Mary Lake Parkland Community

Located in the west coast rainforest landscape of southern Vancouver Island, a twenty minute drive from downtown Victoria, the vision of the Mary Lake Parkland community is to provide a collection of 40 beautifully designed high efficiency, modestly scaled homes, arranged around a village common, with several communal facilities, including a community building which houses a bio filtration green house adjoining a communal gathering space, outdoor gathering spaces framed by a working wetland water management system, a belvedere lookout coupled with a community water tower, a car sharing facility and a well developed trail system throughout the property. The development incorporates a variety of state of the art design and green infrastructure systems, including geothermal heat pumps, a collective wood gasification boiler, supplied utilizing selective cutting forest management practices within the property, micro hydro generation providing a portion of the electrical needs for the community, and in indoor/outdoor bio-filtration waste-water management system. One-third of the 110 acre property is occupied by homes which range from fully detached to semi-detached modestly scaled dwellings between 900 and 1500 square feet, oriented to maximize passive solar and natural ventilation conditioning, based on Passivhaus principles. The remainder of the land is maintained under a land title covenant to preserve the natural beauty the park like environment, including a pristine twelve-acre lake, and its natural surroundings, for the collective benefit of all residents.

an example of one of the semi-detached modestly scaled homes

A semi-detached house type 1

Given the abundance of large trees on the site, the most common renewable energy sources like wind and solar power will be less effective than on more open sites. Instead, small-scale geothermal, micro-hydro and centralized wood gasification boiler systems were implemented as the best options for creating a highly efficient, low carbon, healthy community, that collectively uses one third of the energy and emits less than a quarter of the green house gases compared to current developments of equivalent occupancy. In conjunction with these energy systems, waste-water management is another important concern in such a pristine landscape, and living machines using bio-filtration techniques have been developed for this site, situated in direct relation with the communal spaces of the project.

The terrain of the site has its own unique characteristics, whose potential has been maximized in the planning of the community. With the use of a water tower built with a conical lattice frame Douglas Fir construction, on the highest point of the property and of natural drainage, the terrain becomes part of the water management strategy for the development. Other features of the plan include small scale, well-planned houses, car sharing, some communal facilities, and links to the green energy agenda that is central to the proposal.

Site Section of Mary Lake Development

Site section

Micro Hydro Power
Taking advantage of the change in elevation and the water pressure created by the flow of water in the Millstream creek, a micro hydro station was designed. The intake and turbine are placed to maximize the change in elevation (head) while minimizing the length of the pipe. This will provide the greatest energy production potential while reducing the loss due to resistance. The system on the Millstream creek can power up to 10 houses during peak flow.
The micro hydro generator has the advantage that it generates electricity in all weather and at all times of day. On a less forested site, it would pair well with solar PV panels as their periods of peak production are generally opposite.

Centralized Wood Gasification Boiler
The extensive forest on the site provides a great source of biofuel, which is both local and renewable, used to fuel a wood gasification boiler. The boiler is centrally located in the community building, with heat distributed up to 500ft from the central location. This heat source is augmented by ground source heat pumps.
Managing the woodland sustainably will ensure that the ecosystems are preserved, and the forest can continue to serve for recreational uses. The forest consists predominantly of Douglas fir with a mix of cedar in the lower lying areas and some birch, maple and arbutus trees.

Living Machine and Constructed Wetlands
The living machine treats the community’s waste water using bio- filtration methods that mimic natural wetlands. The series of ecosystems housed within the community building create a year round green space. After passing through the living machine system, the cleaned water is released into an artificial wetland where it mixes with rainwater runoff and groundwater collected on the north side of the building. The wetland provides further purification before the water is released into a bioswale to return to the lake.

Mary Lake Site PlanSite plan

Tower & Court II: Design Development

Typically an architectural project is divided into 4 phases: schematic design, design development, contract documents, and contract negotiation, with the occasional inclusion of pre-design services & post-occupancy review.  The last post in the Tower & Court series documented the schematic design phase of these two vacation homes.  This post deals with the design development phase.

Upon deciding on a schematic design to proceed with, the next step for the design team is to test their hypotheses.   As we add an increasing level of detail (a comprehensive structural system, materials, etc.), and make more drawings of the building, we inevitably encounter contradictions, tensions, and conflicts within the design that we had perhaps guessed were there, but  had not yet fully explored.  To be sure, we also occasionally encounter unexpected synchronicities between elements, and opportunities for delight that were not fully evident at the first stage of design.  One could think of the transition between schematic design and design development as a sort of focusing.  As more drawings are done, the relationships between the parts become clearer.

Parry Sound Courtyard Cottage

Having selected the ‘court’ scheme for the Parry Sound property, we started to think through some different options for the roof.

Perry Sound Sloped

Perry Sound Parapet
or should we have a play between parapets & open eaves?
Perry Sound Flat

Should it simply be flat?

These thoughts ‘in 3-dimensions’ were accompanied by thinking ‘in section’ about the different eave conditions that we could work with.

Perry Sound Eave Studies

Eave Options

Perry Sound Wall Types

Wall Type Studies

Simultaneous to this, we also continued to further define & develop the layout of the cottage.  The design development stage of the project, especially at the beginning of it, is a great opportunity to explore the various different possible permutations on a basic theme.  Ideally, at this point, every aspect of the design is worked over and tested.

Perry Sound Plan

Perry Sound floor plan during design development.

Frog Island Tower House

Meanwhile, at the Oliphant property, design development brought with it a focus on trying out and testing various different structural systems, including SIPs (structural insulated panels), CLTs (cross laminated timber), and even concrete block.

Why concrete block, you may wonder?  In bringing this project to the next level of development, we decided to face the fact that if a building is over 3 storeys tall it is required to either be constructed of non-combustible materials or be sprinklered, according to the building code.  For some time we considered making the argument that CLTs (solid, thick, composite wood panels) are essentially non-combustible, as studies have shown this to be true.  Unfortunately, the expense both of making this argument and of the actual panels themselves made this unfeasible.  Given that this property is pretty hard to access, concrete block walls were also a bit far-fetched.

Fortunately, it was actually the height that we were looking for in this design, not the number of storeys.  While the code wouldn’t allow us to go up 4 storeys, there is no rule against 3 storeys + a mezzanine, as long as the mezzanine is less than 40% of the square footage of a regular floor.  We managed to easily accommodate the lost floor area in the plan by expanding the footprint of the tower slightly.

Oliphant Mezz Study

We tried out a number of different permutations on the mezzanine idea.

Oliphant Study Model

A variation.

The officials at the municipality were also having some trouble with the height of the building, so to allay their fears we developed this sight diagram, to show that we would not inappropriately interfere with the privacy of the neighbours:

Oliphant Sight Diagram

Oliphant Tower House sight diagram.

As with the Parry Sound cottage, we used the design development phase to do a thorough study of the different possibilities available within the basic scheme we had decided upon.  Below are the plans and elevations of the cottage during this stage.

Oliphant Ground Flr

Oliphant House ground floor plan during design development


Oliphant Plans

Oliphant House floor plans during design development.

Oliphant Elevs

Oliphant House elevations during design development.


Tower & Court : Two Vacation Properties

Over the past few months we have gotten to work on a couple of projects that afford some exceptional architectural opportunities.  This post, and subsequent installments, will document the process we take in the creation of two architecturally significant, environmentally-sensitive vacation homes.  Both projects are waterfront homes sited on beautiful, large properties in rural Ontario.

Oliphant property, future site of the tower: winter.
Oliphant property, future site of the tower: summer.

The first project is on an island near Oliphant Ontario, and only accessible by boat in the summer (although when the shallow water that separates it from the mainland freezes, it is accessible by car in the winter).  It is adjacent to one of the most popular kite surfing destinations in the country, and, in fact, this is the primary reason that the clients bought the property, being keenly enthusiastic about this sport.  While near water, it doesn’t have the most dramatic view of the Western sunsets across Lake Huron.  This, and the north orientation, are our initial site challenges.

Parry Sound property: winter.
Parry Sound property: summer.

The second project, not far from Parry Sound, is accessible by car year-round and located on a private lake.  There is an existing series of structures scattered along the lake edge of the property, including a small gabled cottage, a boathouse, a garage/sauna, and a couple of sheds.  On the land side of the cottage is a large cleared meadow suitable for sports like soccer and frisbee. This client has a larger set of requirements and a need for more spatial separation between various elements of the home in order to regularly accommodate the three generations that will live there, plus guests.

The objective of both projects is to accommodate all of the modern conveniences while being aggressively energy efficient and able to be shut-down to zero-energy buildings when not in use.  It has been a key point of focus in our practice to reduce energy consumption in all of our buildings, but with second homes we have been exploring ways to further reduce energy by adapting the building for what we call ‘on-off usage’.

Our primary design instincts were fairly similar for the two projects: wanting to emphasize the view and site orientation, wanting to incorporate the new structures as seamlessly as possible into the existing landscape, but still wanting something striking, dynamic, and flexible.  Despite the similar objectives, the resulting propositions were very different, driven by the cues within the landscape itself and the client’s objectives.

Here are a few of our schemes for the first project:





And here is the scheme that has emerged as the favourite, both for us and for the client:




In this scheme, the view played a really important role, as did the metaphor of the kite surfing.  The long drawn out ‘boomerang’ of the canopy is reminiscent of the kite used in kite boarding, meanwhile the tower, with its rotating voids cut from it, affords a series of ever-better views of the surrounding area as one moves up through the building.  The sequence culminates at the top with views to the West of the Lake Huron horizon and back over the bay to the East – toward the kite-boarding theatre!  The stairs, and the sectional relationships with the rotating cut-outs create unexpected vistas, and a dynamic space for the client to inhabit, in a flexible, active way.

On the other hand, here are a few of our schemes for the second project:






As you can see from the various iterations, we were very drawn, in all options, to the idea of spreading out the elements of the project across the site, as an ‘assemblage of parts’.  A strategy of this sort simultaneously responds to the needs of the multi-generational clients, builds upon the existing way of using the site with its dispersed volumes, and allows for a very dynamic series of relationships between parts of program: cue image of young boy skipping along a boardwalk between the trees to see his grandparents.

Here is the scheme that has emerged as the favourite:



In this scheme, the approach of ‘scattering’ is utilized in a slightly less direct manner.  The spaces of the building are still spread out across the site, but they are, with the exception of the guest cabin, incorporated within one extended building envelope.  The resulting courtyard is framed by these spaces, creating a welcoming exterior volume that brings a sense of protective enclosure from the adjacent open meadow.  The central dining area has large panes of operable glass on each side – one facing out toward the lake, and one facing back towards the courtyard.   The dining space becomes the perceptual void that connects the more solid adjacent volumes of the building.  The roof draws down to the earth in a couple of places to become walls, giving the impression of a building emerging naturally from the ground evocative of the ubiquitous outcroppings in the area.

More to follow, as we further develop these exciting schemes!!


I finally carved out the time to immerse myself in the world of Passivhaus!

In completing this intensive course on the finer details of designing and building to meet the very stringent energy requirements of Passivhaus – a German system that is arguable the most appropriate certification system for housing – M J | architecture is set to design the most energy efficient homes possible.  A Passive House is a very energy efficient building which requires such a small amount of heat that it can be heated mainly by “passive” sources such as incoming sunlight and existing appliances.  The ultimate consequence is as beneficial for the environment as it is for one’s pocketbook.

Did you know that heating, lighting and cooling is the major component of a buildings environmental impact over the total life cycle of the building? In the order of 85%!  This means that while environmental products are good for indoor air quality they are by no means the answer to a ‘green’ building.  Passivhaus avoids the greenwashing.







M J | architecture Office in Toronto Life

Check out the April issue of Toronto Life.  M J | architecture has been featured in an article on Live Work Spaces in the ‘Great Space’ column.  Thanks goes to Alex Bozikovic who proposed this opportunity to show case our space.

Click Here to read the full article:  2012 Toronto Life – 409 Shaw Live Work

Click Here to read the article online:

Canadian Architect Article – February 2012

A beloved piece of architectural heritage has been demolished.  I drove by the site of the former office of Moriyama & Teshima Architects a month ago and found an empty site with only a few stems from a huge old wisteria vine still sticking out of the ground.  As a former employee of the office I very much enjoyed writing the following article for Canadian Architect (copied and pasted from how it appears online).  Please have a read if you have the time.  I welcome your comments.

Time to Go

The venerable Toronto-based architecture firm of Moriyama & Teshima recently moved out of their original offices on Davenport Road that they have occupied since 1966.


TEXT Melana Janzen
PHOTO Moriyama & Teshima

I arrived late to the farewell party. Coming through the forged iron gate of the garden wall at 32 Davenport Road, it was too dark to notice the missing yew tree (already transplanted to a new home), but the wandering wisteria vine was a strong tangled silhouette, twisting around, up, and over the trellis and parapet walls–its deep roots likely to be one of the last grips held as the plot of land is cleared and excavated for a new sky-bound development. The building itself–the party honouree–had already been emancipated of 45 years’ worth of drawings, material samples, proposals, magazines, and financial records. Inside its empty shell was a palpable sense that this space and its layered history would soon be gone. The entry sequence began with a Zen garden-like walled forecourt, followed by a crafted and weighty solid wood door, and then, finally, a stone slab spanning an interior fishpond. Once inside, visiting clients and employees alike were brought into the cedar-clad interiors of a unique piece of living history coupled with the Modernist sensibilities of a practice enmeshed with the Japanese cultural heritage of its founders. The space has developed mythic significance, as perhaps only a handful of other design offices have–a place where architecture has been shaping the Canadian context for almost 50 years. In 1966, Raymond Moriyama transformed a former automotive garage into a dynamic architectural practice that gave birth to many of our country’s seminal buildings and planning projects: the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre and the Ontario Science Centre in Toronto, the Canadian War Museum in Ottawa, the Meewasin Valley Master Plan in Saskatoon, and the Wadi Hanifah Restoration Project in Saudi Arabia.

The spaces of this unique building embodied a spirit and character that was imbued in the practice from its inception. In the February 1967 issue of Canadian Architect, Moriyama describes his office as “a workshop for the mind, a tool built first to serve the staff, and second to help give the client a rounded view of the firm and its basic attitude.” It is true to say that many architects have sought work at Moriyama & Teshima because of the office’s unique environment. Passing through the front reception area and moving toward the back, the building becomes a split-level stacked studio space. A double-height space in the centre provides natural daylight and a visual connection between the various levels.

As I left the farewell party, Moriyama was having his last cigar on the terrace outside the loft. This small space, tucked above and to the side of the larger spaces of the building and accessible via a tiny winding stair, is of legend–steeped with years of discussion and debate. With that last puff, the towers encroaching upon the firm’s vacated offices on 32 Davenport Road will no longer cast it in shadow. Perhaps in moving on from their legendary building, Moriyama & Teshima demonstrate the ability of the profession to understand and respond to context–a poignant recognition that the time for a storied space in which some of our key urban environments have been conceived, is past. CA

Melana Janzen, formerly an employee of Moriyama & Teshima, is now a partner at MJ | architecture in Toronto.

M J | architecture – North American Wood Design Award!

Original Press Release

We are happy to announce that M J | architecture has received a citation award for the CP Harbour House from the North American Wood Design Awards Program sponsored by Wood Design & Building magazine.  Note that we received the award under previous office name of McMinn + Janzen Studio.

Off to the National MLO Exhibition!

I recently entered a competition put on by the latest team chosen to represent Canada at the Venice Biennale for Architecture.  The team, calling themselves MLO (Migrating Landscapes Organizer), asked entrants to discuss the relationship between their migration story and the un/settling feeling of dwelling.  There were two mediums of expression required  – a video and a model.  I have received news that my entry will be proceeding from the regional exhibition to the national exhibition which will open March 15th, 2012 in Winnipeg.

Photo Credit Michele Friesen.

My video entry can be accessed at

Globe and Mail – Rattray Marsh House

It is now almost a couple months old, but the Rattray Marsh House was published in the Globe and Mail.  A big thanks to Dave LeBlanc for writing about the house and interviewing both John and I, as well as the clients.