Twenty + Change: Nine Yards Studio, Charlottetown, PEI
“The things we do for ourselves, the things where we have the most passion—these are the things that are best received.”
Nine Yards Studio, based in Charlottetown, PEI, is headed by an unlikely duo. Silva Stojak, an architect in her 50s, studied architecture in Sarajevo and immigrated to Canada in 1990. Shallyn Murray is a generation younger, and grew up in Kinkora, a community of 350 people in PEI, graduating with her Masters in Architecture from Dalhousie University in 2012.
Stojak and Murray had worked together at BGHJ Architects, where Stojak was a partner. When the other senior partners retired in 2017, the duo decided to make a fresh start. “We didn’t want to put our names on the firm,” recalls Stojak. Instead, they picked a name referring to the saying “the whole nine yards”—an indication of the one-stop, community-oriented design shop that they aspired to co-create.
The firm’s portfolio encompasses a healthy range of projects: government work, schools, theatres, commercial interiors, and private houses. But the work they’re most avid about is community-oriented design.
While at BGHJ, Stojak and Murray self-initiated the Urban Beehive Project, a set of super-sized demonstration beehives, accompanied by a hexagon-tiered amphitheatre. “Design was the smallest piece of this project,” says Murray, who notes that the project included extensive discussions with beekeepers, finding a site, building up community support, and raising over $60,000 in funding. “At the beginning, we were knocking on the doors of our clients, asking for $50 contributions,” she recalls. “We were really passionate.”
The office also maintains a workshop, dubbed the Secret Design Bunker, filled with tools for making digital and hand-crafted objects. The firm sells limited editions of the household products it designs, and also displays work-in-progress in their office’s storefront windows. “We are always striving to show people how design impacts our everyday life, how the objects we use and the environments we inhabit can be designed to enhance our well-being,” says Stojak.
One of Nine Yards’ first architectural projects to gain widespread recognition, the River Cabins, was also self-initiated. “We wanted to show people the kind of work we would like to do,” says Stojak, who convinced her husband that they needed to build themselves a cottage. Recently, Stojak and Murray have bought another piece of land, twenty minutes from Charlottetown, where they intend to build a small, sustainability-oriented cabin.
Nine Yards is also working on a downtown Charlottetown Library, in collaboration with MacKay-Lyons Sweetapple Architects. “Charlottetown hasn’t had a new library since I was born,” says Murray. “I’m excited about it as a resident and as an architect.”
“The things we do for ourselves, the things where we have the most passion—these are the things that are best received,” says Stojak.
This profile is part of our August 2021 feature story, Twenty + Change: Emerging Talent.