Tag Archives: architecture

DesignStorm

Everyone knows about brainstorming, but have you ever heard of DesignStorming? This is a technique we use often at John MacDonald Architect (JMA). It helps to explore the infinite possibilities of a particular project by compiling solutions from different designers with different approaches and styles.

Our most recent DesignStorm was undertaken for a lighting project here in our office. Each designer was presented with the existing situation, which was 3 fluorescent light fixtures that run the length of our office. Designers where then given the task; these large, long lights required some form of stylish covering.

panorama

Existing condition of light fixtures

There where 6 designer and 4 days where given to prepare before each designer presented their idea. The process was to, come-up with a design, consider how to implement that design, create a short presentation and present it to the other designers and office. It is surprising the range of creativity and designs that where presented. See below for all 6 designs:

Margaret Composite txt-01

Lighting design 1 – Canopy

Trena Composite-01

Lighting Design 2 – Colour Wave

Lisa Composite

Lighting Design 3 – Reflecting Arc

John Composite txt

Lighting Design 4 – Backdrop

Ashley Composite txt

Lighting Design 5 – Light Wall

Matt Composite txt-01

Lighting Design 6 – Unfurl

At JMA we believe that exploring several options and approaches is the key to successful results. We have done DesignStorms for several projects large and small, from a 3000 sq. ft. house to an office redesign, to a little cottage kitchen renovation. The results are always promising and a variety of resolutions are presented, but we call it a DesignStorm and not a Design Competition, because the final design is alway some form of mixing the designs into one, creating the very best possible solution. It is really a process that helps the client see the possibilities and to select the elements that best suite them and their needs.

The final design for our office fluorescent light fixtures, wrapping the outside of the fixture with a canvas material and caping the ends with a custom wood piece, keeping the feeling of openness between the main room and storage room. The final product is a tribute to the Canopy and Backdrop designs, merged into a new design that is practical, functional and attractive.

Lighting Final

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

Apparitions-Interaction

screen interaction 6

Apparitions-Play

Apparitions-Community

Apparitions-Community

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.

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 info@johnmacdonaldarchitect.ca

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.

Architecture and Externalities: Our Achilles’ Heel

I’ve been thinking lately about the relationship of our profession, architecture, with other disciplines and working methods that address themselves to solutions, recommendations, and decision-making. Specifically, I’m thinking about our profession’s attitude to “externalities” in the solutions we propose for our clients.

In earlier posts on this blog we’ve discussed the architect’s working method as one of balancing and juggling priorities. This accent on the balance of things, on relationships, distinguishes our profession from many activities, and distinguishes architecture from building. Here’s a link to that discussion, called “What is Design“, that we posted last September. We believe that our complex world needs these skills, and seek to apply them to our projects and for the benefit of both clients and the public.

There’s a fundamental flaw in our profession’s approach, however. It has to do with our attitude to issues and priorities that other participants in the project process see as outside the decision-making box, where we think they’re inside. This attitude sets us apart from many other participants in the project process, and often leads to our lack of involvement in the first place. It’s hard to hire and pay for someone who isn’t concentrating on your priorities to the exclusion of all else. That’s only fair, in a world of customer expectation.

Let’s look for a minute at this concept of “externalities“. In short, an externality is a consequence or effect that sits outside the box, not taken into account in the design of a decision, or product, or process. Classic economic examples relate to the imposition of public costs through private action, such as the air pollution caused by our decisions to commute long distances and separate land uses across our cities. The air pollution is an externality in our decision equation. Its consequences are borne by all of us, separate from my cost of commuting.

Architecture is a profession that notionally includes a role for ideas of public good and public benefit in the designs and decisions we create. We are allowed to practice as a self-regulating profession precisely because we are tasked with bringing these issues to the table in our work. Other project participants (the investor, the builder, the building inspector, the engineer for a particular piece of the building) advocate for one or two issues, and see everything else as external (and thus not taken into account in their recommendations or requirements). Architects are trained for a larger view, and mandated by law to include many issues of public good (even only if at the level of minimum standards of fire safety, energy conservation, and accessibility). Adding to this burden is our concern for the effect of our projects and decisions on the quality of our communities.

How many disciplines  allow so few “externalities” in their work? This is one of the reasons that architects are recruited for so little work in our communities. Too much baggage!

Here are some examples, even from within the public professions themselves.

The medical doctor designs solutions for a patient’s health without regard to cost. That is an externality to the public health system. The doctor doesn’t take into account that spending a public dollar on this treatment may mean that someone else gets no treatment at all. The health system is designed to make this someone else’s problem, not the doctor’s.

The lawyer advocates for her client’s point of view whether it’s a good one or not, and sometimes regardless of fact and truth. Someone else needs to argue the other point of view. If it never gets presented (think OJ Simpson), too bad. The other point of view is someone else’s responsibility. That’s the legal system. Lots of externalities there.

For building projects, investors focus on their return, often using very short term thinking. If the project is being sold immediately to others (such as a condo or flipped development project) then long term issues such as quality of construction and concern for building operating costs are treated as external to the decision-making process.

Building projects, especially private investment projects, involve a pile of external consequences:

for users, the public, for subsequent owners,

and for the sustainability of our society and planet as a whole.

Our problem as architects is that we somehow can’t stop looking at these issues, and trying to juggle them in the design solution. This is often in direct contrast to others in the decision-making team, who want the solution focused more narrowly. That’s why they don’t hire us unless they are required by law to do so.

This is the fundamental tension in our profession. We spend large amounts of time and resource to juggle issues in design solutions that others, including our paying customers, see as externalities. Our fundamental flaw (the Achilles’ Heel of the profession) is that our advocacy for integrated, quality, balanced solutions means we pay attention to things that others do not see as important to the task at hand. Given this approach, and the largely capital-investment-driven world we live in today, why would we be hired at all?

As we move forward in building our communities using private investment initiative, this dilemma isn’t going away. It’s likely to get worse. My only consolation is that the architect’s method of integrated, holistic thinking, and our ability to juggle lots of often contradictory externalities, is going to be needed at some point. I hope we get there before a system based on isolated solutions collapses under the weight of its external effects. Wish us all luck.

We’d like to know your thoughts on this subject. It applies to many circumstances and projects, in all kinds of sectors. I’m sure we’re not alone in balancing and thinking about these challenges.

Designing Our Way Forward

I recently reviewed some of the documentation we produced last year while searching for a new team member for our design firm. As part of the exercise, we asked our shortlisted candidates to submit questions to us, and we shared our answers with all candidates during that phase of the search (which they found refreshing and interesting).

One of the questions put to us was about the downturn of 08 and 09, and how we saw ourselves going forward as a firm. In rereading it this week, I find our answer as apt as ever, so I thought I’d share it.

The recent uncertainty of our economy affected everyone …….

what would you say are the significant strengths, challenges, opportunities

and threats your firm faces within the next five years

and what strategic plans have been set to address them?

My answer at the time, and even now, is this.

I believe the strength we have, as a profession and particularly as a design firm, is our ability to think strategically and see possibilities for relationships and integration that others may not see. Others are trained differently, and often concentrate on a linear, causal linking of things rather than striving for non-linear, integrated relationships. I think the future is bright for our profession, and for design as a way of creating solutions. To succeed, however, we must pursue the opportunities where they arise, and expand the types of projects and situations where our skills can be brought to bear. Since our firm enjoys learning in all its forms, I think we are suited to this.

Our indebted and unsustainable society needs solutions that are integrated, that balance priorities rather than accomplish them individually, and that can make 3 out of 1 and 1 more than ever. Our resources will get scarcer and we will realize that wasteful solutions in whatever field, and solutions that simply pass along problems to others, no longer be sustained. I think we are well-placed to use our skills, as long as they can be appreciated in the marketplace for the value they have. Everyone values product, but great processes are not always supported willingly. We have to make a living to be able to continue offering service.

Architects love what they do, and price themselves very cheaply. We often fight over the work and undercut one another on fees. We really enjoy and believe in what we do, so sometimes we give it away. That’s an enormous problem. The profession often overpromises and constantly overdelivers on important project issues that the client may not even be aware of, while potentially underdelivering on some significant and obvious issues. Think of how consumers buy a house. It’s not usually for the great (or not so great) but unseen construction. It’s often for the skin deep finishes. The appearance of quality can be different from real, longlasting value, but the architect has to deliver them both. Our project role is very central and we are often imposed upon by all sides in the construction equation, from contractor to owner to authority to technical subconsultants. Economic downturns cause everyone in the project chain to cut things even closer to the bone, and cause clients to look for the cheapest way forward in the short term. Those two actions don’t make for longlasting, sustainable buildings and cities of quality.

Our strategy is to consistently seek opportunities (whether in building projects, urban projects, development, or even object and graphic design) that allow us to demonstrate the value of “thinking better, to build better, to enjoy the benefits”. Our clients work hard, and appreciate the indepth understanding that they get from rolling up their sleeves alongside us. The pool of activities that architects are involved with is so small that we are better off pursuing projects at the pool’s edge, and enlarging the pool, than fighting over the contents of the present pool. Our strategies are hopefully tuned to do that.

What are your experiences in the face of these challenges? We’d love your feedback.