Tag Archives: architects


Building New Communities how architects support city builders

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Building New Communities how architects support city builders

With the lack of affordable housing dominating the headlines, there’s a renewed awareness, focus and energy to address this urgent issue. Everyone agrees that we want cities where people of all ages, stages and income levels can live. The bigger question is how can we as architects support city builders and developers to collectively achieve this?

The answer is not just in building new housing, but rather, the right type of housing. Somewhere between the two extremes of detached single family homes (which take up large footprints in our growing cities) and highrise multi-residential towers, (which may lack community spaces and amenities desired by families) is the need for a new housing type. The solution lies in filling in urban spaces with missing middle housing.

I’ve long advocated for the need to build more missing middle housing. Cities need thoughtful architectural design solutions that use land and space efficiently. We must create dense, transit-oriented, pedestrian- friendly, complete communities for a range of people and families across the income spectrum. The opportunities are endless for this new approach to development, not only in established neighbourhoods but in former industrial sites, surplus schools and underused shopping malls near transit.

Building for the missing middle means building medium-density, low-impact buildings designed in sync with the needs of the local community. Think small apartment blocks, stacked townhouses, multiplexes, courtyard apartments and other building types ranging from three to six storeys, with proximity to parks, greenspaces, schools and various commercial and community amenities.

It’s encouraging that we’re seeing more examples of these projects across the GTA and Ontario. I’m proud that our firm has helped realize many of them. A recent project we undertook for Mattamy Homes in northeast Markham illustrates how missing middle development is possible.

Our vision for Cornell Centre was to create a sense of place where none existed before. Formerly, the site was used for agriculture. Our challenge was to create a memorable place for residents and visitors that met the client’s financial goals, local planning guidelines and reflected the latest in urban design principles.

With the first phase scheduled for completion in Q1 of 2019, residents and visitors will greeted by a strong corner marker – it will serve as an indoor/outdoor amenity and gathering space for residents, while creating an appealing gateway to the Village of Cornell in Markham. Set over 1.5 acres, the site features 135 units in a six-storey condominium and 10 3.5-storey townhomes. An additional 107 units and six townhomes are planned to be built in the second phase. The condominiums feature ground floor commercial units that blend into the overall design.

A focal point for the community, Cornell Centre serves as an entry to the lowrise townhouse community immediately north and east of the site, while addressing the urban scale of Bur Oak and its connections to contemporary community buildings such as Markham Stouffville Hospital and the Cornell Community Centre and Library. The development’s highly desirable location fosters new opportunities for employees that can now reside in walking distance to work.

Sustainability and active transportation initiatives

Sustainability is always top of mind at Q4A, so we integrated recycled and renewable source materials wherever possible. We incorporated inexpensive, wood frame construction made of renewable organic building materials. The mechanical and electrical systems are 15 per cent more efficient than OBC requirements. Water efficient fixtures reduce water consumption by 30 per cent. Overall, the project meets LEED standards and exceeds Ontario Building Code requirements.

By connecting residents to transportation and open green spaces, we’re enabling and encouraging wider pedestrian use for walkers, runners and cyclists. Fifty per cent of the site’s landscaped areas feature native plantings.

The community is already receiving accolades, with Money Sense recently ranking Cornell Centre as one of the GTA’s top 25 neighbourhoods for affordability. At Q4 Architects, we believe that building more midrise homes and communities is one of the most positive ways to future-proof our cities. If communities embrace missing middle housing typologies, we can cater to diverse demographics by creating and transforming neighbourhoods into vibrant, livable and complete communities.

Frances Martin-Digiuseppe is Founder and Principal, Q4 Architects Inc. Q4Architects.com


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THE ARCHITECT: Design should pay tribute to location

THE ARCHITECT: Design should pay tribute to location

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THE ARCHITECT: Design should pay tribute to location

by Adrian Mauro
Chamberlain Architect Services

When it comes to designing buildings, architects need to balance numerous considerations, as well as the client’s vision and budget.

When it comes to designing buildings, architects need to balance numerous considerations such as form, function, aesthetics, site conditions and government requirements, as well as the client’s vision and budget.

When residences are built on the Ontario waterfront, conservation and environmental authorities take on enhanced roles in controlling the design and site works of the project. An example is Stone & South on the River in Gananoque, CaraCo Development’s community of residences on the St. Lawrence River.

These lovely homes are ideal for water lovers, so maximizing views of and access to the river were of paramount importance to the design.

As for aesthetics, CaraCo wanted to pay tribute to the area’s historical context, which includes the Thousand Islands Playhouse next door to the site. For this condominium to fit in seamlessly with its surroundings, we used brick and stone in complimentary colours such as terra cotta, taupe, brown and other earth tones. We call it quasi-transitional, with large windows, some with arched tops, numerous mullion treatments and a sloped roof. The look is more classic than contemporary, which speaks to the area’s existing architectural style.

An attractive component of this development is that the setback from the water opens up an extensive outdoor space where residents can walk their dogs, enjoy the views, or stroll to the marina. There is a public waterfront walkway that connects to the Town of Gananoque’s walking trails as well. Other features of the Stone & South include a grand lobby, an inviting social room with a kitchen, a fitness centre and ample parking.

Having obtained this unique waterfront locale, it all began with CaraCo’s vision of the kind of residences they want to provide for their clients. Our job as their architect was to translate that vision into a beautiful reality.

Adrian Mauro is president of Chamberlain Architect Services.


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Design/Build Expert: Custom Home Collaborations

Design/Build Expert: Custom Home Collaborations

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Design/Build Expert: Custom Home Collaborations

by Brendan Charters
photography: Valerie Wilcox (exteriors), Peter Sellar (interiors)

An architect, designer and builder outline how to create project synergies

Embarking on the design and development of a new home is a big decision. It requires a clear outline of goals, the assembly of specialists, the management of egos, budgets and a pinch of added stress. Some experience greater success at it than others. To help guide those looking to undertake a custom home project of their own, we talked with the architect, Brad Abbott, Abbott Design Ltd, designer, Meghan Carter, Meghan Carter Design, and the project manager, Jim Cunningham, Eurodale Developments on a recent project we collaborated with. By connecting, we gain insight on how they help guide their clients to create both a beautiful finished project, and a smooth process, all while working together. Sounds impossible, right? It’s really not.


Firstly, what makes the perfect custom home client for you? (i.e. style preference, personal character type, or other significant detail)

Architect Brad: A variety of tastes and styles is fine. Ideally the client has trust in the ideas and expertise of the architect and and allows freedom of creativity.

Designer Meghan: Our ideal client seeks to follow the design intent for creating a seamless esthetic, versus a choppy and piecemeal one often found through design on-the-fly type projects.

Builder Jim: The client is someone that understands challenges arise during any project. Nothing is seamless, you need to break an egg to make an omelette…so to speak. There has to be trust as you are working on their behalf at all times. Most importantly, respect and value for our role in the process.

Do you prefer to have the architect, designer and builder involved along all steps of the process, or just in their defined segment?

Architect Brad: The architect is integral to the overall design of the space, including the interior, such as: trim and door packages, post and beams and the overall structure. Continuity between the exterior and the interior can be critical. Involving the interior designer and builder early ensures a shared vision, as well as cost implications for the owners to use in their approval of the design direction. If possible, involve all parties at key design and budgeting milestones in advance of the build.

Designer Meghan: The clients need to understand the roles of each party and use them accordingly to obtain ultimate value. With increased collaboration throughout come the best ideas and the smoothest process from design to execution. If the architect is not doing the interiors, the interior designer should be involved at the first design stage to ensure details (such as window placements) work with furniture placement and flow on the inside.

Builder Jim: The involvement of all three is key when something is identified, which will not allow for the execution of the original design intent. While we do not require our hands held, we understand our role in the process is to execute the vision, and if it’s not possible, we are not tasked to design the solution—though we surely will make suggestions, the architect or designer will need to be the one to recommend and design the ultimate change for the homeowner to approve.

Introducing each other – when is it appropriate?

Architect Brad: If retained first, we prefer to do high-level budgets upon creation of floorplans and elevations. We recommend contacting two to three design-build firms for a meet-and-greet and reputation review. This review includes historically guided budgets, not trade/ supplier firmed pricing. It can help guide final designs and set the relationship path.

Designer Meghan: In years past, people would hire the builder first, then reach for the designer. This has now flipped, for the better. Once floorplans are about 85 per cent complete, a lighting plan and scopedocument has been created, we then look for one to two contractors to ballpark. They can then scale back, if needed, while it is still relatively cheap to design.

Builder Jim: As early in the process as possible, so that everyone can understand the goal from a space, style and budget perspective, as well as help the owners create a list of their priorities, which will govern how we allocate their budget throughout the project. It also helps build the team relationship approach if everyone starts from the first phase.

What to do when issues arise vs. that which is planned for?

Architect Brad: Don’t cut the architect and/or designer out of the conversation, just because they aren’t on site that day. A misguided or misdirected solution to a perceived problem can horribly impact the overall design. Keeping all involved can avoid diluted projects and relationships.

Designer Meghan: Start the build off with a project walk with all team members to try and flush these out at the get-go. Failing that, continue that method in the spirit of collaboration to ensure continuity of ideas and process for the benefit of the homeowner and the project!

Builder Jim: I would personally call the architect and ask them how they would like to handle the situation. Sometimes this can be flushed out by phone. Failing that, I would call an on-site meeting. If the client is unable to attend, I would brief them on the meeting and get their final approval on decisions before making the change, and document it.

Architect Brad, you work about 50 per cent in the city and 50 per cent in cottage country in Collingwood— what are the differences for you?

AB: In the country, clients tend to be slightly older, more experienced and are often moving out of the city. Typically, my country clients are better heeled and are more relaxed, having undertaken a few renos in the past. City homes offer unique challenges, such as this site with tight confines, whereas more rural settings provide ample views, along with more siting process to capitalize on topography, prevailing winds and lake views.

Designer Meghan, you acted as designer here, but you also undertake permit drawings and some project management duties for clients—how does this process differ for you?

DM: We know to enter with a low ego when working in collaboration as everyone at the table is skilled at what they do, hence their reputation and why they were retained. When we run from start to finish for the client, the project has more of a singular vision—our vision— which can make things easier but can also be limiting. When working as a group versus working independently, a clear outline of roles, responsibilities and deliverables of each member is a necessity to avoid overlap or conflict between professionals, which confuse clients.

Builder Jim, you acted as the project manager on this build, but your firm also undertakes an in-house Design-Build approach to projects—how does this process differ for you?

BJ: Our design process is more function-based in nature. Working with an architect and interior designer provides another level of design, which raises the profile of the project. It also tends to remove some of the copycat DIY design direction that is so prevalent in the industry. It’s not the right solution for everyone, however, and the Design-Build method works very well to help people undertake their dreams of expanding, updating or recreating their space to suit their tastes or needs. About 75 per cent of what we build is designed in-house, but we love building interesting and challenging projects designed by other professionals, too.

Brendan Charters is Partner at Toronto Design-Build Firm Eurodale Developments Inc. – 2017 OHBA Renovator of the Year.



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Communicating with Contractors and Suppliers

Communicating with Contractors and Suppliers

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Communicating with Contractors and Suppliers

by Samantha Sannella

The first step in any good partnership is to select at least three contractors/suppliers who can meet your requirements based on several criteria, including:

  • They should have relevant experience and expertise in what you are trying to accomplish so look for a portfolio of projects. Good vendors can provide photos and reference letters. Also check to see if they are licensed and insured and if they use certified products and installation methodologies.
  • They should have a process in place that you can understand and follow. If you are unfamiliar with their technical terms, ask them to explain or use the power of the internet to educate yourself.
  • They should be able to provide references for successful projects that are similar to your own. Keep in mind that it is nice to hear good things about the contractor, but always ask where mistakes were made and how they rectified them. How your vendor resolves issues is an important part of the relationship. Customer service is key.
  • The lowest price isn’t necessarily the one that you should choose. Consider a cost benefit analysis to weigh the cost of the project against the potential quality outcome. My motto is, “The bitter taste of poor quality remains much longer than the sweet taste of a low price.”

Define the Commitments

You should receive a project plan that defines the scope, estimate and schedule for their work. You also need to come to a mutual agreement as to what each side will deliver to the other. You will increase your project’s chance of success by defining your commitments and the contractor’s commitments.

Ask for a written estimate of all materials and labour up front before any agreement is in place. This should be delineated by phase. For example, I have seen many estimates where the contractor or vendor quotes a lump sum for the bottom line without providing the details. If a contractor cannot provide details in a written format, you are increasing your risk that something will go awry.

Maintain Consistent Communication

Do not get caught waiting for a “magical result” several weeks or months in the future. Instead, actively communicate and work with your contractor through reports and inspections of the work completed.

To manage the contractor, you need to maintain contact with them. Demand regular status reports or meetings that describe their accomplishments to date, what work is still in progress, and what has not been started. These should be measured in work hours, days or weeks, something that you can convert into a dollar amount. Do not accept percentages as units of measurement. A project can be 90 per cent done for months or even years. I know many people who have jobs that stopped at 90 percent.

Final Inspection

Final inspection is an important part of the job. When negotiating the contract, always hold back 10 or 15 per cent of the total cost until the job is 100 per cent complete. This will provide incentive for the vendor to finish all the work in a manner satisfactory to the owner.

Professional architects and interior designers inspect the contractor’s work in a formal process called a deficiency list or punch list and are responsible for approving invoices to the clients as work progresses. It’s a tedious but useful process as you make a list of all deficiencies — it requires a keen visual inspection to note even the smallest details, such as a crooked light switch plate on a northwest wall, or the lack of caulking at the corner of a sink.

Your goal should be to obtain the best possible quality construction for the most reasonable price. At the completion of a satisfactory job, you should offer the vendor the ability to photograph the work as well as offer them a letter of reference for their file.

SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes.

She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for RENO & DECOR and editor of the Ontario Design Trade Sourcebook.



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