Since joining the Walters Group (Walters) in 2010, Feature Walters (FW) has increased its capacity to provide its special brand of high end architectural fabrication solutions across North America. The Ontario-based company works with progressive architects and engineers to create unique elements that define cutting-edge architecture. Often the last contractor on a project site, FW develops and installs features and finishes that put the final touch on signature construction and build a lasting impression.
“FW was established in 1985 as Feature Factory,” shares Walter Koppelaar, president of Walters. “We first met Feature Factory in 2008 while working together on a project and I was incredibly impressed by their work. While Walters delivers structural steel construction solutions for complex projects on a much larger scale, FW does it on a smaller feature scale with an emphasis on high end finishes. We saw a common philosophy between the two companies and an opportunity to expand our solutions for clients beyond structural steel. Those synergies ultimately led Walters Group to acquire FW.”
Gaining ground under new ownership and location
FW officially entered the Walters umbrella in 2010, sparking considerable growth for the once-small firm. “In February 2014, FW moved from Toronto to Hamilton, Ontario,” reveals Patrick Desarzens, design director of FW. “As Walters continued to grow, and focused on longer-term planning, it became clear that FW should be integrated into the Walters head office to leverage management, plant capacity and purchasing power.”
Since joining forces, FW has seen more success and greater market share. “By plugging FW into the strengths of Walters, it has allowed us to build relationships with new clients in new markets,” explains Desarzens. “Our market recognizes the benefits of a coordinated, pre-fabricated approach and the type and complexity of work we are doing has expanded significantly in recent years.”
Most of FW’s work is currently in the Manhattan market, but with the Walters’ connections, the company has expanded its network of architects, engineers and end users in the premium sector across Canada and deeper into the New York market.
“We focus on an ultra-custom level of fabrication and full scope delivery,” explains Desarzens. “There are others that do some of what we do, but very few, if any, that can do all of what we do.”
Integrating the full scope of architectural design
Backed by state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities, a large architectural detailing department and installation divisions across North America, FW completes turnkey projects ranging from public art to custom staircases and pre-fabricated architectural modules.
“Our approach offers two elements that differentiate us,” explains Desarzens. “The first being that we integrate multiple trades into what we deliver. If a feature staircase has five different materials represented by five different trades, instead of leaving it to the owner or general contractor to contract various trades, we add value by providing all aspects in-house. That means one set of drawings, all of the materials, the labour and the finishes – and all of the coordination inherent in creating a mixed material feature. The extreme example of this was the delivery of 112 pre-fabricated washrooms to the BOW high-rise in Calgary. Each 300-square-foot module was fabricated and fully finished in Ontario and shipped complete with back painted glass walls, granite floors and vanities, all plumbing and lighting fixtures, as well as 100 percent complete MEP systems.”
A true one-stop shop, FW employs certified tradespeople and experienced detailers. “Whether it’s a pristine ornamental metal feature or an assembly of materials, when the geometry gets complicated and the structure becomes complex, we carefully manage the process to ensure that every component will fit together seamlessly,” adds Desarzens.
Desarzens says the second aspect of FW’s unique approach is the extent of the company’s design-assist role. “Typically, the design-assist role relates to engineering, but we apply the concept to include all aspects of our scope from structure, to finishes and the 3-D interpretation of a project’s 2-D design intent,” he explains.
FW’s fully integrated design-assist building technique has attracted big-name clients. In Miami, FW delivered a signature mirror polished stainless steel staircase and a panelized façade for a flagship Louis Vuitton location.
“FW provided engineering, detailing an turnkey delivery of the feature stair that included custom stainless steel glass hardware, an elliptical wooden handrail clad in leather and all of the structural steel for the stair, slab opening and new elevator shaft,” details Desarzens. “We also modeled all of the wood treads and landings in context with our scope in order to provide the project with cut files that would allow the exotic wood to be produced in parallel with the stair, and not subject to as-built verifications and the related schedule impact. FW also developed an innovative panel system for the pre-cast facade that minimizes maintenance costs associated with potential hurricane damage, while maintaining the integrity of the graphic motif.”
The 4,000-square-foot façade is comprised of more than 250 Ductal panels with 30 unique panel types. Cast from molds produced in the FW shop, the ultra-high performance concrete, reinforced steel façade and all exterior signage produced and installed by FW meet Florida’s hurricane building codes.
Complex, turnkey projects
FW was tasked to produce the canopies for one of Manhattan’s tallest residential buildings, One 57. Partnering with Metropolitan Walters, the Walters N.Y.C.-based installation group, FW detailed and fabricated canopies extending organically from the glass curtain wall of the entrance and a 15-foot back span extending into the building to anchor the structures.
The Architecturally Exposed Structural Steel (AESS) canopies were designed to be a horizontal extension of the curtain wall for the iconic Manhattan high-rise. “The constantly curving geometry of the curtain wall transitions into our scope of steel structure, stainless cladding and glass soffits,” says Desarzens.
FW used its proprietary high-definition BIM (HD-BIM) modeling practices to design the intricate system of custom stainless steel grills, troughs and drains to channel the water from the top of the canopy. More than 5,000 unique parts were CNC processed and fully fit in context in FW’s fabrication facility before they were taken down and shipped to site.
“We delivered this complicated item for One 57, completely turnkey,” notes Desarzens. “To prevent standing water in the plumbing system we had to manage the path of the drains within a very shallow and constantly changing cavity congested with structure, lighting, IR heaters, undulating glass soffit panels and heat trace. We love it when an architect designs a complicated feature, with tight demands on the workmanship and finishes; we really shine on those projects.”
Desarzens says that FW has historically benefited from a few follow on projects that have come with FW’s place in periphery of Walters. “Being fully integrated, we are now in the best position tap into new markets,” says Desarzens. “With Walters as the bow of the ship that breaks the ice into ever bigger and more challenging projects, we are excited about the opportunities that lie ahead.”
Combining cutting-edge modeling and design with old-school craftsmanship and classically trained professionals, Feature Walters Inc. continues to gain steam as one of the leading architectural fabrication firms in Canada and the U.S.