John Stephenson says it’s not easy to be an architect in Northern Ontario.
Stephenson is the president of the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA), spoke with local architects recently in North Bay.
Stephenson, who works out of Thunder Bay, says smaller centres in the province have challenges in a very competitive landscape.
“What tends to happen in smaller communities is the bigger firms - when bigger urban centres are slow they go look outside their home community to the smaller communities and they come in and cherry pick bigger, more complex projects that they have a better competitive position to pursue,” said Stephenson.
“The flip side of this is clients in these smaller communities and how they procure architectural services often bias the process in favour of the big firms that have bigger portfolios, deeper portfolios of previous projects.”
That makes it difficult, especially when it comes to securing bigger projects.
“RFP’s that have as criteria ask you to submit five previous projects completed in the last five years and evaluate based on these projects,” notes Stephenson.
“So in North Bay, if it is new high school that is being built in North Bay, ask yourself how many new high schools have been built in North Bay over the past five years? Probably only one or maybe none.”
Stephenson says clients need to realize there is more to finding a good architect than making a decision based solely on a deep project resume.
“A good architect who is the master of the process can be a very good school designer applying the skills that they have that are very transferable to the design of the project but clients don’t always recognize the transferability of those skills,” said Stephenson.
“So there is an indication process that the profession needs to embark upon to help clients understand that and procure those services that they need in a way that keeps the market open and encourages innovation and not just more of the same old stuff.
Stephenson believes there should be more focus on innovation as opposed to experience.
“The innovation you may get from that designer would be less than you would get from an energetic young firm that is taking on a high school project for the first time in their career,” stated Stephenson.