Designers of the Year Photo Credit: Martin Tessler

Architects of the Year 2009: McFarlane Green Biggar

From airports and skyscrapers to stunning homes, this young firm has wide horizons.

Designers of the Year 2009
Michael Green (swinging), Michelle Biggar and Steve McFarlane at MGB’s Accessory Building. Photo by Martin Tessler.

In a year when much modernist-inspired architecture in the West started to look quietly the same, one emerging team stood out for the young-buck optimism of its big-breathing, airy rooms. MGB – that’s Steve McFarlane, Michael Green and Michelle Biggar – produces work that is always rooted in the local but could never be called provincial. Their strident horizontal lines are powerfully reminiscent of our horizon; the quality of their execution, characterized by a love affair with wood and pared-down effects, is uncompromising. Judge Bing Thom says their work “speaks poetically of its West Coast genre.”

Their public and commercial architecture ranges from an airport in Chicago to a North Vancouver city hall to a 37-storey tower in Taiwan. Judge John Brown enthuses over their “sophisticated and fresh” designs, and says: “They richly deserve a bigger profile.” Their nomination for this year’s Marcus Prize (a global hunt for a top emerging firm, worth $100,000) doesn’t hurt. The work that’s earned them the most praise is the Accessory Building.

A 269-square-foot modernist structure that nods at mid-century L.A. architect Rudolph Schindler, it sits apart from Michael Green’s 1926 Craftsman-style house in North Vancouver. MGB began here, in 2003. Anticipating today’s fascination with density and suburban infill, they built themselves a laneway office. “We thought we’d still be there today,” says McFarlane. But in 2005 they moved to larger offices; 32 people are now on staff. There’s still that early DIY sensibility permeating their work. “We’d never shop out our projects to an interior firm,” says Biggar, bouncing her young daughter, Max, on her lap. “We handle everything.”

For Green, the firm’s holistic approach dictates that a designer should be a builder and a creator, too. A single dad to two young kids, he’s built a garage and a koi pond and handcrafts their toys.
All three principals are young, unpretentious and focused on opportunity, particularly in tough economic times. “Because we’re a small firm,” says McFarlane, “we can shift toward socially and community-based projects. We won’t ever do a casino, for example.”

As the trio basks in the summer sun in his backyard, Green parks himself at a Roland keyboard inside the Accessory Building and starts improvising. Music spills into the garden. “Sounds good, right? It just comes to me.”

Judge Patricia Patkau says: “Today, living in the West has more to do with an appreciation of our close intimacy with the ‘natural’ and a growing concern for how we maintain a positive balance in this relationship. MGB’s body of work suggests a care and concern for that relationship.” They invite you to step out into the green and blue surrounds, to be at home in the larger world.

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