Meet Richard Smith


Q. When did you first become interested in architecture?

RS “I have been interested in architecture since I was a kid. My great grandfather was an architect and had worked on the Library of Parliament (before it burned down) and he had all kinds of paintings and drawings that sparked my interest early on. I used to draw all day long and I suppose found my interest through drawing. As I got a bit older, I job shadowed an architect for a day and that was the real moment where I committed to wanting to become one. That same architect ended up being my mentor as part of my internship and we still keep in touch. In summary, I can say that architecture has been a part of my life for almost as long as I can remember.”

Q. Can you tell us more about your background in Architecture?

RS “I studied at Carleton University for both my Bachelor and Master of Architecture. Before grad school, I traveled to Dublin, Ireland which happened to be during their economic boom and worked there for an architectural practice for a year. During that time, I managed to travel quite a bit and see many great buildings across Europe. When I came back to finish school, I started working in Ottawa with CSV Architects, then Moriyama Teshima for a couple of years, and then later with HOK where I have been for the last ten.”

Q. Can you tell us some information about these projects you’ve previously worked on?

RS “For sure – I have done a lot of public institutional type work. I have worked on quite a bit of post-secondary or government projects like academic buildings, high security facilities such as banks and data centres, and of course offices. And more recently, I have also been working on sports & rec buildings and labs.

There are two projects that stand out.

The Jack Doyle Athletics and Recreation Centre is the most recent project I worked on before joining LemayMichaud. It will be an amazing space for students, with lots of fitness space, international size volleyball and basketball courts, a bowling alley, arcades, billiards, a climbing wall, a bar and patio, and a 350m running track suspended from the roof that ramps up and over itself! It will be opening this fall. It will be a pretty cool space to be in when it’s done.

The other one is the Books of Remembrance Interim Space. In the Peace Tower on the third floor, there is a memorial chamber that houses the Books of Remembrance that lists the names of fallen soldiers since the War of 1812. As part of the Centre Block Rehabilitation, this space was to undergo repairs so we had to create a temporary space in West Block to continue the daily ritual of honouring our fallen soldiers. It was a true honour to work on such a significant project and to work directly with people like the Dominion Sculptor. It was also nice on a personal level to leave a mark on Parliament in some way like my great grandfather.”

Q. Speaking of projects, what is your favorite phase of a project?

RS “Two-fold: design and construction. In the design phase, I love seeing the passion in a team that cares about creating something amazing. And the openness of discussing ideas and pushing ourselves further is deeply satisfying. I mean it’s what we went into architecture for and it happens for only a split second in the life of a project. But then, seeing excavation, topping out the steel, and the day that drywall goes up takes everything you’ve imagined to date and gives you a whole new and very real perspective (for better or worse!)”

Q. What do you think are your strengths as an architect?

RS “I would say I have been lucky to have worked on a wide variety of projects and have had to catch a lot of curve balls, so I think maybe having a wide perspective has been a strength. Apart from that, I think just keeping a steady keel has kept me out of trouble.”

Q. What do you think are the qualities required to be an architect today?

RS “One has to love architecture to do architecture. It can be a very demanding profession with long hours, long to-do’s, and high pressure. And despite all that it can be thankless sometimes too. These days, an architect has to be a hard worker, very diligent, detail oriented, but most importantly passionate about it. And actually, we don’t all need to be design superstars, there’s plenty of room to be passionate about different aspects of the job. At the end of the day seeing the product of hard work and passion in a completed building that you played a part in is deeply gratifying. Also a sense of humour helps.”

Q. Where do you find your inspiration?

RS “I love following work that comes out of Scandinavia, like work from BIG, Snohetta, or SHL. I had the opportunity of visiting Finland while living in Dublin and was surprised at how much it reminded me of home in northern Ontario. The climate and terrain are strikingly similar and yet our architecture is so different. I find there are many interesting lessons to be learned from their approach, and also a different emphasis on design as a society which is inspiring.”

Q. Is there an architectural movement that you prefer?

RS  “There are probably a few but for me the modernist work particularly of Louis Kahn is brilliant. We visited the Salk Institute, Exeter Library, and I have been to the IIT campus in Gujarat India, and each one is amazing in its own quiet way. Love the Bauhaus, and seeing earlier Art Deco projects in Chicago was amazing, in particular the level of craftsmanship and the use of materials.”

Q. Is there a project you would have liked to be the author of?

RS “There is a building in Ottawa called the Delegation of the Ismaili Imamat that was designed for the Aga Khan. Fumihiko Maki was the architect, and the building is an architectural gem for Canada. What’s interesting is that in the process of designing the building, 1:1 or 1:2 scale models were hand made and shipped from Japan to Ottawa to illustrate the details – an amazing process but the end result is beautiful and timeless. I would love to be behind a project like that.”

Q. What is your vision of an ideal architecture?

RS “I think an ideal architecture is when it strikes a chord with the public. When all the right conditions are in place – the building fits the neighbourhood, inspires and draws people in, has a timeless quality, and is well designed to last for generations, it starts to take on a life of its own. Even to a point at which people care for or even might love the building. And at some point, it becomes embedded in the identity of the city. For me that’s the jackpot, but it also takes an incredibly long time to reach that ideal.”

Q. What is your approach when working on a new mandate?

RS “When starting out, I find it’s best to listen more, and talk less. Asking the right questions, and finding the things that keep our clients up at night is important to trigger good discussion and generate design that resonates with their needs. I think there’s sometimes an inner desire to prove ourselves as an ‘expert’, but in the beginning, the client knows their problem the best and we just have to help to unlock the real needs.”


Develop or create?  Create

Dreamer or realist? Gotta be both!

Favorite part of your job? Every day is a new challenge.

What makes you want to wake up in the morning? I don’t usually have the choice – my kids wake me up.

Do you have a philosophy that guides you today? Be patient and positive.

What achievement are you most proud of? My family – my wife and kids fill me with so much pride and joy.

Black and white or colours? Colours

Mies van der Rohe or Frank Gehrry? Having been to the Barcelona Pavilion, and the Stata Center in Boston, Mies takes the cake.

What architectural work would you like to be the creator of ? Elbphilharmonie by Herzog & de Meuron

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