The Rise of Nine Yards Studio
How and Why an Award-winning Prince Edward Island Design Firm Offers More than Architecture
by Jennifer Wood
Charlottetown-based architecture and design firm Nine Yards Studio has left an ineffaceable mark on Prince Edward Island's breathtaking landscape, on its bustling commercial streets, and within the provinces that surround it. In the past two years alone, the company has tripled its workforce and opened a satellite office in Halifax to meet the demands stemming from their growing portfolio of projects, which include institutional, residential, commercial and public builds.
Wanting to expand their passion for design beyond the field of architecture, the firm recently added a new division to their company. The Secret Design Bunker is a workshop, located in their offices, where team members design and craft different series of modern household objects, including lamps, clocks, cribbage boards and desk accessories. The space represents a well-thought-out addition to the firm, and it speaks to the company’s name, which implies that more than architecture is on offer.
“When it came time to name our company, we borrowed from the expression ‘the whole nine yards,’” says Silva Stojak, architect and partner with the firm. “We wanted to demonstrate our commitment to many facets of design while inviting the art world into our community. We are a collective that engages various individuals who have an undying love for design — from architects to graphic designers, craftsmen and photographers.”
The professional bonds at Nine Yards are strong, as are the relationships they nurture with their growing client base. Creativity, collaboration and fun are built into the fabric of the firm’s day-to-day work culture — many of the staff are also gifted musicians who play together at their renowned in-house “9Y Fridays.” Their end-of-week wind-down has become a must-attend event for the city’s artists and creatives, and for others who want in on the scene.
Nine Yards Studio recently received the Emerging Architectural Practice Award from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, which recognizes the achievements of burgeoning practices—for the quality of their built work, service to their clients, innovations in practice and public recognition.
[EDIT]’s Senior Editor, Jennifer Wood, met with Nine Yards partners, Silva Stojak and Shallyn Murray, to learn more about their rapid growth, some of their award-winning projects, the firm’s unique and fun collaborative process, and their commitment to finding and nurturing the very best talent.
[EDIT]: Could you tell us about the genesis and vision of Nine Yards Studio?
SILVA STOJAK: We had an image for a studio that went outside the boundaries of architecture to explore all things design. We believe design can influence all aspects of life and wanted to create a collaborative environment that explores design at all scales and in all mediums.
We have built a team of creative individuals with diverse backgrounds, each one playing an integral role in cultivating the creative energy in our office. Nine Yards is a place where architecture and the arts come together, and where we can explore and grow through a collaborative design process and hopefully put some beautiful things out into the world.
[EDIT]: Congratulations on the Community Initiatives award you received from the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada in 2018. Can you tell us more about the Urban Beehive Project for which you won this award?
SHALLYN: Thanks! We were thrilled to receive it. We initiated the Urban Beehive Project with a vision for a community project that highlights the importance of pollinators and their role in a sustainable environment. We knew that this story could be told in a very impactful way through architecture and design: an amphitheatre and two public sculptures that function as demonstrational beehives, housing approximately 60,000 bees each. The project has become a play structure, a sculpture, a garden and a tool for hands-on learning. More important for us, it has become an example of how design can play an important role in our community, our development and our environment.
[EDIT]: Could you outline unique business and design practices that have helped in your collaborations and subsequent success?
SHALLYN MURRAY: Spontaneous fun and creative collaboration is at the heart of everything we do at Nine Yards. We have a passion for design and have made exploration a priority in our practice. We feel that this commitment shines through in our completed projects and through relationships with our clients. As a result we are being sought out by more and more clients who appreciate design and are looking for a contemporary design aesthetic.
We are also a socially conscious firm with a natural love for our community. This commitment has really steered our practice over the last two years. We learn a lot and are enriched by the experience of collaborating with the community. Our involvement has yielded many important relationships and enhanced our visibility as a firm with a unique vision in Prince Edward Island.
[EDIT]: What can a client, whether residential, commercial or industrial, expect when they sign a contract to build with Nine Yards?
SILVA: We have lots of clients who come from away — they don’t know us personally at all. They usually find us through social media and through our website. Thanks to these tools, clients often have a sense of what they can expect from working with us on their projects. Our process is completely collaborative — it begins with a questionnaire. For example, if it is a residential contract, we want to know how they live and what their interests are. We establish close relationships with our clients right from the start, and these relationships often evolve into close friendships.
[EDIT]: Your River Cabins is stunning. Can you speak to the design and anticipated outcome of the structures and how and when they are used and appreciated today?
SILVA: The River Cabins is one of our first projects, and it demonstrates our design aesthetic, one that is inspired by local vernacular combined with contemporary design ideals. The cabins take inspiration from the groupings of traditional gable farm buildings typical of rural PEI and are a modern take on a lean-to shape so common to this landscape. The steep slopes of the roofs provide space for sleeping lofts, and their black peaks extend toward the sky to blend into the evergreen treetops. The three cabins house a main residence, a half-size bunkhouse for guests and a small shed for wood storage. It is located a mere 25 minutes from Charlottetown and has no internet or phone service whatsoever. It’s a true getaway.
[EDIT]: Can you tell us more about how the Secret Design Bunker has served your visibility as an architecture firm?
SHALLYN: The concept for the Secret Design Bunker was part of the original vision for Nine Yards. We wanted a workshop where we could explore design at all scales. The space acts as a creative outlet, allowing us hands-on exploration of form, material and technique. In July, we transformed the ground level of our office and hosted a pop-up shop and exhibition. This was an important design event for our community and a way to highlight the creative process behind our designs. The event was also an opportunity to network with other designers so that we can all learn and grow from each other’s work.
[EDIT]: What is your perspective on the growing appetite for excellence in architecture on Prince Edward Island?
SILVA: PEI's population is growing, and our economy is strong. We are seeing many people from outside the province bring with them diverse backgrounds and design aesthetics. With increasing diversity on PEI, people are being exposed to alternative styles of architecture, and this is increasing the awareness of different styles, both commercially and residentially.
[EDIT]: Your commitment to new and potential architects is admirable. Can you tell us more about this? What do you gain from staying close to the pulse of new professionals entering the field?
SHAYLLN: We take enormous pride in the fact that we are a teaching firm, and we are thrilled to take on architecture students from across the country. They are the future of the architecture industry, and we believe in providing them hands-on experience to enhance their education. With their diverse experience and perspectives, they contribute to the creative energy at Nine Yards. Last year, we created the Nine Yards Studio Scholarship at the School of Architecture at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, for master’s students who show a commitment to their community.
[EDIT]: What projects are you working on now?
SILVA: We are currently working on eight contemporary homes, the Lone Oak Brewery, the development of a mental health and addictions campus, which is a new and exciting concept for PEI, the redevelopment of a block in downtown Charlottetown, several office and retail spaces and a few restaurants. We are incredibly busy, and we couldn’t be happier about it!
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