Thursday, April 17, 2014

Justice Facility as Urban Citizen

Submitted by Michael Moxam (Toronto, ON)

The new 11 Division police station in Toronto
Large or small, each addition to the urban fabric has an impact on how we perceive a city – its patterns, scale, materiality and texture. Together, these things define the public realm. Unfortunately, most urban interventions miss the responsibility and opportunity to participate in city building. How much richer can we make the urban fabric if we design buildings that meet the dual objective of satisfying client need and contributing positively to the public realm?

Let’s take a look at a justice facility as an example. How can the design of community-based justice facilities – once fortress-like and imposing – challenge the status quo and breathe new life into the communities they serve?

Law-enforcement architecture creates potent civic landmarks within our communities. A carefully designed police facility can support the public realm in the same way policing activities support community involvement. Together, the ideas of community policing and urban regeneration are completely compatible; they restore confidence in our communities through a strong positive presence.

Transparency and connection are main design
principles for the station's lobby and public spaces
We achieved that essential balance with Toronto Police Services’ 11 Division, a police station designed to become a living part of the community fabric. This week, 11 Division was recognized by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada with a Certificate of Merit in the 2014 National Urban Design Awards competition.

So, how did we achieve success with 11 Division?

The site identified for the new 11 Division included the former Carleton Village Public School in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood. The school had seen generations of local residents pass through its doors, and so was deeply embedded in the heart of the community. The challenge? How could we incorporate a 98-year-old school into a contemporary new police facility?

Community engagement was key. We worked closely with the community to develop a design strategy that would retain the iconic soul of the abandoned school while also balancing the contemporary needs of a modern police force.

In all of our consultations, members of the community told us how valuable the project was to them. So we wanted to ensure that the finished building would be open and welcoming for the community.

Michael Moxam
We maintained the oldest portion of the school, constructed in 1913, and demolished the 1960s addition to make way for the modern facility. While many people might not think of police stations as inviting, we took advantage of the school’s urban form and prominent site to develop two significant spaces for the community’s continued use: the main entrance lobby complete with exhibit space and the Community Room located in the former school library. On the exterior, extensive landscaping includes a landscaped civic plaza and a fully restored community park. Everything about the design illustrates the Toronto Police Services’ desire to be a good neighbor.

This is just one example of how justice facilities can contribute to city building. Join us at the Fairmont Winnipeg at the RAIC 2014 Festival of Architecture, Friday May 30th from 10:30 am - 12:00 pm where we will continue to explore these and other ideas that bring together design and community building.

Click for more information.

Michael Moxam is an architect and vice president based in our Toronto office.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A “SHARED” Vision Leads to Uncharted Territory

Submitted by Mike Vukman (Walnut Creek, CA)

Water provides some lessons for adapting and
taking advantage of your circumstances
Life is short. As such, I have always tried to align my personal and professional interests to better understand the complex time and space I find myself living in. As a little boy, I was always intrigued by the way water moved. Water is fluid, soft, and yielding, yet it will wear away rock, which is rigid. Naturally, I wanted to learn more about this “soft is strong” paradox. As a result, since 2002, I have been trying to further understand this through my personal (fly fishing and martial arts) and my professional (fluvial geomorphology and applied river restoration) endeavors.

On a professional level, for the past three years, I have had an invaluable opportunity to work with some of the leading river restoration practitioners in the world. Internally, as a group within Stantec, we attempt to transcend the typical boundaries that often serve as barriers (i.e., international borders, geographies, disciplines, etc.) while attempting to follow traditional growth and expansion. Within the larger engineering field, we find ourselves precariously perched on the edge of an inherent contradiction: we want to remain on the cutting edge of a newly emerging science, but we’re simultaneously working to establish engineering standards within a relatively new field. It’s a paradox similar to that of the power and resiliency of water.

With that practical awareness of the lessons water provides all of us on a daily basis, our stream restoration group has adopted what we think is a pretty unique and unconventional mindset to our work – one that we embrace as a core value. We call it our “SHARED” philosophy:

Mike and his dog, fly fishing
Share knowledge with humility.
Have patience and discernment for innovation.
Advocate for excellence.
Respect the risk and uncertainty found within river systems.
Empower, challenge, and question.
Document and learn from unexpected results.

I’ve particularly seen this philosophy come to life in our expanding work in the Oil & Gas market. To “share knowledge with humility”, one of my colleagues was helping teach a class on river restoration that included various oil and gas industry staff. Although he was solely teaching the class to “advocate for excellence” within this field, he ended up being eagerly pursued by one of the students, a pipeline integrity coordinator, to see how our group could help his company with a few of their exposed pipeline stream crossings. While discussing their current approach to streambeds and streambed erosion rates and how they impact their pipeline crossings, my colleague and I had to “have patience and discernment for innovation” as we explained how our unconventional geomorphic-based approach to their issues would greatly reduce their collective risks.

Since a geomorphic-based approach to such a complex suite of issues is not the traditional way this industry would tackle them, my colleague and I have been continually “empowering, challenging, and questioning” each step to help ourselves and our client think outside of the box and deploy the best available science to solve their issues without forgetting to “respect the risk and uncertainty found within river systems.” Throughout this entire process, I intend to “document and learn from unexpected results” so we can apply our lessons learned to our continued work with oil and gas clients. Thanks to our SHARED philosophy, we’re helping lead a revolutionary approach for addressing the risks associated with exposed pipeline stream crossings throughout North America and beyond.

Taking our lessons from water, we continue to yield and remain flexible to our circumstances. By maintaining transparency with our clients and ourselves and practicing a “SHARED” philosophy, our group will humbly remain on the cutting edge of this growing field while continuing to develop a successful business practice within Stantec. Our passion and dedication will continue to guide us into the future of this new and emerging science.

Mike Vukman is a senior environmental scientist and project manager based in Walnut Creek, CA.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Student Housing: Designing a Piece of the College Experience

Submitted by Christopher Miller (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Room layout and style has a direct effect
on the sense of student community 
To understand where higher education housing is going, you have to understand a little about where housing has been in the 21st century.

Since 2000, housing on campuses saw a boom due to an influx of students now known as the Millenials. This group is estimated to be approximately 24% larger than the Baby Boomer generation and going to college in higher numbers. Enrollment forecasts were all up and colleges rushed to have new housing available. Many colleges were not looking to increase their enrollments so instead increased their standards for acceptance. This, in turn, generated a fight for higher performing students. Residence projects were seen as a way to entice students to campus, especially higher performing ones, so new housing became a race to build the most luxurious and amenity filled places. Gone were the days of traditional dorms. Instead they were replaced by townhouses, apartments and full suites, sometimes with pools, water park features, cafes and state-of-the-art, theater-style TV lounges. In 2004, housing projects nationally were seen to be around $140 per square foot and $42,000 per bed. By 2008 when the price peaked, per square foot costs had risen to near $240 and per bed to over $70,000. Prices in the northeast and Florida were even higher.

Then the recession occurred.

Suites can be designed to accommodate different
numbers of students or styles
In the aftermath of the recession, colleges and universities saw their capital budgets tighten, and campuses reduced their fervor for new housing. Where campuses still saw a housing shortage, there was a push to go off balance sheet by having developers build housing on adjacent land. Most importantly for colleges and universities, the recession meant fewer students coming to college.

Since then, campuses have started focusing on how to raise enrollment. Some have pursued increasing foreign student admissions. Others are looking at new engagement strategies – effectively taking a business development approach by making personal connections to potential students. Housing, meanwhile, has tended to wallow since colleges and universities find it difficult to justify the expense of high-end housing to entice new students.

The newest trend in enrollment, though, has a direct effect on housing. As recently as October, the Chronicle of Higher Education featured how many schools seek ways to better engage the population they already have to retain more of those students. The demographic of classes on a typical college campus is skewed towards underclassmen and then it drops off through the sophomore to junior years. But by finding ways to keep students in school and on campus, colleges and universities can offset declines in freshman enrollment through a holistic approach in academics, student support, career development, and student life. In most of these plans, the study identified the need for a renewed focus on the campus’ housing stock to better support the academic and social growth of students.

In my early years working in housing, there were simply two terms for a housing project: underclassmen and upperclassmen. The former usually meant low-end finishes, extra-durable construction, and often little to no building character – outside or in. The latter meant full suites, apartments or townhomes with higher end finishes, buildings with a “residential scale,” and outdoor spaces designed for intimate groups or reflection. The former was treated as “just a dorm” while the latter was a residence. This system rewarded juniors and seniors but often marginalized the sophomore class. By lumping sophomores in with freshmen, campuses were under serving the class and often causing them to become disillusioned about the institution.

Chris Miller
Colleges often then take the approach to treat all students equally for housing by changing their housing stock to feature suites, singles or townhomes for any level, much like having your own room growing up. In surveys, it is what the students reported seeking when considering colleges. But this is a disservice to freshmen who often will feel isolated at the end of their first year, which contributes to the attrition rate. There is a social aspect to college that housing can serve, and by homogenizing housing stock, campuses were not serving their freshmen classes well.

Designing student housing means understanding the mix of students who will be living there and better designing for their place in the college experience. This design should support the student both academically and socially, which ultimately leads to better success in college, and fond memories of their time there long after graduation.

Chris Miller, AIA, is an architect and student housing specialist based in our Philadelphia office.