Curiously Turbulent Architecture


Here, we explore community and connectedness, and the intersection of art and design with Darryl Condon, Managing Partner at HCMA Architecture + Design in Vancouver, BC. Without knowing it, HCMA is the perfect case study for positive turbulence in action. Their Artist in Residence Program, Curiosity Lab, and experiments like the Faraday Cafe and Alley Oop have garnered them international media attention. These initiatives are also a driving force to the firm’s ongoing and outstanding creativity.

Note: In the audio, Karyn mistakenly refers to Darryl’s firm as HMCA instead of HCMA. Darryl’s firm is HCMA Architecture + Design and is based in Vancouver, BC.

Show Notes

Key Takeaways

  • The social impact of the built environment is as important as enviromnetal impact. We need tools to measure and monitor the social impact over time.
  • We’re not going to solve today’s problems by approaching them the same way we did yesterday. We need to shake up our thinking about architecture and design.
  • Change can be effectively stimulated by creating spaces that encourage dialogue and showing what is possible rather than telling or suggesting what you want to do. It s also an effective way to deal with pushback.
  • By creating and actively supporting the creativity in the firm through the Creativity Framework and inititives like the Curiosity Labs, HCMA has developed a virtuous cycle of creativity and innovation.
  • Developing and maintaining healthy collaborations have been vital to the firm’s success
  • The willingness to ask hard questions about how they do business, how they maintain their creative edge, what decolozation means and where they are headed are critical to their ongoing success.


On Social Impact Leadership

The social impact of the built environment is as important as enviromnetal impact. Yet while we have measures and programs to monitor the enviromental performence of buildings, we have no tools or concrete measures for social impact. We need a collective action that really is about understanding and shaping our social impact as well. HCMA is developing a social impact framework.

Measuring social impact is complex but if we want to address complex issues like the climate crisis, we need to understand social impacts as well as environmental ones.

On Design Diversity and Innovation

The recognition that the built environment is one of the major contributors to the climate crisis, caused HCMA to understand that business as usual could not apply any longer. They have added designers form multiple disciplines to the team including communication, graphic, fashion, and indisutrial designes along with behavioral scientists at times. This apporach to diversity of disciplines has enabled HCMA to approach traditional problems with a different mindset to find more innovative solutions.

On TILT Curiosity Labs, the Curiousity Framework, Artist in Residence and Creativity

HCMA created a Curiosity Framework that guides inititiaitves like the TILT Curiosity Labs and their Artist in Residence Program to help stimulate the creative thinnking in the firm. The Curiousity Framework is also a guide for staff who want to take on a partciular piece of research. While the funding for all of these initiaives comes from HCMA profits, the result of it has been more creative and innovatie architecture and design and, that in turn, means they bring in better work. It has created a virtuous cycle of creatiity and innovation. It also has been very good for business.


On  Change and Creating Positive Turbulence at a Community Level

HCMA recognizes that instead of telling people how a community should change, they are working on ways to show people how it could change. They have been involved in various projects to do just that.

One example is Alley Oop (also called the Pink Alley), a collaboration with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and the city of Vancouver to transform a laneway or alley into a useful, fun, friendly public space. HCMA painted the laneway surface and walls bright pink, yellow and orange and using a basketball theme. Not only has the makeover been well received by locals, who now use it almost 24/7, but also it’s become a favourite Instagram site and was even used in a K-Pop video that has been viewed over 400 million times on YouTube.

Another example is the Faraday Cafe where they built a pop-up cafe with no wifi and where your cell phone would not work. The idea was to stimulate a non-judgemental conversation about techonolgy and we use it. Before the cafe was even opened, international media were covering the story.

These are two examples of how HCMA likes to involve the communities where they work in important conversations.

On Collaboration, Binners, Decoloization and the Future of HCMA

HCMA has developed and continues to grow collborative relationships with other complimentary design firms and not-for-profit community orgnatizations. one such collaboration is The Binners Project in Vancouver. HCMA is working with this organizations to help design a cart-share program for people who make a living collecting and returing used cans and bottles. HCMA is working to support them through theirr creativity, their communications team, and by hosting fundraising events for them.

Decolonization is an emerging and important issue at HCMA. As Darryl puts it, “when your day job is building on unceeded territory, you have to recognize that that is a continuation and an ongoing form of colonial violence. And that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop building our communities. But it does mean something.” While HCMA is not yet sure what actions they will take in this regard, they do recognize that it as something that they have an obligation and a responsibility to be stewards of. For Darryl decolonization is directly connected into the issue of climate and sustainability

As far as the future of HCMA is concerned, an area of great interest is the so-called hybrid space. Spaces that combine both formal and informal activity, are at the boundary between outdoor and indoor, and structured and unstructured. Darryl feels there is a great deal of innovation possible here.



[00:00:08.430] – Rob Brodnick

Welcome to the Positive Turbulence Podcast, Stories from the Periphery. Here we journey to the edge to talk to Turbulators about their experiences creating positive change.

Hi, I’m Rob Brodnick, your co-host. Most of us don’t think about the so-called built environment is just there, but the design of the buildings you work, live and play in is essential. So is the shape, quantity and location of public spaces. It can add up to affect how you feel, how you connect with your community and how the outside world perceives you.

[00:00:37.590] – Karyn Zuidinga

Hi, I’m Karyn Zuidinga, your co-host. Today, we’re exploring community and connectedness and the intersection of art and design with Darryl Condon Managing Partner at HCMA Architecture + Design in Vancouver, B.C. Without knowing it, HCMA is the perfect case study for Positive Turbulence in action. Their Artist in Residence Program, Curiosity Lab and experiments like the Faraday Café and Alley Oop have garnered them international media attention. These initiatives are also a driving force in the firm’s ongoing and outstanding creativity. If you want to get links to some of these projects, head over to We’ll start with Darryl talking to us about why we should care about the social impact of the built environment right after a word from this episode’s sponsors.

[00:01:23.760] – Sponsor Message

This episode is brought to you by NextWAVE Innovation dot I O  working with small and medium sized digital product companies in Vancouver and Seattle to help them define effective growth strategies. Learn more at NextWAVEInnovation.IO  Also, we’d like to thank Mack Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor. To hear our theme song Late Night Sunrise and other great music. Visit

[00:01:52.410] – Darryl Condon

One of the things that I’m really motivated by is for us, those that create the built environment, is to take responsibility for social impact and the social impact of our work much more seriously. We believe that it’s time to create the tools and the methodologies to understand, host conversations, and assess our impact from a social standpoint. Much like we have over the last 25 years around the environmental aspects of sustainability through things like LEED and living, buildings and many other systems. We’re much better at understanding the environmental performance for our buildings. We need a collective action that really is about understanding and shaping our social impact as well. It’s a huge void in the conversation. We’re on our third generation social impact framework  that we use to frame our work. And we start our projects by setting not only environmental goals but the corresponding social goals. And we’re encouraging others to do the same and to participate. And I really believe that we need to leverage a collective act and a collective will to embrace the social side of our impacts in the same manner that we’ve embraced the environmental impacts of what we do.

[00:03:00.990] – Rob Brodnick

That’s fascinating. What are some of the metrics or the components of social impact through design that you’re measuring or considering?

[00:03:10.470] – Darryl Condon

So when you set out on maximizing your social impacts — and of course you have to you have to start measuring it or understanding how to measure it — you very quickly learn that this is a very challenging territory. How do you measure laughter? How do you measure happiness? How do you measure community connectedness? Some of these things can be measured and social scientists have ways and they understand how to measure these these things over time. From a practical standpoint, in practice, it’s very challenging to apply in our day to day work. So what we’ve learned is that there are certain aspects that we’re not going to be able to measure. There are certain aspects that we’re just certainly going to have to believe and be committed to.

There are others that we can measure. We can measure performance of a building. We can go back over time and see how people are using that building. We can talk to the residents. We can talk to the users. We can understand how it’s working. I believe it’s going to be a combination of some things that can be measured and some things that can’t and a much longer commitment to understanding and measurement and assessment of building performance, not just when you hand over the keys, but really after a year, after 5 years, after 10 years. Because social impacts play out over time. It’s not something you can just, you know, connect a device to and measure at a moment in time. They really unfold over a much longer period of time. We’re going to have to learn how to understand that. We’re going to learn how to learn how to measure that and apply it to our work.

[00:04:31.650] – Rob Brodnick

I love it. That’s fascinating. What makes you guys to like what is this idea of integrated approach? What are you doing that’s different?

[00:04:38.820] – Darryl Condon

We’re in the midst of a climate crisis. We understand that the collective impact of the built environment is one of the major contributors. The way we’ve structured communities is a major, major cause of the challenges that we’re facing from a climate standpoint. There’s just so many things that come together that cause us to recognize that. Business as usual can’t apply any longer. By bringing together different design disciplines –we’ve added communication designers, graphic designers, we have a fashion designer in the firm, at various times we’ve had behavioral scientists and industrial designers — bringing different skills together, enable us to approach traditional problems with a different mindset to find more innovative solutions.

[00:05:23.310] – Karyn Zuidinga

How do you translate that into something at a community level? How do you help City Council X sign off on a particular development project that is about walkability [for instance]?

[00:05:35.520] – Darryl Condon

These notions translate into our work in a number of different ways, at different scales within our traditional body of work and our traditional projects. We’re bringing a different mindset. We’re bringing a more comprehensive view of what success looks like. We’re not just looking at the functional needs. We’re not just looking at the environmental impacts. We’re looking much more seriously at the social impacts as well. So we’re starting our projects by setting social goals for those projects and looking at ways to to have much deeper impact from a community building standpoint and also try to understand how is it that we can go back and measure that and see the impact of that over time. And so, that’s within our traditional body of work.

We’re also recognizing that sometimes encouraging people to see their communities differently, is really what is needed. You have to actually show. You have to demonstrate possibility and potential. We’ve been involved in a number of initiatives over the last number of years that are encouraging people to think differently about their communities and encouraging to think differently about the built environment. There are a couple of examples I can point to. One was a project that we’ve been involved with in collaboration with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association and the city of Vancouver. It’s called More Awesome Now. It’s an initiative where  we’ve been taking service laneways and back alleys within the downtown core, and through very simple interventions and transformations demonstrating public space potential in those underutilized spaces. In a city that that is desperate for more public space, being able to demonstrate how we can see existing underutilized spaces in a more public way is an example of of causing change through actions and through demonstrating.

[00:07:20.460] – Karyn Zuidinga

I think I know one of those projects there is a laneway right downtown that’s very brightly painted.

[00:07:26.730] – Darryl Condon

The first alleyway that we transformed, which we call Alley Oop, sometimes is known locally as the Pink Alley  We used a sports theme and we painted the surface on the ground, and the driving surface, and on the side of the buildings. We installed some basketball hoops and various other sporting typology into the laneway. It’s been remarkable to see how people’s perception of that space has transformed. There are people in that space almost 24/7. It’s become, you know, in all the lists of top places to Instagram in Vancouver, because it’s very it’s very unusual. It’s very strange to to go into a into a back lane and have all this this abundance of color and activity. But really, what it was about was starting a conversation. Trying to get people to start thinking differently about these spaces. We’ve already seen the results of that. We’ve already seen more laneway transformations. We’re seeing people look for other opportunities within other areas of the city as well. And in fact, recently there’s been a development proposal that a local developer has has applied for permission to build a new building adjacent to Alley Oop. And not only are they recognizing the importance of that, they’re they’re amplifying and extending it and actually reinforcing that in the design of their ability. So you can see even in that two years that that’s been in existence, it’s already shifted people’s perceptions about what the possibilities are for those spaces. So that’s an example of working with local businesses, business improvement association and the city to start a conversation. Sometimes that’s a far more effective way to get people to embrace positive change because they can see it, they can feel it. And it’s not through fear. It’s really through opportunity and enjoying the possibilities.

[00:09:05.370] – Rob Brodnick

It’s more than an awareness campaign. It’s an experience campaign in a sense, because you showed it. I mean, you did it. You created the environment. And that attracts people. They want to replicate it. That makes perfect sense to me. I love it.

[00:09:16.810] – Darryl Condon

Yeah, exactly. And it takes on a life of its own. People start seeing it through their own eyes. And soon there’s organizations that host parties there. And, you know, there’s been a Korean K-pop group who shot a video there that’s had four hundred thirty million views on YouTube. So you can see that these things take on a life of their own. And you can’t really anticipate.

[00:09:35.490] – Karyn Zuidinga

I have to take a moment here. I’m just imagining you as a patron of K-pop. These things right now, they’re two, they’re two notions I would never have thought, oh, there’s a K-pop guy who’s going to be, like, the backbone of a video. I love that collision of ideas. This one little thing that you did has morphed and become something else that people are embracing and they may not even know where it came from.

[00:10:06.450] – Darryl Condon

Yeah. And that’s great. We don’t do it for the attention. We do it to start a conversation. And one of the things that inspired us along this path about five or six years ago, I got interested in embedding an artist in residence in our in our firm.

[00:10:22.470] – Karyn Zuidinga

Why can I ask why? Like what? What would make somebody who’s the [Managing Partner] of a small architecture and design firm say “Oh, I know what we need!” Not only we need arts. Art. OK. I get having art. “We need an artist in residence!” because obviously…

[00:10:43.320] – Darryl Condon

Doesn’t everybody? For some time have felt that our traditional form of practice needs to be shaken up, and needs to be disrupted. And we need to open our minds to other ways of thinking. It started from a desire to inject other forms of creative thinking into our practice and to challenge it. It’s really started from a desire for us to learn to be better. What we do through learning and by challenging ourselves to learn from other types of creative people. So it’s an experiment. Our very first artist in residence is a social artist named Julian Thomas. And he came up with a really interesting idea for a pop-up cafe based on the principles of a Faraday Cage. Which, if you’re not familiar with Faraday Cage,  it’s basically a mesh enclosure where cell phone signals can’t penetrate. We came up this idea of this Pop-Up Café called Faraday Cafe in Chinatown in Vancouver for two weeks in July. But what was fascinating was before it even opened, we had all of the Canadian television networks, we had the BBC, we had Malaysian television — I can’t  even remember all the different media companies — from around the world asking us what was going on here. What we were doing was starting a conversation asking people to think about their relationship with technology because this was a cafe where your cell phone couldn’t work. So you had to actually talk to people. And we weren’t doing it in a way that was judgmental about the technology. What we were really doing is asking people to reconsider, and to think about , their relationship with technology. This was this small little artist in residence thing, our a little firm in Vancouver, a small investment we were going to experiment with. And before we even opened, we had the media from around the world on our doorstep

[00:12:24.410] – Karyn Zuidinga

Wait. Because of this shocking idea that you couldn’t use your phone at a cafe?

[00:12:27.510] – Darryl Condon

Well, it it ended up being this really timely conversation. But what was amazing was for this very small investment, what it taught us is that doesn’t matter who you are, where you are, anywhere in the world, you can start a global conversation or you can impact a global conversation. And we demonstrated that for a couple thousand dollars and some sweat equity. We were able to start or encourage a global conversation for us that was incredibly motivating because we really believe in the catalytic effect. We can’t change the world, but we can change our world. We can change our local condition. And you never know what the ripple effect of that one simple [act] changes. In the same way with our with the alleyway. You just never know what will happen when you start a conversation. So we really believe that once people see things differently, they can’t unsee it.

[00:13:14.150] – Rob Brodnick

Once you start the conversation, you’ve disrupted things a little bit, shattered an old mindset, created some potential for the possible. And then when good things start to come out of it, how can you reinforce that so that it doesn’t over time snap back to the way things were? You said you can’t unsee it, but how can you add energy to kind of keep that turbulence you created positive?

[00:13:34.190] – Darryl Condon

There’s a lot of inertia in any organization and in any aspect of our life. You try to create a different path. And there is that sort of force that’s trying to bring you back onto the straight, narrow, if you will. Right? You know, it’s been interesting for us as we’ve transformed our company. It started with a real shared alignment and commitment from the partners. And all of us have been very committed to this path. And that was the first and most important aspect is that we’ve been willing to take that risk together. The other thing I would say is that it hasn’t been for everyone. We’ve had people leave the organization that have said, you know what, I’m actually pretty comfortable with traditional practice. And we wish them well. They’re better off in a different mode of practice. At the same time, we’ve had so many people knock on our door locally and from around the world that have that have said, you know what, we think you’re onto something here. We think we want to be part of what you’re doing. And that, sort of, injection of new thinking is actually one of the things that helped us continue, in what can sometimes, be a lonely place of of innovation. We found that our staff, the people here are quite motivated by taking on big questions. And are quite motivated making a difference in their community. And that’s really helped us keep us exploring and keep us looking for different ways to contribute.

[00:14:51.620] – Karyn Zuidinga

How do you keep it fresh? How do you yourselves not fall into some habitual thing where the new way isn’t soon the old way? How do you not lose the energy? How do you keep stretching?

[00:15:04.680] – Darryl Condon

Continuing to push and to stretch ourselves is a challenging thing and dynamic. It starts from a real curiosity that’s deeply embedded in us and in our systems that we’re building. We’ve established a Curiosity Lab within the firm. Which has a mandate, which has leadership, which has a budget where we’ve invested a portion of our profits into these types of initiatives and it becomes a grassroots initiative. Many firms will, say, do a percent for pro bono, or a percent for this, a percent that. For us a percent goes into this initiative. It’s a staff led and staff curated set of programs. For instance our artist in residence program. We’ll have three or four different artists. That challenge us in different ways and those artists are selected by our staff. And that keeps different voices. And that keeps things fresh.

There’s some things that we do on a regular basis that we still find real value in. For instance, we have a monthly figure drawning session in our offices. We hire a model. We open it up to the creative community to come in and draw. We’re finding that the traditions of creativity, the traditions of hand-drawning are being lost. Not only do we create and encourage people to continue with the craft of hand-drawning, but it creates a community as well. When we put our, you know, announcement up for our next figure drawing session, it sells out like almost instantaneously. We’ve got this huge list of people that look forward to this event while we’re doing the same thing every month. It still has real value. If we find that the community isn’t interested in it, we shift our our focus to something else.

What I believe is really important in keeping these initiatives, these innovation and creativity injections into the firm relevant, is that we’re doing it for our own internal learning first and foremost. We’re not doing it for attention. We’re not doing it for anybody else’s benefit except for our own learning. And I believe that as long as we keep the focus on what we will learn from these actions, that is what will keep it authentic. That’s what will keep it alive. And as soon as we shift, and if we see it as a as a marketing vehicle or some way of telling a story about ourselves, when it ceases to be about us learning, I think, I think it’ll fail.

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[00:17:38.460] – Rob Brodnick

I think it’s a great idea. The Curiosity Labs. What other kind of projects have come out of that that keep stirring the pot?

[00:17:44.910] – Darryl Condon

We’ve instituted what we call our curiosity framework, and that framework spans a whole range of issues within the firm from our curiosity labs at one end, which is very open ended to our professional development, which is much more structured in a variety of other things. In between, we have things like internal bursaries where we give an opportunity for staff to come forward with a research proposition that we will provide them with some resources and some time to take on to external collaborations with with academics and others. So a whole range of activities that really are about feeding that that curiosity.

[00:18:18.210] – Rob Brodnick

Wow, that’s fascinating. I got really interested in the potential for partnership and collaboration in that kind of sense. Have you met some partners that have really contributed to the overall work that you’re doing? And what are some examples of collaboration that have worked?

[00:18:33.180] – Darryl Condon

We’ve created some really interesting relationships with other design disciplines. There’s an interactive designer here in town called Tangible. They participated in our Artist in Residence program. We also, in one of our laneway transformations, they participated. And through Kickstarter we funded a public art installation that  they created. And we’re now collaborating on a project with a client. That’s an example of of an ongoing relationship with a really interesting creative company in Vancouver that has had many different forms within our structures and within our organizations. Collaborations with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association is another example of not for profit organisation representing the business interests that really is eager to think about the city and to find ways to bring people in and bring more life into the city as well. And so they’ve been a wonderful collaborator.

We’ve been supporting a fascinating organization here in Vancouver called The Binners Project. Which is working with people that make their living collecting cans and bottles and returning them. And they’re providing supports and networking and infrastructure for these people to have a better life and make a better living through binning. And they’ve been creating a cart-share program. We’ve been supporting that through using our creativity, using our communications team, but also by hosting fundraising events for them. That is enabling them to create their cart-sharing program. So that’s an example of using our skill set. But partnering with a really important community organization that’s doing really impactful work. We can help amplify their efforts as well.

[00:20:07.770] – Rob Brodnick

That’s great.

[00:20:09.090] – Karyn Zuidinga

I was wondering about the downside of all of that. For instance, the alley projects. Did you get pushback about, well, you know, it’s not going to be safe, there are commercial vehicles that often use those alleys and now you’re making them into play space. Somebody is gonna get hurt. I don’t think you were involved in the bicycle lanes in Vancouver, but that’s been, from my perspective, ridiculous in terms of pushback around creating space for cycling lanes. And I know that’s a really common problem in a lot of cities, North America, who are trying to create bike lanes. Is that you’ll get pushback from business associations saying, oh, you can’t do that because now you’re taking parking space and I’m going to lose business. How are you navigating those potential conflicts? Every time you try to bring these changes I am certain that there are people out there saying, oh, no, you can’t do that.

[00:20:54.840] – Darryl Condon

There’s always people that are going to resist change. For lots of different reasons and some good and maybe some that we would disagree with. Our collaboration with the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association, I think is such an interesting example of the business community shifting their perception. When bike lanes were being proposed in downtown Vancouver. The DVBIA was one of the groups that were really opposed to them. They were very concerned about the negative impacts, potential negative impacts on businesses, on those on those streets. What they found in reality was that the businesses did better on those streets and the organization actually are now one of the strongest advocates for bike lanes. So that’s an example of a business association that was looking at the facts, looking at the data. And actually, you know what? Finding different ways for people to come downtown is good for business. They’ve been a huge proponent of thinking of the alleyways differently. And obviously, we have to accommodate the service vehicles. They’re still there. They’re still important. The initiatives that we did with the DVBIA were funded by the local businesses. They wanted to see change.

One of the criticisms we had was from advocates for homeless people. They were suggesting that we were somehow disrupting what, for some people is is where they would live or where they would sleep, and that we were somehow pushing the homeless community out of these areas. And this was something that we were quite sensitive to. And quite concerned about because it was the last thing we wanted to do was, in effect, gentrifying the laneways and making them less hospitable for people that live on the streets. Far from it. It was interesting about a year after the first laneway was transformed we were contacted by a student from the UK who was doing a Master’s and studying the impacts on homelessness of these types of transformations. She came into our office, and also worked with local community and interviews. She did both qualitative and quantitative research on the laneways. And what was fascinating was that her analysis demonstrated that not only has the the amount of activity by homeless people increased in in the laneway, the nature of those activities has increased as well.

And through those interviews demonstrated that the homeless community actually see it as a positive that is making better spaces that are also feeling safer for them. There’s more people and more activity which is making better spaces. And coupled with that is one of my colleagues ended up in a conversation with an individual who was collecting some food out of a garbage bin in the laneway and asked him about his experience with the laneway. And he shared a couple of stories. First he said that that he thought it was really a great transformation because he said the quality, the food in the bins was better. It wasn’t our plan. But you can you can you can appreciate that there’s more people there and more more food that’s left behind that the quality has improved. So for him, that was a benefit. But he also shared a story in that there was a school group, an elementary school group. The teacher had brought them into the laneway for one of their classes. They were using the basketball nets and what have you. And these kids got into a conversation with this homeless gentleman and asked him what it was like and why he lived on the street. Anyways, he expressed to my colleague that he felt it was incredible that if it wasn’t for this place, that he would never would have had the opportunity to talk to these kids and they wouldn’t have had the opportunity to hear from him as to what his life is all about. And again, that was a really unforeseen example, but really, I think a really powerful example of of what’s possible when when you think differently about about public space.

[00:24:28.530] – Rob Brodnick

I’m a true believer in the power of design. I’ve always been. But more recently in the last decade or so, thinking about how you can take some of the principles of design into environments or professions where it’s not traditionally accepted or used and actually create a significant amount of utility, an impact. And so I’d like to ask Darryl, what kind of space would you love to take your tools, techniques and mindsets, too, that you haven’t been able to yet to create transformation of a different kind? I’m curious.

[00:24:57.400] – Darryl Condon

Such a good question. You know, we’re very fortunate, we get involved in a lot of really interesting projects. We’re really motivated by public space. You know, we want to continue to be involved in laneway transformations. We’d like to do them in other places. We’d like to do them in other contexts. We’re also really interested in what we see as a global trend around informal play and activity and in public space. And we’ve been learning from what we’ve seen in various other places in the world and bringing those ideas back. Really interested in exploring hybridity, the, sort of, boundary between indoor and outdoor, and in formal and informal, and structured and unstructured. There’s so much innovation possible and so much happening really at the boundary of that. We’re moving away from from structured activity and ordered systems into more user-directed, self-directed and informal systems. And that you see this represented in so many different ways. And that’s where the innovation is, is in that shift. We’re finding so many different ways to apply that in our whether it be a school project or a community centre or a library or all these sort of public building types are merging and becoming something different.

To answer the question a little bit more, more directly, we’d like to continue to explore what that means for public space, indoor and outdoor in the built environment. But we’re also really interested in what that might mean in other design disciplines and what might that mean for the communications side of our practice and what might that mean for how we host conversations with communities?

[00:26:24.840] – Karyn Zuidinga

Is it possible for you to say, oh, because we have the Artist in Residence, and because the Curiosity Lab, and because we’ve got these community collaborations in these projects, I can also see a direct link to some of the more traditional projects where we able to do X in community centre Y because we did this other thing. You think there’s a line?

[00:26:45.120] – Darryl Condon

Unquestionably there’s a line between these sort of non-traditional things we’re doing and what it’s meant in our traditional work. And we’re very fortunate. We got some wonderful clients that push us to think differently as well and that are very open to experimentation. And they’re seeing that curiosity and they’re seeing that willingness to think differently and encouraging us just to apply that to their projects. And again, I think when you can demonstrate the benefit of overlaying different types of creative inputs, unquestionably our clients are seeing the benefit of that or asking for that.

[00:27:15.970] – Karyn Zuidinga

I know that you’ve been doing a lot of work around decolonization. The conversation that often comes up outside of this kind of context is “I don’t really understand what you mean.” “What is the colonization?” “How can that possibly be a thing? You can’t go back in time.” And then the other, maybe sometimes unstated, but definitely felt, piece of pushback is, “I’m not giving up what I got. You know, I’m not leaving.” Explain decolonization me. For our listeners.

[00:27:41.990] – Rob Brodnick

For me, even more. So to me as a U.S. citizen, I’m a little like what is decolonization?

[00:27:49.260] – Karyn Zuidinga

Yeah. Why? Why should I care? Why should Rob care about decolonization?

[00:27:53.600] – Darryl Condon

Decolonization for us is an emerging, really emerging and important issue for us to come to terms with. As a firm and it is a controversial subject matter and a really delicate subject matter for so many reasons. And you know, there’s no one clear definition of what that means. And I think everyone has to find their own comfort place within it. For us, it doesn’t mean that we all, all of us that come from a settler background, have got to leave. That’s not the solution. But we do have a responsibility to recognize the past. Do we recognize the injustices and the violence that has been perpetrated over a number of generations and come to terms of what that means? It’s not unique to Canada.

You know, there’s many countries that have a colonial history, including the United States. Other members of the Commonwealth, Australia, New Zealand are dealing with the issues of of decolonization as well. In many respects, New Zealand is is ahead of the curve in terms of coming to terms with what this means. But here in Canada, there’s a number of drivers that are really causing this to be a current conversation. And in no particular order, you know, we’ve got the legacy of the residential schools, and the impact of of that that had. That those policies had on First Nations within Canada. And we’ve got the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the recommendations that came out of that. That’s really caused us to take stock, and to think what should we be doing to be better allies, and to respond to our responsibilities.

You know, we’re seeing things like the British Columbia government recently endorsed the United Nations Declaration, the rights of indigenous peoples. Which again, is another really important conversation about how we should be moving forward more positively. There’s just so many reasons why this is an important conversation now. It becomes even more important for us as architects. We’re quite used to now, at least in Canada, and I know this happens in Australia, New Zealand and other places as well, that before we start a public meeting, there’ll be a land acknowledgement, and there’ll be an acknowledgement of the peoples that came before and that are still here.

We’ve looked at that and I think we’re very quick to acknowledge that we live on unseeded territory. [But] We’re very poor at thinking about what the implications of that are. When you’re an architect or a planner, or landscape architect, whatever it might be and your day job is building on unceeded territory, you have to recognise that that is a continuation and an ongoing form of colonial violence. And that doesn’t mean we’re going to stop building our communities. But it does mean something. I don’t know exactly what it means and we don’t know yet. But we do know that we need to ask ourselves those uncomfortable questions and we need to find a way to move forward and and to think, OK, how should we behave differently in our work? How should we approach our work differently? How should we host conversations differently? Who do we need to include in our processes and in what manner to be more respectful, and to be more understanding, and to come to terms with with all of that? It’s a huge question and we’re just scratching the surface and trying to find a way forward.

Another aspect that I think is really important on the issue of decolonisation is I recently came across a quote and I’m going to get it wrong because I don’t remember the exact quote. But there’s a professor in the US, her name is Adrian Parr. She’s at the University of Texas, Arlington. She writes a lot on water issues. I read a quote from her that really talked about how we’re not going to come to terms with the climate crisis until we come to terms with decolonization. And I think it’s such an important perspective that she raises. And because really what I took from that in my understanding of what is meant by that is that in that context, decolonization is coming to terms with our relationship with the land in a very different way. And not thinking of the land as something we own, that  is for there for us to consume. But to think of it as something that we have an obligation and a responsibility to be stewards of and to be good stewards of. I also think that decolonization is directly connected into the whole issue of the climate and sustainability in the climate crisis. You know, all of these issues really come together.

[00:32:12.550] – Karyn Zuidinga

And I just want to thank you so much, Darryl, for taking the time to talk to us today.

[00:32:17.090] – Rob Brodnick


[00:32:18.250] – Darryl Condon

Yeah, well, hopefully you get something out of that that’s useful.

[00:32:24.420] – Karyn Zuidinga

Before we thank our episode and contributing sponsors, I want to encourage you, our lovely listeners, to stay tuned for this episode’s Positive Turbulence Moment coming up in about 20 seconds.

First off, a big thank you to AMI who have nurtured us in developing this podcast is the source of so many of our guests. And of course, the founder, Stan Gryskiewicz is also the author of the original book and dare I say, the Frank Lloyd Wright of Positive Turbulence.

[00:32:51.420] – Sponsor Message

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[00:33:16.490] – Karyn Zuidinga

Here’s our Positive Turbulence Moment, where Darryl leaves us with a few words to encourage us to consider our social impact.

[00:33:23.140] – Darryl Condon

We are really committed to maximizing our social impact through our work, through the work we do, through how we do our work and through how we behave as a company. And so for us, all three of those in parallel are really important when we think about the last of those three, how we behave as a company, being a good citizen, supporting others, looking really deeply at how we host conversations and how we engage the public, how we can leave a legacy and a capacity within a community through the processes. And that could be as simple as creating a community advisory group around a project that ultimately takes on a governance role. And that’s an example of using a process to create capacity within the community.

[00:34:05.290] – Karyn Zuidinga

If you want to share a Positive Turbulence Moment or otherwise, comment on what you’re hearing, please drop us a line at  We welcome your thoughts. Be sure to tune in next episode when we’ll be talking to Patti Streeper, executive coach and artist, where we’ll explore the connections between art and leadership coaching.

You can also head over to to find out more about us, get a transcript of this episode, get links to the good work that HCMA is doing. Learn about our wonderful sponsors, Positive Turbulence, our guests, or check out our very cool and very diverse reading, watching and listening to list. Until next time, keep the turbulence positive!