Where's the square? shortlist

Vote for the people's choice entry and and view all the shortlisted entries here now.


Harmony House

In 2006 Canadian Housing and Mortgage Corporation (CMHC for short, of course) launched EQuilibrium, a program that was meant to get developers and builders to envision demonstration houses that focus on principles of sustainablity:
-occupant health and comfort,
-energy efficiency,
-energy production,
-resources conservation,
-reduced environmental impact, and
-last but certainly not least, affordability.
Designs are entered into a competition and the winning entries are built. In addition to having the winning entries built, the designers receive $60,000 to cover design costs, management, and commisioning of the project. Since the initiative's inception, six projects have been completed and are/were open to public as show pieces (they are sold once the tour period is over).

Earlier this year, it was announced that two out of this year's three winning entries originate in British Columbia, and one of these in Vancouver. It is a two-storey, 3,500 sf "Harmony House" envisioned by Vancouver's Habitat Design & Insightful Building Technologies. Harmony House has a separate in-law suite and a space for a home office. Designed as an integrated system, it boasts -
- light shelves and reflective surfaces
- skylights and ample window area
- rainwater harvesting
- wind and stack driven cooling tower
- solar system
Besides being the first EQuilibrium home to be built in Vancouver, Harmony also has the distinction of being the only project of all CMHC winning entries that is aesthetically anywhere near the twenty first century.

Unfortunately, the image above is all the graphic info that I can either provide or obtain two months after Diane Finlay's announcement of the winners. It seems that CMHC is somewhat lacking in public awareness/marketing department. It is sad to see such a worthy initiative barely rise above obscurity as far as the general public is concerned. Time and money should also be allocated to generate interest and awareness - updating the website every month or so, making it less "goverment" or setting up a separate dedicated one, embracing the pesky "new" online media, etc. This post could certainly do with a few more drawings and some engaging renderings.

Kudos to CMHC for the initiative - now put your mouth where your money is!


Image Post: FormShift Winners

Primary category winner: Sturgess Architects, Calgary

secondary category winner: Romses Architects, Vancouver

wild card category winner: go Design, Vancouver

primary category honourable mention:
Garon Sebastien and Chris Foyd, Vancouver

primary category honourable mention:
Romses Architects, Vancouver

secondary category honourable mention:
Acme Architecture, Santa Barbara

secondary category honourable mention:
CMO, Vancouver

wild card category honourable mention:
GBL Architects Inc, Vancouver

wild card category honourable mention:
Brian Wakelin, Vancouver

wild card category honourable mention:
Idette de Boer & Magali Bailey, Vancouver

wild card category honourable mention:
Wang Yiming, Burnaby*

images via the Tyee

* Who says bloggers don't actually create content? Congratulations to Wang Yiming not only on his honourable mention but on his well-read blog Yworkshop as well. It has been in the blogroll (to the right) pretty much since my blog began - a must read for Vancouver architecture enthusiasts.

As of now all entries can be seen as pdf files on FormShift website. Thanks for the tip, 'anonymous'!


Form Shift winners

go's submission for Wild Card

primary/arterial category:
- Sturgess Architects, Calgary
secondary/residential category:
- Romses Architects, Vancouver
wild card category:
- go Design, Vancouver

Honorable mentions:
primary/arterial category:
- Garon Sebastien and Chris Foyd, Vancouver
- Romses Architects, Vancouver
secondary/residential category:
- Acme Architecture, Santa Barbara
- CMO, Vancouver
wild card category:
- GBL Architects Inc, Vancouver
- Brian Wakelin, Vancouver
- Idette de Boer & Magali Bailey, Vancouver
- Wang Yiming, Burnaby

Check out Frances Bula's post on the topic, complete with Brent Toderian's input in the comments!


Quotable Erickson

I thought I'd share a few interesting Arthur Erickson quotes (on the nature of architecture's role in everyday culture) that I found in Edith Iglauer's Seven Stones: A Portrait of Arthur Erickson, Architect:
- Everything I do, everything I see is through architecture. It has given me a vehicle for looking at the world. I am not involved in the aesthetics of architecture or interested in design as such. I'm interested in what buildings can do beyond what they look like, and how they can affect whole areas of people's lives. I have never done a building where I didn't attempt to see it in a new philosophical or social way. I could have asked questions in any field, but I am doing it through my buildings. Now I want to build with all details suppressed, to make what I build look as if it had just happened - as if there was nothing studied, no labour or art involved. (p. 19)

- Architects are so rarely aware of their own power of communication , and therefore most of what we see is indifferent building, which nevertheless affects us by its indifference. (p.60).
And if you would like to find out how Erickson waged a war on the raccoons that fished in his koi pond, who won, and how the black swans got involved along the way as well as the neighbour's cat - you'll have to grab the book yourself for that epic tale.

And some international news I could not possibly omit on this local architecture blog - one of my architectural heroes has finally picked up a Pritzker Prize. Congratulations to Peter Zumthor!

Zumthor's therme in Vals


Point Grey Condos

If you happen to be in the vicinity of 2386 Cornwall Avenue, architecture-seeing or whatnot, walk over a block to intersection of Larch and Point Grey Road to see another handsome specimen. This one startled me in my tracks - simple, graceful, and, oh, so well-executed ( fantastic concrete! ) .

Containing only four units like the previous post's subject, this building - Point Grey Condos - was built in 1988, designed by Bing Thom Architects. Its unusual column and screen detailing is subtle yet gives the building its particular character. The columns do intentionally make a "reference to a field of classical antecedents". On the whole - although some details date it - it is a timeless design that has as much of an appeal as it did when it was finished. Doing some digging around online later, I was not surprised at all that it earned Thom a Governor General's Medal in Architecture, Canada's most prestigious architectural award, in 1990. It is definitely one of Thom's gems.

Apparently Thom lives on the top floor - might be true since Sonja's Spirit, his boat, is docked fairly close by. If it is so, it is always great to see an architect living in one of his own designs.

The following are images of a private residence Thom designed in 1993, included to make this post a nice double-bill:

So many blossoms!


Image Post: Battersby Howat's 2386 Cornwall

This lovely building is located not far from Kits Pool at 2386 Cornwall Ave (its location is now marked on my Vancouver Architecture Map - along with a few more Kitsilano/Point Grey additions). It is a high-end residential condo building containing only four spacious units. More pictures:

The nice images are from Battersby Howat's website; all others are by yours truly.


Vancouver Convention Centre in Vancouver Mag

Convention Centre Image
image by Martin Tessler

In the article titled "Unconventional Wisdom", Michael Harris reviews the new convention centre. His assessment runs along the opinions presented and referenced here earlier. Check it out.

And 'hear! hear!' to Harris'  bendy-straw comment. 


Startup Stars - Vancouver designers do prefab

Tony Robins of AA Robins - he of Watermark restaurant on Kits Beach - has set up a prefabricated house factory, Preform Construction, in Surrey with two partners, Marc Isaac and Ryan Spong. Preform prefabricated homes originated with Robins' residential work on BC's islands. The homes are additive - one unit is one individual complete self-contained home. Bigger houses are created by combining several units or by growing the house incrementally. Although the starter house - featured in the BC Home Show - is 500 sf, one of the first houses coming out of the factory will be 6000 sf.

'Green' features are a big part of the design and construction including:
  • green roof
  • recycled and reclaimed wood products
  • use of FSC certified, non-formaldehyde products
  • instantaneous hot water heater
  • warm in-floor heating
  • low voltage light fixtures for energy conservation
  • grey water use
  • low-E double glazing
  • simple building form
Energy savings are also due to less travel by crews and transportation and storage of materials. Each house comes in a flat pack on a truck, with walls already painted, and lighting fixtures and appliances already installed; of course, the foundations and service hookups are still prepared by a local contractor. Less waste is also created during manufacturing than during construction. Additionally, the house is more sustainable in the long run as it is easily moveable and adaptable - since it can be added to further on.

There are three ways to get your brand new modern prefab - from your own design ( Preform "can modularize any building" ), one of Tony Robins' custom designs, or choose one of the modular units. The latter are quite nice all on their own too - solid planning, perfect size for a cabin, and these fare well in the looks department.

(Aside #1 : the website does not do the product justice, neither through images nor through breadth of information - but perhaps that is on purpose. Aside # 2: did you know Robins has his own blog? Here you go. )

From Canadian Architect article:
“The prefabrication model has proven itself elsewhere, but I haven’t seen anyone shipping the final product so completely like this,” says Robins.

The company’s first venture, shipping a “Living Unit” comprising a single module to the BC Home Show, proved there needn’t be a drywall crack in sight. And it took the team two months from design sketch to delivery, one month after opening the facility. For a large house, the normal construction time will be cut in half. Whilst the modules are being put together on their steel frames, the foundations are being formed. It is also cheaper by an estimated 15% for a local siting, due to factory efficiencies.

“The millworkers walk across the floor to site measure, rather than making a day trip up the coast or into town.” The 500-sqaure-foot one-bedroom module is green and smart, with R50 blown insulation in the walls, a green roof, grey-water use for the toilet cistern, and an instantaneous hot water heater (above the bathroom) for the taps and in-floor heating. The temperature of the module can also be changed remotely from any computer. It also feels surprisingly spacious, due to its 10-foot ceilings and the clever use of light and space.

Whilst the unit clearly lends itself to installation on a recreational property, the soon-to-be-legal Vancouver laneway housing is an obvious future market.
Vancouver Sun article here.

Robins with the starter model at the BC Home Show
starter model

one of the custom prefab houses

At the very same time, Vancouver company Form&Forest has enlisted D'Arcy Jones to design prefabricated cabin kits for their line, that too ship as flat packs. Unlike Preform, Form&Forest has one specific niche - holiday retreats. Jones has developed three designs for the company so far. From Azure:
Each cabin encompasses approximately 635 square feet. Trapper's design is typical in that it features an open concept living room, generous patio space at the back, and bedrooms tucked behind the terrace. The Cowboy design, by contrast, features wraparound windows in the main space and a soaker tub at the center, from which to enjoy the view.

The designs are intended for those who have a plot of land and are thinking of building on it, and the cabin's prefabricated components are designed to ensure minimal labour and sub trade requirements on the building site.
This particular way of building will require more work from the customer/client including site prep, assembly, and finishing. You are getting a kit of parts - it is up to you to put it together and to finish it.

Basically, both options are great and (rant alert) they will always have King Kong's leg up over anything "shipping container" - people, those are for shipping! If you must, do like Mr Robins and Mr Jones and design things for living in.

Another reason for "why?" On their blog - besides having a very cool name, they also have a blog and a tweeter feed - Form&Forest elaborate:
It is our intention to create beautiful, livable spaces. More than this, we intend to create spaces that enhance your well being. Spaces that help you find a little happiness.

You may think the Form & Forest prefab cabin kits are beautiful. You may even find that they make you happier. If you do, that’s because they are designed for happiness.

Cabin Design 1: Cowboy

Cabin Design 2: Ranger
Cabin Design 2: Trapper