Spearhead Inc. enables beautiful architecture
Architects from around the world bring their project challenges to Nelson, B.C., to be solved by Spearhead Inc.
Spearhead Inc. has evolved far beyond its origins as a North Vancouver-based tree-planting company. Since Ted Hall moved his company to Nelson in 1996, and especially since he and Randy Richmond became business partners just a few years later, Spearhead has taken a new direction. It now specializes in design and fabrication for sophisticated architectural projects using timber and steel.
Hall became interested in woodworking in his youth, when his parents hired an architect to design a house for them. Watching the skilled, European-trained carpentry team work together exposed Hall to a high level of craft and skill that influenced him greatly and set him on a course to learn fine woodworking and then timber framing.
“I was also interested in design and architecture,” he said. “I wanted to build relationships with progressive architects doing intentional design work using heavy timber. By necessity, to address complexity and to be able to do a more comprehensive scope on our projects, we had to take on steel fabrication in conjunction with the timber construction.
“Being a company that could provide a connection between design and fabrication, we could make technology more accessible to architecture.”
Surprising small-town benefits
Spearhead works with some of the world’s best, most notable architects, and until recently, the company had quite a low profile at home in Nelson. About 95 per cent of its work has been for clients outside of the Kootenays, and probably 75 per cent of that was for clients in the U.S.
“If we were based in Vancouver,” Hall said, “we wouldn’t have nearly the level of employee retention that we have here. Doing this calibre of work in this community and this setting is a unique opportunity for people, and they stay with us.”
Close to half of the 45 staff—many of whom came to Nelson to enjoy the lifestyle—have been with the company for 15 years or more.
“We have all this in-house capability in people and equipment, which is a tremendous resource we can capitalize on,” Hall said. “There’s a lot of collective intelligence here. Our location has become a catalyst for us to become more and more specialized, which is a great thing. It has influenced us to develop our capabilities faster than we would have otherwise.”
Small size, big reputation
In spite of its relatively small size, Spearhead has a far-reaching reputation for ingenuity. The company is often approached by other industry professionals to work on some of the most complex, advanced wood building designs being constructed anywhere.
In Aspen, Colorado, the Aspen Art Museum is a testimonial to ingenuity and collaboration. Its laticed, woven wooden cladding admits light on all three levels of exhibition space, from all directions. “Through an intensive collaboration between Spearhead and Shigeru Ban Architects,” said Tara Primeau, project manager at Spearhead, “we were able to marry form and function to enable the curved spaceframe trusses that span up to 80 feet. This is remarkable, considering that the trusses are only three feet tall.”
Spearhead was recently involved in a local project that the partners and staff take special pride in: the Temple of Light, an ashram in nearby Riondel. The project was designed by Vancouver-based Patkau Architects, one of Canada’s most respected, internationally known architectural firms.
“We’ve done this calibre of work for projects in other countries, including some in the U.S.,” said Hall. “To have done a project of this calibre right in our backyard is pretty cool for all of us.”
This complex project demonstrates the concentrated, multidisciplinary skills and creativity of the team members, and the value of their extensive experience as a team.
Like the European craftsmen who inspired Hall in his youth, the Spearhead team members understand the principles of architecture and engineering, they understand their materials and methods, and they are motivated by design. They also have the skills to efficiently apply all of those elements to the structural engineering concept.
“We’re all about addressing complexity in a controlled way,” Hall said. “We intensively collaborate with the architects and engineers and builders, and we encourage a culture of internal collaboration. We try to capitalize on the diverse skill set of the people here.”
In acknowledgement of the company’s success and value in the community, the Nelson & District Chamber of Commerce recently named Spearhead as its 2018 Business of the Year.
“Getting some recognition from the business community here is great—for us as owners and for the people who work here as well,” said Hall. “I think the unique character of Nelson has helped shape the unique character of Spearhead, and we feel connected with the community.”
For Hall, the word “spearhead” signifies pioneering and innovation, and he believes that the word fits his company very well.