Cynthia Dovell puts down roots in the neighbourhood

Have you noticed the new medical building going up on 95 Street, just south of 111 Avenue? Or the facelift that businesses in the Royal Alex plaza just east of the Glenrose Hospital have received? Those two projects have something in common: a self-effacing, hard working local architect named Cynthia Dovell.

She’s also the brains behind the new Wally Footz scorekeeper building, the Right at Home Housing Society’s Beacon Heights affordable family housing project, the renovation of the Cambridge pedway tunnel in downtown Edmonton, and more.

You can see Cynthia Dovell’s work in places like the new medical building going up on 95 Street, just south of 111 Avenue. | FO Photography

These days, Dovell lives on the border between the Parkdale Cromdale and Alberta Avenue neighbourhoods with her husband Matt and their small son, but that wasn’t always the case.

As a kid, her family moved around every couple of years for her father’s work and studies, mostly within Alberta but eventually ending up in Ontario when she was in high school. She is the child of an epidemiologist father and a mother who immigrated from the Philippines at the age of 18. Her mother, having done some tailoring in her home country, worked in garment factories in B.C. shortly after her arrival. She worked her way up to management level in the factories before studying fashion at SAIT and NAIT, then ran her own formal wear design business.

Dovell attended the University of Toronto after graduating high school and, according to her, sort of stumbled upon the field that would become her passion.

Cynthia Dovell likes to include a story behind her projects. | FO Photography

“I decided to take architecture without really knowing what it was.”

She flourished at the U of T because she has a deep love of learning, and it’s a school with a lot of variety.

“I took a course from every single faculty.”

In spite of her broad interests, she never really wavered from architecture, eventually earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the subject. She was drawn to it because it incorporates creativity, boundaries, and functionality, and also because, as she reflects, “It impacts people’s well-being, their ability to function in the building, and it protects them from the elements.”

After graduating, Dovell worked for 10 years at a firm in Toronto that focused on community work. She and her husband, a teacher, were finding the cost of living there unsustainable. So, when a visiting relative suggested they move to Alberta for better job prospects and lower costs, they decided to make the leap in 2013.

Cynthia Dovell says architecture impacts people’s well-being. | FO Photography

Her firm helped her transition. She opened and ran their western office for two years before going out on her own to open AVID Architecture in 2015.

Dovell and her small team work out of the 7th Street Lofts building in downtown Edmonton. She continues to favour community-based work, such as the new Beacon Heights development. She also has a passion for library design, and has presented at the provincial library conference in Jasper.

Many of her projects are based in story. For example, the Wally Footz building at Montrose Park takes its inspiration from the grain elevators that figured prominently in Footz’s life.

“I normally have a story behind all the projects I work on.”

She loves living where she does. “I love the trees. I love how close it is to the LRT and the bike paths that lead downtown, where I have to go everyday.”

She even likes hearing the noise from the Stadium. It gives her a sense that activity and action are happening—that it’s a vibrant place.

She likes to see all the people walking by wearing their jerseys on game day, and hearing the music from concerts.

“It’s the opposite of sleepy,” she says.

AVID Architecture

Featured Image: Cynthia Dovell opened AVID Architecture two years after moving to Alberta. | FO Photography