  Someone may ask me who designed such and such, what is the predominate mechanism of a Prairie School floor plan, or to explain the importance of hierarchy, organization, proportion, and circulation to great architecture.  It had unfortunately been pushed from my brain by more “important” items.

In today’s AEC world we are constantly upgrading our technology to offer ourselves the ability to design more complex structures more efficiently and accurately while at the same time building a platform to communicate the idea across multiple disciplines and to the end users.  But while we are spending our time (and big money) learning BIM, utilizing high end estimating and PM software, rendering programs, and other collaboration tools…are we spending less and less time learning or maintaining our knowledge of the real nuts and bolts, the principles of good design and construction?

As technology has proliferated society to the point where today people would rather Facebook, Netflix, or play a video game than read a book or have an intelligent dialogue, so has this begun to happen in our industry.  With a growing over-reliance on technology, it is of the utmost importance that we as designers and constructors do not lose our way in the modern era.  Do not misunderstand me; technology is a useful tool but we must remain proficient in the principles and be able to think just like the masters of old did, that is, truly understanding what is on our computer screens.  Not only may reliance on technology weaken our ability to do so, but I believe it also cheapens the substance of it to the point where just about anyone who can use a computer believes they can “design” a building.    It is my hope that academia, as well as, leading companies will realize this and promote more than just cyberspace architecture and construction.

It is our responsibility to ensure the next generation of architects, engineers, and contractors know how the things they draw on a screen look, feel, and function in real life. Teach students and employees more than just CAD, BIM, and rendering; teach them what it really is and what it means.  Let’s not forget how to survive if someone were to pull the plug, but be just as capable.  Let’s remember our roots.


Leave a comment