A Measured Response

Deborah Berke founded Deborah Berke & Partners Architects in 1982, a New York City-based office of 30 staff that is accomplished in a broad range of institutional, commercial, and residential architecture throughout the United States, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean. The firm’s far-reaching design work also includes interior design, a line of furniture, and university master-planning projects. DBPA builds direct and subtle architecture that satisfies the spirit of its users through careful planning and integrity of details and materials. Whether for mixed-use, retail, arts-related or residential projects, the office always develops a fresh, unexpected design that still manages to embrace–and be embraced by–its context. As such, DBPA is especially adept at shaping its architectural language based on regional materials, climate, and customs. Recently completed projects include the 21C Museum Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, the James Hotel Chicago, the Irwin Union Bank in Columbus, Indiana, and the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York City–a new building situated next to the Highline. Currently, the firm is working on several high-profile projects in New York City, which include a downtown luxury condominium high-rise and a public arts pavilion for a park. Berke is a professor at Yale, where she has taught since 1986. Other academic appointments have included posts at the Rhode Island School of Design, the Universities of Maryland and Miami, and the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies in New York. In 1997, Princeton Architectural Press published Architecture of the Everyday, which Berke co-edited with her Yale colleague Steven Harris.

Talbot Sweetapple received a Bachelor of Environmental Design Studies and a Masters in Architecture from the Faculty of Architecture at the Technical University of Nova Scotia (TUNS). In the last decade, Sweetapple has worked at the offices of Shin Takamatsu in Berlin, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects in Toronto, and Brian MacKay-Lyons in Halifax, where is he has been a partner in the jointly titled MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects Limited since 2005. The firm pursues design excellence in both small and large public and private commissions, for which they have won numerous awards. Sweetapple worked on the award-winning Dalhousie Faculty of Computer Science Building and the Academic Resource Centre at the University of Toronto at Scarborough as project architect, and is the partner in charge for the University of Prince Edward Island School of Business and the Brock University Plaza and Campus Store project. The firm is currently involved in a number of international public commissions, through which Sweetapple has gained international experience as partner in charge for the Canadian Chancery and Official Residence in Dhaka, Bangladesh and the Southern New Hampshire University’s New Dining Facility and Student Center. Since 1996, Sweetapple has taught design and technology studios at the Dalhousie University Faculty of Architecture. He has also taught at Syracuse University, the University of Arkansas and in 2004, along with Brian MacKay-Lyons, was appointed to the Ruth and Norman Moore Chair at Washington University in St. Louis. Currently, he is the visiting professor at the Peter Behrens School of Architecture in Dsseldorf, Germany.

Stephen Teeple established Teeple Architects Inc. in 1989, and in the intervening years has completed a significant number of projects ranging in scale and complexity. Continuing to refine and extend a modernist design idiom, the goal of the 18-member team is to create innovative design projects in which the architectural concept is intimately linked to the day-to-day use and inhabitation of the building. The firm has pursued work in the commercial, institutional and residential fields, ranging in scope from broad planning, major institutional projects and urban design studies to highly detailed interiors. The portfolio includes the Graduate House Residence at the University of Toronto (with Morphosis Architects), the York University Honour Court and Welcome Centre, the Lilly S. Hallman Institute at the University of Waterloo, Eatonville Library, the Childcare Centre at Trent University and a number of private residences such as the gallery/residence for artist Charles Pachter in Toronto’s Chinatown. The firm has been published widely, and has received several Governor General’s Awards and most recently, an international Holcim Award for Sustainable Construction. Teeple maintains strong ties with architectural education, and is currently a thesis advisor at the University of Toronto. He has lectured on architecture throughout Canada as well as in the United States, and has been a frequent guest critic at many Canadian universities. Teeple received his B.E.S. and B.Arch. from the University of Waterloo, and his M.Sc.B.D. from Columbia University in 1989. He was appointed a fellow of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 1999.

As evidenced by the breadth of this year’s entries to the 39th annual Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence, the economy is still going strong, and we can expect to see many high-quality projects from all regions of the country completed in 2007. While the jury for this year’s adjudication process came from geographically disparate offices, they were all very concerned with issues of design and innovation. Awards programs by their very nature are subjective and for this reason, the editors of this magazine make every attempt to ensure that our jury members assume their roles as arbiters for design excellence very seriously. As each jury develops its own interpretation of the judging criteria listed on the entry forms, this year’s jury tended to examine each project in terms of its relative importance to its geographic location, programmatic complexity and the nature of the client commissioning the work.

As firms grapple with handling the everyday tasks of running a practice, entering projects still in the design phase to an awards program may not always hold the same cachet as submitting completed and beautifully photographed projects for publication and to other awards programs concentrating on built work. Nonetheless, more architects need to take the time to submit unfinished work to forums like the Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence if only for one reason: to engage in an opportunity to reflect upon the research and design methodology of each firm’s critical output. This year’s award winners represent a wide variety of research and design methodologies pertaining to their respective commissions. Their efforts and results may provide useful strategies that our profession can use to engage in meaningful discussions regarding the numerous possibilities associated with architectural production in Canada. For example, Peter Cardew’s Garden Wall House in Vancouver juxtaposes new construction with an existing heritage property, in addition to experimenting with innovative ways to increase density in an established residential neighbourhood. HIP Architects’ and David Murray Architect’s Ukrainian Canadian Archives & Museum of Alberta in Edmonton also provides a culturally dynamic and architecturally intriguing case study of the ways in which a new cultural institution can strengthen an existing heritage street wall while reinforcing the importance of an adjacent urban park. For a hardcore and technical example of a design research methodology, Kuwabara Payne McKenna Blumberg Architects/Smith Carter Architects and Engineers’ Manitoba Hydro Head Office building in Winnipeg is an exemplary project representing an informative case study of what is becoming increasingly prevalent in our profession: the Integrated Design Process.

Many projects that did not receive an award were demonstrative of design promise, and might be in a position to be more adequately assessed once completed. And then there is the perennial issue surrounding the value and impact of appropriate visual representation. This is a continuous con
cern for many architects and as a result, is something that enters the daily discussions of the editors at Canadian Architect.

The use of consistent graphics is critical when managing the visual flow of information pertaining to a firm’s particular approach to architectural representation. It is readily apparent when a firm hastily assembles a series of disparate graphics to describe its work–often to the detriment of the key vision and approach to design. Being able to produce consistent graphics that relate to not only the intelligence found within a particular design approach, but to the complete articulation of the final product is important when communicating a convincing vision associated with an architectural design and process. It should be stated that this is especially true when targetting a professional or critical audience. These issues were constantly being raised during this year’s adjudication process.

And while many of the submissions we received for this year’s awards program lacked a consistent and convincing graphical argument, what’s worse is that some schemes lacked rigour, illustrating ideas that were either highly derivative or that referenced recognizable projects recently completed in Europe, Japan and North America. To better understand where this malaise originates, we need only pay a visit to architectural schools across the country where student projects often display facile photo-collages comprising a veritable catalogue of images pulled off the internet or scanned from popular architectural magazines and monographs borrowed from the library. To see this occur in school is perhaps forgivable–students are exploring with image, structure and context. However, to see these bad habits continue lazily into the realm of professional practice represents a lack of insight and self-criticism, not to mention the issue of architectural plagiarism.

No matter how busy we may be, architects must not become complacent. Found within several awards submissions were examples of firms contracting out their visualization processes to outside watercolourists and graphic designers. On many occasions, it appeared to the jury that there was a definite visual and even an ideological disconnect between a firm’s internally developed approach to architecture and a hired illustrator’s interpretation of the projects in question.

Our awards program continues to attract numerous residential project submissions, many of which celebrate the varied aspects of Canadian identity, or inspirational Canadian site conditions at the very least. While many of these projects in this year’s crop were sited on dramatic properties, and which were expressed through imaginative sections and creative uses of indoor/ outdoor space, they failed to convey a sense of true connection to the unique qualities of site, in the jury’s opinion. Custom single-family residential projects are by their very nature designed for a small number of people with a relatively narrow list of specific requirements. Such an individuated form of architecture can be extremely poetic, but can also suffer from being clich–as was the case for many of the houses submitted to the jury this year. Are Canadian architects simply too good at delivering sectionally rich homes sited on heroically beautiful properties? The real problem may reside in the fact that perhaps we’re getting bored of some of the basic conceits that architects often use when undertaking such commissions.

And then there is the question surrounding the large-scale international commissions being produced by Canadian architects. While foreign projects being designed by Canadian architects should be encouraged, as evidenced by some of the work submitted, such projects should not always be celebrated. The ability to achieve architectural excellence is not synonymous with the execution of a successful business plan to systematically design and build multiple mega- projects around the world.

Architects should embrace every available opportunity to discuss their work. The truth and beauty behind every faade is dependent on a clear, consistent and innovative design approach. Design excellence as well as award-winning architectural production is a complicated process and one that should be celebrated and treasured, no matter how modest or extravagant the building scale and budget dictates.

The variety of winning projects this year clearly proves that at least some Canadian architects are mindful of the ways in which they present their designs, and are fully engaged in self-critical, interdisciplinary and contextually sensitive approaches. Congratulations are in order not only to the winners represented in the following pages, but to the many architecture firms and students who submitted projects that were strikingly rich in architectural thought.