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By Barbara Wickens
For Jim Strasman, Founding Principal of Strasman Architects Inc. (SAI), there’s something special about transit infrastructure. He not only appreciates architecture that serves a useful function, he enjoys the challenge of designing to specific, complex requirements. “It’s exciting,” Strasman says. “You’re playing a key role in the entire fabric of the city.” That positive attitude has seen Strasman involved in all aspects of transit design work, from feasibility studies and design manuals to terminals, stations and maintenance facilities for municipalities and regions throughout Canada and abroad. Indeed, with the exception of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) itself, few firms in Canada have designed as many stations for the ICTS system as SAI.
Transit dates to the start of Strasman’s career. Upon graduating from the University of British Columbia in 1962, he moved to Montreal where work on the new Metro subway system and planning for Expo ’67 made the city a Mecca of architectural activity in Canada. There he joined Victor Prius Architects, which had been awarded two stations on the Metro – his first projects as a professional architect. In subsequent work with Arthur Erickson, first in Vancouver and then when he established Erickson’s Toronto office, Strasman further honed his talent for transit. As Principal in Charge of Design, he was responsible for, among other projects, the design of the Eglinton West and Yorkdale stations on the TTC’s Spadina subway line. Groundbreaking in structure and functionality, the stations also demonstrated how art can be successfully integrated into public spaces.
When Strasman opened his own office in 1976, his track record led to important, exciting commissions from the get go. SAI, together with Cole Sherman Engineers, was awarded the design work on the Hamilton Wentworth elevated downtown LRT Line by the Urban Transportation Development Corp. Inspired use of large-scale, take-apart card models of Hamilton’s entire downtown urban core juxtaposed with the elevated guideway and stations helped politicians and ratepayers alike to make sense of the complex and sensitive project. Since then, SAI has moved from strength to strength. Times and technology have changed; computers and design software have, for the most part, replaced cardboard models. But SAI’s vision and values, especially the commitment to fulfilling clients’ requirements and exceeding their expectations, carry on.
Each project starts with assembling the best possible team who explore the opportunities of the site and context and are mindful of the budget and schedule. Employing a modern design sensibility, SAI produces relevant work that stands the test of time while respecting surrounding communities and environments.
The merit of this approach can be measured in a number of ways. SAI has won numerous national, international and industry awards for design excellence. These include the 2015 Recognition Award-Industrial from the OGCA for the GO East Region Bus Facility and BOMA’s 2000 Building of the Year-Historical for One Front Street. SAI’s success is also reflected in its long-term relationships with both clients and professional colleagues. In 1982, the TTC awarded SAI the design of the Midland and McCowan stations on its new Scarborough elevated transit line. It was just the first of many assignments the TTC has awarded SAI. GO Transit and Metrolinx also count among SAI’s repeat customers.
Equally significant are SAI’s recurring collaborations with Canada’s leading engineering and construction firms. EllisDon, Buttcon Ltd., SNC-Lavalin Group Inc. and others have repeatedly chosen SAI to be on their multi-disciplinary teams tackling increasingly massive and complex transit projects.
Preparing For The Future
Strasman is proud of his firm’s achievements to date and just as excited about SAI’s future. While still playing an active role, he’s stepping back as the next generation prepares to take over. Highly experienced architects in their own rights, Principals Shawn Strasman, Richard Shaw and Liz Strasman are team leaders with growing rosters of responsibilities. They’re taking the lead on SAI’s involvement in three of the largest transit projects recently awarded in Ontario. This includes the Metrolinx Kipling Mobility Hub, a redevelopment and infrastructure upgrade that will integrate TTC subway, GO regional rail, and local and regional bus services into an urban hub.
The second major undertaking is the Rutherford Station project in Vaughn, a major infrastructure upgrade to accommodate the planned expansion of GO rail service on the Barrie line. The third is the McNicoll Bus Garage being built in north Scarborough, the TTC’s first DB and its first use of Revit software.
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