Openspace Architecture: A window to nature
Based on Vancouver’s North Shore, Openspace Architecture is a boutique architectural and interior design practice specializing in single family and resort residential projects, with a broad range of experience in master planning and infrastructure projects.
A visionary who truly cares for others and deeply respects the land, Openspace Owner Don Gurney produces work that is contemporary in expression, with a deep understanding of the long tradition of architecture and design. Mr Gurney’s hands-on methodology is driven by his great reverence for the relationships between people, nature, and the built environment. The Openspace team strives to elevate the field of Architecture, creating a legacy through design excellence. Mr Gurney speaks to us about his experience of open space planning, the company’s focus on introducing its building system to countries around the world, and the commitment to creating buildings that provide a window to nature.
Open space planning
The practice began life in 1998 as Don Gurney Architects, founded by Mr Gurney alongside current Associate and Senior Technologist Eric Pettit. In 2008 the name of the company was changed to Openspace Architecture.
“That name comes from my planning experience,” Mr Gurney says. “I was with an international planning firm for many years, where we worked on projects internationally, but primarily in the downtown waterfront area [of Vancouver].”
Open space planning became a large component of those mega developments, during which Mr Gurney gained experience working for clients such as Marathon, Concord Pacific and Vancouver Port Authority. Realizing and working with open space planning became very important to him, and that’s how the name originated.
In his current work, Mr Gurney aims to find balance in the relationship between objects and spaces to create an effortless sense of harmony. He approaches projects with both restraint and an eye for detail, using natural materials to harness minimalist expression.
“My whole background has been in the construction industry. I started out very early, from my early teens, working construction. That led to a technical diploma in architectural design and drawing. From that I was a technician for five years with an architectural firm, then in 1983 I decided to go back to university and study architecture at Carleton University.”
Mr Gurney brings a humanist approach to his comprehensive understanding of planning requirements, honoring site context and working hard to enhance the way buildings are experienced, with the ultimate aim of creating harmony between indoors and outdoors.
Local and international projects
The projects Openspace has been involved in over the years have spread across Vancouver, from West Van to North Van and the Olympic training facility. Locally, the practice’s most notable work is in West Vancouver and the Whistler area.
Known across the globe as a world class ski resort, Whistler has seen a lot of work over the last ten years, and it has become established as an all-seasons resort, bringing many more people to the area over the course of a year.
“It’s now for mountain bikers, and everything else from fly fishing to hiking, and everything else that goes along with that resort. As far as our clients are concerned [at Whistler], I would say that probably 95% of them are international clients, from all over the place – the UK, Australia, South Africa and Malaysia.”
In terms of its work in British Columbia, the practice’s footprint is far reaching, having done work on the interior of BC, as well as on Vancouver Island, in Tofino, Saanich Peninsula and Cowichan Lake.
“Most of the projects we do,” Mr Gurney explains, “with the exception of West Vancouver, are secondary projects or second residential resort type homes. So this has been our primary focus for the last fifteen years.”
The company’s history has seen much of its work done in this space, making impressive second homes for high net worth individuals. Recently it has been moving into other architectural areas, such as hotels and restoration.
“We’re doing some restorative work that has been happening in California, most particularly in Sonoma County, where the fires have had a devastating effect on the wineries. We’re rebuilding a winery and a number of support buildings that were devastated by the Kincade fire in 2019.”
In addition to its work in California, the company has been involved in several other projects in the United States, including four successful resort homes at Noi’Ulu Estates, Hualalai, on the Big Island of Hawaii, and ongoing work at another resort in Hawaii building family homes for private clients.
The practice is also beginning a large and an exciting off-the-grid planning and architectural design project for residential homes, which will be located midway between Carmel and Monterey on the California coast.
In addition to local success, the passion for architecture in the company has led to projects in a number of countries, with a focus on taking local experience and adapting to the work and design styles of different cultures.
“We started out doing simple timber frame homes, and evolved that over the years into doing these lovely projects which are a mix of timber frame and hybrid steel buildings. We’ve developed a nice system, and we want to introduce other countries – such as India, Japan, Mongolia – to these systems, to bring them a new type of housing.”
Architecture has always been a competitive sector, but in recent years it has seen the rise of new technologies, particularly in terms of highly integrated 3D modelling known as building information modelling (BIM), which have changed the face of the industry.
“[BIM] is taking over much of the industry, but where it hasn’t really reached is the residential market. These homes are every bit as expensive as some of the smaller hospitals and schools, but for some reason the digital information modelling has not got into the market. Given the level of sophistication of these homes, it certainly should be.”
This is an area that Mr Gurney feels Openspace Architecture has an advantage over competitors. With BIM, the company is able to resolve the buildings, relative to the site, in 3D computer modelling with integrated structural, mechanical, electrical and smart home systems, before even beginning construction.
With its focus on a highly creative process, Openspace offers a playful yet rigorous approach to design, bringing projects to life through the pollination of key ideas and a strongly integrated design process.
The open space nature of its designs is integral to the company’s ethos. Buildings with lots of glass, and the large spans created by timber and steel, offer its inhabitants a huge window on nature, like a lens through which to view the natural world.
“It’s quite an experience to live in these homes. When you look at a particular site, whether it’s a mountain site, or a desert site, or a lakefront site, you find the best part of the site, and then put the building on the worst part of the site, so that you can view onto the best part. This is essentially what we mean by open space planning.”
Teamwork is integral to the company’s ongoing success. Clients and consultants are made to feel welcome and appreciated in Openspace’s creative studio, which provides the space for an invaluable exchange of cutting edge ideas and constructive critiques.
The company’s current focus is on taking the technologies it has developed to other countries, sharing with the rest of the world Canada’s excellence in the space. So far the reception in these countries has been very positive.
“Something that we think is important in the work that we do, whether it’s commercial work or residential work, is just keeping people in contact with real materials. We’re using materials like stone, timber, some metals, that once you walk in the building you don’t need a period of adjustment, your body is settled and at one with it.”
Coupled with the need for low energy consumption and sustainable design, the mixture of real materials and a feeling of communion with nature is the nexus of Openspace’s business, creating a blend of mind and spirit that remains critical to its success.
With a commitment to creating buildings that provide a window to nature, and the capabilities to introduce its successful building system around the globe, Openspace Architecture has navigated the coronavirus pandemic successfully. Find out more about Openspace Architecture by visiting www.openspacearchitecture.com.