Faid House

“In no way were the family’s aesthetics compromised by the accessible features.”

–Ron Wickman



The above image shows the front of the three-story FAID home facing west toward the street. 

Empty-nesters Peter and Alison Faid commissioned me to design their home in 2006, when they purchased a 33 ft. by 140 ft. lot in the same neighborhood they had lived in for 25 years. They wanted their new home to allow them to age in place. Experience had taught them the importance of an accessible home, making the principles of visitability important. Besides, Peter had a heart condition, which could make stairs a problem in the future. Not only did they want their home to be accessible but they wanted its beauty to reflect their style and taste. The three-level home sits on a narrow lot, and comes with an attached car garage in front and a walkout basement.

In keeping with the principles of visitability, they have no stairs at the front entrance of their home and minimal thresholds for all exterior doors, with level entry to the garage. The home is located in an inner-city community affording them better access to a greater host of neighborhood amenities. Inner-city development promotes a safer and a more positive and efficiently run city. One of the biggest myths about accessible design is that such structures will be ugly and costly utilitarian. This simply is not true.

The three key accessible design strategies in the Faid home was to incorporate a no-step entrance at the front door, an elevator to make vertical access accessible, and wet room designs for the bathroom areas. 


This photograph represents the back perspective of the house, including a level deck and a walkout basement. 

“We planned this house as an empty nester / retirement home – the trend these days is called aging in place. That’s why we have wide halls, an entrance at grade, lever handles, better lighting – and an elevator! We feel really lucky to be living in such a great place.”

–Alison & Peter Faid


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The image beside shows the elevator, which provides easy access to all three levels of the house, with its door open, stopped on the main floor.

At least five feet of space in front of the elevator enables maneuverability for users in wheelchairs. The home’s stairway wraps around the elevator. Designed as short runs of five to six steps each, with sturdy handrails and step lights, the stairway provides for safe vertical travel by foot. The elevator as part of all of the accessible design features integrated into the house design made moving into the home simpler. To satisfy users with varying disabilities in the best way possible, the house features wider doorways (at least 36 inches wide) and decorative rocker-style light switches which can be operated with a wrist or elbow. Extra insulation in all walls provides better acoustics; color and textural contrast is provided to assist in wayfinding for persons with visual and cognitive difficulties. 

Although neither of us need the elevator to date, the elevator is great for moving things like groceries up to the second level or the basement. It was also extremely helpful when moving into the home because the movers were able to put all the appliances in the elevator, rather than carrying them up the stairs.”

–Peter Faid

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The above floor plan illustrates the main living area, found on the top level and accessible to people of varying disabilities via the elevator.

In keeping with the principles of visitability, the hallway is at least 42 inches wide with a high brick red curved ceiling connecting the living / dining room and the kitchen. Red accents including pillows gathered in the Faids travels to Cambodia and Turkey integrate the space and provide punch. A bank of bright windows faces east and frames the gas fireplace. The living / dining room and kitchen are painted a soft sage green. 

The above floor plan lays out the grade-level first floor of the house into which all guests enter through the front door. The broad entranceway incorporates a vestibule containing a bench on which visitors can sit while donning or doffing shoes. This level also contains Alison’s office (painted a pale mauve) and the master bedroom. Off the master bedroom is a bathroom (one of two full baths and one half bath) that serves as a symbol of the home’s combination of form and function. The clear box shower of glass and ceramic tiles the color of mottled concrete is large. On one wall of the shower is a stylish grab bar. A low stool, made out of Asian teak, sits outside the shower. Because its wood can be exposed to water without damage, it can be pulled inside if anybody wants or needs to sit down while bathing. 

The above floor plan illustrates the lower level of the home containing Peter’s office, a suite with a bathroom and bedroom and the laundry room. As part of their strategy to age in place, the Faids wanted a lower-level suite, which could accommodate a live-in caregiver, with a separate entrance that opens out to the backyard. A counter with a sink, microwave, and small fridge, with space to accommodate a cooktop, provides independence for guests, visiting family or live-in caregivers. Triple glazed windows and high R-value insulation incorporate energy efficiency. An on-demand hot water system saves money and energy, as does the high efficiency furnace. 

This image shows the third floor living room looking out onto Edmonton’s beautiful river valley facing east. 

many people as possible. As architects, we are trained to find creative solutions to design problems. Making universal design beautiful is our challenge. Architects and designers have no reason to fear their design options will be limited by accessibility. Instead, inclusive design contributes value and meaning to any design methodology.

We have been talking about accessible housing for almost fifty years, but I think our aging population will be what finally pushes us to get it done. Baby Boomers, like the Faids, actually have the money and the influence to make things happen. They will not just accept that nursing homes are part of their future. They will demand something different.

Accessible design need not compromise a designer’s approach to design but rather becomes an element in every designer’s approach. The Faids home was guided by principles of site, light, and views. Equally important was visitability, adaptability, and accessibility. Nor is sustainability and energy efficiency left out of consideration. With flexible spaces and accessible designed details, the Faids home is a good fit over the family’s lifecycle, which can later appeal to a wider range of potential buyers, when the time is right to sell. Even the second floor deck, overlooking the leafy Mill Creek Ravine has proven accessible by users in wheelchairs. 

Flex Housing

“FlexHousing™ is an award-winning concept and a viable alternative in today’s market.”

–Tom Parker


We have been talking about accessible housing for thirty years, but I think our aging population will push us to get it done. Baby boomers have the money and influence to make things happen. They will demand something different.

By the time I sit down to design a building or a house, I have already done a lot of homework. The needs of the end users direct my thinking. People who are aging or people with visual and other physical disabilities are topmost in my mind because they tend to be my clients. They influence me. To accommodate them, we need reasonably spaced accommodations, which is also often multi-generational. Working from the inside out as I do is called experiential architecture.

Tom Parker, who helped coin the phrase FlexHousing™ in 1995 when he worked with Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, had comparable conclusions. FlexHousing™ is adaptable, accessible, and affordable. According to Tom: “FlexHousing™ is an award-winning concept and a viable alternative in today’s market.” Recently, CMHC has insisted as well on the need for healthy housing. The typical Canadian house is none of these things!

We entered two submissions into the FlexHousing™ Design Competition: one for the single-detached housing and the other for the horizontal multiple housing. In both categories, we were the “Prairie Regional Winner” in Stage 1. Our single detached housing concept later received a National Award of Merit. 

The above floor plan drawings and 3D renderings show three phases of the FlexHouse™ design.

As one of four winners across Canada, my design had to produce housing that could be easily adapted to meet the present and future needs of the occupants. As the competition booklet reasoned; “This adaptability will become increasingly important as our population ages. As lifestyle changes, and as we witness an increase in home-based activities and new technologies.” Our designs were cost effective while being both appealing and marketable to the consumer.

As the winner in the Single Detached Housing Category, in the Competition, we explored ways we could most cost effectively build the project. I had already developed a working relationship with many of the non-profit organizations located in Edmonton, especially Habitat for Humanity – Edmonton. In time, we were able to put together a project construction team that included CMHC, Habitat for Humanity – Edmonton, and Ron Wickman Architect.

The experience of working with Habitat for Humanity – Edmonton tested the flexibility of the FlexHouse™ design. Habitat for Humanity had their own dwelling design criteria: keeping space to a minimum.

With the spirit of compromise and co-operation we were able to provide two different house designs that both satisfied the original intent of our FlexHouse™ design and those of Habitat for Humanity. This project promotes a more compact, affordable, and efficient city. Because it is located in the inner city close to a great variety of amenities, it encourages more pedestrian traffic and less automobile traffic by tapping into the city’s existing infrastructure. Located on a smaller lot, the design uses its land efficiently and effectively. This is sustainable design, as called for by the architects who participated in the 15th Venice Architectural Biennale, 2016.  

The above image shows the completed FlexHouses™ from the street. Stairs lead to the front doors of both homes. The existing underground service lines were not deep enough to lower the homes to create a no-step entrance. However, we had more space in the backyard to slope a sidewalk to the back door for a no-step entrance. 

The two completed houses identify a base two-story, three-bedroom dwelling with the potential for differing addition phases. The corner dwelling represents this base house design, while the mid-block dwelling represents a base house complete with a full bath and separate suite / home office on the main floor.

Both houses can be expanded or added onto over time, as necessary, starting small and taking on future additional space for a variety of needs: teenagers, a home office, or a separate suite. Young couples with children, single parents, seniors, and persons with disabilities can also be accommodated in time.

Designed to accommodate a variety of family types, the starter home, that in time can grow and even be subdivided, allows for an affordable dwelling to be purchased and later expanded to include additions that house office space, bedroom rentals, or garden suites. The project also has the potential to house one family, an extended family, or two separate families. The project is designed to function equally well on a mid-block or corner lot. 

The above image shows an exterior view of the homes facing the rear yard. The back entrance to the home on the left is visitable. The one on the right is not. The house on the left will never need money, time, or energy to create a no-step entrance. The gently sloping sidewalk to the back door eliminates the need for steps, providing easy access for persons in wheelchairs. The roof overhang on both houses protects residents and visitors from ice and rain. Both decks are room sized to facilitate future cost-efficient additions with their intact roof and foundations. 

The image beside shows an interior view of a second-floor bathroom. To accommodate a wheelchair, a five-foot turning space is provided; plywood backing is installed on the bathtub and toilet walls making it easier to install grab bars anywhere, in the future. Designed to simultaneously satisfy users with varying disabilities and of various ages, the project provides on-grade access, open floor plans, adjustable kitchen counters, lever door handles, adjustable closet rod and shelf heights, easy-to-grasp handrails. Rocker style switches installed at a lower height, have easier-to-reach outlet locations, which benefit those individuals in wheelchairs or using walkers. 

The project specified materials and building methods that promoted sustainable construction and healthy housing.

The Habitat for Humanity job site is not a place for a designer with an ego. Everyone must focus on the needs of the families first. For me, working on this project was both humbling and emotionally rewarding.

Whenever I watched the hundreds of volunteers, I felt that I was getting published or promoted. The volunteers were completely selfless.

During the final launch of the CMHC FlexHouse™ Open House, with the Honorable Anne McLellan in attendance, I was invited to say a few words about my experience orchestrating this project. “What started off as an architectural experience ended up being a life experience far richer that I could have ever imagined.”

The project was special. The design was unique and innovative, and the construction process even more unusual with hundreds of volunteers visiting the site every day. The combination of these two made this project one of the greatest challenges I may ever face as an architect. I needed to be on site every day to ensure that the intent of the design was being adhered to. This process was incredibly time consuming while being intensely rewarding. 

“The idea of making the next Habitat for Humanity home an R-2000 home is a very positive message, getting away from the image of R-2000 being only for upper-end homes.” 

- Joel Nodelman, manager, sustainable development for EPCOR

The above image shows workers putting up a second-story exterior wall. The man at the back will become the eventual homeowner. 

Ambrose Place


In 2006, NiGiNan Housing Ventures, a not-for-profit group hired me to design a housing project for persons who are currently homeless. Ambrose Place primarily serves homeless individuals and couples of Aboriginal descent: chronic substance abusers who cannot be housed within existing facilities. Some may have been barred from existing facilities, while others may feel that the existing facilities do not meet their requirements and thus do not use them. Many of the individuals suffer from concurrent mental health issues such as dual addictions. The housing focuses upon improving the quality of the individual’s life, health, and well-being, looking beyond the labels of addictions or disability to look at the whole person including their history, culture, mental, physical, and spiritual needs. The role of the practitioner is to educate the person on options and consequences, thus enabling the individual to improve their quality of life, health, and wellbeing through gradual non-judgmental means. Ambrose Place meets these standards.

The architecture adheres to the principles of American sculptor Davis Best of Burning Man fame. “…it’s more important who goes inside…A building itself should never be more important than the people.” The beauty of this project is not just based on its visual aspects, but in its ability to transform people’s lives. There is tremendous beauty in living with grace, safety, and confidence.

The design of Ambrose Place provides an environment that facilitates individual growth and development and enhances the individual’s self-esteem and capacity for independent living. Residents need to have a sense of control over their own lives. The project transformed six raw, vacant lots on the south side of 106th Avenue between 96th and 97th Streets in downtown Edmonton. Through its enhancement of the built environment with social housing that enhances the quality of life of its residents, Ambrose Place reaps both social and economic benefits for the City of Edmonton. 

The above image shows Ambrose Place within its urban context. Both within Ambrose Place and the community where it is located, accessibility is a guiding principle. The building is strategically located in the inner city close to many important amenities, which comprise part of the individual residents’ daily lives. Easy access to health-care services - located only a half block to the east - a commercial shopping street - located only a block to the west contribute to the residents’ quality of life. The downtown police station, just north of Ambrose Place provides safety for all its residents. The building increases the density in the community by maximizing the building pocket size and allowable height at four storeys, a height which harmonizes with its surrounding community. It is designed at a scale to fit within its urban context. 


The above image shows an exterior view of Ambrose Place. The modulated roofline and walls with projecting bay windows provide depth and complexity to the building form. The four singular pieces of the building are different colors—red, white, blue, and yellow—making each piece more identifiable. The natural materials used are located close to where individuals can touch and smell. The landscape design incorporates the four elements of Earth, Fire, Water, and Medicine, elements central to the First Nations’ culture and intended to bring additional healing and relevance to its inhabitants. 


This is the main entrance. The new facility consists of four floors, plus an underground parking garage. The top floors contain 42 dwellings: 36 bachelor suites and 6 two-bedroom suites, The main floor consists of shared spaces that include dining room, exercise and tub room, TV and recreation areas, a Quiet Room, staff offices, staff laundry and more. A circular Smudging Hut located in the central lobby focuses as both a physical and spiritual reference point, inside and outside, for residents, staff, and visitors including the neighboring community. As the heart of the building, the Smudging Hut is central to the design concept and is the most decorated and detailed part of the building. 


The above plan shows the main floor of Ambrose Place, which houses all the amenity services including the smudge room. 

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The above plan shows the second, third, and fourth floors of Ambrose Place which houses the 42 living units, all with their own kitchens and bathrooms. 

The above images show an exterior view of the Smudging Hut and Landscaping. 

The above images show an exterior view of the Smudging Hut and Landscaping. 

The above image shows an interior view of the Smudging Hut. 

The above image shows an interior view of the Smudging Hut. 

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The above image shows two views of the bathrooms at Ambrose Place. All 42 suites house bathrooms designed as wet rooms to allow for curbless wheelchair accessible showers. 

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The above image shows an interior view of an adaptable kitchen. At Ambrose Place, we designed 10 adjustable kitchens instead of the required five. We designed an L-shaped counter, which moves up and down to accommodate both residents in wheelchairs and those who have mobility; it is open underneath. For a resident in a wheelchair, he / she can slide a pot along the counter from the sink to the cooktop and back. The upper cabinets have also been constructed to move up and down. This has all been accomplished with nuts, bolts and screws. Extra building costs were minimal. 

Accessible features at Ambrose Place exceed the Barrier Free Design Requirements located in the Alberta Building Code include, simply put, wheelchair accessibility is addressed outside and inside all four levels of the building.. The Alberta Building Code requires five adaptable suites. The provision of these dwelling units needs further classification since it is difficult to anticipate individual needs. Ten suites house adaptable kitchens. Color and texture contrast is used to help all users in their wayfinding.

Persons who are blind or deaf require a common electric circuit interconnecting all rooms and with the potential for connection to the fire alarm, intrusion alarm, intercom and phone system. To ensure that Ambrose Place met these requirements, the design team met with potential residents to ensure that the design met his needs. 

Ambrose Place has changed people’s lives. The four images above feature Ambrose, after whom the building has been named. He died on the streets living as a homeless person. Piano man Ryan was a YouTube sensation playing a piano in an outdoor public space in Edmonton. In the past, he had difficulty remaining in housing due to his addiction and mental health concerns. Ambrose Place has become home for him. Ronalda and Brad live as a couple at Ambrose Place. Ronalda has a chronic respiratory system; Brad has been diagnosed with a terminal disease and has use of only one leg. Homeless for a long time, they stayed in shelters, hotels, and with friends until 2014 when they moved to Ambrose Place. Brad had his first Art Show in February 2016. Valerie was diagnosed and given a life expectancy of two months, after being homeless for the last 20 years with couch surfing and shelters. At Ambrose Place since 2014, she is thriving. Ambrose Place has special meaning to myself, as my father came to Edmonton from Thunder Bay as a young man, and lived homeless for a short period of time. Finding a safe home meant everything to him.