HOW MARTINSIMMONS IS IMPROVING OUR REGION –  ONE PROJECT AT A TIME

BY CHRIS TIESSEN

The region is in good hands, I cannot help but think to myself as I listen intently to Jason Martin and Patrick Simmons – the ‘Martin’ and ‘Simmons’ of Kitchener’s storied MartinSimmons Architects – espouse what it means for them to ‘do architecture’ across Waterloo Region and (increasingly) Wellington County. It’s a subject about which they know more than just a little. For over the past seven decades, this local firm has helped design, plan and build some of the most architecturally significant spaces and places across our communities. From corporate headquarters to educational institutions; from mixed-use infill to residential and adaptive reuse projects – MartinSimmons has seemingly done it all.

Kitchener’s Breithaupt Block, for example – an inspiring adaptive reuse project that houses Google’s Canadian headquarters. And the impressive Waterloo Region Courthouse. Then there’s Mammoet Canada Eastern Ltd’s offices – a sprawling compound just outside Guelph in the Township of Puslinch. Waterloo’s Open Text headquarters. Blackberry’s Creekside and Northfield Campuses. The Blacksmith Lofts in Cambridge. The list goes on (and on, and on).

‘It’s all about stewardship,’ notes Patrick as he explains what drives the firm’s vision for our local communities. ‘About carefully and deliberately considering where our region has come from, and where it needs to go in order for this group of thriving, livable cities to be nurtured and sustained. Our buildings and the spaces they encompass shape our abilities to gather, and communicate, and work and play, and, ultimately, to thrive. It’s imperative then,’ he adds, ‘that we support and facilitate those functions through good planning, design and execution. ’

Patrick continues: ‘We’re living at a time when our communities are undergoing massive transformation. Consider Kitchener-Waterloo, for example. What was once an industrial powerhouse is now driven by a digital, or knowledge-based, economy. Our region’s architectural landscape reflects this dramatic change insofar as the specific utilitarian and aesthetic needs and wants of the innovation sector seem to demand contemporary building design.’

‘What makes Kitchener-Waterloo so special,’ adds Jason, ‘is that there are so many remaining examples of industrial architecture here. Closed-down factories provide the bare bones upon which creative architects can build something new and extraordinary. Adaptive reuse projects are extremely challenging ,’ he adds, ‘yet they provide great opportunities for fantastic builds.’

Like the Breithaupt Block, for instance. ‘For that project,’ Jason notes, ‘we sought to perfectly balance purpose, need and design. The purpose – to create a building that would potentially serve not only as Google’s Canadian offices but also as a tangible expression of Kitchener Waterloo’s emergent position as global innovation hub. The need – to function seamlessly as an integrated space that serves both a primary tenant’s needs and the needs of other businesses that call Breithaupt home. And the design – to gesture towards the region’s industrial past while invoking its brilliant future as global tech giant.’

I am swept away by these statements of vision, and equally mesmerized by the Google project itself. From its century-old brick shell to its awe-inspiring glass addition, it’s truly magnificent – whether viewed from a window seat at Smile Tiger or from a car driving down King toward Kitchener from Uptown Waterloo. It’s especially from this latter view that I – as someone raised in Kitchener – feel the project’s spectacular impact. ‘What you’ve given to this community is so much more than great design,’ I blurt out to these city builders – hardly able to contain myself. ‘And more, even, than an impactful cityscape – which is itself such an incredible gift.’ Mind racing, I try to collect my thoughts. ‘It’s a stake in the ground – signaling, through these spaces and places you’ve designed and helped create, the re-emergence of this region as something truly great. And truly global.’ And all by this local firm.

Indeed, MartinSimmons knows this region. And lives it every day. In a world where so many developers look toward larger Toronto-based architectural firms for their design work, Patrick points to his firm’s ability to, in his words, ‘punch above our weight.’ And they do it with a nimble team of twelve staff and experienced contract employees.

‘Consider the Blackberry Northfield campus, for instance,’ Jason remarks. ‘Four buildings. 500,000 square feet. All completed in four years. It was the largest and fastest commercial project in Waterloo Region – and probably in Ontario – at the time.’ He continues: ‘We’re always looking to push the envelope, while collaborating with younger developers and progressive clients who require compelling design solutions.’

I can feel the creative drive and energy, vision and commitment of these two amazing men. ‘We do what I’ve labeled ‘real architecture’,’ Jason says. ‘Thoughtful design. A true understanding of context. And a legitimate effort to tie the community together. At the end of the day, we’re stewards,’ he adds, circling back to Patrick’s observation. ‘We make great architecture for clients who want great design – and for a community that deserves it.’ He pauses, and then continues: ‘Really, what we’re looking to do is improve our region – one project at a time.’

martinsimmons.ca