David Baker Architects


The DBA Pin-Up

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By Caroline Souza, AIA, Associate

Sharing ideas. Image: David Baker Architects

The “pin-up”—a high intensity format for sharing and critiquing design—has inspired and terrified generations of architecture students. At DBA, we harness the rapid-fire creative intensity of the pin-up, but use it to solve problems, share ideas, and inspire ourselves.

Every Wednesday afternoon, we gather around snacks, beer, and a big pile of markers. Project teams present a design challenge they’re wrestling with, we ask questions and discuss, then everyone grabs their favorite pen and starts sketching. Twenty minutes later, we cover our whiteboard with new design ideas.

We started weekly pin-ups to give everyone in the office a chance to shape project designs. Since then, this collaborative exercise has become an integral part of our design process, fertilizing our projects with new ideas.

Pin-ups are a great way to gather new solutions to tricky problems. Are you stuck with five community rooms that won’t fit in the courtyard? Parking garage got you down? Time for a pin-up!

We also use pin-ups to chart new courses at transitional moments in the design process. Whether we’re moving into a different design phase, adding a new function to the building, or chopping off the top floor, pin-ups help us define the new challenge and point the way to new solutions.

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Starting to draw. Image: David Baker Architects

As the firm has grown—with more teams, projects, and typologies—we’ve had to develop new ways to share knowledge between projects.

Pin-ups are an important part of how we learn from each other. Construction administration veterans warn of constructibility pitfalls. Rendering champs come to the rescue with helpful Photoshop tips. Fresh-eyed interns throw a new material into the mix. Project teams realize they’re working on a similar problem and team up. Pin-ups help us fight the silo effect of our long project schedules and give us a chance to show off our hard-earned knowledge.

Iteration and conversation. Image: David Baker Architects

Diverse approaches. Image: David Baker Architects

Finally, pin-ups are a good time! In our staff pin-up feedback survey, 100% of respondents reported that pin-ups are fun. One review: “I love getting design feedback from non-usual suspects… having that input is way more fun and productive then figuring it out at my desk.”

Few things tickle our architect brains quite like a challenging problem and unlimited trace paper. Sometimes we shake things up: “build the tallest tower out of cardboard and masking tape”, or “present 10 things that inspire you.”

Whether we’re tackling a pressing design problem or taking on team challenges, pin-ups give us a chance to flex our creative muscles and show our true colors.

Pin-up tool kit. Image: David Baker Architects


DBA’s Best Recipe for Quality Pin-Ups:


• 1 to 2 design problems
• 3 soup cans of markers
• 2 to 3 rolls of trace paper

• 5 minutes -   Project Overview
• 5 minutes -   Define the Challenge
• 5 minutes -   Q & A
• 20 minutes - Solo Sketching
• 20 minutes - Present Ideas
• 5 minutes -   Wrap Up

Image: David Baker Architects

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Variations. Image: David Baker Architects