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EXCLUSIVE: Houston Design Firm LUCID Flips Design Process And Highlights Small Architecture Firms

Houston Retail
LUCID founder Lisa Pope-Westerman

Lisa Pope-Westerman, a hospitality design vet, is launching a new platform that she hopes will solve two concerns she has with the architecture industry. She believes smaller boutique firms aren't getting a proportionate number of projects and that design philosophies too often aren't centered on the customers' experiences. 

With more than two decades of experience with small and large architecture firms in Houston, Pope-Westerman has created LUCID, a collective of creative individuals and independent firms from around the U.S. that will collaborate to design lifestyle projects. Ideal projects include restaurants, hotels, lifestyle, mixed-use, high-rise residential, wellness and corporate hospitality, she said. 

LUCID will find projects three main ways. The company will either bid on suitable projects, developers will request proposals or LUCID members can recommend projects for LUCID to consider. Then, Pope-Westerman will facilitate the process by outlining the scope of the services, setting the budget and selecting project members from the LUCID pool. 

The platform has more than 40 architect members in Houston, Austin, New York and Chicago, and plans to expand into other cities. The membership growth has been organic so far, she said. She has focused on prior relationships and connections, plus recommendations from LUCID's team, as the starting point to invite new members.  

The priority is finding creative and talented members, she said. She considers if a person or team has won design awards, has experience in public speaking and displays a high level of passion and collaboration. She nominates the prospects, and then the LUCID team will discuss and decide if they fit the vision for LUCID members. A diversity of points of view is what the team is looking for.  

"I am not looking for cookie-cutter designers," said Pope-Westerman, who spent nearly a decade at Gensler.  

Pope-Westerman serves as the gatekeeper and advocate for the LUCID platform. Based on each project, she selects and manages a team of designers. Then, LUCID and the design team share the fees. LUCID can take an advisory or leading role depending on the needs of the clients. 

This platform helps to provide more opportunities for creatives and small boutique firms. Ninety percent of the industry works for small firms, but 90% of the work is awarded to big firms, she said. LUCID allows designers to cross over into different or new property types or provides flexibility to a new mom or a semi-retired designer. 

"This is my attempt to allow everyone to have their cake and eat it too," she said. 

A rendering of the West Edge building in Charleston, S.C.

Customers Drive Design 

Another purported differentiater for the LUCID platform is the focus on experiential design, where architects consider the behavioral patterns of the potential end users to influence the design. 

Before pen hits paper, Pope-Westerman's team studies and researches the area and the target audience rather than designing a space based on past projects, prior knowledge or traditional design rules.   

"The more we understand who is going to utilize our spaces, the better we can come up [with] the way to design and program the space," Pope-Westerman said. 

LUCID's first project, Harbor Club at West Edge, a members-only private club in Charleston, South Carolina, will tackle the design by first understanding the consumers' needs, wants and patterns. It is a process unlike any of the other design firms considered, developer BNG Hospitality founder and President Sean Laney said. 

"Beginning with the end users in mind makes a huge difference in how you lay out space and the programming that drives interest," he said. "I haven't found anyone that had that approach before." 

BNG Hospitality will relocate the Harbor Club from a 300-year-old building to West Edge, a multiphase, mixed-use development that overlooks the Ashley River. The new club will be on the seventh floor of an eight-story office building, which is expected to be delivered in July. BNG will take about six months to build out the space.  

The LUCID team spent about three days canvassing Charleston to get a feel for the culture, the people and the hospitality trends. They also conducted studies with current members and analyzed the demographic data.  

One of the target markets for Harbor Club will be individuals on the go that seek a place to work, meet or network in between home and the office. The club's new floor plan will include open workspaces, private offices, an interactive presentation room and other meeting rooms. 

At the original club, members primarily visited for the bar, the dining room and private events, Laney said. While those spaces will also be included, the redesign will attempt to maximize all of the spaces like providing social media-friendly backdrops and an outdoor green space, which essentially provides more value to the membership. 

"I have been incredibly impressed by LUCID's work so far," Laney said. "The creativity by the team has been nothing but world-class."