Company of the Year 16-50 Employees

By Ian Ross

Form follows function.

The well-known tenet of modern architecture that buildings should be designed to be functional and based on its intended use is what FORM Architecture Engineering ascribes to strives for its clients.

"The name speaks to what we do; we give shape to buildings," said John Stephenson, a partner at the Thunder Bay firm.

"What we care most is making better buildings for people and paying attention to the needs of those who use it, the owners who operate it, and making sure we give the people who interact with the buildings the best possible end result. That's a passion we all share."

A past winner of the Northern Ontario Business Awards in 2004 under the previous name of Kuch Stephenson Gibson and Malo, the firm was established in 2002 with the merger of two Thunder Bay firms – Kuch Stephenson Architects and GBW + Architects and Engineers.

When colleague Cory Stechyshyn was elevated to become the sixth partner – joining Stephenson, Walter Kuch, Michelle Gibson, Jim Malo, and Ian McEachern – they wisely avoided a ridiculously long letterhead by choosing a new identity last year to better reflect the firm's vision and reputation for innovative design.

The 35-employee, multi-disciplinary firm brings a mix of youth and experience in architecture, structural engineering, interior design and technical expertise that spans three generations.

"We all have our own distinct approach and niche specialties in building types," said Stephenson. "It's quite a complementary mix of skill sets."

The firm's portfolio contains an impressive range of projects across northwestern Ontario in health care, biomedical research and the justice sector; in high-end custom residential work, educational facilities, and retirement and seniors long-term care housing.

FORM has worked on some landmark local and regional projects such as Confederation College's REACH building, the new home for Thunder Bay's Social Services Administrative Board, the St. Joseph's Care Group Centre of Excellence and Terrace Bay's downtown revitalization.

Clients have heaped praise on the firm for its thoughtful, creative and detailed approach in designing buildings and spaces that are functional, efficient and aesthetically pleasing.

"A good work environment should not only be functional, but lifts your spirits and makes you feel good about spending your day there," said Stephenson.

FORM remains an ardent practitioner of energy efficiency and sustainable design.

The firm places a premium on incorporating natural light and choosing materials that don't emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

One building that epitomizes the firm's values is the Sister Margaret Smith Centre, an addictions services facility, which was Thunder Bay's first building to receive a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold certification for environmental friendliness.

"It's a healing building that exudes calm and peacefulness, embraces natural light, and has a healthy indoor environment with sustainable design," said Stephenson.

Being located in the Boreal forest, the partners prefer wood because of its structural properties, its environmental sustainability, and, in some cases, its superior performance to steel.

The firm is dedicated to working closely with clients, using building modeling software, which provides a 3-D representation of the design of their building.

"Clients love it because it's much easier for them to visualize what it is that we're designing for them," said Stephenson. "We love it because it's much easier for our team to understand how the pieces come together."

Early in its history, the firm has had its share of struggles but today there's much to feel good about with Thunder Bay's diversifying economy.

"It is becoming a very healthy and vibrant regional service centre in many ways, and with mining on the edge of a boom, there's a tremendous amount of optimism," said Stephenson.

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