How nARCHITECTS Adds Variables To Make Projects Pop

Aug 25 • Architects, Best of 2015, CALGARY • 1353 Views • No Comments on How nARCHITECTS Adds Variables To Make Projects Pop

By Phil Roberts

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In any work of architecture, existing variables and conditions inform the resultant design. What if an architect wanted to explore a design even further by purposely adding their own variables to the mix? For New York-based nARCHITECTS, imposing extra conditions on a design to optimize its potential isn’t just an academic exercise in a studio, but part of the way they practice.

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For the firm’s M2 project in Calgary, a mixed-use 4-storey building on the banks of the Bow River, they’re dealing with a small lot and a mandate to reduce shadows. Set in the city’s emerging East Village, M2 is nARCHITECTS first project in Canada scheduled to open in 2017.

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“Most of the design decisions stem from the strange size of an almost unbuildable lot and a strict shadow envelope – a requirement to not project shadows a certain distance from the Bow River to the north of our site,” explains co-founding principal, Eric Bunge. “That triangle in section (taken on the day with the longest shadows), overlaid on the triangular lot, results in a strange form. Our task was then to optimize the buildable area, with the smallest bag of tricks.”

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The final design is a building that leans away from the river while communicating a stark, yet approachable disposition to Confluence Way. Due to the angle of the building’s form and its volumetric constraints, the street façade was in danger of becoming a mostly blind wall with arbitrary fenestration. Instead, they used M2’s architectural expression to add another variable. “We solve this with large triangular windows that kind of relate to the geometry of the zig-zagging terraces in plan,” explains Bunge.

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Facing the Bow River, M2 will be public, with three out of the four storeys as triangular rooftop areas. The idea is to draw evening strollers along the RiverWalk™ towards the building, making it a focal point in the area.

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“We hope the tenants will have big parties and events since in actual fact it wasn’t possible to create public terraces, given the program of offices and a residence above. But we hope it might feel like being on the decks of a ship, and conversely, activate the river walk below.”

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The setbacks gave the firm numerous opportunities to explore the programmatic issue of natural light entering interior spaces by adding another variable. “We have introduced a series of long horizontal windows at various heights that establish varying relationships between inside and outside,” describes Bunge. They didn’t want smaller windows which would provide poor quality natural light, but wanted to take advantage of the angles at work. Bunge describes the design decision for this in full detail. “We hit upon this approach when debating the merits of all curtain wall or all punctured windows. Since we needed to limit the percentage of openings for code reasons, we ruled out all curtain wall. We did consider curtain wall on some facades, but in the place it would end up too fragmented for liking, given various constraints at the core. And on the other hand, there’s just too much generic glass in the East Village! Plus with our challenging budget it would never look good.”

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The hope for M2 is that it can evolve over time with Calgary’s East Village and be known as one of the first buildings in that area. A place where residents can enjoy a drink outside on a humid summer evening, with a cool breeze coming off the river.

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