Designing civility in downtown Toronto

In Communities /

By Shannon Baldwin

Imagine being able to walk out of a subway station and rather than passing some unused green space, you can walk up to a cellphone charging station, use an interactive digital wall or find out where you’re going on a map that’s also made in braille.

Ryerson’s architecture students designed places just like that for this year’s annual collaborative assignment: An Architecture of Civility.

The goal for this year was to take an existing, unused space in Toronto and redesign it into something the community can use and interact with, while keeping in mind Toronto’s diverse demographic. And they have to do all of this in four days.

Architecture student Radomir Smiljanic said that the biggest struggle with the time constraint is that “it’s one of those projects where you can keep battling yourself back to the beginning.” The theme of civility also put an additional emphasis on inclusion by having a group of volunteer graduate students assess designs from the viewpoint of concerned community voices. They represent dog walkers, the homeless, the disabled and other minority groups that need to be voiced.

Third-year student Aubrey Deluca and her group worked on the Harbour Square Park Station. To create inclusivity, they designed agricultural gardens for community use, level walkways for those in wheelchairs and clean lake water for drinking and irrigation. For the blind, they created pathways that change textures, from concrete to limestone pavers to woodchips, to help differentiate paths. But Deluca said it took a lot of focus and long hours to create that design with her group.

“You’re given four days to do a project that you’d usually have months to design”, she said.

The project divides 400 architecture students into 16 groups to fully design and digitally create a working space in Toronto that all types of people can use. Architectural science professor, George Kapelos, said the theme of civility became actualized through this exercise because students had to quickly learn how to work with each other and different skill levels, since each group was made up of students from first through fourth year.

“I’ve been impressed by the number of people that have thrown themselves into the assignment,” Kapelos said. “Everybody finds that they have a voice.” First-year Shirathmikha Suresh Kumar said she found it difficult to find her voice in the beginning, since she’d never done anything like this in her classes before.

“There were definitely times where I was lost, but we learned so much from the upper years that I ended up really enjoying this whole experience,” she said.

Kapelos said that the collaborative is an initiation for first years, but he doesn’t think that puts them at a disadvantage since, “first and second year students are sometimes more technologically advanced than the upper years.” While it’s important to come up with a good design, Kapelos said the process of working with others and learning together is just as important.

The designs will remain on display in the lobby of the architecture building until Jan. 31 and the whole process can be viewed at http://das-ryersonu.tumblr.com/

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