Tag Archives: design

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

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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

Our House Reno has Turned Purple

Spray Insulation to Seal the top of the Foundation Wall

Our house renovation is coming along, albeit more slowly than we’d hoped. We’ve had such a busy August and September with our clients’ projects, we’ve hardly had time to attend to our own: our ongoing house renewal and renovation.

After stripping the house to its bare essentials (structure really, and not much else) we’ve spent the summer reframing and altering the building to its new configuration. Then came the windows, the plumbing and electrical rough-ins, now substantially done. So now we head into insulating and vapour barriers.

That’s why whole parts of the house are now grape purple.

This post is about the decisions we’ve made regarding sealing and insulating the house. There’s a whole variety of issues and interrelated aspects to that, so I’ll try to set them out.

First of all, we’ve got the climate to assess. Kitchener swings from over 30 degrees celsius in the height of summer to the occasional -20 winter day, with a fairly long winter heating season. The bill for heating the house is going to depend a lot on what we do under its steeply pitched roof, and how we handle sealing up the house.

One of our big design decisions was to use as much space in the small house as possible, as wisely as possible. That meant finishing the basement with some amenity, and turning the steep pitched roof areas of the second floor into a rear addition and a front set of closets and storage. that meant basement insulation and finishing, and lots of cathedral ceiling. Both situations mean careful attention to sealing and insulating are a necessity.

Insulated Exterior Sheathing with Reflective Skin

In order to ensure fuller and complete insulation, and to meet wall insulating standards while using the existing 2 by 4 walls, we removed all the old siding (both the aluminum and the older wood siding) and have sheathed the entire outside of the walls with 3/4 of an inch of isocyanurate sheathing board. We’ve taped all the joints (that’s that red tape in the photos) to create an air barrier, and we’ll be sealing any holes in this first layer of insulation (around windows and doors, for instance)  to create a good start to our envelope.

Energy gains and losses in buildings work on the basis of radiation (direct rays of radiation from hotter masses to colder masses), convection (air movement conveying the energy) and conduction (the slow, or not so slow, passage of heat along a path from hot to cold).

The reflective silvered skins on our exterior layer of insulating sheathing help to reflect radiation back onto its source. It keeps the hot surfaces and cold surfaces apart, so that’s how we help close the radiation path.

Then, we seal the building as best we can, using a combination of spray insulation and plastic vapour barrier. That’s critical, because our house is much like a hot air balloon. Since hot air rises, the winter months create a situation where the top of the house is pressurized relative to the colder exterior environment. If we allow air to escape from this envelope at the top, and enter in the basement at the bottom, we create a conveyor of energy from inside to out. That’s how old leaky houses work (and new, poorly built ones). Worse still, that warm air contains more water vapour. When the air escapes the house envelope, it cools. With the change in temperature, it has to condense some of that vapour into water (because cooler air can’t hold as much moisture). This leads to ice buildup in the upper walls and roof assemblies. That leads to damage, and even worse thermal performance. Its not a good situation.

So the vapour and air barriers are key, and that’s one of the reasons why we decided to turn the house purple.

Spray Insulation to the Rafter Areas

Well, not really purple. It’s just that the spray urethane insulation we’ve had applied comes in that colour (at lease the BASF product does). Because we’ve got so much cathedral ceiling to apply to existing rafters, the choice of spray insulation, with its complete seal and high insulating value, was a relatively easy one. It’s more expensive than traditional fibreglas batt and plastic vapour barrier, but we can get the insulating value we need in only 5 inches or so (at R-7 per inch) rather than the 10 inches that would be needed with batts. That means more space in our second floor for living.

Before spraying the underside of our roof, we install continuous vent forms between the rafters. These connect the eaves and the ridge attic, allowing air to flow just under the shingles (but outside the insulated and sealed envelope). This keeps the shingles cooler in summer, to protect against shingle curl.

Once the decision was made to spray (and in fact part of that assessment) we got a great bonus. We were able to spray the top of the foundation wall and ground floor framing, and the second floor intersection, to stop air transfer at the house perimeter. With positive pressure to the top of the house (from that hot air rises thing) comes negative pressure in the basement. To stop the ingress of air from that negative pressure, spray insulation is a great choice. For older houses, even better.

So we’re in the middle of the insulating exercise, but well on our way to a well-sealed, well-insulated envelope that will pay big dividends down the road. More comfort, and lower utility bills. A bit of trouble and expense, but really it’s a win-win.

Local Colour

A well chosen colour palette can enhance the architecture of any building and improve your quality of life.

For many, though, choosing colours seems like an exercise in randomness, never sure why one colour is better than another.

Finding a colour palette that works for you and for your home or office can be time consuming, but once you have it, save it. You will be going back to it every time you paint, buy furniture, fabrics, accessories, and even interior and exterior plants. Also when you re-roof your house, buy new windows,  or build an addition.

Consider the colours you like to wear, the colours that make you and your family look good; the colours of the natural materials of your house such as brick, stone or wood; the colours of your neighbourhood, your region, its countryside, its landscape and the seasons.

When we travel to other latitudes, we immediately notice new colour palettes. We see that these are a product of the local culture, the resources, the quality of the light, the climate and the landscape. It is tougher to see it the same way right at home, and yet, we are no different. Make an effort to discover your local colour. It’s varied and playful and includes something for everyone. It’s quite satisfying to live among colours that celebrate and blend with the local environment.

Keep a camera close to you, and photograph details and views that have great colours. Remember, this is all subjective. Take a few moments to extract your favourite colours from the photographs, and play with their arrangement. You will be well on your way to creating your own original colour palette. The image that inspires you might attract others less, but expressing your individual taste in colour adds to the richness of all our lives.

A basic palette has at least three colours: field, complimentary and accent.

The field colour is the one you will use the most. Make it very light. It will expand the space and extend the  daylight hours. You will need to turn on the light less often, and that reduction in electrical consumption is good for the planet and saves you money.

The complimentary colour helps delineate the space, and can be significantly more intense than the field colour. You might want to choose more that one complimentary colour, as it will likely be what  you use for flooring, architectural trim, furniture, and major accessories.

The accent brings it all to life, with colour energy. The accent contrasts the field and complimentary colours. Use accents sparingly and always, because they are fun and lively. As with complimentary colours, choose several accents. The accents can be totally different from each other.

The image on this blog includes four examples of pictures that my daughter and I took, with a corresponding palette. As you can see, there are no right or wrong answers. Once you have found the range of colours that you want to work with, it isn’t hard to spend some time tweaking the individual colours to arrive at a palette that is right for you and for your house.

Best of luck

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.

Good Design is Good Business

Numerous studies over the past decade have touted the popular phrase “Good Design is Good Business”. But with such an intangible product, how can you know that good design will be “good” for your business?

With all the great things we know design can do for your business (such as increase productivity, reduce turnover, increase sales, reduce building maintenance costs and many more) it can be difficult for designers and firms to understand the reluctance to invest in design. Perhaps you never knew what design can do? Ask Apple. They will tell you.

While the most notable studies on the topic have come out of the U.K, there is increasing recognition throughout the Globe about the connection between design and business success. With all the information available online, finding the answers you need can be daunting, but here’s a bit of an overview.

A 2005 report by the UK Design Council pointed out the main flaw to most reports relating design and business. It states: “All worthwhile plans and projects need to be based on sound evidence.” Most people in considering their business plan fail to account for how good design can benefit them, based on a lack of evidence connecting the two concepts.

In 2007 the same council published the Value of Design – Factfinder Report, summarizing the results of two pieces of research, clearly demonstrating the value of design for businesses.

The report can be found online at http://www.designfactfinder.co.uk/.

Some of the most remarkable and positive findings include:

–       businesses that see design as integral don’t need to compete on price as much as others;

–       almost half of all UK businesses believe that, over the past decade, design has become more important in helping them maintain a competitive edge;

–       businesses where design is integral to operations are twice as likely to have developed new products and services;

–       two thirds of businesses believe that design is integral to future economic performance;

–       over two thirds of manufacturers believe its worth investing in design in their sector;

–       businesses that add value through design see a greater impact on business than the rest.

There are real life examples of good design resulting in good business in top earning global giants such as Apple, RIM and even Target. Think about the digital media market- Apple continues to dominate despite slightly higher prices for one main reason- quality design that keeps consumers coming back.

Think about the role design played in creating the ‘environments’ in some of the top money earning companies such as Lululemon Athletica, Starbucks, and BMW. All use design to portray their image, and reinforce their corporate brand, all which increases profits = $$$.

Design can help your business convey an image, create an atmosphere and make your company unique in a world of increasing competition. Design is proven to significantly improve sales, profits, and deliver a competitive edge to your business.

Design is what makes your space unique, makes your space functional, and can underpin success. Designers bring the knowledge, creativity and advice that can bring any project to life. Making decisions about projects involves budget, schedule and craftsmanship, and the intersection of these three priorities generates design innovation that can:

–       maximize the value of capital investment;

–       give you a cutting edge, quality product and service; and

–       save you money over the life of the building.

Rather than just creating appealing and original spaces, a well-designed building/space can result in cost savings for any business. Decreasing absenteeism, operational costs, and boosting moral, architecture is proving itself in the post recession world. Creating targeted approaches to the largest costs associated with operating a business such as heating and cooling, design can lower energy consumption and reduce costs.

A recently completed project by the Region of Niagara at its Recycling Centre applied these design based cost savings measures, creating an environmental showcase for the Region and providing a real life example of the benefits of good design. As an innovative solution to both the environmental and economic costs of regulating temperature within the plant, the design team installed solar chimneys, taking advantage of the suns energy to draw and exhaust hot summer air out of the plant, using natural ventilation principals to regulate temperatures and encourage airflow. Focused on efficiency and reducing operational costs, the re-design of the plant featured efficient lighting, and the installation of skylights resulting in a cost savings of over $12,000 annually. By installing geothermal, the design reduced the requirements for gas fired heaters in the plant by 75% achieving their goal of environmental sustainability, toward a vision for the facility in line with the basic principals of the recycling program which it houses. A major success, the Green Retrofit at the Niagara Recycling Centre acts as an example of innovation, and stands to support the phrase that good design is good business.

Although rarely associated in the minds of most people, architects can provide the design services to help you succeed. Drawing on extensive experience architects offer services that can maximize the value of your resources to achieve your goals for the present and the future. Offering free sessions to discuss your project, and review a custom design through our ON Target TM packages are available to suit any needs- with no obligations.

The only question to consider in reviewing the literature and resources available is- Do you want to improve your bottom line?

At our office, whenever we want to be reminded of the power of good design for our clients, we call up our contacts at the Independent Living Centre of Waterloo Region, and ask to speak to a new employee. After he’s finished gushing about how wonderful the ILC loft renovation is as a working environment, we can return refreshed to what we do best, helping clients achieve their goals through design!