Breaking the Box
June 1, 2016
A published article from Metro Architect magazine, Winter 2015
There are many ways to address a client’s needs, concerns and goals. However, all too often, individuals and even architects themselves impose limitations on creativity and what is possible. It is usually said that thinking outside the box is the remedy to such creative malaise, yet one firm believes taking it a step further – actually “breaking the box”. For almost three decades, DEL Studio Architects has been setting a standard for client satisfaction by breaking the box.
Founded as Design Dwelling, a Maryland Corporation, in 1986, the original focus of the firm was the design of custom waterfront homes and commercial projects in Anne Arundel County, MD. With a rapid growth in commercial and retail development in the mid to late 1980’s, the leadership of the firm anticipated these growing markets by increasing the diversity and expertise of the staff. The firm then expanded into three areas of focus: Corporate/Commercial, Institutional and Residential Projects. The deep recession of the early 1990’s intensified this shift, and led to a reorganization of objectives, priorities and potential new areas of service. Donald E. Lipscomb, Jr. AIA became 100% owner in 1992, and obtained Minority Status in the SBA. This new status led to teaming opportunities with larger majority owned firms on projects for Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and a sole source contract with the US Army Corps of Engineers in their Baltimore Office. The firm changed the name to DEL Studio Architects in 1994 to reflect this focus, and later began serving regional clients including Kaiser Permanente, Dental Care Alliance, TIAA CREF, Industrial Bank and Maryland Live! Casino. Today, DEL Studio Architects is a small, closely held firm which provides full Architectural Services throughout the Washington DC, Baltimore Metropolitan Area. With each project, the firm strives to bring unique and creative solutions to the challenges faced by their clients while working closely with the entire Design and Construction team to ensure project success.
A major strength of DEL Studio Architects is the firm’s ability to design in so many different styles and genres. “We are a very eclectic design firm,” explains Don Lipscomb. “By combining elements of different genres we achieve harmony with different elements, material and function.” Not a modernist but absolutely willing to use contemporary design approaches, and elements, Don and his firm are not committed to any one style. “I bristle when people ask me what style I prefer. I do not think of myself as a ‘specialist’ in any particular type. We are simply Architects.
Success in so many different project types comes from the broad range of experience and knowledge of the DEL Studio Architects staff. “Our staff is composed of highly skilled professionals who contribute development, planning, design and project management expertise to a variety of new and existing facilities projects,” continues Don. “By employing innovative approaches, clients can expect strong design solutions to consistently meet their goals, budget and timetable. As with accessibility, Sustainable Design is an integral part of the process.”
Vital to the success of any project is strong communication between architect, client and contractor. “Our communication skills and ability to track progress of projects and ensure accountability are paramount in our day to day conduct,” says Don. “We are timely, and respond very quickly.” In fact, DEL Studio Architects would prefer their clients consider them as trusted advisors instead of just the project architect. “As a trusted advisor it is not just about architecture, it is about being a trusted guide throughout the entire journey. Our clients rely on my expertise which builds a relationship based on mutual trust and respect. I communicate directly with every client and always make myself available to them.”
The strong design capabilities of DEL Studio Architects inspires clients from the very beginning of the relationship. “All of our projects have enhanced the value and image of our clients,” explains Don. “Our approach can either contrast with the surrounding context or conform/blend with the surroundings and complement the existing streetscape. Using conventional means, materials and proportions we are able to craft projects which are ‘special neighbors’. We try to look at each project as an opportunity and to develop ways to bring fresh ideas and approaches to what appears to be mundane circumstances.
Of utmost importance to Don and his team is the design value brought by DEL Studio Architects to every client and project. “Whenever a client invests in a consultant to design a special project, the question is – ‘does it enhance the clients the needs’? ‘Does the finished working environment make the employees and client feel appreciated with a new, unique place to work’? For DEL Studio Architects, it is imperative that our design shows the community that we care about the look of the design in relation to the surroundings. As an architect I always try to keep “art” involved. Architecture is still about the visual, and you have to know what materials work well together. We make sure all of our designs are buildable and our construction documents are considered excellent.”
For DEL Studio Architects the most important measure of success is their client’s satisfaction. The following client quotes are a true testimony of Don and his dedication to that goal.
“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and working with Don Lipscomb of DEL Studio Architects for more than fifteen years. What sets Don apart are his listening skills and his ability to understand and relate to his client and the client’s vision before putting pencil to paper.”
– Robert Eitel, Professional Engineer and President of Landesign, Inc.
“Donald Lipscomb is a man of great character. He takes time to get to know you and is an expert listener. Donald is a gifted artist in his field. His abilities are matched by few. If Donald Lipscomb tells you he is going to do something, you can assume with confidence that it will be done and will be done well.”
– Phillip Burnett, Managing Director, Financial Advisor at Coker and Palmer Investment Securities, Inc.
“Donald is a detailed oriented architect and manager. His designs exceed client expectations and code regulations. He focuses on producing a quality products and maintaining a solid reputation in the industry. Donald has always been a pleasure to work with and I would highly recommend him to anyone!”
– Heather Stickler, PMP, LEED AP, Director of Marketing at JENSEN HUGHES
“Partnering with Don, I was able to successfully lead the effort to renovate a condemned kitchen at my church. Not only is he skilled as an architect, but he is also a people person, which was a real plus when dealing with the many problems that arose during our project. From the beginning to the end he was very professional and attentive to details. As a result, we were able to finish our project under budget and on time. I would highly recommend Del Studio Architects.”
– Donald Heiby, Vice-President, Sales at AUTO-GRIP
“In this day and age of megafirms, it is difficult to find a seasoned architect who displays true competence with personal care and service. I have known Don Lipscomb for over 25 years and have had a chance to see his practice mature and grow. He has been successful in honing his craft without being labeled as a “residential architect” or “commercial architect”, but rather as an innovative ‘problem solver”. His creativity tempered by his budgetary and constructability experience makes him an asset to any project.”
– Jeff Lee, FASLA, Founding Principal, President of Lee and Associates Inc.
“DEL Studios has always provided a superlative product and design on time and on budget. Donald is a great partner in projects and his integrity is unmatched.”
– Robin Sparrow, Director, Project Management Services at Studley Inc.
When considering the future of DEL Studio Architects, Don Lipscomb and his team have every reason to be optimistic. Major accomplishments include being named one of the 50 Largest Minority Firms in Baltimore from 2005-2012 as well as the 12th Fastest Growing Private Firm in Baltimore for 2012. Don and his team have many more goals on the immediate horizon. “We are looking to expand more into the Institutional building types such as schools, churches and expand beyond opportunities in tenant projects to base building design,” says Don. “A priority is also to maintain a client base that is interested in long term relationships. These goals can be achieved by expanding our current network of contacts and seek out those companies that need to have direct access to our company’s leadership, value open and continuing dialogue and communication and value a team approach to success.” It sounds like DEL Studio Architects will be breaking the box for many years to come.