Our Founder: Thorwald Thorson
INVISION has grown out of the practice of one man, Thorwald Thorson. After growing up in Forest City, Iowa, he took courses and gained experience in St. Paul, Minnesota. In 1903, Thorwald returned to Iowa to teach at the newly-opened Waldorf College, where Thorson Hall became his first building. In 1914, Thorwald opened his architecture practice, marking the founding date of what we know today as INVISION.
When Thorwald Thorson designed a new local church after officially launching his practice, he started something big. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Thorwald scattered the Midwest with his mastery of church design, working in Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska.
For his first project, Thorwald was commissioned while a professor at Waldorf. His success with Thorson Hall is what launched the opening of his practice.
Oz Starts Making Blueprints at Age Nine
Ozwald, Thorwald’s son who would later join the firm, would put the original drawing in a large oak frame with glass, felt and light sensitive blue print paper. He and his brother then exposed it to bright sunlight for two minutes, disassembled the frame, rinsed the paper, allowed the paper to dry, and then assembled multiple sheets into one set. Quite the process!
Thorwald Receives Registration No. 83
The Architectural Examining Board was created in Iowa and Thorwald Thorson was one of the first in the state to be registered.
Young Oz Studies the Trade
Oz Thorson followed in his father’s footsteps and began to study architecture at the University of Minnesota. He graduated in 1937.
The Work Progress Administration Forms
When the WPA offered to employ farmers, who were unskilled in the industry, to carry out public construction projects, Thorwald leveraged the opportunity. He evolved a new concrete form construction system using modular, interlocking, movable and reusable wooden forms that allowed for more structural opportunities. The process was simple and labor-intensive, a perfect fit for what the WPA offered.
The Panama Canal
We figured out it’s much easier to cut through than go around.
It wasn’t HD back then, but boy, those fancy consoles were mesmerizing.
The Great Depression
Economic collapse with no safety net. Mass hysteria. The world battled through it but was left with scars.
Those delicious cakes filled with tasty whipped cream hit the street.
Image courtesy of Saputo Inc./Hostess Inc.
Thorwald Thorson and the Panama Canal share one thing in common: they both moved dirt in 1914. In Thorwald’s case, he got his start designing a new hall at Waldorf College in Forest City, IA. A sterling reputation for exceptional church design propelled his young firm upward as he started working in Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska. Back then, we were known as Thorwald Thorson Architect.
In this era, Oz followed in his father’s footsteps, joining the firm and making a significant impact on its success. He brought on new partners and created a culture that put clients first. After Norman Madson’s brief partnership, Hovey Brom was made partner and the two began significant growth. By 1957, they employed eight people and were creating hundreds of client partnerships.
Oz attended Waldorf College and then went on to study architecture at University of Minnesota. After graduating and serving in the Army, Oz returned home in 1945 and opened the Waterloo office. He is remembered as a true professional who understood the value of mentorship and passing down key values for future architects.
Norman Madson held a brief partnership with Thorwald and Oz before he became the campus architect at St. Olaf College in Minnesota.
One of the best things Oz Thorson did was hire Hovey Brom. Hovey has not only contributed to our early impact on the Cedar Valley, but he's been an inspiration to all staff since he was hired in 1952. Hovey is still devoted to the firm and joins the team almost every day in the office, although he retired his partnership in 1990.
It was Thorwald’s work with churches that caught the attention of many and launched him into new industries in the 1940s and 1950s. In this era, the firm notes its first large-scale healthcare, education and museum designs. Exceptional church design continued and the firm’s impact on the Cedar Valley grew significantly.
Recognized by AIA Iowa as the architectural design of the year, noting that it represents one of the last Art Deco style projects done in the state. This project also features Thorwald and Oz’s perfection of the concrete form, as they added material to the inside of the form to give design to the building’s exterior.
Firm’s first Des Moines Church design.
Firm’s first Waterloo Church design.
Firm’s first Cedar Rapids Church design.
Firm’s first Waterloo school design.
Today, this is a UnityPoint Health Allen Hospital facility.
Firm’s first museum design.
Firm’s first new hospital design.
Firm’s first design on the UNI campus.
Firm’s first Des Moines commercial design.
Waterloo Office Opens
With the support of industry colleagues, Oz ventured just over 100 miles southeast, from Forest City to Waterloo. He and his wife, who did interiors, began in a small office in their new city.
Adding a Third Dimension
INVISION began using stereoscopic photography to create a 3D display of work for clients and prospects. We still have the “red button” Realist viewer and several slides with two photos that, when aligned, create a three-dimensional view.
Office Picnics Signify Great Culture
Thorwald, Oz, Norm and Hovey focused on corporate culture and treated the staff like family, much like we do today. Here, the team gets together at the Rotary Reserve in Cedar Falls, Iowa.
Oz Serves as AIA Iowa President
Oz Thorson led the state’s architectural association for two straight terms.
First Company Plane Took Flight
Oz and Hovey flew the company’s first plane, a Cessna 172, and logged over 3,000 hours flying before selling its latest plane in 1973.
The world’s first computer is invented at Iowa State University.
Image courtesy of Manop.
Sticky yet versatile, it changed HVAC—we found a million other uses for it.
Chicago Style Pizza
They start making pizza differently in Chicago and it catches on.
Image courtesy of Victorgrigas.
We started playing Scrabble and were finally able to use words like quixotry, muzjiks, and zymurgy in conversation.
Image courtesy of thebarrowboy.
The Elvis Phenomenon
Elvis comes out with his first album. He starts shaking his hips and the girls go crazy.
Bolstered by a strong reputation, Thorwald expands the firm beyond church-centric design into a host of new industries in the 1940s and 50s. The firm adds a second office in Waterloo and starts to put their stamp on the Waterloo/Cedar Falls area designing several landmark buildings. Thorwald’s son Oswald, along with other partners, join the firm.
The firm grew to 20+ to meet the firm’s growth demands. Bob and Wayne joined Oz and Hovey and the four focused on making strides in marketing the firm’s services and being an advocate for the profession through their involvement with AIA.
Bob always had time to talk and was a teacher and leader for all. He’d be found walking through the office talking looking at staff’s boards and asking about their projects often. His term as president of National AIA is proof of his well-liked personality and advocacy for architects and the industry. With clients, he was always focused on their needs and ensuring that the design solution was responsive to that first and foremost. Bob’s influence on the firm was instrumental in its success throughout his 34-year partnership and well-beyond.
Wayne was known for getting things done, on time and on budget. He was a strong client advocate and could be a bulldog supporting them and their needs. He was an organizer and a great project manager whose approach was matter-of-fact and to the point. In the office, he always had great advice and a knack for really understanding someone’s strengths as well as where they could improve. He would suggest a direction and step back and allow staff to grow and learn in the process.
More than any other era, there is a significant transition in architectural style during this 25 year span. Changes in the economy, technology competition, staff and appreciation for architecture as an art form all influenced the industry and the work of INVISION. Healthcare and Education industries became the focus of the firm, although projects of a wide variety of types retained diversity in the project portfolio.
Firm’s first commercial design in Waterloo. This building was later repurposed by the Grout Museum District as the Bluedorn Science Imaginarium.
Oz Thorson designed this retreat home for his family, who still own it today.
AIA Iowa Design Honorable Mention Award
AIA Iowa Design Medal Award
Firm’s first housing development design
This building was firm’s first convention center design.
AIA Iowa Design Honor Award
INVISION designed the country’s first use of air supported structures, allowing UNI to become a Division 1 school. The air supported structure offered a cost-effective way to build a stadium that could house a larger crowd and meet the DI requirements.
Firm’s first federal client.
This congregation allowed for a design well-ahead of its time. Atypical of church design, the space included a gymnasium, and there were no gothic-style design elements.
Firm’s first design on the University of Iowa campus.
A Young Mike Broshar Makes Diazo Prints
At just 5 years old, Mike started his experience in architecture by making diazo prints, also known as whiteprints. He fed the original drawing into a machine that transferred the plan from tracing paper to light-sensitive paper and then exposed it to light and ammonia. For a large project, he would make 100 sets of 50 drawings.
Oz Honored by AIA
While serving as secretary of AIA national, Oz was honored with membership into the College of Fellows for his notable contribution in service to the profession.
Marketing Made Possible
After investigation in the 60s, the AIA agreed to allow members to submit price quotes, competitive bids, discounts or free work. This was a game-changer in the industry as it created a competitive landscape and, thus, the value of increased marketing efforts.
Bob Broshar Takes a Turn as AIA President
For one term, Bob Broshar joined the list of INVISION partners who served in this prestigious role in Iowa.
AIA Iowa Elects Wayne Snyder as President
INVISION’s partner once again represents architects state-side as the leader of AIA Iowa.
Leading the Nation
Bob Broshar began his term as the 59th President of AIA National, leading the association’s goal, at the time, to educate the public on the value of fine architecture. He was attributed for a shift in the association’s focus, from protecting architects’ interests to increasing public awareness and increasing demand for good design. His leadership at the national level included many efforts internationally as he traveled the globe representing architecture in the U.S.
First Company Fax Machine
With Bob taking the leadership reigns of National AIA, communication was essential and prompted the firm’s first purchase of a fax machine.
First Company Computer Purchased
With a small, green display and a hefty price tag of almost $10k, it’s hard to imagine the company’s first computer was primarily used for simple project management and word processing with a dot matrix printer.
Easy Bake Oven
Children everywhere teach themselves how to cook with a light bulb.
Image courtesy of Bradross63.
No longer merely a rodent, we praise our newfound ability to click.
Image courtesy of Steve Rainwater.
Playing with a computer becomes more fun than playing with your neighbor.
Image courtesy of Chris Rand.
Millions play it, but few ever master it.
Image courtesy of Mike Gonzalez.
The Apple One
The first personal computer comes to the market. Made out of wood, it looked more like a TV (especially if the monitor wasn’t plugged in)—but it changed the world.
Image courtesy of Ed Uthman.
The 60s, 70s and early 80s were a springboard for statewide and national leadership in AIA. The Waterloo office becomes the firm cornerstone and new leaders emerge as Thorwald passes the baton. We continue to significantly expand the staff and our contributions to iconic architecture in the region.
Joining Wayne and Bob were several new staff that would become partners and lead the firm through this era. Others with influential roles today also joined the team and still share the experiences and stories of these 25 years. By the end of the era, the firm had grown to more than twice its size at just over 40 staff, and things didn’t appear to be slowing down.
Ron took an alternate path to licensure, through the broadly experienced architect provision of the time. He was a very hands-on, visionary leader of the firm and a great problem-solver. He was usually the first to pull out a roll of trace and red pencil in a meeting.
Mike’s leadership role is operational focused, steering the firm’s financial performance, accountability, risk management, technology and strategic thinking. Mike’s tenure and experience with the firm is unmatched, having spent days in the office as a young boy making prints.
Brad is known for asking great questions to get to a deeper level of understanding with clients and their needs. He focuses on the education industry and leads the firm’s initiatives related to staff, including scheduling, talent development, office culture and staff management.
Eric strives for great client relationships and organizing teams and talent for optimal design solutions that meet client needs. He leads the firm’s reputation initiatives, with a focus on community engagement, marketing, client experience and promotion.
As the sole partner in the Des Moines office, Mark is responsible for many projects and people and his hands-on, interactive and client-focused approach is a perfect fit. His leadership role is focused on projects, with an emphasis on process, design thinking, best practices and quality control across the firm.
More than any other era, there is a significant transition in architectural style during this 25-year span. Changes in the economy, technology competition, staff and appreciation for architecture as an art form all influenced the industry and the work of INVISION. Healthcare and Education industries became the focus of the firm, although projects of a wide variety of types retained diversity in the project portfolio.
This project was commissioned by both St Francis and Shoitz Memorial Hospitals in an effort to combine into Covenant Medical Center.
Firm’s first jail design.
Firm’s first design for the State of Iowa.
Association of Licensed Architects: Residential II Silver Award
Firm’s first ISU design.
MidAmerican Energy Award: Energy Design Team Award
The Brick Industry Association Brick in Architecture, Education Gold Award
Masonry Institute of Iowa, Merit with Distinction Award
IIDA Great Plains Chapter, Residential Architect Merit AwardIDEA Award, Residential Gold AwardAIA Central States Honor AwardAIA Iowa Design Merit AwardCity of Des Moines Excellence in Historic Preservation Award
Association of Licensed Architects Commercial Silver Award
AIA Iowa Design Merit AwardAssociation of Licensed Architects Institutional Merit AwardLEED® certified
AIA Central States Honor AwardAIA Iowa Design Honor AwardAssociation of Licensed Architects Institutional Gold AwardBlack Hills Energy Excellence in Energy Efficient DesignCommercial New Construction Regional Award WinnerExcellence in Concrete’s Iowa Ready Mixed Concrete Association Award
Going Digital With CAD
INVISION purchased its first CAD station and ink pen plotter, which changed the game of architectural drafting. This early in the game, the pen plotter took the better part of an hour to create just one drawing.
LEED™ Promotes Sustainability
The U.S. Green Building Council was established to promote sustainability in the building and construction industry. This movement later impacted INVISION’s clients in the Midwest and our first LEED™ certification was received in 2012.
Networking in New Ways
INVISION’s first computer network was created by Mike Broshar himself.
Leading AIA Iowa
Mike Broshar became president of AIA, leading the state’s efforts to be the voice of the profession, promote good design and advocate for the public.
Expanding into the Des Moines Market
Our Des Moines office was a critical moment in the firm’s growth as it increased our ability to serve clients in that area, but allowed us to leverage the area’s skilled workforce and growing business landscape.
The firm’s name changed to INVISION. At this time it employed over 30 staff members.
INVISION bought its first cell phone.
INVISION purchased its first ink jet plotter which was capable of producing prints much faster.
Staff Count Hits 50
INVISION grows to over 50 employees.
Building Information Modeling with Revit
INVISION began leveraging building information modeling (BIM) with the purchase of Revit. The new software allowed the firm to produce three dimensional building models that aided in collaboration across the many disciplines of engineering and construction.
Document Sharing Simplified
First electronic document sharing management system. Initially, it was primarily used for construction administration and it began to replace “plan rooms.”
World Wide Web
The web is invented. Thanks for visiting our website :)
People of all ages start to collect Beanie Babies.
Image courtesy of Jonny.
Our phone books and encyclopedias started collecting dust.
Image courtesy of altavista.com.
People started ‘sharing’ music with friends they never met.
Image courtesy of Napster.
Suddenly we could hold 10,000 songs in the palm of our hand.
Image courtesy of Kyro.
This is an era marked by rapid changes in technology and continued growth and the addition of a new Des Moines office. Computer workstations, CAD and building information modeling (BIM) make the design process more efficient and economical. Business booms as we expand geographically. We adopt a new name: INVISION.
With over 50 staff on board today, we have never been more ready to take on the next challenge. Our team of dedicated experts is diverse in skill, background and opinion, but unified in passion and culture.
As our walls become lined with more award winning designs, even more important is our continued focus on the people behind these projects. We take great pride in knowing that our work is impacting the lives of our clients, their users and the community as a whole. Whether the projects of this era are completed or still in design or construction, we are impacting the lives of many with the work we proudly label INVISION’s.
Association of Licensed Architects Commercial/Industrial Merit AwardMasonry Institute of Iowa Grand AwardIIDA Great Plains Chapter IDEA Silver Award
AIA Central States Interior Merit AwardAIA Iowa Design Honor AwardAssociation of Licensed Architects Commercial Silver Award
The firm’s first LEED® certified design.
Masonry Institute of Iowa Grand AwardMid American Energy’s Best Use of Custom Plus HVAC Analysis Award
The Brick Industry Association Brick in Architecture Best in Class, Renovation/Restoration AwardMasonry Institute of Iowa Merit AwardMain Street Iowa Award for Best Total RehabilitationNational Trust for Historic Preservation Top National Award in Historic Preservation
Association of Licensed Architects Silver Award for Commercial/IndustrialLEED® certified
Done in collaboration with Perkins+Will and Saxton.
Master Builders of Iowa Association Licensed Architects Merit AwardIIDA Great Plains Chapter IDEA Silver Award
Photo © Gibeon Photography
Blue Zones Designation Proves Healthy Culture
INVISION is certified as a Blue Zones Worksite after formalizing a program that reflects its culture of healthy work-life balance
All former and retired partners got together to share stories and laughter about INVISION and the moments that have defined us. We appreciate our past partners staying in touch and keeping our history alive.
International Leadership in Risk Management
Mike Broshar was appointed to the Board of Directors of the Design Professionals Risk Control Group (DPRCG), a North American network of A/E firms associated with the XL Group.
A Visit to Mars
Our nation will visit Mars. We’d be happy to design the first colony!
Flux Capacitor Redux
We’ll figure out that Doc really was inspired and use his design for time travel.
We’ll all fly to work (unless we’re riding mass transit).
In the past five years, our firm has much to be proud of and even more to look forward to. As we celebrate 101 years and the amazing people, projects and moments that define us, we can’t help but to be overwhelmed with excitement as we look forward to starting our second century. Here’s to many more years of great design and even better partnerships!