“Many projects have an intangible, almost abstract circumstance where people don’t really know, understand or appreciate why they feel good or bad in the space. People really like to experience the spaces we help create. We pay attention to how people move through the space and how they experience the space, the connection of the exterior and the interior … basically creating a space that celebrates the users and what they do in the space.”
— Graham Fligg, Principal
Merrick Architecture was founded in 1984, firmly establishing Paul Merrick as a renowned creative force in the advancement of a strong regional aesthetic. The practice has sustained this recognized architectural leadership and established a legacy of “human architecture”. The firm expanded its ownership in 2004, adding accomplished architects Graham Fligg, Gregory Borowski and Mitch Sakumoto, all of whom have benefitted under Merrick’s mentorship, and who continue to grow the Merrick legacy to this day.
With two studios in Vancouver and Victoria, and 30 employees, the firm offers a wide range of architectural services: advisory design services, building planning and design, construction documentation production, LEED consultation, project management, interior architecture, all the way to lighting, light design, furniture, as well as adaptive re-use and renovation of old buildings.
The Canadian Business Journal spoke with Fligg, about the Merrick services and approach to architecture. “We provide a fairly broad scope of services and offer a broad portfolio of work [for a firm of this size]. We undertake a very wide range of projects in a lot of different sectors. This is mostly because the Principals maintain involvement from the beginning to the end of a project. We have a very hands-on approach, and are therefore able to provide senior expertise throughout the process,” says Fligg.
Over 50 per cent of the company projects continue to be in the large scale residential sector, but the firm has done work in healthcare, education, recreation, extensive adaptive reuse, heritage revitalization, various projects in the public sector (provincial and municipal), and current work for YVR (Vancouver International Airport), as well as many other specialized commissions. In progress projects include a new 40 storey residential tower in Vancouver, low-income social housing projects involving adaptive reuse of small heritage buildings in Vancouver Downtown Eastside, various heritage conversion projects in Victoria, and the just completed Transportation Management Centre in Coquitlam, an 80,000 square foot office building for B.C.’s Ministry of Transportation and Investment.
“Architecture is the art and science of reconciling human need and desire with the natural and man-made environment.”
But Merrick Architecture is about more than project delivery. It’s about the need to celebrate humanity in project design and finish. Excellence in design is at the core of the firm’s philosophy, and the Merrick quest for high quality has become renowned in B.C. architectural circles, as the firm aims to bring unique design solutions to every project. Over the decades, the firm has developed its own recognizable West Coast, Pacific Northwest style which celebrates the use of materials and an inspired connection with the landscape.
“In addition to our excellence in design, essential to our philosophy is celebration of humanity in the design. We pay very close attention to the goals and aspirations of our clients and try to offer them a product that celebrates not only the design, but also the activity the end users conduct within the resultant space. We call it ‘human-based design’. We strive to embed a sense of soul into our buildings.”
While the projects are often driven by the value for the developers, builders and owners of the buildings, the firm always focuses on the end users from the onset of a project. For example, 13 years ago the firm worked on the Vancouver Island Cancer Centre in Victoria. The firm brought forth the idea to imbue the building with life-affirming qualities, focusing on the surrounding landscape, changing light throughout the day in the building, and so on. The firm also served in the capacity of overall coordinating consultant for the development of the Olympic Village for the Vancouver Olympics, creating a design that assured the continuity of the urban landscape. “To achieve this [continuity], the buildings are no more than 12 storeys tall, arranged in the rectilinear extension of the city grid, and knitted very much into the community, celebrating the fact that it’s not a foreign entity in the existing environment, but one knitted with people’s everyday experience,” says Fligg.
During the design and construction process, after merging the outer shell of the building with its surroundings, the company takes exceptional care picking interior colours and choosing materials that make the building more accessible to the end user. “We really care about the pieces of the building that users use, touch, and see at their eye level – our palates are generally fairly muted and passive but engaging through the attention to detail; something as simple as a handrail can subconsciously influence how the space is experienced,” says Fligg.
The firm is also well known for its heritage restoration work and adaptive reuse of heritage buildings. The company is experienced in the repurposing of existing or heritage buildings, and often introduces new uses in a sensitive composition that assures the continuity of the old with the new. The award winning Pennsylvania Hotel in Vancouver is an example of this expertise.
The firm is currently collaborating with John McAslan and Partners, a London, UK practice, in a commission focused on establishing a master plan for the Royal BC Museum in Victoria. The objective is to create a framework for revitalization and expansion that will fit comfortably into the Victoria setting, modifying the existing museum from the 1970s.
The Hudson project in Victoria focused on re-developing an existing heritage Hudson Bay Company building, converting the existing vacant department store into a residential building. “This was a locally unprecedented project aimed at merging heritage and contemporary, through a mechanism of increasing density (three new adjacent towers) to help cover the costs of the heritage retrofit. Phase 2 (the first tower) of this project is currently under construction,” says Fligg.
Phase 1 received the UDI Award for Excellence, Best of Vancouver Island in 2012, and The Victoria Real Estate Board Heritage Renovation Excellence Award (Commercial Division) in 2011.
The firm’s work continues to celebrate Paul Merrick’s legacy in the creation of new and innovative architectural solutions, infused with an essence of humanity.
While many local mid-size architectural competitors have been bought out by larger consortiums over the past decade, the firm plans to remain true to its boutique roots, a counterpoint to large multidisciplinary firms. “We consistently experience potential clients who desire a personalized service, yet often are drawn to the perceived security offered by the conglomerate, multidisciplinary firms. This remains our biggest challenge — offering personalized service for complex large-scale projects in competition with these firms. Having said that, in the end I think people typically enjoy and benefit from the experience of working with us. We believe that the success of any project is measured by the high quality of lasting relationships between us and the client once the project is concluded; in order to sustain that outcome,” reflects Fligg.”We remain true to our philosophies, and we seek to work with those who share the same ideas and ideals.”