After the release of his 2017 memoir Beautiful Scars, musician, writer and painter Tom Wilson spoke to David Premi on our podcast Strange Process. Their conversation cut to the core of what it means to be an artist, and how the often misunderstood occupation of a creative is in fact a simple act of communication, one that combines urgency, heart and hard work.

Last week, Tom Wilson was arrested for delivering food to land defenders occupying an unceded site at 1492 Land Back Lane (also known as McKenzie Meadows) in Caledonia, Ontario and for performing to families of the Six Nations reserve. The site is central to a dispute between the Indigenous community and land developers concerning Haudenosaunee territory. The land in question forms part of the Haldimand Tract granted to Six Nations of the Grand River in 1784 for allying with the British during the American Revolution. A court injunction granted to the developer currently prohibits anyone from entering the site. The next court date to determine the fate of the injunction will take place this week.

Tom Wilson is currently working on his second book, Blood Memory.

Check out the full conversation here:


By Edward Winter

“Oh no – I said the F-word! – I’m sorry!  It won’t happen again,” I told our client in our first design meeting. Just to clarify, the word was “facility,” and up until this point it was a seemingly harmless word – but not in the eyes of our new client, CONNECT Communities.

We had just begun to design their newest transitional residence for acquired brain injury and stroke patients, their first in Ontario. What we would learn within the next month of conceptual design, and over the next two years during construction, was that there is a great deal of difference between a facility and a residence. And that most importantly, it is this difference that will have the greatest impact for a patient recovering from acquired brain injury or stroke. This important distinction is the primary focus for the CONNECT team, and the nexus of their Life Redesign Model™.

To provide some background: There are ongoing conversations surrounding the health care model in Ontario (and across Canada), supporting the research of new methods of treatment and testing of alternative care strategies. Hamilton Health Sciences (HHS) is continually evolving and improving on treatments for patients with acquired brain injuries and stroke, leading them to develop a partnership with CONNECT Communities. This partnership has allowed for CONNECT Communities, an established care provider in British Columbia, to offer their Life Redesign Model™ as transitional care for patients who no longer require hospitalization, but need further support before returning to an independent life in their own home. dpai was brought on to support CONNECT Communities’ vision and design their new transitional residence in Stoney Creek, Ontario, at the edge of a burgeoning community and bordering on Hamilton Conservation Authority lands.

As we began the process of understanding our new client’s needs and wants, we toured their residence in Lake Country (Kelowna), BC. What we saw was a building that very sternly wanted to be residential in nature and feel, but needed to be somewhat more robust and generous in order to house its forty-two residents.  The community resided in groups of seven, accommodated in six wings. The result was the ultimate “blended” family: each resident at a different stage of their recovery, inspiring and helping each other on their journey back to an independent life.

CONNECT’s Life Redesign Model™ is the lens through which all services and supports are provided by their team of coaches and therapists – and this was explained to be most effective if residents have the freedom and security provided by being “out of the hospital, and at home.”  More that just giving new meaning to the phrase “at home,” the Life Redesign Model™ ensures each person’s accountability, uses individual goals with respect to life situations, and employs a “doing-with” coaching approach to take advantage of neuroplasticity (which is doctor-speak for the human brain being an amazing thing that can find new paths to deliver instructions to make things happen).  This incredible and hugely successful approach to treatment inspired dpai as Architects to re-think the very concept of residence, and to challenge the accepted, traditional design and construction norms in order to arrive at a successful design.

Don’t Remove the Barriers – Breaking the Rules to Get Better Treatment Results

Architects get a mixed bag of requests from clients— requests that are sometimes outlandish and extravagant. But in the case of CONNECT Communities, we were asked to break the rules. More specifically, the Building Code. Our client insisted that it was essential to the goals of the project to eliminate the barrier-free and traditional institutional elements of the design to achieve a truly residential space. So with that charge given, we began in-depth code research and collaborated with the local building department to procure an agreement that clarified certain requirements that satisfied our client’s vision. For example, the otherwise utilitarian exit stairs were designed to help residents practice navigating stairwells and begin to regain confidence and independence. This concept led to the introduction of natural light with large windows and the warmth of a wood handrail, as opposed to the norm of applying a more economical treatment.

The concept of natural light as a healing element is not new, but the goal for the living spaces went further, with a desire to have a meaningful connection to the surrounding residential community for CONNECT’s residents. The possibility of an encouraging word from a passerby can be of great benefit to someone in need.

Designing for Inclusion and Seclusion

At CONNECT Communities, each resident lives in one of six self-sufficient, seven-bedroom apartments in a unique family-style structure, with other residents at varying stages of recovery. Together they encourage each other to persevere in their treatments.

Like any family, individuals need their own space now and then, so there was a conscious goal to create spaces not only for communal living, but also smaller spaces that allow for personal reflection (or to just be alone for a moment). The kitchen and living rooms provide communal space, with added warmth from a two-sided fireplace connecting the two rooms. The kitchen was built for function, with generous storage and counter space and a harvest table for meals and conversations. Down the hall, a computer nook was added for quick emails and leisure. A den provides a retreat for quiet reading or a private conversation with family or staff, and the central Commons provides a recreation room and lounge with a TV and billiards. A separate library and lobby with large picture window overlooking the conservation lands is also a popular spot for CONNECT’s residents.

The Synergy of Nature and Community

The Stoney Creek property was nearly passed over when the location was selected, as the opportunities for rapid growth and development in the area had not yet been captured by online mapping tools. But as is the case in many cities undergoing a renaissance, one must walk the land to truly understand its place and setting. Once the leadership team saw the property and the growth happening within the surrounding community, the decision was made.

The CONNECT property was a remnant block of parcels in a large suburban survey that likely would have become additional single-family homes, if not for CONNECT Communities. Our client selected the 1.2 ha property to build their residence with hopes of becoming part of the community in a meaningful and tangible way.

Though suburban dwellings now surround the property on two sides, nature abounds to the east where the residence overlooks the scenic Eramosa Karst Conservation Area. Just steps past the intentionally transparent box-wire fence lie walking trails through a Carolinian woodlot, and a Provincially designated area of Natural and Scientific Interest– karst land formations. We learned that this ecological feature is created by dissolving limestone rock, and our client’s neighbouring property features sixteen different types of karst geologies.

This truly special land was an important consideration in the design which allowed us to consider a visible connection to the community – a goal that was accomplished by pulling the building components apart to create narrow corridors with large windows, which provided lighting and views of nature directly through the building.

Landscape elements also played a large part of the successful site plan design: native plants, a bioswale, trees and crushed stone pathways are all elements used to bring the residents closer in connection with the natural environment outside the building. The adjacency to – and actual sitting upon sub-terranean channels – meant careful consideration to surface water drainage across the site and into the natural landscape to the east. A bioswale with plant material designed to capture and retain water as it flows over the land and into sink holes, as well as dry streams and caves in the conservation area, create a physical reminder of the integral relationship we have to the land we build on.

The CONNECT residence is approximately 38,000 sq.ft., and although it is significantly larger than the surrounding family homes, there was a desire to fit within the community and seamlessly integrate into the streetscape. The existing rhythm of building mass and spacing along the street was extended by flipping the building along it’s connecting spine – placing the residential scale pieces on the street, and the larger building block and parking lot along the backside of the property away from view. The result is a streetscape that is not unlike that which has been there for decades.  Not just a modicum of success for the building – or rather residence’s design, is that it feels at home in its community – this was an integral goal of CONNECT Communities to be active members in their new-found community.


“When you’re sketching a line, it’s very intuitive, it’s almost like it’s an extension of your body.”

Last winter, we recorded a conversation between friends Petra Matar and former dpai architect, Molly Merriman, about the intersections of art and architecture within their practices of artmaking and design.

We find ourselves in a changed world—but there’s refuge to be sought in the creative process and the spark of connection between friends!

Check out the full conversation here:

Follow dpai architecture on Instagram @dpaiarchitectureinc to see some of Petra and Molly’s work.


For the latest episode of the Strange Process podcast, David Premi sits down with Angela DeMontigny, an internationally renowned Indigenous clothing and accessory designer, and entrepreneur.

Angela’s work is helping to bring Indigenous art to the forefront while paving the way for young Indigenous designers and artists across the country.

“Things like traditional Indigenous beadwork and handcrafted, time-honoured skills have been passed down for generations […] are making a comeback”

She calls it a renaissance, and a power to create “those things that are special and one of a kind when you have a market that’s full of the same, mass-made, poorly-made items. People don’t all want to look the same.”

Check out the full conversation here:

Follow her on social @womanofdesign, visit her site or her flagship boutique, DeMontigny, in Hamilton on James St N.


By Jamie Schneider

Welcome to the year two thousand twenty everyone! It’s already March?  I’ve been too busy to notice, trying to keep up with all the latest tech trends.

With new trends coming to light each day, I’m already starting to feel like I’m falling behind, not being proactive and generally a bit of an imbecile.

Why am I not employing “Spot”, the robotic dog, to go to site for us?;  Why am I generatively designing that townhouse development?; Should I be learning to code in order to remain relevant? 

Before panic sets in, I’ll centre myself, focus on the natural rhythm of my breath, and reflect on what we, as designers and technologists at dpai, are doing to enhance our efficiencies and generally work better this year.

Turns out, we are a very tech-forward team.

Refine Project Information Management System…Check.

We believe we can be more efficient in how we create, store, search and retrieve data.  By adapting a Common Data Environment (CDE) for all our data we will realize a dramatic increase in time efficiencies and strengthen our QA process.

Furthering our BIM workflow development…Check.

We believe that the BIM process has enabled us to add value to our projects with the use of visualization tools (thank you Enscape) and better coordinated designs.  We are continuing to develop our standards, protocols, content libraries and project templates which will allow us to successfully leverage the net benefits we have gained so far.

Embracing new ways of working…Check.               

Seeking out and working with those in our industry who share our vision to work more collaboratively and embrace new ways of working (thank you Target Value Design TVD) utilizing the latest collaborative cloud modeling (thank you BIM360).

Phew… I understand this digital overload won’t let up anytime soon – but we’re ready to take on the year with our values as our guiding force.

Happy New(ish) Year!


We are back with STRANGE PROCESS – a podcast series by dpai architecture inc. and Mohawk College, where we explore and demystify the process of how multidisciplinary artists produce their work.

We were lucky to chat with the highly talented, Gemma New, Music Director of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra (HPO). The New Zealand born conductor made her debut with the New York Philharmonic of a Young People’s Concert Program and has since conducted Symphonies across the globe.

Check out the full interview with Gemma below on Youtube or SoundCloud.

Keep up with all things HPO, here and follow Gemma on Twitter @gemmanewmusic


Sarah Fox

In Japan, there is a wood temple built by Buddhist monks which has been standing since 607AD. That’s a 1413-year-old building still standing at five stories tall. Wood is an ancient material and looking as far back as we can into Canadian civilization, wood was the material of choice. Indigenous builders observed and understood the material’s properties so well that they would create bentwood structures crossing the strands creating the strongest configuration for the least amount of waste. The material would come from the earth and go back to the earth. Once Colonizers discovered Canada, they exploited the land through fur trading and logging. Not too long after, industrialization took off and steel and concrete structures took over. Now we are experiencing the next revolution, the digital age, and with advances in computer-aided tooling, timber is making a comeback.

Where did timber go?

In the early ages of industrialization, factories along the rust belt were made from mass timber. There are many examples in Toronto of these timber beam and brick buildings with nail laminated timber floors. Chicago was also full of mass timber architecture and was subsequently the reason the city burned to the ground in 1871. This infamous fire resulted in regulation for fire spread prevention and formed the national building code as we know today. Mass timber buildings ceased to be designed – it was expensive to meet code and the organic nature of wood made it difficult to find large enough blemish-free spans. But advances in digital tooling have now made structural wood much easier to fabricate. European and Scandinavian countries have invested heavily in wood technology schools and more recently Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) can be seen emerging in North America.

What is CLT?

CLT is cross-laminated dimensional lumber made into large panels – almost like giant sheets of plywood. The cross lamination creates strength in both directions and is much lighter than typical steel and concrete structures, allowing foundations to be cheaper. Currently, Canadian CLT uses glue for lamination, but a company in Germany is producing one hundred percent wood product fastened by just dowels [1]. This company even goes so far as to ensure trees are logged during a waning or new moon to harvest the hardest wood [2]. The natural strength of wood is fascinating; it does not use its own mass- to be stacked like blocks of cheese- rather the fibers are like-bunched like rope so its true strength engages when in tension. Mass timber is also uniquely efficient in the way it is constructed:

  • Since parts are prefabricated in a shop and transported to site, they are cost, time and material efficient.
  • Openings for thresholds and services are all pre-milled, requiring far fewer trade workers to work on-site.

Residents near the Brock Commons 18-storey CLT tower in Vancouver were pleasantly surprised by how quiet its construction was. This change in construction style has been a challenge for the building industry but is an inevitable change to be embraced.

If that’s not enough to motivate you to support mass timber, here’s the most important factor:

With the current climate crisis we need to reduce our carbon footprint more than ever. Local growing and manufacturing greatly reduces embodied energy and requires no fossil fuels. Forests in Northern Ontario with world-leading sustainable forest management[1] have the potential to become big commodities for our economy, like they once were in the early years of colonial Canada. This time, instead of clear-cutting forests, the land can be sustainably harvested to preserve biodiversity. Railway infrastructure from Northern Ontario exists from the logging-turned-mining industry. I optimistically anticipate that mass timber manufacturers will set up alongside the railway near sustainable forests and sawmills, reducing transportation pollution. Supporting local products means money generated stays here, and can return in the form of research and land stewardship.

Not only is the carbon footprint of local wood very low – it’s negative.

Any carbon created by production is neutralized, and like the impact of planting trees in a city, timber continues to absorb and trap CO2 throughout its lifetime. The embodied value is more than just its cost; timber’s value extends to cultural heritage, community wellness and land stewardship. No one material is the best choice for every application- concrete and steel are still needed. But if you’re looking to invest in well-being, then wood is pretty good.



Arthi Suthaharan

In today’s digital age, there are millions of people who have never experienced life before computers and the internet.

This wasn’t always the case. In the early days of personal computing, there was an issue with the efficiency of storing data. Floppy disks would go down in computing history for helping to enable and advance the personal computing revolution, transforming the world into today’s technological era.

The Floppy

Floppy disks made their big breakthrough in 1977 when Apple introduced the Apple II, its first mass-produced computer that came with two floppy disk drives. Apple knew it needed smaller, cheaper and better portable storage systems, so they included two floppy disk drives. The idea was one would hold programs and one would hold data.

Their Success

Floppies allowed ordinary people to distribute software, transfer files, and store data. They were even used to store the operating system of a computer when hard drives were still expensive. Not only did the floppy disk advance the user-friendliness of computing, but its most significant impact was on both the existing nature and structure of the IT industry at the time. Floppies gave rise to many companies and the software industry itself!

The floppy disk continued to evolve into smaller sizes with greater storage capacities, but other portable storage technology like CDs, DVDs and USBs began to surpass it. Today, a huge portion of our information is stored and transferred through the cloud, which exists in the digital plane.

Our world is totally shaped by our personal devices. Much our lives are stored, accessible and connected through the cloud, or more specifically, the internet. Many of us can’t imagine leaving the house without our phones; how will you get anywhere without google maps or know whether a restaurant is good enough to eat at without reading the reviews?

For better or worse, through the advances and evolution in information transfer and storage, working our way through devices that got smaller with greater storage capacities, to digital storage, personal computing and devices have changed our lifestyles drastically.

Their Legacy

Although they are no longer commonly used, floppy disks represent a specific time in our history with computing and technology. Even today, the icon we see for saving our work is a floppy disk, reminding us of its significance and contribution to the evolution of personal computing. Without it, our world of computing and software would not be where it’s at today.


Arthi Suthaharan

We live in a world where information is easily accessible for many. Search engines like Google will tell you everything you need to know, with hundreds of sources and reviews. It’s become a common reflex and response to anything you want to know or learn. Just “google” it!

Google is a basic tool in our day-to-day lives, but where did it come from?

Back to Land

In the sixties, in the midst of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war, there was a rise of a counterculture that favoured individual empowerment and self-sustenance. With this came the “back to the land” movement, where people moved to communes with the goal of slowing down and simplifying life. At the heart of this movement was Stewart Brand’s publication of the Whole Earth Catalogue

The Whole Earth Catalogue

In 1967, a NASA geostationary weather and communication satellite captured the first colour photograph of the whole earth. People’s perspective of the earth changed and for the first time, people could see the earth not as the world we live in but as the planet we live on. The earth was no longer our entire world; it was a thing of its own, both finite and delicate. It was a powerful symbol: regardless of who we were and where we were, we all lived on the same planet and with that, shared a common future and destiny. Brand used this picture of the whole earth as an icon for his publications, an image he used to help shape people’s views and way of thinking to see the earth as a finite entity that needed to be protected.  

The contents of the Whole Earth Catalogue were catered to people who were involved with the “back to the land” movement. It was a paper database of the skills, tools and information they needed to survive and succeed, all within the pages of a few catalogues. It was meant to empower individuals who were tired of being controlled by the government and big corporations and wanted to shape their environment and future.

To access this knowledge, you needed the physical catalogue. There was no internet, libraries were restricted by their size and television content was limited. The catalogue was a new concept, a place where anything you needed to know, find and learn about a single topic or idea was in one place. It was regularly updated and changed as the creators received reviews and feedback, just like the search engines we know today.

The Digital Age

Unlike the catalogues, which we can see in physical space filled with a finite quantity of knowledge, Google exists on the infinite digital plane of the Internet. We cannot see or even begin to understand all the information this entity can hold. It has no physical form; it is a space we cannot physically see nor touch. It is designed using computer code, using algorithms and sequences, to pull the information we are searching for from that infinite digital space. Today, the way we get our news, communicate with one another and share knowledge is via the digital plane. It is no surprise that the way we collect data and search for information happens the same way.

Information Overload

With unlimited access to information comes an overload. The abundance of information has created difficulty in understanding issues and making decisions around them, largely due to the uprising of “fake news”. Twenty-first-century libraries are evolving from primarily housing books on shelves to taking on the self-proclaimed role of “fake news debunkers”. Some modern libraries are also developing programs they call design thinking to promote creative processes for problem-solving, helping their clientele to develop the skills needed to process information in this “overloaded” climate.

Unlike the days of the Whole Earth Catalogue, libraries have gone from transactional to relational interactions with users. Libraries are no longer places where users simply come to consume information, they have also become places where the public comes to create their own content.

Described by Steve Jobs as the “paperback Google”, the Whole Earth Catalogue gave rise to the way we access digital information today. Understanding how the knowledge you are receiving has been designed and disseminated is arguably as important as the knowledge itself.

This is why libraries are so critical to our communities. They are bastions of democracy, making sure that the development of critical thinking and creation are available to all.


How a Woonerf Could Anchor Redevelopment of the James-John South District
Paul Shaker

Good, proactive urban planning reimagines city spaces that may be overlooked but hold great potential. This is the case in the area just south of downtown Hamilton.

The James-John Street South district (SouthTown) is a diverse commercial area in Hamilton, south of the downtown Central Business District. The area contains a variety of land uses, such as St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Hamilton GO Centre as well as nodes including the restaurants and pubs on Augusta and the retail Terraces on James South. Functionally, the district extends east to the other major corridor, John Street South and includes the connecting streets such as Augusta, Young, and Charlton.

While other commercial districts around the city including Locke Street South, James Street North, and Ottawa Street North, have gone through impressive revitalization, SouthTown has remained relatively stable in its vibrancy, experiencing small cycles of decline and renewal over the past decade. There are distinct nodes of vibrancy, but the district lacks continuity and connectivity between these nodes that would help the area achieve greater prosperity.

In this context, Civicplan and dpai teamed up a few years ago to develop a concept plan for the district. Central to the plan was the creation of a focal point for the area: the Augusta Street Woonerf.

Woonerf: A Living Street

A woonerf is a concept first developed in the 1970s in Holland. The concept is to transform a street by prioritizing pedestrian and cycling over cars. It allows for street space to be flexible, used in multiple ways, for cars, parking, cycling and pedestrians. The Dutch employed the planning model in residential areas, but it is becoming more common, particularly in North America, to see it employed in commercial areas. It is also known as a “living street” and is aligned in North America with the idea of complete streets.

Common elements of a woonerf are the elimination of sidewalk curbs, and the blending of pedestrian and vehicle space. Additionally, the woonerf is designed using a different material or pattern than traditional streets to differentiate it from a traditional street, for example paving stones instead of asphalt. The benefits of a woonerf are primarily traffic calming, pedestrian safety, and bringing life to a street. It encourages commercial spaces to connect with the street through the use of patios and outdoor spaces.

The Augusta Woonerf

In the SouthTown district, the Augusta Street Woonerf would transform the underdeveloped street into a pedestrian-friendly civic space connecting the two major north-south arteries (James and John) together. Augusta Street has an excellent cluster of restaurants and pubs, giving it a base to grow street vibrancy.  However, street design and the prevalence of street front parking lots are limiting further growth. Some of the opportunities for the Augusta Street woonerf include:

1. Redesign Augusta making the street a pedestrian-friendly civic space better connected to the James Street and John Street South commercial nodes.

2. Encourage scaled infill design consistent with existing building massing at the street.

3. Introduce more landscaping and tree planting to provide some green/open space for the district.

4. Target high potential sites for initial catalyst development.  Focus on uses that are attracted to the district’s demographics, character, assets and vibrancy (e.g. post-secondary).

The SouthTown Concept Plan

This was just one element of the SouthTown concept plan, which had the goal to not only articulate a vision for the future of the area but to help guide public investment in order to kickstart development. Other key elements of the plan include:

About the author

Paul Shaker is a Principal and co-founder of Civicplan. He is a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners and a Registered Professional Planner in Ontario.