By Phil Roberts…
Art and business are mutually exclusive only to those entrenched in either position. The artistic minded want to be true to the art, while the business-oriented want to be true to the bottom line. However, individuals who see how both can complement each other are those who, through their craft, produce ideas that can provide a return on investment beyond dollars, overflowing into joy.
Luc Bouliane Architect (LBA) in Toronto produces a lot of joy. When asked why having business acumen is important to him as an architect, Luc describes how vital it is for running a firm. “Most architects receive very little business education in architecture school, beyond courses in professional practice.” Natasha Lebel, the firm’s managing partner and studio director, has an EMBA from the Schulich School of Business. She also has additional business education from the Kellogg School of Management. Along with her architectural background, she draws from over 15 years experience developing product ideas and strategies for some of North America’s biggest corporations. Natasha’s insights give LBA a high level of business sageness that their clients appreciate. That expertise helps LBA to determine what their clients want as a business and help them find solutions that allow them to excel as business and institutional cultures.
Particularly for their mid-sized clients, having leaders who place the needs of their clients and users on the same step of importance as the design, facilitates how LBA is able to navigate nuanced relationships and disparate requirements of the stakeholders involved in each project.
“We see every design opportunity as an opportunity to enhance a business’s or an institution’s product or service,” says Luc. He credits Stephen Teeple – his former employer and close friend – for establishing the significance business plays in the architectural profession. “Stephen taught me a lot about architecture and design, and how to merge an organization’s vision into an architectural response.”
An example of this art-business orientation can be found in many of LBA’s projects, where colour and light are used to maximize a project’s potential, by balancing design intention and financial resources. “We understand that not every client has a large budget, so using bright colours to manipulate space is an inexpensive way to achieve an impactful result while respecting the client’s budget.”
At York University’s Student Centre Food Court, LBA worked with colleagues at ID Workshop to re-awakened the original style of the 1990’s building, an evocative sculptural concrete interior designed by Diamond Schmidt Architects, by removing several layers of ad-hoc interior renovations, and making the space current and vibrant with bright coloured seating and light surfaces, enhanced by the building’s poignant artificial and natural lighting.
For the Toronto offices of Cossette V7 Advertising , the colours of the interiors are so bright that one of the agency’s executives frequently shares his joy with Luc about the feelings he gets when moving around the space. The project, completed in joint venture with Teeple Architects, presented equal challenges and opportunities. The building was technically a large shed, and had originally served as a WWII munitions factory: filled with offices and small studios over the years, the building demanded a fresh start and a new paradigm. Getting the client to see through the noise was difficult at first, and it was only until after demolition that the vastness of the space was revealed to them, and the possibilities became vividly apparent. Delineating the great volume with colours and functional forms created an office space that embodied the organizational culture of Cossette, which strengthened the agency’s image with their own clients.
“You can’t make an argument for form itself”, explains Luc. “You must make a case to the clients that this unique form is good for business.”
Phil Roberts is the creative director of sixty7 Architecture Road.