Designer Q&A: MA+HG Architects principals Marianne Amodio and Harley Grusko

The power couple mix playfulness and architectural integrity.

September 21, 2018

By David Kitai / Photo: MA+HG Architects

MA+GH

Sure, architecture power couple Marianne Amodio and Harley Grusko are serious designers, building intelligent, functional spaces throughout Vancouver, like the Apt co-living space on West 12th or the upcoming low-rise Tomo House in South Main. That doesn’t mean they aren’t a little playful, too—bold colours and whimsical lines are their calling card. Recently rebranded as Marianne Amodio and Harley Grusko Architects, they’re now handling their fair share of larger, developer-driven projects, like the new condo development near Broadway and Macdonald. Even on that project, though, they’re taking on the renovation of the historic Hollywood Theatre next door. The duo clearly have no intention of losing their joyful side anytime soon.

How would you describe your approach to design?

M: We take a couple of different approaches, depending on the project. Working with homeowners, our approach is different from working with developers. Homeowners tend to be personal, and more collaborative.

H: We want to work with people as much as we want to work with buildings.

M: With developers, they trust our instinct. The approach becomes more about how we envision the site, how we think about the urban context, sustainability, et cetera. It’s empowering when a developer trusts us design something with minimal input.

H: Our hearts lie in looking to aid in the affordability crisis. This leads us to projects that tend to be more about multi-family dwellings. With lots of that work we do on the developer side, we apply things we learned from the single-family domain in the multi-family space.

You focus on smaller, smarter living spaces in your residential architecture. How do you achieve that? How do you sell that?

M: We’re responding to a real need. When I started, one of the first projects I got was the MAD (house), and that was the first inkling of this affordability crisis: eight members of a family deciding to live under one roof. We work this way because our spaces have to get smaller, and to unpack the idea of how much space we really need.

A lot of your work is built around renovation. How do you articulate your distinct style when you’re working with an existing building?

H: We are a modern practice, and we want to use contemporary materials and construction methods. We don’t work in the past; we don’t work in a particular style that characterized buildings in previous decades. We prefer to create more modern styles adjacent to more historic structures, so the two reinforce each other.

M: Lately, a lot of heritage buildings have landed on us and we’ve loved them. We find we don’t do honour to the historical building by trying to replicate it; we do it by respecting it and treating it with care but letting new styles slide in.

H: There’s a lightness or a fun playfulness that we want to bring to our work. Of course the work we do is serious and diligent, but we want to ensure that the work has a sense of play to it. We work with colour to ensure it’s bright and friendly.

What is the most important thing missing in Vancouver’s architecture?

M: There are a bunch of awesome young architecture practices out there, but a more youthful voice is missing. Vancouver is a very conservative city, and we want to show the city what we’re capable of—breaking down barriers of what we do and the way we always do it. Inviting firms like us and even younger practices has been missing for a while

What impact do you think your work has had on how Vancouverites experience the city?

H: The best feeling is when the clients we’re working for love it. As our projects get bigger we need to be successful on the client end and on the public end. On the public side we feel we’ve created success when people find some whimsy in our buildings even some relief from the daily rigours of life.

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