Q+A: Paul Raff Studio – Focused on Design Excellence

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1 | How have you seen your practice shift over the years?

Our objectives and philosophy have remained steady over the years – to create artistically remarkable places which are environmentally sustainable and a joy to inhabit. The practice has also become richer and more diverse in a number of ways. We have a greater diversity of project types. For example, this morning I worked on the design of a private garden, a mid-rise downtown commercial building, and a place of worship. This stimulates creative design, and having the experience to know what to do, keeps it fresh.

2 | Are clients more knowledgeable about sustainable choices/ideas or do you still spend a fair amount of time educating them about the benefits?

Clients are more knowledgeable than ever about sustainable ideas and other aspects of design. They have easy access to the information; it’s right at their fingertips via the internet. This is helpful. Nonetheless, because of all the interrelated aspects that go into the selection of, and decisions about, how best to employ sustainable strategies in architecture and design, discussion and education are still needed, and providing guidance and judgement is essential to achieving effective results.

3 | What are some of the newest technologies/techniques you are implementing in your work?

We focus on quality of life – everything from indoor air quality to quality of natural light. So, we are taking advantage of some of the highly technical and sophisticated new building products, that if used well, help make buildings healthier, more durable and more energy efficient. That said, we still use ancient and low-tech strategies like passive solar design too, taking advantage of the practical as well as poetic potential of natural light.

4 | I love your work! I find it serene, thoughtful and always a bit surprising (in the best way!). Do you use certain elements in all of your projects or do you approach them all as a blank slate?

We treat each project as a unique situation and try to explore what’s important and unique about that situation. We then try to bring it out the best way possible through the design, so in a way, each project is idiosyncratic. As well, we are captivated with light, with beautiful qualities of natural light, and the shifting light of day, and shifting seasons. We combine that with our obsession with great function and flow. Those preoccupations are invested in all of our work.

5 | Do you think there is a ‘Canadian style’ in architecture and design? And if so, do you represent it?

I certainly recognize regional characteristics of architecture

and design in Canada, but I don’t think one can refer to a singular Canadian style. And I don’t think we should aspire to it.

However, my own strong interest in making architectural spaces that connect people to landscape, light and nature reflects my Canadian values.

6 | Which one of your projects is your all-time favourite and why?

When I look back on any one of my projects, each feels like my favourite! And the most recent feels like the most favourite!! But one that is close to my heart is Treetop Villas because it both preserves the beautiful landscape and allows people to have a powerful experience of living in it.

7 | Who influences you?

I have many influences from the worlds of art and design, and my own colleagues and collaborators are big influences. To name an architect, the early works of Herzog & de Meuron, because they drew on Avant Garde contemporary art to create fresh architectural ideas.

8 | What inspires and excites you everyday?

The sky – it is endlessly beautiful, dynamic and ever changing. I often try to design spaces to be able to experience the sky’s beauty in different ways from inside.

9 | What’s next for Paul Raff Studio?

More of the same, I hope. We are designing residential and commercial buildings, and working on public art and public spaces here in Canada and internationally as well. We have a great team and great ideas, so we just want to keep doing what we do, to continuously design exceptional work that is thoughtful, evocative and poetic. OD

Samantha Sannella
Samantha Sannella
"SAMANTHA SANNELLA, BFA ID, M ARCH, is a designer, educator and principal at Urban Retreat Homes. She is an expert in the field of design and construction and is a columnist for several HOMES Publishing Group publications."
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