Innovative and engaging design
MRA architecture + design is a full service, Montreal-based architectural firm defined by their experienced team, technical expertise, and creative know-how. Working from offices in the city’s historic Old Port District, they employ a staff of roughly 20 professionals of diverse backgrounds and experiences, including interior designers, architects, project managers, and architectural technologists. Together, they offer a comprehensive range of architectural services, and they have carried out a long list of high profile projects.
Since forming in 1996, MRA a+d has worked closely with a number of big-name clients, such as McDonald’s, Parkland (formerly CST/Ultramar), Canadian Tire, and Énergir (formerly Gaz Metro). Additionally, the firm has also seen through a wide range of commercial, institutional, and residential projects at various scales – most notably the Montreal Ronald McDonald House and a day-care and community facility in Port-Cartier. What’s more, they have established a track record for carrying out projects remotely. In recent years, the firm has notably overseen multiple mandates in Ontario and in the Maritimes.
According to Manon Renaud, Principal Architect, those kinds of clients choose MRA a+d for many reasons, but the biggest is their dedication to achieving their clients’ objectives. She says the firm is “wholly invested in the success of each project we undertake.”
“We set ourselves apart thanks to a shared vision: innovative and engaging design, rigorous strategic thinking, total transparency, and a passion for trusted client relationships,” Manon says.
“Driven by a deeply collaborative spirit and an utmost commitment to quality architecture and interior design, we pride ourselves on active involvement at every stage of the process, from a project’s inception all the way through to its successful completion,” she explains. “An integral and consistent focus on clients’ evolving needs and vision allows us to deliver bespoke solutions that meet their high expectations.”
Also, over the years, MRA a+d has honed the ability to creatively manage projects and complete them within short time frames – “with each being a testament to our dedication and integrated design process,” Manon says. She believes clients are also drawn to the firm by that proven efficiency.
Clients don’t just choose MRA a+d, however – MRA a+d also chooses their clients. These days, they look for clients who value creativity. They also look for clients who value energy-efficiency and social responsibility, as Manon and her team put a lot of thought into the long-term impact of what they design.
“We take what we do to heart,” says Nepheli Alexandris, Creative Director. “Every project that we undertake, we consider the effect it’s going to have on the environment and the surrounding community.”
In addition, MRA a+d looks for clients they can build long-term relationships with. According to Maxime Toussaint, Deputy Project Manager, repeat business is how the firm has lasted so long. They have been working with McDonald’s ever since the beginning of the company, for example, and many of the franchisees they have worked with have come to them to design their new homes and renovations.
“Our goal is never just to work with a client once,” he says. “We want to build a relationship that’s going to last a long time. We want to stay involved with the client, even after the project is finished. If they have any questions, we’re here to answer them. We’re totally committed to listening to them and supporting them at every stage.”
MRA a+d earns that loyalty, Manon believes, by demonstrating that commitment on every single project, no matter the size or scope.
“We take the same approach every time. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big project or a small project. Whoever approaches us, we give them and their project everything we’ve got. That’s in the DNA of our company.”
“The big point of difference for our firm is our customer service,” says Linda Thériault, Executive Director. “I truly believe that. I truly believe we go above and beyond to service our customers.”
“It’s never about our ego,” Maxime adds. “It’s always about the client first. It’s about making sure that they’re satisfied at the end of the process. If they are satisfied, we’ve done our job.”
Again, the team stresses, their goal is to achieve that satisfaction on more innovative and creative projects. They believe MRA a+d is a great fit for those projects for the aforementioned reasons – including their consistent approach, their efficient delivery, and their commitment to quality – but also because of the dynamism and passion of their team.
“We’re hungry for it,” Nepheli says. “We’ve put together a really great team, and we’re all ready to apply all our knowledge and put together everything we’ve learned. We know that if we get the opportunity, we can prove ourselves – both in architecture and interior design, because we have amazing teams doing both.”
In some ways, the firm has already proven themselves – for example, when they the Village des Écluses project. There, they designed an innovative “urban glamping” project to be located at the entrance to the Lachine Canal. That location is in a natural wind corridor, and MRA a+d’s design used the flowing wind as an inspiration for the shapes of the built environment. They competed against some very large firms to win that project, and Nepheli believes “our creative pushed us through.” (Unfortunately, the project was later abandoned by the client after many attempts to obtain the required financing.)
MRA a+d’s creativity also placed them close to winning other innovative projects still in the concept stage, including Plaisance National Park and Parc Mohawk. They have also proven themselves on a diverse array of state-of-the-art projects that have been fully delivered, including the Renaud-Lépine House (a sustainable residential project), the Cassinc offices (a luxury commercial project), and CPE Touchatouille (a public project).
The latter project, CPE Touchatouille, involved a booming area with many families that need a new day care in Port Cartier (‘CPE’ meaning Early Childhood Centre). The client wanted to serve more families by building new facilities for 80 additional children, and the new facilities – along with a family support and community centre – needed to be integrated to the existing building. They were able to purchase an old bowling alley that we were tasked to reimagine. We wanted to limit any demolition and use as much of the existing structure and building.
That project presented three major challenges: an envelope consisting of exterior metal cladding with no opening save for the main entrance; the need to increase usable floor area within the limits of the existing envelope; and the Quebec Ministry of Family’s stringent policies and regulations.
To solve those challenges, the MRA a+d team conducted a lot of research to find durable, affordable materials that met the rigorous needs of day care facilities (as well as all associated laws and regulations regarding exterior/interior architecture) – while “still conveying something about the building’s purpose and elevating the end user’s experience,” Manon explains. Windows were cut out and siding was added to make the long empty facade more dynamic and luminous. Additionally, fenestration was designed to position windows at different heights in a given room, thus providing children of varying ages and heights the opportunity to look outside and connect with nature. A “childlike sense of playfulness” was also conjured up via a colour modulation of the siding.
Another challenging project, a more recent one, would be the McDonald’s and Petro-Canada outlet that the firm recently designed in Chelsea. The challenge there was the city had to sign off on the design, and they insisted that it respect the more “rural, village-like architecture” of the surrounding area with 2 clients that had very modern and corporate aesthetics.
“That is definitely not the image of McDonald’s or Petro-Canada,” Nepheli says. “It was a challenge for us to merge the two aesthetics together and come up with something that would satisfy the city, as well as McDonald’s and Petro-Canada. We had to come up with a brand new aesthetic.”
“That’s something we’re very proud about,” she adds. “We came up with something that’s still very modern and very contemporary, while respecting the city’s demands .”
Another interesting element of that project, was that the site was home to several historic barns. The city asked MRA a+d to maintain the materials of those barns.
“That was challenging, but we were able to work with the contractors to come up with a way to refinish and reuse that existing barn-wood as an important cladding on the building. We’re seeing now that it’s led to a great result. The recycled wood looks amazing and rich.”
Over the years, MRA a+d has successfully carried out hundreds of projects, and they estimate they have just as many satisfied clients. Again, the team at MRA a+d credits that history of satisfaction to their consistent approach to design and their unwavering commitment to quality.
At the same time, they also credit the firm’s depth of capabilities – they have more than 20 “resourceful and highly skilled employees,” they have an architecture department, an interior design department, a 3D modelling division, they have a proven track record in creative project management, they provide effective administrative support, and they have “many esteemed and reliable external collaborators who share that vision.”
One such collaborator is WESCO – a globally-based, industry-leading, Fortune 500 company that specializes in electrical, communications, utility distribution, and supply chain solutions. Their history in the industry dates back almost 100 years, they have developed relationships with thousands of reputable brands, and they have nearly 800 branches and warehouses worldwide. With their experience, capacity, and longstanding partnerships, they can ensure that their customers are serviced efficiently and consistently, wherever they are located. Their goal is always to provide customers with a full range of products, services, and solutions that keep their business running in top form and help them stay ahead of the competition.
According to Manon, MRA a+d strives to form longstanding relationships with partners like WESCO, and historically, they have been very successful. She has personally been working with some of her consultants and vendors for more than 20 years.
“We’ve worked with some of the same people since the beginning,” she says. “In a lot of cases, the only reason we made a change was because someone retired.”
“We’re very loyal,” adds Linda. “We try to form long-lasting relationships with our consultants and suppliers, just like we do with our clients.”
In fact, when MRA a+d is bidding on a new project, they will very frequently go to their main consultants first and ask them to bid with them.
“That’s because we already have a good synergy with those professionals,” Maxime explains. “The project can only benefit from us working together from the start. It can only turn out better.”
MRA a+d strives to form similarly strong relationships with contractors. Most of the time, they don’t get to choose the builders they work with, but in all cases, they seek to collaborate closely and they strive to see things from the builders’ perspective.
“We understand that they are the ones that are actually building our vision,” Nepheli says. “It’s one thing to imagine something on paper and build an amazing 3D rendering, it’s another thing to actually make it come to life – and builders are the people making it come to life. We recognize that, and we believe collaborating with them is the key to a great result .”
“That’s why we try, when approved by the client, to be on site with them,” she continues. “If they have any questions, we want to be there to answer them.”
“And we put a lot of time and effort into the quality control of our drawings,” Maxime adds. “We don’t want to leave things up to interpretation, and we want to limit change orders as much as we can. When the builders on site and delivering the project, we want to do our part to make sure things go as smoothly as possible.”
Moving forward, MRA a+d’s vision is to continue to spread their wings and take on new and innovating projects, while at the same time continuing to take care of the clients they already have. For example, they are grateful for their lasting relationship with McDonald’s, and they hope to continue working on their local projects for a long time.
In addition, maybe a little further down the line, the firm is also interested in developing and designing some of their own projects. Their idea is to start with some high-end single-residential jobs where they can highlight the latest technology and the latest environmental initiatives.
“We want to be on the cutting edge of efficiency and durability,” Nepheli says. “We’ve even looked at passive housing. We believe that’s where the residential industry needs to be headed. That’s what the future demands, and we want to meet the future head on.”
For more on MRA a+d, their team, their services, and their diverse array of projects – and to get in touch with their team – visit https://www.mraa.ca/