Architect Christopher Simmonds has won awards for his firm's work. Photo: Tony Fouhse

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Eco Profile: Architect Christopher Simmonds

Award-Winning Ottawa Firm Takes the Holistic Approach to Building Homes
by Nate Hendley
4.02

Christopher Simmonds Architect Inc. in Ottawa blends pleasing residential, institutional and commercial designs with an eco-conscious ethos. It’s an approach that has earned the architecture firm considerable kudos, including the 2007 Recognition Award from the Ottawa chapter of the Canadian Green Building Council.

“I think that human society is in a state of evolution, where we need to move into a deeper relationship with the living environment around us…we need to do it at all levels, aesthetically, economically and physically, [in] the way we design things,” says founder Christopher Simmonds.

Born in Yorkshire, England, in 1955, Simmonds came to Canada when he was 10 years old. His family lived in the Toronto area. He left home to earn a bachelor degree in environmental studies at the University of Waterloo, followed by a bachelor degree in architecture from Carleton University in Ottawa. “I wasn’t so much interested with architecture when I went into it, but I was fascinated by the idea that you got to study so many different things—you got to study philosophy and art history and psychology and mathematics and art and design. I was someone who just liked studying a lot of different stuff,” Simmonds says.

After graduating from Carleton in 1981, Simmonds worked at Ottawa-based firm Otto & Bryden Architects for 14 years, handling commercial and residential design. He struck out on his own in 1996. Christopher Simmonds Architect Inc. now employs eight people, including Simmonds.

In the 1990s, Simmonds became intrigued by feng shui—a concept of architectural aesthetics from ancient China. Under feng shui principles, homes are designed with balance, harmony and good “energy flow” in mind. “For me, feng shui is a way of replicating the energy of nature,” Simmonds explains. “People who go through or live in houses that I make, they feel a gentle harmony [and] balance.”

His interest in feng shui meshed with two other great loves: his nostalgic affection for the lush gardens of his native land and an appreciation of the rugged landscape of Canada. Simmonds is also deeply fond of Eastern philosophy.

Simmonds’ company aims to create holistic and sustainable designs that blend with their natural surroundings. His website highlights several projects that achieve this goal. For example, 92 Holland Avenue in Ottawa consists of three stacked townhomes with several eco-friendly features, including passive solar orientation, on-demand hot water tanks, radiant heating, bamboo floors and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood cabinets. Passive solar involves the use of sunlight for energy without any active mechanical intervention (a solarium is a good example). Radiant heating systems supply heat directly to a floor, wall or ceiling, and it is generally more efficient than baseboard or forced-air heating. This multi-unit residential project won the “best high density—low rise project” award from the Ottawa-Carleton Home Builders Association in 2007.

Green touches can be good for both the environment and a property owner’s bottom line. The Simmonds-designed Rideau Valley Conservation Centre in Manotick, Ont., for example, features a water-treatment system that cuts water consumption by 80%. Passive solar heating and a design that maximizes use of natural daylight helped slash energy consumption by 42%. The centre was the first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified “gold” building in eastern Ontario.

Developed by the United States Green Building council, the LEED system rates buildings for sustainability, water efficiency, energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, materials and resources, etc. Simmonds strongly encourages his firm’s architects to attain LEED accreditation and espouse these principles in their designs.

Photo: courtesy Chistopher Simmonds Architect Inc.

Individual residences highlighted on the company’s website include the Escarpment House—a “very exquisite” property, as Simmonds puts it, in Halton Hills, Ont. “We purposely blended an Asian aesthetic along with a modernist aesthetic. The home is built around views and interrelationships with the garden. It’s also very energy efficient: we use ground-source heat pumps and incorporate some natural ventilation.” (Also called geothermal heat pumps, ground-source heat pumps take advantage of the relatively stable temperature of the earth to warm or cool a property.)

The Escarpment House won the 2006 Most Outstanding Custom Home award, 2,500-5,000 square feet, from the Ontario Home Builders Association. Simmonds has also won accolades for his overall body of work: the 2008 Recognition Award, for example, honours the firm’s devotion to creating sustainable buildings in eastern Ontario.

Married with three children, Simmonds meditates regularly—a practice he began in architecture school—and also teaches meditation. He also follows what he refers to as a “spiritual lineage” in the yogic tradition. “My niece once asked me, for a school project, ‘If you weren’t an architect, what would you want to do?’” says Simmonds. “I said, ‘Be a gardener, in a Zen monastery.’”

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