Fowler Bauld & Mitchell Ltd. (FBM) is a well-established and widely respected architectural firm. This Halifax-based firm has been in continuous practice since 1917, making it one of the oldest in Canada and possibly in North America. The firm’s fifth generation of partners continues to steer this small and agile practice toward a thorough understanding of its clients’ needs and high level of service. In sheer numbers, the ability to address clients’ specific needs collaboratively translated into 75 per cent of the practice’s work coming from repeat clients.
FBM and its 20 employees offer broad architectural expertise, providing design, space planning, building restoration, building science, construction technology and project management services, focusing mainly on public, institutional and private sector projects, including recreational and healthcare facilities, office buildings, hospitality, retail, residential projects, industrial facilities, and many more. While the firm focuses primarily on Atlantic Canada, over the years it has collaborated on projects across Canada in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, B.C. and the United States.
“We don’t approach projects with any kind of preconceived notions about what the building should be. We look at every project in its particular context and we create buildings that don’t just serve their purpose but also enliven and enrich the people who live, work and use the buildings,” says Cotaras, President of FBM.
The practice always has some iconic projects underway, and projects such as the Halifax Central Library; the Mona Campbell Building at Dalhousie University, the Dr. William D. Finn Centre for Forensic Medicine for the Medical Examiner Service, and the Lodge at the Cabot Links Golf Course, (a new, but already iconic golf course in Inverness, N.S.), are but a tip of the iceberg when it comes to the list of projects executed by this agile firm.
The Halifax Central Library is $44 million project situated in a prominent location in downtown Halifax, within arm’s reach from the Schmidtville heritage neighbourhood, historic Citadel Hill, Dalhousie University, and Spring Garden Road, the busiest shopping street east of Montreal. Set to be complete in 2014, it will be the most significant public building erected in Halifax in a generation. This socially, economically and environmentally sustainable building is targeting LEED Gold certification, and will become a civic landmark and new cultural hub of the city.
“We worked on the design in collaboration with Schmidt Hammer Lassen Architects from Denmark, and we beat out some unbelievably strong competition for this project thanks to our cooperation. We are the prime consultant but we brought in this firm because they bring the skill in designing public buildings, libraries in particular. We needed to align ourselves with someone in this specific field of expertise in order to win the project but also to provide the best potential project outcome for the end users.
“We work collaboratively on many projects, working with firms that may require our particular expertise, or may provide their particular expertise to our projects. We work on win-win partnerships with these partners and we have done quite a lot of projects in this manner,” says Cotaras.
Because of the fact that the library would be one of the most prominent buildings in the area, public consultation was an integral part of the design process, and the firm worked with the public to determine a design that would best represent the community’s vision.
“We held five public meetings with the residents of Halifax during the design of the building, and we went back and forth deciding the right approach on various aspects of the design. The design was overwhelmingly well received by the public because they became a part of the process. I firmly believe that when the library opens in the fall of 2014 that people will walk in there, and will be able to say ‘that was my idea’, and it will be true,” says Cotaras.
The firm also has built a long standing relationship with Dalhousie University, and amongst many others, the firm completed one of the university’s most significant projects, the Mona Campbell Building. The firm designed a building that interacts with the university campus and the surrounding residential communities. Inwards, the firm focused the design not only on the teaching and learning spaces but also the spaces between classrooms, where opportunities to interact between staff, students and visitors occur, and it is these connective spaces that form the soul of the building. The building achieved LEED Gold certification and a Citation in the 2012 Lieutenant Governor’s Award for Architecture.
The firm’s architectural philosophy focuses on creating designs that embrace, enrich and merge with its surroundings, and as many modern architectural firms, FBM shuns away from mimicking historic designs, and rather focuses on modern interpretation of the history in design, using contemporary materials and forms but with sensitivity towards the surroundings of the building.
“For example, the Mona Campbell Building pays homage to an old grey stone student residence building just along the street. We used interpretations of this historic building’s materials in the design of the Mona Campbell building.
“The Halifax Central Library references the original structure that stood at the site that used to be a military commander’s house for 150 years with an amazing garden – the rumour is that the name of Spring Garden Road came from here – so that garden idea was integrated into the design of the building in patterns of abstract leaves on the glass, and the roofs of the library are landscaped, so we go back to the roots so to speak,” says Cotaras.
According to Cotaras, the firm’s current size of 20 staff is perfect to suit any project, but also allows for a highly agile collaborative approach that takes and supports clients’ needs and ideas. The collaborative environment is what the firm wants to preserve within the practice, and that is why the firm seeks to soon move to a new, modern, studio that will heighten the collaborative potential.
Over the past decade, despite the economic downturn, the practice has been busier than ever, and from Dalhousie University to Cabot Links Golf Course, the practice has been providing unsurpassed client service that brings clients back asking for more.