January 2012, Ian Gilespie

We started this company as a business, but somewhere along the line it morphed into a passionate quest: to build a collection of work that will, at some point in the future, be regarded as one of the best bodies of work ever created by any development team. The goal of our team is for this work to contribute to making the communities we live in, better places to live.

Thousands of individuals have contributed to this goal, and I suppose in some respects assembling this exhibit is a way of celebrating their efforts. As global citizens, we each have a two-fold mission: firstly, to recognize that we stand on the shoulders of previous generations; and secondly, to acknowledge that we are doing nothing but consuming scarce resources if every day our efforts aren’t leaving our community in slightly better shape than what we inherited.

People will have to judge for themselves whether Westbank has created a body of work that has contributed to better communities, or whether we are just another real estate development company that has enjoyed a certain amount of success.

I believe it is possible to track how we have grown as a team, including the architects we work with, primarily Jim Cheng and Gregory Henriquez. The majority of building designs have been a result of a collaborative effort between ourselves and our architects. Of course, there are additional factors that shape the buildings, including significant input from the planning departments of the cities we work in, as well as particular zoning or regulatory restrictions, but above all, these buildings look like they do – for better or worse – as a result of an intensely close working relationship with the architects we team with. On all of our projects, I can’t stress enough that the early, collaborative design process is easily the most enjoyable phase of the process for me. When walking out of some of these design sessions I feel so energized, I’m convinced I could do this work for several more decades.

Of course, the battles we go through to actually get these projects approved, financed, sold and built, sometimes take a bit of the fun out of the process. But then another project comes along and challenges our creativity and we are so motivated that we temporarily forget all the hard work it takes to actually get them built. We are typically working on about a dozen projects at any one time, so it makes for a rather intense atmosphere, an emotional roller-coaster that is anything but boring.

The other observation one can make of this work, is that all but a couple of the projects, have been financial successes, some more than others. It would be much easier to design and build projects that did not have to achieve an attractive rate of return.

Every architect wants to design a museum, but the added tension of a budget and an ever-changing marketplace makes things much more challenging. The fact that our projects have been financially successful is something we are very proud of. More importantly, it allows us to keep growing the business, and building a better body of work.

I have been exceedingly lucky to have had a series of people enter my life who have become partners with us and enabled Westbank to create this portfolio of projects. They have allowed us to exercise an amazing amount of autonomy while offering any needed support. I must also add a huge thank you to the team here at Westbank and to our support network who have all put up with me, as well as to the many city representatives we work with. And finally, to my wife Stephanie and our children, who have had to compete for my time and attention for the last 20 years. I am very grateful to you all.