Architecture is an economic driver: panel discussion

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Tom Pechloff
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Good architecture means a good bottom line.

The Ottawa Convention Centre

That was the main message at a panel discussion held Tuesday by the Ontario Association of Architects in partnership with the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.

While the federal government is gradually moving out of the downtown core, the OAA is a champion of reversing that trend and its president, Bill Birdsell, said the business community is starting to take notice.

“We want to challenge (moving to the suburbs) because the reality of it is, companies need to stay where their people are comfortable and there’s an opportunity to build in existing, interesting environments and build things that are environmentally sensitive,” he said.

Toon Dreeseen, vice-president of Farrow Dreessen Architects, Sean Lundy, CEO of M.P. Lundy Construction and Benjamin Gianni, associate professor Azrieli School of Architecture and Design at Carleton University were the keynote speakers at the event, held at the Museum of Nature.

The new Performance Court building that opened last week is an excellent example.  It’s a brand new building with a 10 percent vacancy rate

“ It says people actually want to be here. They want to be in that building,” said Mr.Dreessen, who is also the senior vice-president and treasurer of the OAA.

In his talk, Mr.Dreessen spoke of small and large-scale impact of good architecture – everything from providing jobs in the local community to the tourism dollars a facility like the Ottawa Convention Centre generates.

He also noted that while revitalizing the downtown core is a major goal, making sustainable communities in the suburbs is equally important, noting how a former Kanata bar has been renovated into a high-tech office, with a nearby daycare and other amenities springing up.

“There’s a spillover effect,” he said. “All these things are incremental and they help impact things locally, so in that area, maybe there’s a little bit of economic growth.”

He also discussed an award-winning project on Cumberland Street in the ByWard Market where a parking lot that was a haven for prostitutes and drug deals has been replaced by a 38-unit apartment building, which will have a positive impact for all the businesses in that community.

“Does that solve all of the ByWard Market’s problems? No,” he said, “But it’s certainly a contributor to making the ByWard Market a sustainable place because the building doesn’t have very much parking so there’s lots of people using public transit, using bikes, walking everywhere, so all these things are having an impact on how the city is trying to make the downtown a more liveable space.”

A liveable space was the main area of Mr.Gianni’s talk. He said provincial policy states urban sprawl does not make economic sense.

“It has mandated cities over a certain population to write into their official plans the terms of reference for intensification. It’s a dance,” he said.

This “dance,” he said, has put a lot of pressure on the public realm.

“The less space we have in our private realm, the more the quality of the public realm matters,” said Mr. Gianni.

He said the city of Ottawa deserves a lot of credit for being proactive in city-building and not waiting for the federal government’s next move.

“The city itself has really upped its ante and upped its game in the last decade and is investing on the infrastructure on which business can build and from which business can benefit,” he said.

Mr. Dreessen said there is still work to be done though, especially in the area of shrinking the time it takes to get planning applications filed, returned, and submitted.

“For every month of that delay you’re talking hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional carrying costs and land costs and lost property taxes and lost development charges,” he said.

Mr. Lundy noted the importance of buildings on both a community and a corporate level, talking about the Beechwood National Memorial Centre as a building that really matters to the community and the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority building on Prince of Wales Drive outside Manotick as one that has created a massive shift in creativity, enthusiasm, and consequently productivity.

He also spoke to how good architecture helps his bottom line by making the whole construction process more efficient.

“We certainly experience that as builders on a daily basis,” he said. “The difference between good architecture and not so good architecture. There is an absolute on-the-ground impact there.”

This was the second of three discussions put on by the OAA. One already happened in Kitchener and another is planned for Hamilton in September.

Organizations: Ontario Association of Architects, Ottawa Chamber of Commerce, Farrow Dreessen Architects M.P. Lundy Construction and Benjamin Gianni Azrieli School of Architecture and Design Carleton University Museum of Nature Ottawa Convention Centre Rideau Valley Conservation Authority

Geographic location: Cumberland Street, Ottawa, Kitchener

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