Philip Vandermey and Jessie Andjelic met and began dating while studying architecture at the University of Calgary. Upon graduation, they took jobs with local firms – him with The Marc Boutin Architectural Collaborative and her with Sturgess Architecture. But after a few years they felt the itch to expand their horizons and headed for Europe – Barcelona and Rotterdam, to be specific, to work. “We worked on local and international projects, a range of types, too,” Vandermey says. “What was good about coming back here and opening our own office was that we were able to combine a local perspective with an international one.”

When they first returned to Alberta, the pair settled in Andjelic’s hometown of Medicine Hat for a short time. There, they put on an exhibition called “Thinking Hat” which presented ideas for a series of small interventions that could reinvigorate the city’s downtown, and demonstrated how contemporary architecture can be sensitively integrated into a historical downtown. “We expected a bit of resistance and we didn’t get that at all,” Andjelic says. “There was really a lot of enthusiasm and discussion and there have been some changes.”

Vandermey and Andjelic both teach at the University of Calgary’s architectural school. Their passion remains creating great – and sustainable – cities, and they’re not entirely impressed with the state of the province’s two biggest cities. “People make great lives in Edmonton and Calgary and other cities, but it’s despite our urban design and urban structure, not because of it,” Vandermey says. “In the Netherlands, the cities sprawl as well, but they’re more like small towns closely clustered around public transit. You can take a train through farmland and arrive at a small town and everything is within walking or cycling distance.”

Making cities sustainable ties into what Vandermey identifies as the province’s greatest challenge: climate change. “We have fewer resources to work with than the last generation,” Vandermey says. “If we see climate change as an opportunity to make well-designed cities – to improve the design of our housing and our shared facilities – their quality could be higher even as we’re more careful and lean in our urban design.”

A leader we admire Zaha Hadid, the Iraqi-born British architect who died in March, aged 65. “Her generation of women architects will start to disappear which will be a real loss,” Andjelic says