Wensley Architecture Ltd.

The legacy of preeminent western Canadian architect B. James Wensley is being carried forward by Wensley Architecture Ltd.’s principals Barry Weih and Neil Banich. “He set some pretty high standards and values, and the current company is a continuation of these values,” Weih explains. “Wensley Architecture’s tradition is to focus on high quality, design and client service. Both Neil and I worked with Jim for over 10 years prior to becoming owners. We had the good fortune of having him as our mentor, as someone we could learn from as we were developing our craft.”

In 2001, the pair bought the company, which is now celebrating the 25th anniversary of its establishment in British Columbia. Weih joined the company in 1991, and Banich in 1988.  “Wensley Architecture has an excellent reputation for retail and commercial design, and we continue to have a strong emphasis on that,” Weih notes. The firm has designed more than 1 million square feet of retail space in recent years.

Over the last 10 years, the company has diversified, becoming a significant player in the development of residential, senior care and mixed-use projects. “From our point of view for a straight business model, we’re happy to see that kind of diversity, because strength in one sector can offset market weakness in other sectors,” Weih says.

“On the residential side, we have designed and seen construction completed on somewhere around 800 units of housing over the last 10 years, and we continue to see growth in that market,” Weih estimates. A recent mixed-use project is Via, which was nominated for a Georgie Award.

Laurel Place is a recent senior care facility Wensley Architecture designed for the LARK Group that is operated by the Ahmon Group. “There’s a real need for high quality senior care facilities,” Weih points out. He estimates that in recent years, Wensley Architecture’s number of senior care projects has doubled, and its number of residential projects has tripled. “We’re anywhere between 40 and 50 percent residential and senior care design,” Weih says.

Retail Development

Completed in September 2010, Wensley Architecture Ltd. designed Garibaldi Village, a mixed use development in Squamish, British Columbia, located on the Sea Sky Highway that linked Whistler with Vancouver for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The 86,000-square-foot project consisted of 66,000 square feet of retail and 20,000 square feet of office on a second floor above the retail space. “The developer saw the need in the Squamish marketplace to build some high-quality office space, so it seemed like a good opportunity here,” Weih recalls.  “We didn’t want a bunch of stucco boxes there, and both the owner and developer, Wesbild Holdings Ltd., were pretty clear on that. We wanted to reflect the mountains in the backdrop, so we had the idea to use inverted roof forms. We used local timber and stone and some fairly simple steel and concrete to create a building that reflected the topography of the area.”

The center’s roof overhangs its sidewalks to help protect the walls from wind-driven rain or moisture. “It’s pretty important to have those kinds of overhangs in this climate to protect the integrity of the building envelope,” Weih points out.

Fast Track

The project was definitely on the fast track in two phases – construction of a large drug store and then completion of the rest of the center.

“It was on an extremely tight schedule,” Weih emphasizes. “We had to turn London Drugs over in a space of time that seemed impossible initially, but with a lot of good teamwork, we were able to get London Drugs open in time and complete the balance of the project.”

The mostly vacant site between existing commercial buildings only required clearing of one small building. The soil needed to be preloaded with heavy materials to compact it for approximately 90 days. “That kind of slowed us up in terms of being able to start when we wanted to start,” Weih notes. The contractor was Norson Construction Ltd. of North Vancouver, British Columbia.

The company is a member of the Canada Green Building Council and has three LEED-accredited professionals on staff, including Weih. Although not a LEED project, Garibaldi Village has many sustainable features. “It’s not LEED-certified, but it is an example of how you can design a sustainable project or include a high level of sustainable design that is appropriate for the type of project it is,” Weih maintains. “Working with the city and the developer, we were able to come up with a pretty good menu of sustainable features.”

Sustainable Design

These include extensive use of daylighting and indigenous wood and stone. “We use local materials where we can,” Weih says. “We have highly reflective roofing that allows us to reduce the heat island effect that is typical of these types of buildings where you have large roof areas.” A series of bioswails and water retention ponds are used to drain groundwater from the parking lot. “This takes away pressure from the municipal system and cleans the water before it filters down into the ground,” Weih explains.

Besides architecture, Wensley Architecture Ltd. also does planning and interior design. “We offer all three, but our focus is on architecture,” Weih stresses. “In terms of residential, we have one of the most talented residential designers I’ve ever met. My partner, Neil Banich, brings to the table a really strong sensibility around residential design.”

The company’s philosophy is to understand its clients’ needs. “Every client has a different set of requirements,” Weih emphasizes. “Our key philosophy is to understand what it is our clients are trying to achieve and help them to achieve it the best way possible, and come up with an architecture or planning or interior design solution that will work.”

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