Q&A Session with Steve Alspaugh

Fast Facts about Steve Alspaugh

Steve Alspaugh, AIA, LEED AP

Discipline: Design Architect

Hometown: Monticello, IN

Undergrad: Ball State University

Graduate: Ball State University

Favorite Spot on Mass Ave: MacNivens


It was April 3, 1974, and major storms were descending on Monticello, IN. Three tornadoes tore through the small city northwest of Indianapolis, destroying it in about 20 minutes. That day changed and re-shaped the cityit also shaped design architect Steve Alspaugh.


What about that day changed the course of your future?

Following that storm in my hometown, the reconstruction of Monticello was a priority for the next decade. What that did was create construction jobs. I had Union wage construction jobs for five summers while I was in college.

While I was making good money for my age, the work was difficult. When I got home at night, many times I could barely lift my hands above my head to wash my hair. It was physically grueling, but it greatly informed my construction knowledge. I knew how to put buildings together before I knew how to design them. I feel like I am a better designer because I understand the physical implementation of my drawings.


But the influence of construction started before that, right?

Yes. Growing up, my dad worked for my uncle’s heating and plumbing contracting business and was very knowledgeable about construction in general. He passed that “jack of all trades, master of none” mentality to me.


Are you passing on that mentality, too?

In fact, my son Ethan is following that same path: studying architecture at the University of Cincinnati and working construction jobs during the summer to understand the buildings better.


We heard you have kept a few things from your favorite projects.

I have a couple pieces of wood at my desk that aren’t interesting until you know what they are. One is a hollow piece of wood with a cut through it. When we were building Goshen College Music Center, they commissioned a custom-built Taylor & Boody organ. During installation, they had to cut the wooden pipes to exact specifications. I kept one of the discarded pieces. I also keep the cut-off end of a baseball bat made at the Louisville Slugger plant.

Steve Alspaugh Organ Pipes

Organ pipe piece from Goshen College Music Center

What do you do when you’re not designing buildings?

I really enjoy bike riding and tennis, but that has been difficult since I had surgery on my knee in November 2015. Though I could probably go hit around right now, I certainly don’t play competitively anymore. Fortunately, the bike works just fine with the new knee.

I also try to get up to Wrigley Field in Chicago to watch the Cubs play at least once a year. When I was in junior high, we got our first cable television connection, and I could watch the WGN Superstation. Though I was already a Cubs fan, my love was fueled because I was able to watch them so often.


Tell us about your family.

I married my wife, Linda, in September 1995—exactly seven years to the day from our first date. (Coincidentally, I asked her to marry me six years to the day from our first date.) Together, we have Ethan, my 22-year-old son.

Family is very important to me.  Some of my cousins call me the “Glue Guy” because I am the glue that keeps my extended family together and connected.

Steve Alspaugh family

Steve, Ethan, and Linda Alspaugh


Also learn about Sarah HempsteadTricia SmithCharlie WilsonTom NeffJoe RedarDave JonesPatricia BrantLiam KeeslingSayo AdesiyakanBen BainAsia CoffeeEric BroemelMatt DurbinKevin ShelleyEddie LaytonAnna Marie Burrell, Kyle MillerSteve SchaecherMyrisha Colston Drew Morgan, Steve SpanglerBill Gruen, Cindy McLoed, and Robin Leising

Six Biophilic Design Tactics

“Biophilia is the humankind’s innate biological connection with nature. It helps explain why crackling fires and crashing waves captivate us; why a garden view can enhance our creativity; why shadows and heights instill fascination and fear; and why animal companionship and strolling through a park have restorative, healing effects.”

Terrapin Bright Green

What Biophilic Design?

Biophilic design is the broad application of connections with natural environments, elements, and patterns. It can be viewed as the relationship of science, nature, and the built environment combined. Humans impact nature as much as nature impacts humans. This isn’t exactly a new concept – people always have and always will associate closely with the natural world, even when we are inside a building during most of the day. But we are coming up with new ways to talk about it, think about what it means, and apply the findings to design.

Why does it matter?

There are two main factors that drive the need for biophilic design:

  1. We spend about 90% of our time indoors
  2. Urbanization: increase in buildings and decrease of green spaces

As designers, we are tasked with bringing some of those natural elements back to human lives. The benefits to biophilic design elements are mutually beneficial to the end users and to the business’ bottom line. Backed by research, these basic benefits include:

  • Improves mood, physical and mental health, and cognitive function
  • Reduces stress levels
  • Increases productivity, performance, engagement, and creativity
  • Advances the natural healing process

How do we do it?

First off, as designers, we listen to our Owners to gather insight on their needs and priorities for their end users. Then we determine what is possible in terms of biophilic design and how it will benefit the end user and Owner. In the design process, we strive to find the sweet spot between quality and quantity within the space – ensuring we don’t over saturate. A school will have obviously different requirements and needs than an office building, but the basic design tactics are the same:

  1. Natural Daylight

Introduce natural daylighting into buildings to the greatest extent possible for maximum benefit, but do so in a controlled and responsive manner. Proper building orientation means maximizing southern and northern exposures and minimizing east and west exposures. Worried about the energy costs of having a wall full of windows? Don’t worry, this is where engineers come in and help design with tools for energy savings. Exterior shading devices, elements that push daylight deeper into the building, and proper interior window treatments can be incorporated.

Biomorphic - natural daylight

  1. Fabrics, finishes, and lighting

Choosing fabric colors, textures, and patterns that occur naturally in the environment around them is a simple way to provide connection to the outdoors. Using palm tree patterns, nautical textures, and beachy colors may not be the best choice for a building in Indiana – it would be best to incorporate something more authentic to the geology of a specific place. This can be wood planks, limestone features, and a neutral color palette.

As for lighting, try to include technology that allows users to mimic the lighting outdoors. For example, include dimmers so lights can be slightly lowered as the sun goes down. Shadows within the space will mimic what is happening outside this way as well.

Biomorphic - finishes

  1. Real plants and water features

Make sure not to forget large and small plants when planning interior design elements. Naturally weaving organic materials into a design helps to give an authentic and cool vibe. Other than being aesthetically pleasing, natural plants also help improve indoor air quality.

It is important to consider what windows face outside – plants and/or water features should be placed strategically outdoors as well. The benefits to biophilic design will be heighted when the user is looking at big trees, colorful flowers, or peaceful water fountains even when the users are still indoors. A courtyard area (inside of out) with a water feature and plants creates a calm refuge area from the busy day.

Biomorphic - plants and water features

  1. Give them a view

Like we mentioned above, give a visual connection to nature and let plenty of natural light in. Panoramic views, or large windows positioned next to common or lounge areas give users a chance to have a moment to practice mindfulness, a good breather from the busy day. Plan office layouts that position desks to face windows.

If designing for an exterior courtyard, arrange an indoor seating area around those windows so people can still peer out at the activity even when they can’t join. Providing movement within users’ line of sight will give them a visual break they need to stay focused.

Biophilic - give them a view

  1. Biomorphic design elements

This means integrating naturally occurring shapes, forms, or patterns suggestive of nature and living things into the design of the built environment. This can be merged into the previous point (fabrics, treatments, and finishes) and/or through the building’s structural and ornamental design. Apply biomorphic design elements to two or three surfaces, too much could cause a negative reaction for users.

Biomorphic patterns

  1. Artwork

If there is little opportunity to give users a full view of the outdoors or to incorporate organic materials, murals of a landscape scene can serve as a good alternative. On a smaller scale, paintings or sculptures are nice touches to add to a space that provides a good view of the outdoors.

Biomorphic - artwork


There will always be restrictions – budget, priorities, safety, or available square footage – on how grand the biophilic design gestures can be. But even the smallest touches can create a big overall impact on users. If you can’t do a huge wall of windows or provide a jungle-like courtyard, sprinkling biophilic design elements sparingly in common spaces and high-traffic areas can still have a significant impact on users. So take a short (or long) break and find a way to immerse yourself in nature to improve your day and health!

Iterations and Evolutions

Design discovery is a process, not an event. It involves developmental steps which consider and refine more and more information as it moves towards becoming a reality. It is not always a linear process, sometimes turning back on itself to reconsider a previous direction and chart a new one. The path of a design process may different for different people, but a clear understanding of the problem is always necessary if you intend to solve the right problem.

We explore our design challenges in iterative steps, benefiting from new or previous investigations of multiple approaches or ideas which may be wholly different one from another.


Ball State University Schmidt/Wilson Residence Hall layout options













Often, the final solution may combine the best aspects of one central idea with interesting nuggets mined from other explorations to create something more dynamic and beneficial than the original idea.


Option 1 rendering


Option 2 rendering










We don’t take our role as designers of the spaces our clients will live and work in every day lightly. We direct our energy as if we are designing these spaces for ourselves.

Similarly, a successful design outcome relies on appropriate responses to good, honest feedback from the design team, but especially from the project’s stakeholders. This feedback comes to us in the form of a never-ending loop in the process as stakeholders respond to the different iterations, allowing our team to make modifications. This improves the function, character, and connectivity of the building and its spaces.

In our digitally-interactive age, Schmidt Associates has evolved the acquisition of feedback to an entirely new level with our project blogs. Most of our K-12 clients (about 20 different projects at this point) see the design iterations for specific portions of their project coming to them electronically. They are complete with graphics and explanatory text, allowing them to simultaneously share their responses with other stakeholders and the design team to affirm or redirect the progress more quickly. This type of feedback loop works within, but does not replace, the design dialogues from face-to-face or web meetings. It accelerates and augments the conversations to achieve a more complete solution more quickly.


Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works.

– Steve Jobs    

Fourth in the Series of Four Core Principles of Design at Schmidt Associates – A Closer Look at the Integrity Principle

Design at Schmidt Associates flows passionately and intentionally out of our Core Principles of Design.

The third of these principles is Integrity. Design solutions should be conceptually clear at all levels of design – with aspects as broad as the overall layout and spatial relationships to the detailing of elements to be consistent with the building’s character. There should be a thoughtful and honest use of materials to provide a full appreciation for such details, which can do so much to enhance a space.

Designs must be developed to be in scale and proportion with their context in order to enhance their neighborhood. Building and site circulation should be developed with clarity for efficiency and to facilitate ease of use. Designs should seek a functional and economical balance between simple efficiency and a palpable spirit and energy, while retaining a sense of overall timelessness relative to its character.

Questions to consider include:

  • Does the building and site layout promote logical circulation patterns that create not only efficient, but safe and secure movement as well?
  • Does it take advantage of axial relationships of spaces and maximize exposure to the prime site views while effectively shielding the less desirable views?
  • Are all aspects of the design well considered in their next larger context – the detail to the space, the space to the building, the building to its site context and community?
  • Does the building massing have a scale and proportion that are in balance?

Ultimately, the best building designs do not have a trendy application of design motifs, but rather a sense of timelessness that will allow it to endure as a respected member of the community of building in which it resides. A building that its users will be proud to live and work in and its guests will look forward to visiting for a long time.

To quote Eliel Saarinen, “Always design a thing by considering it in its next larger context – a chair in a room, a room in a house, a house in an environment, an environment in a city plan.”

Read about our first principle of design – Strategic 

Read about our second principle of design – Stewardship

Second in the Series of Four Core Principles of Design at Schmidt Associates – A Closer Look at the Strategic Principle

The purpose behind design at Schmidt Associates is to act passionately and intentionally out of our Core Principles of Design, which are the mirrors of our kaleidoscope.

The first of these principles is to be Strategic.  Design solutions respond to this principle most strongly by responding to the context of the client in the built solution.  The client context includes their mission, their view of themselves in the outside world, and the opportunities to create strong connections to the outside world in both the physical and business sense.

Questions to consider include:

•  How will the built solution respond to the client’s mission and sense of purpose?
•  Does it allow them to do their work more efficiently and effectively?
•  How does the built solution address the client’s greatest needs, while considering the immediate and long-term growth strategy?
•  How will the built solution respond to the site and community context in which it will be built?  Will it speak to the values of the community in which it is located?

How strongly the built solution responds to these questions will greatly define its success as a solution for the client.  It must fit the client, move flexibly with them, allow for inevitable future growth and evolution, and maintain a strong connection to place.

We will cover “Stewardship” in our next series.

Four Core Principles of Design at Schmidt Associates

The purpose behind design at Schmidt Associates is to act passionately and intentionally out of our Core Principles of Design, which are the mirrors of our kaleidoscope.

The components of a design project are like the pieces of a kaleidoscope. The pieces can fit together in countless ways, and with each turn of the kaleidoscope something new is revealed. Schmidt Associates uses this philosophy for design projects, making sure we explore options in various scenarios before finalizing design.

Schmidt Associates 4 Core Principles of Design include:
1. Strategic
2. Stewardship
3. Integrity
4. Spirit.

Each core principle is based on attributes that link to the principle itself. Designers keep all of the core principles in mind, and the final solutions always include some aspects of each core principle, although some ultimately may have a greater influence than others.

We’ll explore each of the principles more fully in subsequent blog postings.

A Different Perspective

There is an old saying that says “there is nothing more dangerous than a person with only one idea.” Having one brilliant idea is a great thing, but it was likely honed from multiple ideas at some earlier point in time.

Building design is like this as well. When each of us is first presented with a design opportunity, there is sometimes a solution that starts to form in our mind before we begin to learn more detailed data about the project. A “blink” reaction if you will. But as we start to peel back the layers that surround the opportunity, we find nuggets of information that become clues as to how the solution might respond to the many forces acting upon a given project.

Site context, building codes, zoning regulations, and sustainable opportunities all inform a solution, but a great design is rooted in the work of the owners and building users. The design that is best for them must do more than allow them to do their work. Successful design solutions become the organization’s most effective statement about who they are and what they aspire to be.

The design must help its users become more efficient and effective in the way they collaborate and communicate with each other and with their clients. It must speak to their mission and values while providing inherent value with all of the elements woven into the design. Great design must also inspire its users and visitors by transcending expectations and providing a memorable and inspiring place to be.

It must also be flexible enough to respond to future needs that are likely not fully known enough to consider at the time of the original construction, but the design must anticipate the future points of connection and adjacencies to set the table for growth.

Looking at a design opportunity from different perspectives is an important approach to maintain on every project. It’s essential to arriving at a well-considered solution that takes full advantage of its opportunities while properly responding to the needs of its site, its program and most importantly, its owner and users.

Making Magic – Approaching Conceptual Design

Many people seem to think there is some sort of magic that happens when architects develop early project design concepts. It’s a big part of the fun; the first steps in connecting the client to their dreams. Not that it’s a simple exercise, but it actually involves many of the same replicable steps each time.

  • Understand the client’s needs and wants, as well as the real problems and opportunities that need to be explored.
  • Understand the building program elements – the what and how much.
  • Finally, understand the context.  Not just the physical site or location for the proposed project, but a clarity of what will give the project substance and delight for a given client.


The first two steps are ones that you likely knew or could guess. But the last one is what will provide a solution which will transcend an Owner’s expectations, making it even more special than they imagined by giving it a meaning unique to them and their specific opportunity. That’s the magical part of the equation. It’s not something to be calculated, but rather it is experienced. These are tangible outcomes of seeking the less tangible understanding of what the building really means for a given Owner, not just what it needs to do for them.

The Johnson Center for Fine Arts at Franklin College offered an outstanding opportunity for a special project, especially with its prominent location along an external campus edge and an internal campus pedestrian mall. Paying attention to these contextual situations to make it work effectively with the site, but paying attention to its purpose will lead to taking advantage of unexpected opportunities that will make it special for all who experience the building.

Art infuses this building, finding its way into planned niches and surprise locations around the building and the exterior plaza. The pyramidal skylights which top the atrium gallery were equipped with hanging points to allow sculpture to float above the atrium floor. Even the donor plaque became an artistic expression in curved dichroic glass, etched and backlit in the central rotunda.

Ultimately, a building and it’s spaces are most successful if they make the users smile while allowing them to do what they need to do more effectively and efficiently. That’s the magic we work to bring to each project.

Look Up

With the recent launch of Look Up, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is working “to reconnect the public with architecture and position new generations of architects as catalysts of growth and visionaries for renewal.”

Since its inception, Schmidt Associates has a legacy of active AIA generational involvement whose roots lie in servant leadership, a defining element of our firm. The legacy includes individuals who authored the first-ever comprehensive local architectural purview—Indianapolis Architecture—serve as the National Chair of the AIA Committee on Design, serve on the National AIA Board of Directors, as well as numerous years of leadership on local and state level boards.

Our deep investment in AIA stems from a corporate value that we should purposely continue the discussion of design excellence among ourselves, with other professionals, and within the community. This level of engagement extends well beyond today’s notion of networking to become purposeful in working with colleagues to accomplish the mutual goals of those larger AIA realms.

In addition to the multiple professional services contracts provided by the AIA to the design and construction industry, the AIA provides our membership with professional development, education, and engagement opportunities through a myriad of focused conferences, online learning, and annual national conventions. These opportunities lead to personal and professional growth through travel and explorations of new design work in cities across the globe, strong connections to colleagues with whom to build alliances and team with to pursue new work, and the ability to work together to impact governmental decisions at all levels with a common voice. The focus of these pursuits is ultimately to advance the quality of life through design for ourselves, our families, and our communities.

The commitment to AIA is important for those hiring architects. It means you are getting a professional committed to the overall community, lifelong learning, and professional excellence in the architectural field.

The Importance of Art in Buildings

Good building design should consider how its interior environment not only functions well for its users and visitors, but also how it inspires and appeals emotionally. Art is a vibrant component of many inspiring building interiors—and sometimes exteriors as well. Art humanizes any environment, making it more relevant to us as a society.

In our work at Schmidt Associates, we seek out these opportunities for artistic expression—both within the building design itself, but also in developing opportunities for the placement of art as part of a project or for later placement by our Building Owners. Strong examples of this latter opportunity include the Johnson Center for Fine Arts at Franklin College. In this facility, one can find a custom backlit dichroic glass building “plaque” designed by the firm, a gallery for flexible placement of work, and niches throughout created specifically for placement of sculptures and wall art panels. At the Evans Center for Health Sciences at Marian University, a primary project goal was to incorporate the institution’s Catholic iconography into the building in a well-considered and artistic way, addressing the spiritual needs of the building’s occupants. The art brings a meaningful vibrancy to the building.

When you next visit our offices, you’ll note that Schmidt Associates has taken this approach to heart in our own work environment. We have placed four new works of art in the public areas and conference rooms of the first floor. The works, by three local artists through the Eye On Art Gallery in Carmel, will rotate regularly and are available for purchase as well. We are excited to share them with you, so please take a look at them on your visit.