Kumlin Sullivan Architecture Studio: Liberating the design process

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Calgary-based full-service architectural firm Kumlin Sullivan Architecture uses a studio environment to liberate the design process, providing the highest level of design input and team participation in the development of projects that make one pause, respond and experience.

Bill Kumlin is Principal of Kumlin Sullivan Architecture Studio, and started his career as a draftsman with a construction firm in Northern BC in 1979. In the 1980s Mr Kumlin went back to architecture school in Winnipeg and has been working in the profession since his graduation, having been in his own practice for over twenty years and a partner in Kumlin Sullivan for the past five. Mr Kumlin spoke with The Canadian Business Quarterly recently to discuss the origins of the firm, some of the key projects it is working on, and the collaborative approach that helps the firm face industry challenges head-on.

A collaborative approach

“My partner [Barry Sullivan] and I met at another firm about thirty years ago,” Mr Kumlin says, “and hit it off at that time. From there we went our separate ways for a number of years, me to my own firm where I did small projects with three or four staff, and he went to larger firms, working on significantly larger projects at other offices.”

During that time the two men stayed in touch, eventually reuniting in a professional capacity later to bring their varied careers together in a complimentary firm, Kumlin Sullivan Architecture Studio, which handles both larger and smaller projects.

“Most of my original work was done in renovations and upgrades, code reviews, upgrading existing facilities, small additions, exteriors, and then some general consulting, but today with our joint firm we’re a full-service architectural firm, offering full design services on a variety of projects from small renovations to larger stand-alone projects.”

The firm has worked with a variety of clients in several municipalities throughout Alberta and BC, as well as offering services in Saskatchewan. The key areas of its work are in private sectors, such as commercial and industrial development, with additional work in offices, multi-family residential, and care facilities, including child care and senior care.

“Projects run the full gamut of a small office,” Mr Kumlin explains. “Commercial, retail, office, industrial, recreational, multi-family, institutional, heritage, hospitality. Clients include landlords, developers, pension funds, contractors, project management groups, and a few private family one-offs.”

Over the years the firm has developed a small area of specialty in the heritage building sector, having worked on more than twenty historic and heritage buildings in Calgary alone over the past decade.

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“Most of my original work was done in renovations and upgrades, but today with our joint firm we’re a full-service architectural firm, offering full design services on a variety of projects from small renovations to larger stand-alone projects”

“What makes us different [from competitors], the defining characteristic of our firm, is the studio environment in which we work, [and] the collaborative thinking we derive from that. We don’t look at our staff as being a pyramid, we look at it as being very lateral. All of us contribute to a project, whether we’ve been doing it for thirty years or three months.”

The studio environment liberates the entire design process, allowing all staff members, clients and project partners to participate in the evolution of the project. As the client is included in this collaborative thinking, they become involved in their own design process.

“We’re [currently] working on a 100 bed seniors facility in Hinton, Alberta,” Mr Kumlin says. “That’s a replacement for a 30 bed facility that is many years past its prime, so this is a real opportunity to contribute something to the community.”

Additionally, the firm is working on an 80,000 sq ft Canadian headquarters for a German piping company, which is a renovation of an existing warehouse fabrication facility, with a new office component for consolidating the company’s local administration.

“We’ve [also] got a gymnastics facility in Quesnel, BC. That’s a new facility for the local gymnastics club, which has been sort of bounced around the city for the last twenty years to schools and community clubs, so they’re finally getting their own home.”

A recently-completed project was for some recreation condos in Fairmont Hot Springs in BC, which is a continuation of an existing development of high-end resort condominiums in which Mr Kumlin owns one of the units.

“There are a few things that are happening [in the industry],” Mr Kumlin says. “One is sustainability, and we’re getting into sustainability because there are so many aspects of it. It goes beyond just energy efficiency. It’s about sustainability of materials, of methods, the character of the location that we’re building in and working in.”

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Kumlin Sullivan Architecture continues to provide a unique and exceptional service to its clients

Sustainability is of particular focus in the heritage building work the firm undertakes, allowing existing buildings to be maintained rather than being torn down and the materials dumped into landfill, preserving some of the original materials and features.

“In the heritage component of the construction industry, we are able to retain a lot of the historic buildings and the history of our cities, and make them part of the community, part of new developments. We know this makes a big difference to the livability of communities, where people live, work and play. They see some history and feel more grounded.”

Other issues affecting the industry are coming around the communication of ideas, where the firm has seen significant changes during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the move towards working remotely bringing several new necessary changes.

“There’s the adage, ‘from adversity comes innovation’. It’s really shown a dramatic change in our industry in the past few months. Our software has developed incredibly in being able to create images so that we can communicate our ideas virtually, as well as providing a platform for various virtual meetings.”

Both the firm and the industry have gone through a lot of changes over the last five years, and keeping up with those changes regularly presents new challenges. But for creative, innovative architects like the team at Kumlin Sullivan, sometimes rising to a challenge is what the job is all about.

With its collaborative, studio-based approach to architectural design, Kumlin Sullivan Architecture continues to provide a unique and exceptional service to its clients. Find out more about Kumlin Sullivan by visiting kumlinsullivan.com

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