|For our November 2020 Newsletter, we asked Peter Johannknecht about Cascadia Architects, his work there, and a bit about his life outside of work.
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Can you briefly introduce yourself and Cascadia Architects?
I was born and educated in Germany and moved to Victoria in 2005. Architects Terry Williams and Peter Busby hired me to work on the then brand-new Dockside Green development. Prior to that, I had my own firm in Germany for over 10 years. My wife is Canadian and we’ve always had a strong connection to B.C. We’ve loved raising our two boys on Vancouver Island. Personally, I’ve always been drawn to the beautiful west coast and I am very grateful and feel fortunate that I’ve been able to establish myself so quickly. I particularly appreciate the many incredible people of Victoria, who have welcomed me so warmly over the years.
In September 2012 Gregory Damant and I founded Cascadia Architects. We had met years earlier through our kids and our wives. When we came together, Greg and I had no idea how very well suited we were to start that business journey as a team. Now, after 8 years, we are a successful group of 14 professionals and we have a strong list of very reputable, repeat clients, both private, institutional, and commercial.
What sets Cascadia Architects apart from other architecture firms?
Every project is not only designed by both of us, but also with plenty of input from our team. It is a collaborative and integrated design process and never the result of one single mind. We are maybe not capital A “Architects” in the classical way, but more successful team builders. This allows our clients to benefit from all our individual and unique skills, which we bring to each and every project. I also think that we currently have the strongest local experience in Passive House design, with several projects currently either on the drawing board, under construction or successfully completed. Right now, our largest Passive House project is a 15 storey mass timber high-rise, currently in the design stage.
In the end, it is not only just about good design, but design certainly plays a significant part of the final success.
The spirit of Cascadia Architects stems from three simple ideas:
- creative collaboration is fun;
- beautiful surroundings enhance our daily lives; and,
- it is the role of the architect to weave together the needs and resources of the client, the community, and the natural environment to create spaces that are elegantly functional and uplifting.
What is the most challenging part of your job, and what do you love most about it?
Excellent Architecture and Design are a constant, daily balancing act. They require so many layers of interest and knowledge, as well as equal doses of curiosity, expertise, ambition, hope and optimism and continual learning experiences. Finding and maintaining that balance is the biggest challenge, but it can also create wonderful emotions. In my opinion, Architecture must be emotional. When design at the end of the project is uplifting and improves people’s lives, we know we have done a good job. That feeling remains with me and motivates me every day.
What made you pursue a career in architecture?
It has definitely been a journey. I grew up in a family of furniture designers, fabricators, and cabinet makers. My grandfather called himself a Furniture Architect and my parents owned a furniture store. Because of that influence, I studied Interior Architecture near Munich. Most of my professors were Architects and I was introduced to the history of Architecture, as well as new design concepts, planning, materials, sociology, building science. There was lots of drafting and sketching. Those years were such an eye opener for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed all of it; I had found my calling.
After receiving my master’s degree in Interior Architecture, I worked 2 years in Vancouver in the early 1990s. I then decided to go back to University to study Architecture and obtained my master’s degree from the University of Applied Science in Hamburg in 1996.
Now that we are moving into a new phase of Covid-19, what does the “new normal” look like for Cascadia Architects and its ongoing projects?
We are incredibly fortunate that we live and work on this wonderful island. The construction industry is in kind of a bubble here, relatively isolated from the dramatic influences of the pandemic. In fact, I would almost say, it is fueled by it. More people are moving here because of the pandemic. Although our projects slowed down a bit in the spring, they never stopped. The biggest challenge for us has been, and continues to be, the numerous permit applications that are on hold with various municipalities, as it takes them time to adjust to the new protocols. This situation is still delaying many of our projects.
I deeply believe that as a society, however, we will come out of this crisis stronger, more resilient, and better off in many ways. But it is still a long process and we must continue to support everyone in our community until we fully recover. Otherwise our comeback will take even longer and cost even more.
What do you love most about living in Greater Victoria?
Victoria is truly a unique, west coastal city. It is one of the rare urban centres which has a clear definition of a downtown core and history. It is defined by the geography of the Inner Harbour with its thousands of years of civilization. It is also well defined through the more recently built environment of downtown, particularly the parliament building and the Empress Hotel. For me, this defined downtown core reflects a more European approach to urbanism. It encourages walking and socializing. And biking. It is a uniquely beautiful setting; I find strolling along the shoreline with the distant vistas energizing and revitalizing. I love being on the ocean, yet I can also enjoy the mountain peaks nearby.
When you’re not working, what are your favourite activities?
Not working? Funny question. When I find time, I love being outdoors, either on the water or hiking in the forests, preferably with my family and friends. Sailing is another passion of mine and I have chartered numerous boats over the years, exploring the Gulf Islands or the coast up north to Desolation Sound. Being on an island in the Pacific is one of the main reasons I moved here. Travelling (for fun!) is also one of my biggest joys.
Tell us something that may surprise us about you
For many years now, I have relished my time volunteering with the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR), stationed in Oak Bay at the Oak Bay Marina. The dedication of the SAR members all along the west coast is truly remarkable. Every time we are called out for an emergency or to do our training, I am reminded that we should never take our blessings for granted.