The Workun Garrick Partnership, Architecture and Interior Design Inc., an Edmonton-based firm providing service in architecture, programming and interior design, is celebrating 66 years.
It was 1953 when John (Scotty) MacIntosh opened an architecture firm under his own name. He helmed the company alone until 1967 when he was joined by Morley Workun and George Chernenko. The trio celebrated a major milestone in 1990 when a merger with Garrick Sivertson Architects took place. Three years later MacIntosh, Sivertson and Cherneko retired, and the firm rebranded as Workun Garrick Architects and Associates, with Morley Workun and Paul Garrick as directors. Garrick and Workun retired in the early 2000s and the firm was re-named The Workun Garrick Partnership Architecture and Interior Design Inc. to celebrate its founders and history. Dave MacGregor and Robert Rabinovitch, who became directors in 1999 and 1997 respectively, fondly remember working with Morley Workun and Paul Garrick. With the addition of a new partner, Tristan Hawryluk, in 2018, the current generation of directors are continuing the legacy that began nearly 70 years ago.
Responsive. Dedicated. Innovative. Loyal. Those are the words the partners use to describe the firm.
“We have always been highly responsive to our clients’ needs,” says Macgregor, “and we have always strived to be leaders and innovators in building. Our many design awards speak to this.”
“We have loyal staff and loyal clients,” Hawryluk adds. “A lot of our clients over the years have become close personal friends.”
The commitment to clients means a partner is with each project from initial conception to the final completion. Even when the project takes years, the client has one point of contact – and that point is a partner. Additionally, the firm routinely connects with the same contractors, subtrades and consultants, bringing stability and familiarity to their clients’ projects. It is this customer focus that has seen Workun Garrick grow from a partnership of two to a thriving company with a staff of 25.
Workun Garrick has a reputation – and it’s a good one. They are fondly known across Alberta as “the school builders.” Although the company has diversified and provides services in many sectors such as recreational, commercial, First Nations, sustainable facilities and housing, the 2,000+ school projects across the province have had an undeniable impact in the communities they serve, and on the builders too.
“With our experience, we have a complete and thorough understanding of what it takes to build a school,” says MacGregor. “We know the issues that can crop up, from asbestos to structural implications. We also understand phasing while working on a building occupied by students.”
Building a school is far more than putting up walls.
“Workun Garrick is committed to the quality of the learning space,” Rabinovitch stresses. “It’s important to provide spaces that function now, and well into the future for the ever-changing school environment.”
Hawryluk adds, “Schools are never one-size-fits-all. We listen to the client’s needs and come up with unique solutions for every project.”
Since Workun Garrick builds in remote areas as well as urban centres, the partners know that the schools they build are often the lifeblood of the community. In rural regions the school is where weddings are held, town meetings take place, and the local sports team plays. It’s a social place, a place of learning, and a facility that keeps a community together. It is not uncommon for the graduation rates to rise in areas where Workun Garrick builds a school, and the partners treasure the letters they receive from students after a successful project.
However, schools are just part of the company’s massive portfolio.
“We have been involved in sustainable development since the early 2000s and have several people on our staff that are experts in this field, says MacGregor. Examples can be seen in a diverse array of facilities, from the City of Edmonton’s Capilano Fire Hall No. 1 to the Bob Clark Public Library in Carstairs.
“First Nations make up a significant number of clients, with projects completed for 36 of the 45 First Nations in Alberta,” MacGregor continues. “We understand cultural differences with our clients, and we are willing to learn and respond to their individual needs.”
Despite being 66 years old, the company has never stagnated. In a physical demonstration of this, the firm has recently moved after operating from the same location for 30 years.
“The move was a sign of going forward, remaining strong and our commitment to the staff,” Rabinovitch explains. “It was such a significant moment signifying that we are not only moving forward with projects, we are moving forward as a strong and united team.”
Each partner counts every project and every moment of the journey as memorable, but there are a few moments that stand out. For Rabinovitch, it was the move. He had worked from the previous location for 25 years. He is also thrilled with the student feedback the firm receives, particularly from First Nations communities, when children tell him they are excited and proud to attend their classes.
MacGregor also cherishes the letters from students, and the reminders that many places in Alberta remain traditional and remote. When working on a school for a First Nations community outside of Nordegg, 30 students came to the Workun Garrick office to learn more about the firm. As none of them had ridden an elevator before, the first hour of the meeting was spent riding the lift. It’s these kinds of moments that routinely make his day.
For Hawryluk, it was sitting in a sports complex in Calgary that Workun Garrick helped build. As he witnessed the first old-timers game in the new space, he was struck by the joy and laughter in the stands, and was very proud to have a hand in bringing that joy to life.
There are plenty of smiles to be had as projects change communities and lives, but there are challenges too.
“Fees are getting lower but the demand for services are rising,” admits MacGregor. “We are in a marketplace right now where everyone is driving costs down to compete. However, we have a very talented team and always push ourselves to do better on each project, despite market conditions.”
“Technology is always changing too,” Hawryluk points out. “How we did our drawings just five years ago has changed.”
Workun Garrick rises to meet every challenge, and this grit and determination enables them to compete successfully against firms four times their size.
“Sometimes size doesn’t matter!” the partners say cheekily, pointing out that the history, trustworthiness and reputation of Workun Garrick solidifies their place in the market.
Another place the firm is pleased to be known is among the many non-profit organizations in Alberta. Workun Garrick is happy to support the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada and JDRF Edmonton, along with numerous local sports teams, Rotary Clubs, rodeos and tournaments in the communities in which they do business. The firm also supports the Edmonton Oil Kings, purchasing a block of seats each year and donating them to school boards so that underserved children can have fun at a game.
Despite winning numerous awards and garnering many recognitions for their work, including several A4LE School Awards (formerly CEFPI), the partners say it is the collective input and creativity of their team and their clients that have helped earn those awards.
“There are so many great firms out there. When we win an award, it means we are doing something that exceeds expectations in customer experience and quality,” says MacGregor.
“A win is like a pat on the back that reaffirms you are doing good work,” agrees Hawryluk.
“It’s not the awards that drive us,” adds Rabinovitch, “but they are a huge bonus to us and to our clients.”
The Workun Garrick Partnership expresses deep and heartfelt thanks to its staff. “Having 25 people here and competing with bigger companies means you must have a staff with incredible efficiency, dedication, talent and focus. We look at our staff as a family. We have people here that have been with us for more than 10-15 years. We really look at our staff as being key to our success.”
It’s easy to look back when you have more than 60 years of history behind you, but Workun Garrick has always been a firm that has looked to the future.
What does that future look like?
“More of the same!” they laugh in unison. More of creating trust with clients. More of the personal service for which they are known. More of taking a project efficiently from conception to completion. More schools. More sustainable facilities. More recreational and social spaces. There will be more of building communities, urban and rural, and providing facilities designed for the people that live, work, play and learn there.
Workun Garrick has been part of the fabric of Alberta for decades, and with a succession plan in place the legacy is set to continue well into the future.