It was tentative, if not experimental at first. When a couple of recent architecture graduates got together to launch their careers, neither of them expected it would be their last job. Bruce Abugov and Frank Kaspar worked alongside their fathers at Bruce’s father’s firm, Abugov and Associates, and once the pair got registered as architects in 1987, they agreed to hang up a shingle of their own to create Abugov-Kaspar Architecture, Engineering, Interior Design.
“We thought we’d try something together for a couple years and see how it went. Thirty years later, we’re still here,” says Frank Kaspar, principal at Abugov-Kaspar.
The union proved to be a successful one. With Abugov’s training in engineering and architecture and Kaspar’s training in fine art and design as well as architecture, the new firm had a wealth of expertise. They soon hired some seasoned, experienced veterans to guide the novices through the early days of the business.
“My father split with his partner, so when we formed our own company we hired our two fathers. It worked well, and they worked for us for another 15 years or so,” says Bruce Abugov, principal at Abugov-Kaspar.
The family atmosphere established at the firm has carried on throughout the decades and now the two principals are proud to be there to guide and teach the younger architects just as their own fathers did for them. It’s a transitional time in business in general, and many companies – including the developers the firm works with – are turning the reins over to the next generation. Abugov-Kaspar too is encouraging its younger staff to take on more responsibility in the office and move forward with a new vision, energy and passion, says Kaspar. The old guard is helping develop the newer professionals by sharing the wisdom of experience as the 30-year-old firm prepares for the next 30.
The principals preach the importance of creative problem solving, collaboration and surrounding themselves with the best possible people. To do that they seek out potential employees who are intelligent and passionate about the industry and their future in the profession as well as their future in the firm. The founders are strong believers in staff development and long-term relationships, which may explain why some staff members have been with the company since its inception. Long-term retention of these loyal employees helps Abugov-Kaspar serve clients better, as it lends consistency and allows the team to build great business and personal ties with their clients. This formula of quality professionals, positive attitudes and solid relationships has been in place since the company was founded, and it has proven to be a winning one. In fact, it is what allowed Abugov-Kaspar to grow into a highly-reputable architecture, urban planning and interior design firm in Calgary and across the globe.
During the early years of the firm, the local economy was in recession so Kaspar looked abroad for opportunities. The fall of communism in the early 1990s presented a great growth opportunity for the team.
“When the Iron Curtain fell in eastern Europe there was great incentive for a lot of these countries to bring western technologies there to accelerate their standard of living and to improve things,” says Kaspar.
Abugov-Kaspar quickly established an international presence. The firm went to Europe to help builders update their infrastructure and move their society forward after years of Communist rule. The Canadian firm was involved in designing everything from office buildings to hotels, residential subdivisions to a world-class Nordic ski centre. By sharing new technology and western building techniques, Abugov-Kaspar introduced a more updated building style and technology to that part of the world.
“Under communism nothing developed beyond what functions,” says Kaspar. “We introduced them to lighter structures and more efficient construction than stone and concrete, and got them up to date on things like HVAC and building envelope design.”
For nearly a decade, the firm worked in eastern Europe and Asia and developed relationships in countries including Germany, China, Russia and Czech Republic. All the while, Abugov-Kaspar was building a strong reputation back home as a full-scope practice offering expertise in all stages of a project, from permits and approvals to final interior design and everything in between.
Over the years, Abugov-Kaspar has become a go-to firm for a wide range of commercial projects including highrise and multi-family residential complexes, historical and adaptive re-use, long-term age-care homes, retail, office and light-industrial projects. The versatile group of professionals can do it all, working on small tenant improvements one day and a $2-billion shopping mall in the United States the next. No matter the size or the client, the quality and individual attention put into each design never wavers. Each client is unique and so is each building – a fact that is a source of pride for the Abugov-Kaspar team.
“We don’t specialize in any one type of building. We think of ourselves as problem solvers, a firm that enjoys challenges. We are proud to say that we don’t have a specific style of architecture in our portfolio. We promote new design solutions. Our design projects take into consideration the site, surrounding context, the local vernacular and culture, the user, the owner/client and the environmental conditions,” says Kaspar.
No two Abugov-Kaspar buildings are alike, and the firm is proud to distinguish itself from those that recycle their designs or repeat elements from one project to the next. Instead, the firm innovates by continually building on a foundation of skills that are then applied to the next individual design. Every building starts with those initial principles gained through experience and then are tailored to the situation according to the client’s specific needs.
“We come to every project with an open mind – no preset or prescribed formula for what has to be done,” says Abugov. “It’s always easier to take a design detail from one building and reuse it on the next one but we take a fresh approach with a fresh set of eyes on each building.”
Those eyes have created a portfolio of incredible buildings that have shaped Calgary’s skyline and beautified communities. And the firm continues to thrive, even during the latest economic downturn. By diversifying and keeping active in many different areas – residential, retail, institutional – Abugov-Kaspar has remained busy while keeping its staff engaged in the varied work they do. The firm doesn’t slot architects into divisions and instead operates as a studio, giving staff the opportunity to work on a wide range of projects.
“It’s hard to put us in a box,” says Abugov. “I think that’s partly why we have been successful. You have to adapt. You have to be nimble and broad enough to move into different types of buildings based on what the market supports and also work in other economies beyond Calgary when the economy here is in flux.”
Today’s companies also need to evolve with the times – or better still to lead the evolution. Abugov-Kaspar has always led in efficiency and sustainable design, even before it was fashionable or mandated. Bruce Abugov earned his master’s degree in environmental engineering and has worked with solar energy since the beginning of his career. The firm was doing infill-type projects and designing mixed-use spaces before there was even a name for them. Over the past 30 years, Abugov-Kaspar has blazed a trail in the industry and worked to create opportunities for growth in good times as well as during the several recessions it has weathered.
As the firm enters its fourth decade in business it will continue to grow and evolve as it serves its clients across the city and around the world.
“We’re in the business of relationships. We want clients to be successful and we like to support them. If they succeed, we all succeed,” says Kaspar.
With a 30-year legacy and hundreds of clients, Abugov-Kaspar has most definitely succeeded.