Designers of the Year Photo Credit: Carlo Ricci

Arthur Erickson Memorial Award 2016: Leckie Studio

One part scientist, one part dreamer, Leckie Studio’s Michael Leckie finds the sweet spot of great architecture.

In a lot of ways, architecture is like a science. Quantifiable equations intersect with each other and, as result, a foundation is poured, walls go up, a window of a certain size is allowed to capture a specific view. And a person who approaches the practice with that sort of rigour would no doubt take solace in the fact that Michael Leckie, degree holder in genetics and student of molecular virology, has spent the requisite amount of time in a university lab looking through microscopes and carefully tabulating his findings.

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(Portrait by Carlo Ricci.)

But in other ways, architecture is more like writing a symphony: both employ a series of building blocks, to be sure, but it’s the manner in which a maestro puts those blocks together—drawing on everything from a sunset once experienced to a scene in a favourite movie—that sparks the magic, the art of creation. To passionate followers of this romantic idyll we present another Michael Leckie, post-science degree, pre-UBC master’s in architecture, maintaining a winter-long residence in a Volkswagen van on the beach at surfer’s paradise Todos Santos, just north of Cabo. Waking up each morning and drinking in all that the world has to offer from the stance of a surfboard, livin’ the dream.

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This all-white building in Costa Azul ingeniously frames the views to screen out neighbours’ houses while still letting the Baja landscape peek through: in the living room, windows align perfectly with a view of the beach and distant hills. (Photo: Ema Peter.)

The truth is that great architecture is a fusion of these two solitudes, the embracing, as Leckie puts it, “of abstract spatial thinking” that’s equal parts lab coat and board shorts. The irony is, one has only to drive an hour and a half south of Leckie’s youthful prized surf break to see how he has managed to blend art and science in a striking white pared-down residence on the tip of Baja. The Costa Azul house channels what judge and architect Kengo Kuma calls “exquisite minimalist details”: polished concrete floors, stark white slabs of wall, a tranquil interior water feature. But a closer inspection reveals that the house (designed with former partner Javier Campos) is far from a monolithic ode to Donald Judd. The building—built for a former film industry professional with the design of renting it out—is an ingenious interplay of separate livable pods that can be configured in a number of different iterations to suit who is living there, who is renting a room and what sort of space is desired by each. And in an area of the world noted for its multi-million-dollar vacation homes, the residence was done on a very modest budget that would be evident only to the owner.

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The Costa Azul house in Cabo—designed as an Airbnb rental—is a study in contrasts: sunlight and shade, privacy and shared spaces, concrete and water. (Photo: Ema Peter.)

Closer to home, Leckie continues the interplay between form and function: in Vancouver’s Gastown, the by-definition playful concept of a Korean ice-cream store is bolstered by a white metal grid (worthy of Buckminster Fuller) that lends some visual gravitas to the urban space. Likewise, the only-in-Yaletown concept of a Swedish hard-candy store is delivered with an order and a presentation that channels nothing less than Damien Hirst’s postmodern take on a pharmacy. It’s candy shopping that’s equal parts solemn and celebratory.

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Ice cream shop Uyu features water-jet-cut metal wall and ceiling panels inspired by the crystalline patterns found in frost. (Photo: Ema Peter.)

It’s that balance, that push and pull, that drew the judges to the work of Leckie Studio (founded only in 2015) for this year’s Arthur Erickson Memorial Award for an emerging architect. The purposeful use of “studio” is no mere coinage, but a representation of the free interplay of ideas between all the participants—including the client. “Our office has all these amazing people with great ideas floating around in their heads,” says Leckie, “and then when we come across the right client, we embark on this amazing collaboration.” Like catching a sweet wave…when you’ve meticulously charted out the tidal flow.

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The Swedish hard-candy store Karameller takes inspiration from Scandinavian design, with white interiors that put colourful sweets on full display. (Photo: Ema Peter.)

 

Meet the rest of our 2016 Designers of the Year, or view previous Arthur Erickson Memorial Award winners.

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