RAIC names winners of its Innovation in Architecture award

Two British Columbia projects that demonstrate new ways to use wood and steel have garnered the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) Innovation in Architecture award for 2015.

ONE FOLD is a research project exploring the architectural possibilities of folding a single sheet of steel one time. The project takes its inspiration from a challenge put to origami artist Paul Jackson to make an origami sculpture with only one fold. The architects are John Patkau, FRAIC, and Patricia Patkau, FRAIC, of Patkau Architects in Vancouver.

The WOOD INNOVATION DESIGN CENTRE in Prince George is a centre of excellence at the University of Northern British Columbia. It aims to show that tall timber buildings can be economical and safe, and celebrates wood as a beautiful and sustainable material. The architect is Michael Green, FRAIC, of MGA | Michael Green Architecture in Vancouver.

A three-member jury called the projects “extraordinary examples of true innovation… innovation that is significant, repeatable and applicable to the profession.” Further, they “demonstrate processes of innovation that are founded on patience and discipline. The projects reflect a focus on continual research, investigation and development by two firms with long histories of significant works. It is inspirational work that is intended to share.”

This Innovation in Architecture award recognizes exceptional architectural innovation. Potential areas for innovation include research and development; applied use of new technology; and adaptation of existing technology. Innovation can also be demonstrated by new project delivery and construction methods, advanced design processes and fresh approaches to details and materials.

The jury members were architects Omar Gandhi, MRAIC, of Halifax; Donald Chong, MRAIC, of Toronto; and Jean-Pierre LeTourneux, FIRAC, of Montreal.

“The firms led by Michael Green and the Patkaus have respectively developed a rich architectural process involving the synthesis of materiality, methods of construction and formal design,” says RAIC president Sam Oboh, FRAIC. “When combined, the results add considerable value to our everyday lives.”

He continues, “Michael has travelled the world to champion new methods of construction associated with wood and by doing so, has he raised the awareness of innovative approaches to construction while raising the profile of Canadian architecture. Significant architectural implications result from creating an ideal form using a singular fold in a steel plate.”

And further, “The Patkau team has demonstrated a commitment that involves an intense level of research associated with distilling a contemporary form-making process.”


One Fold is an experiment that belongs to a long architectural ambition to realize structures with ever-higher strength to weight ratios. As a self-supporting thin shell structure, One Fold spans and covers an area with a minimum of material and embodied energy. It is lightweight, durable, demountable and recyclable. Its advantages include an extremely high strength to weight ratio and ease of distribution and fabrication.

One Fold requires almost no secondary support structures. Patkau Architects developed a series of machines to fold and bend sheets of stainless steel of increasingly large sizes. To date, One Fold exists only as a prototype.

“It is an efficient structure that embodies a minimal ecological footprint,” say the architects. “More than this, it represents an attention to material that finds beauty in structure and structure in beauty, promoting that aspiration within architecture generally.”


As the first tall wood building in Canada built beyond current building codes, WIDC is a demonstration project for the future of building in wood. The eight-storey building (six storeys plus mezzanine and penthouse) stands 29.5 metres tall, making it North America’s tallest contemporary timber building.

To prove that all life safety requirements could be met, the project team conducted extensive mock-ups, testing, and detailed studies. MGA sought to demonstrate economical, repeatable technologies for building high-rise structures with timber, hoping to inspire institutions, private sector developers and other architects and engineers to embrace this way of building.

The firm argues that building with wood sourced from sustainably managed forests offers designers a rapidly renewable, low energy, and carbon-sequestering alternative to conventional building materials. Greater use of timber for large structures would significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.


The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada is a voluntary national association, representing 5,000 members. The RAIC advocates for excellence in the built environment, works to demonstrate how design enhances the quality of life and promotes responsible architecture in addressing important issues of society. For more information, visit www.raic.org