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Twenty + Change: MOTIV Architects, Vancouver, British Columbia

This socially minded Vancouver-based firm is particularly interested in the design of utilitarian structures and landscapes—places often overlooked by designers but fundamental to the success of communities.

Designed as a working barn for a hobby farm, the Swallowfield Barn also serves as a community gathering space suitable for hosting 
concerts and weddings. Photo by Ema Peter

Former work colleagues and long-time friends Tracey Mactavish and Asher deGroot founded MOTIV Architects in 2017. The socially minded Vancouver-based firm is particularly interested in the design of utilitarian structures and landscapes—places often overlooked by designers but fundamental to the success of communities. For Mactavish and deGroot, architecture is not only about constructing buildings, but using them as tools for embodying appreciation: appreciation of people and community, appreciation of materials and the challenges of building, and appreciation of context and the land on which projects are situated.

Designed as a working barn for a hobby farm, the Swallowfield Barn also serves as a community gathering space suitable for hosting 
concerts and weddings. Photo by Ema Peter

MOTIV takes a grassroots approach to empowering their clients and transforming communities. The pair notes how they’re often going beyond the traditional scope of architecture, acting as “advocates, spokespeople and project managers” for causes they’re invested in. This orientation extends to their design process, in which community members are involved at every possible stage of a project, from pre-design to construction. Case in point: the Swallowfield Barn, which Mactavish and deGroot describe as a “testament to the community building process that shaped it.” The working barn, which doubles as an event space, is located in Langley, B.C., and offers a contemporary interpretation of an archetypal agricultural building form. The structure was built in a modern-day barn-raising, involving more than 60 friends, family and community members. This process reflects MOTIV’s holistic understanding of sustainability. As deGroot says: “It’s not just about projects being environmentally sustainable—it’s about making places and buildings that people care about [into the future].”

Located in Vancouver’s Hastings Sunrise neighbourhood, the Eton Accessory Building is a garage that doubles as a studio for the owner’s industrial bag and belt fabrication company. Photo by Jean Phillippe Delage

Mactavish and deGroot have developed a sensitivity to materials by working directly with them—encouraging a hands-on approach within the studio. This supports mutually respectful relationships with craftspeople and informs MOTIV’s architectural approach. Simple, repeatable details and modular components are integrated into projects like the Eton Accessory Building, which was designed as a modular kit-of-parts. Materials are consistently selected to simplify construction and to honour the material culture of the West Coast.

MOTIV is currently developing designs for Southlands, a mixed-use district surrounding an organic farm in Tsawwassen, B.C. The new structures relate to the site’s historic farm buildings, and include a market, microbrewery, and residential units. Rendering by MOTIV Architects
MOTIV is currently developing designs for Southlands, a mixed-use district surrounding an organic farm in Tsawwassen, B.C. The new structures relate to the site’s historic farm buildings, and include a market, microbrewery, and residential units. Rendering by MOTIV Architects

Both Mactavish and deGroot grew up in rural communities, and they describe their practice as “rooted in [our] relationship to agriculture, its buildings and landscapes.” Their current work in the Southlands continues this thread, connecting where people live with the land on which their food is grown. Whether responding to the historical context of a site, or blurring the boundaries between architecture and agriculture, MOTIV strives to develop projects that are deeply—and intentionally—rooted in place.

This profile is part of our August 2021 feature story, Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent

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