Paul Lewandowski on Connecting Through ArchitectureKristin Crane
Paul Lewandowski, the architect at Paul Designs Project, was design principal at SMRT Architects and Engineers when he got the opportunity to redesign the St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center. A building that he felt a personal connection to. In order to bring this project to life and be meaningful in the community, Paul utilized custom printing to create two unique pieces.
What was it about the St. Mary’s Project that got Paul excited to get to work? He was born there! Paul grew up in the Lewiston-Auburn region of Maine, and knew this hospital well. Yet his childhood memories of visiting the hospital were not always good. He remembered always feeling a little scared and unwelcome whenever he entered St. Mary’s. This project involved designing a new entry point. Paul knew from the start that he wanted to change that unwelcome perception. He wanted to create a friendly experience for people entering the hospital.
As with most projects, the design process began with meeting the client, learning their requirements, and coming up with ideas that worked to meet their requirements. Equally as important as what is required logistically, Paul always asks a client not how they want the space to look, but how they want it to feel. This is when his creativity comes into play and he decides what the space needs to create that feeling.
In the case of this project, he knew from the start that he wanted to incorporate the city’s historic textile history and also pay respect to St. Mary’s as a Catholic hospital. There are many elements of Paul’s final design that were inspired by Catholic iconography, but in a way that is not overtly religious. For him, the meaning doesn’t need to be obvious. Yet, it’s important to him that there are layers of meaning to make a direct connection to the community.
For that reason, customization was an important part of this project. Paul had two special elements customized. In one area, a glass piece was installed that had been etched with an image of the dome that had been over St. Mary’s original operating theater when it was built in 1902.
The second customized piece was a custom cut laminate panel to hang under a large light-box in the ceiling of the waiting room. From the start, Paul’s inspiration for the waiting room was his grandmother’s living room. Hers was a place that was always warm and inviting and easily mixed modern elements with vintage touches.
To design this panel, Paul reached out to Museum L–A, a local museum opened in the Bates Mill after the mill ceased production in 2001. This museum tells the story of the textile workers who worked in this community and the history of the industries that built this city but are no longer in operation. He knew of this museum because his grandmother, like many in the community from her generation, had once worked at Bates Mill. In their collection are textile designs once in production at Bates, Paul chose a design of a historic bedspread pattern to use on his customized panel.
Using a pattern of a woven design, he first had to translate this design into a vector image. Next, customize that vector image to the dimensions of his laminate panel. This panel now hangs under the large light-box in the waiting room. It not only diffuses the harsh light but as the light shines through the piece it shows the bedspread pattern on the floor. This creates a warm and welcoming atmosphere while paying homage to the city’s history at the same time.
Paul was the first local designer to reach out to the museum about using their archive for a special project. Since then Museum L–A has realized their collection is interesting and valuable to the community and they have opened their doors to offer licensing opportunities to use their designs in more modern applications.
Using customized pieces allowed this project to have unique elements significant to this community and paid respect to its rich history. Since its opening, Paul has heard from many people that they appreciate the new design of the space for that reason. The design wasn’t arbitrary or customized for the sake of it but tied into the story of this specific community.
Paul Lewandowski’s Design Tip:
Paul’s ability to connect with his clients and the community made this project a success. In fact, that is design advice he offers to many aspiring designers and is a driving force at his own company, Paul Designs Project. Focus on “connecting the design to the client, to the community, and making it accessible for people.” People often feel as if they don’t get design, but “when you have a design concept that is connected to a story about the place, people understand it easily and then they take ownership of it. It’s like they know the secret, the code.”
Fun Paul Fact:
So, what song does Paul have completely memorized? New Order’s “True Faith”
To learn more about Paul Lewandowski, see more of his work, or work together with him, check out his website. Wondering if customization is right for your project? Get in touch and we can answer your questions.
Photo credits to SMRT
Don’t have time to read? Eavesdrop on Kristen and Paul’s “very casual” conversation: