Design-forward development: the aesthetics of placemaking


If you visit the "People" page of the icona website, you may notice that each leadership portrait features the same distinctive chair. Emerald green, translucent and undulating, it catches the light and commands attention in every shot. There is a story behind the chair—a story that illustrates an important aspect of icona's design philosophy. Read on to learn more.  

The importance of art in development

The story of the chair begins with an aspect of placemaking that is often overlooked by developers as they balance the many elements that go into a new residential, commercial or mixed-use space. In addition to bylaws, codes and legislation, they must factor in considerations such as accessibility, sustainability, durability, safety and cost, to name just a few. Amid all these competing needs and requirements, it's easy to lose sight of design and the aesthetic appeal of the built environment.

In fact, these elements are sometimes seen as non-essential or even frivolous. But creativity is central to the mission of creating places that truly matter to the people who live, work and play in them. Weaving beautiful and sometimes surprising design choices into the fabric of our daily lives can spark a moment of joy or contemplation. It signals that our environment exists to lend dignity to our lives, not just meet our basic needs.  

Designing for health, happiness and creativity

Humans are deeply influenced by their visual environment, a fact that is unlikely to surprise anyone who has ever felt moved by a work of art or a beautiful sunset. Research proves that colours, shapes, light and spatial relations can change the way we feel, the choices we make and the actions we take. Here are a few examples.

  • Incorporating art into the workplace makes employees more productive and less stressed.
  • Patients who are given access to an attractive view through a hospital window have shorter recovery times, reduced pain and fewer post-surgical complications.
  • Specific decor types (such as rounded furniture shapes) can enhance creativity and  concentration.  

For our communities to reflect the best interests of its members, developers must understand and leverage the beneficial impact of art and design on community wellbeing.

Elevating the ordinary through creativity and craftsmanship

The power of art and design brings us to full circle to the chair that features in each leadership portrait. The Ella chair was designed by Jacopo Foggini, an artist and designer who currently lives and works in Milan. His work has appeared in dozens of galleries and venues worldwide as well as shaping the visuals for events such as Opening Ceremony of the Torino Olympic Games (2006), Moscow Design Week (2011), and Milan Design Week (2014).

Each of icona's leadership portraits feature the Ella chair because it embodies our design principles: a commitment to using innovation, creativity and craftsmanship to find the perfect balance between comfort, aesthetics, sustainability and durability.

To create the Ella chair, Foggini took an industrial material called methacrylate that was used primarily in automotive construction. After much experimentation, he invented a machine that could heat this material to a temperature at which it becomes pliable and can be molded by hand to create what he describes as "luminous shapes." Although these chairs are "designed," they present as sculptural pieces. Each one is entirely unique, yet immediately recognizable as the Ella. By looking at a humble material differently, he turned a functional object into a work of art that is playful and fluid.  

icona's approach to art, design and community

At icona, creativity is one of the five values that shapes our approach to development. That spirit of creativity drives us to embrace technology, learn from others and chart new approaches to solving big challenges. It also inspires us to use aesthetics and design to enhance quality of life for the people who occupy the spaces we create. As a result, our team pays careful attention to elements that are often overlooked in development, such as the effective use of lighting, colour, scale and materials.  

For example, we are exploring the potential of mass timber, a composite wood product that provides the warmth and beauty of wood along with enhanced strength and sustainability. We are also using new, collaborative processes for generating community-centric design, such as the community co-design workshops held in Anmore South to engage residents in the design process at the earliest stages.  

By adopting a design-forward development approach, icona can leverage yet another powerful means of enhancing the health, happiness, productivity and creativity of the people we build for.

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