by Victoria Bourne
When Jeremy Maloney volunteered at the Old Beach Farmers Market in Virginia Beach in 2014, it forged a connection between the architect and other creative locals seeking to transform their neighborhood. Soon, the Vibe Creative District was born, and Maloney’s design aesthetic can be seen among the businesses in the once-fading, now-vibrant Oceanfront enclave. We sat down to learn more about the man behind the design.
What drew you to architecture?
I always say it’s a passion career. I try to talk about work-life balance; I just call it integrated life because you can’t get away from it. I mean, even when we’re sitting in a coffee shop or a restaurant, you’re admiring the way it was shaped, the materials they used, just how things are assembled, the details, and so it’s just always a constant thing. I mean, you can’t cut it on and off.
What inspired your firm, Altruistic Design?
Two of the projects specifically that I worked on (as a graduate student at Tulane University): a youth farm called Grow Dat Youth Farm for at risk youth in New Orleans and what we call the Guardians Institute, which is a literacy center in the Upper Ninth Ward. It really altered the way that I looked at the profession in the sense that I could see the social mission and my professional mission could be one.
Is your work primarily in commercial design?
I probably do about 40 percent residential. As long as it’s a good project for a good client. So, if a client really appreciates design, they want input, then they’re a client I want to work with.
What is “socially responsible architecture”?
Being aware of the impact that you can have on the community through your design, whether that means working with your owners to realize the benefits of providing more public amenities space, how do you interact with the streetscape, how do you draw people into your project or development? So, kind of blurring that line between public and private and just being thoughtful of the way you do that and the materials you use.
In an advocacy piece written for the American Institute of Architects Virginia, you said, “it takes more than design to elevate the profession.” What did you mean by that?
You’ve got to be present in your community. You’ve got to give back where you can. I think all of that, as well as well-thought-out design, or design solution or design intervention, has impact on the community. It’s part of our profession, in my opinion; you should be thinking about the community at large.
You say you prefer adaptive reuse – what’s the appeal?
There’s a history and character to those buildings. I like to say I do honest design. So that’s honest to the client, the building, the community, in terms of the budget and every part of the design. And so, there’s a character and a story behind each of these buildings and being able to harness that, put it on show – the 17th Street, 300 block, (for example); 17th Street used to be this commercial corridor in Virginia Beach, and it’s been kind of asleep for a long time. Yes, we’re going to activate these buildings, but those buildings are then going to activate the street and activate the community. It’s also the most truly sustainable way to build because you’re keeping what’s there instead of tearing it down and sending it to a landfill.
Tools you can’t be without:
This book is always in my hand – you know, sketches, there’s a lot of notes. I thought I lost it a couple of weeks ago and about had a panic attack. I go through one every three months, probably. (And) I have these three pens in my pocket for small, medium and large. I’ve got to have my three sketching pens.
You’re behind the design of at least 10 projects in the Vibe with more in the works. How has it been to watch the area grow, knowing you were part of its evolution?
It’s humbling to know that I’ve been able to have that opportunity. What’s neat is, as I blur my eyes and look at all the projects I’ve done, whether it’s craft beer or it’s craft coffee, food, all of them have a mission to better the surroundings that they’re in. It’s not a solely money driven process.
What are the challenges of collaborative design?
I see the challenge in not being collaborative. In the past, some architects would sketch behind closed doors and come out and say, “This is what you told me you wanted.” I just feel like that’s not a truly successful way to work with a client. The way that I like to work is in that collaborative process where every voice is heard. If it’s a large-scale building, it’s the person in the corner office as well as the person loading and unloading at the back of the building because each of those people experience that space and use it. Being able to hear their experiences will really provide what I consider a truly successful design.
What trends are you seeing?
Adaptive reuse, on a conceptual level. Shipping containers are a trend. I think people are also starting to go back to – maybe it’s a post-recession mentality – but natural, real materials. They’re trying to get away from the synthetics and the plastics, which is really cool. And the appreciation of the handcrafted.
– Interview condensed and edited for space and clarity.