By Stuart Ohlson and Hervey Lavoie, founders of OLC
On June 15, 1961, just a few years after growing up and playing on a dirt road called Colorado Boulevard, Stuart Ohlson hung up his shingle and founded Stuart Ohlson and Associates. Working out of an office he designed right across from East High School, he and his staff were quickly busy with a series of residential and commercial orders.
âAll of a sudden you’re in business whether you know it or not! Says Stuart Ohlson, recalling those early days.
Today, this company has grown into what is now called OLC | Ohlson Lavoie Company. Celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, OLC is a Denver-based four-office architecture, interior, and aquarium firm with offices in Orlando, Cairo and Tokyo. OLC now specializes in leisure, health and wellness, hospitality and aquatic projects. Over these 60 years, OLC has helped change the Denver skyline, influenced the way we exercise, and changed the lives of its employees, associates, clients and those who live, work and play. in its buildings.
In 1974, Hervey Lavoie joined Stuart, eventually becoming part owner of the renowned Ohlson Lavoie Corporation. Hervey, a young graduate of an architecture school was now in his element. âI saw my new parish church being built when I was 15 and thought I could do it and enjoy doing it,â Hervey recalls of why he became an architect.
A focus on leisure
In the beginning, Stuart and Hervey managed a small group of employees whose goal was to design buildings to meet the needs of their customers. The commissions came by developing existing relationships, such as those established during Stuart’s standing tennis matches at 3 p.m. on Thursdays. Surprisingly, despite the oil crisis of the 70s and early 80s that hit Denver hard, this small company was designing large, tall projects. These included the Park Place and Country Club towers near Speer Blvd, several residential towers off Cheesman Park, and a half-dozen Writer Family skyscrapers at the intersection of I-25 and Colorado Blvd. , five of which are still standing. OLC was a small company with great project credibility. One of the latest tennis sessions led OLC to design its first free-standing, multi-purpose fitness center, now known as the Colorado Athletic Club â Inverness.
Building on the success and relationships established with this project, OLC plunged directly into the fitness and recreation industry. With Hervey in the lead, the company has since grown into a specialist and expert in the field of fitness and recreation. He and others have written articles on specialized design for organizations such as IHRSA, NIRSA, Medical Fitness Association, and Parks and Recreation Services. OLC staff regularly attend and speak as a design specialist at industry conferences and seminars.
A big change has come from this focus on the industry: travel. Prior to 1984, OLC had never had a design assignment of any kind outside of the state of Colorado. Fortunately, during this time, out-of-state work helped the OLC weather the periodic economic downturns that hit Denver in the 1970s and 1980s (the AIA slogan for 1975 was “stay alive in seventy-five! â). It seemed like there was still a hot development zone in one part of the countryâ¦ and where the economy was hot, clubs were being built: Dallas in the early 1980s; Washington, DC in the mid-1980s; Atlanta in the late 1980s. In 1988, OLC began traveling and working in Japan, which became a major source of work during some lean times in the United States.
Adapt to new technologies
Another big change in these 60 years has been the technology employed by architects. Although every architect was supposed to know the basics of hand drafting until the early 1980s, the techniques and methods of architects changed drastically and seemingly overnight.
âI remember buying our first pocket calculator in 1974. Our first in-house copier arrived shortly after. Then came a fax machine, a multiline phone, a voice mail system, a Kroy and Letraset machine, âHervey explains of some of the early technological changes. âBy the mid to late 1980s, however, it became clear that the foundational systems our profession had to use required a different mindset and we had to keep pace. We’ve embraced a succession of technological firsts and innovated with overlay writing, Master Spec, Con-doc, and ultimately embrace the inevitable CAD.
Soon after came the major change to faster chipsets, the internet, email, and cloud systems. Today we use graphics and BIM software such as Revit, Enscape, Bluebeam, Sketchup, AutoCAD and others to communicate, design, document and present. Often times a laptop is the set of design tools we use; the drawing tables, straight edges and rolls of prints of yesteryear are just a nostalgic memory.
From its locally focused projects and small staff in the 1980s, OLC eventually expanded its services and reach by adding offices in Orlando, Tokyo and Cairo to serve local clients. Recognizing that the unique and specific needs of our clients required specialized services, we also added an Aquatic Design Department and an Interior Design Department along the way.
Over the past few years, OLC has designed a variety of health and wellness, hospitality, leisure and aquatic facilities. Notable projects include:
- Estes Valley Community Center, Estes Park, Colorado
- Several buildings for the Saint Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Missouri
- Additions and renovations to the Newtown Athletic Club in Newtown, PA
- A new clubhouse for the tennis and pickleball center in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida
- The new Lake Nona Performance Club in Orlando, Florida
- Doubletree by Hilton hotel lobby and room renovations in Denver
- A wellness center for the Hancock Regional Medical Center in Greenfield, Indiana
- A Deepak Chopra well-being project
- Several hospitality projects for a prominent Florida theme park developer
To this day, our practice is focused on the needs of our clients and particularly focused on projects that keep our communities healthy, from full service wellness centers to your neighborhood swimming pool. Our directors and staff have had the privilege of working on many interesting and life-changing projects over these 60 years. For that, we thank our clients, our consultants, the industry experts, the contractors who built our designs and the many people we have come to know along the way.
As we reflect on our past, we can certainly say, as the ad says, “We have learned a thing or two.” But it also sharpens our focus on what matters in an ever-changing world: relationships, stewardship, good design, and openness.
Stuart Ohlson and Hervey Lavoie, FMFA are the original founders of the 60-year-old architectural firm, Ohlson Lavoie Corporation, or OLC, as it is known today.