Mel Michener and Gerald Libling became friends at the University of Manitoba while studying architecture. They both graduated in 1952 and moved to Ontario. Michener worked for John Parkin, and Libling for the federal government at CMHC. In 1954, Mel Michener and Gerald Libling established their own firm named Libling Michener and Associates. In 1973, coinciding with the retirement of Gerald Libling, the name was changed to The LM Architectural Group.
Schools were some of Libling and Michener’s earliest commissions. Tache Elementary School featured a novel layout, which gave each classroom direct access to the outdoors and greatly reduced the need for corridor space. Warren School, also in Winnipeg, featured another space-saving layout. Both creative approaches caught the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s (RAIC) eye in 1958 when the young firm won two honourable mentions in the national competition. Another “mention” winner was the first headquarters for the Manitoba Teachers’ Society (950 Portage Avenue); they subsequently designed the much larger version at 191 Harcourt Street at Portage Avenue.
Housing remained a significant part of the firm’s work throughout the 1960s. They designed modest, individual houses for developer construction, low-rental housing designed to be respectful of established neighbourhoods, and creative townhouse developments such as Southwood Village. During this time, the firm had grown to include Sidney Diamond as a principal and Alvin Leader as a designer.
In 1961, Libling Michener became the first Winnipeg architectural practice to win a Massey Medal for Architecture (presented by the Governor General). Their designs for the Executive House apartments on Wellington Crescent, the Chapel of St. Louis Le Roi in St. Boniface (designed by a young Étienne Gaboury in their employ), and the City of Winnipeg Hydro Sub Station 21 on Edmonton Street all won awards. Executive House, in particular, continues to be recognised as an excellent example of an apartment design on a small site.
In the design for their own offices, Libling and Michener showcased their abilities, renovating the interior of an existing heritage building into a contemporary, attractive, and functional office space. 1964 saw the practice fully mature in its capabilities and artistic philosophies. Benchmarks in construction that year were the Education Building at the University of Manitoba and the $1.5 million International Inn, for which they developed some innovative winter construction strategies.
They received the a gold Massey Medal for Architecture for St. Paul’s High School. Located on Grant Avenue in Tuxedo, St. Paul’s School is an elegant design with well-planned efficiency that features classrooms, administration and residence wings, surrounding a courtyard.
The next noteworthy award was from The Canadian Architect in 1966, for St. John Brebeuf Church in Winnipeg. St. John Brebeuf features a low, swirling roof and a series of semi-circular forms that “gather the people together in worship”. The Canadian Encyclopedia describes this building’s design as the “most expressive of all post-war religious architecture” and cites this building as one of the three best examples in the country.
A more controversial Libling Michener building at this time was the 1965 Public Safety Building. Although a finalist in the 1967 Massey Medals, the building has been criticised for its’ Brutalist characteristics. Les Stechesen, who had joined the firm, was the lead designer.
Three large apartment blocks in the Roslyn Road area, including Canterbury House and Edinburgh House gave the practice increased experience in large scale projects. A smaller apartment building, Grosvenor House, demonstrates design on a more modest scale but for an upper income market. The exterior is finished in precast concrete and dark brown brick. What makes the 33 suite apartment successful are the proportions of its integrated design, thoughtful layout and attention to detail.
In 1968, the Headquarters of the Manitoba Teachers’ Society on Portage Avenue received the top award from the Manitoba Association of Architects. The jury noted the “warm tones of the exterior concrete combined with the copper roofing and tinted windows, with light controlled by vertical pre-cast fins. Siting the parking lot below grade allowed the auditorium to be ramped so it is not obvious.”
A large project for Libling Michener in 1968 was the Manitoba Institute for Applied Arts (now Red River College), which had originally been promised to Moody and Moore. A change of provincial governments delayed and altered the decision. The Red River College campus is a sprawling multi-use complex which integrates trades, technical, communications and business training. The Victoria General Hospital in Fort Garry followed, which also exhibited sophisticated technology in a humanistic shell. The Boeing Plant in the St. James Industrial Park was completed in 1971.
Under the team leadership of Rudy Friesen, the massive development of Lakeview Square began at this time, with the construction of the Holiday Inn on St. Mary Avenue. Designed for developer Jack Levit, the complex grew, in the mid 1970s, to include two office towers along Carlton, an underground car park, a Japanese garden fronting on Carlton, and twin high-rise apartments, the holiday Towers, at 160 and 168 Hargrave Avenue. This, Mel Michener was convinced, was the kind of good development that would keep the downtown vibrant and full of people.
Libling Michener worked as part of a consortium, with Number Ten Architectural Group, jointly designing the massive Winnipeg Convention Centre and the former Rupertsland Square at 444 St. Mary Avenue. Lakeview Square and the Convention Centre each filled a city block and included assembly space, a movie theatre, offices, restaurants, a health club and 600 apartment units.
Gerald Libling became increasingly interested in the development side of property management and left the firm in 1973. He joined the Imperial Development Group and Galcon Development and Construction. As a developer, he worked with his former architectural partner on two significant projects - the Imperial Office Tower at 363 Broadway and Place Louis Riel Apartments (now a hotel) at 190 Smith Street.
Libling’s exit gave the firm the opportunity to restructure itself, resulting in a new name, LM Architectural Group. The firm adopted a team approach with a project manager who would assemble the required resource people. The senior staff in the firm in 1970 were Al Leader, Les Stechesen, Desmond St. Lawrence, John James, Oscar Rosenhahn and Mel Michener.
LM Architectural Group remains a very active firm in Winnipeg offering services in architectural and interior design. In 2017, the partners are: David Kressock, Terry Danelley and Michael Isbister.