— f s o a r k

 

 

 

It would seem an unorthodox pairing for a donut café, where hues associated with fried dough and sugar glazing naturally come to mind. But for the new Cartems Donuterie at Kitsilano – a beachside neighbourhood sprawling with small retail, multicultural eateries and organic food markets, we digress from the typical gourmet or nostalgic aesthetics of similar establishments, and instead juxtapose the warm, colourful confection with a pared-down interior, restricting the palette to a few shades of gray. Besides the hanging plants, the only colours that stand apart are from Cartems’ conspicuous red paper boxes, and more importantly, the richly crafted pastry.

The study of synaesthesia - a neurological phenomenon in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway (wikipedia) – may shed some light into this unconventional approach. In the architect’s mind, the muted palette does not serve to dilute, but rather to heighten our gustatory perception, by visually underlining the warmth and sweetness of donuts with a hint of cool, almost tannic aftertaste. To that end, gray - a colour that is often considered achromatic or “without colour” – is preferred because of its tendency to recede and withdraw, building a deeper and more complex dimension when it is sensuously associated with tasting.

Raw, unfinished and everyday materials are used to compose our palette, adding tangible textures to the colour as well as drawing reference to how donuts, an understated snacks for commoners, have become a staple of vernacular food in North America since the First World War, when homesick soldiers were served donuts to lift their morale. Exposed concrete, unglazed shower tiles, rough bricks, unstained plywood, galvanized and stainless steel have found their way into our project, giving the space a utilitarian, almost factory appearance.

In A Wild Sheep Chase (羊をめぐる冒険 Hitsuji o meguru bouken, 1st published 1982), Haruki Murakami says “whether you take the doughnut hole as a blank space or as an entity unto itself is a purely metaphysical question and does not affect the taste of the doughnut.” On the subject of interior design, it may seem the contrary is also true: sometimes food tastes better when you strip away the surrounding inessentials and redundancies, so that one’s mind can be still and focus on the eating. The new Cartems Donuterie signifies the continuing commitment of FSOARK to search for the kind of essentialism in design that, by way of distillation and purification, one finds deeper meanings in the mundane and the ordinary.

 

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The two mountain peaks, known widely as the Lions in the west coast British Columbia, were never called that name before the arrival of foreigners. In precolonial time, the Squamish Nation had named the peaks “Ch’ich’iyúy Elxwíkn” (translated as “Twin Sisters”) in remembrance of a peace treaty formed by rivalry nations, through intermarriage between two Squamish sisters and two Haida brothers. As the legend unfolded, the Great Transformers would eventually turn the sisters into the soaring landmarks for future generations to remember their act of bravery and selflessness.

Throughout history, storytelling through oral transmission has been an integral part of the life of First Nations. It plays an important role in the preservation of their cultural identity, traditional knowledge and collective memories. Mystic, wistful, gentle yet dignified, the story of the Twin Sisters was often retold by great orators including Chief Mathias Joe, who shared many ancient tales like this one with others. In response to the call for a public art at a neighborhood park, in the namesake of the Squamish chief, we explore the First Nation people’s profound connection with the land through the silent art form of sculpture.

 

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Commissioned by: City of North Vancouver
Designed by: FSOARK | Spacemakeplace
Constructed by: Toby’s Cycle Work
Photographed by: Imu Chan
Graphics by: Imu Chan | Maria Barroso

 

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To connect the multitude, one needs a point of reference – a landmark, a conversation topic, a shared idea. In designing the Connect Table, we create this point of reference to facilitate the rendezvous, a common ground where spontaneous exchange takes place. Materials and finishes are understated and authentic due to our natural inclination to be drawn to something real.  Supported on three legs, the unadorned piece has a persona somewhat between a coffee stand and a dining table, to foster undefined, casual encounter.

The Connect Table is a collaborative project between FSOARK and Barter Design Co., a company that embraces well-crafted objects and nature-inspired lifestyles.

 

 

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A furniture is by nature a sojourner in space – an object meant to be handled and displaced. In the desk project, we are interested in the ambivalent relationship a displaced furniture conjures to its surround, that is faintly reminiscent yet intriguingly remote. Through a series of design exploration specific to our architectural projects, we arrive at the conjecture where we may simultaneously contextualize and detach an object by first perceive it as a fragment of its host. Our approach recalls the child’s act of tearing out a corner from a sheet of paper and folding it into a miniature figure.

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Designed by: FSOARK
Crafted by: WoodReform
Photographed by: Sven Boecker

 

 

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“History is real. Each generation has some task to perform, and part of the quest is to find what that task is.”

- Robert Motherwell, in Storming the Citadel, 2010

 

In architecture, Time is tangibly spatial. Taken shortly after the project was completed, in the fall of 2014, the photographs below preserve the surviving memories of an inceptive moment when the space first became “filled with time”. Against the expanse of the white oak floor and the alabaster walls, the southern light, admit through a sliver of clerestories along the ceiling, sweeps like a clock’s arm across the living space. On the other side of the hall situate the lower-lying strip windows that capture, in a single breath, a continuous scroll of the north shore mountains, magnificent under the ambience of the calmer northern sky. Whereas in smaller, private spaces such as bathrooms, natural light trickles slowly down the darker, solitary interiors, counting time by the drop. In the architect’s mind, these photographs record the fleeting sensation of a new beginning, knowing its brief existence as merely a blank canvas for the inhabitants, awaits the many seasons of their lives.

In designing Highlawn Residence, we have expanded our exploration of the temporal and emotional aspects of space, which have been standing preoccupations of our practice. Central to our thinking is the idea of essentialness, that richness in space – and in life – is proportional to the amount of artificial intervention we can do without, and what is truly meaningful can only be experienced slowly, in time passed.

 

 

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Over the last ten thousand years, glaciers from the North Shore mountains have eroded what probably began as a crack in the ground into a deep valley. At a rate of less than a centimeter a year, the geological transformation that led to today’s Lynn Canyon embodies this persistent and incontestable force of Nature – astonishingly gradual, phenomenally powerful and infinitesimally nuanced.

Our proposal for the plaza design at Lynn Valley Village provides an architectural reference to this broader geological context. We superimpose onto the existing ground surface a new paving pattern, in doing so translating the embodied energy of glacial formation into a visual language that is familiar to kids and fresh to adults. From the existing physical geometries and alignments, we have extracted a flow pattern that falls down the back wall, meanders between large pavement slabs, springs up to form benches, and cascades down stairs. The simple, abstract palette offers multiple non-prescriptive ways of engagements for all ages, and can be appreciated at ground level as well as from the elevated walkway above.

This project is a collaboration with Rebecca Bayer, with the assistance of Monica Lovato and Ray Sun.

 

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For the most part, it is difficult to speak about architectural qualities, let alone those of our own works.  We maybe able to explain certain design decisions, what seem “right” or make sense.  But qualities – particularly ones that are worth mentioning – are better left to silence and solitude.  They reside in the same realm of memories and emotions whose essence is erased the moment they are affixed with words.

In point of fact, architecture as a living art is rarely about itself.  Its genuine qualities remain implicit; its truths are manifested only in time passed.  Therefore, architectural creation is also an act of subtracting, of yielding, of letting go, so that space may let in the first light of daybreak.

 

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The following photographs were taken in the morning of March 8th, 2013, during the final days of Yukon Residence renovation. In the course of the project, there was a precious moment when the walls came alive in the first coat of white; the aged wood floor, freshly buffed, saturated the air with renewed fragrance. I stood in the uninhabited space and observed how the dull luster of the new surfaces slowly awoke in the morning sun. The atmosphere was serene and intimate.

It is by editing out evidence of previous ownership, and replacing with a new one, that we embark on this renovation (as in many previously and perhaps ones yet to come). In addition to designing for another household and lifestyle, we ask how a space can inhabit itself, that it acquires a personality of its own autonomous from its occupant’s interventions. We feel the opportunity may lie in the non-programmed, transient spaces – a precinct that manifests the soul of the house, a “sanctuary” that is not physically occupied or altered but its physicality can be felt from the surrounding occupied rooms. We feel that the space has to be beautiful even when it is not inhabited.

The encounter on the sunny morning when the photos were taken seems to reinforce the notion of the essence of home as a priori, one that already exists before life unfolds in it, and perhaps will continue to exist in the aftermath of another belaboring moving-in/moving-out, with some enduring values that continue to bewilder us, to move us closer to itself.

 

 

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The program is a primary school for 600 children. The site is located in the middle of a quarry field, up on a mountain that overlooks the quiet La Reservé in Santiago, Chile. The program/context combination demands negotiation between different scales of the design elements: The softness and fragility of the children, and their widespread movement at play, are in stark contrast with the immensity and roughness of the exposed quarry walls. The tasks at hand are three-folded: How can these conflicting issues be resolved into a set of cohesive design principles? How can the institution create an identity for the town? What is the discipline, the Order, that makes a school a school?

The proposed design consists of a system of alternating rows of classrooms and play fields combined into a series of platforms, or terraces, which are stacked and slid against each other following the contour of the mountain. In order to allow the movement of children to activate the space, circulation is articulated as a through-flow crossing rows of play fields and classrooms, and whenever it crosses a row of classroom, public spaces such as dining hall, student lounge and library are programmed. Openings are organized to orchestrate moments of immense verticality and horizontality of the site. The heart of the design rests underneath the gigantic overhanging brise-soleli fronting each classroom. The shading device compliments the dramatic scale of the site, and defines a softer zone underneath which is modulated by color, view, light and shades. The suspended void defined by the brise-soleli is a space of no function, of stillness, of child-like wonders.

 

 

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“If joy is to be found in the ordinary, the things we have in common are a stronghold of resistance in a troubled world.”

- Luis Fernandez-Galiano, Architects are Commoners

Amidst soaring housing cost and urban densification throughout Greater Vancouver, the once derided vancouver specials have regained their popularity in recent years.  Apart from their typical box-like structure, low pitched roofs and narrow balconies, what makes this notorious, mass-produced housing typology “special” is their layout, with the secondary bedrooms on the ground floor and the main living space above, connected by a stair directly accessed from the front foyer.  There is no basement in vancouver specials, making them ideal for conversion into secondary suite.  For young families desiring a lawn for their children and would not mind sharing with another household, vancouver specials offer an affordable entry point to the detached housing market, with the potential of a mortgage helper or co-ownership with relatives or in-laws.

The Yamamoto sisters and their respective spouses understood these potentials when they co-purchased and initiated the renovation of their new home.  Their challenge, however, lies in the shortage of space:  four adults and four young children would share a 2,500 sq.ft. house on a standard 33 foot wide lot, and both families spend a great deal of time together.  On regular dinner parties, the families would gather in the bottom half of the house, to which a third bedroom, a half-bathroom and a kid’s play area would have to be added in the renovation.

To overcome space deficiency, we reclaim portion of the corridor and below-stair storage for the added programs, and create circulation “through” the walls by turning portions of which into sliding partitions.  The new penetration provides a direct connection – both visually and spatially – from the living area to the bedrooms, and allows each to act as the breakout space for the others.  By further removing stud walls that divided the length of the building, a flexible living area is created.  A long kitchen island is now situated in the centre of this space, and to its front and back, a play area for the children and a lounge for the grown-ups naturally fall into place.

Like many home renovations of similar scope and budget, the YamaDuff & YamaRoth Residence Project has adopted a basic solution to solve a basic problem – namely, to bypass or break through walls in exchange for openness and flexibility.  Ostentatious architectural interventions are not justified in cost, but also undesirable.  “We want this house to resemble an experimental theatre, somewhat impromptu, so it leaves room for improvisation.” the Owners explained.  On that note, we have conceived the layers of sliding partitions as theatrical backdrops: their positions would indicate the time and activities within the space.  Shortly after the completion of the project, we had visited the house twice – one for a dinner party and the other for a photo shoot.  We have observed that not only do the sliders add much delight to the space, but what they have revealed behind is a candid image of the family itself.  Staring at the cheerful decorations within the children’s bedrooms, or looking back at the well-inhabited kitchen, we were struck in awe of how fast life can take over, and for a brief moment, could not detect where architecture ends and life begins.

Contractor: Solidwood Home
Cabinet Designer: Kerf Design
Photographer: Ray Sun Photography

 

 

 

 

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“For if we are able to perform small, ordinary miracles in the kitchen day after day after day, possibly these will remind us of the greater marvels that might occur outside this room.”

- Akiko Busch, Geography of Home

Given the efficiency and economy inherent in the design of a functional space, the Nan Residence kitchen renovation was never conceived as a project merely about food preparation. Instead, we focus on creating a shared space between mother and children, a common ground where the knitting of a family can be tangibly constructed. In spirit, the project was not unlike designing a park: the children assume certain autonomy in the playground under the attention of the parent, while the parent find a quiet spot at the periphery, contemplating her own endeavors. An exchange may take place here and then. In the end, the discipline of laying out cabinet, appliance and counter space typically dominates a kitchen design has made room for a few cheerful additions. These include a bench overlooking the lower living area, a concession window serving the sun deck and a generous floor space, hosting the ever-changing improvisation of the family affair.

Contractor: Solidwood Home

 

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Urban Pasture is an urban happiness project based on the notion that Vancouverites are nature-lovers. It is a romantic yet tangible project – it is simple in concept and affordable in construction; it is modest in scale, but infinite in possibilities. We propose to rethink the street amenity strip along the curb by blending bench and planter into one sculptural form. By interweaving infrastructure with flora and by applying subtle topographic manipulation to the surfaces, the installation will create possibilities for new social interactions and interpretations while softening the hostile edge of the curb.

The sculpted “pasturelands” will take possession of street parking lanes through the introduction of a modular system of sculptured platforms. These modules are to contribute to the streetscape by serving as both bench and planter in their most unconventional sense, creating an urban detour wedged in between the concrete sidewalk and the asphalt roadway. Dimensioned to fit into a street parking stall (2.5 m x 5.5 m), each module can be installed independently or joined together with other modules along the curb to create a customized living environment, extending the pedestrian right-of-way for both active (engaging) and passive (sojourning) activities.

The design is comprised of two interwoven elements: an undulating wooden platform (the hardscape) made of spaced, finger-jointed 2×4 cedar lumbers, and infill landscaping materials (softscape) that will rise through the gaps between the lumbers, at various locations along the platform. Plant material will be made up of varying species of lavender, which is hardy, drought-tolerant, requires minimal maintenance, and is locally available in British Columbia. The combination of the geometric profile of the wooden structure and the irregular patches of floral infill will suggest various programs of urban play, creating opportunities for a wide array of discoveries and encounters.

Design Collaborators: David O’Regan, Jane Vorbrodt

 

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The first Urban Pasture is being installed on the 1000-block of Robson Square, abutting a narrow sidewalk section in front of Café Crêpe.  As part of the VIVA 2012 Initiative, Urban Pasture provides a much-needed public amenity in the heart of downtown Vancouver, where growing pedestrian traffic is searching for a place to relax, enjoy and engage.  The project has received generous support by City of Vancouver and Café Crêpe.

Collaborators: David O’Regan, Jane Vorbrodt
Structural Engineer: Fast & Epp
Fabricator: GNW Scene Shop
Landscaper: City of Vancouver Green Streets
Photographer: Ray Sun Photography

 

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One of the national winners chosen to represent Canada in Venice Biennale 2012, Kite Story portrays the figurative crossroads between a childhood spent in one country and adulthood spent in another.  The project is an outcome of the Migrating Landscapes, a national competition that examines how we as Canadians express our diverse cultural memories and identities, and the settling/unsettling dynamic of migration in the contemporary society.

While the experience of immigration can be real and tangible to adults, the geographic and cultural transformation to children may lack specificity and not readily comprehensible.  The apprehension is particularly poignant for migrating preadolescents, to whom the experience becomes part of growing up, of coming to terms with their shifting identities, their subtle physical and emotional transformation – all of which are at the crossroad with the unknown affects of the new world.  Setting in the backdrop of migration from Hong Kong to Vancouver, Kite Story reflects on the moment when lingering footage of childhood memories in one place interweaves with the anxiety of growing up in another, and how the immigrating youth and the young city find meaning of coexistence in the formative years of transformation.

 

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In a partially subterranean condition where daylight is scarce, the streak of afternoon sun that finds its way into the basement has become a solemn reminder of the fading time and season.  To accentuate and extend this ephemeral quality, the space is conceived as a uniform canvas made with a material that has the ability to extract the essence of the afternoon sun, which is often rendered lifelessly against the minimalistic alabaster interior. A deeply stained cherry wood is chosen for the floor and all millwork stretching across the length of the space. When lit, the wood extracts the golden hue from daylight and soaks the entire space with a volumetric glow. One of the millwork units is removed to allow for a narrow entry passage. In lieu of a conventional doorway, the passage offers a prolonged experience of darkness, a vital prelude to suppress the deeper experience beyond.

 

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The conversion of a warehouse attic into an open studio is conceived as redefining boundaries and orientations. A continuous work surface along the perimeter defines a semi-private edge where occupants can concentrate on individual tasks. In the center of the room, a communal table allows gathering and exchange to take place. The layout allows one to switch between discreet and social activities by simply changing the orientation of seating. To lessen the visual imposition of the inclined ceilings, recessed light coves are mounted hovering above the desks along the eave line. Alluding to a sky-lit eave, the light coves stitch the existing skylights together formally and spatially in one unifying gesture. At the corner of the room where the trajectories of all boundaries converge is a miniature library consists of a seating area cradled by low bookshelves. Dappled with natural light throughout the day, the mini-library offers a solitary retreat, a sanctuary for imagination and escape.

 

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The competition entry examines the notion of low-footprint urban living by fitting a typical two-bedroom program into a small studio unit in New York. Conceived as a fusion between Matryoshka Dolls and The Transformer, the 420 Sq.FIT apartment embraces a new spirit of urban living. It offers to rethink life’s priorities, to distill activities and virtues that bring the most pleasure and satisfaction, by means of sensible space planning and smart installations. All surfaces and objects within the definition of its small footprint are infused with meanings and purposes. Its construction guarantees transportability and adaptability, because the kernel of a replicable design lies in its readiness of dissemination. The new space is sustainable, simple and beautiful. The competition was done in collaboration with Yong Sun.

 

 

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