Robertson Martin ArchitectsBy Anna Guy

Part of an architect’s job is distilling clients’ visions into a living, breathing space. To be able to manifest a place for communal experience is perhaps even more challenging than creating the brick and mortar aspect.

Of any public meeting space, there is none as sensitive and steeped in symbolism as a memorial, and specifically, a war memorial. It takes extraordinary commitment, collaboration, and contemplation to strike the right tone.

Such was the challenge for the Visitor Education Centre at the Canadian National Vimy Memorial in France. When Veterans Affairs Canada committed to the Centre as part of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, they choose Robertson Martin Architects to fulfill its vision. Not only had the Ottawa-based firm proven its technical expertise in its 45 years, but have distinguished itself as leaders in high-profile, complex projects such as this.

Opened in April, 2017, RMA’s design for the Centre reflected the “evocative beauty” of Walter Allward’s exquisite monument and the surrounding landscape, to evoke contemplation as well as create the opportunity to learn about and connect with Canada’s First World War history.

“To work on the Canadian National Vimy Memorial was an amazing undertaking, for which we are so proud to be involved,” says Robert Martin, Principal, Architect. Martin, alongside his partner Danica Robertson, took over the firm from Robertson’s father in the early 90s, taking the firm’s success in commercial and institutional projects and extending it to heritage, landscape, sports and leisure, and residential.

The specialist firm of conservation architects has also worked on such important projects as the Bourlon Wood Canadian Memorial, the Beechwood National Memorial Centre (the home of the National Military Cemetery of the Canadian Forces, and the recipient of the Institutional Wood Design Award), and the Parliamentary Precinct Wellington Wall Infills. Another truly sublime, award-winning project, completed with FGMDA and PTAH architectural firms, involved the restoration of three wings of Rideau Hall, having one of the highest heritage ratings of any property in the country.

Projects like these involve complex engagement and consultation with stakeholders to come up with the best solutions that fulfil functional requirements and meet the budget. “Our niche is complex and unique projects with multiple stakeholders,” says Martin. “We are at our best when we navigate these interests and come up with the best design and most cost-effective design solutions for our clients.”

When asked what makes RMA so proficient in this niche, Martin says it’s because the team genuinely cares about each project and client. “We don’t treat every client and project as formulaic,” says Martin. “We are very much focused on the experience of working together. Our approach starts with asking a lot of questions to understand the roles and contributions of all team members, with a lot of communication that is built on understanding and trust.”

After all, RMA understands its clients are trusting them with their capital resources, their visions and goals and they take that very seriously. RMA’s new branding (a redesigned a new logo featuring a circle punctuated by small break with a dot and within a trapezoidal structure) reflects the continuum of life and relationships with each other, clients, and communities, and “the moment we can make a difference with our environment,” says Martin.

Working with the philosophy that ‘the greenest building is the one that is already built’, sustainable design is core to RMA’s work. Along with partner consultants, RMA integrates sustainable design solutions, at varying scales and levels, into all the firm’s work. “We identify sustainable goals at the project outset and define specific project performance targets centred on environmental, social and economic goals,” says Martin. “We help our clients meet goals for asset reuse and optimization, energy efficiency, and resource conservation as their and our business imperatives.”

Special expertise and experience. The Alpha and the Omega for architecture. RMA’s success in providing integrated architectural, engineering, interior design, planning, and communal experiences leaves its own legacy.