Alvin Fritz’s passion for artisanship did not begin by accident or whim; it was practically in his blood from birth. The owner and principal architect at Alberta’s Alvin Reinhard Fritz Architect Inc. (ARFAi) says it was watching his father, a masonry contractor, that sparked his passion for design, and while other kids read comic books, he read blueprints. He worked his first job for his father at age 12, started laying brick two years later, and by the time he was 17, he was managing crews of 20 workers. He later founded his own firm in 1989 and has since spent the past quarter century becoming one of the Lethbridge area’s most sought-after architects by anchoring his practice with technology and a philosophy of collaboration.
Fritz learned the importance of cooperative planning early on, when he landed his first project—the Jennie Emery Elementary School in Coaldale, Alberta—and quickly set out to interview everyone who would have a stake in the building. He didn’t just talk to teachers and administrators; he spoke with students, janitors, parents, and cafeteria workers. The discussions influenced Fritz’s design and gave him ideas he never would have generated on his own. “Close collaboration gets everyone involved and makes each project exciting,” he says. “That kind of collaboration is the success of this firm, and the only way to nurture it is to be personally involved.”
Today, the desire to nurture teamwork continues to motivate Fritz to stay active in each ARFAi job. “Our mission statement is: ‘Collaborating to passionately create inspired architectural environments,’ and unless your hand is on the wheel, it’s hard to really do that,” he says. Although his practice has grown (to as many as 22 employees on some occasions), Fritz pulls various experts together to work with him on each project rather than delegating and stepping away. And by bringing the right combination of experts together each time, he has found work in a variety of market niches, including senior-living complexes, churches, medical facilities, and schools.
To enhance its collaborative capabilities and improve communication with clients, ARFAi works to keep up with new technologies, too. For example, the firm was the first in its region to use the suite of state-of-the-art building and design software products known as Revit. The software allows Fritz and his team to produce and share complex 3-D models together with robust analytics. “In this day and age, it should be expected that a client can visualize every detail in every room and virtually walk through the space so [that] they really understand and know it,” Fritz says.
He and his team use the software often to produce as many 3-D images as possible for each project. Every detail is customizable and displayed on an 80-inch Sharp-brand board monitor in project meetings, where Fritz joins subcontractors, clients, vendors, stakeholders,and community members who watch and interact around the screen, drawing on plans and making adjustments on the fly. “This process helps us see things that we would otherwise miss,” Fritz says. “It’s just not acceptable to sketch on a sheet of notebook paper in a room full of people.” The use of technology is so important to what Fritz does that he hopes his industry’s software will one day rival the graphics available in video games.
ARFAi recently used Revit in the design of a central Alberta restaurant. Fritz helped the client understand the space by creating a fly-around 3-D image of the building. “When people can see the project in this way, you give them the opportunity to provide input at intimate levels,” he says. “They can really understand the big difference that their selections of finishes and colours will make.” He was able to use the software to show options for small details such as the night-lighting scheme and the slope of the roof.
How Are You Growing?
“The growth at ARFAi is experienced through the successes of our clients. One project at a time, the synergy between client and architect experiences a ‘gel.’ The main driver of growth at ARFAi is the successful collaboration of that team.” —Alvin Fritz, Principal Architect
In 2004, Fritz designed Bank of Montreal’s flagship location in Lethbridge. While the bank had specific design standards, its officials were open to collaboration. So, through a series of discussions that took place after an extensive site analysis, Fritz and his colleagues determined that the property’s northwest corner would provide the best access point, and they oriented their building accordingly and added skylights to illuminate the work spaces below. In 2009, the bank branch asked Fritz to expand the facility, so the architect created a 3-D form and designed an atrium space that was later built in early 2014. Fritz also conceived an addition that spans 4,269 square feet and consists of an independent office suite for Nesbitt Burns, a dynamic meeting room, and a contemporary reception area.
The project demonstrates the importance of collaborating through technology. The atrium, which ties the two buildings together, required complicated geometry that Fritz says can only be understood in 3-D, and the use of software also greatly aided Fritz’s design process and discussions with the client.
ARFAi has many projects in development, and Fritz says that, from origin to completion, a typical project takes up to five years. In years to come, to accommodate its workload, the company will continue to expand its collaborative process while keeping an eye out for newer, better software.