REAL ESTATE - INTERVIEW
Thursday, March 7, 2019
REAL ESTATE - INTERVIEW
by Meryem Aksoy
The architects not only design buildings but also shape the lifestyles of people living in those buildings. In order to do this correctly, they need to know their clients' vision and understand their expectations. And then they transfer their ideas to paper and computer. When all the details are completed, they manage the construction of the project. They have to manage the entire process like an orchestra conductor to prevent any delay or overspend. Mehdy Ajvand and his wife Noushin Mozaffari founded Hyphen Studio in 2014. They combine the knowledge they have learned during their successful education lives with the experience they gained in their professional lives and they develop projects that touch the lives of their clients. I talked with Principal Architect Mehdy Ajvand, Founder of Hyphen Studio, about his career and the projects of Hyphen Studio.
Mehdy, before talking about Hyphen Studio, I would like to learn more about you. Could you tell us about yourself? Who is Mehdy Ajvand?
I was born in a middle-class family in Iran, April 1983. My parents were both teachers and since both of my siblings were older than me, I always had to entertain myself with older kids’ stuff. So I started reading and writing before school age and always hanging out with older kids. After primary school, I was accepted in special schools for talented young people in Iran (called SAMPAD) so I had a chance to spend my teenage years with so many talented friends and experience and get familiar with different fields but I was fascinated by “Design” in general, creating something from scratch and solve a problem by a creative idea si I flowed architectural design in university. In the 1st year of university, I was so busy with social/political interests on the side. After bachelor degree, I preferred to start a professional career while I studied in the master program so I never had a chance to be just a simple student in university which is one of my biggest regrets.
I met my wife, Noushin at the University. She continued architecture in masters and I preferred to try another related field, so I studied landscape which gave me the opportunity to design in much bigger scale. We got married in the final year of the master degree, worked for a couple of years and due to the social and financial situation of Iran, we decided to immigrate. Noushin and I came here six years ago as an architect couple and here we are. As it’s obvious our personal and professional life is happening around “Design”.
How did your interest in architecture has begun? What inspired you to pursue a career in architecture?
As I mentioned it started from high school age when I became interested in design. It wasn’t only about architecture, I liked fashion design, Industrial and mostly graphic design but Iranian traditional architecture was something else. In Iranian culture, traditional architects are so mystic and spiritual people. My interest in architecture came through meeting some of these traditional Unknown architects. They were so humble and down to earth. Although we have lots of masterpieces in Iranian traditional architecture but most of the times the architects remain unknown! Influenced by these characters I decided to pursue my desire in design, studied architecture and learned graphic design on the side which became my hobby and second professional field.
Could you tell us about your educational background and professional career?
We both studied Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Tehran (Iranian version of U of T) and continued our education at Shahid Beheshty University (SBU). She got a master degree in architecture focused on residential design and I changed my path through a master degree in landscape architecture to be able to expand our flexibility in a future career. During master degree study I started my professional work mostly in the construction side of practicing architecture. I had a chance to work in several huge projects as an architect and representative of clients and general contractors. So it helps me a lot to have a better understanding of all other involved people in architectural projects. After graduating from SBU we established our own multi-disciplinary consultant company. Noushin and I were responsible for the Architectural Department. Although we were young but had a chance to design several considerable projects in IRAN.
Mehdy Ajvand and Noushin Mozaffari
When did you meet with Noushin Mozaffari? How did you decide to establish your own firm?
We met at university actually we were classmates and we had so much in common and fell in love. We have been classmates, friends, lovers, colleagues, and partners since then. We live; work and design together and most importantly we grow together. Although it wasn’t and isn’t easy at all, we’ve always wanted to have our own firm to be able to design and serve clients the way we want. We had our own architectural practice in IRAN and when we came here in Toronto, we had to start from scratch. There was a lot to do so we shared responsibilities, Noushin tried to gain experience in the design part of the project first and I decided to gain required knowledge and experience in construction and technical aspects. We worked with different small and mid-size companies which were so valuable to adjust our knowledge and experience and skills with architectural industry here. In the meanwhile, Noushin got her BCIN (Building Code Identification number) for small projects, and I followed the path of licensing and after 3 years we have the opportunity to establish our own firm, Hyphen Studio and work full time in it.
Could you tell us about Hyphen Studio?
Hyphen Studio is an OAA registered architectural practice known by its unique way of design and problem-solving. We always follow two principles in all projects:
1. We believe one of the most epidemic problems in small residential projects in Canada is "Mass Production" in the design process. We always try to treat each project in a unique way, never use any design template (which is so common in Toronto) and always brings the "Wow" to the projects.
2. Due to our knowledge and experience, we try to fill the existing huge gap between design phase and construction phase in small projects. Based on what we observe in the design market of Ontario, we found that there is a gap between the design phase and construction which usually causes problems. To resolve the problem in the design phase and fill the gap we use BIM system even for small projects.
What type of projects does Hyphen Studio specialize in? What kind of services do you offer your customers?
Mostly we are working on residential, small to medium scale projects. The range of our projects is from single family dwellings to medium size sub-division residential development and low rise residential buildings. Time to time we may accept major renovation projects depending on the project potential.
For the projects we provide architectural design, including preliminary design, permit and working drawings and we also offer construction management and interior design service as well.
How could you define your architectural approach? What are your inspirations?
We believe by designing a home or any type of residence, we are shaping a life. We feel such an important responsibility to define how people live in our “design”, space we create shapes their lifestyle, their behaviour and habits, their relationship and their future. This responsibility gives us a critical role as a designer who designs a lifestyle by using built-environment. We also use our role and position to educated people about the quality of the space and its impact on quality of the life happening inside that space, this way we can improve the taste of people/market not only on “elite high-end projects” but also on ordinary and mid-class cases.
What is the importance of communication between the architect and the client in the process of developing an architectural project? How do you manage this process?
It’s always a challenge. The biggest threat for a project is when the architect loses his/her interest in the project and it usually happens when a client doubts the architect’s ability and doesn’t trust the designer as “the one who wants the best for his or her creature”! On the other side, it’s our responsibility to understand the client’s needs and demands, what they have envisioned for their dream house and what they expect to get. So I would say it’s a two-way motivational procedure between the client and the designer.
Where is the most popular location for new residential and commercial projects in Toronto?
We have designed more than 250 projects all over great Toronto area (GTA) and there is a hot market for residential projects in Toronto. Cricket Club, Ledbury Park, Forest Hill, and Lawrence Park are some popular neighbourhoods in Toronto and our territory as well.
How do Toronto's natural conditions affect your design approach, the materials you use, or the project schedule?
Definitely, construction season is limited here so we have to adjust our schedule with it. It puts extra time pressure on us during the cold season when builders want to have everything ready for the beginning of construction season. On the other side, unfortunately, Toronto is not a development-friendly city. Despite the hot residential market, the city infrastructure, and the city‘s approach is not encouraging for developer and builder and dealing with them is an extra unnecessary burden for us and all other professional involved in projects.
What are the main steps of residential projects?
It starts with understanding project needs and demands and all potentials then we proceed with schematic design which usually results in two or three different design alternatives. After receiving the client’s feedback on the alternatives, we continue the design to comply with the zoning by-law and all other applicable authorities. Next step is getting building permit and building code compliance and then finally preparation of construction documents. At this stage, our role as the architect is mostly done unless the client wants our involvement as a construction supervisor and interior designer.
What should your clients decide before contacting you? What is your first question in your first meeting with a new client?
They should decide if we are the right fit for being their architect and we should show them if we are interested in their project. The first question is: What’s your expectation of having this project? Then we try to adjust it, sometimes we increase their expectations and sometimes we have to reduce it (based on realistic limitation such as zoning by-laws, construction cost, and market condition and technical issues…) but when it comes to the design there is no limitation. We think out of the box and bring imagination into existence. As our motto shows "when nothing goes right… Go left!" we always come up with the most unusual and unexpected solution to a design problem and we enjoy doing this creative process and we convey that joy to our clients.
You have lots of completed and in-progress projects. Which one is your favorite?
All of them are like our children. If you ask parents, they can’t tell which child is their favorite!
We put part of our soul in each of them and they also form part of our life and growth and journey during the design process. When we walk into any of them, it’s like stepping I to a familiar environment that we have lived part of our lives in. But to answer your question, The Stretched house, The Joyous Residence, The Strathcona residence, The Brookdale residence, and The Lytton park residence are some of our recent successful and favorite projects that make us feel proud of.
What is the best advice you have received, and what advice would you give to young architects?
One of our instructors once told us as an architect you should be able to understand how your clients live and your lifestyle is irrelevant in the design process, you should know all the aspects and attributes of something to be able to design a good container for it and an architect is designing a container for human being’s life/time. He encouraged us to investigate abut Low-income people’s lifestyle, Luxury lifestyle, young professional family, old couple with an empty nest, and practice in knowing others’ lifestyle and walking in their shoes.
How can our readers follow Hyphen Studio?
The best way to follow us is through our website and social media accounts. Our Instagram (@hyphenstudio) and Facebook (@HyphenStudio) are active and we always try to keep them updated.
What is coming up next for you?
Many of our projects are under construction and we can’t wait to see them complete and see the happy face of our clients experiencing them. We are also expanding our network and territory and working to introduce more of Hyphen Studio to the market. We will also participate and hopefully win the OAA best-emerging practice award next year. Whatever happens for sure Joy is an inseparable part of our Job.
Anything you’d like to add that I haven’t asked?
There is a lot to talk about, I just like to say that we are so lucky and blessed that our job is our passion and we appreciate the opportunity of sharing our passion with others by our design I also want to thank you a lot for this opportunity to talk briefly about our history and dream.
Thank you Mehdy for your time.