By Phil Roberts…
Digital media has made it easier for architects like Drew Mandel to show clients examples of projects which they may use as inspiration. The extent of personal expression has reached even the mundane aspects of life, making the expectation of customization the rule rather than the exception.
According to Drew, modern architecture is no exception. “Architecture seems to have raised its profile, with sites like Pinterest, Houzz, Dezeen and other blogs.” Running his practice in Toronto for 10 years, he has seen how that city has changed, and how people’s taste have become more varied.
“Toronto has matured and turned the corner,” says Drew. This maturity, which is not unique to Toronto, comes in the form of sophisticated clients with global access to the imagery of design, not to mention the selection of cable TV shows dedicated to the topic.
“People have grown a fine interest in defining their little world,” explains Drew. Examining how people live is the way his practice tries to make special places for people to personalize. When clients use the media resources available to inform themselves with ideas of what they want, Drew has seen that it makes for great collaboration.
One client in Toronto was so impressed with the house that Drew lived in (below) that they knocked on his door to find out who his architect was. To their surprise, they had just knocked on the door of the architect who would design their house. For his own property, Drew designed a slender house that maximized light and privacy between two older residences.
These clients lived in their existing bungalow for years and were very familiar with the site, as well as the impending new development to the adjacent properties. The bungalow was demolished in favour of a modern house, accentuated by mature trees. The House at Evergreen Gardens (2006) was stretched out in one direction and built up in another so that light enters at a variety of angles. Floors were raised in some areas and lowered in others, carving up spaces into zones and creating a type of interior landscape. The result is a residence with customize and memorable spaces filled with light.
“12 Years ago, few architects were doing modern residences, so you were a pioneer doing that type of work, but now people are use to it,” explains Drew. “There weren’t as many outlets to publish as there are now, which allow you to demystify modern architecture and make it more familiar.” He’s definitely right. Digital media has made it possible for us look at projects in Australia and Spain without waiting for hardcopy publication. An architect practising on Vancouver Island can have their work seen in an instant around the world.
Drew says that the use of modernism in the design of restaurants, boutiques, hotels, and condos have made people more use to modern living, provided it doesn’t feel generic. “The battle has been won. Modern architecture is fine and acceptable. Given a special personality it works. Though being modern is not good enough anymore.”
For the new Toronto location of WANT Apothecary (2014), Drew Mandel Architects and interior designer Maria Rosa di Ioia of Idea Design, created a modern retail space with mid-19th century furniture. The façade of the two-story Rosedale building communicates the brand of WANT, giving the ensemble the ambiance and look of a classic apothecary, yet still modern.
“Modern buildings can work better in juxtaposition with older buildings,” declares Drew. For the renovation of a house in the Beaches neighbourhood of Toronto, they reinvented the bay window and front entry, giving the house a more dignified view from the street.
“Passing through your front door is a moment that you experience everyday, and therefore it should be given a special treatment.” It makes for a subtle reinvention of the house, yet still integrated with the neighbourhood.
Despite the positives which come from so many media resources on design, Drew worries that there may be drawbacks associated with too much imagery. “Looking at that many images can be overwhelming,” he admits. “After a while, images kind of blur together and you can’t remember where you saw which image.” Clients get excited about images and moments, but the project must remain legible and coherent. Every project needs to have its own unique identity.
With access to more imagery means that clients are more aware of what is possible. This is true for architecture and for products. Drew sees certain elements of a house that typically get a standard treatment, like mailboxes, as ripe for productization. “We started to do product design at the beginning of our practice. In every project we try to turn one-off items into products. However, the retail industry is a challenging world,” he admits.
“We do research and development for one off products, and try to take any ugly aspect of a house and turn it into a product.” They would like to find a way to take all the investment in one-off design time and re-use it.
From the utilitarian products that we purchase, to the spaces that we inhabit and shop, expressing personality is no longer unique. Everything and anyone is and can be a brand to be commoditized, including architecture. However, what often gets overlooked is that brands and images can lack authenticity. Though we live in a world that relies so much on images, there’s a singular piece of advice that Drew gives to his staff and clients. “The experience of a place is more important than the image of it.”
Phil Roberts is the creator of sixty7 Architecture Road.