In Conversation with ASPECT's new Director of Innovation.

Last fall, Amir Shahrokhi (B.Arch., M.Arch.) joined ASPECT, pioneering a new role – and a new perspective – for our global structural engineering team.

With more than 15 years of experience delivering projects and teaching around the world, Amir has joined ASPECT’s Toronto office as both Associate Principal and Director of Innovation. This Director role is a new position for ASPECT, and one uniquely suited to Amir’s perspective, fulsome architectural experience, and passion for mass timber design.

Amir’s experience prior to joining ASPECT is extensive, including his role as Director of Building Systems at Digifabshop, where he led the firm’s off-site construction efforts, and Project Director for SHoP Architects, where he delivered more than a million square feet of projects and became focused on mass timber design strategies. Amir is known for his innate understanding that inventive, meaningful, and well-executed work requires the input and aspirations of multiple stakeholders, and he is adept at aligning these aspirations amongst project team members to create memorable spaces and experiences that can positively impact public and private life. His experience includes everything from multi-block urban developments and multi-unit housing, to art installations and gallery spaces. In addition to his years of architectural practice, Amir has also taught and lectured at universities across North America, including Yale University, the University of Pennsylvania, The New School, the University of Arkansas, and Auburn University.

As ASPECT’s new Director of Innovation, Amir provides oversight and direction on project delivery and engineering operations, ultimately driving, planning, and implementing innovation across ASPECT.

We sat down with Amir to learn more about why he joined ASPECT, where his passion for mass timber comes from, and where he sees the greatest opportunities for innovation not only within ASPECT, but also across our industry as a whole.

 

Three renderings of 475 west 18 project. Exterior view looking up to the left, followed by hero shot of building, and last interior view of one of the suites.

ABOVE: Exterior and Interior views of 475 West 18th development in New York. Renderings Courtesy of SHoP Architects.

Obvious question first: why would an architect want to join a structural engineering firm?

Amir Shahrokhi: The architectural focus is centered around what the appearance of a building – the final built form – is, and how that form is experienced. While I’m passionate about architecture, for me, how the building actually comes together – the process of designing for construction, as well as actually constructing – is equally fascinating and equally important. This fascination with “how things get built” is something I’ve had from an early age – and only exacerbated by my junior high shop class. The “how” is critical, in my opinion.

Even from my undergraduate days, my experience in architecture has led me to work with talented designers and architects who had true design-build practices. Whatever we designed, we were also making ourselves. Anticipating the actions of how a design can actually come to life has become engrained in me, and this is an area where structural engineers have the potential to make an even greater impact. Structural engineers are responsible for the bones of a building – the aspects by which everything else is supported.

Particularly in today’s economic climate, how constructable a design is, and how efficient it is, truly impacts the overall viability. With more industry collaboration, I believe it’s possible to design and realize some truly beautiful…and equally constructable…buildings.

 

You’ve designed for a lot of different building materials in your career. Do you have a particular affinity for mass timber?

AS: Affinity is a good word for it – or enthusiasm. In the past, when I was working as part of architectural teams designing for projects that involved steel and concrete, I would ultimately spend very little time truly thinking about the structure. At the time, we really didn’t have to think much about the performance of the building or how viable it was, particularly when working with these materials. We knew that the design was going to work – a conclusion that would often be taken for granted.

Delving deep into mass timber really renewed my passion for constructability, and for the compatibility, viability, and efficiency of a structure. My experience with the material started about a decade ago, and was leading the design of a project called 475 West 18th – a project that actually started as a USDA/SLB competition before evolving into a project. This project gave me the opportunity to really engross myself with mass timber, as well as to travel to Europe and see how the products were made, and how those products were implemented in that market. The whole experience broadened my perspective – and also resulted in the project receiving a US Tall Wood Building Award.

On the whole, designing for mass timber forced me to think much more systematically about the structure as an integrative and expressive part of the architecture. For me, working that closely with the structural team was empowering. I could see that, at a structural firm, you could still influence constructability from the front-end of the process. Working on mass timber projects forces you to work more closely with all building disciplines, and to embrace more proactive architectural design practices…a beneficial approach, regardless of the materiality.

 

Of all the structural engineering firms in the world to join, why choose ASPECT?

AS: While working on this seminal 475 West 18th project, I was introduced to ASPECT Founding Principal Bernhard Gafner at Holzbau conference, then in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. A few years later, I reached out to ASPECT after SHoP Architects was awarded the Ribbon Building in the Distillery District in Toronto. Through Bernhard and Adam Gerber, ASPECT’s breadth of knowledge was immediately clear – both the firm’s experience as structural engineers and mass timber design specialists, and Bernhard and Adam’s personal experience as former carpenters.

It was also immediately clear that I had found a kindred connection for my passion for construction and building things. There was just an ease – a shorthand – that represented how clearly ASPECT thought about how things came together. Even in my architectural role, I didn’t have to explain what I saw – they saw it too. There was a true camaraderie of working with team members who have the experience and the shared knowledge that just makes everything easier.

 

Rendering of Ribbon Building in Toronto

ABOVE:  Exterior view of Ribbon Building in Toronto, Ontario. Rendering Courtesy of SHoP Architects.

From your “outside perspective”, what are the (potentially unrealized) opportunities for innovation within engineering operations?

AS: The biggest opportunity for innovation might seem retroactive, but I feel strongly it’s the most important focus right now: being able to anticipate what it means to construct something. Particularly as we’ve moved into more digital design practices, there is this gulf between what an engineer or a designer sees on screen, and what it means to truly build that thing in the field. There are, increasingly, opportunities for automation that expedite the tedious detail of the work, and would allow engineers and designers to take a step back and really consider…together…the design intent.

Efficiency-forward practices allow that space to take a step back. This space is just so critical, and particularly so for engineers, given the realities of the business. An architecture firm, frankly, has fewer projects to service at once, allowing for more attention for each project. The reality of engineering is often that you just have more on the go – more to balance and more to juggle.

Personally, I feel that pairing architects more closely with structural engineers – to provide more of a “bridging” role – is something we will see more and more of. Architects have the experience of coordinating the entirely of a project…of seeing all aspects. Sharing this insight more readily can help connect the “why” for structural engineers, and open up their own in a way that expands rather than limits. Context is key.

Of course, I also find the way that ASPECT has structured our practice particularly innovative, in that we do both “front end” work (through the design phase), and “back end” work (through the production and construction phases), and we use those experiences to inform the other scopes we’re involved with. Doing work for suppliers and research for product development – all of that knowledge is embedded when we’re completing our “up front” design work as well. Innovation through influence is the goal – leveraging our experience and repeat performance to show that there are ways to do things differently.

 

You’ve worked on projects around the world, and you’re based in Toronto now. What are some of the notable differences in the way developments move forward in Toronto?

AS: I moved back to Toronto in 2017, and it’s interesting to see how much has remained unchanged here. The zoning and the construction methodologies have formed a reinforcing cycle where the point tower typology that dominates here requires flat plate concrete construction. That’s where the skills developed, which then (in turn) reinforces more of that work.

I think it’s important that markets have alternative methods of product delivery, and that there is competition in that regard. If a market becomes highly-reliant on a single method of delivery, cost certainty can become an issue. There are ways of providing density that are not reliant on a single building typology or method of delivery. You can really see the market opening up to this perspective in recent years.

 

Widening back out to a global lens, what are some innovative ideas that you are most excited about that you see taking hold in the industry in the near future?

AS: Unsurprisingly (given my background), I get excited about all the work that’s being done in the industry connected to product thinking and platform-based approaches. I certainly don’t mean applying such approaches to every single building, but there is a balance that I think these approaches can help with.

Such balance is inherent in the way we already think about the built environment. A great example is the concept of “background buildings” and “foreground buildings”. While a building should always be contextually responsive and culturally appropriate, there is an important distinction between buildings that were designed to form more of the background (“background buildings”) and buildings that were meant to shine (“foreground buildings”). There is a very real need for both in an urban context. As a society, we wouldn’t want “all” foreground buildings, because then our environment would just be yelling at us all the time! Background buildings are equally important, and there is a lot to be said for delivering these buildings through a product-based approach. Streamlining “the background” can provide cost assurances around systems that have been pre-engineered and developed. This can also really help accentuate the “foreground” structures – structures that would (inherently) have a more significant immediate and long-term impact.

I love pointing to this example, because it really underscores the point that automation does not need to be everything – but it can be better utilized to focus our attention on bigger and more challenging ideas.

In my opinion, the greatest potential for innovation in our industry comes from being very selective about what to focus on – something a “designer-builder” mentality greatly underscores. That’s what excites me the most: an anticipatory mindset that finds new ways to create balance and focus.

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To speak with Amir about his experience, expertise, and new role at ASPECT, please reach out to him directly through his LinkedIn Page.


ASPECT Structural Engineers selected as one of Canada’s Top Small & Medium Employers

The global structural engineering practice joins a competitive list of top employers in the 2024 “Top 100 Employers” Project.

The 2024 list of “Canada’s Top Small & Medium Employers” was announced this morning in a special magazine published by Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Top Small & Medium Employers category focuses on smaller enterprises with less than 500 employees, and is part of the “Canada’s Top 100 Employers” project. Conducted since 1999, this project includes 19 regional and special-interest editorial competitions that reach Canadians annually through publications such as The Globe and Mail.

Canada’s Top Small & Medium Employers is a competition that is now in its 11th year, and recognizes the small and medium businesses (SMEs) that offer the nation’s best workplaces and more forward-thinking human resources policies. Applicant employers are evaluated across eight categories of criteria:

  1. Workplace
  2. Work Atmosphere & Social
  3. Health, Financial & Family Benefits
  4. Vacation & Time Off
  5. Employee Communications
  6. Performance Management
  7. Training & Skills Development
  8. Community Involvement

The announcement noted that, this year, the competition for recognition amongst SMEs was stronger than ever. The competition is open to any company in Canada that has less than 500 employees worldwide, and is a commercial, for-profit business. Kristina Leung, management editor of the Canada’s Top 100 Employers project, noted that, “What’s remarkable about the employers on this year’s list is how quickly and effectively they’ve worked to create rewards and other programs developed from employee input…SMEs have enviable levels of customization, flexibility, and speed-of implementation that are difficult for larger employers to match.”

This is ASPECT’s first year recognized on the list since the firm was first founded in 2016.

“Creating an environment that established new possibilities for what a workplace could be was a big part of why we started ASPECT,” says Gina Sheppard, COO and one of the Founding Principals of ASPECT. “Of course, this recognition means so much to the leaders who started ASPECT – Andrew Chad, Bernhard Gafner, Mehrdad Jahangiri, Adam Gerber and me – but it is actually a direct reflection of the incredible people that make up ASPECT today. There are so many team members who set the “tone” for who we have become as a firm, and who have since stepped up to become leaders of ASPECT and of the industry.”

Some of the reasons for ASPECT’s selection, as identified by the jury panel, include:

  • Maintaining a formal hybrid work policy that enables employees to work from home for up to two days per week as well as the option to work from anywhere for up to two weeks per year.
  • Providing flexible work hours.
  • Encouraging employees to adopt healthy habits with an annual fitness allowance of $600 that can be put towards any type of physical activity (examples include gym memberships, ski passes, fitness classes, or personal training sessions).
  • Taking a thoughtful approach when employees are called upon to care for their loved ones, providing compassionate leave top-up of up to 80 per cent of salary for 15 weeks.
  • Supporting employees with $1,500 in tuition subsidies for job-related courses per year.

Stories and photos surrounding the ASPECT work culture, values, and overall approach can be found through the competition homepage, along with a complete list of this year’s winners.

Recipients of this year’s award will be recognized at an award ceremony this evening. Read the full press release here.

If you have any questions about this or other ASPECT awards, please contact:

Samantha Armitage

Director, Marketing & Communications

sam@aspectengineers.com

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About ASPECT Structural Engineers

ASPECT Structural Engineers is a globally acclaimed, full-service structural engineering firm. Founded in 2016, we are now a cohesive team of more than 50 engineers, fabrication designers, technicians, and support staff. Through thoughtful yet pragmatic design practices and rigorous training, the engineers and designers at ASPECT understand not only their role in contributing to a project, but also how to support the roles of others.

Many members of the ASPECT team started their careers in other disciplines, pulling from their experience working with carpenters, contractors, suppliers, or architects to contribute to a wider understanding of the value that structural engineers can bring to a project. Our team-based approach focuses on better design, improved constructability, and unwavering accountability.

From the beginning, ASPECT has been driven by the importance of true sustainability, underscoring our commitment to understanding, and educating others on the benefits of, mass timber. Beyond producing award-winning structural engineering work for everything from office buildings, to bridges, to custom homes, we also dedicate a substantial amount of time to working with other industry leaders - industry suppliers, architects, and clients - to work through new ways to design and build for the future. Our diverse team is active in markets around the world, with dedicated offices in Canada (Vancouver and Toronto), Switzerland (Bern), and the United States (Seattle).


"Via" Northwest Arkansas Industrialized Construction Program Recognized in Softwood Lumber Board's 2023 Mass Timber Competition

The Arkansas development was one of five projects recognized in the SLB 2023 Mass Timber Competition: "Building to Net-Zero Carbon".

The purpose of this competition is to expand the use of mass timber in the United States, showcasing mass timber’s application, practicality, commercial viability, and role in reducing the carbon footprint of the built environment. This competition is funded by the Softwood Lumber Board (SLB), as well as the USDA, and this funding aids project teams in overcoming barriers to leveraging mass timber for projects.

In October 2023, the competition announced five winners for the 2023 competition, and Via / Northwest Arkansas Industrialized construction program was selected as one of the winners. The system being developed for this project takes advantage of the strategic structural use of mass timber on certain building typologies in order to maximize construction speed and architectural appearance while maintaining affordability. ASPECT has contributed as the engineer of record (superstructure) for the Via Emma building, and is now also engaged as structural engineer of record for the Water Street Building.

Below is a bit more information about the Via development, including the overarching goals of the project. Huge congratulations to Blue Crane Developments, Modus Studio, Architects 226, Arco Construction, and Tatum-Smith-Welcher for this public recognition of this marquee project.

Renderings courtesy of: Modus Studio

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The fast and the beauteous.

Located in Springdale, Arkansas, the “Via” development is a pilot housing project intended to address the need for rental housing stemming from the rapid population growth in the region. This project includes four separate developments as part of a larger complex, providing multi-family residential space totaling 131 units at market-rate and affordable options. The four buildings in the development include Emma, Water, Meadow, and Park. Sustainability, speed of construction, and aesthetics were all central considerations to the ultimate selection of mass timber for this project.

As the structural engineer of record for the superstructure of the Via Emma development, and the structural engineer of record for the Via Water development, ASPECT has worked with the full team to support the pragmatic implementation of the affordable housing development. Both “Emma” and “Water” buildings are three-story, hybrid walk-up buildings with mass timber floors and light wood frame panelized walls.

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Full winners list from the 2023 Mass Timber Competition are published on the “ThinkWood” website: https://www.thinkwood.com/blog/inspiring-innovation-competition-winners-showcase-mass-timbers-versatility

Learn more about ASPECT’s dedication to Mass Timber design and construction: https://aspectengineers.com/mass-timber/


ASPECT Structural Engineers Opens First Office in the United States

The global engineering and design firm has announced a new office in Seattle, Washington.

ASPECT Seattle is the firm’s fourth dedicated office and will directly service clients in and around the Pacific Northwest. This office is ASPECT’s first in the United States, and will support further growth across the country.

Since the firm was founded in 2016, ASPECT has successfully delivered work throughout the United States, building relationships with private sector clients in several markets. The proximity of Seattle to ASPECT’s founding office in Vancouver – which now boasts 30 local staff – will support sustained corporate and quality expectations as this new team continues to grow.

“Formalizing our presence in the U.S. is a step that ASPECT has intended to take for quite some time,” says Gina Sheppard, Chief Operating Officer and one of the Founding Principals of ASPECT.  “While we’ve already contributed to the success of more than 120 projects across the United States, opening an office in Seattle is a significant milestone – and a testament to our organic growth as a global firm. We can see that our unique offering is resonating with clients internationally across numerous market sectors, and this new office underscores our commitment to client service.”

The announcement also marks a concerted effort to grow in the firm’s ability to service key markets across the United States – an effort that is led by ASPECT’s newest Principal and global Head of Engineering, Will Watson. Will joined the company in November 2023 with more than 15 years of experience, and is licensed broadly across the United States, including Washington, Oregon, and California. In addition to focusing on company-wide efficiency and collaboration, Will’s role includes establishing ASPECT operations, and supporting the successful delivery of our projects, across the United States.

“For ASPECT, determining where to open an office is often years in the making, and considers far more than simply where our project work is located,” explains ASPECT Chief Executive Officer and Principal, Adam Gerber. “The way we work is fully relationship-based, and we look to broader market alignment when making these decisions – particularly when it comes to where we want to establish a larger local presence and team. Coupled with Will’s leadership, we’re excited to build on ASPECT’s pre-existing relationships with clients in the Pacific Northwest and beyond.”

In addition to physical offices in Vancouver (British Columbia), Toronto (Ontario), Bern (Switzerland), and now Seattle (Washington), ASPECT also has team members working remotely in various locations across Canada, the UK, the United States, and Europe.

For more information, please contact:

Samantha Armitage
Director, Marketing & Communications

 

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About ASPECT Structural Engineers

ASPECT Structural Engineers is a globally acclaimed, full-service structural engineering firm. Founded in 2016, we are now a cohesive team of more than 50 engineers, fabrication designers, technicians, and support staff. Through thoughtful yet pragmatic design practices and rigorous training, the engineers and designers at ASPECT understand not only their role in contributing to a project, but also how to support the roles of others.

Many members of the ASPECT team started their careers in other disciplines, pulling from their experience working with carpenters, contractors, suppliers, or architects to contribute to a wider understanding of the value that structural engineers can bring to a project. Our team-based approach focuses on better design, improved constructability, and unwavering accountability.

From the beginning, ASPECT has been driven by the importance of true sustainability, underscoring our commitment to understanding, and educating others on the benefits of, mass timber. Beyond producing award-winning structural engineering work for everything from office buildings, to bridges, to custom homes, we also dedicate a substantial amount of time to working with other industry leaders - industry suppliers, architects, and clients - to work through new ways to design and build for the future. Our diverse team is active in markets around the world, with dedicated offices in Canada (Vancouver and Toronto), Switzerland (Bern), and the United States (Seattle).


ASPECT Structural Engineers Announces Five New Associates

ASPECT is proud to announce the promotion of five team members to the position of Associate. 

Since our firm was founded eight years ago, the definition of what it means to be an Associate at ASPECT has evolved. Today, the promotion of these five individuals signals increased momentum in the overall growth of the firm, and points to the proven commitment of our teams to deliver quality work for our clients in a way that is unique to ASPECT.

ASPECT was established with a mission to approach structural engineering in a new and different way. We appreciate and apply rigorous, traditional engineering practices, but through a new lens that prioritizes varied viewpoints and the exploration of newer approaches. Many members of the ASPECT team started their careers in other disciplines, pulling from their experience working with carpenters, contractors, suppliers, or architects to contribute to a wider understanding of the value that structural engineers can bring to a project. This team-based approach focuses on better design, improved constructability, and unwavering accountability.
Each of our new Associates personifies this approach, with project experience that is as varied as it is comprehensive. Several of these individuals joined ASPECT when the firm was just getting started (or shortly thereafter), and their growth has mirrored (and bolstered) the firm’s own growth.

Please join us in congratulating this group of professionals as the current and future leaders of ASPECT.

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Ornagh Higgins, M.Eng., P.Eng., C.Eng., MIStructE, MIEI

YEAR STARTED WITH ASPECT: 2020

Ornagh joined ASPECT at the beginning of 2020 – right after she had just moved to Canada, and right before a global pandemic. In spite of this turbulent time, Ornagh performed exceptionally from her first days with the firm, and it was immediately apparent what a tremendous asset she was to the team.

Ornagh is a graduate of Trinity College in Dublin, where she earned her Bachelor’s and her Master’s degrees in Civil, Structural, and Environmental Engineering. She worked in London, UK for seven years after graduation, developing her skillset by contributing to commercial, residential, and refurbishment projects. While her prior experience largely focused on steel-framed leisure and retail projects, when she joined ASPECT Ornagh became involved in designing both mass timber and concrete structures, and directly contributed to some of ASPECT’s largest and most complex work. Developments such as Tallwood 1 at District 56 are a testament to Ornagh’s ability to push herself technically, particularly in the face of becoming familiar with Canadian codes and standards. She has also directly contributed to numerous projects in the United States, including the Highline X Moynihan Connector Bridge in New York (now complete), and the Via Emma residential development in Arkansas (currently underway).

Due to her growing expertise, grit, and grounded engineering approach, Ornagh is regularly called upon to speak at industry conferences. She presented in June of last year at the World Conference on Timber Engineering in Oslo, Norway, and will be presenting on tall timber design strategies at this year’s Mass Timber Conference in Portland, Oregon.

 

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Keelan Hegarty, M.Eng., C.Eng., MIStructE

YEAR STARTED WITH ASPECT: 2018

Keelan studied at University College Dublin in Ireland, where he earned his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Structural Engineering with Architecture. After graduation, Keelan moved to London in the UK, where he contributed to significant, architecture-forward developments. His experience included modular construction, heritage buildings, and everything in between.

Keelan joined ASPECT’s Vancouver team when he moved to British Columbia in 2018, immediately sharing his international knowledge and experience with the team, while simultaneously picking up on Canadian codes and standards. After three years of contributing to local Vancouver developments – including numerous multi-unit residential buildings – Keelan made the move back to the UK but continued to be a vital and contributing member of the ASPECT team. While working remotely, Keelan contributed to some of ASPECT’s largest and most exciting new projects to date, including the 1925 Victoria Park development in Toronto, Ontario (recent winner of the Holcim Award), and the UnderArmour Headquarters in Baltimore, Maryland (currently under construction).

Consistently, Keelan is the consummate multi-tool team leader, combining his former experience with his ASPECT-driven understanding of mass timber design practices, applying either approach to North American and European markets as needed.

 

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Evan Peatt, B.A.Sc., P.Eng.

YEAR STARTED WITH ASPECT: 2016

Evan graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Science, and began his career with ASPECT Structural Engineers shortly after. At that time, the firm was just starting out, and looked very different. Evan immediately rolled up his sleeves to help wherever he could. His passion for exceptional design, and affinity for working with talented architectural teams, was clear, and he regularly demonstrated his ability to determine the best structural solutions to achieve the overall design intent. Due to this aptitude, Evan worked closely with Andrew Chad to build up the custom homes portfolio of the firm, and has played a critical role in developing ASPECT’s exceptional reputation in this BC market. The homes to which Evan contributes are regularly celebrated in industry publications and recognized with design awards, including projects like “Camera House ” in Pemberton, “Dooley Residence” in Whistler, and “Colwood House” in North Vancouver. Evan’s “get it done” approach regularly benefits the projects that he leads, as contractors continually reference the ability to call up Evan and get a quick answer to important questions that arise on site.

This passion for a job well done also extends beyond site and has regularly benefited ASPECT operations, including playing a pivotal role in finding, and managing the design and renovation of, ASPECT’s current Vancouver office location. Since our earliest days, Evan has played a big role in what our firm has become and, as Associate, will continue to shape what the firm will be.

 

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Jackson Pelling, B.A.Sc., P.Eng.

YEAR STARTED WITH ASPECT: 2016

A brilliant engineer with nearly ten years of experience, Jackson’s path to ASPECT was unconventional, but no less impressive. After graduating from the University of British Columbia with a degree in Civil Engineering, Jackson began his career journey in the insurance industry. There, he spent several years gaining intimate familiarity with high-end custom homes and multi-unit residential buildings, as well as a rare perspective on the design and construction process. In 2016, Jackson attended a SEABC Mass Timber class that was taught by ASPECT Principal Bernhard Gafner, where Jackson’s intelligence and curiosity caught Bernhard’s attention. Shortly after, in December of 2016, Jackson joined ASPECT.

Since that time, Jackson has become a technical leader for ASPECT. Clients and colleagues alike trust Jackson because of his unsurpassed structural knowledge – if they have a question, Jackson very likely has the answer. Over the past eight years, Jackson has contributed to the design of developments across Canada, including custom homes, commercial and mixed-use developments, industrial facilities, and institutional buildings. His knowledge of seismic considerations is proven through his work on projects such as District 56 Tallwood 1 – a twelve-storey mass timber multi-unit residential tower that was the second tallest wood building in Canada at the time of construction. His knowledge extends across North America, with project experience that stretches from Toronto (such as the Quayside development), to Boston (the Harvard Treehouse Conference Center), to British Columbia (such as the Lauwelnew School Expansion in Brentwood Bay).

Jackson’s encyclopedic knowledge, combined with his seemingly infinite patience and passion for the industry, has raised the bar for quality engineering at ASPECT and beyond.

 

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Jamie Connolly, P.Eng., M.Eng.

YEAR STARTED WITH ASPECT: 2018

Jamie graduated from Concordia University in Montreal with a Bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering, before going on to complete his Master’s of Engineering in Integrated Wood Design, at the University of Northern British Columbia. Mirroring his education, Jamie’s experience, as well as his time with ASPECT, has taken him across the country.

Jamie joined ASPECT’s Vancouver office in 2018 (shortly after graduating from his Master’s program), and immediately charmed the entire team with his fun-loving, easy-going attitude. In addition to his approachable demeanor, Jamie was also technically gifted, with an inherently practical nature that clients immediately appreciated. Over his time with our firm, he has been a key contributor to some of our most ambitious and challenging projects, including the Malahat Skywalk and Viewing Tower in British Columbia, and the new UnderArmour Headquarters in Baltimore. On the Malahat Skywalk project, Jamie meticulously designed and detailed connections to maximize pre-fabrication and simplify installation – an effort that helped enable fast and easy on-site construction. Due to his growing expertise, Jamie has played a critical role as a member of both our local structural engineering teams and our global fabrication design team.

Over the past five years, Jamie relocated from Vancouver to Toronto, playing a significant role in building our local Toronto office. Beyond ASPECT, Jamie has also earned a reputation as a respected speaker, and has been called upon to present at industry conferences, such as the Cecobois Conference and the Wood Solutions Conference, as well as numerous industry webinars and design workshops.

 

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To learn more about the Associate position at ASPECT, please reach out to Jamie, Keelan, Ornagh, Evan, and Jackson through their LinkedIn pages, or contact Samantha Armitage, Director of Marketing & Communications.


ASPECT Structural Engineers Announces Two New Principal Positions

Ilana Danzig and Will Watson are now ASPECT Principals, adding to the firm’s respected local and global leadership.

Established in 2016, ASPECT has experienced continued growth over the past eight years, due to both the clear-minded leadership of the firm’s Founding Principals, as well as the commitment of local and global ASPECT team members. Adding to the existing ASPECT Principal team – which includes Bernhard Gafner, Andrew Chad, Mehrdad Jahangiri, Gina Sheppard, and Adam Gerber – the announcement of these two new Principals signals both an affirmation of this continued growth, as well as a realignment of the firm’s leadership team. Both Ilana and Will embody ASPECT’s core values of quality, accountability, drive, diversity, and collaboration, and will act as ambassadors of the firm as we continue to grow.

Below is a bit more information about Ilana and Will – their locations, their tenure with the firm, and a deep dive into the value that they provide to our teams and to our clients.

 

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Ilana Danzig, P.Eng., Struct.Eng., M.Eng., PE, SE,
Managing Principal, Vancouver

Ilana Danzig joined ASPECT in 2019, and it was immediately clear that she was an irreplaceable leader for our internal and external project teams. With more than 15 years of structural engineering experience, and a thorough understanding of all material types across project typologies. Her twin passions for mass timber and seismic design became the foundation for much of her work today, including her developing expertise in emerging areas, such as off-site prefabrication and construction engineering for mass timber buildings. Beyond her technical expertise, the way that Ilana works – her organizational skills, her communication style, her collaborative nature – quickly became noticed and admired by both staff and clients. Ilana’s leadership has delivered boundary-pushing projects such as the developments at District 56 in Langford BC – including Tallwood 1, the first Encapsulated Mass Timber Construction (EMTC) tall wood building in Canada, and Terminus, which includes the first steel/timber hybrid buckling-restrained brace (BRB) lateral system. Her experience has also frequently extended beyond the borders of BC, and Ilana has helped to significantly grow ASPECT’s portfolio of work across the United States as well.

Ilana’s work within ASPECT has also directly led to significant leadership and research opportunities outside of ASPECT. She regularly advocates for more women in the engineering industry, and openly discusses design solutions that align with widespread society needs (such as sustainable wood and timber design solutions in response to the housing crisis). Because of her expertise, in combination with her natural ability to explain complex topics clearly and succinctly, Ilana is a highly sought speaker and instructor in the industry, with multiple publications to her credit.

As Managing Principal of ASPECT’s Vancouver office, Ilana is accountable for the performance and operations of our Vancouver teams and projects. While she has been a respected leader for ASPECT since she first walked through the door, as Principal, Ilana’s guidance and vision will be further amplified as both the Vancouver office and the firm continue to grow.

 

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Will Watson, SE, PE
Principal, Head of Engineering

Will Watson joined ASPECT in November of last year and, while his time with ASPECT has been short, he has already made a significant impact. Over the course of his more than 15 years in the industry, Will has worn many hats. He is based out of Seattle, Washington, and is licensed as a professional engineer and structural engineer in multiple States. He has a proven history developing and leading project execution strategies for international, multi-disciplinary engineering firms on projects around the world, including work on the Guggenheim in Abu Dhabi, and the New International Airport in Mexico City.

In addition to his hands-on project delivery experience, Will has a strong background in product design, pre-fabrication design, and manufacturing support. He understands the “big picture” of engineering operations, as well as the details of product development.

Will has joined our firm not only as Principal, but also as Head of Engineering – a role through which he will share his passion for scalable construction practices on a global level. Providing leadership for company-wide efficiency and collaboration, Will leads project delivery systems, applying methods to enhance quality and efficiency for all of ASPECT.

 

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To learn more about these new positions, please reach out to Ilana or Will through their LinkedIn pages, or contact Samantha Armitage, Director of Marketing & Communications.


New Sustainability Lead Joins Global ASPECT Team

Based out of Vancouver, British Columbia in Canada, Caroline Butchart (MEng, CEng, MIstructE, LEED Green Associate) joined ASPECT in November of 2023.

Caroline will perform the dual role of Sustainability Lead and Senior Engineer for the firm, providing not only project leadership but also championing sustainability initiatives for all ASPECT team members around the world.

A proven technical and sustainability leader, Caroline’s experience spans continents, with contributions to large-scale, architecturally ambitious developments in the UK, Europe, and Canada. Caroline has consistently demonstrated an undeniable interest in (and passion for) building re-use, particularly design for low embodied carbon and design for disassembly. She is also a respected public speaker and industry leader, as well as a frequent guest lecturer for schools such as the British Columbia Institute of Technology (BCIT). Caroline hosted the BC Embodied Carbon Awards in 2023, and is the co-author of the EGBC Embodied Carbon Guidelines for Structural Engineers. She also sits on the CAGBC Embodied Carbon Technical Advisory Group.

With more than a decade of experience, and a comprehensive understanding of a range of building materials and typologies, Caroline is bringing her top-tier engineering capabilities to the ASPECT team, not to mention dedicated structural sustainability leadership that underscores our pre-existing in-house capabilities.

We sat down with Caroline to learn a bit more about what drives her, why she chose to join ASPECT, and the priorities she sees for structural sustainability in the Canadian market…

 

Mass Timber Roof Showing Crossed Beams

What appealed to you about this position and about joining ASPECT?

Caroline Butchart: This role really provides the perfect marriage between my structural engineering experience and my passion for sustainability. Having worked in both areas in the past, and knowing ASPECT’s intentions around this role, I knew this would be an exciting opportunity to shape the sustainability work of the firm.

I was also really drawn to ASPECT’s mass timber expertise, especially our fabrication design and 3D fabrication modelling work. I think people are aware that mass timber is a low carbon alternative to steel and concrete, but beyond that, mass timber really lends itself well to other important sustainable design strategies, such as design for disassembly and minimizing our impact on biodiversity. I’m excited to work with mass timber specialists, and leverage this expertise to create low carbon, "full-disassembly" projects.

 

This passion for mass timber – where does it stem from?

CB: For me, it goes all the way back to my first years working as a structural engineer. That’s when I really saw the magnitude of concrete and steel we’re putting into the world to do relatively simple things. It felt excessive and so wasteful, and like we (as an industry) had our priorities backward. Mass timber, when used mindfully and efficiently, stands in opposition to this culture of excess.

Beyond this personal experience, mass timber has three strong arguments in its favour. First of all, of course, you’re building with a natural material – not something that has to be mined and heavily processed. Sustainability being tied to something so nature-based seems obvious, but is also often overlooked.

Secondly, there is (of course) the low carbon aspect, in that prioritizing mass timber as a building material has the potential to result in a significant reduction in embodied carbon emissions. That may seem like stating the obvious, but I think what is consistently overlooked is the “time” importance of embodied carbon. Achieving net zero by 2050 is not the only target – meeting dramatic reductions by 2030 is also critical if we’re to avoid climate tipping points (like the melting of the Antarctic ice sheets). When you build a building, those carbon emissions occur right away. If we want to meet our 2030 goals, we have to start prioritizing embodied carbon reductions on the projects we are designing today.

Thirdly, a topic that I am particularly passionate about, is the fact that mass timber lends itself well to design for disassembly. It’s a material that, when designed thoughtfully, can be deconstructed, and sparks further interest in the idea of looking at buildings as material (or carbon) banks.

 

You’ve brought up "Design for Disassembly" a couple of times. You started your career in the UK – can you speak to your experience with this topic (and other trends) in the UK versus what you’re seeing in Canada?

CB: In the UK, and also in Europe, there is a growing momentum behind both building re-use and material re-use as carbon reduction levers. Why? Because the lowest carbon building materials are the ones we already have! In the UK, there is already a culture of re-use stemming from heritage requirements of some of our older and more noteworthy building stock. Increasingly however, people are realizing that building re-use and building upgrade projects are great ways to minimize the emissions associated with the construction industry. In London for example, there are requirements for design teams to submit a circular economy statement for all new buildings, outlining how their project considers material waste, future adaptability and concepts like design for disassembly. I am seeing more and more examples of salvaged materials used in new buildings, or new buildings used as a material bank for future projects,

Here in Canada, there are certainly building upgrade projects that seek to maintain the existing building as much as possible. Some noteworthy projects that I have been involved with in the past are the "Inn at Laurel Point" Renewal Project, as well as several buildings part of the Simon Fraser University campus redevelopment. I would love to see more of this work. The seismic demands in the Pacific northwest make these projects more challenging, but not impossible.

Overall, material re-use in Canada really isn’t a mainstream topic yet. Champions like BCIT and "Unbuilders" are leading the way, with BCIT actually offering a circular economy microcredential.  Additionally, the City of Vancouver, District of North Vancouver, and the City of Victoria all have “Deconstruction Bylaws” for single-family homes that aim to encourage deconstruction and material salvage, rather than the “business as usual” approach of sending huge piles of rubble to the landfill.

As we see heightened regulations in Canada around embodied carbon, I think we will start to see more and more building and material re-use as a way to meet these embodied carbon targets, and I’m excited that this will naturally push the whole industry forward.

 

The communication about sustainability in design and construction has become so muddled. If there was a misconception that you would debunk tomorrow if you could…what would it be?

CB: There are a few, but I would say the largest is the belief that you can achieve a low carbon building simply by swapping out standard products for low carbon alternatives. In reality, the most effective way to reduce embodied carbon is to reduce material quantities. That means being smarter and more efficient in our designs (as well as re-using existing materials!). Structural engineers can really help with that (and I would say this even if I wasn’t one myself). Engage structural engineers early, and they can design more efficiently.

The bonus here is that if we’re more efficient with the materials we’re using, material costs go down too!

 

Seems simple enough. Are there other “simple” solutions that can make a big difference in achieving carbon neutrality?

CB: It all comes from that main idea – that improving the efficiency of the structure is one of the easiest ways to improve embodied carbon performance. It’s a relatively simple idea, but I would love for it to become more central. Even small structural elements – each beam, each column – make a difference. Looking at these details is where you will find the most “small wins”.

We all seem to think of sustainability in these big ways, but really, a thoughtful approach to every layer of the structure is what is needed. Every consideration counts. Maybe a building owner doesn’t have the capacity to look at a whole building right now. But looking at one corner of a building, or just the beams, is a great start. I really believe we will (and need to) see more thinking like this in the years ahead.

 

If you could impart one piece of wisdom around sustainability into the “overall thinking” of the building industry tomorrow, what would it be?

CB: Quite simply: re-using existing materials is possible. And, not only is it possible, but it is a “win” for material costs and embodied carbon.

As with anything, the key to success in shifting to this mindset is creating awareness early on. It’s not something that you can really think about after a building is already demolished.

 

You seem (and sound) very optimistic, which isn’t a tone one always hears in the news around the climate crisis. Where would you say your optimism comes from?

CB: Without a doubt, my optimism comes from interacting with and discussing these issues with other people within the industry. I’m a volunteer with the Carbon Leadership Forum BC (CLF BC) and sit on the CAGBC Technical Advisory Group for Embodied Carbon, and everyone involved with these groups is doing such great work. I have the good fortune to meet with really smart people in the industry, and to do so both personally and professionally. The conversations we’re having, and the work I see them doing, is what excites me the most…and makes me confident that we are going to achieve our 2030 / 2050 goals.

 

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A big welcome to Caroline Butchart – we’re thrilled to have you as part of the ASPECT team!

You can read more about Caroline’s experience and expertise through our Team Page or reach out to say “hi!” through her LinkedIn Page.


1925 Victoria Park, Toronto, ON

2023 Holcim Awards: 1925 Victoria Park Wins Gold

Ontario’s first 12-storey, near zero, mixed-use rental development, recognized at the Holcim Awards.

The Holcim Foundation aims to reduce the construction sector’s impact by spreading awareness to enable a future where built environments help both people and our ecosystems to thrive. As an extension of this mission, the Holcim Awards competition, created in 2004, advocates for the development of sustainable building solutions. Each year, the awards provide global recognition for the most significant approaches to sustainable design and construction. This year’s awards recently took place in Venice, where the 1925 Victoria Park project received the prestigious Gold Prize for North America. This mixed-use rental development located in Toronto, Ontario aims to transition the industry towards sustainable apartment living, utilizing decentralized manufacturing of modularized components to create a scalable and sustainable design solution.

A huge congratulations to Well Grounded Real Estate and PARTISANS on this impressive global recognition! Our team at ASPECT is honored to be a part of this award-winning development, along with Serotiny Group Inc. and CREE Buildings.

Continue reading to learn more about the project and its future implications for Canadian housing.

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A high tech, low-cost solution for urban living.

The concept for this sustainable rental development focuses on a cost and energy- efficient solution for Toronto’s housing crisis. ASPECT is providing full Engineer-of-Record services for this new 12-storey residential building, as well as specialty engineering, shop drawings for all timber and timber-concrete-composite and façade panels, and installation/temporary works engineering. The structural system will incorporate prefabricated building elements, which allow for a 17-week construction duration, intended to minimize disruption to the surrounding neighbourhood, and to rapidly provide much-needed housing to the market. The building showcases a central open courtyard that is surrounded by open-air corridors to maximize air flow and regulate the building temperature through passive ventilation. In addition to the environmental benefits, the building design is meant to enable social connection and create a sense of community amongst tenants.

In Canada, and beyond.

Through thoughtful design, 1925 Victoria Park will provide future residents with a nature-centric living environment that promotes physical and social health. The project has surpassed the City of Toronto’s Green Standard Tier 4, while approaching net-zero. The jury for the 2023 Holcim Awards emphasizes the project’s excellence and scalability is “a promising solution for sustainable housing production within the Canadian context and beyond.”

With the design stage now complete, we are eager to see the construction process turn this ambitious project into a reality.

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Renderings courtesy of Partisans

Full winners list from the 2023 Holcim Awards: https://www.holcimfoundation.org/awards-2023

ASPECT regularly works with and advises on prefabricated / modular design solutions as well as multi-residential design solutions. Check out the Projects page to take a look at our wider portfolio.


"Triptych" Wins 2023 Canadian Architect Award of Merit

Pioneering, Prefabricated Housing Prototype Takes Home a 2023 Canadian Architect Award of Merit

The Canadian Architect awards were established in 1967, and are held on an annual basis. Through panel review, these awards provide well-deserved, national recognition to upcoming architectural projects, with jurors who assess everything from the outward appearance and form of the structure, to the proposed building’s relevance in the broader context of its local environment and community. Consideration is also given to innovative concepts, processes, materials, and building systems used.

This year, “Triptych” – a bento-inspired housing solution conceptualized and designed by Leckie Studio Architecture + Design – was one of the recipients of the 2023 Award of Merit. The project re-imagines the idea of the notorious “Vancouver Special”, offering both a refreshing design (the prototype is modern, minimalist, and sleek) and a promising approach to increased (affordable) density in the city, offering prefabricated modules that could house multiple families within Vancouver’s standard 33 x 122 foot single-family home lot size. ASPECT provided structural engineering design consulting to Leckie Studio for this project, collaborating with the architectural team on the preliminary system development for this idea, as well as the preliminary design phase.

Below is a bit more information about “Triptych”, including the overarching goals of the project. Huge congratulations to Leckie Studio for this award recognition!

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Renderings courtesy of: Leckie Studio Architecture + Design

Reimagining the future, one module at a time.

The genius behind Triptych lies in the prefabricated modular system the design leverages to easily switch between triplex, duplex, laneway, and single-family home layouts (with minimal renovations). This is made possible by rearranging and combining variations of 800 square foot modules within the standardized 2,400 square foot structure. If you’ve ever seen bento-box style lunchboxes, you can begin to imagine how this system might work. With a bento-box, you have various-sized food containers that all fit together neatly into one tidy box. With Triptych, we have pre-designed reconfigurable living spaces that can be constructed off-site, flat-packed, and then assembled on site with relative ease. With the right planning, prefabricated structures and systems like this can significantly reduce the overall construction timeline and labour budget, while also reducing construction noise and laydown space in the neighbourhood.

ASPECT provided the structural design for the proposed prototype, which is a 2,450 square foot, single-family dwelling intended for the Vancouver market. Presently, the extent of the prototype is a 25 x 49 foot, two-storey structure with a roof deck, a crawl space, a courtyard, and a single-car garage. The proposed structural system is light wood frame atop conventional concrete foundations, using a modified version of another prefabricated housing system called BOSS (Building Offsite Sustainable System), which ASPECT has prior experience with as well.

Truly special housing for Vancouver.

We’re proud to have contributed to the success of this project so far, supporting the talented designers at Leckie Studio, BCollective, and Evoke Buildings Engineering. We eagerly anticipate seeing this promising housing prototype become a reality – a standardized, easily replicable, cost-effective, quickly manufactured and logistically convenient home that is modular by design. Now that is a Vancouver Special we can all be proud of!

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Full winners list from the 2023 Canadian Architect Awards of Excellence: https://www.canadianarchitect.com/the-winners-2023-canadian-architect-awards-of-excellence/

ASPECT regularly works with and advises on prefabricated / modular design solutions as well as single-family housing design solutions. Check out the Projects page to take a look at our wider portfolio.


Camera House Recognized at AFBC Architectural Awards of Excellence

This custom single-family home in Pemberton Valley, BC, was recognized for design excellence by The Architecture Foundation of British Columbia (AFBC).

The AFBC is a non-profit organization that aims to advance architecture and design within the province of British Columbia. Each year, the AFBC recognizes projects that demonstrate modernization, diversity, and inclusivity in architecture.

This year, Camera House received recognition for Design Excellence in the Single-Family Residential category. Built as a rural retreat for a young family, the home is situated on a sloped, five-acre lot in Pemberton Valley. The home’s moniker is a nod to the way the dramatic windows and skylights frame the surrounding landscape like a camera lens. Capturing incoming light, the design emphasizes a connection to the natural environment while offering scenic views of the mountain ranges. The roof structure is comprised of a series of 3-series sided boxes, allowing the architecture to open up views to the natural scenery through clerestories. 2x trusses were used to simplify backframing and create the vaulted interior ceiling. The project also includes a workshop building and pool shell.

We would like to congratulate our friends at Leckie Studio for this prestigious and well-deserved recognition! The ASPECT team is proud to have provided Engineer of Record services while working with Leckie Studio as they led this award-winning project.

For more information about the AFBC Architectural Awards and to see the full list of winners, click here.

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ASPECT regularly works with and advises on custom home projects and has built a dedicated team, uniquely qualified for this type of work. Check out the Projects page to take a look at our wider portfolio.