How Architecture is Building Culture & Community

Dec 16 • Architects, VANCOUVER • 552 Views • No Comments on How Architecture is Building Culture & Community

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By Phil Roberts

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In the production of culture, architecture is simultaneously a producer and a product. This is a belief held by Mark Ritchie, principal and co-founder at Architecture Building Culture (ABC), a firm whose name promotes that belief.

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Ritchie, who runs the firm’s West Vancouver office, was born in New Zealand. Though he’s mindful of context, he still feels that he has brought certain aspects of his homeland’s architecture to Canada.

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“New Zealand is a very young country. In a way because it’s so young, New Zealanders are obliged to experiment and I think that culture of looking for new ways to solve traditional problems translates into our work.”

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Prior to relocating to Canada in 2008, Ritchie worked on a number of projects in Fiji and Australia. He’s brought a lot of Oceanian experience to Cascadia.

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“There is an outdoor way of life in New Zealand, a value system, that has over time shaped the architecture. People are very mindful of the relationship between interiors and the outdoors and simple architectural elements like courtyards, pathways and verandas are often used by architects to strengthen that relationship,” he explains.

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“In Canada similar architectural elements seem to find their way into our work, often with the same purpose in mind. For example, a courtyard, can be thought of as an outdoor interior space. It relates interior spaces that might not otherwise be connected, it mediates climate and creates a kind of oasis. Many of our projects have courtyards.”

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The importance the firm places on interior spaces is evident at the Lubavitch Center of British Columbia. A project that was about the interior, not the building itself, the architects focused on creating a new place that could connect the story of the Jewish community centre, to both British Columbia and the history of Jewish culture.

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There are two distinct programmatic blocks that separate a lounge and a reception hall. The former, is curvilinear, covered in locally sourced Douglas-fir panels, and contains the women’s washroom, one ritual hand washing basin, the entry foyer and elevators. The latter, covered in Jerusalem limestone, is rectilinear in form, and contains the men’s washroom, one ritual basin, and a kosher kitchen. Between them is a connecting space known as the gallery.

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“This project is intended to create a new environment somewhat unrelated to the building that contains it,” describes Ritchie. There is a suspended ceiling grid which at the exterior wall returns downwards towards the floor to form a screen patterned with the Star of David. “The suspended ceiling grid provides continuity between the key spaces, while the pivoting screens help to mediate the busy street beyond.”

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The Lubavitch Center was partially a pro bono project, with a portion of ABC’s fee donated to the community centre. With their Portland, Oregon office run by Brian Cavanaugh, the firm serves as that city’s Design Advocate for the 1+ program of the San Francisco-based non-profit, Public Architecture. The organization connects non-profits with architecture and design firms willing to offer 1% of their work to pro bono services. Design Advocate firms are selected in recognition of their exemplary public service, leadership in the pro bono movement, and track record of design excellence.

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Most recently, ABC completed Laura’s Place in Portland, Oregon, a supportive transitional housing facility for women who have graduated from Central City Concern’s Letty Owings Center. The communal home offers mothers who have successfully completed their treatment programs the chance to take their next step and translate new skills to everyday life.

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As one of the leading firms in the the Pacific Northwest region, ABC practices what their name stands for and serves as an example for other firms to follow.

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