Gibbs Gage Architects: Shaping the Canadian Landscape

Wade Gibbs and Doug Gage met while students at the University of Manitoba, setting the wheels in motion for a more than three decade-long friendship and the creation of the foundation for a design firm that would go on to help define the landscape of western Canada. The pair officially launched Gibbs Gage Architects (GGA) in 1983 to provide clients with a single source for the gamut of architecture, interior design and urban design services. GGA may have over $2 billion worth of handiwork and 100 employees under its umbrella, but the team has never been the kind to rest on its laurels. Instead, GGA aims to create a balance of seasoned veterans and enthusiastic young professionals who push one another to raise the bar for imaginative, innovative design and sustainability.

“We don’t really specialize in any one thing, but all of our projects are highly technical in nature,” admits Rick Lewis, partner at GGA. Lewis joined GGA over 25 years ago as a young professional, freshly graduated from the University of Manitoba’s postgraduate program. At that time GGA employed just 16 personnel, but the Calgary-based architecture firm currently employs closer to 100 professionals to bring a multiplicity of expert perspectives to each and every project.

The GGA team includes a mix of certified-applied science technologists, architects and LEED Accredited Professionals. Additionally, many GGA employees hold multiple degrees, not all of which are directly related to architecture and design. Some examples include kinesiology, athletic training, computer science technology and philosophy, only adding to the team’s extensive knowledge and capabilities.

Ever Evolving

Continuing education plays an important role at the company, as GGA strives to adapt and maintain a competitive creative edge in the marketplace. The company maintains a foothold in virtually every construction market sector except for the single-family residential market.

On a day-to-day basis GGA channels the team’s multiple talents toward the commercial, institutional and industrial markets in western Canada. The company’s portfolio includes both high-rise and low-rise projects for clients in hospitality, multifamily residential housing, education, healthcare, recreation and retail and office spaces. Most of GGA’s work is concentrated within the Calgary area, though the company also has regional outposts at jobsites farther afield in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and the Oil Sands region of Alberta.

The firm goes beyond providing architectural, urban planning, master planning and interior design services to offer clients total support throughout the project’s life cycle. “We get involved from the very beginning and we’re there for the client throughout the entirety of the project,” asserts Lewis. By Lewis’ estimates, a full 25 percent of GGA’s team focuses solely on the project’s actual construction, while the rest of the team provides support services and ancillary specialties.

These specialties include graphic design and marketing services, building information modeling (BIM) and 3-D visualization. All projects include a basic 3-D modeling component, but the GGA team will take the model a step further and develop animations and photorealistic representations. These materials can be included as part of a complete marketing support package to be distributed to project stakeholders where GGA employees provide everything from displays at the construction site to the graphic design components of a building like its signage.

People, Passion, Pride

Furthermore, GGA holds continuing education to be one of its core values. “We have a rigorous quality control program already, but we’re always hosting lunch-and-learns, seminars and in-house training programs,” adds Lewis.

As a result, GGA employees became some of the first to complete the LEED AP certification program in the country, which helped to position GGA as a leader in sustainability. GGA served as the architect of record for Calgary’s Eighth Avenue Place developments, collaborating with design architect Pickard Chilton to make the towers the first ever in Canada to achieve LEED Platinum precertification under the Core & Shell Rating System.

Prior to the company’s work on Calgary’s Eighth Avenue Place, GGA helped design Calgary’s Cardel Place. The 148,000-square foot building includes Calgary Public Library, as well as two ice arenas, three gymnasiums, locker rooms, a fitness and wellness center, and a swimming pool. The building opened in 2004 and subsequently became the first ever LEED Gold-certified building in Alberta.

GGA more recently lent its talents to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology’s (SAIT) Trades and Technology Complex in Calgary, Alberta. The project represents the largest expansion in SAIT’s 94-year history and ranks amongst the largest construction projects currently in progress at any Canadian college with a price tag of approximately $400 million. The facility opened in fall 2012, and allows the institution to serve a whopping 8,100 more students than previously. The complex also features the first 3-D drilling simulator at any higher education institution in North America.

And GGA shows no signs of slowing down in the years to come either. GGA formed a joint venture with Toronto-based Diamond + Schmitt Architects for a $200 million expansion at the Medicine Hat Regional Hospital in Medicine Hat, Alberta, which is scheduled to open in 2015. With any luck, the firm will be able to leverage its extensive and diverse experience to make Gibbs Gage Architects not just one of the most prolific and accomplished design firms in Canada, but also the firm with greatest impact on the communities it serves.