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Do we need it? Thoughtful design in Nada’s construction

Welcome to Episode 2 of our “Building a Low Impact Grocery Store” blog series! ICYMI – we’re almost done construction of Nada and have learned a lot about how to build and renovate with as little impact as we know how. Yesterday, we shared our overall construction decision process, which basically consisted of seven questions:

  1. Do we need it? Are we sure we need it?
  2. Do we already have it?
  3. Is someone giving it away?
  4. Can we purchase it second-hand?
  5. What about pre-loved? Or reclaimed?
  6. OK, are we sure we’ve exhausted all of our options for finding it second-hand?
  7. OK fine, fine, fine. If we really have to buy it new, what can we do to make this the best purchase possible?

Today, we’re expanding on how we tackled that first question, with a look at some of our partners in design!

Do we need it? Are we sure we need it?

The first step to out build-out was thoughtful design. As we’ve said before, this was our first time going through a store build-out, and though we had a pretty fabulous challenge, we didn’t really have much idea where to start. Asking the question “Do we need it?” can be challenging without a clear frame of reference.

With limited expertise, it was easy for us to look at these decisions and think that every idea would be necessary – from an on-site herb and vegetable garden to a children’s play area. (We admit, both of these would have been fantastic, but not strictly necessary for our opening!) On the other hand, there were a lot of technical items that might not have seemed necessary to us – but turned out to be essential for our intent to build the store with low(er) impact.

So, how did we go from “Do we think we might need it?” to “Are we sure we need it?” That’s where our partners in design came in! We partnered with values-aligned designers who we could trust to tell us what was a good idea vs. what might be a bit far-fetched. Given that they’re all experts in their field, they were able to help us determine what we actually needed, and provide us with the options that fit our values, brand, and budget.

Introducing – the Architects!

Before we even found 675 East Broadway, we were connected to our amazing architecture team at ZAS Architects + Interiors – Architectural Director Matt Hessey, Interiors Associate Leigh Collyer and their team members Sara Koedi and Thais Schmitt. ZAS is a full-service architecture firm who have recently begun to work with social purpose real estate projects – such as recently completed BC ArtsScape in Vancouver’s Chinatown, and EMBERS Eastside Works, also slated to open this month.

While a lot of design and architecture tends to focus on the aesthetics of a project, ZAS’ design focuses on whole project delivery: they helped us find the right site, navigate the lease process, connect with values-aligned contractors, and design in a way that could help and multiply our impact.

Left to right: Our building plans; Leigh & Thais poking through our steel studs; Halloween at ZAS; Leigh & Thais in a meeting with our GC Adam and PM Shaun (Naturally Crafted)!

Matt & Leigh were essential in ensuring that the build was as green as it can be, helping us to navigate the requirements of both LEED and ASHRAE standards, but more than that, they were incredible flexible in adjusting the plans real-time to accommodate fixtures and equipment that we found second-hand. We can’t tell you the number of times we called them up saying “We just found a great fixture on Craigslist/Kijiji/out in the world. Can it work with our plans?”. They would immediately jump on the phone with their mechanical & electrical engineer team (from MCW) and with us on one phone and MCW on the other, they would do their best to make it work. It’s been a real collaborative effort with a lot of moving parts, and we couldn’t be more grateful for their continual desire to make it work.

On the topic of “Do we need it?” – Matt & Leigh were very adept at understanding that we were not trying to create less environmental impact, but we were also working within a budget. They looked for ways throughout the process to reduce the scope in ways that were aligned with our mission. For example, when they saw our site already had a washroom and janitor’s closet in a shared corridor, they found a way to make that work, rather than building one new specifically for our unit. We reduced our construction impact (and our budget!) by not building as much and sharing services instead.

Introducing – the Design Team!

Our design team is also a story of collaboration and connection – as it all started with the brains behind our rebrand (hey, remember when we were called Zero Waste Market?): our advisor Jane Cox and her design team at Cause+Affect. (Cause+Affect was also the brand consultancy for VIFF, Fairer, and modo, among others!) Jane and her team helped us develop a brand that truly reflects Nada and its values, so we knew we wanted here team on board. Jane connected us with two of her former colleagues who translated our brand and values into a fantastic store build-out!

Our graphic designer, Zia Somjee, was part of our design team at Cause+Affect (he’s now started his own graphic design agency – ZAK!). Having helped develop the Nada brand from the beginning, Zia just gets us. He was responsible for the coverings you currently see on our windows, has designed much of the signage throughout the store, and has developed some sweet graphics that you’ll see popping up later this month!

Left to right: Becki with a parking lot full of second-hand fixtures; close-up of graphics; inspiration board for using reclaimed materials; window coverings by Zia.

Also formerly at Cause+Affect, Becki Chan came on as our spatial designer. Becki is a spatial designer and jewelry designer as well as the organizer for PechaKucha Vancouver! We love working with Becki because she is super resourceful, good at working within our budget, and amazing at working with reclaimed materials. Each time we found a new(-to-us) piece, we would not only run it by Matt & Leigh to see if it fit the space, but also ran it by Becki to see how it could fit our brand. She has an incredible eye for seeing the potential in materials, and more often than not found ways to transform the pieces into an effortless extension of our design. She also helped us source sustainable options for in-store signage and printing services, and designed our feature wall, which uses reclaimed materials to highlight our community partners!

A sneak peek at future blogs

We have plans to tell you all about some of our other partners as we share stories from the build-out, but for a sneak peek, here’s the who’s who of Nada’s construction:

General Contractor: Adam Corneil from Naturally Crafted (also with Unbuilders)
Project Manager: Shaun St-Amour from Naturally Crafted (also with Footprint Sustainable Homes)
Electrical: Wicks Electric
Plumbing: Sabtech Plumbing & Drainage
Millwork: Woodshop Co-op

The big lesson to take away from this episode is that when we’re stumped with a problem, we’re certainly not alone! We’re incredibly fortunate to have a host of values-aligned designers and contractors (and suppliers and community partners and customers) to learn from, and we can’t wait to share more about what we learned!!