By Jennifer Wilson
The 2016 Architecture Symposium, held by Ryerson University’s Masters of Architecture class, took place on Feb. 3 in downtown Toronto. The symposium’s theme—re-practice—had speakers discuss the future of architecture, what architects could do to address the emerging needs of society, and what the role of the architect should be.
The four panelists, Lola Sheppard, BArch, MArch, OAA, OAQ, Helena Grdadolnik, BES, MArch, MRAIC, Tudor Radulescu, OAQ, LEED PA, MIRAC, and William Macivor, M.Arch BEDS BScH, each spoke about their role and respective projects that have helped them establish a space within today’s architectural community.
Sheppard spoke about the role of the architect as a ‘detective’—they must be a good researcher, a good team player, and predict and speculate on the future use of a building. She related this to her work in northern Canada, specifically in Iqaluit, where master planning has taken a backseat. To remedy this, Sheppard emphasized the importance of architectural engagement with the environment, regional thinking, the role of architecture in the remote, and the role of vernacular. In order to create design where there is none, rules need to be established. To do this, architects must think about how materials, food, and other essentials are transported to these remote locations. They also need to consider art, and the history of the people who live there. Sheppard concluded by encouraging the audience to consider all the variables when designing.
Grdadolnik was next to take the stage and began by asking, “Can the architect be more than a problem-solver?” Normally, clients seek an architect to solve their building needs, but Grdadolnik states that sometimes it is better to work backward and find the problem site first. This was the case in Toronto’s Green Line, a string of separate parks along 5 km (3 mi) of hydro corridor. Grdadolnik and her team recognized the potential for these separate parks to become linked in a continuous stream of parks. They identified the problem before it was brought forth and they created a plan to solve it. In this way, the team was working according to what Grdadolnik refers to as ‘architectural activism,’ where architects solve a problem the client may not have known existed.
Radulescu also applied this method of thinking with his presentation of the Edison Residence, a project site adjacent to McGill University in Montréal. The site is located in the middle of a strand of old row houses; after a fire in the early 20th century, the lot remained vacant until Radulescu’s team realized its potential. After finding an investor for the project, they used a linear design process—where one thing is not more important than the other—and came up with a design focusing on the site’s history. Tangibility was an important concept to the team, so one of the major design focuses was precast panels photoengraved with a series of stills from the film, Montréal Fire Department on Runners. Depending on the position of the sun, the panels reveal their photoetching. While incorporating this art on the exterior of the building, the interior is modern and minimalistic. As Radulescu states, “I usually like to keep things as simple as possible.”
The last speaker of the evening, Macivor, opened with his history in architecture and how it has evolved over time. Now a product design team leader, he says “Architects have to look at the world in a careful way and inspire others.” He compared it to the same idea of creating a web page except digital design only builds the most important part of the product, where architects have to look at and deliver each aspect of a building to be both useful and esthetically pleasing. Macivor points out that the two disciplines intersect when, “designers have to build something desirable, not just useful.” This statement seemed to encompass the evening as the panel wrapped with a round-table discussion on the role of re-practice, re-acting, and re-imagining in architecture.