An Interview With Jay Lim of 25:8 Architects & Urban Design In Ottawa, Ontario

Welcome to, where today we’re interviewing Jay Lim (OAA, AIA, LEED), to discuss his love for producing interesting designs for everyday living spaces.

As the founder of the international and award-winning firm 25:8 Architecture & Urban Design, this firm has a diverse portfolio in the residential, commercial, and institutional realm. Lim’s commitment to excellence in research, design, materiality, and innovation spans across all of this firm’s diverse range of projects.

Lim is also an Educator and has taught at several universities including Columbia UniversityUniversity of Waterloo, and Ryerson University. He is currently an Adjunct Professor in Building Technology + Architectural Design at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.



Jay Lim. Image Courtesy of Carleton University


Lim’s 25:8 office is located in Canada’s vibrant capital city of Ottawa; with its beautiful canal and waterfront trails, historic sites, charming suburbs, as well as bustling downtown which are home to the countless Government of Canada buildings. With such a diverse social, political, and natural landscape, Ottawa has its challenges when it comes to navigating redevelopment due to the many policies, bylaws, and heritage protection requirements that are part of the urban planning and design framework. This is where 25:8’s expertise shines under the guidance of their Principal, Jay Lim.


Here is what Jay has to say about his path to becoming an Architect, in addition to how he is using his education and experience to design innovative custom homes:

Andrew (AC): What’s your background, and what inspired you to get into your field?

Jay (JL): I grew up outside of Toronto. I did an undergraduate degree in Architecture at Ryerson University. Immediately after I completed a Master in Architecture degree at Syracuse University. The opportunity to study in the USA led me to work in New York City for a couple of years at firms like KPF (Kohn Pedersen Fox)  and Pei Cobb Freed (I.M Pei’s firm). In 2007 I went back to school and earned a Masters Degree in Urban Design from Columbia University. In 2008 after graduating from Columbia, we started 25:8 Research + Design (a precursor and research arm of 25:8 Architecture + Urban Design) in Canada. The practice was started after we won an international competition to design emergency housing for New York City. In parallel to my professional life, I have always stayed active in academia and taught or been on the jury of places including Ryerson, University of Waterloo, Conestoga College, Algonquin College, New Jersey Institute of Technology, and now, Carleton University.

I was inspired to get into architecture when I was young and seeing my parents build a home. I had an ability to draw, so I would often envision other ways I would have designed the house. Eventually, that led to my life in Design.


AC: I know what you mean, I feel like most Architects are artists first, and designers second! What’s one of the projects you’re working on right now in Canada that excites you?

JL: We are currently working on building our portfolio of great renovation projects. We have discovered that many of our clients live in great neighbourhoods, but their houses were built 50-100 years ago and their layout doesn’t fit their current lifestyle. Our #Melbourne_Rebourne project is putting an addition onto an old farmhouse. On our “Y-Knot” house, we are shifting the paradigm of the function and circulation in a traditional Ranch house. We get excited about solving problems in unique ways that our clients could never imagine.



Above: #Melbourne_Reboourne Rendering by 25:8 Architects. Image courtesy of Jay Lim



AC: Yes – finding solutions to problems also inspires me too! What trends or changes do you see coming in your industry which you like, or don’t like?

JL: One trend we are seeing is the need to work from home, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are now organizing our spaces and have even created a ‘Zoom Room’ in our #Y-Knot House.

One trend that seems to be pervasive which we are not too fond of is [the] ‘copycat’ design and the tendency for designers to ‘add’ too many materials to a façade. For us, it seems the be extraneous, costly, and not very refined.



Above: #Y_Knot House Rendering by 25:8 Architects. Image courtesy of Jay Lim



AC: How do you – or what do you do – to find your creative inspiration‎ today?

JL: We are active in continuing to review magazines and websites to see what other firms are doing. We also take inspiration from the vernacular of our projects. We are strong believers that certain areas have a style that has been developed over generations because it succeeds. Whether it’s the form (pitched roofs) or materials (metal or brick), we take our cues from the surrounding so we can design something that is of its time but simultaneously local. This is what Kenneth Frampton would call ‘cultural regionalism’



Above: #Melbourne_Reboourne Rendering by 25:8 Architects. Image courtesy of Jay Lim



AC: Are there any reoccurring/consistent concepts in your work that carry over from one project to another?

JL: Our first belief is to not come into any project with any preconceived ideas. We speak with our clients and we try to ‘solve the problem’. Everyone is different and ultimately the success of a project is when we make their house fit their lifestyle, instead of having the family try to fit their lives into their existing house.

Our Second theme is creative flexibility. This means that we are willing to try different organizations, forms, or materials in order to solve the problem. For example, if our client has budget issues we may use plywood for the floors, walls, and ceilings instead of traditional materials. In another example, our client said they liked rock climbing, so we designed a 4-storey rock wall in their stairwell. These things are only possible when our clients are open-minded to coming up with unique solutions.


AC: That sounds so fun! What is your favourite – or most compelling – ‎example of Canadian houseporn?

JL: Personally I have always kept abreast of the work of Sutcliffe & Shim. I think their work is solid and well designed. My favourite house though is the laneway house by Superkul. I am always pleased when I see people doing so much with so little.


AC: Finally, as a firm ethos, what aspects of custom design does 25:8 prioritize to make a lasting impression on clients, or to whoever is using the building?

JL: At 25:8, our ethos is we think of every project as unique and we make sure it is bespoke to the needs of our clients.  We believe that “Good Design is not more expensive… it’s just more thoughtful”.  We also take a different method of design. Instead of having the clients tell us what they want, we ask them ‘what is the problem?’ then we try to solve it.

For example, originally one of our clients asked for a room for a home office, but the house wasn’t big enough to have a separate room for JUST an office. The reality was that the ‘problem’ was they liked working in the kitchen but needed a place to take video conference calls, which was not in their bedroom or where their kids were. So to solve the problem we actually created a ‘Zoom Room’ which is only 3’x 6’ (sort of like a phone booth). The room is acoustically separated, has natural light, and a professional backdrop for business meetings. This solution to the ‘problem’ was more efficient with space and more economical than building an entirely new office addition.



Above: All Decked Out Rendering by 25:8 Architects. Image courtesy of Jay Lim



Thank you Jay for the engaging and comprehensive journey into the brains of 25:8!

To learn more about Jay Lim visit 25:8 Architecture + Urban Design.


Check out these other interesting interviews with some remarkable Canadians in the design and architecture industry:

– An Interview With Joel Tanner Of SMPL Design Studio

– An Interview With HGTV Interior Designer Jane Lockhart

– An Interview With David Grant-Rubash Of Toronto’s PHAEDRUS Studio

– An Interview With Toronto Designer Adam Fullerton

– An Interview With Interior Designer Jaclyn Harper

– An Interview With Vancouver Architect Gair Williamson



Written and researched by Andrew Cara; Master of Architecture Design Student at Carleton’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism

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