Canadian architecture firm becomes worker co-op

The co-operative model was a natural fit, say the employees

A forty-one year-old firm in the City of Guelph, Canada, has transitioned to a worker co-operative business.

Arise Architects Co-operative – formerly known as J. David McAuley Architect Inc – is the oldest architectural firm in the city. Founder David McAuley has designed churches in over 200 municipalities across Ontario, as well as other projects Cornwall, Kenora, Windsor and Rock Falls.

While he is not looking to retire imminently, transitioning to a worker co-op, and becoming a member-owner himself, gave Mr McAuley the ability to share the responsibility and the workload and ease into retirement when it happens. 

Danielle Gignac, one of the firm’s worker-owners told Ontario Co-operative Association: “In many ways, our methods have been co-operative for some time, with our commitment to working together to improve our communities, and our collaborative approach to design.”

Yvonne Ip, another Arise member-owner, who has a long personal history of involvement in co-operatives, added: “Co-operatives have a triple bottom line that includes social, environmental and financial returns. These are the returns we aim for both as a business and in the architecture we practice. Becoming Arise Architects Co-operative was a no-brainer.”

The employee owners think the firm’s environmental ethic and passion for building sustainable communities are very aligned with co-operative business values.

According to the Ontario Co-operative Association, Mr McAuley attributes the firm’s success to a collaborative approach, which, he says, is also crucial during the transition period. “You need to work together to make a smooth transition,” he said.