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At this year’s Interior Design Show (IDS) a concept home designed by ARCHICAD firm, VFA Architecture + Design (VFA) took center stage. The IDS had their eye on VFA which welcomed the chance to flex their creativity muscles. VFA designed the featured exhibit focusing the concept around health and wellness in residential design.

Vanessa Fong, Principal Architect of VFA explains her approach, “There are so many benefits to designing with a focus on all five senses. The feel of the home can impact mental health, reduce stress, and create a space that you really can relax in as well as recharge and reset.”

Wellness as a goal in architectural design hasn’t enjoyed the trendy moment in the spotlight just yet, but Fong saw a real opportunity to embrace it and go past the greenwash that the term “sustainability” has acquired. Architecture today can focus on sustainability and energy efficiencies but incorporating wellness takes on a more holistic approach. While a potential home buyer might not understand the impact of sound dampening materials, he or she may better understand the value if it is presented as a method to provide a better sleep environment, which in turn reduces stress.

“When we talk about designing for health and wellness with the five senses, it’s sort of taking the same conversation as sustainability, but really just adjusting it and looking at it in a different light. The idea of sustainability can sometimes get slapped on the design in order to make it quote unquote “green”. Yet when you start considering designing with the five senses, it really means that you’re integrating all these inherent things that we’re doing. A lot of architects are probably already doing it, but inherently it’ll mean you have a more energy efficient home, which is a more sustainable home, right?”

“Designing for the sense of touch, for example, means you’re optimizing thermal comfort. This is done by insulating the walls with as much continuous exterior insulation, which means your HVAC system doesn’t have to work as much or as hard. This translates to less energy use. When you start to frame the conversation around the five senses, people start to understand it in relation to their human body rather than just things we put on a building. I think that’s what we were trying to sort of shift that conversation to make the concepts more digestible.”

VFA went into this project knowing they didn’t want to just throw everything in the garbage afterwards. Throughout the design process they reached out to companies to gauge interest in re-purposing the structure. Talks continue as to the future of the Reset Home, so it waits disassembled, back in the factory. One potential second life for the home includes a resort to having them use it as a health and wellness center, where they could host yoga classes or spin classes.

VFA recently switched to ARCHICAD, transitioning from AutoCAD just last year. The Reset Home was the first project Fong and her team tackled in ARCHICAD from start to finish – all new projects that are being onboarded will be completed in ARCHICAD. The bulk of the work at VFA is custom residential, single family homes and cottages. Some of the other projects on the boards include infill development, low rise residential and a six-story hotel project in Toronto, Canada.

VFA is made up of ten architects that were previously using an AutoCAD to SketchUp workflow – then using another program to finish renderings. The workflow, especially on custom home projects, was time-consuming according to Fong. That desire to streamline things prompted a search for a new way to handle their workload.

“Especially with custom homes, there are a lot of changes and iterations. Jumping from program to program and making sure all the changes were made throughout was taking a lot of time. We’d investigated Revit and it just never felt right for the type of projects we were doing. It just seemed super heavy and intensive.”

“Once we started using ARCHICAD, we saw improvements in the beginning during schematic design when we’re trying iterations and trying different concepts. When we make a change, we can easily slice through the model and see what it looks like in section, see what the impact in.”

“With respect to the RESET Home, the concept home for IDS, that project was a little bit different. It wasn’t client-based, but we could really push creativity – and the way ARCHICAD responded was amazing. “

“We had to build the home in four days so working with Hummingbird Hills, our contractor, we came up with a panalization system. Each +/- 14 feet wall section was prebuilt offsite and then brought onto site and assembled. In ARCHICAD you can take so many different views so easily, we were able to dissect the structure down to its panel, make sure it all worked and was coordinated.”

VFA worked with several companies that were providing materials to the project, so coordination was key.

“95% of the structure was sponsored by companies who donated materials such as the lumber, HVAC system and lighting. As we got sponsors on board, we had to make sure that their products worked within the structure. If they had certain requirements, for example we had Cove lighting, we had to drop the ceiling by certain amount to make sure it fit their specific lighting product. ARCHICAD responded to little tweaks and detail design as we got each sponsor on board. At the end, we had a very fulsome model with all components integrated.”

As is often the case with many ARCHICAD transition stories, a colleague spoke highly of his experience with ARCHICAD. Fong recalled her early exposure to the program as an intern when she was first starting out. It warranted a second look.

“We visited my colleague’s office and saw how they work in ARCHICAD. Immediately we were sold on it just because it was so intuitive. The workflow seemed to be so simple and straightforward and because it’s a product that is designed for architecture, it felt like a much better decision for us.”

It didn’t take long for Fong to get proof that her decision was a good one – even though no one on the staff had any prior experience using the software.

“I knew none of my staff knew ARCHICAD so we had to ‘jump in and see what happens’. It’s been less than a year and we’re already seeing the workflow efficiencies on projects. Which is really great even though the learning process is ongoing.”

That ongoing process includes training, of course, so Fong reached out to her local GRAPHISOFT reseller, Camille Chami from CADcentre and sought help from the colleague that referred her to ARCHICAD. Soon a few superstars emerged.

“We relied a lot on Camille initially, he helped us as random questions came up throughout the course of a workday. Once or twice I reached out to my colleague who’s already on ARCHICAD. It helped to have a member of my staff move her computer over to his office to observe and ask questions as they came up. A few members of the staff took to the software quickly and we’ve created an environment where they can easily share their knowledge to the rest of the staff.”

Every few weeks, on a Friday, the VFA team gathers for a mini lecture. One person teaches the rest of the staff a specific feature, for example, the live connection to Twinmotion. Other weeks, a sort of roundtable happens in the conference room. Fong also took advantage of a lecture held by Chami. These events provide networking opportunities and helps firms make connections with others that work in ARCHICAD, building up informational resources.

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