Deconstruction Over Demolition: Manasc Isaac Architects


Everyday activism encompasses many sustainable behaviors and processes, such as turning off lights when a room isn’t being used or turning off water taps while brushing your teeth. It also challenges large-scale projects. Manasc Isaac is an Edmonton-based architectural firm that focuses on sustainable design. Manasc Isaac has received numerous honors for its sustainable design and style. Manasc Isaac was recognized for creating Alberta’s first C-2000-certified green building. He also designed Edmonton’s first certified Silver LEED (“Our Work”) building. It achieved between 50 and 60 points out of a possible 110 in seven categories, with energy savings of 35-50% compared to non-certified buildings. Martina Kitsch (2012) points out that architecture and design can be used as a catalyst to promote social sustainability and inclusion. The company’s efforts to deliver integrated engineering and architecture that meets current needs without compromising future generations’ ability to do so focus on five key areas: sustainable site development, indoor environmental quality, water efficiency, energy efficiency, and material selection. Students in MacEwan University’s Documentary Photography class, as part of the Design Studies program, Dana Dusterhoft, and Jonathon Schell, noticed the environmentally-friendly mandate.


Dusterhoft, Schell, and a photographer were tasked with creating a photographic essay about sustainability in everyday life. Two very different backgrounds led to the two photographers. Schell, whose father is a member of the Green Party, has been an avid environmentalist throughout her life. Dusterhoft is from Alberta’s oil-rich Drayton Valley. She was only aware of environmental issues once she moved to Edmonton in 2011. The initial ideas for the project revolved around traditional imagery and institutions associated with the environment, such as Parks Canada’s natural settings (Dusterhoft & Schell, personal communication June 2, 2014). The two photographers were prompted by the abundance of construction activity in Edmonton and saw an opportunity to use their photography skills to document the unusual topic of sustainable architecture. They found Manasc Isaac architects’ website through online research. Then they met Garth Crump, an architectural technologist who guided them through the shoot and shared key concepts and the benefits of Manasc Isaac technologies.


Interviews and photographs were used to document Manasc Isaac’s projects in the city. The majority of the photography was done in March 2014. The photographers worked with Mr. Crump to shoot completed projects and sites still in development. This included the Manasc Isaac offices and Vivian Manasc’s downtown loft. Also, the client buildings ABSA (Alberta Boilers Safety Association) and Edmonton Research Park are on the south side. Each location showcased a different aspect and vision of Manasc Isaac operations. The two researchers built a collection of photos and then selected the best to represent their research. They then organized them in a final layout based on the location.

The cover slide shows the project for downtown PCL offices. Images of building cranes mirroring in the glass exterior reflect sustainable architecture and construction practices. This material is commonly used in the firm’s designs. The idea is dominated by the contrast between the blue sky and the willowy clouds representing nature.

The Manasc Isaac Edmonton operations inspire the first set of photos. These images capture the openness and fun of the office, highlight the sustainability practices used, and show the values of Manasc Isaac. Although the Manasc Office photoset’s first image appears to be a brightly colored ottoman and couch, it exemplifies the firm’s relaxed and open approach. It also highlights the office’s unique design, which has various gathering and creative spaces—the rest of the Manasc Office photoset documents this corporate philosophy. Schell captured a large office view with his Sigma 18-35 wide-angle lens. Schell also showed how the company deconstructed interior walls to let natural light in from both sides. Schell also displayed the fantastic 100% recycled and recyclable carpet with its dark color and gradients of gray and green (Schell personal communication June 2, 2014). The last image, which features an adorable Yorkshire Terrier sitting on top of a stack of blueprints, perfectly represents how the company values comfort and health in creating a welcoming workplace.

The second set of photos focuses on Vivian Manasc, cofounder of Manasc Isaac and Senior Principal Architect (“Vivian Manasc”) Contact. The penthouse she resides in, situated on top of a building that her company has redesigned, was a tiny oasis of technological innovation. Even during a severe storm, the temperature inside the utility room, which was repurposed from a building, was kept at a comfortable temperature by insulation and waste heat. Dusterhoft found Manasc’s penthouse an opportunity to use photography again to dispel the notion that reused material is “old and trashy.” Personal communication, June 2, 2014. Dusterhoft captured the modern, retro-inspired look of Manasc’s retro furniture aesthetic. This is a testament to Manasc’s commitment to the environment. Schell’s contributions to this project again emphasize the technology being used. The far-away shot shows Vivian Manasc’s penthouse and the building she helped to redesign. However, close images in Schell’s angular style show solar paneling attached to the penthouse. It catches the sun even during mid-march snowstorms (personal communication, June 2, 2014.).

Manasc Isaac’s green technology is featured in the Alberta Boilers Safety Association Building photoset. The ABSA employee breakroom is at the top of the images. The room’s high ceilings and exposed lumber were not just aesthetic. The wood was locally sourced, and the contrast is provided by the dark furniture and recycled flooring (personal communication, June 2, 2014.). The second image shows impressive high-tech flooring. The vent system, a modular zone control heating/cooling system with electrical capability, is almost entirely in-floor. Access is made by simply lifting the floor panel (Schell personal communication July 16, 2014). To accommodate layout changes, extensions, cords, or renovations usually are required. This specialized flooring reduces waste significantly if repairs or reorganization are needed. This principle is the basis of HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning). It allows additional vents to be run, and the system reprograms when necessary during frigid winters and hot summers. The exterior’s sloped sides provide a view of the outside and show how simple design elements (in this case, the slope of walls and roof) can mitigate weather variations. The sloped design captures less sunlight during summer but more during winter, reducing cooling and heating costs.

These divergent ideas culminated in the final photos of the Servus Credit Union. This building represents Manasc Isaac’s design aesthetic and sustainable practices and is uniquely suited for the photographers’ individual style. While Manasc Isaac reused furniture and materials in other locations, the Edmonton Corporate Centre of Servus Credit Union was repurposed entirely (personal communication, June 2, 2014. This is an excellent example of the company’s commitment to demolition. Manasc Isaac removed the interior that was too crowded, and windows and skylights let natural light in throughout the day. Although sensitive information and customer privacy prohibited photography in some regions of Manasc Isaac’s bank, the photoset is still a great example of what Manasc Isaac aims to achieve. The opening image of the Servus Set conveys all of these ideas in one clear picture. It shows an open interior that was once a crowded core with concrete and cubicles. Angular contours, bright natural light, and bright natural lighting accentuate this image. Silver LEED certified. The photographers also focused on the unique exterior siding tile system. These tiles can be easily removed and replaced separately, which eliminates costly waste in case of damage. They can also be reused for other projects in the rare event that a building is torn down. The green panels below the windows are a reflection of the designers’ aesthetics as well as their environmental consciousness. Meanwhile, the bright blue sky with clouds serves as a negative space in the structure (personal communication, June 2, 2014.).

The photographs show the architectural side of the project. However, to add depth and color to the photos, the pair used a set of pastel colors in green and teal to reflect the environment. The squirrel is not only meant to be a symbol of their professor’s analogy that a squirrel collects information and photos like nuts in its cheeks but also to reflect the environment in a manner that reflects the joy the photographers had in discovering about the company.

Conservation and Construction

When considering sustainable practices and everyday activism, it is essential to consider the connection between people and places. Many people spend large swathes of their lives indoors. It is necessary to consider how their environment affects them and the world around them. What we build is as important as how we make it. How a society grows is directly affected by how it is built. Sustainability throughout this process is crucial to shaping the future. Manasc Isaac envisions a future of zero-carbon communities. The architectural firm is not content to make a few green buildings but envisions whole communities that can rely on exceptional energy conservation and onsite renewables to provide all their heating, cooling, and electricity. They will continue to be an example of sustainable practices in other industries, even though they are not often associated with the environmental movement. Documentary photography is a visual way to show how everyday activism can positively impact large-scale projects.

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