Editorial: Client Champions

A rendering for the new TELUS Garden in Vancouver illustrates how an enlightened client can sponsor architectural innovation. Henriquez Partners Architects
A rendering for the new TELUS Garden in Vancouver illustrates how an enlightened client can sponsor architectural innovation. Henriquez Partners Architects

What defines a client who is effective at “sponsoring” an architect to produce a high-quality design? The answer largely depends upon that client’s clarity of vision and ability to express that vision to the architect she hires. The word “sponsor” is derived from the Latin word spondere, which means to “promise solemnly.” When a client selects an architect, she implicitly promises to “sponsor” or support that architect’s capacity to fulfill a number of stated objectives that will result in good design. Whether the client is a municipality or a publicly traded company, the concept of sponsorship is widely recognized as one that fosters the greatest potential in the architect, provided that communication is open and goals are clearly set. Disaster is likely to result when effective sponsorship is compromised.

Recent examples of healthy sponsorships can be found in the private sector. TELUS, one of Canada’s largest telecommunications companies, hired Vancouver-based Henriquez Partners Architects last spring to begin the design of TELUS Garden, a $750-million project which will include a 44-storey condo tower and a 22-storey office building containing TELUS’s new national headquarters. The project features 10,000 square feet of green roofs that will provide organic produce for local restaurants, two elevated roof forests, and media walls where cultural events can be broadcast to the public. For TELUS President and CEO Darren Entwistle, the project will transform a “fatigued” block of downtown Vancouver into a high-functioning city block with aspects of environmental stewardship and new approaches to the workplace. For several years, Entwistle has been consciously raising the physical presence of his company across Canada with projects that exemplify sustainable design, urban revitalization and adaptive reuse. In 2007, Perkins + Will Canada completed an ambitious renovation for the current TELUS headquarters in Vancouver, using the first double-walled, triple-skinned building solution in the country. In June 2010, the 30-storey TELUS House, designed by Adamson Associates Architects in collaboration with Sweeny Sterling Finlayson &Co Architects, opened in downtown Toronto to critical acclaim. Then in 2011, Place TELUS opened in Quebec City. Designed by ABCP Architecture in collaboration with Claude Guy Architectes, this award-winning project is contributing to the revitalization of Quebec City’s Old Port district, the result of a transformation of a Modernist building that once served as the city’s mail-sorting plant into a contemporary office environment.

Municipalities are also proving successful at sponsoring architects. The City of Edmonton has been organizing architectural competitions to improve the public realm, largely through the efforts of City architect Carol Bélanger. A recent competition for five park pavilions will introduce a new era of innovative public-private ventures. On a larger scale, Edmonton is progressing with the redevelopment of the City Centre Airport Lands where Perkins + Will Canada, in collaboration with Civitas Urban Design and Planning, Group2 Architecture, and Phillips Farevaag Smallenberg, was chosen last spring to lead the redevelopment plans for the eventual creation of a 216-hectare sustainable community.

Sometimes it is useful to cite potentially disastrous situations where effective sponsorship is being undermined. For many years, Waterfront Toronto–an agency established in 2001 by the Government of Canada, the Province of Ontario, and the City of Toronto to oversee the revitalization of Toronto’s waterfront–has expressed a clear set of goals which have resulted in many successfully completed projects along the Central Waterfront and East Bayfront, with additional projects scheduled for completion in the Don Lands and Port Lands. As of the beginning of September, Waterfront Toronto is being threatened by the Mayor of Toronto and his city councillor brother who believe that the government agency is not proceeding fast enough with its development plans in the Port Lands. Inciting anger, criticism, division and confusion, the Mayor and his brother have been conjuring up a series of undefined objectives that might see a giant shopping mall and the world’s largest Ferris wheel replace the agreed-upon vision currently in place. While it appears unlikely that the Mayor and his brother will succeed in destroying any of the current plans and agreements for Toronto’s waterfront, their actions only emphasize the need for clear and reliable client objectives–essential criteria for sponsoring high-quality architecture.