Architecture and Ecology

Since 1968, the Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence have been given each year to architects and architectural graduates for buildings in the design stage, and this year’s winners have been selected by a jury consisting of Diarmuid Nash of Moriyama & Teshima Architects in Toronto, Walter Francl of Walter Francl Architecture in Vancouver, and Peter Sampson of Peter Sampson Architecture Studio in Winnipeg. All three practitioners were in agreement that the unusually large number of strong project submissions made the selection of this year’s winners particularly difficult, but they nevertheless managed to pare down a rather lengthy shortlist to a group of projects that distinguish themselves through their highly sophisticated responses to ecology and architecture.

In order to provide a bit of context to the adjudication process, it is perhaps useful to include some of the jurors’ comments on their overall thoughts about the submitted projects and the current state of architectural practice.

According to Walter Francl: “In number and quality, this year’s submissions achieved a very high standard and yielded more award-worthy projects than could be recognized. Viewing the work submitted this year, one is struck by the power of landscape, both urban and natural, to inform and inspire the architectural response. The variety and range is a reflection of the physical and cultural diversity of this country. Projects like the Fort York Visitor Centre and the West Coast Middle School engage the natural landforms in vastly dissimilar settings and to very different effect. Other projects, such as the Environmental Learning Centre on the west coast and the Two Hulls House on the east coast explore the bar as building form, evoking a heightened and calibrated appreciation of their bi-coastal settings. Smaller projects are particularly noteworthy and widely divergent, exemplars of projects that are of their place. St. Matthews Parish Church is constructed with a cultural and regional language unique to the north. The Storm Water Quality Facility in Toronto registers a deep and enigmatic note in its tough urban landscape. One submission that we seriously considered but which did not receive an award–Acton Ostry Architects’ English Bay Bistro in Vancouver–envelops its program in multi-coloured glazing that resonates with the celebrations and sunsets for which the site is famous. In form, materiality and expression, each is redolent of a particular environment or urban setting. A sustainable design narrative from earlier years that wore its fins and louvres as additive accessories has now matured. The best of the recent work, such as the Ryerson University Student Learning Centre and the UBC Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences, has developed beyond these earlier themes into a convincing architectural language of fritted-glass cladding and deep-walled sections that can still achieve the required envelope performance.” 

Diarmuid Nash speaks of form and landscape. “In reviewing the projects we selected as deserving of an Award of Excellence, I have noted that they are highly sculptural in nature; we seemed to gravitate to cantilevered box-like compositions such as the Remai Art Gallery of Saskatchewan, the Two Hulls House and the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences at the University of British Columbia. Abbey Gardens and the West Coast Middle School also possessed these similar geometric qualities that seemed to tie into and connect to the landscape; the box forms seem to float above as viewpoints from which to survey the surrounding context.”

A uniquely comprehensive approach was adopted by Peter Sampson in his personal assessment of the intensely engaging adjudication process, distilling his thoughts into three distinct strands and providing a useful framework for interpreting where the architectural profession is in Canada today and how it reflects and addresses current global realities.

The first strand concerns architecture and ecology. “As a member of this year’s jury I was curious about coming away with a sense of what it means to practice today in a country like this in the second decade of the 21st century. This year’s submissions confirm that accomplished responses to ecology and architecture exist in a variety of forms, approaches and actions. Present in many of the winning entries is an architecture charged with negotiating the massive and not yet fully realized implications of shifting global ecologies. In particular, a number of projects have close relationships to water, suggesting a predominant preoccupation with the current state of the environment and how Canadians practicing architecture situate themselves relative to this topic. Whether the relationship to ecology is aestheticized or acted upon, architecture’s immediate kinship to ecology–over, say, art–seems to be emerging as a central platform in this generation of work.” 

Secondly, Sampson isolated a theme of residue and rehabilitation. “In a country dependent on fragile and failing infrastructures and on a straining relationship to nature, I am drawn to architecture that makes, invents, or rehabilitates ecologies at the residual edges and in-betweens of conventional development. Refreshingly different than the pseudo-scientific, gumpy fanfare of an engineered environmentalism of earlier decades, this generation’s response to the presence of ecology in our practice reveals promising work that is knowledgeable, confident, and playful in its commitment to place, people, technology and time.” 

The third strand explores the inherent difficulty in the categorization of awards, and the distinctions to be made between that which truly qualifies as excellence and that which meets a standard of merit. “In thinking about a categorization of Awards of Merit, there were projects compelling enough to be meritorious, but not necessarily comprehensive enough to advance past a purely architectural idea. What compels me about most of the works that ended up receiving Awards of Excellence is that they presented a full activity of the architect who reveals how the components or events of an ecology surrounding an idea–in its complete and multi-faceted nature–can be negotiated.” 

Walter Francl

After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering from the University of Alberta, Walter Francl received a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of British Columbia, followed by a Master’s degree from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design. After several years in practice with a number of firms in Vancouver and Boston, Francl launched his own firm in Vancouver in 1994. His work encompasses a broad range of project types, including institutional, infrastructure/transportation, commercial/retail and residential/mixed use. Along with a number of transit stations for the Greater Vancouver Regional District, recent projects include the Rennie Art Gallery & Offices (see CA, October 2010), the Creekside Community Recreation Centre (with Nick Milkovich Architects Inc.), and the False Creek Energy Centre. Francl has also taught as a sessional instructor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture. He is the recipient of numerous awards, including several Lieutenant-Governor of British Columbia Awards, a Design Award for Sacred Landscapes from the American Institute of Architects, a Globe Foundation Award for Excellence in Green Building, and a Canadian Architect Award of Excellence.

Diarmuid Nash

Diarmuid Nash has enjoyed over 20 years with Toronto-based Moriyama & Teshima, having joined the firm in 1988 after completing work on the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo, a $137-million design-build project. A partner since 1998, Diarmuid is particularly skilled and adept at managing complex projects, delivering award-winning buildings on time and on budget. A graduate of the University of Manitoba, Nash has taught at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Architecture, Landscape & Desi
gn, and was President of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 2001. He acted as partner in charge of the new Canadian War Museum in Ottawa (a recipient of a Governor General’s Award in 2008), and the recently completed multi-phase Queenston Plaza border-crossing redevelopment. As architects of record, Moriyama & Teshima are responsible for the $250-million fast-track multi-phase Aga Khan Museum complex in Toronto, a project that Nash is currently leading. Additionally, he is directing the M&T team on the new $300-million City Hall project for the City of Surrey in British Columbia. Nash has been honoured with the President’s Medal from the American Institute of Architects and from the Federacion de Colegio de Arquitectos de la Republica Mexicana.

Peter Sampson

Peter Sampson is a practicing architect who has taught at the Universities of Toronto, Waterloo, and Manitoba. He has a degree in Literature from McGill University and received his professional degree in Architecture from the University of Toronto. Having mentored with Levitt Goodman Architects in Toronto, he established Peter Sampson Architecture Studio in Winnipeg where he now resides with his wife and children. He is a founding partner of the DPA+PSA+DIN Collective, the architects of the University of Winnipeg’s Buhler Centre and Plug In ICA’s new contemporary art gallery. Committed to work that enables the pursuit of a socio-ecological architecture practice, his 10-person studio continues to contribute to the evolution of net-zero-energy design and construction–albeit, one small step at a time. Current commissions include a downtown bike lab, urban design for a northern community, health, wellness, and educational facilities, affordable housing, and private residences. Peter also finds time to pursue freelance writing opportunities, and is the proud recipient of a Canadian Architect Student Award of Excellence–an achievement that dates back to 1999.