Monthly Archives: April 2011

Enter for a Chance to Win!!

As part of our firm’s commitment to community outreach, and the Pedestrian Charter’s mandate for promoting walkable cities, the two organizations have teamed up to create the ‘name the turtle contest’ in conjunction with our upcoming Jane’s Walk May 8th.

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Over the next week, leading up to the May 8th Jane’s Walk, you can submit an entry with your name for the turtle, for a chance to win a free pair of Converse shoes from Nigel’s Athletic Direct. 
Entries are being accepted by email to or in person at Nigel’s Athletic Direct, Market Square, Kitchener.
Here are the rules:
– Anyone can enter, 1 entry per person (unless you are a relative of an organizer of this walk, as you are ineligible) 
– your name choice must be submitted by Friday May 6th at 12:00 noon 
– your submission must clearly state your name choice for the turtle, your name and your contact information
– there will only be one winner
– if we are unable to contact you within one week, another name will be selected and that person will win the contest
– you must be able to pick up the shoes from Nigel’s Athletic Direct,  by May 31, 2011 during normal store hours
– the winning turtle name will be selected by representatives of John MacDonald Architect and the Pedestrian Steering Committee
– we are not liable for late, lost, illegible or incorrectly submitted entries
– we will not keep your personal information

The winner will be announced at the Jane’s Walk May 8th, and posted on our blog Monday May 9th
The turtle will lead the upcoming Jane’s Walk, and will act as the mascot for the Pedestrian Charter Steering Committee here in the Region.
Join us for the walk, rain or shine, next Sunday May 8th at Hibner Park as we walk with the turtle to city hall, the Silverspoon and then to the Victoria Park Clock Tower as we explore our city!

Learning Curve

For most people finding your home is an exciting process. Some people start by calling a realtor, some people go out for a drive and see what’s out there to be had, and some people sit down at their computer and start their search online. Regardless of how you start your property search, unless you belong to the portion of the population that is involved in construction, trades, professional consulting or the engineering fields, you may know a minimal amount about the physical property you are about to invest in. Sure you can research the market, find what houses are going for in the area, explore the financial aspects of the deal, make sure you get all the tax credits you qualify for, and be ‘smart’ about one of the biggest purchases of your life – but how much can a person really know about the important issues in buying a house.

As a recent homebuyer myself I can remember discussing the purchase of our home with the bank, our family, our friends and our realtor. We talked about what we liked about certain homes and what we didn’t like, what area we would like to live in, and what features in a home we wanted such as square footage, an updated kitchen, three bedrooms and a large enough backyard for our growing boxer puppy. Touring through houses we discussed whether we liked the finishes, the flooring, the layout, and what changes we would have to make to allow the house to feel more like our home.

When we finally settled on a house we took all of the usual steps. We had a home inspection, got our finances in order, and when they accepted the offer – we had purchased our first home! We felt that we had done our homework, been diligent, and made an informed decision.

For most people this is how they go about researching and purchasing a property.

After all – what else is there to know?

The answer is there is A LOT more to know.

Ok, so admittedly I am still learning all the things there are to know about a property. But I’ll start by sharing a few things I found most shocking recently through my work at John MacDonald Architect, as I participated with the principal and staff in a house-hunting exercise: (laugh, but I bet you didn’t know some of this either)

  • when you buy a property, whether its a $100,000 fixer-upper or a million dollar mansion, you may own it but you can’t do whatever you want with it. You heard me right: if you happened to buy a house in a heritage district, or a heritage designated house itself, your ability to alter, add, change, paint, or demolish, are – hold your breath- not completely up to you. Permissions are needed, and they aren’t always predictable. Some properties are designated, but sit on a list of properties of special interest that you might not know of.
  • Next, if your property is in a floodplain – wait for it – yes, you guessed it! It’s also not under your total control. Want to build that three car garage you’ve been dreaming of since you bought the place? Think again if the GRCA flood lines say otherwise. And those floodlines show up in the most unlikely places, adjacent the tiniest of streams. You’d never think to check until it’s too late!
  • Zoning. Yes zoning! Dont chuckle and think I hadn’t heard of zoning before, we all have. But who knew there were these binders and binders of rules, and subrules of subrules!? Did you know that you can buy a house in a residential area that might not even be zoned residential? What on earth is “legal nonconforming” anyway? Well, it’s a status that can jump up and bite you.
As if these weren’t enough things to think about, some other points of consideration include:
  • is your house located on a road that is subject to a road widening? Either now, or coming soon? That might cause you to lose a chunk of your front property, and all its trees. In five years your house might be 10 feet closer to the road. Who knew?
  • is your house located in an area that has significant changes planned for it in the near future (hint- find the Region or City Official Plan for your area). Your plans are only some of the plans at work.
  • what are the variances on the property, and what are your chances of getting some too, if you want to make changes?
  • what shape are the structural, plumbing and heating systems in? Does the house have enough electrical services to support your families needs? The architects kept talking about houses with “good bones”. I’m not sure I ever looked at the bones.
  • Did you know that the Region of Waterloo did a study of properties on septic systems, only to discover that about a third of the owners didn’t even know they weren’t connected to the municipal sewers? That they even HAD a septic system?
  • did you know that houses are full of designated and hazardous substances that we don’t even think about? What’s in those old kitchen floor tiles? If they’re 8 inches square, it’s might be asbestos.
All of these things can amount to frustration and disappointment. But don’t be discouraged. Just like you call for investment and legal advice before you leap, there are people who are knowledgeable and happy to help, often for little or no charge,

so that your dream home with the three bedrooms, updated kitchen and large enough backyard for the growing boxer puppy can be just that.
Your dream home.

Some helpful resources include:
  •  local architect offices like ours
  •  city planning departments
  •  building permit offices
  • registry offices
  •  city or regional websites
  •  zoning (usually available online)
  • the GRCA  (their website here) under “map your property”
Happy house hunting!

Cailin Radcliffe

Mill Woods Aurora

Recently our firm submitted a design for the Edmonton Park Pavilion Design Competition. Intended to promote design excellence and as part of the City of Edmonton’s commitment to “cutting edge” quality design, and ensuring that such a level of design and innovation is brought to all civic buildings, the competition was a fun way for our firm to work together to generate exciting ideas are outside the scope of our everyday work.

Our Design:

The Mill Woods Aurora Pavilion is a dance of the spirit for the many streams of culture and activity that traverse the Mill Woods community and its major public park. It engages the broadest range of visitors and passersby, as much in snowbound winter evening as warm summer day. It guides accessibility, new uses, casual meeting, and cultural connection, in addition to enhancing the existing park landscape and supporting its organized activities. It will enrich the exploration and celebration of cultural memory, volunteerism, achievement, and future possibilities across diverse heritage traditions. It provides an interactive beacon for Mill Woods’ vibrant and sustainable future.

The Design Addresses the Following Community, Urban, and Architectural Issues

Design Rationale

Rather than concentrating the design of place and shared experience to the building interior or ground plane, in an annualized landscape that is as dark and snow-covered as it is warm and verdant, we wish to offer architectural experiences and possibilities as users move freely through the Community, the Park and the design. The Pavilion will communicate strongly through all seasons, in the night environment, through many media and senses, and to the park as a whole. We believe the role of the Park and Pavilion is to engage the community and passerby as much as the active user, and we have organized the design to support this idea.

We wish to:

  • Create a sense of place that celebrates passage and journey, movement and light;
  • Design for potential ease of construction and use should the Pavilion be phased;
  • Foster a common experience of connection, of wonder, and of possibility;
  • Engage the community’s creativity and the diverse cultural and activity streams of its citizens in architectural experiences that invite exploration, touch, and further contribution to an evolving history for the Pavilion and Park.
Description of the Design and Its Achievement of Edmonton Design Committee Principles
 A Universal Scale
The Aurora Borealis is a special and shared northern experience. Our intention is to interpret and link this experience with community aspirations. Unlike its heavenly counterpart, however, the Pavilion’s Streamers of reflected sun and LED light can be openly approached, touched, used and explored by day as well as night, through its textured materials, web-based technology, lighting, and formal movement. Like the aurora, the Pavilion will be an integral part of the skyline for the Park, its surrounding streets, and adjacent community buildings.
Mill Woods consists of flowing streams of heritage, of connection and of capacity that link with 85% or more of global cultures. Each of these streams shares a common experience: of migration, of settlement, and of aspiration. Such patterns of experience are not new to Alberta’s plain. The Plains Cree, migrants themselves from the woodlands of central Canada, called the Aurora the dance of the spirits.
  • The Aurora’s Streamers            Streamer – any one of the luminous streaks that make up the aurora borealis and the aurora australis

Much like the mysterious and magical Aurora, the Pavilion’s Streamers are designed for movement and possibilities, a Dance of the Mill Woods Spirit. The texture of their stainless steel chains will sparkle in the sunlight and glisten in the rain. They create and support ice sculptures in the spring thaw, provide light shows from near and far, and can even generate waves of bubbles when children paint their surfaces with soapy solution on windy days.

Most importantly, however, the Streamers highlight community engagement, volunteerism, cultural heritage and public-spirited initiative. We strongly encourage their embellishment and decoration with brightly coloured disks engraved with the names and stories of community volunteers, athletes, leaders, and achievers. We invite further additions that acknowledge donors and contributors to the Pavilion’s construction, to further amenities in the Park and community, and to supportive programs and neighbourhood capacity-building initiatives. Informal additions of commemorative locks that carry personal meaning and connection will build tradition and help the Pavilion create a unique sense of centre for citizens of all ages. 

The Love Padlocks tradition may have originated in the Far East, but now includes over 28 countries, Rome’s Ponte Milvio, similar bridges in Paris, and districts of Los Angeles. At each of these famous locations couples place locks to symbolize their commitment. Like these examples of popular tradition, as well as destinations like Lithuania’s Hill of Crosses, the Pavilion will become a celebration of Mill Woods’ world of distinct heritages united in community achievement.

Over time, it is our hope that the Streamers of the Mill Woods Aurora will develop into delightful and luminous veils of commemorative story and aspiration. The Pavilion will become a unique, highly visible symbol of a common history, of connections to Mill Woods’ many heritages. It will be a magical addition to the Park year round and in its night environment, using light show compositions and patterns contributed by the public through the Pavilion’s web interface.

In its relationship to the open plain of the Park, the Pavilion is also evocative of a larger morphology of history, passage and movement on the Prairie landscape:

  • of stockade and trading fort;
  • of buffalo pound, and livestock fence;
  • of carved river and streambed.

Mill Woods Community Scale

Most Park visitors use the Pavilion amenities only briefly. They experience the Pavilion from its exterior as they pass through, around, or along the edges of the Park. The Pavilion will enhance the urban experience of these citizens as well as Park users. Interactive lighting controlled through internet access adds to the magic of winter festivals and creates a safe and positive night environment near the Pavilion during evening hours. The stories and commemorative function of the Streamers create connection well beyond the Park boundaries and into the community.

Working with the Park Scale

The location chosen by the City for the Pavilion is central to the Park, providing amenity for all its users. The Pavilion is an entry passage for those arriving from the south, but also a centre of activity and meeting. The orientation of the building complements the goals of the Mill Woods Park Master Plan. The Streamers of aurora extend throughout the site in the form of walkways, connecting the sports fields to the amenities at the Pavilion. The design respects and enhances the path desire lines identified by the Park Master Plan. The Aurora also

provides possible design direction for new elements, pathways, storage buildings, and other amenities that will enrich our experience of the Park.

The Pavilion’s Gathering Space

The two lobes of the Aurora Pavilion are designed to create a vibrant new public outdoor space for Mill Woods and its principal park. Oriented to admit summer breezes, yet protected from prevailing winter winds, this unique and magical space supports many scales of activity and event in all seasons:

  • as summer camp space, race start line, cinema, meeting ground, market, and centre for winter carnivals, seasonal events and cultural celebrations of all kinds;
  • for casual use and event dining that supports concession operations; for kite, chess and games rentals, impromptu croquet games and other amusements;
  • as a venue for temporary exhibitions for the Royal Alberta Museum, Edmonton Fringe Festival performances, tournament headquarters, fundraisers and contest sites, and broadcast studio for local talent shows;
  • for community connection, web-based interaction, citizenship ceremonies, fund-raising, acknowledgement and commemoration using the interactive veils that form the space.

Sustainability Principles


The project will attain LEED Silver certification through a variety of building, site, innovation and community sustainability measures that include:

  • Orientation and clerestory to provide natural day lighting and winter solar gain.
  • Recessed glazing and overhangs for protection from summer sun, with automatically operable clerestory and internal transom windows for natural cross-ventilation.
  • Wood structure from sustainably managed forests.
  • Steel elements have the inherently high recycled content of steel, and no maintenance or coating required for its stainless components.
  • Innovative rainscreen straw bale exterior wall construction on rubble trench foundations forms the building’s unique shapes cost-effectively, with durable finishes and high insulation value.
  • Foundations using rubble trench technology to below frost lines significantly reduces new concrete use and the attendant energy of its manufacture, and allows for recycling of local concrete product from demolitions.
  • Collection of all snow melt and rain water runoff, as an integral part of the architectural design. Permeable paving to central court, combined with hard surface finishes to access walkways, patio, and concession area.
  • Stormwater drainage to infiltration trenches with low maintenance, native drought resistant grasses and habitat protection, with potential below grade water collection for re-use in grey water systems.
  • High performance insulation values to roof and wall, with high reflectance-coefficient roof covering to reduce solar gain and heat island effect.
  • High efficiency gas-fired boiler or potential ground source hydronic loops with in-floor radiant heat for thermal mass storage and humidity control, programmable for daily energy savings and seasonal setbacks.
  • LED-based interior and exterior lighting controlled by sensors and web-based interactive software, exploiting colour capabilities and long life expectancy.
  • Water-bottle filling station as a focus of the gathering space, to promote alternatives to commercially-bottled water use by both sport participants and spectators.
  • Development of a landscape aesthetic and path system that allows for areas of the park to return to zero maintenance native grasses.

Technical Aspects of the Design Solution

Material and Construction Principles (with reference to the Typical Wall Detail)

  • Rubble and concrete trench foundations to below frost depth, with foundation drainage.
  • Concrete slabs-on-grade with clear finish.
  • Simple, sustainable load-bearing wood structure and straw bale exterior wall construction finished in textured, durable cement stucco. The exterior plane assembly of the bale wall incorporates a foundation drainage membrane manufactured from recycled HDPE.
  • Independent post foundation, galvanized steel post and bracket support to stainless steel top and bottom tension cable system and link-chain Streamer elements.
  • Flat roofs draining to select water leader locations, joining to the perimeter drainage system, to infiltration planting beds extending throughout and beyond building.
  • LED lighting systems, web-based programmable to exterior lighting. Webcam technology for community interaction and public oversight.

The Pavilion is a deliberately flexible offering that engages Mill Woods and its citizens in an ongoing narrative of emerging tradition, of identity and reflection, and of a community journey in harmony with economic, social and environmental sustainability.

For the Joy of Walking: Getting in Touch with your Inner Turtle!

Jane’s Walk

Sunday, May 8, 2011 at 2:00 pm, Kitchener

How do we find the time to do all that what we have to do? By zooming around in our cars.

Well, for those prefer the slow lane, the good news is that by walking, you can do it all and much, much more.

Feel good and have fun as…

  • You accomplish all your tasks,
  • You stay physically active,
  • You meet and connect with others,
  • You engage with your community,
  • You make environmentally and fiscally sustainable choices.

This year’s Jane’s Walk explores how the city environment and design can influence our travel choices, and hence influence the quality of life for all.

This walk will be led by the turtle of the Pedestrian Charter Steering Committee, and by John MacDonald and Margaret Santos. John MacDonald Architect is a progressive architectural firm providing services that support the communities in which we live, through sustainable design, urban re-development and joint initiatives with groups such as the Pedestrian Charter and the Festival of Neighbourhoods.

This walk will illustrate how walking can be the best option for getting around, and identifies how some relatively small changes to our public space can make it a lively and fun place to be for all, including people of all ages and abilities. Indeed, this could be the kind of transformation that can persuade us to walk, not just to accomplish our daily tasks, but also for the joy of walking.

 Meet us at Hibner Park at Ahrens Street West and Young Street and walk with us to the Clock Tower in Victoria Park. The walk is less than 1 km long.

 Oh! And about that turtle!? Stay tuned to this blog for further news!

Buyer’s Remorse

Last week I was asked a simple question: What is your favourite building in the Region of Waterloo? Not so simple a question for someone who spends his life designing and constructing buildings, who has been trained to look at buildings with a critical eye, and who can never be satisfied with just picking one of anything. Nevertheless I took up the challenge willingly and was surprised at how easily an answer came to me. Last week I didn’t hesitate. I didn’t over think my decision. I didn’t second-guess myself. Last week I trusted my instincts.

This week, however, is a new week, and I am experiencing a touch of buyer’s remorse. Having narrowed the field to one, I am beginning to think about all the other buildings that could easily have born the title of favourite. But, instead of returning my purchase for a refund, this week, I would like to expand the parameters of the challenge, and add three buildings that, in my mind, deserve honourable mention:

  • The Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery, located on Caroline Street in uptown Waterloo, designed by acclaimed west coast firm Patkau Architects;
  • The original addition to Burt C. Matthew’s Hall, now the Lyle S. Hallman Institute for Health Promotion, located at the North end of the University of Waterloo’s main campus, designed by Teeple Architects; and
  • The Cambridge Library and Galleries’ Preston branch, also by Teeple Architects.

Each of these buildings shares similar characteristics to one another, and to my choice of last week. Their architecture is influenced by, if not born out of their surrounding context. They share a common palette of materials: of concrete, brick, and stained wood. They are all of a human scale immediately relatable to the pedestrian. Additionally, each has created or engages with an exterior space. In the case of the above three, that exterior space is a public one.

But, unlike my choice of last week, they are each public facilities that can be viewed from the street, visited, circumnavigated and explored. These are great buildings, so I suggest that you do just that.

Guest Blogger Matthew Muller

A Grander View

What defines a favourite building or place? I suppose that’s a personal consideration and why if the question is asked, the answer is different for everyone.

Myself, I find that while commuting around the city there are certain buildings I like to look at each time I pass. The Enermodal Engineering office building on Lancaster is one that I always look at, and the more I look at it, the more I like it.

What do I like? Well, from an aesthetic point of view, I like the proportions of the building. I like the complex composition of the materials used on the exterior of the building and the simple organized feel of its actual layout. I find it a thoughtful and visually interesting building where the detailing of materials and the joints between materials have been investigated and celebrated. Every time I look at it I think it should seem busy, but it’s not. It works.

I also like what the building stands for. It is currently the most energy-efficient office building in Canada. I had the opportunity to attend a LEED seminar at this facility which included a tour of the building and site. Material selections, building systems, orientation of the building, and landscaping have all been carefully considered and chosen for sustainable, environmentally responsible and energy efficient construction. The building aspires to a higher standard and provides a healthy and creative workplace. So often people dismiss the idea of “green buildings” as being impractical, expensive or a trend, but this office is a model of how the built environment can influence lifestyle and attitude and help to shape a better future.

Using reclaimed materials the building features:

  • Salvaged beech flooring in the lobby from a demolished building in Toronto
  • Exterior stone cladding from a 19th century, demolished church in Woodstock
  • Retaining wall in parking lot stone from St. Clair River Tunnel, demolished in 1990s

What do I wish? I hope to find more construction around the city that is clever, responsible and beautiful, that cares about where we live now and inspires the future, and that can become a new favourite place.


Photos courtesy of Enermodal Engineering Ltd.

Guest Blogger

Too School for Cool

This probably makes me a complete dork but my favorite place in the tri-cities’ area is my school. I am not sure whether I’ve grown so attached to it, spending an unhealthy amount of time there, having met some really great people, or whether it is actually just a really great example of a well (re)designed building.

The University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture moved into an old silk mill in Cambridge in 2004. The building, redesigned by Levitt Goodman Architects, with extensive consultation from staff and students, [aka a lot of cooks in the kitchen] is now a bright studio space for its students and faculty with spectacular views of the Grand River and downtown Galt. The design is simple and clean – they took an existing building, carved out a large atrium, and then built out around it. The material palette is simple and lets the main feature of the building – tons of natural light – dominate.

I know I can’t attribute all the experiences I’ve had at the school to the building itself but it certainly is one of the best things about it. Here, the students take pride and ownership of the building; it truly feels like yours. Sure, having your own desk space and a 24-hour access helps, but its uncomplicated design and simple aesthetic makes it a little easier to envision your next few years in this place.


Guest Blogger Milda Miskinyte