Studio Design Process

In early April, Hapa had the opportunity to respond to an exciting architectural proposal and community-led initiative for the design of a biodiversity research station and aquarium in the beautiful Sunshine Coast community of Pender Harbour. PODS aka Pender Harbour Ocean Discovery Station aims to combine sustainable design with an educational program as a means of bringing young people into the community through research positions and eco-tourism.

Hapa was brought on board alongside a team of committed consultants through Deutscher Architecture Studio, whose ambitious building design incorporates climate change responses, modular construction, and cultural references to local ship-building histories. We were thrilled to be part of this energetic collective and contribute to what was shaping up to be an interesting design project. Adding to the excitement was The Ruby Lake Lagoon Society, a visionary client group born of a local not-for-profit conservation society spearheaded by the charismatic Michael Jackson. Michael championed the project as a means to address the need for oceanic research and conservation along the Sunshine Coast while contributing to the transitioning local economy and helping mitigate the adverse effects of shifting population demographics in the Pender Harbour area.

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For the team at Hapa, the project brief translated into first developing a set of design principles and a site program that carried forth both the ecologically sensitive considerations of Jeremiah Deutscher’s architectural proposal as well as the Lagoon Society’s educational-based conservation efforts and community ambitions. Leveraging our team’s knowledge and connection to the region’s biological conditions with an appreciation of the community scale, we used a 3D site model, hand sketching, native plant guides, First Nations land use reports, maritime charts, and precedent studies to imagine contextual uses of the landscape for the introduction of outdoor learning opportunities. Putting pen to paper, a collaborative preliminary landscape design was produced for an open house to start a conversation with the community. We left the studio to present our ideas in Pender Harbour, excited to hear and learn more about the local experiences and visions for the site.

PODS in Community

Community Engagement

With an early start and a thermos of coffee, our small team left for the Horseshoe Bay ferry. After a morning drive up the coast, we arrived at the local music hall to the welcome of a large turnout of local residents for the open house gathering. Michael introduced the many characters constituting the Lagoon Society’s board, including but not limited to,a longtime fisherman, the town’s dentist, an ex-school principal, and journalist. The presentation helped those in attendance understand how the idea was manifested through the actions of a small group of people, and how it will become reality through community support. Throughout the session, those in attendance were openly engaged for comments, and in many instances playfully called upon for anecdotes or support through the humorous banter colloquial to the jovial MC and the town he holds dear.

The consultants took the stage next, with Jeremiah bringing the audience into the story of his involvement and passion for the project, peppering his presentation with the under-utilized ‘architecture as cooking’ metaphor. The team from Associated Engineering followed, communicating their approach to understanding site, demonstrating a rigorous knowledge and respect for local conditions. Before our own talk, Martina Soderlund spoke about the effects of climate change, and the need for buildings to respond using closed loop diagrams and building systems sections to describe how this project could be a precedent setting architectural response to the challenges faced globally but also locally on the coast.

To close the session, we spoke about our playful approach to past projects, by drawing on natural systems and cultural metaphors to create a sense of place. We used site plans, axonometric drawings, and perspective vignettes to guide the audience from the experience of entry at the dock, to the hearth of a gathering space and outdoor classroom, before reaching a sunset lookout framed by laboratories fading into an Arbutus grove and aquaponic planters. Our design used the concept of a learning landscape that draws out ecological conditions and local context to create didactic place-making experiences. In response, the audience communicated their support and concerns, enriching our understanding of a place they have known for so long with suggestions that built upon our proposal in valuable ways, teaching us in turn. The schematic concept design was received and given back to us through the lens of those who would be most connected to its manifestation, and we were grateful for the chance to be further inspired to return to the drafting table.


Site Visit

The next day, on site the client group again facilitated an open discussion with stakeholders and the project’s immediate neighbours, this time under the sky and at the ocean’s edge, actively pursuing feedback of all kinds as a means of achieving consensus and building support for the project from the ground up. Hapa listened to concerns, and endorsed the ability of the landscape to engage the issues while providing amenity and remediating the now neglected space.

This session was followed by a period for us to gather community input in situ, while also taking photographs, noting existing trees and plant species, and understanding the extensive cultural layers to the site, including its recent use as a popular pub built upon the historic site of Irvine’s Landing. As the original point of access for Pender Harbour, it became clear that the site was well positioned to become a new hub for scientific research, but also for tourism, conferences, and cultural events to bring the community together with people visiting from Vancouver and further afield.

Before leaving for the ferry home, we were excited to continue pacing the site, ground truthing and riffing with Jeremiah & Martina on new ideas brought out by tactile conditions of the landscape: clambering down to the water’s edge to pick up oyster shells; clearing invasive Scotch Broom to reveal textural soils and native wildflowers; scrambling up a minor rock face to gain aspect on building footprints; and landscape extents from a small mossy plateau. In all, our site-driven conversations helped reaffirm the desire and passion for pushing the project forward through design, and with community engagement, the need to realize the project’s sustainable aspirations through collaboration and attention to place.

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Written by: Jordan Lypkie and Lukas Holy, landscape designers of Hapa, part of the PODS project team alongside Deutscher Architecture Studio.