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Young Architect Award winner adds a few more feathers to his cap

Former Saultite Luc Bouliane, with partner Natasha Lebel, has expanded firm, won another award and some plum contracts

In 2018, Sault native Luc Bouliane received the Young Architect Award from The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.

It was definitely a feather in the cap for the young professional who runs the Toronto-based firm Lebel and Bouliane with his wife Natasha Lebel.

“She’s an architect and has a business background,” Bouliane told Sootoday in a 2018 interview. “She brings all that savvy to the business which has been amazing.”

Bouliane says the award was a great marketing point for the company.

A year after getting the Young Architect Award, Lebel and Bouliane also won Designlines Magazine’s first Designer of the Year Award.

“We definitely grew. We are probably twice the size as in 2018,” said Bouliane. “We’re still not big, it’s only about 12,” he added.

The firm has been busy since 2018.

It’s worked on the offices of a couple of very large tech companies and did design work for an ad agency’s offices in New York. There was also a job for Algoma University’s Brampton Campus.

“It’s been exciting because their Brampton Campus has been really expanding the last couple of years, he said.

Currently, Bouliane has no project in his old hometown, but he is working on a cottage on St. Joseph Island.

The firm just completed its first new-build library located in Stayner Ont., just outside Collingwood.

“It’s a beautiful new library branch that just opened this spring during COVID, so the public hasn’t even been in yet,” said Bouliane.

As with any other business, COVID forced Lebel and Bouliane to adapt and adjust.

“Like everyone, we had to close down and got everybody set up remotely on computers,” said Bouliane.

That’s no small task for an architecture firm.

“The programs we use are huge programs,” said Bouliane.

Simple laptops at home can’t handle many of the 3D models created by architects.

From March to June the firm worked remotely before moving back to its downtown Toronto offices.

“We’ve been lucky in a sense. We have our own building. We have multiple doors right off the street. We were also expanding in our building, so it meant we had extra space.”

The office also has an outdoor courtyard in the back with a deck, barbecue and furniture. Company and client meetings could be held outside.

Bouliane said working remotely can be done, but there are disadvantages. He says it's not as easy making a design pitch over the computer. “You can’t really sense the room,” he said.

Internal communication between workers is tougher, he said. For example, instead of having a short five-second conversation as you pass by someone’s desk, you find yourself setting up a meeting over the computer.

Bouliane says some people may find working-from-home attractive, but many are chomping at the bit to get back to traditional routines.

“A lot want to go back to work. It’s fun, you see people, you collaborate,” he said. “A lot of businesses will want people back into the office … Without a home base it’s hard to create a vibe or a culture.”

“I think it’s going to be a mix,” he added.

Bouliane, a Sir James Dunn graduate, has not been back home to the Sault recently, but he remains in touch with what’s happening locally.

His parents Gary and Judith are retired and living in Long Pointe on the shores of Lake Erie. He has aunts, uncles and many friends in the Sault.

The area’s natural beauty has always been a source of inspiration in his work.

“The geology and natural environment are key on every one of our projects. I think of the Sault often that way,” he said.

This creativity is central in all of Bouliane’s projects which are divided into three basic categories.

There is residential work; creative commercial interiors and institutional work such as museums, libraries and universities such as projects for the University of Toronto.

As the company navigates its way through COVID challenges, Bouliane said the three-pronged plan is working well.

“Our work is so diverse now,” he said. “We have a good base to our business.”