Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Do Industrial Buildings Have a Future?

Is there a future for industrial sites, by

Is there a future for industrial sites?
Redesign of old industrial buildings.
2011 @
I always had an affinity for large industrial buildings. I admire their scale, the unabashedly form follows function designs and the amazing structures and shapes this creates. There is an inherent beauty in those buildings which should be preserved; they are a part of our heritage.

In past posts we talked about combining old and new, i.e. adding a new part to an old building. We concentrated mainly on residential and commercial buildings, but what about industrial ones. Would this be an option? Often we see these interesting buildings disappear, to be replaced by condos and housing developments.

I lived in London, England, in the 80s and out of interest I researched what happened to the extraordinary Battersea Power Station, a listed industrial building, which was decommissioned as a power station in the early 80s. To my delight the latest proposal by Real Estate Opportunities is placing this great building as part of a massive overall area redevelopment, aiming it to be the largest carbon neutral building in Europe. This would be an amazing green achievement.

So realistically what needs to happen to save these great buildings?

The public will to save them: Before Battersea Power Station was listed as heritage I remember many voices shouting for its demolition. Without doubt, it is easier and less expensive to develop a site without having to preserve, rebuild and sanitize an old building. However, as these buildings are part of the history of a city considerable thought should be given to their inherent identity value.

Attraction of private money: Private investors need a decent return on investment. As the restoration and remodeling work for the existing building will be substantial the surrounding area developments will have to offset these costs. Appropriate density, scale and easement of existing restriction are required. Economy of scale is a must.

Usable volumes/spaces: Of course the more rectangular or square building are the easier to convert them into usable different applications. The building examples above all have their own challenges, but their size will still allow innovative million dollar designs.

The closest example in Toronto is most likely the Distillery Historic District, which was converted from an industrial application to an entertainment/residential/commercial destination one with art galleries, restaurants and offices. The initiative gave a historic part of Toronto a new lease of life.

Usually the first step to see if a project is viable is the feasibility study. We would love to be part of one.

Martina Ernst
Wo-Built Inc. - Innovative Design and Build

Please, follow the links to find more information: Combining Old and New: Keeping the Neighbourhood and Community Thriving Architecture: Combining New and Old Doors Open Toronto 2011 Featuring City in Focus: Architecture + Photography

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

A Message from the CEO: What Guides Us

A Message from the Wo-Built's CEO: design and build construction company, Toronto, ON CanadaCEO Message: We will be able to serve you, our clients,
and the community even better than before.

2011 @

Taking all the experiences we got over the last five years, ... we will be able to serve you and the community even better than before.

The Exhibition just started again, signaling the end of summer. The great weather over the summer allowed me to visit our great patios in Corso Italia and, since I am not actively involved in the day to day running of projects, reflect on the last five years. Yes, Wo-Built is almost 5 years old.

Like any start-up company we had our ups and downs, but what fantastic ups we had.
  • Our addition projects: the Classic, the Ranch, the Tower, the Lodge, each is unique in their own way.
  • Our social mission: helping women in construction and the trades.
  • Our anime: WoBinna.
  • Our community involvement: Corso Italia.
But as any start-up company we also had a huge learning curve over the last 5 years, especially since we based our company on a social mission. I am still convinced that for profit companies should have a social mission as the core. (In the same way that I believe any not-for-profit organization should have for-profit programs to offset some of the peaks and troughs of operation brought on by the uncertainty of funding.)

Over the last 5 years we have added to our original mission to help women in construction. Community, Green Building and Eco Consciousness now play a large role in our company. Hence, to give our original mission the attention it deserves, we are now going to form our own not-for-profit to help women in construction.

One of the other areas of change is our operation. Even though we had rewarding smaller projects in the past, we are now going to concentrate on larger projects, due to our change in organization structure. Our former president Elida Huignard has kindly agreed to head the not-for-profit organization and is therefore stepping back from the day-to-day running of projects, which she did so amazingly over the last years. In the future our projects will be run by project management consultants who are committed to our high standards of ethics, construction expertise and excellence.

One of the corner stones of our operation is transparency in both our financial and operational dealings. We have now decided to be even more transparent, and we will be embarking on a multi-year project of producing our own Best Practices Manuals.

In the past we said that we wanted to be the best builder while doing good, we still maintain this for the future. Taking all the experiences we got over the last five years, implementing the elements discussed above and we will be able to serve you and the community even better than before.

But first let’s enjoy the rest of the summer.

Martina Ernst
Wo-Built Inc. - Innovative Design and Build

links: What Is Special About Our Design And Built Construction Company? Our Achievement Lunch

Thursday, 18 August 2011

House My Nephew Wants to Build

My Dream House, by wobuilt.comMy Dream House
"... a tree house with stairs, plumbing for the washroom,
roof that opens, an extra area for the kitchen/living room,
and additional supports for the structure."

2011 @

Where does our imagination go?
My soon to be 7 year old nephew Alex drew me his version of a dream house recently and I was totally blown away. Not only can I harbour hopes that there will be a designer or architect / engineer in the next generation, but I marveled at the depths of his ideas at his age.

All I asked him was if he could draw his dream house, the one he would like to live in and he immediately said: "Oh, I draw you a tree house." And not just any tree house, one that has stairs in the tree trunk, plumbing for the washroom, roof that opens and an extra area for the kitchen/living room. He even thought of extra supports for the structure. Amazing! I am so proud.

It struck me: if we as children have so much 'realistic' imagination, why do we end up with standard unimaginative boxes to live in when we are adults? Where does the sense of adventure go? Is it a question of supply and demand? Are we getting what we ask for or are we given only limited choices or are we conditioned to like boxes? These are questions that warrant lengthy answers, but maybe we just have to ask them. I am not advocating that we all live in a tree house or castle, but that we let our imagination loose.

If we have to end up with a box, maybe we can make it an interesting one. We can use the notion of inside-outside space, using orientation, playing with levels, daylight/sunlight, natural ventilation, window sizes, structure and other architectural themes and tools to bring wow into the space.

But talking again about tree houses. My nephew is not the only one dreaming about living in or around a tree. In our post Wobinna’s Dream Home Contest: Submission #2 Tree House we described a tree house with amenities, just as my nephew did. There seems to be something ancient and elementary in humans that likes the idea of back to nature, green and simpler, but with modern amenities. Maybe we need to bring this element back into our designs.

Hence we are considering reviving our dream house competition where we would like to push the envelope of home design; where we can let our imagination come true. We, as humans, have an abundance of imagination. We are influenced by many factors from popular culture to space travel, from traditional design to modern architecture. So dream away and something marvelous will come from it!

Martina Ernst
Wo-Built Inc. - Innovative Design and Build

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Aspects of Longevity of Design: How to Design Timeless Spaces

Aspects of Longevity of Design, by wobuilt.comImportance of Longevity of Design:
Bright and spacious top floor flat
with vaulted ceilings to the reception.
Two Bedrooms. Fitted Kitchen. Bathroom.
Credit: Zoopla

There are many physical, technical & operational aspects to great design and we believe longevity of design is an essential aspect of the architectural design.
Recently I found my old London flat (near Camden Town) for sale again on the Internet. Oh, first I cried when I saw the price (Maybe I should have held onto it?), but then I looked at the spaces and was amazed: it had not changed substantially within 20 years. Of course, the kitchen was updated with new cabinets and the bathroom had some alterations, but the overall design of the spaces and their modern feel did not change.

I realized, the reason I am so happy is that my ex husband Andrew and I designed and built the flat 20 odd years ago. It took us 3 years of tears, sweat, hard work, laughter, arguments and lots of stories to tell to convert it from a one bedroom place to a two bedroom one. We had no idea what we let ourselves in for and the scope of work got bigger by the minute. But we were so proud when we finally finished it.

At the time we did not think about longevity of design, we just designed it according to our own taste: the double height ceiling, the skylights, the glass shelves, the wardrobes with the blinds, the white walls and many more details I cannot see in the photos, but hope they are still there. We didn’t even think about resale value, but somehow, we managed to design spaces that proved to be timeless. It’s probably because we got the wow factor in the space design, not the finishes. We did not design it trendily, we designed it classically with twists.

This everlasting approach is also very much our philosophy at Wo-Built when designing for our clients. We try to provide spaces that play with levels, daylight, sight lines and other architectural means to achieve the timelessness of the design. The architectural composition serves as the canvass for the finishes. The finishes, such as paint, wood and tiles, often bring the trendy aspect of the space and can be changed according to tastes and with the times. But the 'bones' of the spaces will continue for a long time.

I am still so excited that the first place I ever owned still has some of Andrew’s and my ideas in it. For designers this is the best compliment.

Martina Ernst
Wo-Built Inc. - Innovative Design and Build

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Illuminating with Presents from the IESNA

IES Illuminating Engineering Society, screenshotScreenshot: IES Illuminating Engineering Society

Wo-Built Got Presents Today Courtesy of IESNA
This morning I felt like a kid in a candy store, two huge boxes were delivered to the office. From the IESNA, Illuminating Engineering Society of North America. Since I am now a member of the Society they sent copies of the current IES Lighting Library (Hurray!), including the latest IES Lighting Handbook 10th edition, a verifiable door stopper.

Looking back to my roots transforming spaces through light and my love for lighting design, this is going to be such a treat reading about the latest technologies and processes. The Lighting Library is a huge step towards Wo-Built’s goal to become more involved in large scale lighting and non-residential interior renovations. It brings the most up to date knowledge at our disposal to be able to add to our comprehensive experience about lighting. We are no strangers to large scale lighting projects having worked in the past with the Metro Toronto region school boards and on the Singapore MRT expansion.

One of the Publications caught my eye immediately: A Guide to Designing Quality Lighting for People and Buildings. As designers and contractors, we at Wo-Built are always pushing for quality design of spaces through our design processes. Therefore I wanted to see what the Society had to say.

Quoting a paragraph under the architecture section: "A successful lighting design supports the architect’s artistic intent. Lighting can be used to "paint" a space with light to meet the architect’s goals of inspiration, spaciousness, interest, etc." to highlight a fact it looks completely like my sentiments. In March 2011 I wrote a post Architectural Lighting Design as a Work of Art: Painting with Light where I compared the processes of painting and lighting design using a local artist’s painting for illustration.

Daylight design is an important aspect for our projects and I was pleased to see that the Society is putting emphasis on this topic. Our philosophy of light design was well presented in the description of a development of one of our addition project where we introduced skylights over the staircase. We achieved two effects: making the staircase a feature in the room and allowing plenty of daylight to penetrate to the lower open concept level as the staircase has a very open design. Further, we like daylight because it allows energy savings, but more importantly it enhances living and working comfort.

Looking forward now to attending meeting of the local Toronto Chapter, renewing old friendships and making new ones.

Martina Ernst, proud member of IESNA
Wo-Built Inc. - Innovative Design and Build

Wo-Built's Development of a Second Floor Addition Project 2008Wo-Built's Second Floor Addition Project
"...allowing plenty of daylight to penetrate to the lower level as the staircase has a very open design."
Photo © 2008-2011 Wo-Built Inc.
links: Illuminating Engineering Society Toronto Illuminating Engineering Society of North America
The IES seeks to improve the lighted environment by bringing together those with lighting knowledge and by translating that knowledge into actions that benefit the public.
Illuminating Engineering Society:
twitter: @IllumEngSoc
hashtag: #IESNA
facebook: IES Community Light – the Music of Architecture The Development of an Addition Project: Part 1 Lighting with LEDs – The Benefits Kitchen Lighting Trends

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Visit Our Office in Corso Italia and Discuss Your Dream Project

Wo-Built and Corso Italia article in Venus Creations In The Neighbourhood, 2011Wo-Built and Corso Italia
Venus Creations In The Neighbourhood
15th Edition, August 2011

Wo-Built and Corso Italia

We are often asked why we like Corso Italia and the surrounding areas so much. After all, as a general contractor we can have our office in any part of the city. Usually we say, people are friendly, we like the community spirit, great restaurants, everything you need to run an office and life is available on this traditional High Street. But on reflection it goes a lot deeper than this and it has to do a lot with deep rooted emotions. The area is very European – lots of patios where you can meet your friends and neighbours. The architecture is still very human scale, for better or worse the larger developers have not arrived here yet. Corso Italia and adjacent Business Improvement Areas have lots of green spaces and parks, everything is in walking distance.
Being here just over a year brought us closer to many of our business neighbours and we feel very much at home here. From the start we could get almost everything we need from the local merchants. We designed our office interior with flexibility in mind and some of our walls are made out of excellent fabric, which we got from Tessuti Venezia, just a few doors down from us. We use A3 Graphics as our printers and of course Amar Flowers for their excellent flower arrangements. Food plays a big part in our office life; we have staff and client meetings at Novecento, Tre Mari Bakery and Via Espresso. We go for lunch at our favourite spots at Agio Ristorante, Sunnyville Grill, Invictus, Porto and recently for great burritos from Big Boss Burrito. And we are adding to our list, during Summerlicious we tried La Bruschetta and we loved the food. We get our fresh fruit and vegetables from Diana Groceries and I even went clothes shopping when I needed special outfits. Also I have my personal Kung Fu trainer at Tiger Dragon Kung Fu downstairs from our office. My apologies if I have forgotten to mention anyone of our friends and neighbours and I am sure over time we will get to know all of you, especially if you come to the Venus Creations social gatherings.

The sense and maintenance of community is an important part of our company, either by helping to preserve it or by building it. We are taking an active part within the local BIA to help promote the area and throughout the last year we have written and tweeted about our neighbours, Corso Italia events, such as the Corso Italia Festival, on our Forum, Facebook and Twitter. We like to spread the word for this amazing area and we would love to connect with our neighbours on Twitter (@wobuilt) and Facebook (wo built) to help in their efforts to promote themselves.

The move to Corso Italia has been good for us. We even have a Corso Italia Festival Special Offer for a limited time – Sign-up for a Design + Build of an Addition, and we pay the permit Drawings (estimated value $2500).

We envisage us staying in the area for a long time. We value our ties with the surrounding businesses and residents. Our door is open for anyone who wishes to discuss design or construction related issues. We would like to invite anyone to visit our office and the surrounding businesses.

Martina Ernst
Wo-Built Inc. - Innovative Design and Build

This article was originally published in the 15th Edition, August 2011 issue of The Venus Creations In The Neighbourhood magazine, pp. F1/6.

Venus Creations In The Neighbourhood Magazine Our Corso Italia Neighbourhood Involvement Canada Day and Corso Italia Festival on Our Home Turf Design and Build for an Addition with Our Special Corso Italia Offer

feedback on the web:

Toronto Daily: Visit Wo-Built's Office in Corso Italia and Discuss Your Dream Project: Screenshot paper.liScreenshot: Visit Our Office in Corso Italia and Discuss Your Dream Project
The Toronto Daily, Tuesday, Aug. 09, 2011
Published on by DealChangers

RT @wobuilt: Our Business life in #CorsoItaliaTO - Visit Our Office in Corso Italia and Discuss Your Dream Project #Toronto
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@TantienHime Thanks to your retweet Our Business life in #CorsoItaliaTO we got picked up in The #Toronto Daily - Cool!!
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