Don Stuart Architect Inc. has the opportunity to expand its reach beyond the Vancouver region.
MANY OF THE MOST successful architecture firms have countless employees designing projects for multiple clients at the same time. Don Stuart had a different vision for his own practice, so his namesake company has more of a studio feel where only four employees work together on a handful of custom home projects annually.
“That was something I picked up from an office I worked in years ago that I thought was wonderful,” says Stuart, who launched Don Stuart Architect Inc. in Vancouver, British Columbia, 25 years ago. “We are a group of peers that work together and individually on projects, and new people join us and come in for a project and leave again. It is very flexible and very low key. It is also quite relaxed.”
Launched in 1990, Don Stuart Architect Inc. focuses primarily on custom home work in the Vancouver region.
“We’re a small, boutique office, we’re very design- and detail-oriented, and we’re known for that,” he says. “We deliver a highquality product that stands out, and we have been recognized for being able to do that.”
Evolution of Efficient Design
Throughout the history of Don Stuart Architect Inc., Stuart has been amazed by the green building movement as it has gained steam over the last 20 years. Even with all the technological innovations and new methodologies that have been developed in those two decades, what impresses Stuart the most is the building industry’s willingness to simply adapt and approach design in a new way.
“It’s all about an awareness of efficiency,” Stuart says. “It’s keeping our eyes open so that we can do things a whole lot more efficiently that we did before. We don’t have to give up what we love to do things a lot better.”
While many people think this new era of sustainability is due to technological advances in building science, Stuart says many of the techniques used today actually are old methods returning to prominence. For instance, the use of geothermal energy for heating and cooling structures has been understood and practiced for a long time. Only the industry’s awareness is new.
“There is a long list of processes that are not even new technology, but old technology,” Stuart says. “There is even ancient technology we’re rediscovering and mixing in with a lot of new things like LED lighting and intelligent control systems. Both wind and solar are advancing at fabulous rates, as well.”
Stuart is especially impressed by the creative re-use of water that has begun permeating the building industry today. In desert climates, water typically has never been thrown away until it has been used at least three times as potable, gray and black water.
“We’re relearning old knowledge, and it’s great that we’re all moving pretty quickly down that pathway,” Stuart adds.
Don Stuart Architect Inc. recently completed Hilltop House, which sits high on a hillside overlooking Vancouver, providing magnificent views of the city. Stuart says the home has many sustainable features in its design, including a heat-pump system, large roof overhangs for natural shading, and energy-efficient glass.
The biggest challenge for the Hilltop House, however, was working with neighbors in the community to avoid blocking anyone’s view of Vancouver. According to Stuart, this has been a contentious situation.
“Everyone wants to look out over the city. Historically, people had built fairly modest homes which stepped up the hillside allowing neighbors above to see over the roofs below,” Stuart says. “So, we had one mandate – do what you want, but we don’t want to block our neighbors’ view. We didn’t want to continue the trend up the hill, so we set out to get our client’s house high enough to regain their view while leaving others’ views behind them intact.”
To achieve this, Hilltop House was designed to have only two floors. The bulk of the living area is on the upper level. The views are panoramic. The home’s siting and low pitch of its roofs have allowed the views of its neighbors above to remain intact.
“I think the thing that was one of the most important goals with the views on the hillside was working with neighbors to see how well the home fit in,” Stuart says. “In order to stay low, we spread out into our setbacks, and we had to get all of the neighbors’ approval.
“Usually, there are five or six neighbors to work with, but we had 15 neighbors, so there was a huge amount of community involvement,” Stuart adds.
In the future, Stuart hopes to be in a place where he can expand his business’s geographic reach to take on projects elsewhere.
“We love to get calls from further afield and have a chance to work with clients and consultants elsewhere,” Stuart says.