Tag Archives: conversation



Architects lead in so many ways: co-ordinating and leading complex projects on the journey from idea to performing facility, advocating for healthy communities and planet, and caring for the built environment. It seems fitting that our industry should step forward to lead once again, by advocating for ever-healthier workplace and employment standards.

For some months our firm has been looking into issues of equity and fairness in how architecture is practiced. Employment standards, respect for everyone’s efforts and contributions, and healthy workplaces are key to our success. As professionals, we want to lead in these areas, and where better to start than with our own industry? Good can always be better, and less than good should never be acceptable.

Exemptions to Minimum Employment Standards in the Professions

It’s not generally well-known that some professionals are exempt from certain employment standards: entitlement to minimum wage, entitlement to overtime pay, or even vacation. Practitioners of architecture are one of this group, which includes practitioners of law, medicine, engineering, and others.

Why is that? Well, I’d say that’s because the practicing architect owes a duty of care to the public good, and has professional obligation to society and clients. This can’t be inhibited by how hard it is, or how long it takes, to get the job done right. Fair enough. We are a self-regulating profession that must meet the standards of the Architects Act, to preserve and protect the public interest.

That doesn’t mean this exemption should apply to everyone in the office though.

Unfortunately, the interpretation of employment standards in our profession seems to be that all architects, even the Interns, are not deserving of protections regarding hours, pay, and conditions. To my view, this is unfair. While I understand the reasoning that the practicing professional who is responsible for a design is exempt, the intern, the non-practicing architect, and the remainder of the staff, are performing their duties under the direct supervision of that practicing architect. They do not bear the same responsibility, and in our industry they are vulnerable to long hours, poor work-life balance, and sometimes little or no pay for extraordinary hours and efforts.

So we are aiming to change this situation, in the interest of fairness and equity.


I have submitted a motion to the 2017 Annual General Meeting of the Ontario Association of Architects for consideration by the membership, in Ottawa on May 24th. We hope that architects can make a strong statement to our Council and to the public that as a self-governing profession we are capable of higher standards, and do not fear to be measured by them.

We invite all like-minded professionals to join us in the effort, regardless of profession. Ours is a fast-paced, deadline driven environment, but that is true of many other industries and workplaces in the 21st Century. We can all benefit from healthier workplaces and respect for everyone’s contributions.

For many years we’ve carried the following quotation from Jane Jacobs on our website, from her book Canadian Cities and Sovereignty-Association:

“All of us, if we are reasonably comfortable, healthy and safe, owe immense debt to the past. There is no way, of course, to repay the past. We can only pay those debts by making gifts to the future.”

In our own practice we strive to uphold principles of fairness and equity. We reach beyond a carefully contrived minimum duty within or below the law, to a more equitable place for all of us. We don’t believe that all who work in the profession of architecture are so lucky. There are and will continue to be pockets of activity and behaviour in the professions that must be improved. Jane’s message resonates with us as a goal for everyone. So we’ve set our sights on a gift to the future, to build upon the Healthy Workplace initiative that the Ontario Association of Architects is already considering.

The Motion

Click to view Equity and Fairness in Our Profession for specific discussion of the issues and the motion I am bringing forward for the consideration of my colleagues in architecture, and some personal points of view on the Employment Standards Act.

Visit http://www.oaa.on.ca/ and https://www.raic.org/ for more information about what a practicing architect does.

Your comments and discussion are most welcome, about how best to make this gift to the future. It’s a gift that is timely and needed.

– John MacDonald, OAA, MRAIC



Community Tensions

Recent municipal elections here in our watershed included a referendum for both Kitchener and Waterloo voters on the question of whether each city’s council could discuss the pros and cons of amalgamation. Since these communities have been joined at Union Street for nearing half a century, this is a sort of “across the fence” conversation.

The tension around the dynamics of local and regional governance are real, with many concerns regarding changes to the present uneasy balance of shared and autonomous authority. The tension might even be a good and necessary aspect of our community’s recipe for success.

Other amalgamations in our province (Ontario) have had mixed results, so there’s little evidence that such actions increase efficiencies at the neighbourhood level, and some evidence that decisions move further from the citizen.

In the end the larger municipality, Kitchener, voted 2-1 in favour of conversation. The smaller, Waterloo, 2-1 against. So the politicians won’t be discussing the question. Which doesn’t mean that it isn’t important, or that citizens can’t have that discussion.

A local blogger, Hilary Abel, has started a conversation forum asking Waterloo citizens to share their reasons for voting no. It’s an interesting read.

Dear Residents of Waterloo

Let’s Talk About Design and Community!

Communication between design and community is often a really long and sloooow conversation, if a conversation at all. It’s usually more a sales pitch. The urban or architectural designer offers a completed idea in a “ta da!!” song-and-dance sort of way and we’re just about done.

We think that needs changing, and we’d like your help.

We’re intrigued and excited about how emerging social digital media can help our design studio, as:

architects, urban designers, interior designers, citizens

to name a few of the hats we wear, to openly engage with the community into which our and others’ designs are built; to talk openly about how particular designs affect all of us. It’s an important conversation that can’t happen often enough, or soon enough in the design process.

That’s why we’ve founded this blog, Design and Community, as a space of conversation, ideas and interaction about the relation of specific designs and our community, centred in the Grand River Watershed of Ontario, Canada.

The usual behind-the-scene project process engages designer and client, and centres about what the project is to accommodate. It rarely engages the community that the resulting design will directly affect. That community includes (among others)

Passersby,     Users,     Adults,     Children,     Patrons,

Employees and Staff,

who must experience and use the design, and must incorporate it into their everyday stories and sense of their world. In addition, and more importantly, our designs have lasting effect on the

natural environment, birds and wildlife,     water and air,     the microclimate,  our collective and individual culture,     our past and future,  and our economy.

Over the past 15 years we’ve help craft hundreds of public and private design offerings for clients, including the Region of Waterloo’s Airport Terminal, retail stores across Canada, and streetlighting for Kitchener’s King Street among many others. We’ve participated in public forums, given lectures and written articles, patiently building a portfolio of successful projects and engagement that illustrates our collaborative approach to design, and how it helps both client and community.

The interactive nature of social and digital media allows us to take another step forward, introducing better design processes that make better designs, and ultimately better places and spaces for all of us.

Over the course of the next several blog posts, and through interaction with you, we’d like to explore:

  • the Grand River Watershed, a diverse community that includes
    • a natural ecology of 7,000 square kilometers organized along a Canadian Heritage River, and
    • a built ecology of 800,000 residents and associated urban form
  • How its 800,000 people, potentially growing to 1.2 million in just 20 years, should participate and decide upon issues affecting these ecologies.
  • Particular ideas of design and community, with emphasis on their relation
  • How design can participate positively to foster better community for us all.

Do we know where this Blog is headed? Hopefully yes! We’re moving firmly into the 21st Century, with both feet (er, all fingers).

Our thanks to Digital Media Producer, Dwight Storring, for his professional assistance and introduction to much of the Social Media sphere.