Five Years in Vancouver: How Circumstance and Grit Got Us Here
Our Vancouver team acted as the Structural Engineering Consultant on the University of British Columbia Arts Student Centre. The Centre provides much-needed amenities to support the learning, social, collaboration, and innovation space needs of a diverse Faculty of Arts student population. Renderings courtesy Leckie Studio Architecture + Design.
Five years ago, Principal Mike Lembke approached our Managing Director, Brock Schroeder, with an idea. His wife had been offered a key role within the design firm she worked for, to lead a new Vancouver office. The couple and family were based in Calgary at the time. Never a team to shy away from an opportunity, Mike, Brock, and other team members quickly evaluated the local market and made the decision. Within six months, the Lembke family had relocated, and Entuitive’s Vancouver office was born.
As of August 2022, the office has grown from rented desks to a recently expanded workspace for its twenty-five team members. In the next two months, we will welcome three more.
We have been lucky enough to work on a wide range of very existing projects since opening the office including commercial, both highrise and mid-rise, residential from highrise to lowrise, new healthcare facilities, post-secondary buildings, sports and community facilities, affordable house projects, modular buildings, Passive House projects, Net-Zero Carbon projects, mass timber structures, and IPD projects, to name a few.
The Early Days
Mike recalls, “At the start we behaved very much like a startup even though we were part of a larger firm. We started by contacting everyone we knew in the market. Julien Fagnan joined me to start the office and he had an established career in Vancouver as a structural engineer, but on the building envelope and in terms of general market knowledge of Entuitive as a firm, we were starting fresh. Door knocking, coffee dates, lunches – all with the goal of explaining who we are and why we are different. Our mission was to get on the radar of the local AEC community and help them understand that with Entuitive, they would tap into a talent pool without boundaries thanks to our One Company operating model and our international experience. At the same time, we started hiring the local team to boost our on-the-ground capabilities.”
Paul Creighton was one of those first team members. As a Senior Project Director, he has over 40 years of experience in the industry.
“Every firm says they’re “One Company”, but Entuitive actually walks the talk, generally as an intent both structurally and fellowship-wise, to make sure everyone has an opportunity to engage and bounce ideas off other people. It’s terrific, and it’s hard to do, especially as you grow.”
“In the beginning, I had one project on my timesheet. It felt like six months before I had another job. Now our timesheets have 50 or 60 on them. It was scary – I wasn’t accustomed to not having more than enough work to do. It was all business development for six months straight. I realize now it takes time. We toughed it out. When I first joined, I told Mike I’d give him three years. And here I am, almost five years later and still loving it.”
Paul Creighton, on one of his favourite local projects.
A not-so-little Bump in the Road
Of course, halfway through the team’s journey to this milestone, Covid hit.
“We were just over 2 years old as an office when Covid sent us all home and made in-person client development obsolete! It was definitely a hit to our progress in terms of market awareness, but in the end, we were able to continue winning new work and growing the office throughout the pandemic. We found that the connections we made pre-Covid through our business development efforts and strong project delivery to date, was enough that those clients kept engaging us on new work, kept introducing us to new developers, architects, owners, and managers, and so our portfolio of projects and clients continued to grow even during the pandemic”, recalls Mike.
Timothy Wong, a Building Envelope Specialist, and the office’s third longest-standing team member, has a fond memory of gathering outside as a team at the height of the pandemic:
“We had a picnic at Stanley Park Brewery, which is a project of ours. Some of us walked over from the office. Others biked in. People came from wherever they were that day. We got growlers from the brewery and takeout food because it was during the pandemic. But it was easy and felt like everyone was comfortable connecting again outside of the office. We’ve done that a couple of times since.”
Hannah To joined Entuitive as a co-op student and had the chance during Covid to create an even bigger opportunity for herself. She was able to move from Toronto back to her hometown of Vancouver, continue her education including earning her master’s degree, and work part time as needed. She now works full time as a Structural Designer. She credits the support and flexibility Entuitive showed as crucial to her success so far.
As someone who joined Entuitive during Covid, Sophie Warwick worried how it would impact her ability to feel like part of a team and community – both highly important to her personally. But the One Company culture allowed her to connect with people from all over the organization, and become a key member of Entuitive’s Inclusion, Diversity, & Belonging (IDB) efforts. “When I talk to people outside of Entuitive, it reminds me how much further ahead we are in this area, and I am really proud of that.”
Negar Mozafari, Sophie Warwick, and Hannah To celebrate Vancouver’s 5th Anniversary
Mike reflects on the shared resilience the entire team has demonstrated through the pandemic.
“We went into Covid with a Building Envelope team of three, and now we’re up to eleven, including a strong new construction and building envelope restoration and assessment team. We have also added great people in our structural team, and we’re continuing to add local capacity in our other disciplines which is great benefit to the office and our clients. We will grow as our clients need us in various capacities, and we’ll work with other offices to find the right fit at the right time, between local hires and remote delivery. This is part of the firm’s mindset. It’s been a challenge to grow a new office in a new market but we’re coming out of Covid stronger than we went in. We’re continuing an upward trajectory.”
The office has since grown from two core disciplines to now also offering local expertise in Structural Restoration, BIM, Advanced Performance Analysis, Bridge and Transportation Structures Engineering, and most recently Construction Engineering.
A Flourishing Portfolio and Team
Momentum has been steady for the team, and Mike’s wish is for more local partners and clients to understand the depth and breadth of our experience, noting, “our BC team is not only working on projects locally across the province, but we also have a deep portfolio of active projects with international clients and architects across the United States. My view is that our local clients benefit from the fact that we offer a local service with international experience and a fresh perspective.”
Tim has a strong view on what makes Entuitive different. “We have a unique approach that helps elevate some of the interesting work that’s happening in the province but also be positioned in a city that is leading conversations in the North American industry regarding performance and sustainability. I hope we can continue to keep our finger on the pulse of where innovation in our industry is going and that we can be a conduit for it, directly to our clients.“
Kitty Leung leads the structural group in the Vancouver office. “I feel fortunate to lead and grow a diverse team of individuals who are so passionate about delivering well and enthusiastic about their own professional development. I’m looking forward to seeing the Confederation Park Community Centre come to life and celebrating our contribution to it with them. It’s also been rewarding to work with Kenny Yip on expanding our structural capabilities to include special projects and other supporting services to our partners and contractor clients.”
We’re excited for the opportunities ahead for Entuitive in this great city and look forward to watching our Vancouver colleagues thrive. To get in touch with our Vancouver team directly, reach out to Mike Lembke or Kitty Leung.