More Than Architecture... It's History

June 6, 2024 - Announcement
It's hard to believe that 35 years have passed since Figurr Architects Collective (originally Rubin & Rotman) was founded. It feels like just yesterday that two young architects partnered up and dove into business together, building their reputations on meaningful relationships and hard work.

Reflecting on who we are and how far we've come has been a lesson in perseverance and positivity. Figurr embodies more than just architecture. It's a collective with a living, breathing history. Our past projects aren't just milestones; they were launchpads into unchartered markets, demonstrating our unyielding commitment to innovation, sustainability, communities and our clients. 

In honour of Figurr Architect's Collective's 35th anniversary, our partners reflect on the pivotal moments that defined our practice and approach to architecture. These moments, big and small, have shaped us individually and collectively.  

Fig.1 | Rick's Story – Combining Passion, Innovation, and Creative Thinking  

Looking back, our leap into sustainability certification was a defining moment in my career and the firm. As an organization, we have always valued being on the cutting edge. In 2003, Pascale Tetrault, who was a project manager at the time, came to me with the brilliant idea of expanding our skill set into LEED certification, which was like a breath of fresh air.   

When we landed the new Head Office for Rolf Hagan Industries, a global leader in the manufacture and distribution of pet products, we were ecstatic! They were celebrating their 50th anniversary, and it was a unique opportunity to demonstrate the value of sustainability to a client who relies on nature and the global health environment as a fundamental part of their business. Through an intensive design charette and close collaboration with the project team, we created an incredibly sustainable design, and the Hagan Corporate Head Office became the first privately owned building in Quebec to achieve a LEED Gold certification. This achievement is a testament to what happens when you combine passion, innovation, and some out-of-the-box thinking.   

Fig.2 | Pascale's Story – A Flight to Remember 

There are moments in our lives that mark and define us, and my career is littered with them. Waswanipi's new elementary school, built between 2006 and 2009, is one of them. Although this wasn't our first school project, it was with the Cree School Board.  

As the person in charge of preparing the service offer, I was responsible for delivering it on time to Mistissini, a remote community in Northern Quebec. When the submission missed its flight, I arrived at the airport the following day, envelope in hand, to ensure its on-time delivery and handover to the school board's director of material resources! 

Winning the project was just the beginning; I learned a great deal, from discovering a new community to adapting to a new flexible design approach to understanding the unique construction issues related to a remote location. It also began a broader reflection on improved work processes for large-scale construction projects.  

Today, I take great pride in this past achievement and what followed, but the most memorable projects, stories and learnings are yet to come! 

Fig. 3 | Bruno’s Story – Adapting to and Adopting New Technologies  

Le William condominiums marked a turning point for Figurr (Rubin & Rotman). At the time of their launch, Montreal's Griffintown district was beginning to unveil an ambitious urban redevelopment plan. The investors chose to launch Le William ahead of competing residential projects, racing against time to meet an extremely tight schedule.  

Transforming a century-old brick industrial building steeped in history into a modern residential complex within a tight timeframe was no mean feat.  Although BIM (Building Information Modelling) in the construction sector was still in its infancy, its use seemed to us to be the solution. A challenge we took up with enthusiasm. 

This technological shift catapulted our company into the field of high-density urban construction projects.  It enabled us to coordinate in real time with developers, contractors and designers, and demonstrated our company's adaptability and confidence in adopting new technologies.    

Le William defined design processes and technology for me. The knowledge, processes and models derived from it have laid the foundations for our portfolio of high-density residential projects. Its resounding success illustrates our team's ability to innovate and expand the horizons of architecture and technology, creating exceptional living spaces. 

Fig.4 | Roberto’s Story – A Partnership Built on Collaboration 

In 2006, while working for another architecture firm, I had the opportunity to collaborate on a unique new cultural centre in Ouje-Bougamou, Quebec. What made this project special was its role as the cultural gateway for the Quebec James Bay Cree, and it introduced me to one of my now-business partners, Stephen Rotman.  

The Aanischaaukamikw Cree Cultural Institute and meeting Stephen were pivotal moments in my career. They introduced me to the types of projects and collaborative design processes I sought in a firm and a partnership.  

Through the project, I met my other future partners, Pascale, Bruno, and Rick. As the project neared completion, I decided to explore new opportunities alongside this dynamic group. From there, the discussion of expanding Figurr (Rubin & Rotman) to Ottawa began. This opportunity made possible many of our most exciting Ottawa-based projects, such as Zibi's "O" Condominiums, Caivan's Head Office, and the many projects for the Centretown Citizen's Ottawa Corporation (CCOC) - for which I am forever grateful. 

Fig.5 | Stephen’s Story – The Power of Listening and Learning 

Having spent two decades in the United States completing my architectural education and launching my career, when my wife and I started a family in the 1990s, we decided to move to our hometown of Montreal. Unfortunately, this was a challenging time for the architecture community. Real estate across North America was in a deep recession.  

A journalist friend told me about an article he had seen in the Globe and Mail that outlined how the government invested considerable money in Indigenous communities, highlighting the Mohawk Council of Akwesasne (MCA) as an example. Being new to the Canadian architecture scene, I set about to find out what I could learn. My research led me to the Director of Public Works. A gracious man, he agreed to meet with me.  

However, I was early in my career and had nothing substantial to show. We talked, and I left the meeting with a good connection but no commitment or possible projects. Months passed, and then we received a Request for Proposal for an upcoming project from the MCA. Excited, we put a bid together. Unfortunately, we were not awarded the job. This pattern continued with one RFP after another for a year or two.  

I was not discouraged. I met periodically with the Director and learned more about the community each time we met. Eventually, through our discussions, I learned more about their needs and we won the next RFP. Our commitment to listen and work WITH the community came through loud and clear. Since then, our relationship with the Akwesasne community has deepened and flourished. 

Each story represents a piece of us, moments in our history that have transformed how we practice and work together. While each story revolves around a building or specific project, the relationships and the moments are what resonate and which have endured. Moreover, these stories have built a framework for our practice and support us as we create our future.

Because it's about more than architecture – it's history.  

Continue following Figurr here and on social media for the next blog in our series celebrating 35 years… community.