By Petra Matar

Architecture and design serve as valuable facets within the language of creating “safe spaces”. While safe space extends beyond the physical realm, the design of our physical spaces can play a huge role in how comfortable and included we, as individuals, feel while experiencing the world. Think of the design of a round table for example, which eliminates hierarchy and promotes democracy. Likewise, the use of ramps creates ease of movement for individuals using mobility aids. Contrasting surfaces are used for individuals with visual impairments, and child-sized furniture is used in spaces intended for the youngest members of our society. The list goes on.   

A space that has long been at the center of transgender inclusivity debates has been the public washroom. Arguably, one of the main reasons this space has been so hotly debated is due to the methods by which washrooms have been designed. Modern public washrooms are designed using stalls, which offer minimal privacy between users. The grouping of stalls is then closed off from view from public corridors. This divide of washrooms by gender is perceived to ensure the safety and privacy of individuals from gender-based harassment and assault – an argument used by the loudest opponents to trans individuals who wish to use the washroom that aligns with their gender identity.   

Ensuring all-gender washrooms are designed in new builds and retrofits is the solution to this long-standing debate. All-gender washrooms are designed with higher levels of privacy and are therefore more comfortable for users. Sometimes these washrooms are designed as individual rooms with both a toilet and a sink, or as toilet rooms with shared sink space in an adjacent common area. This rationale may easily extend to shower rooms and changing rooms as well, by designing those as self-contained private rooms, rather than stalls. Increased transparency to the public concourse decreases the likelihood of harassment and physical assault of trans individuals, eliminating the time factor spent by trans folks while concealed from public view, waiting for a stall within the confines of the enclosed public washroom. The thoughtful addition of amenities in stalls such as sanitary napkin disposal units, free sanitary products, trash bins and mirrors with a vanity and sink, can all contribute to increased levels of safety for the trans individual – especially for someone in transition. The additions also contribute to an enhanced and safer experience for a broader range of users and a larger population of women (including trans women), as well as providing more sanitary conditions for all users. 

The Stalled! prototypes for inclusive public bathrooms include a design that divides the functions of grooming, washing and eliminating.

Washrooms separated by gender perpetuate the systemic exclusion of non-binary individuals, and all new buildings and retrofits should be designed to adapt and aim to be more inclusive. This should be a standard by all municipal buildings, and private institutions should follow suit.    

Furthermore, providing all-gender washrooms should extend to specialized building types that  have historically been designed for male-dominant professions. These professions are now experiencing increasing numbers of women joining their forces and utilizing their spaces (e.g. fire stations). As women have entered the force, the buildings have introduced separate sets of washrooms and changerooms for female users at lower capacities.  

Adding low-capacity washrooms and/or changerooms to facilities to accommodate female users runs the risk of either insufficiently meeting the needs of staff, or of adding unused surplus space, which can sit vacant depending on the demographics of the facility. All-gender washrooms and changerooms provide flexibility and higher efficiency in making use of such spaces.   

Example of all-gender washrooms, shower rooms, locker room, and change rooms floor plan.

All-gender washrooms do not simply benefit trans and gender nonconforming individuals, they also offer higher levels of privacy to all users and offer flexible and efficient use of the facilities in question, regardless of changing demographics and use cases. Ensuring that our spaces are designed to serve the needs of people, including all members of society, should be the aim of effective architecture and design.  

Transgender Awareness Week is observed every year from November 13-19. The week is concluded by the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20—a day to acknowledge victims of transphobic violence. DPAI’s mission is to Shape the World, which means that we are continually reflecting on the way that architecture and design impacts individuals, communities, and the environment.  

For more information on Transgender Day of Remembrance and Trans Awareness Week, CLICK HERE. You can also CLICK HERE for Tips for Allies of Transgender People.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Today is National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to recognize the ongoing legacy of Canada’s residential school system, to honour and commemorate Indigenous cultures, Indigenous residential school Survivors, their families, and communities.

This first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, we reflect on the continued impacts of residential schools, and think about how as Architects and Designers, we can meaningfully participate in reconciliation through the work that we do at DPAI.

As a call to action, we’ve compiled a list of resources and some incredible work done by Indigenous artists on the subject of truth and reconciliation:


Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada – Calls to Action:

Residential School History:

United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples:

Canada Council for the Arts – {Re}conciliation Initiative:

Orange Shirt Day – Phyllis (Jack) Webstad’s story in her own words:

Indigenous Curatorial Collective:

Wawahte: Stories of Residential School Survivors (documentary):

TEDx Talks – Existence as Resistance | Tasha Spillett:

Truth and Reconciliation (with the Honourable Senator Murray Sinclair):

Reconciliation Through the Arts:

Gord Downie’s The Secret Path:

CBC Radio – Truth and Reconciliation Commission: how the arts shape our view of history (podcast):

Historica Canada – Residential Schools by Shaneen Robinson-Desjarlais:


National Centre of Truth and Reconciliation – Truth and Reconciliation Week events:

The Gord Downie & Chanie Wenjack Fund: Orange Shirt Day Event: On the path to reconciliation:

imagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival

Daphne Cockwell Gallery

‘Cradle-To-Cradle’: Circular Concepts in Architecture

By Aasiya Aslam, Designer at DPAI

The building industry contributes over 30% of all carbon emissions in the world, from construction to operation. With the world’s building stock estimated to double by 2060, the impact of the construction industry on our environment will be insurmountable. How do we change our current trajectory? Building professionals must redefine the rules of construction, and this calls for a paradigm shift in our building approach, from one that treats our environmental landscape as dispensable, to one that is sustainable and efficient.

What is the Cradle-To-Cradle Model?

Cradle-to-cradle (C2C), also referred to as regenerative design, is a philosophy that works with materials and energy utilizing a circular model. We are all familiar with the concept of ‘recycling’, but C2C takes it one step further and promotes ‘upcycling’.  The C2C model was developed by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart and discussed extensively in their book ‘Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things.’ McDonough says that most manufacturing and building processes follow a ‘cradle to grave’ model based on systems that cannot be reused, rely on toxic materials, generate large amounts of waste and consume great amounts of energy.

The C2C model mimics nature’s processes of circular transmission of energy. It suggests that in order for materials to complete their lifecycles, they must either replenish the ecosystem in an organic way, (much like the food chain does), or else enter a new cycle with added value. The C2C model is a holistic approach that combines social, economic and efficient systems that are waste-free and can be applied to architecture. The concept is based on three principles: the understanding of waste as food, the use of renewable energy and the support of diversity.

Diagram of the C2C Process

Eliminating Waste

In the C2C scenario, there is no concept of waste. A closed cycle that treats waste as “food”, or raw material in a renewal process, is what makes the C2C model sustainable. C2C also promotes upcycling rather than recycling, as within the recycling process, the end material or system often has lower value than the ‘parent’ material. Therefore upcycling results in new materials that lend themselves to higher quality applications. The model follows the idea of generating either ‘biological nutrients’ which can go back into the soil, or ‘technical nutrients’, which can be reused effectively again.

An Illustration of the ‘Cardboard to Caviar Project’ by Michael Pawlyn, demonstrating the C2C model.

C2C in the Building Industry

What is promising about the cradle-to-cradle concept, while more prevalent in the creation of individual products and materials, is that it can also be applied to the architectural process. Despite the challenges that come with every project, architects and designers must be mindful of the building process and opt for methods that are both efficient and less detrimental to the environment. Approaches such as promoting renovation instead of demolition, designing buildings that can be disassembled and re-erected wholly elsewhere, and opting for low-impact materials, are inherent to the C2C approach. Materials and systems must be chosen ensuring that after they have served their lifecycles, their ‘nutrient’ value remains rich, unlike most ‘downcycled’ recyclables.

Renewable Systems

Renewable energy sources such as wind, solar and geothermal are also reliable and sustainable ways of using energy in building construction and operation, unlike conventional fossil fuels, which have a negative impact on the environment. Designers can also incorporate ‘passive’ design to maximize on these renewable sources. Passive design strategies are features innate to the form and design of a building that utilize available natural resources to ensure thermal comfort. This climate specific approach based on sun, wind, light and micro-climatic considerations can be employed to design energy efficient buildings and reduce overall dependency on energy-intensive systems.

Challenges and Opportunities

Architects always feel the need to build, however we need to redefine the idea of what is worthy of a new build and whether there is an opportunity for adaptive reuse, retrofit or agile construction. If so, it must be explored. This does pose its own set of challenges such as code compliance, regulatory approval, adherence to socio-economic policies, and time and budget constraints, to name a few. Where technology-driven methods like additive manufacturing or automation are involved, the choice of materials and processes can be limited. But there are great benefits to the cradle-to-cradle ideology, which encompasses the use of local non-toxic materials, the reduction of waste during construction and the conservation of natural resources, most of which is within the architect’s control. Additionally, cradle-to-cradle promotes inter-disciplinary dialogue, whereby architects can grow their awareness and understanding of materials and systems that can be incorporated into their projects.

A Brighter Future

In the past, designers have explored alternative construction methods using shipping containers, paper tubes and salvaged timber. In the future, there are endless possibilities for creative building practices using the C2C ethos. Given the impending climate crisis and the history of environmental harm caused by our age-old practices, new sustainable ideologies must be considered and championed. Though the C2C model is not yet implemented as widely as it should be for the well-being of our planet and those who call it home, it gives building professionals food for thought, and furthermore, a positive outlook for the future ahead.


By Isaac Walsh

The title of Architect is a rather ambiguous one. What exactly does an architect do? Pose this question and you may receive a response that references language branching from architectural notation; words like ‘floorplan’, ‘elevation’ and ‘axonometric’. While accurate, such language can be limiting to an architect as it only communicates physical space within the parameters of a snapshot in time. Most architectural drawings tell you nothing of the other fundamental factors architects take into consideration; factors such as sound, light, movement and time. These principles at their core are the very foundation of what make up human experience within the architectural realm, and our perception of the world altogether. They are the reason why certain spaces feel the way they do.

What is Affect in Architecture?

One of the many roles of an architect is to manipulate the conditions of our world to generate a perception of space — perhaps this adequately describes what an architect does. A carefully curated percept is then experienced in a user’s mind as affect: thefeeling, emotion or mood that is brought on by an experience. To dig deeper into this concept, we can look to another creative profession that uses sound, light, movement and – most importantly — time, to achieve affect in their work. This profession is that of a filmmaker.

The Parallels Between Architecture and Film

Architectural space, though perhaps not obvious at first, is always time-based. Like other temporal media, such as film or even music, experiences that span over a period of time can be fundamentally changed by the way their formats are perceived, when compared to experiencing them within a limited context– for example as a single slice of time. One way an architect can guide a user through time is via the architectural promenade; that is a sequence of spaces as experienced by their user. By thinking like a filmmaker, architects can use the promenade as a tool to compliment the skills they’re already familiar with using to design spaces — not unlike a cinematographer composing a shot, or a scene that is built to guide the eyes of its viewer. 

The Abstracted Promenade

An examination of this idea was something I investigated during my second year of architecture school. The concept was to recreate the temporal qualities and cinematic affect of three thoughtfully composed film clips in sequence from beginning to end using traditional architectural communication tools and drawings. The scenes borrow from “The Cook, The Thief, His Wife, and Her Lover” by Peter Greenaway (1989), “Goodfellas” by Martin Scorsese (1990), and “Dreams” by Akira Kurosawa (1990). The affective qualities of each scene were modelled physically, photographed, and digitally composed on to an abstracted section drawing designed to lead users through a sequential narrative of light, movement, space, and time.

Applications to Architecture

The film promenade may in itself be interesting, but what does it do for us? The spaces discussed exist parallel to reality; they live independently and will never cross into our physical realm. So, what happens if we examine the concept of the architectural promenade from the perspective of the tangible world? What would a similarly abstracted section look like of a building that actually exists? How can we abstract an environment one can visit, see, touch, feel and experience in real time? This was the next part of my examination, using the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design. The building is a space which subtly takes users through a narrative of affect, making it an ideal subject. The final drawing produced traces a path in the form of a sectional promenade linking physical space to a curated spatial narrative that speaks to us using a filmmaker’s toolset: the pillars of light, space and time.

Why Affect Matters

What do we gain from this examination of affect? Is the lesson that architects should not be limited by the realities of designing for the real world? Should we no longer be influenced by the importance of sustainability nor the social impacts of design? Do aesthetics and atmosphere outweigh building codes and budget costs? Certainly not. Such realities are here to stay and will always be fundamental to the role of the architect. However, it is important that we do not forget about the side of design that lets us think like filmmakers and allows us to push the boundaries of what architecture can achieve through human experience.

The Takeaway

This exercise does not suggest that every piece of media should be deconstructed and described as a parallel to architecture. Rather, it makes the case that all creative disciplines overlap in more ways than may be apparent at the surface. Architects, filmmakers, artists and musicians all use affect to appeal to the human psyche in ways that move us to form appreciation from new perspectives. So, the next time you consider the question of what an architect does, look closely at the atmosphere of your surroundings and take a moment to notice how they affect you. You may be surprised by what you find.


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.


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

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.


Wendy Yuan

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Homeownership has long been the “American Dream”. Achieving this dream often requires people to put their entire savings into real estate. With housing prices skyrocketing and the threat of global warming, micro-homes or tiny houses have become a suitable alternative for some.

Micro-homes refer to any residential structure under 400 square feet (37 square meters). They can range from cob houses and shipping containers to buses and even boats.

I was first introduced to micro-homes in an Architectural Technology course, where students were required to design Net-Zero Energy tiny houses for single families. The main benefits of micro-homes that appeal to me, include:


Because of their sizes, tiny homes cost much less than the traditional options. It is less likely for people to be handcuffed to long-term mortgage loans. For example, this Japanese Tiny House on Wheels cost $30,000 USD in construction. Aside from the small purchase price, micro-homes also demand a relatively low cost of upkeep and insurance fees.


Customizing a micro-home is more manageable than renovating a standard single-family house. Many have built their homes from found materials, others have tailored their space to their needs through DIY projects. However, what fascinates me the most is the ingenious solution to the limited space: shapeshifting. With pulls on handles, the walls slide across this 344 square feet (32 square meters) Transformer Apartment in Hong Kong, to create more “room”.


Tiny houses are environmentally conscious. Often constructed out of recycled materials and converted from “undesirable” spaces, they have a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Some owners prefer an “off-the-grid” lifestyle, which means they must source their own water, electric and plumbing services. Introducing water recycling system, solar-integrated roofs and compost toilets!

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Micro Homes in Canada?

Although interest in micro-homes is high in Canada, municipalities are slow in accepting them. Some set a minimum square footage requirement; some even specify the colour and type of building materials. No city yet provides adequate zoning description or building by-laws to encompass tiny houses.

Progress is slow but present. Some cities, such as Vancouver and Edmonton, are softening restrictions for secondary suites. There have been plans to build communities of micro-homes in towns such as Okotoks, Alberta. The City of Hamilton has recently shown it’s progressive side by approving a zoning by-law that permits the construction of laneway houses on inner-city lots containing a detached single-family home. In this case, the size of the units are limited to 50 SM in area and 3M in height, adding much needed smaller units to the mix. This allows residents to age in place, or simply add some more affordable units to the retail stock.

Micro homes can offer refuge to the homeless, improve social wellness and contribute to the fight against climate change. Most importantly, they offer some simplicity to life. We can live for ourselves, instead of living for our houses.


In March 2019, the City of Hamilton officially declared a climate emergency (we wrote about it here). The declaration was necessary, but it’s not enough.

We are running out of time. As architects, we are uniquely positioned to change the way we design cities and buildings. It is the obligation of our profession to exert influence over our clients, consultants, and the authorities having jurisdiction to introduce new design and building practices into the market. Net-zero buildings are easily within our reach; it’s not rocket science. It comes down to better detailing, more insulation, careful design and renewable energy. The longer-term financial viability of a net-zero building is radically better than the kinds of buildings we are accustomed to building.

In response to the Global Climate Strike, the Canadian Architects Declare pledge was created, urging architects and designers to raise awareness of the impact of the built environment on climate change and take immediate action through their projects.

About 150 architects signed the pledge, committing to:

  • Raising awareness
  • Taking immediate (and measurable) action
  • Designing for holistic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Eliminating waste and harm
  • Adopting regenerative design principles and practices
  • Advocating for the rapid systemic changes required

As architects and designers, we can make a difference. According to Architecture 2030, the urban built environment is responsible for 75% of annual global GHG emissions: buildings alone account for 39%. 

We should never underestimate our impact.
Together, we shape the world.
#ArchitectsDeclare #StandwithGreta #DesignforFuture