PLOTNONThoughts

Architects post their thoughts about design, sustainability, and running a practice with three partners in Ottawa.

 

 

Welcome to the Neighbourhood

We've officially moved to our new studio in Hintonburg...it's a dramatic change from our sleepy little office in Alta Vista. The new space is located in the Ottawa Art District in an old artist loft (The Stables Studios) and after being here for just a few days we've been able to sample some of the new options for coffee and food in the area, and there is no shortage of them here.

Currently we are working out of boxes and under drop cloths until our space is ready, but stay tuned for updates.

 

 

Mark Builds a Home

 

 

Mark and his wife Meghan are building a urban-infill Passive House in Ottawa.

They (more Meghan than Mark) have been blogging about the process, and have a good selection of content to check out. They plan to document the process in detail from schedules, to budgets, the design process, and construction, including all of the exciting steps and missteps along the way.

Their Blog will follow the process from the purchase of the lot right up to completion (and I suspect will continue past move-in day) It is a great resource for anyone interested in following the process, or just interested in green building and/or Passive House in general. The site lays out in straight forward terms and language why this is important to them, and outlines the values that they want to embody for themselves and their family.

Did I mention the Meghan is also a kick-ass graphic designer...so the site is full of fun animations and Illustrations. It is definitely worth your time to check out.

www.webuildahome.ca

 

We are Supporting the Telus Ride for Dad

On May 30th I, will be participating in the TELUS Ride For Dad. It is a day long motorcyle ride in the Ottawa area.

Prostate cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canadian men. It generally affects men over 40. Successful treatment depends on early detection. In the longer term, research into improved diagnosis, treatment and prevention will further improve our capacity to deal with this disease.

If you would like to support our team’s fundraising efforts with a donation.  Your tax-deductible gift will make a difference in the lives of many by helping to fund critical research and public awareness campaigns right in our own community!  

If you would like to donate follow the link: Telus ride for Dad

Describing PassivHaus to family

We are getting close to revealing the initial design for our project at 105 Bayswater Avenue in Ottawa. It's my own home, and we are targeting PassivHaus Certification for the project. Over the weekend I was explaining the benefits of PassivHaus to family and friends, and thought I'd share it here. It includes contributions from dogs and daughters. Have a listen, and then add your comments below.

first night in London

BOWIE.jpg

An interesting proposal from my wife the night before Rob and I get on the plane to visit her in London:

“Do you want to go and see a documentary about Bowie by the V&A? It’s being screened at a pop-up theatre in an abandoned train tunnel.”

“Yes.”

And so not long after arriving on the platform under the vaulted steel and glass of Paddington Station, we are lead through the damp streets to a vague location outlined on a website on a cellphone. Having no real understanding of where exactly we are or what time it is, Rob and I follow our friends to what is loosely called the entrance. From the dark we are greeted by a friendly “You here for the film?” as we pass through iron service gates and look around with some confusion. The blurring begins; we are directed to gradually descend inward; a transition from the exterior that playfully tightens around us as we cross multiple thresholds: from dark to strategically-lit, damp to dry, street-level to subterranean, the sensory barrage of Shoreditch to the whitewashed resonance of the vaults. 

Our directed movement through subsequent rooms leads us to pick up wireless headphones, (Bermudian!) cocktails at the bar, some (sweet, very British) popcorn from an impressively stocked corner concession stand, and appropriately I can feel the colours employed in the lighting warm up. We climb steel stairs to the theatre entrance. We activate our headphones as instructed by a young girl standing in front of the raked theatre seating of a surprisingly large vaulted space. Wirelessly, we are listening along to the projected images of Bowie, his sketches, his costumes. A few minutes into the film I feel regular vibrations of a train on a track and when I remove my headphones, it’s much clearer. 

It’s right above us. The added layer of sound prompts differing levels of interest from the group.

I am carried in and out of varying sensory conditions as I pull my headphones on and off, open and close my eyes, get a bit buzzed, all while polishing off a sugary bag of popcorn I had initially complained about. I reverently keep my headphones on for ‘Starman’ and take them off during a monologue. The documentary isn’t as stellar as its subject, but I’m quite sure that’s not the whole point. The temporal nature of this meeting of the Underground Film Club allows the experiencer to discover this particular site however they please, knowing the group will find another venue and move along to create an entirely unique new adventure.

The Victorian Vaults, the site of this leg of the Club’s tour, are located underneath the late 19th century railway arches of the Waterloo station tracks. The labrynthine approach from the street and the simplicity of its internal forms make it an incredible venue for anything from parties, gallery space, to formal events. The combination of this container with the mobile Underground Film Club inside made me think about some of the opportunities that could be had in our Ottawa, a much younger city most definitely, but not without the drive for creative and temporary events.

As is the case in London, when remnant space from infrastructure is more common, it is also less sacred and policed. This lends these spaces to the projections of creative companies that strive in both providing and occupying these transformable spaces. With some significant corporate sponsorship, coverage in publications (a piece in Time Out seems to do great things for business), food, booze, and a creative crew to put it all together, this particular event was a success on so many levels.

How could we occupy the spaces under the bridge at Union Station or reimagine derelict connections to the Queensway? Maybe all the tunnelling in Ottawa will lend itself to something unplanned. Maybe there are some old doors we need to look behind.

Architecture and Environmental Responsibility

Part 1: The Importance of Design in Sustainability

Blanchovic Passive House, preliminary design rendering by PLOTNONPLOT Architecture Inc.

I am a strong believer that we must always strive to design and build with environmental responsibility in mind. Buildings and houses are the single largest contributor to global warming through CO2 emissions, and as architects we are ideally situated to have a significant influence on this. There are many, many sustainable facets of a building that an architect can address, but perhaps most significantly (and at the top of this list) is through beauty.

Ugliness is not sustainable.
— Joe Lstiburek

It's easy when we start to talk about sustainability and architecture to get overwhelmed with the details of how to engineer a "green" building. While I am a passionate advocate for a deep understanding of the science of sustainabe building (a topic for a future entry), I am ever mindful of a quote I heard during a lecture by Dr. Joe Lstiburek when discussing sustainable building practices: "Ugliness is not sustainable". Dr. Lstiburek is perhaps the most prominent building scientist in North America. As an engineer, he dedicates his time to investigating and educating on the best practices for construction of building envelope, design of mechanical systems, and how to build the healthiest and most durable buildings possible. But even with all of his practical expertise he recognizes the importance of design, because "people don't take care of ugly things". An uber-sustainable house that gets torn down in 10-15 years because it's ugly is not really sustainable in the end.

Let's take PassivHaus as a case study. I believe that building and certifying to the PassivHaus standard allows us to deliver projects of the highest levels of comfort, durability, environmental sustainability, economy, and quality. But if we do not give Design it's due weight, the result is a high quality science project. Can one live in and love a science project, even a high quality one, without the inspiration and awe that only Design can bring? This is where we have an incredible architectural opportunity to hold as equally valuable the tenets of beauty and environmental responsibility. The things that make a project beautiful can also be the things that make it comfortable, healthy, warm, durable and sustainable. To do this, one must incorporate a deep understanding of the principles of PassivHaus and good building science with a passion for beauty and awe in architecture.

In this series of posts I will be discussing the opportunities presented by sustainability in design. By focussing on PassivHaus and Architecture I will show that doing the right thing for the environment actually helps us achieve all that we hope for in delivering our best work to our clients.

The Importance of being Authentic

Being authentic is not something we take lightly, it’s about be honest and transparent. We are what we are. This applies to all things, from ourselves as individuals to that chair sitting in the corner. Why do we hold such a high regard for authenticity? Why is an authentic product some how more valuable? 

In the end, it comes down to quality, rigour, and craft. Authenticity applies in a holistic way. You can’t be partially authentic, it applies from the design right down to the materials and details. This is why by definition a copy or a knock-off is inauthentic it relies too heavily on replicating the image of a thing.

When we begin to apply this to the materials that we choose for our homes, it is easy to focus on the innate qualities embodied in the material and choose natural over man-made this is a common approach to the selection of materials. An alternate approach is to simply use materials for what they are. Synthetic materials can still be used and selected for their own qualities, including longevity, finish, durability etc, but not for their ability to represent or mimic a traditionally natural material; this necessarily means that “real wood textures” are out of consideration. 

 

The most inauthentic materials are those that have the properties of a synthetic, but a realistic natural finish. They come from a desire to provide a material at a reduced cost of a traditional natural material and to increase the performance. These ideals are a great starting point but the material ultimately fails when it tries to look like the original. Its time to embrace the product for what it is and stop trying to replace another.

passive critic 613

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Historically, I’ve viewed my hometown with a rather critical eye, failing to reflect properly on her creative strengths and her enduring charms. I’ve been here since my first year of existence and left only for short fugues, always returning to reconsider my surroundings. A city that hasn’t invested properly in planning, developers taking over everything, banality… I readily attributed inspirational pursuits to traveling and my home base with the need to repair.

As a fledgling architect in the throes of frustration, a wise man over at n-product, turned to me and said: 

you’ll never find a Capital with so much potential.

And I started to see my city more clearly; a finely assembled dish, rotations of graffiti under the bridge, thoughtful product design, quirky breweries (i wish i liked beer!), dynamic businesses, painters, bands, photographers, tattoo artists, that café, that festival…

…a burgeoning urban scene framed by a thriving rural scene…

A year ago I was asked to participate in a design event for #Support613, an experience that immersed me in a pool of active creativity. Here was the evidence of a community that applied themselves to many forms, leaving their trails throughout the city for others to follow.

Finding these traces is remarkable, reading them telling, creating within and contributing to their fabric should be viewed as a real privilege. 

The process towards the architectural object is typically seen as resulting in [traditional] building. The understanding that this process can be manifested in varied acts of creating and making, atypical forms and scales can be explored more successfully in context by a proactive citizen rather than a naysayer.

Enough bitching, do something...

To support local is clearly as important in attitude as in practice. Ottawa’s exposing the inner-workings of her creative scene; through monitoring her undercurrents, identifying and encouraging the good work of others, and finding the fortune in calling this city home, I’m encouraged to try dishing some good stuff out, too. 

 

Committing to an Architect

Building or renovating your family home is one of the most fulfilling and exciting endeavours that you will undertake. Careful planning and design will ensure that you create a space that will suit your current needs and future plans. Although it may involve one of the most expensive decisions you will ever make, it doesn't have to be stressful. Your best option is to align yourself with a professional that can help guide you along the process, making sure that you do not uproot your family and disturb all of your routines unnecessarily. They will also ensure that the house that you are going to live in suits your needs both as individuals and as a family.

Why pay for design? I can go online.

Sure, there are plenty of websites from which you can view and download drawings for anywhere from $300 - $5000. These are plans that were created to sell en masse, how do they fit with specifics of your site? How do they fit with the local context and zoning? How do they fit with your needs as a family? These plans are generic right from the model name down to the way the spaces are laid out. The benefit of working with an Architect is that you can develop specific targets, goals, and deliverables for your home. Together, you can create a space that you will love, and more importantly love to be in.

There are many benefits of working with an Architect. First of all, you get a professional that is creative!! You get the experience and expertise of someone that does this for a living, this isn’t the first time that your architect has gone through this process, (you don’t need advice on waterproofing your basement from your neighbour's brother Jim, who just re-caulked his bathtub). Here in Ottawa, you need to look for an Architect licensed by the Ontario Association of Architects, that way you can rest assured that they have gone through extensive years of schooling, internship, training, and licensure to ensure that they are skilled in knowing the important details and requirements that your new home is going to have to fulfill as well as the challenges that will come with the process. Architects have had the training to help you to determine what is important and can keep you and your home focused on what is important. They have the skill set to improve the quality and value of your home. The other benefit is that your architect will help you to understand and envision the space long before the shovel hits the ground, and the real costs of construction begin; “it costs nothing to move a wall on paper.”

Any Architect worth their salt will more than offset the cost of their fees with the value that they bring to your house.

6 important steps in selecting an Architect:

6. Qualifications

Check to make sure they are licensed by the Ontario Association of Architects and that they have a Certificate of Practice that ensures the work they do for you is professional and meets the requirements of local and provincial laws and regulations. Don’t be afraid to ask for a couple of references and call those references. Word of mouth is a great way to learn about an Architect - talking to someone that has gone through the design and construction process with the your architect will be able to give you insight on what to expect, and what they experienced along the way.

5. Design Integrity

Be sure that when researching and interviewing Architects that their designs meet the quality you want, and that they are compatible with your expectations. Review their portfolio of work, ask questions about their style and the styles that you like, you want to make sure that your modern house is being designed by an architect who is sympathetic to a modern style, and has worked on that typology before. Do you really want a heritage architect who primarily does condition reports designing your modern and fresh home? Ensure that they are familiar with the design style that you like and can show you examples of that in their own work.

4. Availability

If after you contact an Architect and want to schedule a meeting or interview, and it takes weeks before they are able to meet with you, what does that say about their availability? This is the time that they should be making a good impression and showing how attentive and excited about your project they are. If they don’t have the time to meet with you and convince you that they are right for your project, how are they going to be once construction is under way and they are required to go on site in the middle of February in Ottawa to answer a question about a construction detail?

3. Make sure you meet with the people who will be putting pen to paper

A lot of architecture offices hire senior and junior architects, interns, and technologists to assist them in completing projects. Make sure you know who will be working on your project, and that you have direct access to them. The designs for your custom home will be much better if you can meet directly with the people doing the work than with a project lead who forwards your comments on to a junior person to implement. Realistically, why would you hire John Smith Architecture Company if you are not going to get the experience and expertise of working with John Smith himself?

2. Ensure that the architect gets to know you and your family

Your home is one of the most personal things you will ever own, it protects you and your family, it brings you closer together, it’s the place where you can be yourself. You don’t want your Architect to force their ideas on you, and dictate how you have to live. Ideally, you need an Architect that will work with you towards your ideas rather than force their own upon you.

1. You have to be comfortable with your Architect

You have to share the details of your life with your Architect if you are going to get the best possible home you can. You will share your hobbies, your day to day activities, your sleeping, showering, and eating habits, your financial situation, your family planning, and goals. You need to find an Architect that you are comfortable with so that you can work together to create the best possible outcome for the needs of you and you family.

 

Most importantly this should be a fun, exciting, and inspirational experience for you. Your Architect should ensure that at every step along the way your needs, wants, and desires are being addressed. 

What have your experiences been like working with or without an architect? Leave your comments below. And check back often or subscribe to the feed for future posts.