Edmonton structure agency Manasc Isaac opens first international workplace in Romania

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Edmonton architects Manasc Isaac picked somewhere similar to home but far away for their first office outside the province — they’ve started an operation in Romania.

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Two architects from the Eastern European nation’s capital, Bucharest, have returned home to launch Latitudine53 by Manasc Isaac after working for the firm in Edmonton and Calgary for the last two years.

Senior principal Vivian Manasc expects the design studio will do well in the former Communist state.

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“There’s amazing redevelopment happening here, with European companies building and expanding their development in Eastern Europe,” she said from Bucharest this week, following a reception to officially open the new office that attracted Canada’s ambassador and trade commissioner.

“I think there are companies from all over the world that are expanding into Romania because of the talent pool that is here.”

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A lot of the design challenges we have learned to solve here over the years are the same in Bucharest — Kent McKay

The country is comparable to Alberta in many ways — there’s an important oil industry, the gross domestic product is roughly the same, and the winters are cold.

Like Edmonton, Bucharest has numerous aging structures that need refurbishing.

“A lot of the design challenges we have learned to solve here over the years are the same in Bucharest,” says Kent McKay, the firm’s communications director.

“The city is in the process of being reimagined. That’s our wheelhouse … There’s a lot of kind of concrete Communist-era architecture that today people don’t find aesthetically pleasing and (doesn’t) perform like modern buildings.”

Manasc says one major advantage for the firm, which was founded in 1997 and opened its only other office in Calgary in 2012, is decades of work creating sustainable buildings for cold climates.

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But she also has a personal link to Romania — she was born in Bucharest and her family emigrated to Canada when she was a child in the 1960s.

Although she doesn’t think family connections will lead to business, she still speaks the language, which helps.

As well, the firm knows how to work with others.

“I think the core of what defines us as Canadians is we’re really good at collaborating and dealing with multiple stakeholders and multiple points of view,” she says.

“There’s not a tradition of architecture that collaborates with community (in Romania) and it’s needed. It’s part of what differentiates us in this market.”

Opportunities include designing buildings for technology companies, health-care facilities, schools and post-secondary institutions, she says.

The firm, which has 55 employees, is behind such Edmonton projects as the Mosaic Center for Conscious Community and Commerce, 2003 91 St. SW, Canada’s first commercial net-zero office building, and the new PCL headquarters, 9915 56 Ave. NW.

Manasc isn’t sure where their expansion to Bucharest will lead.

“We grew from Edmonton to Calgary and now to Romania. Romania is part of the European Union … We’re going to see how it evolves.”

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