The Public Record just released plans approved by Council for the new YWCA on Ottawa Street which includes 50 affordable housing units. Can you tell us more about this project?
We have been working with the YWCA on this idea since 2012, so we are very happy to have the new zoning approved by Council. The existing building was at least 3 different large additions to the original 1924 building. The complexity of the floorplates made it challenging to redevelop, so the new building will maintain an ambitious range of community and recreational uses, but also add very much-needed affordable housing for women and their children. The units will be 1, 2 and 3 bedrooms with the goal of maximizing the flexibility of uses and space. The overall theme for the building was inspired by Ottawa Street’s fabric district, with the cladding reflecting bolts of fabric in vibrant colours and patterns. Textiles are often a women-run industry, so I think this metaphor is very appropriate for the YWCA.
Invizij has also done numerous projects with Indwell, like the recently complete Rudy Hulst Commons. There is also the Hughson Street Baptist Church project and George and Mary’s Tavern on Parkdale on the way. What else can we see coming up?
In Hamilton, I am also working with the Good Shepherd on a co-housing project with 24 in-fill units off a laneway near Queen Street North. Indwell is considering a second phase at the George & Mary’s site in east Hamilton. In Woodstock, we’re designing an Indwell redevelopment of a former grouphome into 33 Passive House apartments, and we’re in conversation with a few other groups about how they could benefit from our experience.
What’s it like working alongside Indwell and how do their projects influence your design?
Indwell is an amazing non-profit to work with – they have a great team from their tenant support staff to directors right through to their board, and a unique model for affordable housing with supports. They are not afraid to take risks or be on the forefront of new or different ideas in terms of housing models or financing. Now that we have worked on over 400 units of affordable housing together, we have learned from the things that have worked well and can build from there. Together we are always seeking ways to make unit layouts or housing typologies suit the needs of people who will be living in the apartments. This has led to some great modestly sized yet high-quality flexible spaces with lots of natural light. Recently, Indwell has pushed me and our team to advance our knowledge and experience by requesting that we design in line with Passive House standards – these are super energy-efficient designs with lots of insulation, high-performance windows, and minimal thermal bridging in the detailing.
We have had a huge learning curve in the past year and have three projects underway right now following these ambitious standards. We hope to hit Canada’s 2050 climate action targets for energy use – and help lead the green-housing movement in Canada from right here in Hamilton!
It seems like a no-brainer, but how important is social housing in Hamilton?
Our community desperately needs more good housing: shelter is one of the three basic necessities of life along with food and clothing. I know from my work with Indwell and others that many people in Hamilton live in what can only be described as squalor. Once a person can have a safe place to live, so many of the other challenges in life can then fall into place. Hamilton receives very little funding right now for new affordable housing – around $5M/year. At best, that will allow us to create an additional 30 dwelling units per year – not even keeping up with population growth. If Hamilton could follow other municipalities like Oxford County and start investing municipally
in affordable housing, our whole community would benefit.
I know you’re also very out spoken about laneway housing. Why is it important and what role could it play in Hamilton’s future?
I wrote my Masters thesis on laneway housing in Hamilton. I am thrilled the Planning Department is finally putting a proposal before Council this fall on creating a zoning that will allow secondary suites in separate buildings on lots accessed off a laneway. There are currently 70 laneway houses in Hamilton; most have been grandfathered into
the zoning as they were converted coach houses. This type of infill improves communities with incremental intensification by fitting within the existing urban fabric without some of the issues that larger multi-residential buildings might have like tearing down historic stock. I am so happy to have this coming before Council and can’t
wait to see the first laneway house building permits helping create alternate housing options for Hamiltonians. It can be a useful, incremental form of intensification that does hold great potential for accessible housing, aging parents, younger people, or just really interesting architecture!
Can you tell us about some of the other projects Invizij are currently working on, like the Binbrook Public Library?
Our firm has been in overdrive, with so many exciting projects in the design phase or under construction. Besides the Binbrook Library and multiple affordable housing projects, we are working on the renovation of the Provincial Offences Administration building, the Ancaster Arts & Cultural Centre in the former Memorial School, an addition to the Waterloo YMCA, the Grightmire Arena renewal in Dundas, South Huron Rec Centre, and a new Dunnville Waterfront Pavilion – to name a few. We actually have over 50 projects on the go at the moment, with a team of 13 people, including 5 architects.
Where did you study architecture and what made you want to be an architect? Tell us a little about you.
I grew up in Chicago and wanted to be an architect since I was little – I was always drawing and re-drawing my ideal house floorplans! I studied architecture at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, with one year in France, and then moved to the UK where I met my husband, Graham who is from Ontario. We moved to Hamilton
in 2004, I finished my graduate studies at Waterloo, and have been working at Invizij ever since.
Who are some of your biggest influences?
I had an undergraduate minor in Environmental Studies, and some of my professors and friends from that program were a huge influence on my environmental ethic. Graham has been my biggest influence since we met 15 years ago, as he’s always thinking about how architecture, social issues, economy, and faith are intertwined. In terms of architecture, I have recently been reading about low-cost housing developments in Chile by the do-tank Elemental, with Alejandro Aravena and his team. My favourite architecture style tends to be Scandinavian, I just can’t get enough Alvar Aalto, you know?
What are some of the biggest obstacles you’ve faced to get to where you are?
I have been fortunate so far in my career to be able to align my values and the projects I’ve worked on. It was challenging to be a young architect after the 2008 recession, when the work seemed to run dry, but I was fortunate to be able to keep working with reduced hours. I’m privileged to be part of an office that is 50% women – so I have felt supported as a woman in the male-dominated construction industry. That being said, I often feel that my capabilities are underestimated because I’m not a self-promoter.
Besides architecture, what are your other passions and hobbies?
Local food – I am the co-founder of The Mustard Seed Co-op, Hamilton’s community-owned grocery store. I am still involved with the co-op, being on the Board of Directors, and helping run the social media, education team, and event coordination. I love cooking, canning, foraging, and eating local food. I have been a vegetarian all my life
and if I could, I would love to farm and be more involved in the food system. I wish I had more time to be outdoors hiking and biking. I am part of an amazing community on Hunter Street West in downtown Hamilton, where we have potlucks every Friday, swap tools, and share in each other’s lives. I am also part of a great church on Locke Street that is doing great work in our city – St. John the Evangelist Anglican.
And finally, describe your ideal day in Hamilton.
Last weekend was pretty ideal: Wake up with a cup of Fairtrade coffee and a bowl of muesli, attend a workshop on fruit preservation techniques at the McQuesten Urban Farm, pick up basil and other ingredients from the farm, my community garden plot, and from The Mustard Seed. Then get ready for a birthday party for Graham with 60 or so of our closest friends – from the neighbourhood, our offices, clients, the Co-op, church, and other friends we have made along the way. We made 20 pizzas in our outdoor clay oven, had lots of craft beers, and welcomed a Spanish guitar trio into our house to dance the night away (thanks to scattered showers). We are so blessed to be part of a community that’s working to reflect a reality where everyone can find joy and contentment… and to do so from the 700 square feet we call home in downtown Hamilton.