Vancouver architect D’Arcy Jones spends a great deal of time thinking about potential – the potential to transform a space, to maximize a site or to inject fresh life into an older building.
The desire to create thoughtful, high quality and intensely detailed designs has guided his firm’s work, which has been predominantly residential (often challenging renovations) but is now expanding into non-residential.
Although Jones has been practicing architecture since 2000, he only became a registered architect four years ago. The path to professional registration was untraditional, but his talent and tenacity has earned him a national reputation for innovative, efficient and modern design.
While architects typically train or intern in established firms before opening their own firms, Jones became self-employed right after graduating with a Master of Architecture degree and has never looked back.
He ran a one-man architectural practice out of his home in Vancouver’s west end before moving to an office in Mount Pleasant in 2005.
His early design achievements have not only earned him clients, but also prestigious industry accolades. His firm D’Arcy Jones Architecture (DJA) received two 2017 awards that recognize exemplary promise and distinguished architecture: the AIBC Emerging Firm Award and the RAIC Emerging Architectural Practice.
Earning recognition provincially and nationally within two weeks was “a big honour” and validates the hard work that’s been put into creating good designs, says Jones.
These awards join a string of other prominent ones already received. In 2014, Jones won the Ronald J. Thom Award for Early Design Achievement from the Canada Council for the Arts, which recognizes outstanding creative talent and potential in architectural design early in a career. There have also been two Canadian Architect Awards of Merit and the inaugural Arthur Erickson Memorial Award.
His firm also won a 2017 AIBC Lieutenant Governor of British Columbia Award in Architecture Medal for Friesen Wong House. Built on a rocky hill in Coldwater, B.C., the design was budget driven but Jones was able to deliver a technically sophisticated house structurally and thermally. The house complements its homeowners’ lifestyle and rustic setting, featuring long cantilevered concrete slabs, burned fir planks, raw concrete blocks and steel sheets.
“It’s a stand out project because it was so successful,” says Jones. “The burned wood technique was done by the owner and his dad and will last without the need for stain. The house has twice the R-value that code requires and no air conditioning.”
Regardless of the project size or type, the firm’s approach is to have an open mind, clear ideas and to balance budgets with excellence and technical accuracy. DJA’s design process focuses on quality craftsmanship and fostering close relationships with builders.
“We do tons of drawings for every project…so much is determined by the front end work and design work,” he says. “We are tenacious about how our projects are built so finding the best builders is as important as creating good design.”
It was his early interest in drawing that led him down the path to architecture. Born in Fort St John, Jones grew up in Abbotsford and enjoyed drawing and building. A drafting class in Grade 11 sparked that interest further, and he would go on to obtain two bachelor degrees in environmental design from the University of Manitoba (1995) and Dalhousie University (1997). He then received a Master of Architecture degree in 1999 at the University of Manitoba.
Jones designed his first project in 1996 – a house commissioned by his parents – and it was so successful that he began working for himself right after finishing architectural school.
“I’ve never been traditionally employed,” he notes. “I’ve joint ventured with architects when I needed someone registered and that’s how I logged my time as an intern.”
Today, DJA is a nine-person firm and projects include housing, renovations, galleries, interiors and commercial spaces in a distinct modern style. While many of the details and ideas from early projects inform current ones, each project is treated as a “clean slate” to create something unique.
Jones runs a challenging work environment where everyone (interns, juniors or seniors) is responsible for leading two to three projects. He believes this offers a better rounded experience than being restricted to specific tasks.
“I like to be involved in every job and I’m always in the loop. The focus is to deliver a high quality product no matter what the project is,” he says. “We do turn away more work than we accept – to maintain that quality.”
DJA has current and completed projects throughout B.C., as well as in Ontario, Switzerland, California and Washington.
Now that he is licensed, Jones is broadening the scope of the firm to include non-residential projects such as commercial and institutional buildings as well as larger multi-family residential.
“We only want to work on non-residential that are very boutique and design driven – not market driven,” explains Jones, adding the goal is to grow the portfolio to be 50/50 in residential and non-residential.
Sustainability is also integrated naturally into DJA’s design process, often through the use of robust and common building materials over exotic and imported materials.
“Even with modest materials, design can be thoughtful and creative,” he says. “My favourite projects use stucco and drywall.”
A good example is the Brown Cabin on Hornby Island, which embraces crude stucco and wood to achieve a modern sensibility without being elaborate. Another highlight project is the Monte Clark Gallery where rustic industrial materials were executed modestly to transform a former derelict paint shop into a popular art space.
Most of the firm’s work has been “intense renovations” of single-family homes. And it all began with the 430 House, which is a stunning example of the retention of an iconic Vancouver building form. While the entire foundation and structure of the house were retained, Jones completely reimagines the Vancouver Special with contemporary and gracious spaces. The success of that project created a huge demand for his firm that subsequently led to other renovation projects.
DJA’s commitment to innovation means embracing the most sophisticated technology available. So while the recent slate of building code changes (provincially and locally) might be daunting to some, DJA has been specifying products that meet today’s code for more than 10 years. Jones cites windows as an example.
“We’ve already been using the best European windows we could find so we didn’t bat an eye when the code changed here,” he says. “We pick quality and large window sizes to maximize on views and the bonus is they are thermally sophisticated.”
As for the future, Jones believes for Vancouver to grow to the next level, single-family home neighbourhoods will have to evolve.
“They shouldn’t be replaced by towers, it should be row houses…like New York did on the Upper West Side and East Side,” he says. “We’re working on a few projects like that and there is a growing conversation around the issue.”
Jones also gives back to the industry by sitting on design panels, teaching and lecturing. He was an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, teaching studios and serving as a thesis advisor and guest critic. Most recently he was a guest critic at the University of Calgary’s Faculty of Environmental Design.
Outside of work, the 45-year-old is a father-of-three and enjoys travelling, art painting and being a “perpetual student” through YouTube lectures.
Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Design Quarterly