Architect Houry Avedissian sees an opportunity to ‘bring new life’ to Ottawa’s commercial spaces

Houry Avedissian is an architect and owner of Ha2 Architecture & Design. (Supplied)
Houry Avedissian is an architect and owner of Ha2 Architecture & Design. (Photo by Rudraksha Chawla)

For local architect Houry Avedissian, the opening of her first office on Preston Street next month represents an opportunity to thank those who’ve supported her career — and the first step towards expanding her portfolio and her team. 

Avedissian started Ha2 Architecture and Design in 2009, after leaving the world of corporate architecture in Montreal to strike out on her own. 

“Montreal is a very different city. Ottawa for me was an opportunity to explore my creative vision on smaller-scale jobs,” she said.

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One thing that remained the same was being a woman in a male-dominated industry. In Ontario, about 36 per cent of architects are women, according to the 2023 Canadian Architectural Practices Benchmark Report. While that number has increased over the past few years, Avedissian said women still face challenges in the industry.

“As a woman, you really have to be ahead of the game. You have to learn even more and be prepared to answer any question,” she said. “That is not something that happens overnight. It takes time. It takes practice. You have to build that credibility as you’re learning.”

By heading her own firm, she said she’s been able to take control and build her reputation from the ground up.

“It’s different doing one-on-one clients. I have a series of clients throughout the year, usually homeowners of high-end homes,” she said. “It’s me in my own world. Confronting the issues that women could have in the corporate space … I never had the opportunity to confront it in a bigger setting.”

After 15 years in the business, Avedissian said it’s time to take the next step. 

“I’m at this point now where I want to expand and create the team around me. That’s something I haven’t been able to do yet,” she said. 

Avedissian spent the first decade of her career working on projects in Ottawa out of her Quebec home office, travelling back and forth to meet clients and visit project sites as needed. 

“(Travelling) was a challenging part of doing business and doing what you have to do to give the service you want to give out,” she said. “When I finally moved, I was committed. I knew this was the city I wanted to live in.”

On June 8, Avedissian will host an invite-only party to launch her new office, which she’s been renovating since she decided to move to Ottawa full-time in 2019. 

She was introduced to the space, a former kitchen supply store, by client Form Furniture, which approached her about renovating the low-rise building into a new showroom. It was an opportunity to branch out beyond her speciality, she said, which has long been building and renovating high-end contemporary residential homes. 

With asbestos, mould and lead contamination, as well as structural damage and leaky foundations, Avedissian said the space had to be gutted, a process that was interrupted and delayed multiple times when the pandemic hit.

“It took a bit longer than we were hoping and when we were in the guts of the project, I basically took on the project management of the job,” she said. “While I did that, it allowed me to ask for that corner of space and say, this is what I would like to do in exchange for the work I did.”

Avedissian carved out a 700-square-foot corner for an office and showroom for her business. 

She said her new office has become a space for meeting and presenting to clients and potential investors, but it also gives her a chance to showcase what she can do. 

“When I first walked into the building and saw the condition it was in and in particular the location of my office — I mean it’s essential to see before and after pictures,” she said. “It really highlights how much of a change we’ve made and the impact to be able to do that. It’s also very gratifying to retrofit a building that had its own identity on Preston Street and give it a whole new life on that street.”

Avedissian said there are plenty of opportunities for similar rehabilitation projects across Ottawa.

“I spent a day in Toronto and seeing all the highrises that are coming up and all the retrofits they’re doing,” she said. “That’s the space (Ottawa’s) in. We have a lot of occupancy to fill and a lot of buildings that are sitting there idle and need a new life. Why not do this for Ottawa?”

After the success of the Form Furniture renovation, Avedissian said she’s looking forward to more opportunities to branch out beyond residential work and “push beyond the envelope of what I can do with an environment.” 

“After that commercial opportunity came to my table, I feel now more compelled to do more and different,” she said. “I want to have the variety of being able to do these types of retrofits, but also the highrises, the mid-rise and commercial buildings that we have downtown now. There’s an opportunity for that to be done in Ottawa.”

  • The exterior of 450 Preston St. after renovations (Supplied)
    The exterior of 450 Preston St. after renovations. (Photo by Paul Couvrette)
  • The new Ha2 Architecture and Design office at 450 Preston St. (Supplied)
    The new Ha2 Architecture and Design office at 450 Preston St. (Photo by Paul Couvrette)
  • The exterior of 450 Preston St. prior to renovations (Supplied)
    The exterior of 450 Preston St. prior to renovations. (Photo by Paul Couvrette)

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