Pathways is a series in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning which features various paths in the design profession through the unique lens of a diverse set of practitioners. Our goal is to highlight the possibilities of careers in architecture and planning for our new alumni, soon to be graduates and prospective students. Read our profile and interview with Chris Crawford (BEDS’04, MArch’06) and follow the rest of the series as it unfolds!

Chris Crawford is Director of Architecture and Interiors at Fathom Studio, an integrated design practice in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia.

Outdoor Interpretive signage by Fathom Studio, Fundy National Park

In June 2021 Fathom announced a new ownership structure that welcomed Chris and landscape discipline director Devin Segal, to join founder Rob LeBlanc as partners.

Chris has been instrumental in the growth and success of the firm over the last ten years. He has overseen many innovative and award-winning multidisciplinary projects that demonstrate the firm’s commitment to a holistic design approach and integrated process.

Tell us about your path? How did you learn you wanted to be an architect?

Chris Crawford – Partner & Director of Architecture and Interiors, Fathom Studio

I grew up in a family with a “learn by doing” philosophy  that you could design and build anything you really needed. I think these values are an incredible part of the east coast culture and has certainly influenced my career. In University, I enrolled in psychology and sociology which turned into an excellent foundation for understanding how the projects I work on today can improve people’s lives. During my studies, I had the opportunity to take an introduction to architecture class that was open to all university students in Nova Scotia. Seeing the profession’s ability to help people through design and fabrication made me fall in love with the profession. I put in an application to architecture school that year!

Does anything stand out in your memory about the time you were studying? What were your best experiences in architecture school?

In architecture school I was always looking for a deeper meaning to the design work. “Star architecture” really took off during that time and the media celebrated the most expensive flashy private residential projects. However, architectural work that derived from place, culture, and people was the type of work that resonated with me. As a student I had the opportunity to work with Richard Kroeker on the Pictou Landing Health Centre. The project was providing critical health, wellness, and cultural infrastructure to the Pictou Landing First Nation community. This was a great example of a project that strived to meet ecological sustainability, economic sustainability, and cultural sustainability. These values have become something we strive towards in our work at Fathom Studio. This experience was everything I imagined architecture could be – sustainable, rooted in community – and I was inspired.

Tell us about Fathom Studio and what makes it unique. What is behind the name?

Fathom Studio developed with the addition of Architecture to Ekistics Plan + Design and Form Media. We quickly realized the value a diverse group of design professionals can add to a project.

LGBTQ2+ National Monument

The rebranding really helped us define our company goals and strengths. A fathom is a measurement of depth illustrating our company’s depth having architecture, landscape architecture, planning, interpretive planning, wayfinding and branding under one roof solving design challenges through an interdisciplinary process.

A fathom is also a human scale dimension (from fingertip to fingertip). This embodies our commitment to making sure there is a human scale nature to the work and deeper connection to the people that our design is serving and a counterpoint to the international placeless design of the past.

Can you talk about some projects that are a good representation of the studio’s breadth? 

LGBTQ2+ National Monument: We are currently one of five shortlisted teams (with MVRDV and Two Row Architect) working on an international design competition for the LGBTQ2+ National Monument in Ottawa. The project is intended to memorialize discrimination against LGBTQ2+ people in Canada, including those impacted by the LGBT Purge.

Press Block – Barrington Street at George Street

The Press Block: We have just started construction on a very important site for Halifax. Partnered  with Dexel architecture, our office is responsible for architectural design, interior design, landscape architecture, planning and interpretive storytelling. This project will be unique in that it is a private project that seeks to tell a rich interpretive story of the history of the site – the site of the birth of journalism in Halifax. Our team will be integrating the existing heritage buildings and the cultural history of the project though all aspects of design, adding not only public art but a greater connection to place.

Batoche National Historic Site

Batoche National Historic Site: This project demonstrates the unique offering of the firm and the concept of “land art”. The seigneurial, or river lot land division system, can be seen as a narrative through which the culture and struggle of the Métis people can be viewed. From a design perspective it provides a rich tapestry and a foundational narrative for interpreting the landscape.

Street view – Diamond Bailey House

Diamond Bailey House: This project continues our work with the Mi’kmaw Native Friendship (MNFC) centre to design an emergency shelter. The Diamond Bailey House is named after those who dedicated their entire lives to harm reduction within the urban indigenous community. This project will provide 53 beds of critical emergency housing, helping with the transition into longer term housing. Our team worked closely with the MNFC team to develop a project that aims to celebrate indigenous culture and provide a space for healing.

Delmore ‘Buddy’ Daye Learning Institute

Delmore “Buddy” Daye Learning Institute (DBDLI): This project with the  DBDLI involved the adaptive reuse of a brutalist concrete office building. Our team worked closely with the DBDLI team to make sure that this new home embodied the culture of the organization and the ancestry of the community. DBDLI is an Africentric institute that creates educational change for learners of African ancestry to empower them to reach their full potential. Ghanaian culture was a focus of our research, in particular, adinkra symbols, which are essential in that culture to express ideas and tell stories. These essential cultural elements influenced the architecture, signage, and materials of the space. The result was a project that not only provided the functional space that was needed but became a home for the organization and won the Mayor’s Prize in Architecture.

What do you know now that you wish you had when you were starting out as a new graduate?

Something that stood out to me after graduation is that the nature of education can remove the greater context from projects. To address this, I try to encourage a solid understanding of empathy in the work that we do.  This helps new practitioners have a better understanding of the role clients, user groups and the general public play in the practice of design. It helps us tackle design challenges through a multitude of lenses. Our office’s engagement and research opens up rich opportunities for our work to relate in a more meaningful culturally relevant way.

What advice would you give to a young person considering architecture as a career path?

My advice is to view the profession as an opportunity to improve the built environment through design. Understanding that there are many different forms of practice and that having an ability to translate conceptual ideas into physical realizations provides a wide variety of career opportunities beyond traditional architectural practice.

“Strive to be able to address an endless amount of variables within a design challenge and view those challenges from many perspectives.”