TAKING THE LONG VIEW

David Premi

In the investment world, short-term investments are generally associated with higher risk. If this is true, why do investors often fail to look long-term when constructing buildings?

Many investors, donors, developers, institutions and purchasing departments embrace the lowest initial cost for their buildings and designers while placing less emphasis on the life-cycle cost and the legacy that the built form will represent.

With the evolution of Building Information Modeling (BIM) we can calculate how much a building will cost over its lifetime, which can help investors decide where to cut costs and where to spend.

The initial investment of a building includes the construction cost plus “soft costs”. A significant soft cost is the fee for professional design services such as architects and engineers. Choices made during the design phase are critical because they will continue to impact future profitability, flexibility, operational costs and occupant health, happiness and productivity for the lifespan of a building. It is during the design phase of the process that a building owner has control over how much the project will cost in the long run. It is more accurate to refer to professional design fees as an investment rather than a cost.

With the current low-margin model, buildings of relatively poor quality often reach the end of their serviceable life after 50 years, before being demolished and replaced by new ones. What once seemed like a great investment is reduced to a pile of rubble in a landfill. We know that this trend is not financially nor environmentally sustainable – and there is a better way forward.

A more profitable and sustainable model exists, allowing us to construct better quality and more energy-efficient buildings. It’s now possible to build to a net-zero standard, where buildings produce as much energy as they consume. There is also a growing trend to perform deep retrofits to existing buildings, which is a renovation of an existing building which results in a substantial reduction in energy consumption. These approaches come with an incrementally larger initial investment in both design fees and construction cost but drastically reduce operation and maintenance costs over the building’s lifetime.

To better understand lifecycle cost, check out the video below:

Common sense and history tell us that investors who take the long view are the ones who end up on top. As designers, it is our responsibility to encourage our clients to see beyond the initial costs to gain an understanding of the true value of their investment.

CREATOR OF SOUND

We had the opportunity to sit down with internationally acclaimed recording artist Jeremy Greenspan to talk about his process as a creator of sound.

Jeremy, best known as half of the electronic pop act Junior Boys, says he became obsessed with music as a kid. Today, his creative process is still something he considers to be play.

“I’m a very equipment-based, hardware-based musician. I have a recording studio where I have a lot of gear and so for me, it’s about tinkering with a bunch of equipment, some of which I’m very familiar with or some of which I’ve just got. It’s a lot about play. It’s a lot of complete randomness – it’s literally like playing with toys.”

Strange Process is a series by dpai architecture and Mohawk College where we explore and demystify the process of how multidisciplinary artists produce their work. You can watch the full interview on Youtube. Or listen here:

Check out his band at their website juniorboys.net or on Twitter @JuniorBoys.

THE STRANGE PROCESS OF A THING MAKER

Photo by Hamilton Farmers’ Market

We are excited to share our latest podcast episode! This time we talk with Dave Hind, a local thing maker, visual artist and sculptor on his creative process and how he brings his ideas to life.

Strange Process is a series by dpai architecture and Mohawk College where we explore and demystify the process of how multidisciplinary artists produce their work.

“I’m a big fan of the process because it never follows a particularly straight line,” says Hind. Listen to the full episode to learn more about the methods of this local creator, whose collaborative and public art works can be seen around Hamilton.

Listen below or watch on YouTube
Follow Dave Hind @davehindthingmaker
Visit his website, davehind.com

VIRTUAL REALITY BRIDGING THE GAP OF EMOTIONAL CONNECTION

Max Schramp

Experiencing virtual reality (VR) was previously limited to reading books, watching television or movies, and experiencing one’s own imagination. Whether it was through the “OASIS” from Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One or directly embedded in your subconscious like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, people have been fascinated by the concept of alternate realities where anything is rendered possible.

A common trope among all examples of such environments is that these realities are generally accessed through some form of game platform. I’m willing to bet there’s a whole generation of architecture students who, when asked why they chose this their field, would respond “Minecraft.” Not only is Minecraft the world’s best-selling, with more than 176 million copies sold, it is also widely considered to be the perfect sandbox game.

“Sandbox” is synonymous with the genre “Open World”, which according to Wikipedia can be defined as “a level or game designed as nonlinear” i.e. “open areas with many ways to reach an objective.” For years Minecraft existed without any storyline or objectives, but as a virtual universe where players created their own narrative. This poses the question: How does a low-resolution world of cubes with no objective or narrative keep people of all ages immersed for years? For me, the answer is an emotional connection. Experiences with other humans in real-time that harness multiple senses are the key to compelling immersion.

Virtual Connection

Over the past year, a group of friends and I have organized three “virtual festivals” in Minecraft. Our group grew up playing hours upon hours of the game during our formative years, while concurrently pursuing careers in electronic music. As we became more established artists in the electronic scene, we realized there was a clear gap in our community: it’s financially impossible for a community of international, independent musicians and fans to meet up in the same place at the same time and perform.

Using our knowledge of Minecraft, we collectively “hacked” a version of the game that would allow us to create a music festival. We built a virtual world that involved not only stages, but an entire environment to explore. This included various sculptural works, houses, carnivals, city streets, and even an art gallery featuring visual artists from our community. We asked artists to record sets and stand on the stage, “DJ’ing” in front of the crowd of virtual characters, who listened to the audio “in real life” streamed through an external website. All our marketing material was parallel to that of real-world music festivals, the exception being that the entire event took place in a virtual world.

Most people can relate to the feeling of getting goosebumps when they witness their favourite artist live, surrounded by hundreds of people experiencing the same feeling. We successfully recreated this phenomenon within a virtual reality for the over 100,000 people who attended our events. This has many implications for the future of performance art and the integrations of architecture.

VR and Architecture

There have already been multiple derivative events, but now there is now proof that virtual experiences don’t belong strictly in art galleries. As virtual reality becomes more accessible, will architects be able to immediately integrate international communities into their work? Why couldn’t millions of people attend the largest sermon in the world, all from their own home? How would one go about designing a cathedral, a temple or a mosque, for millions of people to experience? Without the limitations of physics or budget, how would the formation of spaces change? When speculative architecture has a feasible platform to exist, will it?

Applications of virtual reality in the field of architecture are still far from their full potential. Walkthroughs with VR headsets can engage with our visual senses, but truly experiencing architecture is more than that. How can we as occupants engage emotionally with the virtual representations of the built environment? How can we as architects simulate or encourage human interaction while in a virtual world? These are questions that will push the field and the technology further, as the possibilities remain infinite within virtual space.

WHY I DON’T LOVE GLASS BLOCK

Patty Clydesdale

My colleague Petra loves glass block. Ok, full disclosure, I don’t hate it. I love glass block when it’s used in a clean façade of a building against a backdrop of white stucco, and with an interior space that’s minimal and strategic. The play of light and shadow on a clean backdrop of a wall is to be celebrated. Just watch Agatha Christie’s Poirot for glass block that is on point and in context.

It has its advantages. It’s inexpensive (kind of), it can be easy to install and it provides limited privacy. Most importantly, it lets in glorious, beautiful natural light that is refracted into an interior space through the inherent patterning of the glass. What’s not to like about that you ask?

In my opinion, these qualities do not redeem its ugliness when used out of context.

Although glass block can provide access to natural light while covering up an unsightly wall or exterior view, there are many more effective ways to do this, like installing an operable window, or a sliding or overhead door. If that is out of the question, work with your neighbour to beautify your view: paint a mural, build a community garden wall, hire a graffiti artist if you wish to celebrate an urban landscape and your neighbourhood. Chances are if you could haul away the unsightliness, you would. If you can’t, make lemonade out of lemons. But, please don’t hide away from humanity and context – embrace it.

Glass block imposes an inherent grid pattern obstructing the view and casts a gridded and mottled pattern into the interior space.  It can limit you to embrace the shadow cast as the main event. As a designer, nothing drives me crazy more than when a door or small window is removed to be filled with glass block, or worse, like when an original stained-glass window is replaced with glass block.

If I’m being honest, glass block is not the issue. The issue is in its application. Glass block has become a tragic victim that I cannot continue to blame. When it comes to glass block, and all good design, there is a need for knowledge and advocacy.

DESIGN DISRUPTION

David Premi

Rendering of a proposed streetscape by dpai.

Historically, disruption has been associated with bad behaviour; we all remember those disruptive students at school. But today it has evolved to have a different meaning. From a business or organizational perspective, “disruption” is defined as changing the traditional way that an entity operates, especially in a new and effective way.

Disruption is now ubiquitous. Profound transformations in industries such as transportation, hospitality and music continue to occur through disruptions sparked by Uber, Airbnb and Spotify. The design industry is no exception. Tradition must be challenged if a design process is to be robust. 

Creating a virtual reality

Today, designers can create functional, virtual replicas of their projects, neighbourhoods and cities. These virtual models can be navigated in 2D or visitors can be immersed in virtual reality. Bus schedules, tree species, existing built fabric, complete with materials and textures, and an accurate daily cycle of the sun’s path can be embedded into these models. Cars and pedestrians roam the streets based on actual traffic data. Soon we will be able to include dynamic computer simulated wind, air quality, and temperature data to assess the environmental impacts of a change to the built fabric.

Unlike the cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming practice of wind tunnel testing, unlimited iterations of a proposed building or park can be studied “live” with this technology. Designers can see the impacts of their design as it is in its virtual context. Through web sharing of the model, the visual and environmental impacts can be experienced dynamically by many groups of people simultaneously. Public consensus at this scale could have a profound impact on any political issues surrounding a proposal.

Disrupting traditional processes

As a public engagement tool, this technology has the capacity to seriously disrupt both the traditional development and planning processes. Imagine a proposed building, twice the height permitted by zoning, is empirically and publicly demonstrated to have only positive impacts. Conversely, what if a permitted height is shown to have unacceptable impacts, pressuring developers to reduce the density on which the economics of a development were based? Land values could be affected on a hyper-local level.

Could virtual reality hold the answer to a truly democratic and participatory urban design process?

WHAT IS URBAN DESIGN?

David Premi

Urban design is the practice of arranging the elements of a city that provide infrastructure for a healthy, lucrative and productive environment for residents. Urban design deals with built form, transportation, density, public space, architecture, landscape design, land use, public transportation, public health, recreation, sustainability, politics, public art, micro-climates, and ultimately the character and quality of the built environment. It is a holistic practice that considers the complexities and inter-relationships of all these systems.

Urban design must therefore be a collaborative effort, and must a acknowledge and embrace the context of its political, economic, environmental and cultural complexities. Many voices must be heard and included to ensure success.

Urban designers

Unlike the roles of planners, architects and engineers, urban design is a relatively new profession. The title ‘urban designer’ was coined over 25 years ago but to date, there is no professional accreditation for this role. It is a curatorial activity that considers and acknowledges the many forces that shape a city.

Good urban design

Urban design should consider the ideal quality of the human experience. It’s proactive in that it delivers a quality master plan that the individual interventions strive to satisfy while supporting a vision. Issues arise when there is an overemphasis on zoning, often creating unnatural environments based on an artificial and arbitrary set of rules that are inherently inflexible, rigid and predetermined.

For urban designers to succeed, they need to be at the table as a primary driver of vision alongside planners. They also need to make sure that when individual interventions are made, they are not in conflict with the mission and values of that vision.

Even when the best process is followed, some results will be unexpected. Such is the nature of the complex and unpredictable system, and for that, we need urban designers.