I met a dream client years ago. Here is what happened at the first meeting.

It was my first big commercial office renovation project. Continue reading “I met a dream client years ago. Here is what happened at the first meeting.”

Why design is not valued, but the execution is

“I have already selected a very good and reputable contractor for building my new house, I JUST need to have someone to design my house “


It is a recent phone conversation I had with a potential(?) client who is looking for an architect to design his custom house. He got my contact information from a person we both knew. While I was mentally making a note to call my contact to give my piece of mind, I took a deep breath and decided to hear him out. Continue reading “Why design is not valued, but the execution is”

Can’t decide on your future career? This is what I did.

Do you know how high school students deciding on their future goals, plans or even more immediate plan such as university major?   It can be a stressful, scary and also the most exciting time for their lives.  Meet Nicole Cao who went through those those feelings,  and how her trip to Germany solidified  the decision to study Architecture.  Here is her story…

I remember the exact moment where I made the decision only because it was so spontaneous.  For someone who takes a decade to decide what kind of cheese to get on their sub, this was particularly strange.

There wasn’t a hint of doubt or hesitation when I decided to do a foreign exchange year.All I knew was that I wanted to get away.

“What do you want to do when you’re older?”

It was the beginning of grade 11, my classmates were busily discussing their post-secondary aspirations: business, engineering, medicine, etcetera.

“What do you want to do when you’re older?”   I had been running from the dreaded question my entire life, and my time was starting to run out. It seemed the more research I did on possible careers and undergraduate programs, the more lost I became.

As someone who’s into math and art, architecture seemed like an obvious choice, but I still couldn’t make up my mind. I wasn’t sure if I was cut out for using fancy protractors, drawing straight lines, and making detailed technical blueprints.

My artwork always featured things that were alive (animals, portraits, plants) with emotional qualities.

” how could I devote my life to sketching out inanimate buildings?”

I needed more time to explore and think before I could make a confident decision. At the time, I couldn’t imagine how much a year could change my perception.  Fast forward eight months and a pile of paperwork later, I’m picking up my luggage at the Frankfurt International Airport.

My first host family is just beyond the gate, holding a big welcome banner with my name on it. We greet each other, and they start speaking to me in very fast German.

“It only took a few seconds for me to realize that Rosetta Stone and Duolingo had failed me miserably…”


1. The realization hit me hard; I have no clue!

And so the adventure begins.

A new country, a new language, a new culture. A fresh start. The unfamiliar environment excited me.  Learning became a part of everyday life. Whether they are:

  • new German vocabulary,
  • taking the trains in new city
  • how to make rhubarb jam,

As the months passed, I slowly developed a “sense” for the language in a variety of ways: conversations with strangers, listening to music, and reading graffiti.

I became independent of English during the third month and my confidence increased along with my German proficiency.

“Hiding in my reserved introvert shell just wasn’t an option.”

Throughout my year, I was constantly aware that my time was limited. Hiding in my reserved introvert shell just wasn’t an option. I learned to become more assertive and proactive. I joined the rowing team, did horseback riding lessons and even danced in the school talent show.

Like a fairytale!

I pushed my capabilities and learned many things about myself, including the fact that I’m definitely no prima ballerina. Despite the range of available activities, my favourite pastime was simply exploring every nook and cranny of the country.


2. My architecture education starts in Germany…

Luckily for me, my first host family was full of avid travellers.

They were eager to share with me the many wonderful landscapes of Germany. I adored the traditional half-timbered houses that crowded the streets of each city’s “altstadt” (German for “old city”).

The variety of patterns and colours made them unbelievably charming. I felt as if I had stepped into one of my favourite fairytales or Disney movies.

Germany is famous for this type of architecture. These houses, built in the middle ages, have stood through war and survived modernization. Strolling along the quaint cobblestoned streets I caught an intimate glimpse into another time period. Each house was a physical testament to centuries of history and, they were very much real.

Who was the first inhabitant of this 400 year old house? What did they do all day? How did they think? What did they believe? Did someone in the 1400s park their horse where that BMW is now?

Germany captivated my imagination. Many German cities are associated with classic childhood bedtime stories. The story of the pied piper who lures rats and children with the music of a magic pipe is set in the real town of Hameln.


The city centre and dedicated museum are decorated with statues of rats and pipers in tribute to this story. The tale of the four animal musicians takes place in Bremen, and this classic Brothers Grimm fairytale is celebrated in souvenir shops and artwork all around the city.

It’s interesting that folklore and tangible locations can be connected in a way that makes you wonder if magic and mysterious phenomena really did exist. It was all part of the charming character of Germany that amazed me.

Along with the well-preserved historic buildings, today’s Germany has made huge advances in architecture. Modern buildings like the Elbphilharmonie stand in stark contrast to the medieval villages and castles.

Germany’s physical environment seemed to embody its cultural development and progression. How did these changes occur? I began to wonder how people, culture, time period and environment affected each other. I began to see how a space is very much a reflection of its inhabitants, past and present.

These initial questions soon lead me to discover the power and emotional impact of architecture.

Continue reading “Can’t decide on your future career? This is what I did.”

How I made the hiring mistake by trusting myself too much

I know I trust myself too much when it comes to making decisions.  Way too much!

The bigger the decisions, I  go with gut feelings  believing  I can somehow magically arrive  at the perfect decision place. (aka no research, no analysis, no preparation, no nothing).

Continue reading “How I made the hiring mistake by trusting myself too much”

We value “this” more than money or status.

HEALTH that is.

These days we are constantly bombarded with the emphasis on being healthy; work out more, exercise more, do not sit down for a long period, eat right, drink more water, meditate etc. The lists are endless….for us to accomplish.

Continue reading “We value “this” more than money or status.”

Want to excel at university education, make sure to do this ONE thing! (PART 2)

Going to university…it is a huge milestone time for all of us: leaving the comfort of your home, meeting tons of strangers, and mostly preparing for another turning point in one’s life, adulthood. It can be both scary and exciting at the same time. Is it even possible to “prepare” for such a change? One high school student decides to tackle this intimidating aspect by packing early… way early. Xinyun( aka Angelina) decided to travel to learn about her chosen career choice, architecture in Japan before starting her university education.

It is her personal observation of the cities, culture, people, and even ice cream shops in Japan, and how they all intermingled to create a distinctive Japanese style with particular attention on building designs.  Read this continuing story and comment and ask questions.  Xinyun is more than happy to share her experience with you.

Continue reading “Want to excel at university education, make sure to do this ONE thing! (PART 2)”

Want to excel at university education, make sure to do this ONE thing! (PART 1)

Each year around September, I get emails from my undergraduate education, Cornell University that there is a number of highly qualified Canadian high school students who want to apply for architecture education. I would interview the students and write evaluation/ recommendation as part of the admission process. One can predict that such experience would be a rewarding one, however in my case, these chance meetings turned out to be more than “rewarding”….it was a chance for ME to get educated!  I met such a student, Xinyun( aka Angelina) Huang this year. This is her story of how she got prepared for her education.

I signed up for the Japanese exchange without much hesitation. People said it was a great trip– the food was cool (melon pocky, colorless milk tea, etc.), students were really really nice, and there were so many cool experiences such as making washi papers and drawing on Japanese Lacquer that is culturally unique. When I declare my interest in architecture on my request form though, I never really expect to be hosted by a family with two architecture major parents. They got super excited and want to show me Japan’s architectural side.

In the beginning, I was bored…


Ever since I was interested in architecture, I start researching for some architectural exhibitions wherever I go. There are many good exhibitions in Shanghai, where I spend my holidays. However, most of them are kind of boring. I was drowning in walls of descriptions with jargons and I have no idea what I am supposed to know and where I am supposed to look. When I thought every exhibition would be so hard to interpret, my mind is completely changed after visiting Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum (where we went).

So we drove an hour and went to this park that is so far away from Tokyo (where the school is), and we walked into a normal park. Kids were running around, there are little tents scattered around grassland. When I get a little bit confused, I saw a huge ancient Japanese architecture standing right in front of me. I wish somebody could record my time for the sprint because it is probably my personal best.

The museum is like an architectural Disneyland!

It is huge, and from my host family, I know that those are the prototyped architectures removed from their original place because of city planning. For the first time, I am allowed to go into the actual buildings to experience what it feels like to live in that place, and what do people do in those buildings.

The collection of the buildings is really diverse in the sense that it collected all the kinds of buildings that were significant historically wise throughout different eras. There are tiny shops such as “Kodera” Soy Sauce Shop, which is built in 1933 and then moved to the park in 1993; there is a huge public bathhouse; there are private houses such as the house of Korekiyo Takahashi, or a farmhouse of a family. There are brochures in English for tourists to take so I would know the historical significance and also the purpose of its design very well. For example, this “Kodera” Soy Sauce Shop is originally built by its owner, and the park kept its appearance in the perfect shape, even including the living space for the owner’s family! There are many empty sake bottles on the shelves as well, which makes it look so realistic and lively. From my host family’s memory, they could picture it in its original location, and how they go to the shops and buy soy sauce.


Where is the entrance?

Another interesting building is the Tea Arbor “Kaisuian.” The total floor area is only around 17 m2, and at first, I could not even find the entrance. My host mom pointed at a little door, and said, “that is the entrance.” It only came up to my waist, and I wonder if any adult with their traditional cloth could get in. It was said that since tea ceremonies are sacred and pristine, the little door prevents people bring in their swords and start a fight in the room. The ceiling is also really low, which force you to sit down.


Aside from those ancient-looking buildings, there are also many modern buildings around the park. For example, the House of Kunio Mayekawa is really modernly designed, even though it is actually built in 1042. From my host family, I learned that Kunio Mayekawa is a really famous architect who has worked with Le Corbusier for two years. This personal residence has a big living room, and the design makes the air flow freely through the house. There are also many unique designs with the furniture. Even though the law restricted the floor space, the house seems very big because of the compact design and floor plans, such as the high ceiling for the living room and the low ceiling for other rooms. My host mom also pointed out that the wall from the entrance is made of volcanic rock, which is purely decorative and a tribute to the famous architect, Frank Lloyd Wright.

As you can see so far, my architecture education has already begun! without even stepping a foot in the university buildings!  Stay tuned for the next post to hear what I realized at the end of trip. Would love to hear your experience!

Bringing work home with you is a good thing? Architect’s perspective

Imagine if you can come to work with your pajamas.  I know I know…I can see you guys putting hands up saying “what about the work-life” balance“, “can’t be productive over  50 hours per week“, “work smart vs work hard” etc.  Besides, going to work with your pajamas can only work when you not meeting anyone (aka “no business”),  So, why am I even contemplating  the ridiculous situation of going to work with pajamas as a good thing?

At my architecture practice, Studio Jonah, we are getting more requests to do projects that incorporate the work space into their living quarters.  We are seeing the trend not only from individuals who want to create their own work space in their homes, but also the developers who are planning their  condo projects to include the work space within each condo units.  Combining the work and home is becoming a major focal point of a project, rather than a minor wish list the clients would like to have.   The allure of being able to come to work with pajamas is just  too enticing of a concept for many people.


History of Flexible Space

Live– Work spaces are not a new phenomenon. Butcher shops, bakeries, taverns with the owners living upstairs have been around for centuries and still exist today in the form of mom and pop convenience stores and B & B’s, allowing self-employed people to simply walk down the stairs to work every day.

Today, with full-time jobs becoming increasingly scarce and telecommuting gaining in popularity, live–work is an appealing option for self-employed individuals searching for the ultimate work life balance. The greatest interest  for this type of housing options come from city dwellers: professionals in the creative industries, as well as young entrepreneurs who are unable or unwilling to pay the high cost of buying or leasing office, workshop or studio space as well as additional living space.


Appeal of live-work space

One of the recent projects our office finished, the client (husband) offers to set up a home office for his wife who wanted to go on a writing retreat for three months to finish her book. When he was faced having to run a household with 3 kids, the husband decides to resolve the difficult situation FAST, he proposed the “permanent” solution of creating the home office for his wife.  It is the increasingly common type of project request our office gets; creating a Home office for family members who want to spend less time commuting to their work (or hide from the rest of the family members.) My guess is that it is not only the time-saving aspect that is attractive to the clients, but being able to own a place of their own within the craziness of their life. 

It is not always easy to carve out a space that can accommodate work set up when houses and condos are getting smaller. However, it is possible with some careful planning and creative outside of box thinking. The challenge of repurposing old commercial buildings into live-work place is worth the time and effort. It all comes down to careful planning. With proper accommodation for things like varying heights, multiple fire ratings surveying and planning considerations as well as unique challenges of coordinating old mechanical system to a new one. The end result can be a one of a kind live work space that features a charming blend of old and new with lots of character.

“It is not always easy to carve out a space that can accommodate work area when our living spaces (houses, condos etc) are getting smaller”.  

Updated Drawing


As our client shares her favorite activity at her new home office-  people watching  through the  new rectangular window facing the street- she is forever grateful for her husband to come up with  a permananet solution to her professional life.  Besides, transforming their scary basement space to usable sunny and airy place  has also been an unexpected perk for all the family members.

I am a proponent of going to work with pajamas (ok, maybe gym outfits).  Just make sure to have a sturdy lock set up on the door 🙂

Please let me know what your wish lists are for  your current or future home!  We will post another design solution to your dilemma.

From Scandinavia with Love – Personal Travel Blog

We feature an original post by our guest contributor, Ania Trica from Trica Design Studio. Here is November, 2017 post.

A two week journey from inside the pretty interiors of Stockholm to the majestic outdoors of Norway – Visiting three Scandinavian countries: Sweden, Denmark and Norway

This past September, along with my husband and two friends, I traveled from Toronto to three Scandinavian countries in search of a great design adventure.  I found what I was looking for and I’m excited to share my discoveries with you!

Continue reading “From Scandinavia with Love – Personal Travel Blog”

The Essential Library Of An Architecture Student

Gone are the days where picture books were fun. These days, being preoccupied with picture books make me cringe more than a book filled with non-stop text. Why? Studying architecture means learning visually is imperative, but sometimes lines on top of lines assembled to create a window section detail leaves me stunned and overwhelmed- a 0.05 dashed line to resemble a vapour barrier? Bring me back the essays!

It’s also no surprise to hear university students complain about their books they buy with the money they don’t have and the time they don’t use to read said books (pretty much paperweights at this point). It’s hard to quantify textbooks’ worth, when, as a student, it may not always be a priority. In the end, what do we learn from these books that we don’t learn in class or at work, or from others?

Continue reading “The Essential Library Of An Architecture Student”