February 16, 2021
Susan Speigel, OAA, FRAIC, is the new president of the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA), the regulatory body for the province’s architecture profession that protects the public interest. Speigel was acclaimed to the one-year position at an OAA Council meeting, which took place on January 21.
“A few years ago, I would not have imagined I would find myself in this wonderful role,” the Toronto-based architect says. “I am honoured, excited, and eager to get to work.”
Speigel’s career has spanned more than 30 years and five cities, including Sudbury, Ottawa, New York, Neuchâtel, and now Toronto. As a young graduate—aware of the barriers faced by women in the profession—she and four other designers launched an all-women firm, Villa Villa, a group she describes as “brave and creative,” where she cut her teeth in the industry. Speigel then worked with her father-in-law to solidify her architectural education. Since then, always careful to ensure family life was integrated into her practice, her work has evolved through various iterations, including a brief foray into the tech world—a move that brought a fresh perspective when she eventually returned to architecture reinvigorated.
Rooted in her passion for community-building, activism, and innovation, she launched her own multidisciplinary design firm, Susan Speigel Architect Inc. (SSA), focused on architecture, landscape, and urbanistic public realm projects for nonprofit organizations, the public housing sector, and private residences. Speigel is also an educator at the Institute Without Boundaries through George Brown College School of Design, where she works at the intersections of architecture, landscape architecture, urbanism, activism, community, ecology, and academia.
Speigel’s commitment to equity and inclusion in the built environment is reflected in her extensive work with social housing and community spaces; she has modernized more than 250 projects for the Toronto Community Housing Corporation and Peel Living and Woodgreen Community Living, and has led research in support of mobile-home parks as affordable housing models. Since 2017, Speigel has also been the Professional Advisor and Acting Architect for the Thunder Woman Healing Lodge—Toronto’s first Healing Lodge and transitional housing for Indigenous women in conflict with the law, which is slated to begin construction this spring.
Speigel was introduced to the OAA by her father-in-law, Irving Boigon, who was OAA president in 1976 and instilled a sense that the association was a place where meaningful change was possible. Over the years, Speigel has been involved with OAA in various capacities, from helping to plan the first OAA conference in the mid-1990s to working on the first committee for the Ontario Association for Applied Architectural Sciences (OAAAS). In 2019, she ran for OAA Council, joining several committees and eventually serving as senior vice-president and treasurer.
“I wanted to immerse myself,” she says. “I wanted to understand how everything worked, where the gaps were, and what would benefit most from our energy and attention.”
For Speigel, the OAA Council represents an opportunity to bring about positive change through policy development and purposeful engagement with a new generation of architects entering the profession. As OAA president, Speigel is committed to promoting inclusive architecture and to making space at the table for new perspectives.
“There are tremendous shifts emerging in the world that demand our attention and meaningful action,” Speigel observes. “I am energized by out-of-the box and daring thinking; by people with the foresight to envision something marvelous and the gumption to make it happen. In order to meet the numerous challenges before us, we need fresh new voices, and there is much we can do to make the profession more inviting and welcoming.”
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