The research focus of Next Generation 2nd prizewinner Jason Heinrich went through significant transformation during his studies at the University of British Columbia (UBC) School of Architecture & Landscape Architecture (SALA). For Jason, winning a Next Generation prize was “one of the most exciting things in my life! It was such an honor to be on a stage and feel like an equal next to other architects whose work I’ve studied. It validates the work I’ve done and it’s motivating and inspiring to do even better work,” he said, in an interview with SALA.
Before studying at SALA, Jason was a mechanical engineer. After working with architects while designing renewable energy systems for communities, he decided on a career change. “I was more interested in the holistic visioning for communities than the specific nuts and bolts of the district energy system itself,” he said.
Architecture offered Jason the opportunity to explore how a sustainable city could be created through understanding how a city works by its design. He decided that engineering wasn’t diverse enough to address these issues, and recognized that he would need to incorporate multiple perspectives to achieve this goal. “Where engineering taught me how to solve problems, the study of architecture taught me how to think laterally and expand my mind rather than narrow it on specific problems,” he said.
Early on, Jason imagined that his thesis project would primarily consider the relationship between buildings in respect to their use of thermal energy: “If buildings work together, and are connected to a larger network, then they can be even more sustainable.” But as he progressed, his research focus began to widen.
Relationships between buildings in residential neighborhoods are predicated by relationships amongst people. It became not just about determining where things should go, but more about what are the mechanisms that allow people or the city to plan and determine where things should go,” he said.
Jason had become interested in how people interacted with buildings, with each other, and the impact these relationships have on how communities develop. “My project is essentially a zoning system that’s fluid and always changing as development occurs,” he said. “It’s based on a wholly on decisions by local inhabitants.”
While his final project recognizes that there must be some overarching framework from the city that controls zoning and development, it allows people to have a certain amount of choice in how their communities evolve over time.
Where conservative zoning restrictions are partly to blame for the current housing affordability crisis in Vancouver, Canada – Jason’s project acknowledges that drastic zoning changes are not the solution. “I’m hoping to find something that isn’t a quick fix,” he said. His project considers a city over a 30-year period and provides the framework to explore how neighborhoods can adapt to growth.
“It’s dynamic, but it’s slow enough that the buildings, which are the fabric of neighborhoods, will change with the people living in those neighborhoods,” he said. According to Jason’s projections, had the system been implemented in Vancouver 30-years ago, we wouldn’t have the housing crisis we do today because the city could have holistically adapted and grown.
In the end, Jason’s winning thesis project provides solutions by looking towards the future while carefully considering the mistakes of the past. And he credits his time at SALA and the input of his thesis committee, which included Ray Cole, Mari Fujita, and Martin Nielson, for pushing his project in this direction.
The LafargeHolcim Awards jury for North America especially commended the focus on questions of procedures (the design of processes, including stakeholder participation and its effects on physical form). Particularly interesting is the changing relationship between built and un-built areas that is constantly negotiated and re-negotiated in a process that engages a range of relevant parties.