planningAlliance and regionalArchitects

Integrated architectural solutions from the inside out
Written by: 
Jeanee Dudley
Produced by: 
John Carioti

Canadian design business, planningAlliance (pA) has been around in one form or another since 1977, when renowned architect John van Nostrand first established a small architecture and planning firm in Toronto. For more than 35 years, the business has grown, encompassing three distinct divisions that have served clients in more than 50 countries the world over. Alongside regionalArchitects (rA) and rePlan (rP), the large, innovative design company is able to serve public and private clients, from schools and churches to residential developers and mining companies.

Today, van Nostrand works alongside a strong team of principals, including Drew Sinclair, who has been with the business since 2008. These business leaders coordinate with a group of approximately 100 employees, including architects, designers, community relations professionals and administrators on a daily basis. pA and its associated companies strive to design buildings and communities that serve end users, as well as society as a whole.

A growing portfolio

The pA, rA and rP teams work closely with clients to design diverse, complex projects all over the world. These three cooperative agencies offer varying services to meet the long-term goals of each contract, while taking into account culture, environment and economy. The three businesses frequently work together to formulate integrated community planning projects in Canada and abroad.

One such community project was adopted by the Thompson, Manitoba, City Council in 2011. Vale, a Brazilian mining corporation with operations throughout Canada, shut down a smelter production facility in the remote city. Situated in northern Manitoba, Thompson relies heavily on the mining industry. With 80 percent of the population directly or indirectly employed by the mining operations and no surrounding urban centers to take, the shutdown put nearly 30 percent of the town’s working adults at risk of losing jobs.

“When Vale first announced the closure, there was no remediation plan in place,” Sinclair explains. “Both the company and the town needed to find a way to keep people employed locally. They partnered up to pool funds for an assessment and our team won the contract to coordinate a working group process with a committee under our leadership.”

The team included local and regional government homebuilders, developers, engineers, industrial groups, all local aboriginal communities, as well as other interested parties bringing ideas and feedback to the table. Mediated by the rP group, the committee formulated a strong plan for economic diversification and growth. Over two years, rP was able to pull together a strong analysis of the state of each interest group and the respective sector of the economy, producing a cumulative plan including economic opportunity, urban and architectural planning and cultural reform. Components of the plan include a new industrial trade school, a justice center and housing redevelopment catered toward moving the community forward through this major economic transition. The Thompson Economic Diversification  exemplifies a strong community project in which Sinclair and his partners were able to incorporate all aspects of the business.

Communities for tomorrow

In 2009, rA worked with the Toronto’s Pan-American Games Bid Corporation to create a vision for transforming an 80-acre former industrial site into the Athlete’s Village for the upcoming 2015 Pan and Parapan American Games. The team developed a full template for the village, drawing on experiences working on a prior Olympics bid and work in African communities. The design involved 15 buildings, proposed to house thousands of athletes for the games. Sinclair and his team also planned for the years beyond the event, planning for the development’s legacy.

“After the games, these structures can be configured in four or five different ways for student, affordable or market-rate housing,” Sinclair explains. “The games are next July and the project is now 80 percent complete. We have stayed involved along the way in a peripheral sense. Temporary fit-up is beginning in the next few months. From a services perspective, we have provided architectural consultation, kind of a programming service, for the long term use. This is more of a traditional urban planning and policy service. We helped the city and the province of Ontario work out how the new community fits in the framework of city policy for the site.”

This type of long-term planning is what van Nostrand, Sinclair and their partners are best known for. Many of these projects draw on the company’s experiences in Africa, redeveloping communities that have been displaced by a growing mining industry. There, the crew helped to design new communities as well as housing that could remain flexible as these towns continue to grow. “The goal of our work is always to satisfy the end user, to assure their livelihood is protected or improved and accommodate their long term needs,” Sinclair says proudly.

Looking ahead, Sinclair does not see much deviation from the company’s current course. We don’t foresee any major transitions,” he notes. “The housing market has been healthy and we have a lot of continuity coming down the line in several markets. We are optimistic and we look forward to new challenges in the coming years.” With a strong team dedicated to the evolution of communities all over the world, planningAlliance, rePlan and regionalArchitects continue to drive community-based development on a global scale.

Strategic Partnership(s): 
Shimmerman Penn LLP