Cynthia Dovell

Top 40 Under 40 2016

Photography Curtis Comeau

Age: 36

Job Title: Principal, Avid Architecture

Why She’s Top 40: As the principal of Avid Architecture, she’s transforming Edmonton with community-centred design, while helping women and minorities enter the male-dominated profession.

Any Regrets: Not moving to Edmonton sooner. “It’s been so great here and there’s been so many opportunities. I stayed in Toronto past the point where it was good for me.”

When Cynthia Dovell enrolled in architecture school, she didn’t know what she was signing up for: “I actually had no idea what architecture was all about.” 

Her parents had talked her out of being an artist, knowing it would be hard to make a living.

Thankfully, architecture was a good choice for Dovell – but the gamble didn’t pay off immediately. For years, she barely slept thanks to grueling course loads and, upon graduation, a challenging licensing process. Finally, she snagged her first architectural job – designing eco-friendly churches – and loved it. Some designs even garnered her a few awards.

In 2012, Dovell and her husband left Toronto for Edmonton, where she’d lived as a child. She worked for a local firm until a previous employer asked her to set up its Edmonton branch. When economic pressures forced the office to close, Dovell and her co-worker – architectural technologist Jason Ruhl – launched their own firm in 2015. Within a year, Avid Architecture had generated more than $500,000 in contracts.

Dovell describes Avid as “a human-centred design practice” because of its focus on designing structures that serve communities. “[Architecture] reinforces that sense of belonging and a sense of pride in your neighbourhood,” she says.

Busy as she is, Dovell gives back to the community in myriad ways – like teaching online, mentoring students and committee work to raise the profile of women in the profession: “I really like helping people with the things I’m best at,” she says.

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