Pre-Columbia Tropical American Potluck

Every year the friends and family of JMA gather to share in the holiday season with a themed potluck. Through this event the attendees taste buds travel the world. This year we not only visited South America but we also traveled through time, to the days before the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The name of this year’s event, “Pre-Columbian Tropical America”.


As always our holiday potluck started with a traditional drink. At past events this has been tea, beer or liqueurs. This year we were treated to Pisco Sours, a cocktail originating in Peru. This sweet and sour beverage was a big hit among the potluck attendees, so much so that we ran out of the Pisco and lime juice. Get the recipe here: Pisco Sour.


The dishes were placed on the table in preparation for dinner and before the meal began each dish was explained by its maker and the themed dishes were revealed. As you can see the table looked stunning with bright colours, and interesting textures topped with fresh garnishes.

    IMG_0563                  IMG_0557

The pumpkin soup was served first. The warm purée was a nice way to awaken the palate in anticipation of the intense flavours of lime, hot peppers, cilantro and onion.  A roasted wild boar on a bed of sweet potatoes was one of the highlights of the event. The boar was purchased from a local farm outside Stratford and had a lovely mild taste and juicy meaty texture. Unfortunately we don’t have the recipe for this dish. It was more of an improvised creation inspired on readings of Pre-Columbian cooking culture.

It took us until dessert before we noticed that the Cuban rumba background music was on repeat, playing the same 3 minute song continuously all evening, a testament to the good food and good times. The desserts were no let down to the excitement of the mains. There were Alfajores, a sandwich like cookie with dulce de leche in the middle, and a tropical fruit salad in a light prickly pear juice. Sweet treats were not common in Pre-Columbian times, but we couldn’t go without dessert now, could we?

We encourage you to try some of these exciting dishes. Let us know how it works out!

JMA’s Pre-Columbian Potluck Recipes

Pisco Sour

Sikil-Pak Dip

Pumpkin Black Bean Soup

Nopalitos Salad

Boiled Yuca with Mojo

Black Quinoa with Squash

Zic de Venado (pickled Venison)


Alfajores cookies

Tropical Fruit Salad

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.

JMA goes Canoeing

On a sunny July Friday, JMA staff headed to the Massasauga Provincial Park for a terrific canoe trip.


We planned the dates, the meals, our available supplies and searched hard into our true canoeing and camping abilities. For the six of us who could come, we figured that we would need three canoes and two tents. John and I were familiar with the park, and knew that everyone would love the experience as much as we did. The Massasauga Provincial Park has been in operation since 1989. It is an archipelago in Georgian Bay just south of Parry Sound. This is bear country and home of the Massasauga rattlesnake. Campers must take precautions to avoid unwanted encounters with wildlife and be ready to paddle to their campsites with all their supplies in tow. For all our efforts we were more than rewarded with the incomparable beauty of Georgian Bay and the Precambrian Shield.


Day 1 – John and Margaret loading up their canoe at Pete’s Place Access Point. A 3 ½ hour paddle would take us to our campsite on Moon Island.

“I didn’t know my bow from my stern, or my port from my aft. Somewhat problematic if you’re captain of your canoe. It turns out steering isn’t the hard part; it’s going in a straight line!” – Matt, Captain, HMC Indefatigable




IMG_1068The first evening at our campsite. On tonight’s menu: Steak.

“The food cooked by the campfire was so amazing I was tasting it days later.” – Ashley, Chief Cheerleader





Day 2 – Day trip to Wreck Island. 1 ½ hour paddle to the westernmost island on the archipelago.




Exploring the rich geological history IMGP0089on a hike through the Wreck Island Trail, a landscape of eroded, twisted and multicoloured ribbons of rock, sometimes pitted, sometimes folded, always beautifully sculptural and a treat to the eye.




mThe entire office could attest that I went into this trip with great, rattle snake inspired, trepidation. As the weekend went on though, my fear dissolved and I began hoping to see one of the Massasauga rattle snakes. I didn’t see any of them though. The rocky landscape somehow made the snakes seem more awe inspiring than scary. Maybe next time I’ll see one!”, Lisa – Explorer Extraordinair.



We finished our hike with a swim in the cold waters of Georgian Bay.

“I had a great time swimming and jumping off the rocks at Wreck Island with the snakes and muskrats!” – Eric Jardin, He-Man, Master of the Universe 






Back at our campsite, making dinner…. a true team effort. Well done, everyone! For Margaret’s Recipe Click the Link!

Paella Massasagueña




Paella Massasagueña Recipe


That evening the wind was dead still and we were expecting rain. We used the tarpaulin to protect all our supplies overnight. We were able to see the “Supermoon”, but soon it began to cloud over. Rain started to fall late at night, and became progressively stronger. We were afraid that we would have to paddle into a howling southern wind in the rain. We were praying for no lightning.



The Archipelago-20140713-00061

“I loved being under the tarpaulin all of us together as we waited out the rain at breakfast, and playing UNO, which by the way, I won after changing the rules half way through the game”, Margaret – UNO Champion


Day 3. A miracle! The rain stopped, the wind started to turn around, and even though we were soaked, we were now looking forward to our return to Pete’s Place Access Point… until a heavy fog came rolling in. We couldn’t see across the bay. We were afraid that if we took off in the fog, we would get lost in the archipelago. The fog did lift after a bit. We paddled through the mist. It was hauntingly beautiful. We bid our farewell to the park, and resolved to return another year.



We paddled out among the islands in the sun, and back in the mist. Two different worlds of wind and water, rock and forest. Beautiful.” John – Man of the Precambrian Shield

Want to try the Paella Massasaguena on your own camping trip? Get the recipe here!    Paella Massasagueña

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. 

To Buy or to Build?

For the past ten months my fiancé and I have been submerged in the housing market. The frustration, disappointment, excitement, and prices have all been a little overwhelming and I thought I would share my experience.

As a first time home buyer the process of buying a home is a little confusing and as the largest purchase I have ever made, I wanted to be sure we picked the right one. We saved up our downpayment and with our realtor went shopping. In our price range we found very little that met our expectations, most homes needed major renovations, which we wouldn’t have the money for after buying the house. So we decided to increase our budget a little, sadly we where met with the same situation. We knew we would have to do some work to make the home our own, but we were met with homes that needed total renovations, needing some combination of a new kitchen, walls removed, new floors and bathroom guts. Any large renovations were not something we were willing to under take with our up coming wedding, and our housing budget maxed on the cost of the home.

After viewing countless homes in many different neighbourhoods a family member suggested we look at a new build in a brand new subdivision. I was sceptical, I hate subdivisions, on the outskirts of town, so disconnected, nothing within walking distance, all the houses look the same, little or no parks or public spaces, and the homes themselves are not very architecturally pleasing. Despite my objections my fiancé convinced me to keep an open mind.

We visited the sales centre, and yes the street and the exterior of the homes lacked character, but the interior was beautiful, a far cry from the homes we saw with our realtor and on MLS the past seven months. We were shown all the finishing choices and floor plans we could select, we could completely design our home for a price less than our original budget. It was exciting, but I had to take a step back and think about if I could live in an isolated subdivision, turns out for the price, I was willing to give it a shot. After reviewing all the possible floor plans we selected the best option for us and put down our deposit. We bought in during the pre-build phase which meant we where able to make some changes to the floor plan at a very reasonable cost. We where told we could move in on December 11, “Home for the holidays” is what they told us.

Then the set backs came, pushing our closing date back four months. We where renting at the time and could not sign another years lease, we had to move to another residence where we could live month to month. We were very disappointed we would not be “Home for the holidays”, but glad we where not forced into another years lease, even if it meant moving. Then after a few more months of waiting we were contacted by the builder to start making our finishing selections, we were met with disappointment again. Turns out most of the finishes we were told in the sales centre were standard, were not, and we would have to pay extra for these “upgrades”. This gets expensive, we were given one to eight standard options and the rest were upgrades. So, we  mixed  in some upgraded options on things that could not easily be changed or would make for better resale value.

We are still in the process of building and I often think if we would have bought an existing home we would be living there already, slowly making changes to suit our taste. Then I remember the houses we viewed and the amount of renovations they needed to be comfortable. Even with all the set backs I feel we made the right decision for our first home, we just have to remember to keep the upgrades to a minimum. I will keep you posted on the process as we move forward. 

Guest Author: Trena Tataryn

A Greener, Cheaper Home

IMG_8272With utility costs, pollution, and water consumption on the continuous rise, the task to improve the environment and lower utilities costs is often on the minds of many homeowners. While a net zero home may not be an option for everyone, there are some simple improvements and upgrades you can make to achieve a greener, cheaper home at any price point.

Rainwater Barrel

Rainwater Barrel

Rainwater Barrels – Collect free water using a rainwater barrel. At an average cost of $100, a barrel will pay for itself in 5 years, saving you about $20 a year on your water and sewer costs, depending on the size you select. Rainwater has many uses including, plant and grass watering, car and window cleaning, and all sorts of other outdoor jobs and cleanups. Many municipalities offer rainwater barrels at a discounted price during certain times of the year, so keep an eye out.

Low-Flow Toilets – In an average home more than 30% of the water consumption is literally flushed down the toilet. Today’s more modern, low-flow toilets use less than 5L of water per flush, while their older counterparts need 13L per flush on average, using unnecessary water while hiking up your bill. A good low-flow toilet will run you about $250, but will save you $100 per year on your water bill, making the investment well worth while, returning your investment in 2.5 years.

Low-flow Faucets and Shower Heads – Easily cut bathing water consumption by 50 to 70% by switching out shower heads and sink faucets. A low-flow shower head or faucet rang in price from $60 to $300 depending on make and style. By upgrading these fixtures throughout your house you will see a noticeable decrease in your bill.

Programable Thermostat – Having better control of your indoor temperature can save you a lot a cash. With the average family home saving $150 per year by decreasing/increasing the temperature at night and during the day (when no one is home). A good programable thermostat will cost roughly $75 – $150. They are easy to install and can allow you to program the temperature several times throughout the day, 7 days a week. Returning the initial investment usually within one year or less.

Energy Star Logo

Energy Star Logo

Energy Star Appliance – With appliances efficiency is key. High efficiency products help reduce greenhouse gases and lower you energy bill. There is a lot of information on Energy Star products, so do a little research before heading to the store. Be sure to purchase products with the Energy Star logo (the international symbol for energy efficiency. Here are the best rated Energy Star appliances of 2013.

Power Strip/Bar with Switch – For about $7 -$15 you can pick up a power bar with an on/off switch, allowing you to plug in any number of items. By turning the power bar off you cut down on stand by power or “vampier power”. Stand by power accounts for 5 – 10% of electrical use in a typical residential home, as many electronics continue to use energy even when the devices is turned “off”. For more information on reducing stand by power visit:

Residential Solar Roof

Residential Solar Roof

Solar Energy Systems – Yes, the initial cost of solar is hefty, anywhere from $10,000 to $45,000 for the solar panels, system, installation and connection to your local grid, depending on the size of your home and energy needs. This investment can be offset by a monthly cheque from your local hydro company by participating in the Ontario microFIT-income program. This programs allows hydro companies to buy clean renewable energy from home owners with excess kilowatt hours (kWh). Homeowner’s with a rooftop solar system will receive a cost per kWh for every kWh that is sold to the grid. By participating in this program the system will paying for itself in an estimated 9 to 10 years, not too bad considering you will be producing your home with your own clean renewable energy as well. 

Whether you plan for a complete home renovation or just some simple around the house improvements, incoporating a few of these features into any project will create a cheaper home. With that you can feel good about helping to improve our environment with your greener home.