When Bruce McKenzie joined Poon & Associates to create Poon McKenzie in 1990, the local architecture firm was a small operation of eight. By 2006, it had grown to include a staff of 80 and its architects were vying for some of the biggest projects in the area. When Encana announced an international design competition for its headquarters, Poon McKenzie decided to throw their hat in the ring for a chance to design The Bow building.
Poon McKenzie teamed up with award-winning architect César Pelli and Toronto firm NORR Ltd. to put together a submission. They didn’t win the competition but what Poon McKenzie got was far better.
“After the competition, NORR got a bit of an insight into our firm and asked if we’d like to join their global organization, so we joined in 2007,” says NORR Architects Engineers Planners vice president Bruce McKenzie.
It was a good fit at the right time. Poon McKenzie had significant market share in the multi-family arena, senior living and hospitality but was seeking to find ways to achieve continued growth in Calgary. McKenzie and Poon were looking for a way to create exciting opportunities, offer share ownership to staff and achieve more of a global presence. NORR had it all. As an employee-owned organization, staff are rewarded for their collective success and hard work, which appealed to McKenzie. The reputation and experience of the global firm’s architects opened the door to great opportunities.
Whether the branch is in Cambridge or Calgary, Abu Dhabi or Detroit, NORR firms are linked by the same philosophy and vision: to create new standards of design that engage people and enrich the lives of those who use the buildings. That said, each of the nearly 20 locations has its own strengths and specialties and operates specific to the needs of the local market. The Calgary location has diversified its business and while it continues to do significant projects with developers, it has branched into public sector projects as well.
“We have created three studios in our office in Calgary – our highrise commercial studio, our mid-rise mixed use and low-rise studio, and our public studio,” says McKenzie.
The first two are primarily residential projects, while the third includes institutional projects often incorporating in-house interior design. There are teams of professionals who add value to projects, from programming and master planning to interior design and landscape architecture, making NORR Calgary the true definition of an integrated office. Five years ago, the NORR office in Calgary added structural, mechanical and electrical engineers to its roster to further diversify in the market.
“The idea is to present a multidisciplinary practice to our clients so they can choose the services they want to have. Our clients are really happy to be able to one-stop shop in-house, however based on what is best for both the project and the Client, we also enjoy and support working with outside engineering firms,” he says.
Having an architecturally-led office with an engineering component is unique in Calgary, but it’s something NORR Ltd. has done in Ontario for decades. John Parkin started what would become NORR in Toronto in 1938 and by the 1970s the firm had new owners and restructured as Neish, Owen, Rowland & Roy Architects Engineer (later shortened to NORR Ltd.). This too was an integrated practice with one of the named partners being a structural engineer. Theirs was, and remains, a different kind of organization based on creativity, professionalism, and attracting the best people.
The Calgary office employs a diverse workforce made up of different cultural backgrounds and ages, fostering innovation and creativity by leveraging different viewpoints and solutions. Some of the firm’s talent hail from countries like Peru, Colombia, China and Australia. It also boasts 50 per cent women in the office.
“I’m super proud of it, but it didn’t happen on purpose. We just hired good people,” McKenzie say. “Out of our three studios, two of them are led by women.”
NORR Calgary is made up of 110 of the finest people in the business, and it is their dedication and expertise that has made the company a go-to firm in Calgary. As the company grew, it earned the opportunity to participate in larger, more high-design projects. NORR routinely designs multi-family residential projects with hundreds of units that also require master planning and landscaping.
“You’re creating a community. It’s not just designing a building,” he says.
NORR has also become active in large-scale rental projects as well as smaller boutique rental properties like The George on 17 Avenue. While most rentals favour durable design, others like The George exude luxurious and high-end finishing specs. NORR caters to the individual needs and vision of each client while ensuring their wish lists are possible given regulations, market conditions and budget.
“We keep an eye on the market economically to see what is viable so when we’re working with developers we’re up to date and can build a cohesive team that speaks the same language as them,” says McKenzie.
With its experience and knowledge, NORR’s team of professionals are a valued resource who guide clients through the design process no matter how large or small the project. They have a trusted network of trade and professional partners who support the mandate to provide quality service and projects. NORR’s resumé is proof of the high standards and quality output for which the firm is known.
Cidex Group is a regular client, and NORR is working with them on the Hat in the East Village and a sister project, West Village Towers, in the west to bookend the core. It is also working on several seniors’ projects including Wing Kei with construction powerhouse Bird, Revera’s Scenic Acres development with 156 independent living units and 64 memory care units, as well as Westman Village in Mahogany, an impressive aging-in-place community with two levels of seniors’ housing along with apartment-style units, villas, low-rise buildings and single-family homes.
“We call it an inter-generational master-plan community. It’s a beautiful community that has been thought through and carefully planned,” says McKenzie.
Since the beginning, NORR has tackled challenging projects by thinking outside the box and being creative. Centre 10 was slated as residential before Centron Real Estate Development & Construction took over the site. NORR helped them redesign the space, adding a core and creating huge floor plates for commercial use. It also designed a purpose-built LEED building for Engineered Air’s head offices with CANA Construction.
NORR has worked with developer M2i and engineering firm Glotman Simpson to design the sleek and sustainable inner-city project SoBow (South of the Bow) in Inglewood. Repurposing the once-forgotten or underutilized spaces into something that enhances and enriches communities excites the firm. This was the case with Shawnee Slopes golf course which was repurposed to create the town homes and condominiums at Fish Creek Exchange in conjunction with Graywood Developments and Jubilee Engineering.
As NORR moves forward it will continue to grow and evolve to better meet clients’ needs without compromising its high service and quality standards. Whether university residences or Calgary Courts Centre, Banff Hot Springs building renovations or affordable housing developments, NORR Architects Engineers Planners has impacted the Calgary landscape and is proud to design iconic buildings that create a lasting legacy for each client’s brand.