An interview with Ken Wilson, Principal, Envision Design in Washington DC. Envsion was recently named “Firm of the Year” by the USGBC’s National Capital Region Chapter.

This past May marked the 10th anniversary of Envision Design. What were some of the factors that led you to open in the first place? I suppose,
like most architects, I had always wanted to have my own firm. And like most people who start firms, it was
a matter of the right things aligning at the right time.
I was 42 when I started Envision so I wasn’t a kid. I had plenty of experience with other firms seeing what worked and what didn’t.

Does Envision have a particular design philosophy or aesthetic? I think in order to stay relevant you
must be constantly evolving, however, I feel our most basic philosophical ideas have gone unchanged.
We feel that good design evolves out of a process
of pragmatic problem solving. We also have a strong commitment to serving the client. If you don’t have a happy client, you can’t have a good design. And of course our commitment to sustainable design has been there from the beginning and has only gotten stronger.

Your website mentions improving the lives of people that inhabit your spaces yet you also have numerous clients whose focus is improving the world we live in such as Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund. Is this a concerted effort for you?
We have an incredible client list that we are very proud of. But the truth is we have to work hard to earn every one of our clients. People choose design firms like they choose restaurants. We all have to eat, but just like food, some people care more about design than others. For many clients, design is a commodity. For others it is an integral part of their business and it defines who they are. Those are the organizations that are more likely to select us.

Although we work with a range of client types I would say that the majority of our clients are non-profits or associations. These groups seem to be very values oriented and are mission focused. One of the things I think we do particularly well is branded spaces, and it is a lot more interesting to do a branded space when the client is passionate about something.

The Mohawk Showroom and IIDA headquarters
are LEED-CI Gold certified projects. Do you find
yourself suggesting eco-friendly options or is it
more of a collaborative approach?
Generally speaking, our environmentally committed clients are not necessarily focused on construction. They may be focused on things like science, politics, policy, or habitat preservation. We usually know a lot more about green building than they do. They recognize that we have this expertise and are very comfortable knowing that we will insure they will get a very well considered environmentally responsible design. Sometimes though, we do benefit from their expertise in certain areas which is fantastic.

If you have a project that you feel should be highlighted, please email us with your contact information and a brief description of the project.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) first brought Envision's work to our attention. Since, several more projects featuring Focal Point luminaires such as IIDA and the Mohawk showroom emerged. Do you have a lighting designer in-house or one you partner with? We don’t have an in-house lighting designer but over the years we have learned a lot about lighting.

Do you find that Focal Point fits a certain need for you, be it design, pricing or a combination of factors? We like the Focal Point Light fixtures and
use them often (as you've noted). They look great and the prices are reasonable so I guess you could say it is a combination of multiple factors. I even used your fixtures in a Park City condo renovation that my wife and I recently completed for our family. It was the first project in the state to earn Build Green Utah’s certification for a Green Remodel.

How have Focal Point and our agent, Federated Lighting, been able to help Envision during the design process? Our guy at Federated is Brian Walsh. He has been a great resource for us. He helps us in finding the best fixtures for our functional, budgetary, and aesthetic needs. Brian is very knowledgeable about lighting and works well with
our staff.

As the company has grown over time, do you find yourself spending more time marketing the firm rather than designing or are you still involved on projects? My business partner, Diana Horvat, and
I each run our own projects and each of us are very involved. We have developed a lot of contacts over the years and most of our work comes from referrals
or repeat clients. We have stayed a 20-person firm
for the last 9 years and have an excellent staff. At this size Diana and I can have meaningful involvement
on every project we do. We would rather do fewer projects and do them better.

What’s next for Envision? We are working on a number of interesting projects right now and I am happy to say the interest in LEED certification has
not waned due to the recession. Market differentiation is even more important in a down economy and making a strong statement about your commitment to a better environment with a LEED certification is an excellent way for companies to do that.

Ken Wilson,
FAIA, FIIDA, LEED AP
Principal, Envision Design


Ken was recently inducted into IIDA's prestigous College of Fellows for his design work and efforts to promote sustainability within the design community
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