Sustainability from the ground up

Locally-inspired architecture with a global reach

This is the first of two articles featuring the work of emerging practices from across the country, whose vision of sustainability embraces holistic solutions implemented at a small scale. The work gives physical form to the emerging culture of cooperation and collaboration that is the foundation of social sustainability. Local in its inspiration, this work nonetheless illustrates the
transformative power of architecture, and plants the seeds of civic ecologies whose principles are global in scope.

By Jim Taggart, SABMag editor

Marianne Amodio Architecture Studio, Vancouver

Marianne Amodio Architecture Studio is a practice that focuses on housing alternatives that strive to create economic and social sustainability. We believe that architecture is a political act; it not only reflects our values as a culture but it creates those values. As Winston Churchill put it, ”We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us.” This is true everywhere, but we feel this strongly in Vancouver because we are in the midst of a cultural shift that is not yet reflected clearly in our urban fabric.

Our current planning and zoning policies were based on certain values, and many of them are now decades old. For the first time in a long time, a significant shift in ideology is taking place – the things that used to be important to us are no longer as meaningful and other values: such as community, cooperation and sharing have become more important. We believe that there is an exciting opportunity for this shift to be more clearly reflected in our policies and thus in our urban fabric.

Important to us also, is how architecture is innately about problem solving and about the creation of opportunity. Every project is a problem that requires a solution: we hold great faith in the power of architecture to respond creatively to any issue and to find the opportunity in each scenario. In the case of housing affordability, we see creativity as an avenue to support social sustainability.

APT 1125 West 12th Avenue
This project involved the renovation of a 12-storey micro-unit building in Vancouver, called APT. The new owners wanted to explore how to modernize this former seniors’ residence, with exceptionally small units. The challenge was to demonstrate how living in a small space can be highly desirable; that this could be a positive lifestyle choice not only in terms of affordability, but also in response to environmental and social concerns. These include the creation of community, and the consideration of what an individual really needs when living in a dense urban environment. How could we make people want to live there?

The owners understood that in order for someone to reside in a small unit, a culture of sharing would have to be created. Therefore the two lowermost storeys, comprising approximately 10,000 square feet were renovated to provide shared amenity space, including gym areas, art studios and workshops, a laundry and much-needed storage rooms. There are also TV and communal gathering spaces, ping pong tables and free wifi everywhere, as well as a private lounge and full size kitchen that can be reserved by residents. The generous outdoor gardens include a communal bbq, swimming pool and hot tub.

Marianne Amodio, Principal, Marianne Amodio Architecture Studio, and Johanna Herme, Principal, 5468796 architecture.
In the next issue [spring, 2017] of SABMag, we will feature the work of KANVA of Montreal and Acre Architects of Saint John.

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