Reflections on 2023 and the Year Ahead

December 15, 2023 - Article
As a new year unfolds, the team at Figurr Architects Collective reflects on the past year and what 2024 may hold. While we are all ready to 'get back to normal,' there is a lot of uncertainty about what that actually looks like. The world looks different from what it did in 2019 and early 2020 as the pandemic took over our lives. Coming out of the pandemic, interest rates, house prices, and inflation have all increased significantly and are slow to return to pre-pandemic normal. It's more expensive than ever to afford everyday life, and many Canadians have felt the effects. The only constant seems to be that the world is always changing, and not necessarily for the better. But we must remain optimistic and open to all challenges that come our way.

As a society, we have become increasingly aware of the realities and ongoing challenges of hybrid work, housing affordability, reconciliation, and the climate crisis. In 2024, these topics will continue to be leading issues. That’s why Figurr Architects Collective is looking at continued and renewed ways to support not only our clients but also the communities we live in. This support can take many forms but will always result in a stronger community.  

Hybrid or Not to Hybrid

In 2023, we've seen the world re-adjust once again as the country and the world slowly emerge from the pandemic crisis. The return (or not to return) to the office has become a major focus for the corporate and office world. Discussions about the role of hybrid working have faded, and there's an understanding that it's here to stay in one form or another. Hybrid work schedules can provide people with more work-life balance. In a previous article about well-being, our partners explored how developers have been placing more emphasis on amenity space in multi-unit residential buildings to accommodate the work-from-home requirements.

But the office is not dead – it just requires a renewed approach that supports overall well-being. Many offices are looking at ways to encourage employees to return to the office. This includes an emphasis on collaborative spaces, high-end workspaces, office perks, and hybrid schedules. As coined by many, we and all office-style employers must earn their employees' commutes. That means creating office environments where employees feel inspired, creative, and want to work. 

Read our article about Architecture for Well-Being: https://figurr.ca/en/news/world-architecture-day-2022-reflections-on-architecture-for-well-being

Recollective Inc. Office Fit Up 

Housing Affordability

In early 2020, former Mayor Jim Watson of Ottawa declared a housing and homelessness emergency. Ottawa became the first city in Canada to do so. It is abundantly clear that we are in a housing affordability crisis. The country needs more housing to keep up with demand; from subsidized housing to the missing middle, we need more housing that is affordable for those in varying economic situations.  Recently, the national non-profit organization Habitat for Humanity raised its minimum household income threshold to $100,000 for families in the Toronto area. This shift is just one example of how expensive it has become to afford daily life in urban areas. In Montreal, the lack of affordable housing is driving up the poverty levels in the city. There is a significant need for multi-bedroom units with lower rents for low-income families in the downtown area, and these types of houses are almost non-existent. While the pandemic taught us how important having a safe and affordable home is, it also was a catalyst to worsened housing affordability in modern Canada.   

Read an article by Roberto Campos on Designing for Resilient Communities: https://figurr.ca/en/news/world-architecture-day-2023-our-commitment-to-designing-architecture-for-resilient-communities

From Left to Right: 1. Opening of 159 Forward Ave. Affordable Housing project August 2023 / 2. 159 Forward Ave., Ottawa (Photography: Naquib Hossain)

Reconciliation

Indigenous rights and reconciliation continue to be a critical National issue. On September 30, 2021, Canada's first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation took place. The national holiday, which also represents Orange Shirt Day, honours the survivors of residential schools, their families, communities and the children who never made it home. But the process and ongoing challenges of reconciliation reach far beyond a singular day. The horrific tragedies faced by Indigenous peoples as a result of residential schools are something that we must acknowledge and learn from. Within the architecture industry, organizations such as the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) Indigenous Task Force (ITF) are finding meaningful ways to foster and promote Indigenous design in Canada. The group advocates on behalf of Indigenous architects, designers, and academics – a critical role in promoting inclusivity in the industry and our communities. Reconciliation is everyone’s responsibility. We must all take the time to listen, learn, and strive to do better to create a more positive and inclusive community.  

Learn more about how Figurr facilitates an Indigenous-led design process through collaboration: https://figurr.ca/en/news/figurr-presents-at-raic-2022-virtual-conference-on-architecture

From Left to Right: 1. Tshissenitamun Mitshuap Cultural Centre / 2. Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute 3. Stephen Rotman in conversation

Sustainability

The impact of the climate crisis has become increasingly difficult to ignore. The reality is that we can’t ignore it any longer.  In 2022, Ottawa's Rideau Canal was closed to skaters for the first time in its 52-year history due to lack of freezing weather required to prepare the canal. It was the warmest winter on record for the city, and it made for unfavourable conditions.  

Floods, wildfires and heat waves became "normal" seasonal events in 2023. The world has changed, and as we all scramble to keep up, or at least follow along, our priority to create a more inclusive, sustainable, and supportive society must always remain the same.  Energy performance efficiencies, using materials with lower embodied carbon, adaptive reuse of existing buildings and the diversion of construction waste from landfills must be the norm in architecture, and no longer one-offs. 

In a previous article, Stephen Rotman observed that sustainability is a global conversation for the architecture industry: https://figurr.ca/en/news/top-three-take-aways-from-the-2021-venice-architecture-biennale

Read our article from 2021 about how the pandemic has transformed how the industry approaches sustainable design: https://figurr.ca/en/news/world-architecture-day-2021-contributing-to-a-healthy-and-sustainable-future

From Left to Right: 1. 159 Forward Ave., Ottawa Rooftop (Photography: JVL Photography) / 2. 159 Forward Ave., Ottawa Solar Panels (Photography: JVL Photography)

Figurr Architects Collective has always prioritized charitable donations, volunteering, and giving back to the community. In 2022 and 2023, the firm supported multiple charitable organizations, including The Alliance to End Homelessness in Ottawa, the Ottawa Food Bank, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, the Centretown Citizens Ottawa Corporation, the Aléo Foundation, the Eenou-Eeyou Community Foundation, and Movember. With the start of the new year, it feels like now it’s more important than ever to stay focused and even expand on our current goals so that we can contribute to making the year ahead a more positive and influential one.   

In 2024, Figurr Architects Collective is celebrating its 35th anniversary since its original inception as Rubin & Rotman Architects. Part of our celebration will include a renewed commitment to our design, business and employee values and to supporting organizations that we believe are making a difference and building a more positive future. We will do this not only through our direct collaborative design work but also through donations, volunteering, and discussions. We are challenging everyone in our network to celebrate with us by also supporting these organizations and any organizations that you feel make a difference and look to positive change.  

See you in 2024! 

References:  

CMHC. Recognizing the importance of housing on National Housing Day. (November 16, 2023) https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/blog/2023/recognizing-importance-housing-national-housing-day

Doherty, Brennan. August 12, 2023. “Toronto’s housing market is so expensive, families earning $100,000 are now eligible for Habitat for Humanity help. The CEO explains why.” Toronto Star. https://www.thestar.com/business/toronto-s-housing-market-is-so-expensive-families-earning-100-000-are-now-eligible-for/article_2f754b85-3dbd-5f56-ba7a-03aad5a23b54.html  

Pritchard, Trevor. April 6, 2023. “NCC has spent nearly $1M trying to open skateway this winter.” CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/ncc-rideau-canal-skateway-2023-costs-not-opening-1.6802314  

Royal Architectural Institute of Canada. (n.d.) “About the RAIC Indigenous Task Force,” Royal Architectural Insitute of Canada. https://raic.org/raic/indigenous-task-force  

Spector, Dan. September 26, 2023. “Advocates paint bleak picture of Quebec’s housing crisis,” Global News. https://globalnews.ca/news/9986886/advocates-bleak-picture-quebec-housing-crisis/  

Statistics Canada. September 28, 2023. “National Day for Truth and Reconciliation,” Statistics Canada. https://www.statcan.gc.ca/o1/en/plus/4619-national-day-truth-and-reconciliation  

Tomesco, Frédéric. September 20, 2023. “Lack of affordable housing is driving poverty in Montreal, Centraide says,” The Montreal Gazette. https://montrealgazette.com/news/local-news/lack-of-affordable-housing-is-driving-poverty-in-montreal-centraide  

Willing, Jon. January 29, 2020. “City council declares a housing and homelessness emergency.” Ottawa Citizen. https://ottawacitizen.com/news/local-news/city-council-declares-a-housing-and-homelessness-emergency