IN­TER­VIEW WITH Jim An­der­son


Alberta Venture - - The Money Book - – Michael Gan­ley DIA LOG started in Cal­gary in 1960, even­tu­ally ex­pand­ing to Ed­mon­ton, Toronto and Van­cou­ver. Now with 600 em­ploy­ees, the firm is breach­ing the U.S. mar­ket with an of­fice in San Fran­cisco. Jim An­der­son, whose home is in Toronto, called fro

Al­berta Ven­ture: One of DI­A­LOG’s projects – the new ter­mi­nal at Cal­gary In­ter­na­tional Air­port – has been get­ting glow­ing re­views (ex­cept from WestJet, which has com­plained about long walks be­tween gates). Can you sum­ma­rize the project in one sen­tence?

Jim An­der­son: The new ter­mi­nal is stun­ning, it shows Cal­gary and Al­berta re­ally well, and it’s fan­tas­tic in the way that it’s been done in terms of the sus­tain­abil­ity of the de­sign. It also makes Cal­gary a re­gional hub. The whole point was to cre­ate re­gional con­nec­tiv­ity so Cal­gary be­comes the hub for trav­ellers from around the world, whether it be Asia or else­where. With clear­ance to the U.S., it can re­ally act like Chicago or At­lanta does as a des­ti­na­tion in North America for peo­ple to come and hub through.

AV: That was more than one sen­tence, but OK.

The big news for DI­A­LOG is the open­ing of an of­fice in San Fran­cisco, your first in the U.S. Why do this, and why now?

JA: There are all kinds of rea­sons for us to be in the U.S. We’ve es­tab­lished our­selves well in Canada, grow­ing from Al­berta [the firm started in Cal­gary in 1960] to Toronto to Van­cou­ver. We have a lot of tal­ent and ex­pe­ri­ence un­der our belt. The world is com­ing to our back­yard for ev­ery project, so why don’t we go play in theirs? And it gives us an op­por­tu­nity to learn from that ex­pe­ri­ence as well and bring that knowl­edge home.

We’ve been talk­ing about this for about a year and look­ing at it se­ri­ously for the last eight months to broaden our mar­kets and find other places we can do great work. We’ve set­tled on San Fran­cisco be­cause it’s a gate­way city to the U.S., so it’s a way to be in the U.S. mar­ket, not just the San Fran­cisco mar­ket. At the same time, it’s a won­der­ful city and it aligns with a lot of our val­ues. It has a very pur­pose-driven cul­ture. Peo­ple there are se­ri­ous about mak­ing a dif­fer­ence with what they do.

We’ll start out slow. We see build­ing the San Fran­cisco stu­dio as build­ing a lit­tle mi­cro­cosm of DI­A­LOG. It will be a hand­ful of peo­ple that rep­re­sent the di­verse char­ac­ter­is­tics of our firm. We’ll have de­sign tal­ent. We’ll have tech­ni­cal depth. It’s im­por­tant for us to start out with all of that. Be­ing an in­te­grated firm is one of the val­ues of our firm so we want that di­verse set of skills around the ta­ble right from the get-go.

AV: Will you pop­u­late the of­fice with some of your 600 cur­rent em­ploy­ees?

JA: It will be a bal­ance of peo­ple from our cur­rent stu­dios and hir­ing peo­ple lo­cally. There’s an im­por­tant as­pect to be­ing lo­cal: Each of our four stu­dios has their own cul­ture.

AV: Do you see it as an op­por­tu­nity for growth?

JA: I don’t know if growth is the right word. Our goal isn’t to get big­ger, it’s to get bet­ter. We do have a mantra that we want to be as big as we need to be to do the scale of projects we want to do and to com­pete with the other peo­ple who do those projects. But we also want to be as small as we pos­si­bly can be to pre­serve that small firm cul­ture that we feel is im­por­tant.

AV: Did the re­cent U.S. elec­tion cause you any pause?

JA: The cal­cu­la­tion didn’t change. This is a long-term com­mit­ment for us. We’ve been think­ing about it ir­re­spec­tive of po­lit­i­cal con­cerns. Canada and the U.S. are shar­ing some of the in­fra­struc­ture deficits and the need to de­velop some of the things that we feel we have ex­per­tise in.

AV: You have said DI­A­LOG has some­thing to of­fer the U.S. mar­ket in terms of your firm’s ex­pe­ri­ence with mass tran­sit.

JA: We’ve worked in Cal­gary with their sys­tem. In Ed­mon­ton we did a few sta­tions go­ing back 10 years. We’ve done some sta­tions on the Canada Line in Van­cou­ver and we’re do­ing some sta­tions on the Eglin­ton crosstown line in Toronto, so we’ve been in­volved in the ur­ban trans­porta­tion sys­tems of all of our cities.

We led the sus­tain­able ur­ban in­te­gra­tion team for the Val­ley Line LRT in Ed­mon­ton. It’s a fancy way of say­ing, “Ev­ery­thing mat­ters. De­sign ev­ery­thing so that it in­te­grates into its neigh­bour­hood and its sur­round­ings, whether that’s the sta­tion or the land­scape lead­ing up to it, the side­walk, the street­lamps, all those things that frankly take build­ing an LRT sys­tem to build­ing a city, build­ing a com­mu­nity.”

There’s a need for tran­sit de­vel­op­ment through­out the U.S., so that’s some­thing we can take lots of places. We had a large del­e­ga­tion at a con­fer­ence in San Fran­cisco called Rail-Vo­lu­tion pre­sent­ing some of the work we’ve been do­ing and show­ing that off to the world.

“The world is com­ing to our back­yard for ev­ery project, so why don’t we go play in theirs?” – Jim An­der­son, Chair, DI­A­LOG

DI­A­LOG’s re­cent projects in­clude the new ter­mi­nal at YYC, the Royal Al­berta Mu­seum, the new fu­nic­u­lar in Ed­mon­ton and the up­per ter­mi­nal for the Banff Gon­dola

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