Architect of the Year 2010: Marc Boutin
For Architect of the Year Marc Boutin, great architecture comes from many voices and one big chalkboard.
If architecture is more than a set of walls we spend our lives inside—if, at its best, it’s an idea of a better life made concrete—then our architects are designing our futures, not just our homes and offices. From the pile of entries our judges received for this year’s architecture category, one leaped out as an example of that higher purpose.
A century-old, 900-square-foot studio in Calgary is HQ for Marc Boutin’s team of nine architects and intern architects, a modest spot from which the team chose to launch a thoughtful debate on the state of architecture in the West. “The Roadshow” was a rock show of sorts: a tour bus packed with architects from across the country that made its way through the provinces, leading discussions on design as a product of this place, this time. (They slept on the bus, too.) “It’s such a problematic debate,” Boutin concedes. “Rather than name one thing that Canadian architecture looks like, we tried to map the preoccupations of our architects, we tried to map a web of influences. How interesting is a place so well-connected abroad and yet so specific to radically different landscapes across the country?”
Boutin’s intellectual enthusiasm—he teaches at the University of Calgary and had a post at the University of B.C. before that—is borne out in his design work. Our panel of judges called his submissions “innovative,” “rigorous” and “deftly understanding”—designs that judge Jeremy Sturgess said hold a “subtle and heroic relationship to site.”
What’s more, each home seemed invented with a particular family, a particular life, in mind. There’s Boutin’s Frame House—a sublimely situated geometric home on 72 acres of Invermere field and forest (a home that hums with social energy and is designed to subtly transform as the young family ages). There’s the Wrap House, too—a bold network of wooden slats designed for a single male (a compact footprint was geared up with multi-use spaces that can be altered as the client’s lifestyle evolves). And then there’s the Sims House, shown here. On an inner-city site, surrounded by conservative homes, Boutin delivered a pair of “boxes”—a lower one that’s transparent and social, and a higher one that’s cloistered and private—to accommodate different modes of family living. The lines are clean, the proportions generous, and the environment as a whole is inevitably inviting.
Boutin was loath to take our praise as an individual, though. (In fact he constantly made reference to the rest of his team.) His firm, officially titled the Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative, is just that—a collaborative environment. Nearly all of the architects he’s hired were former students of his, and everyone works holistically toward the end result. “The office becomes a horizontal model,” he explains. “A team of people carrying a project through its phases.”
One wall of the office is a massive chalkboard, where shared ideas are sketched out. Boutin himself has no office but works in the single, shared workspace. “No one is sequestered,” he explains, “which facilitates the sharing of ideas. It’s a debate within the ‘we’ and the best idea wins.”
The result of such collaborative work is the strokes of genius we see in his residential work, like the Sims House. A great home can house the grandest of architectural gifts. The Sims House, for one, is the sort of home you sigh at—wishing it was yours. You’re being challenged by the designer to live up to some larger promise. And perhaps, more importantly, you see the potential for a life well lived within its open, optimistic rooms.