One of the most common question that I get asked from prospective clients is: "What style of architecture do you do?"

What that question is actually asking is: "How do you typically make buildings look, and I really need to know because it had better line up with the things I like."

Asking me about my preferred architectural style feels like asking an actor what favourite role they would like to play. First, the answer may not align with the opinions of the person asking, and second, it alienates other potential incredible roles. It is hard for me to imagine any good actor saying, "I only want to play this one particular super specific role." It would only lead to being typecast.

In essence, I would love the design freedom and opportunity to try anything. Our design training in architecture schools and in architecture firms was not to shoe-horn our stylistic abilities into a one-hit "look". The experience taught us about how to think about something architecturally spawning from seemingly unrelated things.

In fact, when you think about it, "style" itself is one of the lowest forms of design. "Does this thing kind-of resemble these other things that have been established." I believe this does not breed good design - it just recycles the looks of things that have existed.

On the other hand, from our training to become architects, making something look good is rather second nature. If you gave us a bucket of bright orange paint in an awkward space, we would find a way to make that work. That is part of the artistry of our profession.

"I'm an artist, give me a tuba and I'll get you something out of it." -John Lennon

(Also Jack Nicholson quoting John Lennon in The Departed).

What I want to know about prospective clients is what they are about. The things they do during their past time, their goals in life, or even their daily rituals. These obscure quirks of each person can inform what they want out of their homes or businesses, and I want to show them how that may manifest in architecture.

Don't get me wrong, it is still helpful to know if someone's favourite colour is blue so we can find a way to incorporate that into the design. But more importantly, knowing something that defines a person will allow us to design something incredible out of that fact, just for them to enjoy.

An architect should not design something that only makes themselves happy. That's just selfish. And hell, I'm not going to be living in your home when this renovation is done. Ha!

I believe the architect's role is to produce a vision for their clients that is reflective of that particular client. Of course, in an ideal world, the final product is pleasing for everyone.

It seems like a lifetime ago that we began implementing our work-from-home policy in mid-March 2020. My company, along with nearly all other businesses across the globe had to make some form of adjustment to react to the very apparent Covid-19 situation.

First off, I must acknowledge and thank the Federal Government for their financial assistance. The Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy (CEWS), the Temporary Wage Subsidy for employers, and the Canada Emergency Business Account (CEBA) have literally prevented my business from going under. Further, the BDC low-interest loan has also helped my company weather this storm, and I am grateful. Of most importance, on behalf of the JFA team, we would like to thank all the front-line healthcare workers helping the sick combat this pandemic along with the essential businesses who are out there risking their lives so that we can (rather conveniently) still enjoy our meals in the safety of our homes.

Okay, now back to this post.

Covid-19 was a major gut-punch to some businesses in the way in which they operate, requiring fundamental changes in what they do. For others, the situation required procedural tweaking to simply adjust to our current "new normal".

Our business is more of the latter. We are fortunate that architectural design has transitioned into the digital realm. Our design ideas are drafted in the computer, and many of our physical sketches are either digitally scanned or photographed before being discarded for the next idea.

What was involved for our work-from-home Covid-19 transition was making sure all staff had access to their work computers from home. Essentially, each member logs into their work computers through their laptops. I was fortunate enough that every member of the team had a laptop - and provided free upgrades to their machines in the form of RAM and replacing their system hard drives to be solid state. Those two upgrades can make nearly any older computer usable once again. It was a marathon four days to get everything installed on the laptops, but well worth the push.

That having been said, the technological aspect of our transition was the easy part.

Design is not about sitting at your desk and working 100% efficiently at all hours of the work day. There is a rhythm to design that ebbs and flows. At times, we have very defined tasks to complete, but at other times we have to take a step back to reflect on what we are doing. And sometimes we don't work at all, spending time to "unplug" from whatever task we are doing. It may sound counter-intuitive, but this is essential for developing great work.

Covid-19 has impacted this rhythm and we are now all isolated in our homes, staring alone at the remote computer terminal so far away. Our social discussions have been reduced to our Zoom meetings and work related emails. At the onset of our work-from-home, it became very apparent that our chat discussions about various projects were not effectively being filed, easily lost in cyberspace. So we began to implement Slack, a web based chat system that channels our discussions under each project - this has greatly helped us organize our discussions to be specifically related to each project. It also provided a chat network where we could organize ideas related to how we can effectively deal with the Covid-19 situation.

This is where my focus is placed at the moment. Many projects have been placed on pause, and one of my goals during this pandemic is to position the company well for a strong bounce back when the world opens up again (but no rush). The design team has been working on various ideas and I have been prioritizing business development over project timelines.

The silver lining is that Covid-19 has done two things. It has forced an evolution of the practice where we are using newer communication tools, but more importantly it has given me time to step back for a moment. For the past 4 years, this company has been a constant push to continually build the business, producing designs, adding new staff, expanding the studio space, whilst landing new projects. There was no time to pause and reflect.

Now, I have plenty of time to reflect and my hope is that this moment of pause will allow us to evolve the practice into something greater.

  • Jason

Welcome to this new blog! My name is Jason Fung and I run a small architectural practice in Toronto, Ontario. We’re a group of young professionals with a surprising amount of experience and (dare I say) talent.

The purpose of this blog is to share a bit of our experiences with you. So, please follow along and enjoy this glimpse into the weird world of a small architectural practice. We will be shedding some light on the challenges and opportunities we encounter (almost daily) in relation to design and construction. Some posts will be related to obtaining building permits, other posts may be centered around the design process, and on the fringe would be the obscure posts about our coffee selection for the week, or the pens we prefer to use. And other posts may seem to be strange ramblings of consciousness. Ha!

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As architects, there is a fair bit of mystery surrounding our jobs. From a strictly textbook perspective, we design buildings for people to occupy. On a more romantic standpoint, we translate our client’s hopes and dreams into built form. In reality, we work as advisors, visionaries, and negotiators - navigating all the red tape and politics surrounding design and construction, and it can be quite aggravating at times. Our days are filled with a mix of tasks from negotiating municipal by-laws and provincial building code obscurities with civil servants, to problem solving with our engineers/consultants, while also conveying design intentions to contractors or others who are not privy to the big picture. My firm consists of a handful of young and extremely talented staff. We are a mix of intern architects, technologists, draftspersons and co-op students. The studio is currently shared with the incredible Rostami Atash Atelier (another small architecture firm), and Contact Engineering (a creative structural engineer). We draw inspiration from each other, and the presence of the other companies are a great substitute for senior staff. The team and I are excited to contribute to this blog. Although we are not writers, our hope is to communicate our experiences. We invite you to follow along our journey and thank you for your interest!

675 King St W  Unit 211,  Toronto ON  M5V 1M9  INFO@JASONFUNG.CA   647 948 9176   © JASON FUNG ARCHITECT INC. 2020