Category Archives: Uncategorized

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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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 (http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2008/01/better_than_fre.php) 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!

Shedding Light on Green Technology

Now that we have come out of our winter hibernation we are reminded what great benefits we can gain from the sun.

Natural daylighting is a strategy we attempt to use in every design we undertake. It is a no-brainer in our eyes to light a space with the sun. Daylighting has many benefits including;

1. sunlight

2. views to the exterior

3. electricity savings

The sun has a path that it travels each day throughout the season. The path has two angles that affect how a space can be daylit. There is an angle relative to the building usually indicated by North, South, East, and West. Then there is the angle above the earth. Each direction that the light comes through has a different characteristic.

North light is consistent. The sun never gets close to north in this region, so the light entering a north window is never direct rays but incident light reflected off of other surfaces. North light is good for studios, office spaces because of the consistent light.

South light is direct and powerful. In the summer the angle is very high above the earth and in the winter the angle above the earth is very low. We can use this characteristic to our advantage.  In the summer we can reduce the heat that enters the building by using horizontal overhangs. In the winter the angle is low and the space can take advantage of the heat gain to warm the space. This is address more in our post about passive heating. South light is good for living rooms, kitchens, and spaces you spend lots of time in.

East light is glaring. The morning east light enters windows at a low level and is difficult to control when entering a space.  East light can be very intrusive and irritating. An egg crate shader on the window helps control the direct rays, while still allowing reflected light to enter. East light is good for bedrooms, as long as you don’t want to sleep in!

West light is the more powerful of the two. It contains the heat and power of a day of shining. Similar to east light it enters the window at a low angle, but unlike east light it is much hotter and can warm a space to an uncomfortable level. The egg crate shader is again a useful tool to control this light. Vertical louver shaders can also be used. West light is good for green houses as well as porches and gardens for you to enjoy the sun in the evening.

We think about daylighting a building immediately when we orient the building on the site. The ideal lighting orientation of the building is to maximize the south light, as it is most easily controlled. A long skinny building that has a long side facing south and north is a good example of using daylighting in the design of your space. This orientation will ensure that all spaces have access to sunlight and views and can reduce the heat gain from the summer sun.

Daylighting must be done carefully as there can be harsh results to daylighting including unwanted heat gain and glare. When thinking about lighting make sure that shading from the sun is done outside of the building. Once the light has entered the window the heat has as well. Shading done on the inside of a building does not reduce the heat gain nor the air conditioning bill. Glare and contrast can also be a problem when you arrange a room with tv, computers, and other electronics as the sun can ruin a good movie!

Guest Blogger Krista Hulshof

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

To build or not to build: that is the Question.

Part of our goal when we created this blog back in September was to engage, interest and make our firm more accessible to the communities we serve. As part of this we encourage you to ask us questions, fill out our feedback forms, call us, email us, or stop and chat with us when you bump into us on the street.

With the warm weather approaching, and as we are once again able to see the grass in our backyards, dust off the patio furniture in our sheds, and migrate back outside, many people begin to ponder the idea of potential construction projects.

Wait.

Before you stop reading because you think this is going to turn into some kind of sales pitch, I encourage you to keep reading, as I attempt to answer some of the questions you may be pondering.

Often during the course of the week our office fields calls from various local residents interested in discussing their building projects. This is a great first step! We encourage anyone thinking of an idea, thinking they may even have an idea for an idea to call or email. We’re always happy to help in any way we can.

Some things you may want to consider when considering a project:

  • consider a possible schedule (when do you anticipate the project to start/end)
  • what is the budget for the project
  • consider the necessary permits, applications and permissions that will be involved (for instance, for the City of Kitchener you can visit its website to research what projects require building permits and gather other relevant information http://www.kitchener.ca/en/livinginkitchener/BuildingPermits.asp?_mid_=6654)
  • will the GRCA have to approve the project? Are you planning to build within flood lines? (map your property online at http://www.grandriver.ca/index/document.cfm?Sec=17&Sub1=80)
  • Do you know and understand the zoning of your property and the possible implications for your project?
  • Is your house or project heritage designated? Or within a designated area?
  • will soil conditions play a role in your project?
  • Is this a DIY project or are you planning to hire a contractor?
  • Do you know a good quality contractor you can trust to look out for your best interests?
  • Do you know what you want or are you looking for design ideas/advice?
  • do you want something designed to suit your specific needs?
  • do you want to ensure the highest quality results?

We can provide you with designs & documentation, assist you with permissions and permits, GRCA & zoning information, and provide invaluable advice whether you’re just contemplating an idea or actively pursuing a project.

We will even do one better, and meet you at a location, whether your house, business, property- wherever your idea takes us, to evaluate the opportunities and help (or try our best to help) point you in the right direction- even if that direction doesn’t include our services.

Still suspicious???

There is no catch. We will provide our honest opinion, to do with as you please. Just like that.

JMA Sponsored Event a Huge Success!

Yesterday, February 24th, John MacDonald Architect sponsored an event on Smart Growth, urban sprawl and municipal taxation. Featuring a keynote by author and planner, Pamela Blais, the day generated lively discussion and debates surrounding the issues.

At 4:15 JMA Principal John MacDonald offered a local perspective on urban sprawl and the fiscal landscape of KW, illustrating how urban residents subsidize sprawl in the suburbs.

Offering a candid critique of past planning and architectural conceptions of designing cities, the event promoted re-urbanization efforts, offering alternatives to current policies that tend to promote sprawl. Rather than an attack on suburban home builders and home owners, the goal of the day was to point out that rather than continuing to allow suburban homes to be subsidized by higher multi residential taxation rates, buyers pay the true cost of their purchase- whether downtown or in the suburbs.

Attendees included Chair Seiling, CAO Mike Murray, councillors from the Region, Kitchener, Waterloo, Stratford, Guelph and Brantford, as well as representatives from local real estate, Directors from the Canadian Condominium Institute, Home Builders, Developers, Professors, Lawyers, Facilities Management, other architects, and interested citizens.

A special thanks to everyone who attended, and to Distinctly Tea for providing the delicious tea for the event.