A Fine Balance
Paul Raff is an architect and artist based in Toronto. Following his architectural studies at the University of Waterloo, Paul worked in offices in New York, Barcelona and Hong Kong early in his career. After returning to Canada, he established Paul Raff Studio as a multidisciplinary creative practice while also working as a project architect for local firms such as Kohn Shnier Architects. Paul and collaborator David Warne’s poetic investigations of space were acknowledged with an Allied Arts Award from the Ontario Association of Architects in 2001. Paul Raff Studio incorporated and expanded in 2003, and currently works both locally and internationally with projects ranging across four continents. Most recently, the studio is collaborating with New York-based Grimshaw Architects as the artist for the terminus station of the new subway line extension north of Toronto. Paul is also a founding partner of RVTR, an academic research-based practice that won the Prix de Rome in 2009. His designs have been extensively published in Wallpaper*, Architecture and Landscape Architecture, and have been the subject of four television documentaries. Paul has also contributed to several journals including articles on environmental art, design and culture. He is a frequent guest professor, lecturer and critic at a number of universities, and in 2006, he represented Canada at a NAFTA-sponsored lecture series at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Paul Raff Studio’s 2009 awards include the RAIC Allied Arts Medal, an OAA Award of Excellence, and an IIDEX Best of Canada Award. The critical analysis and creativity of Paul’s work comprise a solid foundation for the growing impact his projects are having on the global architecture scene.
Gregory Henriquez is an architect best known for the design of several community-based mixed-use institutional and social-housing projects in the Downtown Eastside of Vancouver. Born in Winnipeg in 1963, he graduated with a Bachelor of Architecture from Carleton University in 1987 and attended the Master of Architecture Program at McGill University in 1988, where he studied under Alberto Prez-Gmez. In his book Towards an Ethical Architecture, the authors discuss the urgent need to re-examine the role of ethics, activism and critical commentary in architectural practice. The discussion is founded upon the belief that meaningful architecture must be a poetic expression of social justice. Gregory is the managing partner of Henriquez Partners Architects and is the architect leading the socially inclusive Woodward’s Redevelopment, the largest mixed-use project in the history of Vancouver. He has won numerous design awards, including a Governor General’s Medal in Architecture for the Lore Krill Housing Co-operative. In addition to being elected as a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, Gregory was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and was also awarded an Honourary Degree in the History & Theory of Architecture from McGill University in 2007. The following year, he was honoured as a Carleton University Great Grad during the conference celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the School of Architecture. His new book, Body Heat: The Story of the Woodward’s Redevelopment will be released on January 15, 2010 at the formal opening of the building.
A graduate of Laval University, Jean-Pierre LeTourneux started his own firm, Dupuis LeTourneux Architectes, in 1989. The firm established a solid reputation by successfully winning a number of competitions sponsored by the Quebec government, earning several architectural awards in the process. In 2004, Jean-Pierre was invited to join the partnership of the large Montreal firm Menks Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes, where he brought his unique abilities–not just as a talented designer but also as a skilled professional with a deep understanding of construction. Some of the projects he has led include large-scale buildings such as Phase 8 of Cit Multimdia and Louis-Bohme, a 27-storey residential complex in the heart of Montreal, both winners of architectural awards in recent years. An example of a smaller-scale project that Jean-Pierre has recently undertaken is the Maison du dveloppement durable, a unique urban project striving for LEED Platinum certification. Menks Shooner Dagenais LeTourneux Architectes are currently involved in the design of a new research facility for Montreal’s future Centre hospitalier de l’Universit de Montral (CHUM). Additionally, Jean-Pierre has been involved on an ongoing basis with La Maison de l’architecture du Qubec (formerly known as Galerie Monopoli) which he co-founded in 2001.
The 13 awarded projects this year offer a balanced representation with respect to typological and geographical range. From a tiny park pavilion at the water’s edge to a massive, programmatically complex mixed-use urban development, what emerges as the most salient issue is the ever-broadening concept of sustainability. The conventionally understood environmental sustainability of the LEED point checklist is growing to encompass the larger concept of cultural sustainability and its role in developing healthy and vital cities and communities around the world. Within this framework, issues of urban regeneration and densification, heritage conservation, multiculturalism, social and economic diversity, and sustainable building practices are being addressed in increasingly refined design strategies that are evident in most of the recognized project submissions.
As has become customary during each year’s jury deliberations, a number of projects–while not award winners–are identified as being worthy of mention for a variety of reasons. As such, they form a useful starting point for the discussion of the Canadian Architect Awards as a whole.
One such project is the City of Toronto Shelter Support and Housing Administration Assessment and Referral Centre by Levitt Goodman Architects, which strongly resonates with Gregory Henriquez, an architect whose practice has long been involved in the design of social housing in Vancouver’s priority neighbourhoods. Henriquez comments that only two of the 113 award submissions deal with shelter for the homeless, and both involve the renovation of existing structures. While both evidence a great deal of exciting potential, they require more tectonic development, as they are still too early in the design process to receive awards. Henriquez urges design architects not to shy away from this building type, as beauty and shelter are both important human necessities that the profession must address. Paul Raff adds that the aspirations of this project’s green elements and the playful photovoltaics express a delightful vitality, a spirited gesture for an important and much needed facility.
The Hamilton Farmers’ Market and Public Library Renovations and Addition by RDH Architects and David Premi Architects is just one of an increasing number of submissions dealing with issues of adaptive reuse, critical to urban regeneration and the overall long-term health of communities. Raff applauds this scheme for its ground-level intensification of a city, its positive attributes and the potential it holds for continued revitalization. Acknowledging the multitude of old, tired office buildings across the country in need of just this kind of programmatic and aesthetic makeover, Henriquez is equally enthusiastic about the project’s importance in city reprogramming.
In addition to adaptive reuse, Beaupr et Michaud Architectes tackle the issue of heritage conservation in the Sainte-Brigide Community Centre in Quebec. Jean-Pierre LeTourneux asserts that transforming and reimagin
ing one of the many churches in and around Montreal is a desirable and noble pursuit, particularly in this area of the city. And although he believes that the project integrates social housing and community components commendably through convincing plans and sections, greater resolution could be achieved in terms of the project’s tectonics and the overall design. Raff also recognizes the importance of the project, its noble pursuits, and its identification of the challenging question of disused churches. However, he is not satisfied by this particular treatment of the church building. While it has an intriguing and effective theatrical quality from the exterior, the way it has been selectively demolished feels awkward. Raff also questions the strategy of gutting the church and filling it with multiple, ordinary floor plates.
Another project by a Quebec firm, acdf* architecture (Allaire Courchesne Dupuis Frappier), is sited in the primarily Francophone community of Orleans, Ontario, an eastern suburb of Ottawa. A research and training centre for the construction trades, La Cit collgiale is compelling in its formal expression, according to LeTourneux. The articulation of the green roof and the introduction of slopes in an otherwise flat landscape enrich the project, but the lack of crucial information in the plans does not permit adequate evaluation of the proposal. Raff commends the project’s approach to landscape, and its engagement of a topographical architecture with an extensive green roof. Although he admires the sculptural reflectors on the roof that play with the scale and movement of the highway beside it, he also feels that the design does not adequately articulate or communicate the building’s role as a construction trades education facility.
Sustainability is clearly a pre-eminent concern in the design profession, and it also forms the core of the program for Bruce’s Mill Sustainability Learning Centre by Montgomery Sisam Architects. Located north of Toronto in a conservation area, this project adopts the important role of educating the public through an engaging and potentially fun sequence of spaces. In recognizing the positive intentions for this community building and its context, Raff feels the client must be given due credit for undertaking a project of this nature. While the project has enormous promise in its highly positive impact on the site, its exceptional planning, and the social aspect of education and activity, the presentation does not communicate great architecture. LeTourneux concurs, believing the structure lacks materiality. His appreciation of the way this community learning centre is planned and organized around a central public space–drawing people in from the parking area through the pavilion and down to the forest–is compromised by the enclosure of the central space. Ideally, the learning centre should better acknowledge the forest by being open to the outdoors, perhaps sheltered by some sort of roof.
As is typical of every year’s crop of submissions, a large percentage is comprised of schemes for single-family residential structures in both urban and rural contexts. Poetic house-making is attempted in the Mountain Valley House by MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects and the Arcop Group. Here, two schemes for this residential compound in Hudson, Quebec represent the evolutionary design process between architect and client–the original one consisting of five pavilions linked by a gently sloping path, and the ultimate scheme accepted by the client, in which the residential functions are more conventionally housed in one structure. Henriquez recognizes the talent of the architectural team in the poetic series of pavilions in the initial concept that was not accepted by the client. He states that the process of integration into one house was less inspiring, believing that the architect could have found a middle ground that would respond to the client’s needs while keeping the poetry intact. LeTourneux acknowledges that while the original scheme of path and pavilions is interesting, it does require the clients to radically change their way of life, forcing them to continually move from indoors to outdoors, from one pavilion to the next. He feels that the project displays great process but that the presentation, despite its graphic quality, does not do justice to the project.