Category Archives: architecture

A Home, A Stage for Telling Tales

The latest issue of Wallpaper* looks at prime lumber retreats across three continents. I got to write about a suburban retreat in Canada’s Atlantic province of New Brunswick. The December 2017 article is copied here. (Photos by Julian Parkinson)

Nestled in a wooded lot, this new home by Acre Architects brings a contemporary edge to the suburbs of Saint John, New Brunswick. The conservative maritime setting has few contemporary design precedents, allowing the locally-based firm the freedom to explore new directions. Driven to design structures that ‘inspire people to live great stories’, partners Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp worked with the homeowners, a young, growing, musically inclined family of five who most value social interaction and connecting with the outdoors, to create a house that would best reflect their personality and lifestyle.

The house is clad in silvery cedar shingles that recall the local vernacular, but with a distinct cubic form and tapered roof that set it apart from the town’s Victorian context. It is linked by a wood trellis to a garage, whose discreet rooftop terrace provides 360˚views of the treeline. Floor-to-ceiling glazing along the building’s southern elevation extends the open living/dining/kitchen area to the outdoors. Sight lines in, out and throughout the home allow parents and children to stay connected.

A raised area, which can be used as a stage for impromptu performances, is capped by a dramatic lightwell rising the full height of the house. Spaces expand and contract as occupants move across the 11ft-high living areas and then up into the private quarters. Tucked behind a wall, the stairwell’s slow gradient transitions from dark oak floors up to white maple. Sunlight cascades through the well, bouncing across the white surfaces, changing by day and by season.

The material palette is restrained. Local artisans have been commissioned to create pieces such as the steel handrail and glazed clay kitchen tiles, but there are also playful, unexpected notes, such as a concealed door revealing Superman-blue painted stairs leading down to the playroom.

Acre Architects featured in Wallpaper’s* Architects’ Directory 2016. Its growing portfolio of awards confirms that small projects can have great impact. This space takes on the family’s identity: playful and social while acknowledging local rootedness and tradition. The unconventional, unconstrained floor plan choreographs the life the family wants to live. Of its ‘storied architecture’, ‘the house finds a way not to blend in, but to pay homage to what is there and move forward, to think about the future of architecture for families,’ says Adair.

Photos by Julian Parkinson.

Topography, gravity and a Corten-clad design by Tom Kundig at an award-winning new winery

My debut in Wallpaper* features a remarkable new gravity-flow winery in British Columbia. The July 2017 article is copied here.

Tucked into a steep hillside in Kelowna, British Columbia, is the striking glass, steel and concrete structure of Martin’s Lane Winery, the producer of award-winning Pinot Noir and Riesling wines that draw discerning enthusiasts worldwide. A ‘gravityflow’ winery (designed on different levels to allow wine to flow, rather than be pumped, from one stage of the production process to the next, gently extracting colour, flavour and tannin from the grape skins), the project is testament to proprietor Anthony von Mandl’s commitment to the local Okanagan region, hailed as the next Napa Valley.

Martin’s Lane is von Mandl’s latest venture with architect Tom Kundig of Seattle practice Olson Kundig. The pair’s first collaboration delivered the nearby Mission Hill Winery, which opened some 20 years ago and was instrumental in putting the region on the vinicultural map. The pair have established a trust and understanding, allowing Kundig the freedom to come with the adventurous design of Martin’s Lane. The new building is a showcase for agility, quality, and craftsmanship. Kundig’s inspired initial sketch, penned in February 2014, was immediately green-lit and led to fast-track production schedule. The winery’s inaugural vintage – a 2014 Pinot Noir, awarded an unprecedented (for a debut) 97 points by leading wine expert Steven Spurrier – was produced while the building was still under construction.

Completed in summer 2016, the understated building veers from Mission Hill’s imposing, monastic scale with a more internalised, rational approach. It reads as a simple rectangular form split between a large production area, which follows the contours of the sloping site, and a smaller visitor area, which follows the horizon and overhangs the vineyard. The seam between the two areas is filled with clerestory windows that draw daylight into the layered interior. ‘There’s a real push and pull to how the winemaker sees this building functioning, the type of wine and style it is making, and how it fits into the slope,’ says Kundig of the need to strike a balance between the design intent, functional requirements, and environmental fit.

Designed as a series of tiers, Martin’s Lane tells the story of the gravity-flow winemaking process. The production stages step down the hillside, with grape-receiving and crushing areas at the top; fermentation and settling rooms; the bottling room; and finally, the barrel storage area, encased within the hillside. The earth provides ideal, stable temperatures and humidity without the need for conventional heating or cooling systems. The gravity-flow method is ideal for less forgiving, thin-skinned grapes. It is also inherently efficient: from grape to bottle in five movements, eschewing pumps and added yeasts in order to capture the absolute natural expression of the terroir. While gravity does the work, innovative technologies bring flexibility. Most of the tanks can be moved and replaced as needs change, and each can be monitored remotely.

Visitors enter the winery through a tunnel and then emerge into a naturally lit hall. The building, like the wine, doesn’t give away everything at once. Little surprises and new experiences greet you as you round a corner, follow an underground passage or a raised pathway, or simply open a door. Descend into a rough board-formed concrete barrel-cellar for an immersive sensory experience. Survey the vast cellar from a glass-enclosed private tasting room. Delve deeper into the earth towards an events space with a floor of exquisite glass mosaic tiles. A freestanding spiral staircase, designed following the Fibonacci sequence to mimic vine growth, leads back to the surface. Here, one is offered glimpses inwards back into the production area, and outwards onto a cantilevered deck with views of the valley and Okanagan Lake.

Building materials are both tough and flexible. The armature is obsidian-painted structural steel. The skin and roofing is a corrugated, weathering Corten – a nod to the area’s agricultural heritage. Sustainability is driven by the desire for authenticity and simplicity. Not only does Martin’s Lane minimise energy consumption by using the earth as a heat sink, its topographical placement and orientation helps funnel cool lake air through the building, providing natural ventilation. Completing the earth, wind, water trinity, rain collected on the split roof is diverted to an organic garden and animal habitat down the hill.

Kundig is a nimble architect who appears unconstrained by ego, able to work effortlessly with numerous collaborators. He and von Mandl worked hard to assemble a team of local artisans and international designers. A local racecar builder contributed to the engineering of a 33ft sliding window, which is operated by a chain-driven handwheel. Catalan architect Antoni Puig fashioned sets of motorised 1,200lb doors that incorporate a fold echoing the seam through the building. The massive doors open silently and gently, while their blackened steel surface recalls a devastating fire that still scars the nearby trees.

Ultimately, the building is an expression of von Mandl’s exacting standards and dedication to the Okanagan soil. It is also a study in contrast and collaboration. Its compressed design schedule seems at odds with the staid, centuries-old gravity process. Yet Kundig’s design has an air and poise that ensures visitors’ senses are appropriately focused on the wine. The structure impressed onto the striking hillside does not impose. Its edited architecture slowly reveals itself, and allows interpretation and discovery. ‘Like wine, the more nuance you can build into a building the more you can appreciate it over time,’ says Kundig.

As originally featured in the July 2017 issue of Wallpaper* (W*220).         Photos by Nic Lehoux.

Fogo Island, Newfoundland


I made my way to Fogo Island off the North coast of Newfoundland in Atlantic Canada this summer (celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow just beat me to it); here are some of my thoughts and photos from the trip.

This small Canadian island of 2,500 inhabitants is creating quite a stir the past few years. And much of the hoopla is around this stunning structure, built partly on stilts. The Fogo Island Inn was designed by Newfoundland-born, Norway-based architect Todd Saunders. The five-star, 29-room, luxury ‘journey’s end’ has generated lots of jobs for locals and garnered international attention. It features a rooftop spa, library, high-end personal service, and luxe décor based on local traditions. Two words: book early.


Behind a growing initiative to make Fogo a geotourism destination is Zita Cobb, a dot-com entrepreneur who retired early after making her fortune abroad and for the last decade has been dedicated to helping rebuild the island she left when she was 16. To encourage people to stay, she established the Shorefast Foundation – an organization committed to preserving the Islanders’ traditions and aims at rejuvenating the Island through the arts and culture.

Cobb is the client behind the now world-famous inn and a series of six artists’ studios (also by Saunders) scattered across the Island. These unique, self-sustaining, off-the-grid pavilions perched on the edge of the Atlantic provide visiting international writers and artists time and space to do their work.




Residents are appreciative of the attention and the business, which has made a real difference to Fogo. It is helping to sustain, so far, a very particular and special social fabric. Frayed and weathered, it may be, but the colourful, vibrant and resilient communities of the Island continue to make their mark.








Saunders Architecture has a portfolio of contemporary northern projects set against dramatic landscapes: simple villas and lookout points over Nordic fjords, e.g. Aurland Lookout. His work on Fogo is getting a lot of coverage: books, global film screenings, TEDx talks, and earning similar commissions, including new rural retreat homes in the western Canadian wilderness and seven small architectural ‘objects’ strung along a nature trail in Sweden. Perhaps for a next trek…



The new app ‘DUET’ for the iPad features a 2 min video interview about what motivates Architect Todd Saunders and how it informs his design process:

A 1-minute teaser for the film: Strange and Familiar: Architecture on Fogo Island.

Newfoundland : small places and vacant spaces

newfoundland_scalvetNewfoundland is situated on Canada’s easternmost edge.

Affectionately known as ‘The Rock’, this coastal province is suffering Canada’s most severe fiscal and demographic crisis after some hard-hitting blows: a fishery collapse in the 90s, an oil-price slump and mounting debt. Dwindling populations are left in the small fishing outports that built it. The government of Newfoundland is seeking to close these places, rather than service them. It is offering cash incentives for people to abandon their homes. You can read about this here.


But tourism has ramped up in the past few years, thanks in part to the Fogo Island Inn (more on that later) and to successful cinematic advertising campaigns beckoning travelers to make the trek. People are drawn to the capital’s (St. John) convivial folk music scene, to the villages’ vernacular architecture –in particular, the beautifully restored fishing rooms and saltbox houses, and to the province’s raw beauty: national parks, ecological reserves, ‘iceberg alley’, etc. Here are a few moments from my recent visit: 




The New Founde Lande Trinity Pageant takes one back to the 1700s. Local actors and singers from the Rising Tide Theatre lead scores of visitors on a scenic walking tour of the Town of Trinity. Against the backdrop of historic merchant buildings, churches, and cemeteries they portray the daily lives, traditions, and hardships of their forefathers.


Every summer and fall, the Town of Trinity’s Rising Tide Theatre presents a series of plays that reflect the history and culture of Newfoundland.









Nestled on Northern Point is an otherwise unremarkable old twine shed named the “House of Commons” (aka Bill Piercey’s Store). But inside is a treasure trove of flotsam and jetsam of fishermen’s lives that speak to a time before the Internet. In this Dead Poets Society-like man cave, men young and old used to congregate on old chairs, tubs, and heaps of cod traps spinning yarns while the stove crackled. They discussed anything from water mains, hockey games, and everything a man may need for a fishing boat. It was also the setting for many heated debates over town matters or government affairs. The shed fell silent in 1986 when Uncle Bill Piercey passed away but you can almost hear their voices echo through the touching variety of artifacts lovingly left in place.

Intimate community places like this are hard to come by.

House of Common’s (Bill Piercey’s Store): “It is a place where men may meet, All through their weary lives; It’s a haven from the ocean, And a heaven from their wives.”

House of Commons (Bill Piercey’s store): “It is a place where men may meet, All through their weary lives; It’s a haven from the ocean, And a heaven from their wives.”



Newfoundland and Labrador’s 2016 tourism advertising campaign included a television ad entitled Crayons.

The Drawings of Dame Zaha Hadid

One of the world’s most visionary architects died last week. She was only 65. Zaha Hadid’s structures are famous for their use of fragmented geometry, swooping gestures and futuristic style. Iraqi-born Hadid, who had a background in mathematics, studied at the Architectural Association in London. In 2004 she won architecture’s highest honor, the Pritzker Prize, becoming the first woman to receive the award (and Muslim, no less). She had a profound effect in our field, and opened so many doors for women in architecture. The world has lost one of its leading form makers.


Aside from being a remarkable architect, Zaha Hadid was also a fashion, furniture and product designer. (Behind: Malevich’s Tektonik – her 4th-year student design project for a hotel on the Hungerford Bridge over the Thames)

Hadid drew on Russian Suprematism (think painter Kazimir Malevich) to create her own unique language of drawing, painting and building. Exhibitions of her drawings, paintings, reliefs, and installations have toured the world. Her intricate, abstract drawings were means of visualizing her architectural ideas.

The World (89 Degrees)

The World (89 Degrees)

Berlin: Blue Beam, Victoria City Aerial

Berlin: Blue Beam, Victoria City Aerial

Hong Kong: The Peak

Hong Kong: The Peak

Manhattan: A New Calligraphy of Plan

Manhattan: A New Calligraphy of Plan

Weil Am Rhein: Vitra Fire Station

Weil Am Rhein: Vitra Fire Station

Lebbeus Woods, an artist known for his unconventional architectural designs, and a kindred spirit no doubt, discussed Zaha Hadid’s drawings in his blog here.

Her striking and experimental designs were often dismissed as impractical, and at times even “impossible” to build. Until Hadid completed her first built work, the Vitra Fire Station in Weil am Rhein, Germany, in 1994, she was largely considered to be a paper architect. Since then, however, she has proven that her deconstructivist, largely column-free, designs work as buildings and not just as futuristic, theoretical concepts. Below are some of her projects that have been built around the world.

Vitra Fire Station. Photo by Wojtek Gurak.

Vitra Fire Station, Weil Am Rhein. Photo by Wojtek Gurak.

Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg. Photo by Werner Huthmacher.

Phaeno Science Center, Wolfsburg. Photo by Werner Huthmacher.

London Aquatics Centre: Olympics Swimming Venue, photo by Hufton+Crow

London Aquatics Centre: Olympics Swimming Venue, photo by Hufton+Crow

The Investcorp Building, University of Oxford. Photo by Luke Hayes.

The Investcorp Building, University of Oxford. Photo by Luke Hayes.

Messner Mountain Museum Corones, South Tyrol, Italy. Photo by Werner Huthmacher.

Messner Mountain Museum Corones, South Tyrol, Italy. Photo by Werner Huthmacher.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Hufton+Crow.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Hufton+Crow.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Helene Binet.

Heydar Aliyev Center, Baku, Azerbaijan. Photo by Helene Binet.

MAXXI Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome

MAXXI Museum of XXI Century Arts in Rome

Guangzhou Opera House. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Guangzhou Opera House. Photo by Iwan Baan.

Hadid's design for the 2022 World Cup stadium in Qatar is currently under construction amid controversy concerning working conditions for labourers.

Hadid’s design for the 2022 World Cup stadium in Qatar is currently under construction amid controversy concerning working conditions for labourers.