Six regional firms, six brands, six cultures, all with the the same ownership as a result of acquisition. The complexities involved in combining these separate entities into more than the sum of their parts is weighed against the possible benefits each can contribute to a new, stronger and unified practice across Canada and beyond. This is both the challenge and the opportunity.
In fact, the complexities run deeper that they first appear; we needed to deal with language constraints and concerns for the Quebec market that would impact naming and other communications. Plus, a specialized approach that works in larger centres isn’t ideal for the smaller regional markets that rely on being generalists.
Big or small, any move to becoming a national practice with a new name, identity and message needs to be navigated carefully to retain brand equity, capitalize on decentralized strengths and not alienate existing clients and staff.
In Canada there are several large scale architectural practices. The advantage these firms have is that they can be all things to all people, everywhere. The opposite end of the spectrum is a small, focused firm. In this case, the latter doesn’t suit all of the offices and markets we have.
Combine this with the following thought: What does it take to be a specialist in a particular discipline? Is it that the firm has done four. five or more of a particular building type and then you’re an expert? For some, maybe, but this new, combined practice wanted to make a serious commitment to clear lines of specialty. This comes with a need to identify both qualitatively and quantitatively what the firm needs to do, the resources and time required to do the best work and demonstrate a level of leadership internally and externally around each area of specialization.
Before we set about naming the firm, we led the decision the firm would not operate under a list of 25 sectors, and a raft of disciplines all spread thinly. Instead, we would count just six key sectors on which to focus the combined skills and reputations. Would this list continue to expand over time? Yes, but only based on the rigour of achievement and practice so they may be counted as authentic.
Working with the principals representing each of the firms coming together, we led a series of meetings, workshops and discussions as we identified key brand qualities, goals, personality and rationale to get consensus from the group at all stages in this ten month engagement.
There was a desire for the new firm identity to in some way represent the Canadian values of its founding firms. Not in a blatant, flag-waving way, but by introduction of subtle elements that could capture this as a nod to the culture and geographic location.
We explored hundreds of options. Using our evaluative process for naming, ultimately Architecture49 / A49 was chosen. As the 49th parallel is recognized both nationally and globally as a distinctively Canadian symbol—as part of the name, it becomes a clear and simple statement about the design-forward focus on architecture from the unique values and perspective of this Canadian-based practice.
Allowing for the word “Architecture” to be represented by a capital “A” creates a symbolism for a design-forward approach (“Big ‘A’ Architecture”) and simplifies French—English language constraints: A49: Simple, clear, and effective.
The visual language uses both long and abbreviated forms of the name, and in several of the communications the use of an implied line as either a page edge or blind emboss is symbolic of the 49th parallel and functions as a device to illustrate the transformation from short to long forms of the name. The use of red and white in the identity, while contemporary in architecture, has deeper meaning here too: they are the colours of Canada.
Providing materials that are flexible enough to be used in multiple offices, for ever-changing needs was paramount. While certain elements are standardized for the firm and produced centrally, it was important that sales materials and proposal documents could be customized and produced within each office.
To enable the new brand to thrive it needs to be consistently applied, and flexible. The brand story, language and tone, graphic standards and final production files are clearly articulated and packaged in our secure, online brand resource and management tool called Managed Brand.
For Architecture49 the stage is set for a successful and more powerful presence in the AEC sector.
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