Monthly Archives: June 2011

Design Storm: Brewing up Good Ideas

Much like it sounds, a Design Storm is an exercise to explore design ideas for a project. The concept is simple yet effective, and has yielded great success for those who have used this service. Rather than hiring one designer to create a design concept, Design Storm allows each designer in the office to independently consider and develop project ideas and sketches of their own. After everyone has finalized their concept for the project, a lunch session is arranged and the client, and whomever else they wish are invited to come to the office, where each design will be presented and critiqued. In the end the client walks away with 8-10 design options, and a critique of each option.

Following the session the client is free to take the designs and decide on aspects they would like to incorporate into their project. This is a great way to create direction for a project when the client is unsure how to proceed. The lead designer will then create a final design with all of the different aspects incorporated, giving the client the benefit of a whole office of architects working on their project, rather than just one.

This approach can be applied to any project of any scale.

Recent Design Storms here in the office have included the space planning and floor plan reconfiguration of an upscale condominium here in Kitchener, for a client wanting to re-model and add re-sale value to his property. Working within the existing floor plan, each designer re-worked the layout. Some chose to remove walls and create an open floor plan, created extra storage, enlarged and updated the en-suite bathroom, added much needed working/office space, and changed the placement of the kitchen. Other designers chose to keep more of the existing layout while flipping the master bedroom to the opposite side of the condo to incorporate the balcony, reworked the layout of the kitchen and created a space for laundry and storage in the unit. For this specific project, the owner chose to submit their own design concept for the exercise, and then worked with the designers to incorporate parts of each design into the final product.

Another example of the success of this service was a design storm for the total gut and re-design of a house. In this scenario the designers had a blank slate to decide whether to add an addition, add dormers, create an open concept living space, add amenity such as a main floor powder room in addition to the upstairs bathroom, or make whatever changes they deemed necessary. At this specific session, local realtors, home staging experts and potential buyers were invited to the session, with the client’s permission, to provide comments and input into the final design. With this extra input, we were able to present a well rounded critique of each design from various points of view, so the client was able to make informed decisions to get the best value for the sale of their project following the re-design and renovations. Following the lunch session the client then considered the various options and worked with a designer to create a final design and drawings, which are now in the process of being implemented in their total house renovation- we cant wait to see the results in the fall!

The Design Storm service can also add value to the sale of your home, as it presents a number of possibilities for potential buyers looking to change the space, or add extra features. One specific example was a design storm for a client wishing to present possibilities for a property he was having a hard time marketing. Designers worked with the client to understand the property, its challenges, and the feedback he had received from potential buyers, to outline designs that solved spatial issues, created a layout with a main floor bathroom, more generous master bedroom and en-suite.

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Whether a private client, a realtor, commercial client, contractor or business, this is a great way to gather a variety of ideas for your project at a reasonable rate, with no commitment to act. We create the designs, alter the designs to suit your needs, and you take them away to do with them as you please- whether you decide to proceed with the project or not.

If you have a property, home, condo or townhouse you want to re-design, update or sell- Design Storm is a great place to start!

Grand Re-Opening A Huge Success!

This past Saturday June 18th was the grand re-opening of the Harry Class Community Pool and 80th Anniversary. Attended by all three levels of government, community members, members of the design team, construction team, engineering teams and sub trades the day was a huge success! Featuring tours of the newly re-designed facility, a charity BBQ, aquatic demonstrations by local swim clubs, speeches and a free public swim, there was something for everyone! Despite the hot sticky weather, everyone donned their bathing suits and joined us at the pool to soak up the sun and take a dip in the pool.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the event and supported the charity BBQ! We look forward to your comments on the new facility!

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Grand Re-Opening Set for Saturday June 18th!

The grand re-opening, and the 80th anniversary of the Harry Class Community Pool here in Kitchener, is slated for this Saturday, June 18th at 12:30. Featuring a newly designed and fully accessible change house, complemented by an expanded deck with cedar benches, tanning mounds, and an outdoor shower, the facility is the ideal summer destination.

Beginning construction in the late fall, our firm worked in close co-ordination with Dakon Construction and their many hardworking trades to complete the re-design of the change house and pool deck for the June opening. With the support of the community, we worked along with the City to collect input and gather information about how to best re-design the facility to benefit the community. Building off of everyones ideas and input the design team worked to create an inclusive space for the whole community to enjoy for years to come.

Frequented by John and his family, and located only a short distance from our offices, this project is a proud achievement for the firm. Built in the 1930s, the building was last renovated in 1968 and in much need of some updating and TLC. Although the project began with the idea of renovating the change rooms to allow for the creation of a family change, the City took the opportunity to give the entire change house and pool deck a much needed facelift. Adding some great colours in the interior and some dynamic curved walls, the team integrated the common showers into the space to allow for efficiency and create a fun playful environment. Covered with vinyl, the floors and walls in the main corridor were quite the challenge for both the contractor and its subtrade Volls, although they more than exceeded expectations!

Incorporating energy savings wherever we could, the new design is meant to be more energy efficient than its predecessor. Now equipped with both daylight and occupancy sensors, the team capitalized on the natural light brought into the spaces by the restored skylights- so dont be alarmed if the lights turn off while you’re leaving the change rooms or not on during the bright sunny months 🙂

Replacing the pool deck, the team worked to design a larger, more user friendly environment, that increased the size and capacity through a larger footprint and added seating. Although budget determined the project would include a chain link fence, we worked to integrate curves, benches, and look forward to canopies for shade, nighttime lighting, and tables to be installed around the concrete posts on the pool deck in the future.

Having an appreciation for the history of the facility, and its name, in recognition of the local swimming legend Harry Class, the project team, along with the community was very saddened to learn of the recent passing of Harry Class at the age of 95, and send our condolences to the family, friends and those touched by his life. It was the intention of the deisgn team from the beginning to recognize the achievements and contributions Harry Class made to the community, as we designed a memorabilia case in the main lobby to feature photographs and articles collected over the years.

We hope you can join us on Saturday to celebrate the grand re-opening and 80th anniversary of the facility, and honor the achievements of Harry Class, and his contribution to the community.

With a charity barbecue beginning at 12:30, aquatic sport demonstrations at 1:15, speeches at 1:30 and a free public swim at 2pm everyone is welcome to attend and tour the new facility. Hope to see you there!

Better like this? Or better like this? The Optics of Design!

In our design work we’re constantly pushing and pulling, tinkering with this and changing that. That’s fundamental to design. It’s kind of like going to the optometrist! “Better like this or better like this, better like this or better like this …”

And like the process of selecting lenses for best vision, the goal of design is to eventually arrive at a sharp, well-focused image that really works.

How do we know if one solution is better than another, if we don’t have a clear understanding of the project’s context, its priorities, aims, and goals? This is often overlooked in the design process, as we jump straight to creating combinations of ideas and forms, but it’s probably the most important part of our work. If we forget to explore the project’s aims and goals, and its constraints and context, then how will we evaluate the design? How do we know that it’s better like this, or like this?

Recently we’ve purchased a small property that needs our help and ideas. It’s a storey-and-a-half house in Kitchener’s St. Mary’s Conservation District. It’s sorely in need of rejuvenation, and that means ideas. Since we’re in ideas business, it’s a great fit. Why not put our ideas to work for ourselves? Well, that’s the plan. We’ll see how it turns out.

We started by documenting the house, the property, and the neighbourhood, and thinking in rough terms about how grand a change to create. We didn’t nail down the aims and goals of the project too tightly, in case we missed some great possibilities. Then we had some fun. Over the course of a couple of days, everyone in the office created a possibility for the house. Ten different designs emerged, and we convened a lunch session to examine and discuss them all. We even invited some real estate agents, a home stager and interior designer, and some acquaintances to the critique, to share some lunch and have some fun. They were great.

Some of the ideas were for larger additions, some for no addition at all. Each had its own level of investment and reward, its own emphasis on where to spend and where to save to achieve the overall goal. Discussion was lively, and between the ideas and the session it generated a second phase of design. What’s interesting is that no one scheme was chosen as the winner. Instead, what emerged was a realization that by combining aspects of the designs (a kitchen layout here, an idea about using the basement, a change to the rear roof line to create more second floor, etc) we could further push and pull in a sort of “Round 2”, where a stronger and clearer design emerged. Tinkering and massaging some more, and seeing how aspects of the ideas could combine, created a final design that’s greater than the sum of its parts! That’s often the way it goes, and part of the reason that design takes patience and perseverance.

Better like this, or better like this?

We’ve now documented the design for construction purposes, and the changes will soon be underway. We’ll keep you posted as we move through construction, and we’ll see how the ideas continue to enrich and transform the property.

We’re excited to see how the journey goes!

A Landscape of Development

The leadership of the Region of Waterloo is grappling with whether to introduce a major new piece of public infrastructure, light rail rapid transit. There are many reasons to consider the decision carefully, including its expense, extent and timing, but one particular notion regarding light rail needs a thorough debunking: the idea that light rail transit is unique because it is primarily meant to support development opportunity in our communities, rather than act as simply transportation infrastructure. This element of light rail is cited by both its supporters and opponents as a critical component of their enthusiasm or disapproval for the option.

What deserves airing and exploration is not whether light rail will shape future development. There’s no question that it will.

What must be questioned in debating transit and transportation options is whether other forms of transportation infrastructure, in particular our road systems, aren’t also primarily and firstly determinants of community form. They are. Public investment in roadways is no less massive a shaper of our communities than light rail will be.

We tend to view investment in new lanes for regional roads, upgrades to the 401 and Highway 7/8, and a completely new highway to Guelph as a logical response to traffic demand, rather than a primary driver for land development. Use of the public purse for these projects is comparable to the investment we now contemplate for public transit. Perhaps the only reason we are so uncritical of this practice is its sheer normalcy. We do it year after year after year, yet commute times increase as these projects create further low density development at the periphery of our communities and across productive farmland.

Let’s think about when the Conestoga Expressway was itself a new form of public infrastructure. The decision to build the freeway must be seen in the context of the community form that it was meant to subsidize: a landscape of segregated land uses for shopping, living, recreation and working. This landscape requires extraordinary investments in personal vehicles, parking, asphalt and commute times for all of us. Without the original and ongoing public expense of the expressway, and continued yet largely uncritical funding of road projects, our low density community form, and the development industry that provides it, simply aren’t possible.

Once built, these roads have operating and maintenance costs, like any other system of infrastructure. Recent reports have highlighted the magnitude of public investment that is required to fund existing patterns of residential and employment land development. We are coming face to face with the reality of this unsustainable landscape, for both our pocketbooks and our planet. The Record has reported that almost $500 million is required to eliminate the road maintenance backlog in the Region’s three major cities, with $35 million needed each year thereafter. Not for new lanes and roads, that’s just to maintain the existing. This figure doesn’t include the cost of plowing, policing, operating the road system, and public health costs. That requires still more public funds.

Our mid-20th Century decision to invest in roads and commuting was primarily a decision about how our community would grow, and how such growth would be subsidized with public money. We’re paying dearly for that decision, and won’t be able to get off the treadmill of expense any time soon.

As with the Expressway decision, our present debate about the nature of public investment is primarily about the shape and form of our community. Shall we accommodate growth with more lanes for cars and buses or an infrastructure of rail-based transit? All infrastructure creates development opportunity and tilts the landscape of private decision and investment. The choice we face is not whether to support private development with public money. We’ve done that for decades, and our communities have taken their present shape because of it. The real choice is where to support that investment going forward, using public funds wisely. Which choice leads to a sustainable future for our children?

We are waking to the true expense of our experiment with segregated land use planning and the roadways that support it. Light rail rapid transit can provide a bright alternative to this grim future. Where the project is undertaken with prudence, it will strengthen our historic forms of settlement and help to retain our distinct rural landscape. It will create quality choices for all, by making a difficult decision that leads us in a new direction.

John MacDonald

Better Than Free

Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine, has some opinions about VALUESpecifically, he’s been thinking about what in the world we’re willing to pay for.

His shortlist? Immediacy, Personalization, Authenticity, Findability, Embodiment, Interpretation, Accessibility, Attention, and Patronage. Kelly believes that in a world full of screens that impose massive interaction, unlimited sharing and access, our lives are characterized by a sort of “data immersion”. We’re literally swimming in a sea of megabytes. Finding value in this medium is a daunting task. Generating value (and being able to make a living by doing so) is even more difficult.

For Kelly, the only thing of value is the thing that cannot be copied. He argues ( that if something can be reproduced, it will be, and in a world of open access and sharing its price will quickly tend toward free. $0. Nada. If we assume that the marketplace is the court of arbitration for value (by no means a given), then we are willing to pay for things that we value. Seen in this light, Kelly’s list of things we will pay for is certainly interesting. Let’s look at them one at a time.

IMMEDIACY! Although I might obtain this thing or this experience for free if I’m willing to wait, I want it now.Instant gratification therefore comes at a price. If you want it faster, you pay. Our parents told us: “All good things come to those who wait!” Now my high-speed internet provider tells me: “Those who wait are losers.” We now value the speed of having something over the appreciation of earning something. A good thing in a world of easy credit?

PERSONALIZATION. It’s not called the I-phone for nothing. The present sales problem for mass merchandising in our post-industrial world is to get the mass out of the merchandise. Where a product is generic, the tendency will be to look for access to it, rather than ownership of it. Sharing a bicycle means I need less bicycle, and access to that bicycle means my transport needs get satisfied. But having a bicycle with my choice of pink handlebar streamers and a bell with a distinct ring tone will help to perpetuate the sale of the NEW, since I’m really buying personal choices, not transportation. This has the added advantage that the merchandise has very little resale value, since what I purchased is myself, rather than the thing. I am the only market for me. The beauty of the I-phone is that it’s really a piece of infrastructure that I can use to purchase me, over and over and over, through small personalized consumer choices of music, ring tone, connection, app, and virtual experience.

AUTHENTICITY. Do you wish to have the “real” thing? Will you pay for that? Kelly argues that we will pay to own the original. What’s interesting in the world of collectibles is how few original things there really are, and how far we’re willing to bend the definition of “original” to create more of them. It will be interesting to see how far we turn to aspects of authenticity that lie beyond the reach of the market, like authentic relationships, and originals that are created with our own efforts rather than the efforts of others.

FINDABILITY. Kelly argues that people will pay for guidance. In a confusing sea of choices, navigation is what we need. Where in this mass of data am I? Well, for a price we will help you “explore” this universe, and as you do we can “explore” you, mining your every keystroke so that we can bring you things and experiences that reinforce who you are. Eventually the medium will know you so well that instead of you exploring new possibilities, it can simply present you, to you. Marco Polo had no reason to travel, if his was not a journey of discovery.

EMBODIMENT. In many ways this is the intersection of authenticity and immediacy. Kelly believes that the internet is essentially a super-copying machine. Everything that enters its flow moves by copying. So in the end, the content is of little value. What people will pay for are the live performances, the real time experiences. Strange though, that the value of the film is its opening night, while its profits derive from distribution rights. Why not concentrate on making opening nights, rather than movies? Perhaps there’s hope for live theatre and dance after all.

INTERPRETATION. As Kelly puts it, the software is free, the manual is $10,000. In other words, there is a market for meaning. Tell me what it means. Tell me how to use it. This points to a real gap in our understanding of information, namely that’s its just that. Information. It’s just lying around. Only meaning uses information. Not the other way round. Relying on others to tell you what it means is a slippery slope.

ACCESSIBILITY. There is a market for declutterers. We pay them to organize our closets and pick our socks off the floor. In an infinite universe of copies of information, media, and browsers, the challenge is in staying organized. In past times, memory was linked to the virtue of prudence. How could you avoid sin if you could not remember what it was? Like interpretation, there’s danger in paying others to remember for you.

ATTENTION. People will pay you to give them attention. Waiters’ and bartenders’ Tip Number 1. Really? The only problem with the marketplace of attention is attention is not caring. You can never really pay someone enough to care. That has to be freely given.

And finally. PATRONAGE. The internet is helping us to rediscover the idea of patronage. In this medium of endless copying and unlicensed downloading, it’s emerging that people can and do support effort and creation. It authenticates their experience of the offering, and connects them to those who produce culture. By making simple and small donations, those who enjoy a work, and feel enriched by it, can gain further satisfaction by showing appreciation in tangible forms. We just don’t want to pay the middle man, the distributor, or the profiteer.

In this idea of patronage, there is an incredibly hopeful lifeline here for all of us. Reaching out to your local arts community, music scene, theatre, or architect can place you immediately, personally, and accessibly at the birth of an idea, of an offering that benefits us all. You will be there at ground zero. You will explore what it means to create. Not free. Better than free! Vital!