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Our Design Community - gw architecture inc.

Our Design Community is our series where we visit and talk with different firms within the Winnipeg design community about their approach to design and what made them fall in love with their work.

This time around we had a chat with Brian and Ashley from gw architecture inc. They take us through what a typical work day looks like for them and some of the interesting projects they got to be a part of!

Can you please introduce yourself, who you are, what do you do?

Ashley: My name is Ashley Vinsky, and I am an interior designer here at gw architecture inc. 

Brian: My name is Brian Wall, and I am the principal architect at gw architecture inc.

Are there any hobbies you two are getting into right now?

Ashley: Lately I have been taking advantage of the warmer weather we have been having and enjoying some winter activities like going for walks, skating on the river trail, and even recently tried cross-country skiing for the first time!

Brian, have you thought of bringing the bike out?

Brian: Yes, I thought about bringing the bike out during one of the warmer days, but it was still a bit slippery on the road. I am a distance cyclist so I don't race but I love pushing hard on the pedals and seeing how far I can go. Regarding hobbies, I am a project person. I think if you are a project person, you will know what I mean. If I am not building a deck, or continuing to develop the property, or working on a custom piece of furniture in my shop then I get a little stir crazy. I also love water skiing, fishing, anything that gets me on the water.

Can you take me through what a typical workday might look like for you two?

Ashley: Every day is a little different and usually depends on what stage projects are at, but in general the day will usually involve anything from design work to technical drawings, to organizing our sample library.

Brian: Being the principal of the firm my day looks and starts a little different than Ashley's does. I never stop working it seems. My day usually starts early, around 4:30 or 5am. I don't know if I can attribute that to work ethic or simply because I am just getting old and do not get much sleep anymore! With a cup of coffee, I catch up on emails, taking time for what I call lazy work to get a feel for the day. Then when the office opens, I'm generally available to designers and technicians to help with the projects. I am also very involved in the sales and marketing in the firm, so lunch is usually with a client. The afternoon is spent creating the next project. Evenings usually involve wine and a discussion on what the next project is, whether it be for the office or a personal project. That is a typical day.

Would you say that your day is pretty routine?

Brian: In some aspects yes, the same thing tends to happen. If it is not on a daily basis at some point during the week the same routine occurs, but the content is always different. I think that is what we enjoy the most about being an architect or interior designer; we are always working on something slightly different and exciting. 

Can you explain, how it all started for you two, what was your inspiration, any interior designer or architect, shaping in to how you started your career?

Ashley: I didn't always know I wanted to be an interior designer, but growing up I was really interested in art and being creative, but also felt pulled towards the sciences and math. I was trying to figure out how I could blend all of these worlds together. When I discovered the Environmental Design program at the U of M I felt like it was the perfect combination of all of my interests.  

Brian: When I was very young around 12, I saw a movie called The Fountain Head and it is the epitome of architecture. Then later in life I had it in my mind, I want to be an architect. I realized I liked buildings, and I realized I had a mind for business, and I put the two together and thought how can I scratch the itch of running a business but apply it to something I was good at; architecture was the natural answer to that.

Are there any projects that you are particularly happy with the outcome of in your project books?

Brian: Ashley and I were discussing this question and the correct answer is any project that the client is happy is a successful project. We design to create an experience for the end user, so if they are pleased, we are pleased. In terms of the aesthetic of a project, I am pleased with the MNP Accounting building in Kenora. That project started off with a question, "We have an existing building, what can we do with it?".  I knew the building having driven past it hundreds of times so I envisioned what could be done to bring new life to it long before we were commissioned. My vision coincidentally worked with their program and within 5 minutes I did a paper napkin sketch, and presented it to the client. The final product was very similar. The client, the function and the aesthetic came together quickly and with little effort; it was a good recipe for a successful project. Also, the Experimental Lakes Water Education and Science Building. It is not often we get to create what we call portfolio projects”. This is one of them. It looks amazing and it is going to be something that will last a hundred years and people will talk about it. It will be an iconic representation of architecture.

Ashley: Yes, building from what Brian said, I think any project where the client is happy, we are happy, but one project that stands out for me is a youth centre renovation project for a community north of Winnipeg. The goal of the project was to create a safe and nurturing environment that embodies hope and act as a symbol of new beginnings for the community. For the design, we explored ways we could create and provide the feelings of hope through a careful consideration of light and colour, spatial planning, materials and finishes, and the integration of cultural symbols. I think this project showcases that even with a few simple changes like new paint and lighting it can have a huge impact for the end users and even for the surrounding community. Architecture and interiors directly contribute to our overall quality of life. We spend so much of our time indoors, especially living in a cold climate, so it's really rewarding when we can positively contribute to someone's experience in the built environment! 

What are some key ingredients that are important to think of during the design process?

Brian: Three words. Listen. Listen. Listen. If you don't listen to what your client is saying; if you don't pick up on the cues of what their expectations are then you are just creating for yourself, and these are not our buildings, the buildings are theirs, so we have to listen and interpret what we hear, transform those thoughts or words into something that is going to provide them with an experience. We hope that experience results in a client saying "Yes, this is exactly what we were envisioning!"  

Ashley: Yes, I agree with that too. I think as designers we must be both good listeners and good observers. There is a lot of information that we can take from design consultations and engagements upfront to help us understand the clients' wants and needs. Gaining an understanding of how the space should function, how people will interact in the space, how we might want them to feel in the space, and understanding what the client values are all important pieces to the puzzle.

Brian: Another key ingredient is storage! Nobody thinks of storage. Put storage in your buildings. Storage isn't sexy, but you must have it!

Is there a piece in your home/room that has a unique backstory or carries a strong significance to you and what is it?

Ashley: A favourite piece of mine is a mid-century modern record cabinet that used to belong to my grandparents. I love it not only for its aesthetic qualities but also for sentimental reasons. We even found an old record from when my grandpa was in a jazz band when we were moving it.

Does the record work?

Ashley: We couldn’t figure out how to get it to play, but that will be the next project!

Brian: How I, or people who are with me, experience each environment is what is significant to me. When I am in Winnipeg, living in the warehouse loft, it is a 130-year-old building, so the architectural experience of being in that space carries such a significance. Just sitting there and thinking about who was sitting right in this spot in 1910 and what were they doing? I point out the bullet holes in the window, which makes you wonder “what happened here?”. In my Kenora home, the experience is about seclusion and being one with nature, and creating a space that allows you whether you are inside or outside to experience nature. In Nicaragua, it's about living in the jungle and understanding the climate, the culture, the heat, and the wildlife, and the journey that it takes to get there. Turning to a significant piece of furniture, my business partner, Giovanni, had to remove a hundred-year-old ash tree from his yard because it was starting to fail and was going to be a problem for not just his house, but the surrounding community. We harvested some of it, cured the wood, and later made a table with it. The experience of using hand tools to create is intimate, and the wood, each crack in it, each ring of life has a story.  

Last Question, do you have a favourite building / design in the City of Winnipeg or even around the world that you got the pleasure to maybe see or enjoy?

Ashley: I recently finished my master's practicum and used the Daylite Building in the Exchange District as my site, so I've spent a lot of time focused on that building in the last few years. Part of what I love about that building is it represents a lot of my favourite aspects of the Exchange District and what makes the area so special. The unique character, use of local materials, its scale, the layers of ghost signs on the exterior, and the large arched windows on the main floor create a connection to the activity on the street and make it feel visually very welcoming. It's such a unique part of the city, definitely one of my favourites.

Brian: One of my favourite buildings is also in the Exchange District. We are all aware of magnificent buildings in glamourous cities around the world, yet both Ashley and I recognize the treasures we have in Winnipeg in the Exchange District and our favourite buildings are here. My favourite is the Hamilton Building on the corner of McDermot Avenue and Main Street. I resonate with historic architecture.  At that time, they took the time to understand proportion and attention to detail, defining history. The Hamilton building displays all the basic aspect of design principles in a grand gesture but also in the minute details. It really appeals to me. 

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