Fresh from last year's twenty-fifth birthday celebration – an important milestone for any creative firm working in today's risky business environment – Quadrangle Architects has been sprucing up its large operation on Toronto's Wellington Street West.
The company has hired the inventive architect Richard Witt, a former Quadrangle employee who went off to direct RAW Design in 2007 and now returns as a principal. Caroline Robbie, a talented interior designer, has been boosted into the nine-member management circle that includes Quadrangle founders Les Klein and Brian L. Curtner. These and several other personnel changes, coming not long after the completion of Quadrangle's first comprehensive strategic plan, are all about grafting new branches onto the firm's sturdy trunk – and making sure the tree still stands tall after the current leadership retires.
"We're pretty excited about what's been going on at Quadrangle," Mr. Curtner told me last week. "Entrepreneurs have a hard time planning what they're doing and where they're going. But we had the catalyst of needing a succession plan, so we spent the time to do a strategic plan and branding exercise." (The architect and I talked in the oak-panelled library of the modernist penthouse at 130 Bloor St. W., a 50-year-old tower that Quadrangle has recently reshaped.)
"We itemized what we were really good at, what we were striving to do, who were our key clients and constituents," Mr. Curtner said. "Then we boiled it all down to one phrase: 'Inspiration realized'." With this corporate motto, Quadrangle "is saying we're innovative, and we want to be more innovative. We wanted to think about ourselves as a group that could come up with something unique and inspirational for the city and our clients, but do it in a way that is business-minded, appropriate to the site, contextual – i.e., that could be realized."
The recipe Mr. Curtner has in mind to insure Quadrangle's continuing success is not complicated: You mix the new ideas of young designers with the senior staff's technical and business expertise. Out of the Cuisinart will come, or should come, architectural dishes that suit the Quadrangle clientele's staid tastes, but that also contribute something aesthetically attractive to the cityscape.
This, in any case, is how Richard Witt's upcoming career at Quadrangle is supposed to work. "Richard is fantastic at looking at a project in a way others can't," Mr. Curtner said. "Then we'll be able to help him figure out how to actually get it done."
When I asked the architect to name the jobs he would enjoy seeing his newly energized office tackle, he had an instant reply: "two or three more like this one," meaning the 21-storey, mixed-use Bloor Street structure we were sitting in. It's not hard to understand why. The redoing and new construction at 130 Bloor St. W., which was completed in 2009, supplied plenty of the inspirational aggravation that some designers, including Brian Curtner, appear to thrive on.
At the heart of the scheme is a 14-storey modernist block crafted by the Toronto-based architectural firm of Bregman + Hamann (B+H) and finished in 1960. The task taken on by Mr. Curtner entailed dropping seven new storeys of top-end condominium housing on the original 14 levels without making the whole edifice collapse.
And in addition to the technical challenge, there was an important artistic and cultural one: the preservation of the 10,263-square-foot, two-storey penthouse apartment fashioned in the 1960s by B+H co-founder Sidney Bregman for Toronto businessman Noah Torno. The majestic suite has long been sacred to local fans of high modernist power-style architecture, and some of us worried that the developer (KingSett Capital Inc.) might ask Quadrangle to dice up the great space into little condos.
The story of 130 Bloor St. W., however, has a happy ending. The seven new residential levels sit securely on their base (most of it given over to offices), which has been masterfully re-engineered to carry the load. Fourteen new, very spacious luxury units – the area of the largest is over 6,000 square feet – have been added to downtown Toronto's housing stock.
And the Torno penthouse (now called the Cumberland Apartment and sandwiched between the old and new fabric) has been restored and brought up to date by interior designer J. F. Brennan. Fortunately, the classic (and classy) original layout has survived basically intact. The asking price for the suite, Mr. Curtner told me, is upwards of $30-million.
"We want more projects like this, where we have a team that pushes the envelope to make something unique," the architect said. "You take an old building, put stuff on top, get it all to work, while maintaining the fabric of the city. We want to do works that stand out in the city, that are well-known as Quadrangle projects."