Jack Kobayashi of Whitehorse-based Kobayashi + Zedda Architects Ltd on working with First Nations communities and how Yukon’s changing demographics are influencing the architecture of the territory.
1. Describe the importance of working with First Nations communities.
Our work with First Nations organizations has been very rewarding. The First Nations people in the north were nomadic. They moved around from season to season and life was difficult. Because of this, there are no permanent settlements or archetypal structures. There is no tangible architectural history. This is both a loss and an opportunity.
While it would be nice to have some historical building blocks, First Nations people are also not bound or burdened by tradition or style. They are free to be inventive and creative with their building designs.
2. Describe how you use the Baked Café and Bakery as a testing ground for your firm’s new ideas.
We own a café and bakery one floor below our architectural office. We are proud to say that it has become a social hub in our small town or what Ray Oldenburg referred to as a ‘Third Place’ for many people.
The Café has become a testing ground for ideas but not in an avant garde sense. Owning our own food and beverage establishment has taught us a lot about work flow, process, durability of finishes, equipment maintenance, energy efficient lighting, point of sale systems and many other aspects. Above all else, the Café has allowed us to connect with the community in a way that is nearly impossible for an architect sitting at a CAD workstation. I work an average of 6-8 hours a week in the Café. At least 3 of those are spent pulling espresso shots. All of our architecture students are required to work part-time in the Café as part of their work experience. We want to instill a hands-on, community-based approach to design. We are able to do this, in part, through their work experience at the Café.
3. Your correctional projects purposely counterbalance the many gloomy prisons which exist in Canada, and around the world. Explain this.
We are not experts in corrections projects. We typically act as a design sub-consultant to DGBK Architects from Vancouver. We have learned a lot from them.
More than any other facility, correctional facilities must be properly programed. The client team must be on the same ideological wavelength. In many correctional projects, the social scientists often conceptualize the project as an open custody ‘Club Med’ type environment only to see the design evolve into Fort Knox as it works its way through the system – typically ending with correctional officers.
Corrections design has seen huge advances in design due to technology. Like gothic churches that were able to create magnificent glazed openings after the advent of the flying buttress, modern prisons have been unencumbered by electronic hardware. Gun turrets have been replaced by CCTV. Guards have been replaced by sensors. Guns have been replaced by wearable alarms. Prison work gangs have been replaced by prison programing.
It’s a lot easier now to make a prison appear like a conventional building, as long as issues of security are agreed to up front.
4. How are Yukon’s changing demographics influencing how architecture in the territory is evolving?
The population is increasing. The influx is bringing immigrants from the Middle East, the Philippines and elsewhere. Whitehorse is becoming more urban, more cosmopolitan. The downtown core is losing its rustic edge but still retains a small town, northern vibe.