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Beginnings - Conceptual Design by Anna Slowey


Beginnings with Surround

At Surround Architecture we see multiple points of design departure come from all aspects of life, and this is a shared account of our excitement in the initial phase of design process…

One of our most recent commissions begins on a rural plot near the southern edge of Georgian Bay in Ontario, Canada.  Within a short distance from shore is the extensive Niagara Escarpement—an extensive Paleozoic landmass of eroded cliffs, wetlands, and a forest ecosystem that spans nearly the entire southern edge of the Great Lakes.  As visitors from the high desert region of Boulder, CO we were fascinated by the seemingly omnipresence of water that ran underneath, through and around every crevasse of the land.  A few million years of flowing water has revealed fantastic rock formations and boulders which continue to inspire our language through out the design process.


 Following a 2-hour drive north from Toronto, we meet the clients on site for an overview of the property’s amenities.  Agrarian farmland made up over half the lot, and another quarter was a low-lying marsh. The building site was carefully selected adjacent to an existing pond, nestled just behind a line of trees to be shielded from the prevailing winds.  The owners are avid outdoors enthusiasts, taking advantage of seasonal hiking, biking and skiing.  Their new house would not only be a full-time residence, but also a relaxing chalet for après celebrations and respite.  Retaining physiological and visual connection to the specific site was an utmost priority as well as integrating the landscape a prerequisite to the final design.



After agreeing on the general placement of the house site, the team set off to meet the builder and learn about local building practices.  We found a cozy table for a late lunch, and eagerly set about sketching ideas.  Sketching is a fundamental thinking tool at Surround, and we encourage the practice as much as possible!  We love that it is the most direct route to our thoughts-- full of messy lines, abstract ideas manifesting themselves with real immediacy.  Many sketches do not end up as final designs, although each one eventually inform us of a path to resolution, and then circle back to the beginning again…


Three productive hours together, and then we all depart in high spirits as the thoughts begin to swirl in waves of possibilities.  Some elements are retained, some fall away and then others blossom into unexpected opportunities.  The prospect of working beyond our familiar context is a combination of both humbling contemplation and optimistic will.  Beginnings like these are sought after on every project, and --while immensely satisfying--is merely the spark that hopefully will become the start of something greater than our collective intentions.

View from 7th Line.jpg

Immediately upon returning to Colorado we set into visualizing our collective ideas and developing the concept—above is an early rendering of the Blue Mountain Residence.

Stay tuned for more updates.