By Phil Roberts…
For some people, planning to build a project can seem daunting, especially if they are inexperienced in the vagaries and complexity of construction. Arno Matis Architecture (AMA) in Vancouver is a firm that focuses on that niche group of clientele. These clients typically start the process with AMA and they take them through the critical early stages, locating appropriate sites and providing feasibility studies for various concept schemes.
Often at the beginning of a project, clients can become overwhelmed with the abundance of information to absorb. “We don’t typically work for developers,” says Principal Arno Matis, “Our clients are experienced and successful investors that are looking for specific development expertise.”
To meet the unique requirements of each client and project, AMA is exploring new technologies and new applications to address the requirements of demanding new sustainability standards. For example, working in tandem with industry manufacturers, AMA is researching and developing a geopolymer concrete as a building envelope for their Cliff House project in West Vancouver. Geopolymer concrete is considered to be a truly “green” concrete, since it uses no cement. The house appears to float on a pool of moving water which acts as a foil to dampen the sound of the traffic. It’s an acoustic, and perhaps aquatic, design strategy that Matis works above everyday in AMA’s offices which just happen to be located in the Waterfall Building designed by Arthur Erickson.
Matis is very connected to his city. Officially connected. This year, he sits on the City of Vancouver Urban Design Panel a position which is very meaningful to him. “It’s important for architects to be involved with the city that they work in. The deeper you go, the more the learning opportunities. It opens your eyes to the broader context and goals of the city.”
A project where AMA is exploring the possibilities of that broader context is a residential campus known as the Aperture Building in the Cambie Corridor area of the city. “This project will be the next generation of urban planning and design in Vancouver,” proclaims Matis. Downtown Vancouver has successfully built high-rise residential density in the core, but Aperture will attempt to introduce mid-rise density in a low-rise neighbourhood. As a way to make this project more acceptable in terms of scale, they have broken up the massing of the building, creating apertures between them.
AMA’s office is non-hierarchical in the way that work gets done. Matis enjoys working in an office where there are no layers of separation, spatially or socially, between himself and the rest of his staff. “We all take turns building models and sketching. We even encourage consultants to drop in and chat with the staff as a way to grow our relationship beyond weekly coordination meetings.”
Fostering healthy working relationships with consultants is in a way the firm’s response to the fragmentation of specialties in the construction industry, something that must be bemusing to their clients. Acoustic specialists, lighting consultants and architects who only design facades are some areas that come to mind. “There is an ever-increasing plethora of specialized consultants and fragmentation is resulting in inefficiencies. A lot of these consultants are working in separate offices with their own staff, and it all adds to the cost of a project for the client. Integrated design delivery is a response to this. ” AMA takes on additional scopes of work which over the years have been fragmented off from architects to consultants, and brings them into their office to provide better, more holistic service to their clients.
Improving the client experience also comes by not letting 3D software usurp the human element of design, one of the reasons model building and sketching is encouraged for all staff. “With digital media, it is so quick that there tends to arise a flatness in the work and it can become generic. An architect can use the same architectural language in different cities around the world without paying attention to context.”
However, it goes deeper than city to city, as Matis says. “Our projects don’t all look the same. They’re not in the same parts of the city. Neighbourhoods are different. They have different characteristics and histories.”
Phil Roberts is the creative director of sixty7 Architecture Road.