After serving clients for more than six decades, architectural firm EPOH is moving into its next phase, positioning the business for a new era of fully integrated design and building solutions.
Based in downtown Sault Ste. Marie, EPOH offers architectural, mechanical, electrical, design, master planning, and interior design services within a catchment area reaching across Ontario, Western Canada and into the United States.
Headed by four partners, the firm recently underwent a shift in makeup after one of its long-time principals, Cal Oswin, retired. Two new partners, who have each been with the firm for 10 years, were brought in this past summer. Jeanette Biemann comes with an engineering background, while Ryan Crowle brings experience in engineering and project management. Ken Oliver is the firm’s fourth partner.
“We like to keep the firm young and fluent in terms of thinking and ideas, its philosophy, so it’s been good,” said principal Franco Pastore.
The firm’s work comprises some of the most recognizable buildings in Sault Ste. Marie and beyond. Its signature style graces several buildings at Sault College, Algoma Public Health, and the International Bridge plaza redesign currently underway.
Central to EPOH’s ideology is the integrated design process (IDP), which involves everyone associated with the project in the decision-making process from an early stage.
“Traditionally, the architect develops the design and hands it off at a later, subsequent stage to all the subconsultants to develop a structure system or mechanical/electrical system, whereas now the design concepts are developed all at the same time in the early stages and drive one another,” Pastore said.
“Therefore, the building is truly an integrated solution as opposed to an afterthought.”
This process allows for innovative thinking, and urges collaborators to consider a building as a whole instead of its pieces, he said.
Because EPOH is a smaller firm, it’s able to have partner-level involvement throughout the project, which helps ensure consistency, Crowle said.
“The most important thing for the owner, more than just getting the design, or the building they want, is having it delivered on time and on budget,” Crowle said. “So we find it just as important spending as much time as we can out in the field with the contractor during the build phase to ensure that happens.”
For this type of innovative thinking, EPOH was shortlisted during the tendering process for the Engineering Centre for Experiential Learning (ExCEL) at Hamilton’s McMaster University. Amongst 70 applicants, including some of Canada’s largest firms, EPOH was one of only five shortlisted for the contract.
Over the last decade, EPOH has strived to incorporate green building principals into its projects. It’s been an innovator in its field, leading the construction of Sault Ste. Marie’s first LEED-certified building. Algoma Public Health achieved LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) gold status for its sustainable building that includes increasing energy efficiency, allowing for the potential use of wind and solar energy, and using materials that have a high lifecycle.
“(Green building) is something that clients are becoming more aware of and we’re helping to educate them on what’s out there and what’s available,” Biemann said. “We’re educating ourselves and trying to keep ourselves current and at the forefront of that, so we can share that with our clients and let them know what options they have to be global citizens and how they can participate in the sustainability of the building.”
Biemann, who serves as the chair for the local chapter of Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO), is in a unique position as one of the only female principals at a design firm in Northern Ontario, a trend EPOH hopes to see increase across the North.
Although the field of architecture is fairly balanced now, with equally as many female students going through architecture school as there are males, few are in the primary position, said Pastore, who welcomes the opportunity for diversity and said hiring more female architects is a future goal of the firm.
Though she doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer, Biemann does recall the days when she was the only woman sitting in a boardroom. She was welcomed by the industry, but concedes more awareness needs to take place to get more women entering the field.
“The challenge there is in engineering in general,” Biemann said. “The enrolment in school is still really low (at around 30 per cent), so it’s hard to get females at this level when they’re not even going into school. As an engineering society, we’re trying to change that so more females feel welcome to even just join the study and then hopefully go on and become a professional.”
Over the next 12 months, EPOH will undertake rebranding to reflect the updated company vision. Future expansion includes taking on more work in Western Canada and northern Michigan.