By Phil Roberts…
With social responsibility as their core value, the firm of Rayside Labossière practices what it believes – in the office and in the neighbourhoods of Montreal. Its founder, Ron Rayside, was one of four associates of a firm called BDPR (1985-2000), a collective of architects who specialized in projects for community groups and non-profit organizations.
Since 2011, Rayside Labossière has developed into a firm with a passion for social justice and human dignity. Led by Ron Rayside and Antonin Labossière, the practice carries out those values in their projects with various community organizations in Montreal.
The pertinence of their work follows their community-focused approach which requires them to work extremely close with those clients. “This takes years of volunteer work, so we tend to do more than your basic and supplementary architectural services,” says associate, Antonin Labossière. “Our environmental focus enhances the pertinence of our projects, since it is unthinkable today to build a city without concern for conserving our energy resources and quality of life for future generations.”
Now that we’re living in the post-Occupy Wall Street era, where discussions about income inequality and the failure of democratic institutions have become mainstream, companies are changing how they do business. We’ve seen the rise of the sharing economy, led by companies who operate to make a positive change in society.
In the architecture profession, the image of the star practitioner has drastically faded, and in some places public interest design has become the new norm. (Though one could argue that architecture should always be in the public interest). When asked if these ideals of social justice, so prevalent in modern architecture, have returned to contemporary practice, Antonin is less optimistic.
“Unfortunately not, but many of us hope that it will. It is for that reason that our office takes such an interest in social responsibility. Many people have it as a core value, but don’t have the opportunity to apply them in practice. The vast majority of our employees share the social values of our firm.”
This application is evident in how the firm strives to build quality social housing, pushing developers to include a diversity of affordable housing in various projects. “Too often, developers build the most units possible with the funds available, which lead to projects that offer a strict bare minimum quality of life,” bemoans Antonin. “More investment is needed in common areas, landscape architecture and more vibrant shared spaces.”
Canadians sometimes look derisively at the inequality found in American cities, as compared to their cities. Large portions of some American metropolises seem to be filled with underprivileged people, often divided along racial lines. However, Rayside Labossière sees a lot of work to be done to help impoverished communities in Montreal.
“Our office is extremely involved in Montreal’s neighbourhoods, and especially in the area where we are located. A large portion of our profits are reinvested to finance our pro bono work with community groups to improve urban development, to provide assistance to community groups, and to pay for services as citizens do,” explains Antonin. It’s a model of operating a business that puts increasing human dignity of people ahead of bonuses and acquisitions. “This system of sharing our profits stems from our conviction that every citizen has a right to quality public spaces, regardless of their financial situation.”
The two tenants who live above the practice know first hand how beneficial Rayside Labossière is to the community. In 2004, (as Rayside Architecture) the practice built its 3-story, 7,900 sq-ft ecologically friendly building with apartments on the top floor. The building features a roof garden, geothermal heating and other energy saving systems which provide a lot of benefits to the tenants.
“Our tenants benefit in intangible ways, in terms of the pride of being associated with our office, the values that we promote, our deep involvement in the community and the fact that they live in an ecologically friendly building.” says Antonin. Tenants are invited to office events and have developed amicable relationships with certain employees.
Rayside Labossière is the type of company that many people can only dream of working for. The type of enterprise you want remaking a city park or restoring a community centre. And as their tenants might declare with praise, the best landlord you never had.