Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Tower designer not licensed

Can't legally lead project, association says

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The man behind the design of a proposed 24-storey tower for Waterfront Drive has angered the province's architects who say he can't legally lead a project of that magnitude.

Sotirios Kotoulas signed his name to several drawings that were submitted to city hall for an exemption to the Exchange District building-height restriction but, according to the Manitoba Association of Architects, only licensed architects can legally design buildings of that magnitude.

The association says Kotoulas is not registered as an architect, has never applied to register as an architect in Manitoba, and is not a licensed architect in Manitoba or New York state, where he had been working and living.

When Kotoulas introduced himself in council chambers earlier this week, he identified himself as the "designer" of the 24-storey tower and said he is currently a professor at the faculty of architecture at the University of Manitoba -- which he is not. He had been employed by the U of M as a sessional lecturer but he is not currently.

"I'm surprised that an architectural graduate would be so bold," to submit drawings that he ought to know can only be signed by a licensed architect, said MAA executive director Judy Pestrak. "I'm a bit surprised how far this has gone in the city of Winnipeg without anybody taking a look at this individual's credentials. Why the City of Winnipeg would accept information that didn't involve a licensed professional or even licensed somewhere."

Pestrak said Kotoulas' activities on the project contravene the provincial Architects Act, which requires all individuals who represent themselves as architects or practise architecture to be licensed and a registered member of the Manitoba Association of Architects.

Designers or technologists can create images and drawings for a project the scale of the Waterfront Tower, but they need to be stamped by a licensed architect.

'I'm a bit surprised how far this has gone in the city of Winnipeg without anybody taking a look at this individual's credentials' -- Judy Pestrak, executive director of the Manitoba Association of Architects

Kotoulas told the Free Press in an email he never claimed to be an architect but would not respond to questions about his activities in the architecture profession or why he claimed to be an architecture professor.

According to a Government of Canada release regarding a trade mission to Greece in June, Kotoulas was identified as a project manager/architect, working for his father's Winnipeg firm, Alpha Masonry.

Pestrak said Kotoulas, as a graduate of undergraduate and master's architecture programs, would know he has to be licensed as an architect to submit original architectural drawings, which he did for the Waterfront project.

To be licensed as an architect in any jurisdiction, she said, individuals after graduation must have working experience and pass an exam.

"This individual, quite frankly, is not an architect," Pestrak said. "There is no question that building (the 24-storey tower), falls well within the realm of architecture that is restricted to the realm of licensed professionals."

The downtown development committee approved the variance for the tower project Monday, despite strong opposition from Waterfront Drive residents who said its height, in comparison to the existing buildings, made it totally inappropriate for that location.

Kotoulas, by way of introduction, told the committee he had graduated from prestigious architecture programs in the United States and is now a member of the project team that had produced several studies that demonstrated the tower was appropriate for the site and could be constructed as proposed.

"My name is Sotirios Kotoulas and I am the designer of the James Avenue Pumping Station proposal that we're discussing today," Kotoulas told the committee. "I am currently a professor at the University of Manitoba school of architecture."

Councillors on the committee said they approved the tower because it would save the historic James Avenue Pumping Station. The tower will be built literally on top of the 107-year-old pumping station: Its roof will be removed and the tower will sit on top of 18 1.2-metre-by-1.2-metre concrete caissons drilled into the station's floor -- without damaging any of the massive antique mechanical engines, pumps and other pieces of machinery on the crowed floor.

Kotoulas said he and other members of the team met several times over the past two years with city planning officials to explain the drawings and studies, and also met with other groups and even provincial officials. At one point, he described the project as "my proposal."

"In May and June (of 2013) we had intense architectural meetings where we further developed the project," Kotoulas told the city councillors who make up the downtown development committee.

"July 31, I presented to the board of Heritage Winnipeg and they unanimously supported the project.

"Aug. 19, we, I, our team presented... and got approval for the height variance."

The City of Winnipeg would not make planning director Barry Thorgrimson or any other official available to answer questions about why Kotoulas' credentials were not verified before planning staff approved the project and the height exception, or if they believed he was an architect.

A city spokeswoman said professional accreditation is not necessary for a variance application, adding it wouldn't be an issue until building plans are submitted. A building permit application must include a design professional of record, the spokeswoman said, who is licensed in Manitoba. Only drawings submitted for building permits must bear a valid seal or stamp for a registered architect and engineer.

Coun. Jeff Browaty, a member of the downtown development committee, said he was not aware Kotoulas was not an architect and added he didn't know how that would affect the project.

"I'll have to talk to the (planning department) to see what the ramifications are," Browaty (North Kildonan) said, adding building permits have not yet been issued and the final design is still subject to committee approval.

Developer Peter Anadranistakis, who put the project team together, said in an email Kotoulas is the project designer and he had no concerns about his actions.

Pestrak said architects from outside the province still have to be members of the MAA to work in Manitoba, adding half the MAA members reside outside the province.

However, Pestrak said there is no indication Kotoulas is even working in Winnipeg under the supervision of a licensed architect.

Pestrak said the MAA will formally notify Kotoulas he cannot practice as an architect without being licensed, adding he could be subject to prosecution and face a $10,000 fine if he continues or the association could get an injunction from the courts stopping him from working on the project.

She said city hall cannot issue building permits based on any drawings submitted by Kotoulas' drawings for the project, adding the MAA will notify the city about his situation.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2014 A3


Updated on Friday, January 10, 2014 at 6:23 AM CST: Replaces photo

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