March 20, 2014 | Alumni Spotlight

Houry Avedissian

“I am so happy I could give back to the next generation of kids—the next generation of superstars—who are going to come out of the AGBU Alex Manoogian School. The school is truly at the forefront of innovation and by designing its new library, I know I am helping it continue to grow and thrive.” – Houry Avedissian, owner, Ha2 Architecture & Design and AGBU Alex Manoogian School alumna

Houry Avedissian is the visionary architect behind some of Canada’s most exciting buildings. After years of working on commercial projects, she founded the Ha2 Architecture & Design firm, pursuing her passion for residential projects and interior design to help families create their dream homes.

When Avedissian received a call from her alma mater, the AGBU Alex Manoogian School in Montréal, Canada, asking her to lead the construction of its brand new library, she didn’t hesitate to accept. The project brought her back to her childhood—and her cutting edge designs have helped bring the school to the forefront of innovation.

Houry Avedissian is one of the many alumni who are giving back to the AGBU Alex Manoogian School. To read more about the local graduates and Montréal families who helped to make the Manuel Keusseyan Library and other initiatives possible, click here.

You graduated from the AGBU Alex Manoogian School in Montréal years ago, when you were in the eighth grade. What brought you back for the library project?

I was 13 when I left the Alex Manoogian School, but it has never really left me. To this day, some of my closest friends are my former AGBU classmates. Though we moved on to different high schools and universities, we never lost touch. Every birthday, every milestone in our lives is cause for another group gathering. They’re my family; it’s as simple as that.

I’ve also maintained close ties with the school, even as I shuttle between Montréal and Ottawa for my business. A couple of years ago, in fall 2012, I attended the opening of the school’s new cafeteria. I delivered remarks, recalling the countless ways the school helped shape me. While I was there, I also took a tour of the building. I saw for myself all of the school’s new developments: its wireless capabilities, its recently renovated Vartanyan-Keledjian wing and the many new students who are a testament to its growing enrollment.

Soon after, the school board reached out to see if I would be interested in overseeing the renovation of the Manuel Keusseyan Library. It was a chance to give back to the place that gave me so much: how could I say no?

What inspired the design of the library?

From the very beginning, we knew we wanted it to be a completely modern facility that would serve students for years to come. The school administrators envisioned a space that incorporated the latest technologies. It was a lot of fun to bring their ideas to life.

Ultimately, we developed the library of the future. There is custom made, wall-to-wall shelving for print books but we really pushed the envelope by creating space for digital books, dozens of iPads and databases. When students visit here, they’ll have access to hundreds of electronic resources in Armenian, English and French. Using the retractable screen we installed, teachers will be able to bring their classes here to Skype with their peers in Armenia—something they’re already incorporating in their curricula.

The room can also easily be converted into a conference hall. One of the most challenging, and rewarding, aspects of this project was making it multi-functional. After a lot of research, I found tables that give the space a strong, central element. They are long, perfect for studying or hosting events and they conveniently tuck away to allow for more standing room as needed.

The final look is exactly what we had hoped to achieve when I drew up the initial plans: contemporary and interactive.

How did it feel to work in the place where you grew up?

It was just like returning home again. The memories came flooding back and it was as if I never left. While I was working on site I was able to access the school’s old videos, including one of myself participating in a dance performance. Armenian dance was one of my favorite activities and something that is very unique to our heritage, and watching that nearly 28 years later gave me a big smile.

I posted the video on Facebook and it immediately went viral among my AGBU friends. Seeing the many comments and “likes” I was reminded of how connected we remain to one another and to our alma mater. Several of those friends were present at the inauguration of the Manuel Keusseyan Library to celebrate with me. After the ribbon cutting ceremony, we visited our old classrooms and caught up with our former teachers. It was wonderful to all be there together again.

My friends, and everyone in our graduating class, have gone on to achieve amazing things. We are accountants, biochemists, entrepreneurs, lawyers, partners of companies. The success stories are endless and we owe them to the strong foundation that the AGBU Alex Manoogian School laid for us from a very young age. And we’re not the only ones; we’re part of a growing community. Hundreds of parents, alumni and supporters were present for the library’s launch. It was our collective efforts that made the project possible.

I am so happy I could give back to the next generation of kids—the next generation of superstars—who are going to come out of the AGBU Alex Manoogian School. The school is truly at the forefront of innovation and by designing its new library, I know I am helping it continue to grow and thrive.

What’s next for you and Ha2 Architecture & Design?

For now, I will continue to design custom homes, as well as larger developments in the Ottawa-GTA areas. Down the line, I would welcome the opportunity to work on a project in Armenia. I visited there for the first time a few years ago and I loved watching everything I learned about as an AGBU student, the streets, the statues, the monuments, come to life. Not to mention waking up to the view of Mount Ararat every morning was simply breathtaking.

I also recently met with the renowned architect Ashot Krikorian from Yerevan. He is looking to assemble a team of diasporan architects to display their work at the Venice Architecture Biennial, the international industry conference. It would allow us Armenian professionals to collaborate and showcase our work. Hopefully that is something we’ll be able to organize in the future.

And of course, when the AGBU Alex Manoogian School is ready to expand further, they know which alumna to call.

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