Canadian Design Firm Makes Its Mark

May 01, 2009 |

For a firm of its size—45-50 employees, depending on the number of interns on board at any time—Manasc Isaac Architects Ltd. has done more than its share to raise environmental and social consciousness in its home city of Edmonton and the surrounding province of Alberta.

More than a decade ago, when the firm was less than half its current size, Manasc Isaac was instrumental in founding the Sustainable Building Consortium, which advocates for higher environmental standards. The consortium’s annual symposium promotes R&D related to green buildings and sustainable materials.

In more recent times, the firm, led by managing principal Vivian Manasc, FRAIC, MBA, LEED AP, and principal-in-charge of design Richard Isaac, MRAIC, MAAA, was instrumental in encouraging the city of Edmonton to adopt LEED Silver as its standard for new public buildings. It also successfully advocated for the establishment of the Edmonton Design Committee, an urban design review panel. Shafraaz Kaba, a partner in the firm, was named the committee’s co-chair.

Among the accolades bestowed on Manasc Isaac for its environmental leadership have been an Alberta Ingenuity Fund Industry Associates Award, a two-year R&D grant to develop an online tool to measure the energy performance of buildings; the Brilliant Building Award, which honors firms that foster the link between economics, environment, and security; a Royal Architectural Institute of Canada Innovation Award; and a Governor General’s Award in Architecture, the nation’s highest civic honor for design excellence, for its Yukon Visitor Reception Centre, in Whitehorse.

As for its commitment to sustainability, Manasc Isaac walks the walk. When it outgrew its original space, the firm took an abandoned two-story federal building and rehabbed it into an environmentally sensitive atelier, where it occupies the first floor and basement. A company-owned Smart car is available for staff to use for local site visits and errands. The firm gives free bus passes to employees who take public transit to work; employees who walk or bike to work get a cash bonus.

When the firm took employees on its annual ski weekend to Jasper this past March (with accommodations, meals, transport, and lift tickets provided at company expense), everyone took the train to save greenhouse gas emissions.

In January 2008, the firm signed on to the 2030 Challenge, pledging to reduce the carbon footprint of the buildings it designs. Long before that, however, it had in place green purchasing procedures for office paper and cleaning supplies. Food for staff meetings and Friday afternoon jam sessions—there are a goodly number of talented musicians on staff—is locally sourced as much as possible; any edible waste goes into bins for the office worms to digest.

Employees and partners have served as volunteers and board members with numerous local community organizations—the Edmonton Cultural Plan Committee, the city’s economic development corporation, and the citizens’ committee seeking to bring a world’s fair to Edmonton in 2017. Vivian Manasc is chair of the Continuing Education Committee of the Canada Green Building Council.

On the arts front, partner Shafraaz Kaba has served on the public art committee of the Edmonton Arts Council and was instrumental in founding the MADE (Media, Art and Design Exposed) in Edmonton Society, which promotes architecture and design.

Employees also raise money to benefit the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada by sponsoring the Edmonton portion of the “Big Bike” annual fundraiser. The “Big Bike” runs through 200 communities across nine provinces, raising millions for medical research.

Largely because of its outstanding record of environmental leadership and community involvement, Manasc Isaac continues to grow and prosper. Despite the worldwide economic downturn, 2008 was a solid year for the firm, and employees were rewarded with year-end bonuses based on performance and profit-sharing.

“We have a real international mix of people who are drawn to Manasc Isaac by our shared goals,” says Manasc. “There’s a real commitment to sustainable practices in our buildings and in our community.” —Robert Cassidy, Editor-in-Chief


Additional Employee Benefits at Manasc Isaac

• Free trip to Greenbuild Conference for employees who pass the LEED AP exam (four new LEED APs—of the 12 on staff—got free trips to Greenbuild last November).

• Up to $750CAD and two paid working days a year per employee for approved CE courses.

• $30 a month fitness subsidy; indoor bike storage and shower facility.

• Twice-weekly yoga/fitness classes led by an outside instructor.

• Twice-monthly lunch-and-learns.

• Annual one-day retreat for full staff; second day for professional staff.

• Monthly architectural history seminar led by staff member Sandra Valens, formerly an instructor at Northern Alberta Institute of Technology.

• Flex hours.
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