Monica Adair and Stephen Kopp want architecture to tell a story. Finding narratives and developing identities have become a specialty of their firm, Acre Architects, based in Saint John, New Brunswick. “We want people to be able to not only be satisfied with what is in front of them, but to think about what is the story they ultimately want to live,” says Adair, who recently received the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s 2015 Young Architect Award.
Founded in 2010, Acre has built this type of storytelling into private residences along the Atlantic Seaboard. The seven-person practice recently branched out into commercial projects, with a new microbrewery under construction in their hometown, and a boutique hotel in the design phase in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. Acre has worked with its clients to build out the identities of these projects, adding new dimensions along the way. Here, Adair and Kopp discuss their firm’s story with architect.
Acre started on a rooftop in Brooklyn, as a collective. Stephen and I went to architecture school together at the University of Toronto. There was a job in New York that we both went for, and they gave it to both of us. I don’t think we’d be married today if they didn’t.
When we were in Brooklyn, we were fortunate to have one of those apartments with rooftop access. We’d often go up with a bunch of our friends, who are also architects and designers. We got really excited, like a lot of young designers do, about the potential to work with our friends. You want to work with people that you really love.
We were the de facto group coordinators at the time and we always said that, depending on the project, we’d bring the right team. We left New York two years later and went to New Brunswick to open our own firm. But we’ve had some opportunities to work with the initial people from the Acre Collective on little projects. We still pitch ideas and try to find projects that would get all of us together.
We generally like projects where the client hasn’t given us a clean brief and wants us to just draw it up—projects in which the client hasn’t quite figured it all out and is looking to us to help craft that story. Architecture really is about building identity and helping people, in a way, to create their own myths. That’s especially true here in Atlantic Canada, where there’s a lot of dependence on our past. We say that we’re more than lighthouses and dories, and that we can rely not just on the stories that came before us, but also on the stories that we help people tell. Stories have the ability to reveal strong and deeply held emotions that are the key to the structure of our lives. Architecture can convey these stories. In the end, it’s not just a building; it’s something that rethinks the way we see ourselves. We take our clients’ needs and deliver executable dreams.
The Hekla Hotel clients in Williamsburg wanted only a hotel on the site, which was a former ironworks factory. We said that it has to be more than that—we’re not interested in a project that just gentrifies. We proposed a “filmworks” component—a screening area—so that it could belong to the community, which has a big art movie scene. Adding it to the hotel ended up being a really good pairing. And we wanted it to become a venue to tell new stories.