By Phil Roberts…
Piers Cunnington knows the value of transferable skills. The former IT business analyst turned architect is finding joy creating tangible solutions. Piers, along with Clinton Cuddington, are partners of Measured Architecture, a Vancouver-based practice that sees itself as a master collaborator. Clinton began the practice in 2007 and Piers came on board in 2009. Piers, an urbanite from the east coast. Clinton, a Prairie kid originally from Saskatchewan – Growing a practice that cherishes the cross pollination of disciplines.
As Piers says, getting the overall scope of the business of a client and delivering real results is what he enjoys about being an architect. “I love the process of design. We love to ask questions of our clients, consultants and collaborators. The parameters emerge from their answers. We synthesize those parameters into a cohesive design.”
After 4 years in the IT industry working on back-office systems for several companies, and frustrated by not producing anything physical, Piers went into architecture. At the time, his wife was studying a masters in fine arts and had friends who had left architecture for other professions. Though such discouraging anecdotes didn’t discourage Piers.
“Solving problems in IT requires an incredibly synthetic process like in architecture. I loved the fact that I could use the similar process to listen and analyse people’s responses. Then synthesize all that data to produce a physical product. My IT work gave me the paradigm to undertake an architectural career.”
Clinton appreciates the different perspective that Piers brings to the practice and sees people making the jump from other professions as improving the quality of architecture. In the past, architects tended to fall in love with their designs, but in today’s profession architects have to be able to understand both the needs of their clients and the practice.
“A good architect is a generalist who knows enough to lead a team, but not enough that you can eclipse the team around you,” says Clinton. “We explain how we will do it with our clients, instead of how we will do it to them. Piers is much better than anyone I have worked with separating the emotion of the design from the needs of the client.”
The main adjustment Piers had to make when starting his architectural career was getting use to the long term thinking that architecture requires. “One of the things that I struggle with is that in IT I had to create something in 15 minutes intervals. In architecture, you need time to think laterally about a project.”
Bruce Haden at DIALOG, Piers’ mentor, gave him some advice that he has found tremendously helpful for his transition. “Find out what is important to your clients and protect it. If you protect what is important to them they will give you the leeway on things that are important to you.”
Clinton and Piers try to build similar working relationships with the subtrades who build their projects. “We’re deeply invested in collaboration,” describes Clinton. “We see a lot of value in spending time with the subtrades. We asked them how they see how things will get built.” Quite often workers get overlooked as stakeholders in a project, but performing a job well done is a point of pride for everyone involved, not just those with the capital and the big ideas. “We ask the subtrades what would you do at your house,” explains Piers.
“A successful project is one in which no one individual could have imagined the outcome at the beginning of the project,” says Piers, a principle he learned from Brigitte Shim and Howard Sutcliffe when he worked at their practice in Toronto. “When one is myopic you can lose sight of how others can help you out of your problem set,” concurs Clinton.
According to Clinton, neglecting the bigger picture has been a problem for too long in Vancouver when it comes to residential development.
“In the past, when people talked about building real estate, the design would only focus on how to get money back on resale. If people are simply looking to get money back, you create deprived environments. Vancouver suffers from that.”
For many of their residential projects, they try to go beyond achieving the resale desires of their clients by encouraging them to think about the community as a whole. It’s about houses that create a long lasting sense of place for the client and the community, that as Clinton says “ages and patinas well.” Houses that use materials specific to Vancouver and that provide a connection with the natural landscape is critical to the design. Something that gets lost in the sea of glass condo towers.
“One of the things that we always look for are natural materials that have variation,” explains Piers. “They create spaces where your eye has someplace to rest. Spaces can become stark if everything is too slick. It’s about an interplay of texture and smooth. Stone and concrete imbued with a texture to create a sticky space where you will want to stay.”
Clients have become very savvy in recent years, especially with the conversations surrounding laneway houses, green roofs, water retention systems, and smaller carbon footprints. They are buying into the need to be part of the broader community. As a practice, leaving a legacy for the community is the ultimate achievement.
“A lot of good work is going on with community centres in the Lower Mainland,” says Clinton. “They use to just be halls, but now they have daycare centres, kitchens, pools and other amenities. They have become places for communities to come together and engage.”
The perspectives may be different, and the experiences may be varying, but there has been a collective awakening to larger, more inclusive opportunities, to make where we live better places to live. Regardless of our differences, it’s what we all want.