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Introducing Western Living’s 2023 Designers of the Year Award Winners
Piers Cunnington and Clinton Cuddington are ultimate problem solvers, bent on discovering new and innovative solutions.
What’s in a name? Measured Architecture was barely a year old when we launched these awards in 2008, and our three-home entry requirement meant the duo had to include their own personal homes (which they had designed) in their submission. Still, they went ahead and threw their collective hat in the ring. It was an act of moxie… but “measured”? Not so much.
In retrospect, perhaps the best descriptor might be “inspired,” because the judging panel that year—an all-star lineup of Jeremy Sturgess, Brian Hemingway and the legendary Arthur Erickson—loved the firm’s work and declared them our inaugural Architect of the Year over their much more seasoned competition.
The following decade and a half has proven that the success of this early, bold act was the opposite of beginner’s luck. Measured Architecture won Architect of the Year again in 2015, then crossed over and won Interior Designer of the Year in 2020 (a feat that speaks to their holistic approach to each project). At that point, they were already one of the most lauded firms in the history of these awards, and now they have won an unprecedented fourth. Our panel of judges for this year’s WL Architect of the Year award—namely, James Cheng, Brigitte Shim, Omar Gandhi and Farida Abu-Bakare—have been as captivated by Measured’s body of work as their predecessors were.
And looking at the firm’s entry, it’s easy to see why. For starters, it’s wonderfully disparate—principals Piers Cunnington and Clinton Cuddington presented two new builds and two renovations based on budgets that ranged from modest to expansive.
Take Beach House, a showstopper that encapsulates much of the firm’s ethos within its four (plus) walls. It’s located on Vancouver’s tony Point Grey Road, a stretch of beachfront that’s the gold standard for bold-name architects who want to build statement houses. But instead of razing the original ’80s-era house and starting with a blank canvas for their masterpiece, the Measured team figured out a way to include the existing home in their new, contemporary design. And not just in a surface way, either: they fully considered the original home and incorporated it into the new structure—right down to much of the original plumbing.
The result is visually spectacular—and, in the most zen way, Measured has firmly planted its calling card on Point Grey Road by trying not to plant an obvious calling card on Point Grey Road. This subtle hand also highlights another pillar of the firm’s foundation: to keep housing materials out of our landfills. Original materials, with some imagination and hard work, can be refashioned into modern beauty that’s a masterclass in setting counterpoints to work together.
Veil House, on Vancouver’s vibrant east side, is miles away, both figuratively and literally, from the oligarchs of Point Grey Road. But here, the pair brought the same level of detail to help a young family craft a house that could be forward-looking in design while still blending in with the silhouettes of the neighbouring heritage houses in the dense neighbourhood. This involved deep collaboration with the owners, diving down through repeated meetings to try to get to how the house will function for them—a process that’s key in each of their projects.
The clients had several challenging requirements: they wanted to be able to age comfortably in the house, they had an eye to sustainability, and they were seeking a design that would mesh with their neighbours—all on a budget. The result is both striking and timeless, with a pitched roof that echoes the surrounding buildings and stained grey Western cedar cladding that gives the facade a spare but lived-in vibe. Inside, the bedrooms are uniquely situated in the basement (thanks to an ingenious series of ultra-deep window wells that bring in ample daylight), in part for energy efficiency and in part to allow the kids to start near their parents and then migrate to the top floor for more autonomy later as they age. In many ways, Rift House is a companion piece to Veil: modern in a traditional setting, with a bold and dark exterior (here, achieved through black cementitious panels and a charred cedar front door).
Inside and out, Rift is all about methodical rigour: perfectly aligned herringbone hardwood with all-brass floor joinery; concrete steps flowing absolutely flawlessly into the attached wood panelling of the deck. The execution speaks to yet another of the firm’s strengths: a uniquely close relationship with their cadre of trades and subtrades, built upon huge levels of respect and autonomy (and bolstered by a near-constant presence on site).
Raven House is another renovation revelation. The challenge here was the architectural equivalent of Mission Impossible: take a house from an established architecture firm whose work you admire (but whose practice is radically different from yours) and transform it into something new, while still honouring its design DNA. Again, on a budget.
The original design of this Mayne Island aerie was by Blue Sky Architecture, a firm noted for fantastically unique, curvilinear forms built for clients who aren’t interested in modern concrete boxes. But the new owners actually did want the structure to skew more modern, so Measured was tasked with reimagining both the exteriors and interiors without swinging the wrecking ball. The result is a triumph of ingenuity, a case of creation through removal with an entirely new abode emerging out of radically different origins. It’s a feat so impressive that it caused judge Farida Abu-Bakare to say, “The before and afters are incredible.”
Together, these projects form that rare group of work that spans the spectrum—geographically, financially—in a way that few other mature firms can boast. It flows from Cunnington and Cuddington’s belief in the concept of situational modernism—whereby a design team looks at the aspirations of the client and the appropriateness of the site and then factors in the constraints (budget, zoning, schedule). The homes that emerge are a physical manifestation of problem solving—and, just as no two problems are the same, neither are Measured’s solutions. “The measure of success for us is when clients tell us that while the space might not look like what they had imagined, their experience of it is what they had desired at the project outset,” says Cunnington.
Who do you admire most as a designer?
Piers: Alvar Aalto.
Clinton: Donald Judd.
What’s your go-to material of choice (and why)?
Piers: Wood. It’s beautiful, timeless, and sustainable, and it creates warmth and texture that brings a humanist aspect to a space.
Clinton: Concrete, because you have to surrender to it.
What books are on your nightstand right now?
Piers: Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell and The Quickening Maze by Adam Foulds.
Clinton: A signed copy of Icebergs, Zombies, and the Ultra Thin by Matthew Soules.
What do you think is the most perfectly designed object?
Piers: The bicycle.
Clinton: The buttonhole. Naomi Shihab Nye said, “I want to be famous in the way a pulley is famous, or a buttonhole, not because it did anything spectacular, but because it never forgot what it could do.”
Is there a famous project or object you wish you’d designed?
Piers: The Church of Saint-Pierre in Firminy, France, designed by Le Corbusier.
Clinton: Dan Flavin’s untitled Marfa project from 1996.
READ MORE: Meet the Winners of Western Living’s 2022 Designers of the Year Awards
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