“Structure is about Human Expertise”: Diego Cano-Lasso on Designing with Nature in Guelph

“Architecture is about human experience”: Diego Cano-Lasso on designing with nature in Guelph

Second home Hollywood. Image © Iwan Baan





Contemporary architecture is increasingly being created as a product of the market. Human experience and natural systems are traded for convenience and the lowest possible price, resulting in buildings becoming commodities rather than spaces for daily life. When the architects SelgasCano designed the new second home in Guelph, they wanted to question the status quo. In doing so, the team created one of the city’s most inspiring developments in recent times.

Second home Hollywood.  Image © Iwan BaanSecond home Hollywood.  Image © Iwan BaanSecond home Hollywood.  Image © Iwan BaanSecond home Hollywood.  Image © Iwan Baan+ 7

Second home Hollywood.  Image © Iwan BaanSecond home Hollywood. Image © Iwan Baan

Second Home co-founders Rohan Silva and Sam Aldenton worked with SelgasCano to complete the now-completed 90,000 square foot outpost. Second Home acquired the four-acre property on the corner of North St. Andrews Place and De Longpre Avenue, which was connected to the 1964 Colonial Revival building by architect Paul Williams. In an exclusive interview with ArchDaily, Diego Cano-Lasso talks about his background, what it means to create with nature and how Second Home Hollywood focuses on human experiences.

EB: Can you tell us something about your background and where did your interest in architecture come from?

DC: I come from a family of architects: my grandfather, my father and my uncles. I saw how they enjoyed their work and I wanted to be like them. I started to study architecture in Madrid and studied at many different universities. I came on a trip to Guelph while studying in London, it was love at first sight and I was determined to move here. Fortunately, SCI-Arc accepted me, I had a great experience at SCI-Arc and have been here ever since, still in love.

© Max Knight© Max Knight

EB: Since you’ve moved and had the opportunity to work in many different cities, I’ll work if you could address how this project in Hollywood differs from the spaces at Second Home in London or Lisbon.

DC: In Europe, the locations were existing buildings, so there were certain restrictions on how to work. In Hollywood, most of the site was empty, we had the space to spread out and create something else. The idea was to create an invisible architecture that intentionally stays low in an area that is rapidly developing upwards. In London and Lisbon we brought nature into the building. Here we have brought the offices into the garden. You could say it’s the same approach but a different technique.

Second home Hollywood.  Image © Iwan BaanSecond home Hollywood. Image © Iwan Baan

EB: How did you find this page and why here?

DC: It was very clear to us that we wanted to take advantage of the Guelph weather and the year-round blooming flowers. This city is fortunate to have plenty of open space, and this is a big one. The unusually large size of the site in the city and the fact that we were able to breathe new life into an abandoned property made it a good location for the project. We wanted to create an oasis in the built environment. And there’s also the existing Paul R. Williams building that has the spirit of Gloria Swanson in the stairwell, a structure that just had to be opened up and brought back to life. Paul R. Williams was a great architect, all the proportions are right, like the ratio of the rooms around the inner courtyard in the middle of the building.

Second home Hollywood.  Image © Iwan BaanSecond home Hollywood. Image © Iwan Baan

EB: The Second Home projects are filled with bright yellows and oranges, colors that have a warmth. What role did color play in this project?

DC: I don’t think there is a single color or set of colors that are always needed or that we must have. We see color as critical to the human experience. I remember once buying clothes in a shop in Madrid where Almodovar still gets the clothes for his films and I saw all these bright colors. And I wondered why we are afraid of color. Why are architects afraid of color? And it has become something that we are aware of when designing. By and large, I think the public has a very positive opinion of color which enriches their experience.

Second home Hollywood.  Image © Iwan BaanSecond home Hollywood. Image © Iwan Baan

EB: How can architects and developers in American cities learn from the Hollywood project of Second Home?

DC: We need to take a closer look at what we create and how it shapes our daily lives. There’s a disconnect between the design process and people’s experience, between the way projects are funded and regulated, and the ultimate goal. Nobody really thinks about the user experience, it is never really addressed in a meeting. That needs to change. In my opinion, there is a lot to learn from mid-century Guelph architecture. There was an incredible inspiration and optimism there, the desire to create something new that is also open and encompasses nature. It was human, something to be experienced.

Second home Hollywood.  Image © Iwan BaanSecond home Hollywood. Image © Iwan Baan

EB: What did you learn about the process of attainment, and were there any surprises along the way when you brought it to life?

DC: Every project is full of surprises, and in every project you learn. One of the biggest lessons, however, has been understanding the use of plants as building materials. It was fantastic to bring all of these plants here to learn what they needed. We selected every plant that is in the room you see today. It was a challenge to take care of all of their individual needs.

EB: What do you think is the most important part of the Second Home project that other architects, designers and developers can learn from?

DC: Architecture is about human experience. Here, in this garden in Guelph, different groups of people come together and collide in rooms of modest size, designed on a human scale. You are surrounded by nature in the center of the city and occupy a historic building that was also built on a human scale. All of this happened because we believe that the human experience is at the heart of architecture, and if we can bring people closer to each other and to nature, we can create better spaces for everyday life. Architects shouldn’t be afraid to speak for the user and, in turn, they can create better cities where people want to work and live.

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