Back To Blogging After a Six Month Hiatus at

Wow is it December already? This year has been really busy and hasn’t left much time for the blog. A quick look at the stats shows that people are still visiting though, so I’m glad you’re still finding the content worth showing up for!

Since it’s been six months since my last post, here are some things that have been going on:

  • The Capital Illumination Plan is done. Find a link to the completed oeuvre here.
  • Artsfile did an article about the Plan.
  • My employer, the NCC, published a blog post about it here.
  • I bought a house in a Campeau development from the ’60’s this summer and I’m really happy with it.

Design is Disruptive

Good design is often about doing things in a completely different way than they’ve been done before. And when you’ve innovated and found a better way you really can’t go on doing things the way they’ve always been done. In this way, design is disruptive to the status quo. CBC and Matt Galloway have created a new series about brilliant Canadian designers and their work, called Disrupting Design, and I’m very pleased that a project I worked on, Bridgepoint Active Healthcare, is featured in episode 3. 

I think you’ll agree that the series is very well done, and makes a compelling case for design innovation. In episode 3, Greg Colucci and Marian Walsh talk about the patient centred design innovations that took place at Bridgepoint and how they have improved patient outcomes.

As is often the case with hospital architecture, the design team for Bridgepoint was extensive including multiple firms; KPMB, Stantec, Diamond Schmitt, and HDR made up the architectural team. The project has recieved many accolades for design excellence including from the American Institute of Architects, the Ontario Association of Architects, and others. 

The video is available here. Bridgepoint segment begins around minute 8.

 Images are stills from the CBC tv series Disrupting Design.  


Recipes For Great Cities

Arts, culture, and sophisticated design ideas are key ingredients to making great cities. This week the NCC hosted an event in its Urbanism Lab called The Art Of City Building.  Dov Goldstein, a principal at Lord Cultural Resources and Mark Robbins, CEO of the American Academy in Rome talked about their experiences with these key ingredients in making vibrant cities.

Toronto’s Hearn Generating Station. Image from Illuminato.  
Each speaker gave a short presentation highlighting their experiences where arts and culture have changed cities. Some of the more interesting examples included the use of Toronto’s Hearn Generating Station as a venue for cultural events including  for Luminato this June, and Mark’s work in support of reinvigorating downtown Syracuse when he was dean of the architecture school there. He commissioned some excellent architecture projects, and his work was chronicled by The Architect’s Newspaper. Examples include the Syracuse University School of Architecture by Gluckman Architects, and the Syracuse Center for Excellence by Toshiko Mori.

Syracuse’ School Of Atchitecure plays a role in reinvigorating the city. Image from Gluckman Tang Architects.  
One project Mark worked on that was of particular interest to me was the sustainable homes competition that he organized for Syracuse in 2008. I hadn’t heard about this competition and it’s very much similar to one I participated in in Chicago in 2004. 

Factor 10 House was one of the homes that was constructed in the Chicago competition and it was selected for an AIA top ten award. Working on that was the beginning of my interest in sustainability. I completely agree with Mark that competitions of this type can contribute greatly to a City. In Chicago it was initiatives like this that helped build that City’s reputation for green building in North America.

One of the sustainable houses resulting from a design competition in Syracuse. This one was designed by architect Richard Cook. Image from Dwell. 
In any discussion of reinvigorating a city, New York’s Highline inevitably comes up. Dov brought some new (to me, at least) information to the table, though. I was not aware of the extensive rezoning along the high line that enabled its creation, and spurred development along its extent. The Highline as spawned other people oriented infrastructure projects even in New York which I was aware of, but not how interrelated they are. The proposed Low Line and Bjarke Ingels’ Dry Line are two of these.

Bjarke Ingels’ Dry Line is a recreational amenity for New York that doubles as a flood protection barrier.  
An informal discussion and audience questions followed the presentations. One of the better questions that was discussed, at least for me as an architect, had to do with whether architects are ‘multidisciplinary’. I really appreciated Mark Robbins’ answer. He firmly asserted that they are, by necessity. Architects have to join together art, craft, and psychology [and other disciplines]. Typically the issue is the clients, who tend constrain projects. Mark pointed toward his involvement with the well known Mayor’s Institute on City Design, describing it as being about educating the clients of design. He intimated that it provides an opportunity for Mayors to admit that they rely on others to guide building projects because they understand so little about the issues. The main goal of the institute as he put it is educating Mayors to become better design clients.

Giving Young Canadian Architects A Leg Up

I’ve long thought that Canada was a good candidate country to build a strong ‘brand identity’ around its young architects and urban designers. We have that northern cachet like Scandinavian countries do and we have a relatively high achieving design culture already. We just don’t market ourselves as well as say, the Dutch. 

A friend shared an article that highlights how this is all changing thanks to an organization called Twenty and Change, and an exhibit staged recently in Toronto, and continuing until February 6. 

Apparently this has been going on for four years and is responsible for raising awareness about up and coming Canadian design practices like Winnipeg’s 5468796 Architecture.

Many other countries actively support their design and architecture cultures, but Canada does not. I’ve had several conversations recently with people about why this is and how to build a better design culture in Canada. We don’t have a national design or building museum, for example, as do many other countries. We do have the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal, but somehow the national conversation on design and building seems lacking today. Would love to hear reader’s thoughts on this.

Some of the work on exhibit at 20 + C. Photos from the Globe and Mail.   
Work by Architecture Microclimat.

A project by Woodford Sheppard.

Bad Guys Need Good Architecture

I caught Ex Machina on Netflix last night. I’d wanted to watch it for a while because ever since reading Philip K. Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep as a teenager I’ve been fascinated by artificial intelligence and the idea of a future where droids are almost indifferentiable from humans. The movie version of that book, Bladerunner, is my favourite among a few movies that feature very interesting buildings.

Ex Machina is a decent movie and the acting is quite good, but one component that especially grabbed my attention as someone that loves a good movie set is the Juvet Landscape Hotel in north west Norway which serves as the bad guy’s lair in the movie. 

Designed by Jensen & Skodvin Architects the hotel is wood clad and spectacularly nestled among trees overlooking a river. 

In an article in Dezeen, the production designer for the movie, Mark Digby, says some interesting things about his choice of locations and how hard edged, shiny buildings are typically “for the bad guys.” He wanted to address that but says the choice of set was about being more interesting than that too. He stresses the importance of the choice of set given that the whole of the movie occurs in one house.

Personally I find the set and especially the architecture of the hotel they used stunning and I’m amused that they chose to represent the badness of the villain in ths way. The combination of wood cladding and very crisp glazed walls achieves a really elegant effect, and is definitely not the typical Dr. Evil lair. 

Have you seen the movie? Would love to hear readers’ thoughts.

Images from Dezeen and Juvet.


Give Stairways Their Due

It turns out taking the stairs is a good thing. Of course most of us who think about health and fitness know this, but as ULI has recently pointed out in a report aimed at developers, and blogged here, this feature of contemporary buildings has generally been relegated to the back corners of the floor plan.

Part of the issue is cost, of course, because a nice stair is often supported by large amounts of steel or other structure and generally needs better finishes.

ULI’s report is about building healthy places in general, and as the health benefits of regular physical activity are better understood, groups that think about the built environment are trying to figure out what motivates people to use stairs. According to their study it turns out that more visually appealing stairways actually get used more.

Photos show two stairs I worked on, one at Bridgepoint Active Healthcare in Toronto where glazing and high quality finishes including terrazzo make for an elegant public stair. The second image shows a residential stair in Factor 10 house, an EHDD project in Chicago where we won a design competition for this environmentally friendly design. The stair doubles as a solar chimney and light enters at roof level above.

Bridgepoint stair photo: Tom Arban.
Factor 10 photo: Doug Snower.



Pantone Hotel Opens in Brussels

While most designers have long relied on the Pantone colour system, or one of its competitors, for decades it may be a little surprising to see the brand opening a boutique hotel. The results are a stunning design junkies’ dream, because rooms and spaces are assigned their own Pantone colour or palette, and the execution of the concept is creative and very high quality.

Healing Through Better Design

Evidence is increasingly pointing toward the need for better hospitals and the challenges faced at Toronto’s Sunnybrook facility reflect those seen at many of North America’s older health care institutions. Here, alarmingly, the physical environment actually provides a barrier to effective care. This recent Globe and Mail article points out that the physical environment and architecture of hospitals is more and more seen as critical to better health care, and single patient rooms with views have been found, among other design features, to have significant positive impact on healing outcomes.

Nearby in the same city, the recently completed Bridgepoint Active Healthcare is an example of daylight and natural views from patient rooms being leveraged to maximize patient benefit.

Globe and Mail: The Hospital

Bridgepoint Best Toronto Architecture 2013


Green Projects to Follow in 2013

Interesting green projectoink sting completion in 2013 include Bosco Verticale or Vertical Forest, two unique towers in Milan by architect Stefano Boeri, and Porsche Cars North American Headquarters by HOK. Both receive high marks for design and sustainability.

Bosco Verticale in particular has a unique approach as the smog scrubbing buildings with their heavily planted facades will absorb as much carbon as a 10,000 square meter forest.

Porsche HQ’s approach to sustainability echoes Porsche’s own ethos with a high performance building envelope and on site energy generation that put the project on track for LEED silver.

AZURE Ten Projects To Watch 2013

High Marks For Aesthetics

Eva Jiricna spoke at Ottawa’s National Gallery last night citing the natural world as inspiration for her stunningly designed projects. Her oeuvre spans several decades and her presentation began with a marina she designed at age 30 and included scores of beautiful glass stairs most suspended using elaborate stainless steel filigreed structures. Inspiration comes from insects, the transparency and translucency of water, X-rays of shells, termite houses to name a few. Despite all these references to nature and the beauty of the work, sustainability was not a focus of the presentation.

Eva Jiricna Architect