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A small Winnipeg architecture firm is taking on a new kind of construction project.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 15/12/2007 (5359 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

A small Winnipeg architecture firm is taking on a new kind of construction project.

It’s building consensus among Manitoba’s diverse collection of architects with the ultimate goal of demonstrating to the public the value of architectural design.

Members of the firm imagine making a bridge over the gap they believe exists between their profession and the public. But first they need to bridge gaps in the profession itself.

In November, the Manitoba Association of Architects (MAA) hired the company, 5468796, Inc., along with architect Ken Hildebrand, to develop a communications strategy for the association.

“This is our most challenging job yet,” says Sasa Radulovic, who co-founded 5468796 with Johanna Hurme in May. (They chose to name the firm after their business registration number, rather than after the names of the principals.)

The new communications team wants the membership and the public to hear about interesting and important advances in the local architectural sector. It figures on developing a five-year plan, taking inspiration from other groups, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects. The RIBA, for example, co-ordinates an annual Architecture Week that organizes design- and building-related events for thousands of visitors at sites around England.

“Of course Winnipeggers want to hear about architecture,” says Hurme. “People care about the environments they live and work in. I know they do.”

She imagines busy information kiosks at shopping malls, YouTube videos, MAA open houses, and maybe even a Manitoba Architecture Week. That is, after getting Manitoba architects to agree on what they all do.

The planned MAA outreach efforts come partly from the consequences of provincial Bill 7, passed in 2005. Among other things, the bill increased the size of buildings requiring an architect’s seal of approval from 400 square metres to 600 square metres.

Facing a loss of mandated professional power and also a loss of business, architects speaking against the changes couldn’t convince legislators of their worth. The MAA, with 450 members, also faced the 4,500-member-strong Associated Professional Engineers and Geoscientists of Manitoba, which supported the bill.

“It made a lot of us ask, ‘Who are we?'” says Radulovic. “Architecture seemed to fall off the cultural radar. If we determine we have a value, then we should be able to articulate it, but we couldn’t do that with Bill 7.”

The team will work over winter to articulate a set of messages the MAA membership can agree on by this April.

The postcards they used to get the job give a hint of what they might produce. Part of their pitch to the MAA included mailing various cards to members of the selection committee, each one with a play on a different well-known ad campaign, including “Got Architect?”

The MAA mandate prevents the association from overtly selling the profession of architecture, so the group will walk a fine line between marketing and educating. But Radulovic suggests that with the right public education campaign, “We don’t need to legislate when someone uses an architect.”

Hurme sees a good opportunity to consolidate ideas at a January event being organized by the University of Manitoba Association of Architecture Students. The organizers want to draw 10 presenters — including a photographer, a filmmaker and a visual artist, as well as a few architects — to talk about any design-related topic they want for six minutes and 40 seconds each.

“It tends to be a very competitive profession,” says Hurme. “It can get insular because firms don’t usually tell each other about projects.” Despite that, she anticipates the chance to loosen up with her peers at the January event and talks about organizing other events for architects to discuss and show their work in a social setting — beer and sketches, maybe.

Round-tables and other discussion groups will also play a part as members of the team spend the winter determining what local architects do for us.

“Architects seem to be held in high regard, but many people don’t seem to be sure of what we do.”

By April, they hope to have a public message the members can agree on, and which they can take to the public.

“This isn’t about telling people that design is important. People know it is — I know they do,” Hurme says. “This is about demonstrating that design is important. It’s our responsibility.”

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