Naama: Urban development is a sensitive topic in Toronto and in other growing cities. Change is sometimes very fast. Every city has some examples of bad development, and they are the ones people remember the most. So people are worried about change, and it is our responsibility as architects, as city builders, to show the public that development is being done thoughtfully, to show how it fits into the overall community, how it gives the new residents as well as the people who already live there new, better opportunities.
Naama: We don’t care that much how other firms do it. We developed our own company “handbook” for visioning and designing larger sites from scratch. It’s a product of many conversations we had with different people in the industry, from community members to city planners to developers. The focus of our practice is on large, underutilized sites in urban contexts: parking lots, old commercial plazas, industrial areas, shopping malls; because when you work on sites like these, you are not going to design only buildings – you are going to create new public realm – streets, parks, plazas – you practically create a new part of the city.
And this is where the big potential is – especially in places that don’t have much of a public realm – when you can create new places where people come to enjoy. These are the kind of places that make the soul of the city.
Naama: It means we have the chance to offer something different. We’re not complacent. We have a drive to innovate and to push the boundaries. We take nothing for granted. And we go out of our way to ensure that everything is accounted for.
Embrace what makes you different.
For us, it is the focus on the master plan and not about the shape of the building. When we look at a site, it’s always important to ask what is missing, what are the opportunities. How does the community want to grow? How can a project be integrated into a city in a way that improves it? We want projects to grow with the city, not against it.
We see every new master plan as an opportunity to breathe new life into a neighbourhood. It should help boost the city and the neighbouring community.
Don’t be scared to get (very) creative.
We take creative inspiration wherever we can, including other cities. You can’t be too comfortable with a certain way of solving problems. Coming from vibrant cities like Tel Aviv and Paris, and after spending a long time in the far-east, we’ve seen a very wide range of great environments.
They are the thing that takes a city from good to great, they are what gives the city that magnetism and the soul. And a lot of this comes from what we experience on the ground.
Another example, when we were looking to encourage more positive conversations around urban development, we created a game called UrbanBlocks that helps community members and families to understand the process better. We facilitated the game at schools, Toronto City Hall, with developers, libraries: we are very excited that what started as a simple idea reached such huge audience.
It’s about the problem you solve. And then it’s how you solve it.
We like to look carefully at how people are already using a place, this can give great insights about what we can do to enhance it.
When we were working on the site at Bloor and Dufferin, we noticed that people were crossing through the site between the subway station and the mall. We knew that it would be a great opportunity to create an even better shortcut between these two destinations that will make the space more vibrant.
Naama: They say good things happen to those who wait, but it should really be that good things happen to those who work their asses off. There’s almost always a way to turn obstacles into opportunities. It just takes a bit of creativity and a lot of work.
Taking an idea from vision to implementation is a wonderful feeling that I get to experience daily and the link between entrepreneurship and architecture is a natural one to me. Architecture school is a wonderful place to learn creative thinking and problem solving and to be equipped with the right tools for entrepreneurial endeavors.