For much of our recent history, Canadians imported European design. We lacked the confidence and the will to express ourselves in our architecture.
That has changed.
On the verge of its 20th year, Manasc Isaac Architects is exporting Canadian design to Europe. On March 24, 2016 they officially open Latitudine 53 by Manasc Isaac on a beautiful street in Bucharest, Romania.
Like Edmonton, Manasc Isaac’s home town, Bucharest is attracting young people who want to build something extraordinary in an open culture. There is a sense of possibility of not being a “finished” city. For too long, it’s been underestimated. Bucharest has a cooperative spirit, so it is another ideal city to reimagine design.
Thirty years ago there were many architects in Edmonton and not much work. Even worse, clients had little appetite for imagination and meaning in the city’s architecture. Alberta’s boom-and-bust cycles had created a culture of disposability. We wanted it cheap and we wanted it fast. When we had a major public project, we felt we had to import design talent.
Rather than complain, a few adventurous young architects from the city began designing and experimenting in the far north. With projects like Driftpile School they learned lessons in cold climates and in indigenous communities that influenced the rest of their careers: how to use the power of the sun, how to bring people together and ask the best questions, how to design with beauty and a sense of place and with a respect for local culture.
In the north, they learned to design buildings that can improve our environment.
In 1997 Vivian Manasc and Richard Isaac brought these lessons together and started a new company. They didn’t want to impose a quick design on a client and move on to the next one. They had learned to work differently, and think differently.
The year they officially opened the office, they launched the first Sustainable Building Symposium to educate potential clients, builders, and competitors. They designed the first Green Certified buildings in Alberta, the first LEED, the first LEED Silver, and the first LEED Gold north of the 60th parallel. Architects from across Canada and around the world came to Edmonton to learn more about Manasc Isaac architects and the way they worked. Many joined the team.
Manasc-Isaac Architects have used Alberta as a lab. They have reimagined architecture from Edmonton, the most northerly major city on the continent.
Their latest project, the Mosaic Centre for Conscious Community and Commerce, is the first net-zero commercial building in Alberta and a hint at the future of design in cold climates.
Edmonton in Romania
Ana-Dora Matei and Alecsandru Vasiliu moved to Edmonton from Bucharest after Vivian Manasc presented at their university. Vivian had traveled to Bucharest to share her expertise on a Manasc Isaac specialty, winter design. They had never heard of designing for winter, or any season, in European architecture.
When Vivian handed them her card and invited them to Edmonton they didn’t think she was serious. It turned out she was entirely serious. Ana and Alecsandru worked with the Manasc Isaac team in their modern building on 100th Avenue and, when it was time to return to Bucharest, their plan was simple: “steal everything we had learned in Edmonton.”
Like Edmonton, Bucharest is a city of booms and busts. After years of leaving Bucharest, creative young people are returning to start businesses, launch careers and build something. It has four distinct seasons, and a distinct culture. The city went through unfortunate architectural periods under communism, where leaders tore down heritage buildings to make way for cheap, inefficient, and sometimes ugly towers. There are plenty of architectural problems to solve in Bucharest, and Manasc Isaac sees it — like Edmonton — as a lab.
Latitudine 53’s first Bucharest adventure sees a tenant improvement of Avenor College, which will be home to 110 high school students. Balancing Cambridge standards with Romanian requirements, Avenor College will offer an engaging, beautiful and exciting environment for young adults, future professionals. Using a progressive design approach called Activity Based Working, the space will boast varied spaces that can be used in many different ways: breakouts, quiet concentrations spaces, as well as meeting and work areas.
As Latitudine 53 will prove through the Avenor College project, Bucharest is a city where imaginative people can make a difference.