Nanaimo Spec House complete!

We’re so excited to see this new house project completed in Nanaimo, BC! This modern spec home sold already half way through construction. There will be two more to come on the subdivided lot.

We created lofty spaces to capture the beautiful views of the Marina. The house is designed with simplicity and flexibility in mind. The bottom floor converts into a secondary suite with separate entrance for those who need a mortgage helper, or it can easily become a studio or office for the growing population of creative professionals that work from home.

From the outside the house exhibits a professional, clean look, with simple lines and low-maintenance materials. There are 2 bedrooms on the main floor for those who prefer a one-level living style. There is also a master suite on the top level with direct access to a luxurious rooftop patio!

The whole house is designed and sited using passive solar principles. South facing clerestory windows provide lots of natural light into the living spaces. The South facing rooftop patio is a great space to suntan or grow some vegetables! The overhangs are sized so that the home will not overheat in the summer, preserving a comfortable feel in the interior year round.

The whole package provides appeal and adaptability to wide audience, whether they be starting a family, looking to downsize, run a home business, or just live in simple clean style!

Sunshine Coast BC Home Show

We are so excited to be part of the 2015 Sunshine Coast Home Show! Come check out our booth and bring your questions. The Show runs from 10am-4pm on Saturday June 13th at the Gibsons Arena and it’s FREE admission! There will be lots of awesome door prizes and performances and food venues too, a fun day for the family and to check out what’s new and exciting on the Coast or to learn about new things, such as solar power! Whether you are looking to build a new home or to renovate, this is a great place to connect with the professionals and get your questions answered, or to be inspired by new ideas!

Join us for the 2015 Home and Garden Expo!



This artist’s residence on the Gibsons Waterfront is now complete! The original home was in disrepair but the new owners saw a lot of promise and great structural bones. We were enlisted to surgically alter the interior spaces and give the outside a much needed facelift. Here is the result!!!

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Making great progress on Powell River Waterfront House + Studio

We paid a visit to our project site in Powell River this December and how pleased we were to see the progress!

The project is for a Main House and Studio/Workshop space for a couple from Vancouver. And what a beautiful waterfront setting this is! Breathtaking waterviews can be seen from virtually every room in the house. The cozy Studio at the back of the property doesn’t lose out on the view either, perched above it looks over the roof of the Main House to the ocean beyond.

It was so great to see how warm and bright the whole house and the studio feel bathed in winter sunlight! Access to light was a big concern for the clients and the house is sited and designed to take maximum advantage of solar gain.

A nice grove of trees surrounds the buildings, the clients were adamant about preserving as many trees as possible on the site and the trees do add to the feeling of peaceful and secludedness of the property, in contrast to the expansiveness of the water view on the opposite side.

Can’t wait to see the final product! I would settle down in a heartbeat!

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It’s official! The Spiritual Practice of Architecture gets published on Elephant Journal

I’ve been a reader of Elephant Journal for a long time, I love the inspirational content and most of all the authenticity of the writers. Today I have the privilege to be one of the writers for Elephant Journal!

My article “The Spiritual Practice of Architecture” managed to capture their hearts and now it’s officially up!

It’s been such an honor for me to collaborate with such amazing people! And I’m sure it won’t be the last time…

Here it goes, please share and enjoy!


West Van Uplift near completion!

We are so excited to see this home renovation project of ours in West Vancouver getting near completion! We just dropped by for a site visit and were so pleased with what we saw! It is hard to believe it is the same house. Absolutely beautiful construction and attention to details! The owner wanted to stay very true to the original design and did not settle for less. It’s amazing to look at the rendering next to the construction photo and how close they are to each other! It is certainly a treat for us architects each time to see something manifest in reality just as we had envisioned in the drawing, it makes our work worthwhile! And the part that is even more gratifying is seeing our clients so happy and proud of their new home!  The landscaping will be going in next, and then it will be time for some beautiful architectural photography to document the project. Stay posted!


Come in for a walk-thru!

Here is our latest project under construction, come in and take a walk-thru with us!

This is such an exciting stage in the project – when the design leaves the paper and starts to take shape in reality!

Can you already visualize what the final space will look and feel like?



Journey into the Spaces of the Imagination

Hi everyone! We’re so excited to announce this fun little product we developed – It’s a guided visualization journey in the format of a game, it can be ordered online and makes for a great gift or conversation piece!

The Journey takes you through 10 different archetypal Spaces and is designed to free the Imagination and to access different aspects of ourselves. It can be used during the design process of a home to expand possibilities but can also be taken for personal expansion even if you don’t have a specific project in mind.

As a quick exercise, try closing your eyes and imagine that you are walking through a Forest.
What kind of trees do you see?
What time of day and season is it?
What feeling does this Space evoke for you?
Would you want to linger here, pass through or just leave quickly?

The image that pops into your mind is unique to you. We can learn to interpret the language of our Imagination to obtain clues from our subconscious into our current life situation. Each of the 10 archetypal Spaces offers clues into a different area of our lives.

The game box comes with instructions for taking the Journey, a Worksheet for recording your impressions as you go through, a set of 10 cards with the symbolism for each of the Spaces, and a booklet for guiding you through interpreting your responses. You will also end up with a personal “score” for each of your Spaces that indicates how balanced this area of your life is at the moment, the ultimate goal being to bring all the aspects of ourselves into balance and full expression.
The Journey’s destination is your Dream Home – symbolically the Dream Home represents the full mirror of ourselves, when all the different aspects of ourselves come together into full self-actualization.

The Journey can be taken many times and each time you can go into your Spaces in greater depth. It can be taken individually or shared with others. There is also a facebook group set up where travelers on the Journey can get together and exchange insights.

For more info and to order your Journey online check out

Take the Journey!   The Journey can also be taken online anytime!

We are in the process of expanding this tool into online courses and interactive features to access one’s own Imagination and liberate the creative process. So stay tuned for more and tell us what you think about what you are seeing so far!



2013 Art Crawl!

What fun we had at the Art Crawl this weekend! Over 200 people came to visit us! This year we showcased new work from France by Dana Caple Smith and Maggie Schell’s “Coming Home” Series. It’s been a great collaboration between art and architecture, now in our third year participating in this amazingly vibrant community event!

So many talented artists have exhibited this weekend, more info and coverage about the Sunshine Coast Art Crawl here.

The photos are by Katherine Penfold, who has done awesome coverage of this year’s show!

Looking forward to the next one!

West Vancouver Conceptual

This was a feasibility study that we were commissioned to do in order to demonstrate the potential of a lot for sale in West Vancouver.  It is often worth investigating the site and its possibilities early in the process to ensure that the site is right for its owner.  Topography and sunlight access are just some of the elements that will influence the final design.


How to enclose a rock in a living room? – Stories from the Rockhouse

When anyone first enters the Rockhouse, after a moment of disbelief, they invariably ask, “How on earth did you manage to enclose a rock bluff inside a living room?!”
So we decided to share what we learned from this experience in the blog, from the conceptual, practical and technical sides.


I have to say that the largest barrier we had to overcome was the problem of perception rather than technical difficulties. Before we could get anywhere with the idea of enclosing a rock inside a living room in the rainy climate of BC, we had to believe for ourselves that it was possible. I will not underestimate the importance of this first step because nothing could have been accomplished without it. This proved to be very challenging at times when everyone and everything around us seemed to suggest that it could not be done. So the next big step was to convince others of our vision. This included everything from having the support of our family and friends, to having the support and expertise of fellow professionals to work with us towards that vision, convincing builders that they already had the skill to do something they had never attempted before and getting their input on how it could be done, convincing municipalities that together we were a competent team that could successfully bring this vision into reality.

Another big part of this learning experience for us was understanding our relationship to the building site. Our first desire was to have the entire back wall of the house exposed to the rock. But there were problems with this idea. Although most of the rock face was smooth and dry, there was a big crack on the lower portion of the rock face we wanted to expose where water was constantly draining out of. We contemplated various ways of dealing with the water drainage problem, including plugging the crack with epoxy. One day we were standing at the construction site already well underway, like two little specs in front of this massive rock bluff surrounded by the footprint of the house foundation, and we understood for the first time our place in the whole picture. We could not impose our will on nature. Plugging that crack on the rock face would likely generate leakage unpredictably elsewhere. To succeed we had to work with what was already there. So we studied the rock face more closely. We observed the parts of the rock that were naturally kept dry and how the water naturally drained. We went back to the drawing board to reformulate our strategy. Instead of exposing the entire rock face we decided to strategically expose only the portion of the rock that already “wanted” to be exposed. From that standpoint, the design evolved smoothly into what came to be a very special “picture framing” of the rock, as well as a cozy seating space where we could hang out by the rock.

The conceptual lesson the Rockhouse taught us was twofold – That it is important to have the confidence to believe in our ideas and to be able to bring others along with our vision. But that it is equally important to be humble in the understanding of our place in that vision – to understand that we cannot impose our will on others and much less on nature. The best we can do is to bring out the full potential of what is already there.

Travelling through Italy last summer we were reminded of Michelangelo’s famous quote: “I saw the angel in the marble and I carved him until I set him free.” Never before had that famous quote resonated with us so deeply. We understood that just as we cannot impose our own will on our clients, we also cannot impose our will on our building sites. Our building sites are in a way also our clients. We have to work with the clients’ ideas to bring out the best in them, just as we have to work with our building sites to bring out the full potential of what we already see in them.

On the practical side, we also had to deal with the nagging question, “But how much is enclosing a rock inside a living room going to cost? And is it worth it?”

This question comes hand-in-hand with other questions like, “What is the relationship between “design” and “money”?, and “Does innovative design need to cost a lot of money?”
Our understanding is that whenever we dive into any project, there is already an existing flow and logic to it. We always have the choice to go with the flow or to go against it, but going against the flow will always take more effort. In the same way, working against the building site will always cost more money. Lots of money could have been spent blasting away the site to impose a pre-conceived design on it, or in trying to control the water drainage pattern of the rock. On the other hand, lots of money was saved by working with the land and what was already there, instead of imposing our will on the site.
If a design becomes prohibitively expensive, we have to pause and ask ourselves, “What are we working against here? And how can we reformulate our strategy to turn this around and swim with the current instead of against it?” If all the options are considered and the design still proves to be prohibitively expensive, it is important to have the courage to ask, “Is this site right for me?” A relationship between a house and a building site is not unlike a relationship between people. If after doing everything to try to make a relationship work it is still not working, letting go may be the best option. On the same token, if the site proves to be not right for the house you envision, it is important to have the courage to either let it go, or to adjust your vision to work with the site. In the case of the Rockhouse, we chose the latter.
Having said that, it is very important to pick a site that works for you. If you are someone who can’t handle too many stairs, don’t pick a steep site to build your house on. If you have to work against your piece of land to impose your own needs and desires on it, it will inevitably cost you more money in the end. Pick a site that resonates with you. A site that already brings you closer to what your needs and desires are, and work along with it, not against it. We have learned that this attitude in itself can not only make the design more affordable, but will also go a long way in bringing out creativity and innovation in the design without prohibitive extra costs.


Another side of the relationship between “design” and “cost” worth mentioning is that it is also important to understand that you cannot accomplish something great unless you invest yourself in it. If a creative feature of the design is important to you, if it is something that you feel will really enrich the space and make that space more special and unique to you, understand that you will have to invest some money into that portion in order to express that feature well and fully. In other words, you want that special part to be done right. But this does not mean you need to go above and beyond your means to accomplish it. We often advise our clients to weigh their priorities and put their money where it means the most to them. Perhaps another feature of the design that is not as important can be cut back to make room in the budget to more fully express an important feature. The exposed rock wall was a very important feature of the Rockhouse to us, and to make room in the budget for that we ended up eliminating a few items from our ‘wish list’, such as a wood fireplace, an outdoor tub, and a green roof over the bridge entrance, with the understanding that these features could be added in the future when our budget allowed. In some cases we even made provisions for the future addition of these items.

Finally on the technical side, the solution to enclosing the rock in the living room ended up being fairly simple once we realized that we could take advantage of the dry portion of the rock face. The decision was made to cast a concrete frame around the perimeter of the rockface to be exposed, leaving the crack out of the exposed portion so that the rock could continue to drain out naturally. Within the concrete frame we embedded bentonite rope as a natural sealer. Bentonite is a natural clay material that expands when it comes in contact with water, creating a flexible seal against the uneven rock face. On the top portion of the concrete frame we created a gutter against the rock face to collect and drain the rain water away to one side. The gutter is built up with roofing membrane and metal flashing against the rock face. We insulated the concrete on the inside face with rigid insulation and covered it with drywall, creating a nice color contrast between the grey rock face and the white walls. The inner edge of the concrete frame was skillfully crafted in bamboo, using the carpenter’s technique of scribing to cut the bamboo edges to closely follow the uneven surface of the rock face. This visually created a warm frame around the rock, and also a nice seating space.

The other technical question we are often asked is, “Is the rock face cold?” If we consider the rock as a massive object, it is easy to see that it would take a long time to heat or to cool such a massive object, so its temperature cannot vary much. We find that the rock stays at constant temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius all year long. So it gives a nice cool feeling to hot summer days, and in the winter it is still warmer to stand by the rock face than it is to stand in front of a window. There is in fact a lot more radiative heat loss through windows than through the exposed rock.

On a final note, I have to admit that even though I am used to seeing a rock in my living room everyday, from time to time when I enter the Rockhouse I also stare at it in disbelief… The disbelief comes from the feeling that there is more at work here than anything we could have originally conceived – the confluence of the site’s influence and the efforts of all the people that have believed in the vision and had a hand in bringing that vision into reality created something that is really outside of our hands, it has a life of its own. And again we humbly stand as little specs in front of this massive rock bluff.

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Design and Build your Own Home

There is something very visceral and satisfying to conceive, design, and to build your own home.  To me building your own home is the definition of empowerment.  A home crafted to your personality and your needs can become more than a reflection of your personality, it can be a platform that allows you to flourish.  A home can be crafted to give you that pure quiet space from the hectic world where you can meditate, contemplate, and give your creative juices the space to come out.  A home can be crafted to allow you to commune with the natural landscape around it in harmony.

A hammock in our private courtyard is a personal touch from my wife who comes from Brazil.  It is a piece of home that transforms an outdoor space into an amazing vacation retreat right at home.  There is a wealth of peace and quiet that can come from a lazy summer afternoon gently swaying in the hammock with a glass of wine.

Most people think of their home as simply a place to eat, sleep, and relax.  But there is a spiritual cultivation that is missing in this standard conception of home.  To let our personalities flourish we need to cultivate and nourish our creativity.  The quality of ones life and experiences are what is important.  My parents might travel to far away destinations and see all the attractions in just a few days.  Whereas my wife and I will go to one place for a month and try to absorb as much of the culture and way of life as we can.  We think of deep experiences as being more important than multiple experiences.  Home life should be treated similarly as a deep experience.  I am sure there are subtle things in your home that make you smile everyday and although you may not be conscious of it I bet those little things add together and contribute greatly to your general happiness.  Imagine if you wake up or walk into your home after work each and every day and your home gave you a constant reason to smile.

Many people I speak to dream about building their own home but far fewer people actually do it.  I’ve done it and it is a lot easier than I thought it would be.  Oh, it is an adventure and it will keep you up at night but you’ll remember this deep experience forever.  There are quite a few practicalities that you’ll need to address in order to do it without putting your finances in jeopardy and you’ll need to really get your creative juices going and think about what makes you happy in a home.  A hundred years ago almost everybody had a hand in building their own home.  I think it builds character and it makes you appreciate and focus on what you really believe is important in your life.  I’ve had many clients who think of the exercise as a spiritual re-evaluation of what is essential in their daily habits and daily lives.  There is a great joy in taking something you’ve dreamt about and bringing it to realization in the world.  It is a feeling that is basic and real and satisfying and honest.

There are many aspects to consider and I’ll wade through one by one with this blog.  I’ll act as your guide.  I’ve been educated as an architect with a Masters in Architecture from the University of British Columbia (UBC).  I’ve worked for architects, builders, and developers but now run my own design practice.   I’ve also taught estimating, scheduling, and building technology at the British Columbia Institute of Technology and been a teaching assistant at UBC for structural design and HVAC systems.  For a more detailed CV see

Stay tuned for a piece on ‘affording your new home’.  It is surprisingly easier that your think!

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2011 Sunshine Coast Art Crawl

The Rockhouse hosted 2 artists (Dana Caple Smith & Calamity Design) and a talented young musician (Kristie Yung) for the Sunshine Coast Art Crawl. What a fun weekend we had!