February 2020

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6 | F E B R U A R Y 2 0 2 0 PUBLIC Architecture and Communication M A RT I N T E SS L ER P H OTO G R A P H Y CO U RT E SY P U B L I C A RC H I T EC T U R E A N D CO M M U N I C AT I O N PUBLIC Architecture and Communication continues to make bold statements by NATALIE BRUCKNER S ome of the best ideas happen over good wine with good food while in good company. That's exactly how Vancouver-based PUBLIC Architecture and Communication was created: a few friends, all at the same stage in their life, all with extensive expe- rience in architecture and design, and all with a desire to branch out and make a difference. "It was back in the fall of 2007 and myself and architect John Wall, who were classmates at school, along with designer Susan Mavor and her life partner Scot Geib, also trained as an architect and a practicing designer, were in John's living room and we had this watershed moment, so we decided to write up a series of goals and what we wanted to accomplish," explains Brian Wakelin, principal of PUBLIC Architecture and Communication. The group came up with a philosophy: to combine their expertise and create an interdisciplinary practice that would help spur transformation, engage- ment, and renewal by creating spatial experiences that would extend beyond buildings. And so, in February 2008, PUBLIC: Architecture + Communication was born. When I ask Wakelin how they came up with the name PUBLIC, he laughs: "John and I were in a watering hole on Main Street in Vancouver called Public. Well, it wasn't quite that simple really, although it does make for a good story and did spark the idea. John and I had both worked for iconic Vancouver architecture firms that had started out as single male hero figures battling it out in the trenches to get things made. While it was exciting at the time to work in that context, there were also challenges and we decided it was not the time to be that. We had ambitions for something bigger than ourselves. We wanted to communicate that we had something we were advocating for. There were so many agents working for private interests, so a group that had public interests at its heart, well, we thought there was space for that." And so, true to the new name and the philosophy, the company began work on its first project, Xthum Kwantlen Gathering Place at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). While a smaller job in scale, it made a huge impact. A group acting on behalf of KPU and the Kwantlen, Semiahmoo, Tsaw wassen, and Katzie Nations asked PUBLIC to design a multipurpose space within an existing classroom building for celebrating, feasting, storytelling, counselling, advising, studying, and relaxing. The project was to be both an exploration of digital design and output media, and a dialogue between First Nation culture and the formal language of contemporary architecture. "This project truly was a lesson to us about why we do what we do and the ripple effect that design can have. We were told afterwards that many students used the space to identify as Aboriginal for the first time," says Wakelin. "It truly was a step toward reconciliation," adds Mavor. The now 25-strong PUBLIC team of architects, designers, and communica- tion designers' influence can be seen on numerous buildings and designs across Canada. But for PUBLIC, it has never been about ego-design, as Wakelin explains: "One of the characteristics of the practice is that we have a short client list, but it goes very deep. From the outset we sought out clients, not projects. As a result we have ended up working on some large, complex interdisciplinary projects." For example, KPU Wilson School of Design, done in collaboration with Toronto-based KPMB, was in part a result of a trusted relationship earned over many smaller projects with the school. Larger projects also include Adler University, where PUBLIC was hired to use architecture, interior design, wayfinding, branding, signage, and storytelling to communicate its unique curriculum, "and is a legacy to the work of one of our principals, Teresa Miller, who passed away in December," says Mavor. "This was a five-floor tenant improvement project. At the time Adler had no identity in Vancouver. It was a vital, yet somewhat invisible downtown academic precinct," explains Wakelin The University, which is dedicated to positive change and a just society, offers an immersive curriculum that invites students to solve real-world social problems. To reflect and support this mission, PUBLIC created an extroverted and iconic design that would powerfully connect to the surrounding neighbour- hood. Located on the first five floors of a slender glass tower, the interiors are SPATIAL Experiences Adler University.

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