Designers of the Year 2011: Ones to Watch
Rising stars from across the West in architecture, industrial design and beyond.
Richard Davignon launched his own architectural firm in 2001 with the naïve exuberance that comes from being four years out of grad school and barely into his 30s. “It’s something I look back on now and think, wow, I didn’t realize how risky it was and how much it was going to take,” he laughs. “It’s an absolute requirement that you not know.”
Yet this year’s One to Watch in Architecture wasn’t always so impulsive with his life decisions. Davignon, who was born and raised in Montreal, lost his father at 16; he soon convinced himself he needed to study in a field that would guarantee him a job once he graduated. He signed up for structural engineering—and, one year into the program, he knew he’d made a mistake.
Not one to leave something unfinished, Davignon completed the program at McGill, then headed to grad school in architecture at the University of Calgary. He met and married his wife, and put down roots in his adopted city.
But those four years as an engineering student were anything but wasted. “When we’re designing, I’m able to visualize a home like a Meccano set and see how it goes together,” he explains. “I just understand how the structural portions work.” That knowledge allows him to take more risks, cantilevering portions of a home, say, because he understands the limits and strengths of a design.
He’s developed a reputation for understanding and dealing with challenging and unappealing sites. For the residence shown here, Davignon overcame a double whammy: a flat, uninteresting site parked on a busy thoroughfare. The homeowner could only access the lot from the alley, but wanted to place the garage on the streetfront to help buffer traffic noise—meaning they would lose valuable square footage if they had to give up land for a driveway.
Davignon first tackled the problem site. “We decided that if we didn’t have an interesting site, we were going to build it,” he explains. By excavating and creating a valley, Davignon was able to design the house so that the homeowner could drive under it, through an internal courtyard and into the garage at the front of the lot. The main floor of the house, where the kitchen and living rooms are housed, is cantilevered over that interior courtyard. An adjoining bridge connects the driveway with the living space, and features a two-storey, glassed-in room for a totem pole.
Davignon credits his very urban outlook with growing up in Montreal. “When I was in Montreal, it never occurred to me to have ownership of where I lived,” he explains. “If you lived downtown, someone had lived there for 80 years, and someone will live there another 80 afterward. In Calgary, most homes are new. I always think for any of our projects—how does someone else continue with this?”
Judge Marc Boutin spotted this new urbanist tendency in Davignon, commenting, “He has a strong penchant for transforming precedents to address new conditions: urban, material, technological, cultural.” Indeed, his work on a multi-family resident project in Calgary’s Beltline neighbourhood, which took its cues from the row houses of Montreal, was heralded by the local community association as an example of how the area should be developing—a union of the strength of the old (neighbourhood connection, enduring design) with a modern bent on architectural design. “I want to merge the aesthetic with a much older way of building, what I’m used to from Montreal,” he explains. “I love looking at really old buildings, and rethinking how we would do this today.” —Anicka Quin
John Greg Ball
This Albertan is making waves: his latest project, the Subsonic chair, brings a video game’s sound waves right through the seat, via built-in 16-inch subwoofers. It’s the kind of playful design that Ball, a designer and curator, has become known for in his hometown of Calgary and across the country. Take his Hoodoo lamp, designed in partnership with Shoko Cesar. Inspired by pinnacle formations in Drumheller, Alberta, the six-foot lamp is made of layered acrylic sheeting, resulting in a glowing sculptural object. Says judge Catherine Regehr: “Its clean lines and functionality feel fresh and new.” —Vinnie Yuen
Argentinean-born Dina Gonzalez Mascaro blurs the boundaries of jewellery and sculpture. The co-owner of Vancouver’s hybrid gallery/store JewellerBau, she designs architecturally influenced rings that tidily sum up her ethos, cheekily titled “Sorry I’m not an Architect, Sorry I’m not a Jeweller.” The rings are their own miniature landscapes, three-dimensional studies in twisted metal. Judge Joe Mimran appreciated the industrial influence, commenting, “The raw feel to this work really lets the material speak for itself.” —Thom Atkinson
Furniture designer Robert Faulkner says he doesn’t believe in trying to be different. We’d argue, though, that he’s separated himself from the pack whether he meant to or not. The Edmonton-based designer, a recent graduate of the University of Alberta’s industrial design program, exudes a purist philosophy that carries through his work, from the design itself (the elegant, arcing legs of a side table, say) to the materials he selects (like the solid Eastern Birch used in the pictured Flow chair). Judge Brent Comber notes that Faulkner’s work has an honesty that communicates “his love of process and building.” Comber predicts: “We’ll no doubt see some great things from him in the months ahead.” —Kristine Sostar
In four years, the six-person Jenny Martin Design team in Victoria, B.C., has won much acclaim. We were especially impressed with their Queenswood project, which bolstered a broken-down house with a fresh take on transitional design. Martin refitted the exterior, and opened up the cramped interior to create an elegant new kitchen. A marriage of classic architectural elements and a modern approach led judge Robert Ledingham to note, “the selection of materials really complements the West Coast lifestyle.” —Thom Atkinson
Merging botanical research and urban architecture, Green Over Grey utilizes oft-neglected building exteriors, creating unique landscapes. As judge Richard Los notes, their designs are “unique in almost all regards. The exotic and diverse range of plant materials combined with functionality makes these intelligently designed projects both purposeful and pleasing.” Innovative creators Mike Weinmaster and Patrick Poiraud have transformed massive facades such as the Semiahmoo Library in Surrey, B.C., but they’ve also turned their eyes to subtler projects. As judge Jim Hole says, “What can you say about a plant-wrapped chimney? Brilliant!” —Thom Atkinson
For Nick Sully and Alec Smith of Shape Architecture in Vancouver, two things are paramount: design excellence and regenerative architecture. From a contemporary laneway house designed to work within the Victorian context of its neighbours to the creation of the Eco4Plex—an ambitious eco-density project that transformed a single-family dwelling into four livable spaces—Shape’s projects put sustainability at the forefront without compromising the execution of their design. As judge Peter Busby notes, Shape has developed a West Coast style that is “reinvented for new, dense urban contexts.” —Kristine Sostar