BY ATHENA MCKENZIE
When Christian Foyd moved to Victoria from Copenhagen in 2000, he sensed something was missing in local house design. “I thought, wouldn’t it be cool to do Northern European, Scandinavian modern houses, with their focus on quality and sustainability,” he says.
The Canadian-educated, Danish-registered architect was working as a consultant for DISSING+WEITLING on the Dockside Green masterplan when he met architect Peter Johannknecht. Together with Geoffrey Wong, an expert in project management and communications, the three friends, recognizing their shared design sensibilities, bought some property on Transit Road to showcase what they could do. 519 design + build was born.
“It really took off from there,” Wong says. “A lot of our clients come to us having seen the houses on Transit or the ones on our website and they want something similar.” While Johannknecht is now with Cascadia Architects, he is, as Foyd says, “a frequent collaborator.”
To create a unique home for each client, 519 employs what Foyd describes as a “sketch-intensive” process and a lot of back and forth between the client and the team. Spruce sat down with the Foyd to learn what a client can expect when working with an architect.
How does one find the right architect for a project?
It’s an interview. First of all, you identify something in [the architect’s] previous work that you like. That’s really important. Secondly, you sit down with them. Sometimes it won’t be a good match — and that can happen from either side. The design of a project needs to be a constant conversation.
How do you determine if it’s a good match?
We ourselves have a clever technique to find out if it’s going to work or not. I draw fast, and before we sign the full deal to build a house, we go through a schematic design phase. It’s a really rapid-fire game of Ping-Pong with the client. We send them sketches and they email their thoughts back. Through that process, you start to find out really quickly, one, is this going to work, and two, is this going to be good for us all? It also leads into a conversation about relative costs, so you get a sense if it’s going to work on a budget level as well.
Are there other benefits to the sketches?
When you meet the client, they already have an idea in their mind of what the possibilities are. The sketches show them that there are other ways to “skin the cat.” Many ways. What comes out of that tends to be a springboard. One of those sketches will grab them. They’ll say, “Wait a minute, that’s where we want to go.” It’s usually a surprise to them. It’s what sets the ball in motion.
What was the process for the Lochside project?
We did several project proposals for this particular client, and then they found this beach property. We went through our typical round of intensive sketching, and they narrowed it down to one group of sketches.
We did a site analysis and found out where the sun was and where the best views were. They wanted a pool. Pools are tricky in Victoria — if you don’t site them properly and protect them from the wind, then they won’t be used very much. We isolated the southeast pocket as the best place for a water element.
Early sketches explored a more linear design, but the homeowners were drawn to the sketches with the gull-wing roof element and that’s the direction we ended up going in.
What are the misconceptions around working with architects?
That architects are expensive. If you look at the price of building a new home, there are the hard costs of the stuff you can see: the land, the bricks, the mortar, etc. Then you have the soft costs: things such as permits and consultants. We’re part of those consultant fees. That tends not to jump much over 10 per cent of the entire project. If someone starts out looking at the soft costs as a deal breaker, then they will be the deal breaker. Trying to save on design is a bad place to start.
Does building in the Capital Regional District have any challenges?
In the interaction with the various communities, variances can be a really onerous process. In fact, it can be so onerous that we try to avoid asking any special favours from the communities. And it’s often not necessary. We try to make a match between the client’s aspirations and what the community will allow. It speeds up the process as well. You can spend months and thousands on a variance and not get it.
What’s unique about your designs?
The key to Scandinavian modernism is having such simple design — it’s really reductionism. In fact, when a client comes to us with a list of all the things they want in their house, we try to get rid of half of it, telling them, “This is what you need to have; this is what will work for you through the ages.” Nobody will buy the house down the road and go, “This is so 2015.” There is nothing dark and diabolic about it. It’s simply asking: “Do you really need that? Is it essential?” It’s really simple when you draw it out. We can do this or we can do this. It’s black and white. We present a direction and provide the rationale.