Category Archives: Urbanism

Exploring our Cities: Jane’s Walk 2017

“Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.” – Jane Jacobs

Last weekend groups of citizens in cities across the globe gathered to participate in organized walking tours in honour of Jane Jacobs. Jane was an activist and writer who introduced the world to ground-breaking ideas about community-based approaches to city building. She believed that is it important for local residents to become familiar with their neighbourhoods and have input on how their neighbourhood develops. Jane’s Walks are hosted each year on the first weekend of May and focus on a variety of themes relevant to the local planning, history, people and culture of the city in which the walks take place.


Tour of the history of the Math and Computer Science Department at the University of Waterloo

John and Margaret set out to join our neighbours in Kitchener and Waterloo to experience two of the many Jane’s Walks our region had to offer.  The first tour explored the history of the Math and Computer Science Department at the University of Waterloo. This indoor tour of the campus buildings was a welcome retreat from the rain for the group of math and technology enthusiasts who had gathered to learn and walk together. John and Margaret returned with a number of fun facts to share with the office, including that the original computer used by the Math and Computer Science Department cost more than the building it was housed in and yet it was less powerful than a cell phone!

170507 Janes Walk Central Frederick1

Made in Berlin. Matured in Kitchener. The Central Frederick Neighbourhood Tour. Crowd gathers outside of the Staebler House.

The following day John & Margaret went on a tour of Kitchener’s historic Central Frederick Neighbourhood. As they walked through the neighbourhood their guide James Howe, a local resident, wove in tales of past community members and how they shaped Kitchener as we now know it.  The narratives of three different women, all born when Kitchener was still the City of Berlin, hold a particularly strong grasp on the Central Frederick Neighbourhood. Anna Kaljas, once a refugee herself, devoted her life to providing shelter to vulnerable populations within her community. Her legacy is one that remains strong in Kitchener today. Another notable Frederick resident is none other than Edna Staebler. Staebler won many awards including the Order of Canada for her books, which provide a colourful record of the Mennonite-inspired local KW cuisine. Finally, the legacy of another author B. Mabel Dunham was explored. Dunham pursued an education in library science and became the first trained librarian to be in charge of a public library in Ontario. She held the post of librarian of the Kitchener Public Library from 1908 until her retirement in 1944. The impact that each of these women had on enriching the quality of their community perfectly embodies the values of Jane Jacobs.

JMA would like to extend our sincere thanks to all organizers and participants of the 2017 Jane’s Walks. If you would like to participate or host a Jane’s Walk tour next year, or learn more about Jane’s Walk, please visit

For KW residents still looking for Jane’s Walk events this year – a “Jane’s Ride” family friendly bike ride has been rescheduled to May 13, 2017 at 9:00 am at the St. Jacob’s Farmer Market. More information here:


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.

A Jane’s Walk to Remember

logo1_lLooking to get out this weekend? Want to connect with your community? It’s as easy as a walk in the park. Jane’s Walk is happening in our community and around the world this weekend. Jane’s Walks are free walking tours held annually, to celebrate the ideas and legacy of urbanist Jane Jacobs. Now in over 75 cities worldwide, more then 511 walks will take place this weekend and there is one happing near by.


Jane Jacobs (1916-2006) was an activist and writer who took a community-based approach to city building and planning. She was not formally trained as a planner, but none the less she introduced ground-breaking ideas about how cities should function. Many of her ideas are now seen as “common sense” to generations of architects, planners, politicians and activists. To honour Jacobs achievements and ideas Jane’s Walk is organized on the first weekend of May to coincide with her birthday.

Jane’s Walks are led by individuals and small groups. Some are focused around historical themes, geographical areas, or even popular hangouts, for instance, some strolls have been built around ideas like the urban forestry, gay and lesbian history, places of relevance to the homeless, teen hangouts, and urgent planning matters facing certain neighbourhoods. The walks offer a more personal take on local culture and issues. They are not a tourist driven initiative but an insider tour of a neighbourhood that helps open up a friendly, engaged discussion amongst interested participants.” (


This year local architect John MacDonald will host a Jane’s Walk through the St. Mary’s Heritage Conservation District. The walk will highlight early suburban planning and architectural ideas which formed the neighbourhood today. The walk will include a tour of a newly renovated Victory home. John will explaining the architectural ideas behind updating this home to accommodate for today’s family, while maintaing it’s historic character and significance. The Walk will also be sprinkled with local anecdotes about the neighbourhood’s history and what life was like in this area through development. All are welcome to bring their local stories to share with the group. This Walk starts at 2:30 on Saturday May 4, 2013. More about the St. Mary’s Heritage Conservation District: Stories & History Walk can be found here: 

See a booklet on the history St. Mary’s neighbourhood here: St. Mary’s Heritage Conservation District- A Walking Tour (Booklet) This booklet was never published, but has great descriptions and photos of the neighbourhood. 

DSC_0017Copy There are lots of Walks happening this weekend throughout Kitchener, Waterloo and Cambridge. Details on all Jane’s Walks can be found here: So get the family together, and enjoy what your neighbourhood has to offer. 


Moving Back to the City; The Urban Living Trend

The suburbs became the epitome of the ‘Canadian Dream’ following World War 2, as couples desired settling down,  more privacy, and raising children in safe, quite neighbourhoods. Then came the Baby Boomers; wanting to create much of the same lifestyle as their parents, the suburbs thrived through the 60’s and 70’s as large homes and modern cars became status symbols. Today things are starting to change, with raising gas prices, long commute times and a growing awareness of environmental issues, people are saying no to suburbia and are moving back to the city.

Echo Boomers, Generation Y, Millennials, or whatever you like to call them; the children of the Baby Boomers have historically tried to separate themselves from their parents and their new lifestyle choice is no different. Moving to the cities Echo Boomers are a major contributor to this migration trend and are helping create this new lifestyle norm. Growing up in the suburbs this generation is opting to live close to work, restaurants and entertainment; abandoning the car and saving on time and gas costs. This urban lifestyle is about walking, biking and public transit (they aren’t call Echo Boomers for nothing). This generation doesn’t see the need for large half empty homes, lawns that need constant maintenance, or having to drive to the corner store, instead the desire is to be centrally located. According to Statistics Canada the density in large Canadian cities grew an average of 126.26 people per square kilometer from 2006 to 2011, topping the charts where Vancouver who’s density increased by 210 people per square kilometer and Toronto, increasing by 177.1 people p/ It’s all about location and the most sought after are becoming those within the city.

Despite Generation Y’s quest to separate themselves from their parents, Baby Boomers are following the initiative of their children and making the move  themselves. As Baby Boomers approach retirement they are realizing their large, empty homes require too much maintenance, and the family vehicle continues to cost more and more to drive. Many Baby Boomers are seeking homes that better suite their lifestyle; hunting for smaller home which require little or no maintenance, are in close proximity to all amenities, contain a sense of community and can easily be locked up when traveling. Downtown condos are becoming a popular choice, offering Baby Boomers the lifestyle they are looking for. With so many people now competing for the same properties, prices are on the raise.

Together these two large groups are creating quite a lifestyle tend, raising property values in cities and increasing the number of high rise condos being building. According to the Canadian Mortgage and Housing annual report; a record of 27,504 new condo unites where under construction in the city of Toronto at the end of 2011, increasing the city’s total number of condo units to 199,000. Will this urban living trend redefine the ‘Canadian Dream’? What does this mean for our cities, suburbs, transportation modes, property values, and environment? Change is inevitable and it seems we are about to whiteness the next big lifestyle shift; what the outcome will be, only time will tell.

Future Toronto Condo sites. Photo from

Dickens’ Muse Lives Here

Muses inhabit this part of town. Urban myths of the tough and gritty city are born here.  Even though this place is great for raspy voiced poetry, it is not what we want our real city to be like. This harsh streetscape, lined with a mix of businesses that could use a facelift, makes me wonder how it came to this. I would have thought that a mixed use block of tight knit commercial, with residential on the second floor, near two schools,  a church, a supermarket, varied housing, and an assortment of businesses, all within walking distance to each other, would have been enough to help maintain higher standards. Is it that the street’s balance is tilted to accommodate driving, at the expense of walking? Is it that the neighbourhood hasn’t been able to take ownership of its streets? Or is it that it has entered a cycle of neglect that has infected all the pieces that make up the street?

The empty storefront of a second hand clothing store advertises the contradictions of this site with eloquence. Is that decrepit sign of VERSE, with the first E falling down, there to remind us of the poetic potential of urban decay, or is it just falling down and no one cares?

Our Treehouse

As a feature project, John MacDonald Architect, along with Storeworks has undertaken the redesign of a residential property here in Kitchener. Located in the  St. Mary’s Historic Conservation District, the home was built in 1948 and features the appeal and charm common to the wartime houses in the neighbourhood.

In need of some TLC, the property is undergoing a total gut and re-design. Featured as a design storm project at JMA, numerous options were discussed and debated with design team members, local realtors, home stagers, and members of the public. Given that the property was built in the 1950s certain amenity and features were missing in the home that most feel are ‘givens’ so to speak, in more recent construction. Features such as an upper floor bathroom, an open concept floor plan and a finished basement were all design elements highlighted by the design storm. In keeping with the heritage designation, and the general aesthetic of the neighbourhood, the exterior finishes were decided early on to be minimal and true to the original colour palate. New siding, new windows and doors and a new roof are the major components of the work in the re-design of the exterior.

Given that the idea was for this to truly be an ‘office’ project, John has taken up the new role as general contractor for the project. Beginning with the total gut, and demolition of the interior walls, flooring, ceilings and the back half of the roof (in order to accommodate the new second storey addition), the project has progressed through to framing, and is currently in the process of being re-roofed (literally as we speak!). In the coming weeks our team will work on electrical, plumbing and mechanical work, followed by drywalling, flooring and finishes- working to a fall completion date.

We’ll be providing updates form time to time on how the project is progressing and the various features we’ll be incorporating that relate to design, history, sustainability and just plain fun.

Like most homeowners we already have a taste of the  joys of renovation and contracting with trades 🙂

In the end, we’ll have a great step by step record of the project in photos and blog posts and we’d love to have you come by for a tour once its all done. Stay posted!

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!