A true reflection

The jury for the 2010 edition of Canadian Architect magazine’s Awards of Excellence program studied a marvellous array of entries from across the country. A record number of 144 submissions provided our jury with considerable material to review and discuss, resulting in the final selection of winners that appear in this highly anticipated year-end edition of the magazine. No jury is infallible, but since the awards program began in 1968, every jury has quickly developed its own distinct methodology of reviewing each year’s submitted projects. What was highly admirable of this year’s jury was their ability to cast a sympathetic eye and apply an open mind to the wide range of scales, budgets, client mandates and programmatic concerns.

The profession of architecture is full of challenges that demand a specialized range of skill sets to shepherd an architectural concept to fruition. Certainly, our jury–comprised of architects James Cheng, Andrew King and Janna Levitt–understand these challenges facing today’s practitioners, not to mention the incredible demands placed on architects by public- and private-sector clients. Vancouver-based architect James Cheng offers the following general comment about his experiences over the course of the two-day adjudication process in October:

I am pleased to see some highly innovative submissions on multi-family projects. Housing is the most common building type, but due to various reasons such as budget, market acceptance, planning restrictions, etc., it is perhaps the most difficult to innovate. Increasingly, architects and planners are being asked to provide designs for projects in China, the Middle East, India, and other fast-developing countries at an unprecedented pace and scale. With this increasingly smaller global village, it raises questions about regionalism and what kind of new urbanism should result and by what standard we should define excellence.

Principal of Levitt Goodman Architects in Toronto, Janna Levitt had the following comments to make about the 2010 Awards of Excellence:

When reflecting on which type of projects typically garner attention in Canadian award programs, it seems to me that the stars have shone most brightly in two sectors: public institutional buildings, and the single-family house. It is intriguing and I think a real reflection of our times, that we have three exciting and innovative private-sector projects receiving Awards of Excellence. I suspect there are two reasons for this. The first may be linked to the withdrawal of government from its historically significant investment in the built environment, which may have created a void that the private sector is filling. The second may be that the clients of developer buildings such as condominiums, hotels, etc. are becoming more discerning “purchasers” of design and this has amped up the quality of this type.

One issue I found very surprising and which we discussed at length was the generally unimaginative quality of the representational strategies of the submissions. Just as every picture tells a story, every drawing must effectively and creatively describe a key concept. This is particularly felt in an anonymous submission where the jurors have no prior knowledge to bring to their review of the submission. If one needs inspiration, just attend an end-of-term review of senior student work at any of the schools across the country: hand drawings, models, AutoCAD drawings, stills of homemade videos, collages…nothing is sacred and everything is in service of communicating the architectural ideas in a stimulating way.

James K.M. Cheng

James K.M. Cheng received his Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of Washington, after which he moved to San Francisco to work with Henrik Bull of Bull Field Volkmann Stockwell on a variety of urban projects. Shortly thereafter, Cheng apprenticed with Arthur Erickson in Vancouver for three years as a designer on large-scale urban and international projects such as the Vancouver Law Court complex, and the Anthropology and Sociology Faculty office at the University of British Columbia.

Cheng was first recognized by Architectural Record magazine and was included in their special “Young Architects” issue in December 1972 for a condominium project he designed while still an undergraduate working for Mithun Partners of Seattle. Subsequently, this project was included in Architectural Record‘s “Record Houses” issue in 1974.

In 1977 Cheng obtained his Master of Architecture degree from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, where he studied under American architect Richard Meier. Upon graduation, he (in joint venture with Romses Kwan & Associates) won a provincial competition to design the Chinese Cultural Centre in Vancouver.

Cheng won his first major design award from Architectural Record in 1977 for a private residence, which was recognized as one of the 20 Record Houses of 1977 along with Richard Meier’s Shamburg House. Since these first awards, Cheng has won over 45 major design awards, including the prestigious Governor General’s Medal from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, the Canadian Architect Yearbook Award, the Lieutenant Governor’s Gold Award from the Architectural Institute of British Columbia, and the Interior Design Institute of British Columbia’s Gold Award of Excellence. His work has been published and exhibited in Canada, the US, Japan, London, Germany, and Hong Kong.

In addition to leading a busy and diverse practice, Cheng has also lectured at the University of British Columbia for three years, and has served as a visiting critic and juror on architectural competitions and design award juries, both locally and nationally.

Andrew King

Andrew King is a graduate architect, author, critic, curator, and educator. He has practiced and taught across Canada and in London, Berlin, Budapest, Rome, Seville and Copenhagen. King was selected as one of Canada’s “design leaders” by The Globe and Mail in 2003. That same year, he was awarded the Canada Council for the Arts Prix de Rome and a Canadian Architect Award of Excellence. King has worked with internationally recognized architects such as Zaha Hadid in London, Tim Heide in Berlin, and Brian MacKay-Lyons in Halifax.

He is Design Principal at Cannon Design, currently leading teams in Vancouver and Montreal and overseeing projects across Canada and in Asia. He has led his own design and research initiative AK A for over 20 years, which encompasses architecture, urban design, and installation-based work.

King is the Azrieli Visiting Chair at Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism for 2009-10. In 2004, he was Visiting Professor at Copenhagen’s Royal Academy of Art, and he has held visiting, adjunct, and special faculty appointments in architecture and fine art at the University of Calgary, McGill, and Dalhousie. King also leads an ongoing research initiative with the Banff Centre for the Arts.

His work has been published in national and international art and architecture journals, including Canadian Architect and Canadian Art, and has been recognized with provincial, national and international design awards. Additionally, as a writer and critic, King has contributed to several critical journals, writing about contemporary projects and architectural curation. He is a co-editor of and contributor to building/art (2004), and his work was featured in and on the cover of The Prix de Rome: A Critical Perspective (2006), edited by Marco Polo.

His critical art practice (with Angela Silver) has made in-situ and gallery-based installations across Canada and abroad. Commissions include lens for the Banff Centre for the Arts for inclusion in the 2005 Alberta Biennial of Contemporary Art, and ex-urbus for Black Dog Press’s
Informal Architecture, edited by Anthony Kiendl.

Janna Levitt

Janna Levitt, Principal of Toronto-based firm Levitt Goodman Architects (LGA), is known around her office as “the optimist” because she brings a positive energy to her work that draws the best out of people and circumstances. A trailblazer, she also seizes opportunities to find solutions to problems that spark her interest such as the Vermicondo–a stylish indoor worm composter for urban dwellers.

Levitt’s background in the visual arts has distinguished her architectural career. She studied fine arts at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and at the Museum School of Fine Arts in Boston, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Toronto, followed by a Bachelor of Architecture degree in 1986, also from the University of Toronto. As such, she seeks opportunities to integrate art into LGA projects, like the segmented felt walls by Kathryn Walter at the Jamie Kennedy restaurant, and the frit-patterned windows by Melissa Levin at the Canterbury residence.

To complement her busy architectural practice, Levitt has been heavily involved in teaching, and is currently an Adjunct Professor at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design at the University of Toronto. She is frequently invited as a juror and guest critic, and has lectured extensively on a variety of topics such as environmental strategies for urban conditions, sustainable design and adaptive reuse.

Janna Levitt founded LGA in 1992 with her husband Dean Goodman. The firm is responsible for numerous award-winning projects, such as the University of Waterloo School of Architecture in Cambridge (2004) and the Longhouse for Native Child and Family Services in Toronto (2010). Levitt’s current projects include the renovation and 25,000-square-foot expansion of the main branch of the Kitchener Public Library; a study for the redevelopment of the Scadding Court Community Centre; and an extensive landscape and residential project in Hoggs Hollow.

In addition to professional memberships with the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada and the Ontario Association of Architects, Levitt’s keen interest in apiary culture motivated her to join the Ontario Beekeepers’ Association in 2009.