REAL ESTATE - INTERVIEW
Thursday, December 6, 2018
REAL ESTATE - INTERVIEW
by Meryem Aksoy
When choosing the architect who will design the new house you want to live in, you have to pay attention to both his or her previous works and the perspective on life. Kevin Vallely is an architect and also an adventurer. His expeditions in extreme conditions reflect his character, he likes to deal with challenges. In Vallely Architecture, which he established to design contemporary homes, he focuses on understanding the wishes of his clients and offering them the best results. In order to learn more about Vallely Architecture and their projects, I talked to Kevin Vallely, Founder and Principal of Vallely Architecture.
Kevin, before talking about architecture, could you tell us about yourself?
I’m happily married and I’m a father of two beautiful teenage girls. I was born in Montreal and lived there until I graduated from university at McGill. In 1991 I travelled to Vancouver, BC on a whim and fell in love with the place. I never left.
It was in BC that I discovered a real love for the outdoors. This passion manifested itself into undertaking bigger and bigger outdoor challenges. At first, it was reflected through adventure racing and trail running competitions and then became a focus at undertaking full-blown expeditions. I’ve been doing those ever since. In 2003 I was named one of Canada's leading adventurers by the Globe and Mail.
A sampling of the expeditions I’ve done in the past include skiing Alaska’s 1,860 kilometre Iditarod Trail, running Vancouver Island’s West Coast Trail in record time (10 hours, 13 minutes), attempting to bike and climb the island of Java’s 13 -10,000-foot volcanoes (a trip cut short when post-9/11 Indonesia became too dangerous) and retracing a 2,000 kilometre Klondike-era ice-bike journey through the dead of an Alaskan winter. In 2009, with teammates Ray Zahab and Richard Weber, I broke the world record for the fastest unsupported trek to the South Pole.
I’m a member of the esteemed Explorer’s Club and was an Explorer’s Club Flag Recipient for my attempted traverse of the Northwest Passage in 2013. I wrote a book about this adventure called Rowing the Northwest Passage: Adventure, Fear and Awe in a Rising Sea It was published by Greystone Books in 2017.
When did you decide to pursue a career in architecture? Could you tell us about your successful educational background?
I wanted to be an architect for as long as I can remember. I remember thinking a lot about it in high school and it always seemed the right profession for me. I attended the McGill University School of Architecture right after CEGEP (college) in Quebec and loved it…though not the workload. I graduated top of my class in 1988 and was awarded the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Medal. I garnered a number of scholarships upon graduation, including a Commonwealth Scholarship to Cambridge University in England.
Please tell us about your architectural career. What inspired you to establish your own firm?
I worked for a number of different size practices over the years, including a small practice run by the Dean of the McGill School of Architecture, a huge firm in London, England and at six different practices in Vancouver. When working for others I was typically positioned at the design end of the project. I enjoyed this, of course, but had to really push to get my experience in the other areas of the profession (construction documentation, site supervision, etc)
I always knew I wanted to establish my own firm and knew I wanted to design contemporary homes. My last job was a very intentional choice working with a small architectural practice that exclusively did residential work. I spent 4 years there honing my skills.
Could you tell us about Vallely Architecture and your team?
Vallely Architecture is just yours truly. I’m a sole practitioner and I do everything myself. I like it that way. I may grow in the future, but for now, I’m happy flying solo.
What type of projects does Vallely Architecture specialize in? What type of services do you offer your clients?
I provide a full architectural service that includes Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documentation, Bidding and Negotiation, and Contract Administration. It’s a turn-key involvement - start to finish.
How could you define your architectural approach?
Listen, ask questions and then offer my thoughts. Designing a home for a client is a very personal process. I only take on work where a client will live in the home. I don’t do speculation work. A client comes to me because they like my style. I won’t design something that is not in keeping with that. I’m a small business so I choose carefully what I work on.
What is Passive House? How do you make your projects sustainable?
Passive House is “… a rigorous, voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building, which reduces the building's ecological footprint. It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling.”
I have taken rigorous courses in Passive House design and am certified as such. I would love an opportunity to design a Passive House but that opportunity hasn’t come along yet. I’m passionate about project sustainability. All my projects are energy efficient but I’m always eager to do more.
You are an internationally recognized explorer so have experienced different cultures. How has the exposure to different cultures affected your architectural vision?
I feel that architecture should respond to the environment and culture it is being built in. A building in Bangkok will be different than in Vancouver, or at least it should be. My designs reflect both the environmental reality of a region and the unique vernacular that defines it while maintaining a contemporary expression.
Where is the most popular location for new residential and commercial projects in Vancouver?
Vancouver’s north shore.
What should your clients decide before contacting you? What is your first question in your first meeting with a new client?
First question: Tell me about your vision?
A client should decide whether they want to work with an architect. Working with an architect is typically very different than working with a designer. An architect needs to meet very specific requirements as laid out by their professional governing body and this will be reflected in the quality of the work produced and in the fee charged. I like to explain what an architect does and why we do what we do. Hiring an architect is often a commitment to a more involved professional relationship than with a designer.
What are the main steps of residential projects? How many months does it take to complete an average residential project?
The main steps are Schematic Design, Design Development, Construction Documentation, Bidding and Negotiation, and Contract Administration. These are the standard architectural phases.
I find that the design of a house can run anywhere from 6 months to a year. It depends on the client and how eager they are to move forward. I never like to rush a client through the design phase. Change is easy at this stage. At the end of it, we want to have a set of drawings outlining something they’re absolutely thrilled with. It’s much easier to change something in virtual space than in reality so let’s take the time and make it great in the design phase.
Construction for my homes typically take around 18 months
What are the most important factors that affect the project cost?
Physical size is number one. The bigger it is the more expensive it will be. The complexity of the design will affect the cost significantly as will the finishes.
You have lots of completed and in-progress projects. Which one is your favorite?
That’s a very tough question to answer. They’re all my favorites each for different reasons.
What would you recommend to customers who want to work with an architect to build or redesign their home?
It’s a very personal and involved process. Make sure you like the work the architect has done AND that you can work with the architect. Ask who’ll be doing the work. You may only meet the partner-in-charge while the bulk of the work is being done by someone else at the practice. Meet that person.
In your opinion, what is the relation between Low Budget - Short Project Time - High Quality? Is it possible to combine all in one project?
Nothings impossible but low budget and short project time will typically negatively affect the quality. I’ve done several projects on a modest budget that I’m very happy with but it’s a lot tougher. I’d say short time frame is even more detrimental than low budget certainly when both play a factor.
What is the best advice you have received, and what advice would you give to young architects?
Best advice: Trust your gut, it never lies.
The advice I would give: Do your own thing as soon as you can. I wish I had done it earlier in my career.
How can our readers follow Vallely Architecture?
What is coming up next for you?
Lots of fun work!
Thank you Kevin for this enjoyable interview.