November 7, 2006
by Canadian Architect
The pioneering environmental work of Guelph area architect-planner Charles Simon has been recognized with a Toronto Regional Green Building Festival Lifetime Achievement Award presented at the second annual Green Building Festival in Toronto on November 1, 2006. The Award honours “individuals who have shown leadership, vision and determination in driving market transformation”.
His early green building design and community planning work pre-dates the oil embargo of the 1970s. “It was distinctly counter to the fashion or interest of the times” says Simon “but fortunately we were able to find enough clients who liked what we were doing. Even if they hadn’t expressed an interest in “green” ideas I found that it was always possible to incorporate a variety of advanced concepts. And we even garnered a number of design awards. But this meant that the buildings had to work and at no extra cost (budgets were usually modest). A great discipline.”
Over a period of more than three decades, his projects have run the gamut from small renovations to large building complexes, from neighbourhoods to new cities. These include Canada’s first engineered passive solar house (Forster Residence, Arkell), staff housing for Grenville Christian College in Brockville (for many years Canada’s largest passive solar housing project), a master plan and detailed housing design for the environmentally fragile Toronto Island housing community (with Black and Moffat Architects and the Hough Group Landscape Architects), a master plan and detailed housing design for a new community near Atlanta, Georgia which was set in a sensitive landscape and responded to the climatic demands of a hot and humid region.
The pioneering Environmental Learning Centre for the Kitchener-Waterloo YMCA is a unique demonstration of environmental design principles, integrating landscape, buildings, technologies and programs. Simon is currently a consultant architect with Pearl Poddubiuk Architects on a similar but larger proposal for the Montreal YMCA. His other current projects continue to cover a wide range of scales and types. He believes that the small projects keep one in touch with human needs and scale, with the richness which detail can lend while the larger urban design and planning work provides the crucial context which the individual buildings inhabit.
Context has been a central theme in Charles Simon’s thinking. It has led to his teaching landscape architecture students in three universities and to his being the only architect or planner to have been made an Honourary Member of the Ontario Association of Landscape Architects. Whether in the city centre or at a remote wilderness site, he has always seen buildings within the broader lens of their setting physical, social or even economic.
“It’s great to build off-grid, healthy buildings put together with renewable and strictly local materials” Simon has said “but if you have to drive through miles of smog-ridden, sprawl-bounded, treeless highways to get there, the shine begins to tarnish mightily from the gold of your LEED-rated building.” This thinking is leading him to pay increasing attention to his second profession of planning. “It’s at this scale that we are doing the most damage (often legislating and subsidizing sprawl and pollution) and it follows that here is where we could do the most good.” He has evolved a rich variety of green urban design and planning concepts, many of which are awaiting realization. Perhaps it is these scales which will provide the major focus of his work in the next decade.
For more information, please visit www.simon-archplan.com.