Editorial: Two Emerging Practices

The Bloc_10 housing development won an Award of Excellence for innovation. Its creators, Winnipeg-based 5468796 Architecture, also garnered this year's Emerging Practice Award.  James Brittain
The Bloc_10 housing development won an Award of Excellence for innovation. Its creators, Winnipeg-based 5468796 Architecture, also garnered this year’s Emerging Practice Award. James Brittain

Over the past three years, Architecture Canada | RAIC has expanded its awards program with a particular focus on early-career architects. Three new prizes recognize an exceptional intern (yet to be announced), a registered architect under the age of 35, and a recently founded practice.

This year, Montreal-based Maxime-Alexis Frappier and Winnipeg firm 5468796 Architecture were honoured, respectively, with the Young Architect and inaugural Emerging Architectural Practice Awards. The categorical distinction is somewhat misleading, in that Frappier’s work has principally appeared under the banner of the firm ACDF Architecture, while 5468796’s achievements are closely linked to the efforts of its co-founders, Johanna Hurme and Sasa Radulovic. Both firms have managed to elide the private residential work that many new practices depend upon, quickly establishing a portfolio of notable institutional and commercial projects.

How did they do it? In Frappier’s case, an intern architect position with Saucier + Perrotte architectes landed him in what was then a relatively small firm, which had just completed the award-winning Collège Gérald-Godin and was beginning to secure commissions in Ontario. He rapidly became the junior project architect for McGill University’s Schulich School of Music–a role that in a larger office would have been assigned to more senior staff. “There was an acceleration of getting knowledge,” says Frappier, who recalls being so absorbed with work that he once left his car illegally parked for two months. “They were giving me a lot of trust, and I was learning how to be a lead architect.”

Instead of continuing with Saucier + Perrotte in hopes of eventually making partner, Frappier struck out on his own to found ACDF in his early 30s. He strategically chose to partner not with his peers, but with more established architects: Sylvain Allaire and Guy Courchesne, who had recently dissolved their practice ABCP, and Frappier’s thesis advisor Benoit Dupuis, formerly of firm Dupuis LeTourneux. They lavished a great deal of attention on their first project as a new firm, an industrial building for St-Germain Égouts et Aqueducs, which resulted in a Governor General’s Award. This proved the firm’s competence in mid-scale work. Leveraging their early recognition, combined portfolios, and previous client contacts, ACDF has subsequently secured a steady stream of design-forward institutional commissions in municipalities surrounding Montreal.

5468796, for its part, was founded in 2007 by University of Manitoba classmates Johanna Hurme and Sasa Radulovic, with Colin Neufeld joining the partnership a few years later. Hurme and Radulovic had previously worked together at Cohlmeyer Architecture when they decided to strike out on their own. “We expected to be doing small-scale projects and renovations for the first years,” says Hurme. Instead, they lucked into a local market of developers willing to bet on inventive designs, with few competing young design firms around at the time.

One early client was Jeff Badger, an experienced developer who had previously met Hurme and Radulovic when they were working at Cohlmeyer. Soon afterwards, Mark Penner, president of the newly founded Green Seed Development Corporation, was referred to 5468796 by CentreVenture Development Corporation, a City of Winnipeg development agency that provides bridge financing for downtown projects. In short course, the firm gained expertise and built credibility by learning to speak the language of these and other developers. Both Frappier and Hurme are quick to admit that luck and good timing has played an important role in the success of their firms. Certainly, they are among many highly talented young designers and graduates. But plenty of hard work and preparedness were also key. “Chance affects everything; let your hook always be cast,” advised Ovid. “In the stream where you least expect it, there will be fish.”

Elsa Lam elam@canadianarchitect.com