Category Archives: Architecture

Things We Like – Industrial Architecture

This weeks Things We Like theme Industrial Architecture was chosen by Mila for its versatility. Rightfully so, the group came up with a range of choices including: industrial spaces that are in use today, buildings that were repurposed from old industry, and elements of design inspired by industry.

becker-architekten-hydro-plantMargaret’s Pick: Becker Architekten’s Hydroelectric Plant, Kempten, Germany. Margaret appreciates the way the plant is integrated with the urban fabric, and wonders  if this kind of project would work for Cambridge, Ontario.

maishama-waste-treatmentJohn’s Pick: Maishama Waste Incineration Plant, Osaka, Japan. This fanciful building was designed by Austrian architect Hundertwasser, who protested the uniformity of Bauhaus architecture.

water-millDee’s Pick: Water Mills. Dee finds beauty in the balance between simplicity and complexity in a water mill. She also enjoys the way many towns and cities were once built up around a mill.

hale-county-animal-shelterAshley’s Pick: Hale County Animal Shelter, Alabama. Ashley shared Rural Studio’s project, an animal shelter built using industrial design methods such as a lamella system for the roof structure.

rotterdam-crane-lightsMatt’s Pick: Lighting in Schouwburgplein, Rotterdam. These unique positionable light fixtures are inspired by the cranes in this port city and can be moved to illuminate the many different events and installations that are hosted in the square.

union-stationMonica’s Pick: Union Station, Toronto. Monica is impressed by the functionality of Union Station’s spaces, throughout all the many renovations and iterations.

Jamil’s Pick: Chameleon House, Michigan. This single family home designed by architects Anderson Anderson features elements of industrial design on both the exterior and interior.

Mila’s Picks: Mila shared two entries with us this week; The Fagus Factory, Germany (Left) and the Danish National Maritime Museum (Right). Mila appreciates the historical significance of the Fagus Factory as an important example of early modern architecture. She also loves the way that the Maritime Museum was built around a former dry dock

Things We Like – Record Breakers

For many of us, the month of January becomes a time to reflect on our habits and make resolutions. I’ve always found it interesting to ask people about their resolutions. Whether they stick to them or not, we can gain an insight into people by knowing the goals the dawn of a new year inspires within them.

Over the past year JMA has engaged in an office wide resolution that has become a Friday afternoon ritual. (No – we haven’t been having a Biggest Loser competition.) Any visitor to JMA knows that our office is a bustling place and we value the time to bounce loose ideas off of one another, without judgement. With this in mind came the invention of “Things We Like”, an open discussion about creativity, innovation, and design. Everybody participates and nothing is off limits, as long as you like it!

The idea is simple – at the beginning of each week one member of the JMA team is selected to pick a theme. The theme can be anything; past Fridays we’ve taken a serious look at topics such as Humanitarian Design, Urban Planning, and Intentionally Green Buildings. Other weeks we’ve taken a whimsical approach to Things We Like and gathered to discuss Fictional Architecture or Beds. Once the topic is chosen each member of JMA has the rest of the week to ponder the theme and choose a response to share that they personally enjoy. When Friday afternoon rolls around we convene and have a Things We Like “show and tell”. Each person presents their choice and we use it as a tipping point for open discussion. The conversation it inspires is always informative…and entertaining!

During the most recent round of Things We Like I was the lucky one chosen to pick the theme. I decided upon Record Breakers. After enduring many Evil Knievel jokes throughout the week everyone chose a Record Breaker they like. Check out our entries below. As always, the range in each person’s interpretation of the theme and ideas to discuss was fascinating.

Dee Hopkins


Monica’s Pick: NASA Vehicle Assembly Building, Titusville, Florida. Largest single story building in the world.


Jamil’s Pick: 432 Park Avenue, New York City, New York. Tallest residential building in the world.


John’s Pick: The Crystal Palace, (destroyed) formerly London, England. In 1851 The Crystal Palace broke the record for the greatest area of glass ever seen in a building at the time.


Ashley’s Pick: World’s Largest Windchime, Casey, Illinois.


Matt’s Pick: Bullitt Centre, Seattle, Washington. The greenest commercial building in the world.


Margaret’s Pick: Villard de Honnecourt’s Sketchbook, Picardy, France. Some of the earliest found true architectural drawings.


Mila’s Pick: Millau Viaduct, Millau, France. Tallest bridge in the world.


Dee’s Pick: Capital Gate, Abu Dhabi, UAE. World’s furthest leaning man made tower.

Expect more Things We Like blogs in coming weeks!

Apparitions – Night/Shift 2014

Earlier this year, following the call for proposals for Night/Shift 2014, JMA and MT Space sat down to discuss a collaborative piece between our architectural practice and their theatrical one. Early on, John suggested we consider doing something that engaged the public space at Kitchener City Hall. We found that both parties were deeply interested in looking at issues of public space in relation to individual identity and community interaction. We wanted to do something provocative, fun and interactive, that would in turn create a dialogue between strangers, and thus Apparitions was born.

We came to the title Apparitions for our piece, with the thought that the installation and its actors were a temporary appearance that offered a reinterpretation of the way that people commonly interact with the public space at City Hall. Our actors were in a sense apparitions themselves; slipping in and out of the actor / audience role.

After months of development and discussion, the form of the physical installation was decided upon. Since there are two mirrored porticos in front of Kitchener City Hall, we decided to create an illuminated veil with a projection screen at each portico. This would enable audiences to see and talk to each other instantly. At each portico, actors from MT Space would invite festival participants to interact and play across the divide of the civic square.

Apparitions - John MacDonald Architect

Apparitions – John MacDonald Architect

Heedless of this year’s first snowfall, on Saturday, November 1st, an enthusiastic team of volunteers along with friends of JMA & MT Space, worked together, to assemble the installation for its one night performance. Several sponsors provided us with the materials needed to put on a great show. Although there were some technical difficulties to work through early in the evening, overall the installation was a great success.

At Night/Shift, people of all ages interacted with each other through the screens of Apparitions, sometimes singing songs, dancing, asking questions to strangers or mimicking actors. It was all great fun and at the same time, reflective of what public space is supposed to do; bring people together.

Apparitions-Screen Shot


screen interaction 6




We’d like to take a moment to thank our sponsors who made this possible: Canadian Tire, Kitchener Wilmot Hydro, CRS Contractors Rental Supply, Form & Build Supply, City of Kitchener, Christie Digital and Sherwood Systems.

Also to our volunteers, who laboured tirelessly, giving generously of their time and muscle – Thank you for your hard work. This would not have been a success without you.

Adventures in Window Installation

One Thursday, a couple of weeks ago, the JMA office endeavoured to replace one of the existing, low performance windows in the office meeting room, with a newer, higher performance model. The building in which JMA is located is the renovated Bonnie Stuart Shoe Factory. The building was originally built in 1910 and carried out its shoe making processes until 1997. Over the years, renovations have been carried out to adapt this older building to its current usage. Replacing the old single pane windows are a part of this ongoing process of renewal.

JMA staff undertook the exercise of replacing the window in our office Meeting Room as a training exercise. Given the many times that each of us have drawn window details, we thought that this would be a good way to get a better understanding of the steps involved in constructing those details. Through this we also hoped to find better ways to detail our windows, while still considering ease of installation.

John pioneered the detailing of the windows with Monica, a JMA intern. With the details in mind, John assembled the materials we’d need for installation, including stainless steel trim, adhesives, vapour barrier tape and in lieu of butyl tape (which the hardware was out of), a sticky, black, resinous tape. In order to first remove the existing window and trim, we gathered an assortment of hammers, pry bars and power tools.

Adhesive applied to glass to control glass as it shatters.

Adhesive applied to glass to control glass as it shatters.

The construction team included John, Matt, Ashley and Lisa with Margaret as our occasional photographer. Our first steps involved preparing the new window for insertion into the opening as well as preparing the existing window for removal.

Preparation of New Window with trim and resinous tape flaps

Preparation of New Window with trim and resinous tape flaps

Removal of the Existing Window Part 1

Removal of the Existing Window Part 1

While John and Lisa worked on applying resinous tape flaps to the new window, Ashley and Matt rose to the challenge of removing the existing window glass and muntins. They wielded power tools like professionals and applied brute force as necessary.

Removal of the Existing Window Part 2

After the muntins came free, John had to grind down the remaining steel edges in order to smoothen the opening for the new window.

John with Grinder

John with Grinder

At that point, we were ready for the insertion of the new window. First, we ensured that insulation and blocking was installed at the bottom of the window opening. Then, since we attached the stainless steel trim to the window before hand, we lifted and fit the window into the available space with some thoughtful manoeuvring.

Installation with thoughtful manoeuvring

Installation with thoughtful manoeuvring

Connecting the existing vapour barrier to the new one was a challenge that took some innovation. Once the window was in its opening, we all worked hard to ensure that the vapour barrier flaps connected on all sides and applied some extra to ensure that corners were well sealed. Rock wool insulation was then placed at the stainless steel trim.

The new window installed.

The new window installed.

Many lessons were learned for the next time we do this. There is one more window in the office that needs the same treatment as this one. Now that the team has a bit of experience, I am sure that the next installation, will be quicker and easier.

The running joke that morning was, ‘how many architects does it take to install a window?’. Well, I’m here to tell you; it takes exactly four.

An Architect’s Bucket List

Of all the places in the world which would you visit? Remember life is short, which is why many of us have some sort of “Bucket List” (things to do or see before we die). So what sort of wonderful things would an architect want to check off the list? We took this question to our office in hopes of creating An Architect’s Bucket List.

The Fallas Festival

With a passion for public art and community festivals it’s no surprise that Lisa has The Fallas Festival is on her list. The Spanish know how to party and this annual festival is no exception. Throughout the month of March the city of Valencia, Spain celebrates fire, with the main event being the culmination of the burning of massive papier-mâché sculptures that are erected around the city in public squares. The sculptures reflect contemporary issues in local politics and society and the annual construction and destruction of these sculptures are said to be a cathartic release from the mundane.


Green SchoolLisa also plans to visit Bali, Indonesia, which is home to Green School. Not only does Green School integrate academics with green sustainable living, but also offers stunning architecture built primarily from bamboo. The school’s campus was designed by PT Bambu and completed in 2007. The facility creates a truly artful community of buildings that evokes the essence of sustainability.


Falling Water

Not to surprisingly Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water made someone’s Bucket List. Matt says “You can’t call yourself an architect without having visited this modern masterpiece.” Completed in 1938 in Pennsylvania (southeast of Pittsburg), the residence was built partially over a waterfall and was a family vacation home until 1963, when it was entrusted to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy and is now open to the public for viewing.


Croatia wouldn’t be seen on too many Bucket Lists, but Matt longs to explore the town of Dubrovnik on the Southern Dalmatian coast.  “The images of the ancient medieval fort town of Dubrovnik, with its orange tile roofs, its apparent freedom of form, has captured my imagination ever since I was young” Matt says. Dubrovnik became a popular tourist destination in the late 19th century and was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1979. Judging by the pictures, it is easy to see why.



La Sagrada Familia

Who says less is more? At La Sagrada Familia it’s about the details, and more details. Oh, yes! It’s gaudy, literally. Designed by Antoni Gaudi this cathedral in Barcelona, Spain is a site Trena has to visit, but preferably after 2026. That is when the 144 years of construction is scheduled to be complete. Yes, construction began in 1882 and has been ongoing ever since, with a few pauses. It is all really quite fascinating. Watch the many years of construction here:



We have all seen them in the movies and studied them in school, the Pyramids of Giza are probably on many people’s Bucket list and Trena is one of them. “Since I was in elementary school and learned about the pharaohs, mummies, stolen treasures and theories of how the pyramids where built, I have wanted to visit Giza. It seems all so mystical” Trena says. The Great Pyramid is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world, after all.


John has already crossed many overseas destinations off his list and desires to see more of our own country. John says “It would be wonderful to experience the landscapes that really ARE Canada. I’ve been to most provinces, but only to their cities and provincial capitals. Getting time to visit the Territories, and their amazing landscapes would help complete my bucket list.” John believes as architects “We would be so much better in our understanding of our environment and World if we paid as much attention to the landscapes as we did the buildings.”

Canadian Landscape

Here is the list, in the order they are written above:

1. Green School in Bali, Indonesia

2. The Fallas Festival in Valencia, Spain

3. Falling Water in Mill Run, Pennsylvania, USA

4. The town of Dubrovnik, Croatia

5. La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Spain

6. The Pyramids of Giza, Egypt

7. The Canadian Landscape, Canada

Tell us what amazing destinations are on your Bucket List!  Reply below. 

John MacDonald Architect is Expanding, Job Available

Intern Architect or Recent Graduate in Architecture

Thank you to all who have shown an interest in John MacDonald Architect. This position has been filled. Future openings will be posted on our blog.

All the best!

John MacDonald Architect is expanding. We are interested in supporting an intern architect or recent graduate in architecture with opportunities for learning and professional growth toward project leadership. You can assist us in creating excellent projects that support our clients’ goals. Our practice is centred in Kitchener, Canada.

Please request further details from

We request that all enquiries be made in this manner. No telephone solicitation please.

August was made for Workin’! A major project out for tender.

What is it about August? Just when you think we’d all be off to the beach, the cottage, August seems to bring out the deadlines, and the best of our design studio and staff. We’ve just completed the tender documents for the University of Waterloo’s Health Services Expansion, working in association with Kearns Mancini Architects. The division of effort and responsibility throughout the design team has been excellent, and the quality of the documents really shows. It’s in the hands of the bidding contractors now, and in a few weeks we’ll be passing the torch to a new member of the team, the builder. We look forward to working with whichever of the 8 pre-qualified firms is successful.

For anyone who’s been part of a deadline for tender and contract documents, this might seem ho hum, but I’m still amazed at the huge amount of interrelated detail that goes into the set.

First of all, what is a set of tender and contract documents? Well, much like any contract, the set has to fully describe the contract requirements for the work, and how the work is to be undertaken, including all its administrative details. In the case of this building, it means drawings and specifications from:

  • the architectural firms (JMA and KMA), for the interrelated architectural elements
  • the civil engineer (K Smart and Associates) describing the site services, grading, and drainage
  • the structural engineer (MTE Consultants) for the building’s concrete and steel structure
  • the mechanical and electrical engineers (Jain and Associates) for all the heating, ventilation, plumbing, and electrical systems.
What does it amount to, for a $6 or $7 million expansion? Nearly a hundred drawings, an inch thick project manual full of details and schedules, and more than a thousand pages of specification, all crafted and coordinated into a coherent whole.
Thanks to Matthew, Krista, Diane, Kristin, and all involved. A great team effort.
Our work isn’t all sketches on napkins. Initial design and exploration is about a quarter of our effort on most projects, with the documentation of that design forming fully half of our work. Following the tender and contract award, the remaining quarter of our work involves administration of the construction contract to ensure that the Owner receives the quality and value required by the Contract.
So for this project at least, we’re 75% there. Construction will take more than a year, and we’ll keep you posted on how the project progresses through construction.