Bruce Kuwabara is the “K” in KPMB, which, over the slow burn of its 26-year history, has become the hottest architecture firm in Canada. Now, thanks in part to Kuwabara’s leadership, KPMB has grown into a global force, winning major international bids and becoming a leading exporter of a particularly Canadian brand of design thinking. With a recent client list including Goldman Sachs, Princeton University, Deloitte, the 2015 Pan Am Games and the Kellogg School of Management, KPMB is proving it can compete and win against some of the biggest “starchitects” in the world. Not only that, but by designing their offices, Kuwabara is quite literally changing how some of world’s most powerful people work.
KPMB secured its reputation with a series of cultural institutions built in Toronto between 2003 and 2010: the National Ballet School, the Royal Conservatory of Music, the Gardiner Museum and the Toronto International Film Festival Lightbox. Its signature designs were all about doing away with sterile, monumental spaces and replacing them with more intimate nooks where artists and the public could interact in unexpected ways. Those same ideas—collaboration-friendly spaces that foster mixing and informal “collisions”—predominate in projects like Goldman Sachs’ new headquarters in New York, which it commissioned a few years ago. “A Canadian firm really can export its design talent to the U.S.,” Kuwabara says. “We were able to do that.”
The firm is egalitarian, but that hasn’t stopped Kuwabara from emerging as first among equals, at least in terms of preaching KPMB’s gospel of street-level city-building. He holds two important bully pulpits: chair of the Canadian Centre for Architecture, and chair of Waterfront Toronto’s Design Review Committee.