Architecture Designer of the Year 2016: Design-Built
For Winnipeg’s Design-Built, the line between architect and builder, designer and craftsman, is beautifully blurred.
#Designersthatbuild. That’s the hashtag that the Design-Built firm in Winnipeg uses on social media to underscore its philosophy. “We’re designers with tool belts,” says founder Clayton Salkeld. “There’s no disconnect between the ‘Design’ and ‘Built.’”
This year’s Architecture winner is a firm that prides itself on hands-on work that goes well beyond the drafting table. Much of the team’s time is spent on the job site in dusty work clothes. And in that team of 19, most have formal design education and degrees, largely as graduates from the faculty of architecture at the University of Manitoba. “We actually are the people who are pouring the piles, framing the house, building the kitchen, staircases and furniture,” says Salkeld.
This under-one-roof approach began after Salkeld, now 35, graduated with an architecture degree from the U of M in 2004 and started his career by flipping houses. It’s how he honed his design-build philosophy, as well as core principles that he attributes to working in Winnipeg: value, honesty and respect. And these principles come through, whether it’s the 5,100-square-foot, $2.8-million-construction Bower house in the tony neighbourhood of Tuxedo or the simple footprint of the Langside house in transitioning West Broadway.
“To aspire to elevate modest single-family design-build housing to the level of Japanese minimalism is a tall order in Winnipeg,” says Gregory Henriquez, judge and architect behind the Woodward’s redevelopment in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. “Clayton has built spaces of contemplation with dozens of thoughtful moments in each room. These are lucky people who get to inhabit his work.”
It’s about relevance and appropriateness, says Salkeld. And, yes, keeping it simple. “For us, a great house is built of really basic elements,” he says. “One: great design. Two: great windows. Three: great floors.” As judge and renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma says of Design-Built’s portfolio, “Simplicity of concept enhances the relation among materials and extracts maximum expression.”
One of the more striking elements in several of the Design-Built homes is the staircases. In the Langside residence, for example, the stairs went through six different iterations, an example of the firm’s organic design process—loose and pliable—and on-site responsiveness. “That staircase was completely a by-product of ‘how do I spend the least amount of money and still have something that has some impact?’” says Salkeld. In the Kildonan house, the stairs are actually another version of the Langside design. The almost impossibly thin treads are made of individual “lighting bolts” of one-inch-thick plywood sheets, added one by one to create the slim and sculptural 36-inch-wide staircase.
It’s this organic nature of detailing that’s become Design-Built’s calling card, whether it’s a doghouse (the smallest architecture project the firm’s taken on) or a dining table (Design-Built was also a finalist in the Designers of the Year Furniture category). Kuma notes Design-Built’s “constant success in referring to the intrinsic tectonic character of the details.”
“Lack of authenticity is what ages things really fast,” says Salkeld, and, regardless of scale or budget, there will never be faux or fluff in his houses. “Ideally, I want to build the crafted house, to make a house feel like it’s built by a furniture maker.” He lives in a 110-year-old home in which he revels in timeless elements like weathered wood outside and an oiled floor inside. “Nobody else gets as excited about an oiled floor like we do,” says Salkeld, “because we’re the ones who installed it and sanded it and got to walk on it in bare feet right after we finished it.”