John "Jack" Koayashi was born in Montreal, Quebec, June 2nd, 1963. During the Second World War, Jack's family was subjected to Canada's anti-Japanese laws, which confiscated the property of families along the west coast, and forced them to relocate to the interior. Jack's mother was amongst those subjected to these laws. His father, was spared this fate, as he was already a logger in the interior of British Columbia. Following the war, Jack's family tried to move to Toronto. However, at this time, Canadians of Japanese ancestry were required to get approval from any municipality they moved to in Canada. They were denied residency in Toronto, and subsequently moved to Montreal instead.
Jack's father's claim to fame was working for Eagle Toys, where he designed a version of table-top hockey that was popular in Canada and worked around existing patents. Jack would grow up playing with toy prototypes. His interest in architecture, however, came from a unique place. As a child, Jack was was interested in becoming a police officer, and enjoyed drawing. Eventually, Jack would draw a floor-plan for a police station, sparking an interest in architecture. Another activity that encouraged Jack's interest in architecture were family trips to Toronto, where he saw the Raymond Moriyama designed Ontario Science Centre.
Jack was unable to attend architecture school immediately after high school, instead taking urban planning at the University of Waterloo. There, he would study under Kiyoshi Izumi, notable architect with Izumi Arnott Sugiyama in Regina, Saskatchewan. From there, Jack studied architecture at the University of Manitoba, where his uncle, Ron Kobayashi, also studied architecture. It was fortunate that he attended in the 1980s, just before some of the university's most notable modernist professors retired. Jack received his Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo in 1986, and a Masters of Architecture from the University of Manitoba in 1992.
After graduating, Jack worked at IBI Group Inc. Here, he gained an appreciation of company director Phillip Beinhaker's style of architecture, planning, and entrepreneurship. Afterwards, he worked briefly with Etienne Gaboury. While working for Gaboury, Jack worked alongside James Nishikawa, another notable Winnipeg architect of Japanese decent.
Kobayashi + Zedda Architects Ltd. (KZA) was founded in 1993 by Kobayashi and partner Antonio Zedda, and is the largest architecture firm operating out of Canada’s north. The firm is much acclaimed, with notable projects like the Horwood's Mall in Whitehorse, Yukon.
KZA, by virtue of working in Canada’s sparsely populated northern territories, does not specialize, and designs a wide range of buildings and architectural features. Similarly, the firm also works as its own developer, property manager, and retailer. KZA works alongside its partner firm 360 Design Build (360 DB), providing urban planners, architects, general contractors, and carpenters. Lastly, KZA strives to provide design that is regionally appropriate, sustainable, all while integrating First Nations input.
Both Kobayashi and Zedda are well travelled, exploring the world for the nuances in design that make it functional. They point towards specific cases: Japanese bathrooms, where water from sinks are recycled in the adjacent toilets, and prefabricated designs that eschew the notion of ‘cheapness’. Both of these, no doubt, have meaningful applications to the often-inaccessible Canadian north.
The firm's approach to design can also be described as playful and community oriented. An example would be Baked, the cafe Kobayashi and Zedda own in downtown Whitehorse. At the same time, the cafe, along with Horwood's Mall, seek to make spaces friendly to pedestrians, and foster stronger a community.