Chat with us, powered by LiveChat

2021 RAIC Gold Medal: Teaching and Pedagogy

On the occasion of Brigitte Shim winning the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Gold Medal 2021 with her partner, A. Howard Sutcliffe, Professor Shim reflected on her three-decade-long commitment to teaching with her Daniels Faculty colleague, Professor Robert Wright.

Site Unseen. Laneway Architecture & Urbanism in Toronto (2003) edited by Brigitte Shim and Donald Chong.

On the occasion of Brigitte Shim winning the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s Gold Medal 2021 with her partner, A. Howard Sutcliffe, Professor Shim reflected on her three-decade-long commitment to teaching with her Daniels Faculty colleague, Professor Robert Wright.

Robert Wright: You have been teaching at the Daniels Faculty at the University of Toronto since 1988. Why is teaching so important to you?

Brigitte Shim: Educating the next generation of architects is essential to fostering design excellence in Canada and helping to guide the future of our world. I see teaching as a form of design advocacy: part of permeating, contributing and being deeply invested in what really matters. The Daniels Faculty fosters an environment of tremendous reciprocity.

The Faculty is comprised of esteemed colleagues who are equally serious about their commitment to the future of the profession, and students who draw on diverse backgrounds, cultures and perspectives. Together, faculty members invest a tremendous amount of time, energy, and optimism into sharing our knowledge and experience with our undergraduate and graduate students.

How do you determine the topics of your studios?

My studios always address pressing themes, and are often taught in collaboration with other architects, landscape architects, urban planners, artists, and academics to cultivate rich, cross-disciplinary perspectives. With each new studio, I try to seek out themes that are not just exercises, but rather opportunities to explore and test issues that are fundamentally shaping the future of cities and the broader environment.

We aim to empower our students to not only discover these themes, but to develop a different reading of the city and to think about how they can shape better futures. Take for example: advancing the intensification of Toronto laneways, building for northern climates, rethinking community-based healthcare, interrogating the challenge of contested and sacred sites, and more recently, the role of places of production linking our forests to factories–to name just a few.

Can you give me an example of one of your studio projects that has impacted our city and its urbanism?

With many new citizens making Toronto their home every year, we need to find innovative ways of housing them. Right now, we have limited options. In the early 1990s, Howard Sutcliffe and I designed a small residence in a back alley in Toronto. It has been our home, but also a kind of laboratory for investigating the physical and psychological impacts of laneway housing. It provided us with a deep understanding of not only the nitty-gritty regulatory issues, but also the amazing potential of laneways as a site of inhabitation throughout our city.

In 2003, I launched a studio exploring Toronto’s ad hoc laneways and alleys further with a group of architecture, landscape, and urban design students. Rigorous and intensive research by these students, with direction from Daniels faculty, was essential to fully understanding the morphology and typologies of these elements of existing city infrastructure. My student’s site-specific design interventions explored the potential of laneways as a new “site unseen,” realizing an incremental urbanism in Toronto.

The real impact of the studio came when we won a 2003 City of Toronto Architecture and Urban Design Award of Excellence in the Visions and Master Plans category. I realized that as an institution, the Daniels Faculty can be a positive generator of intellectual capital with the capacity to help to reshape the future of the city. With this recognition of our studio research, we were able to have an impact on the City of Toronto’s policies and bylaws enabling laneway suites to become legal across the city.

This is just one example of many initiatives at the Daniels Faculty. My colleagues and I are continually rethinking the possibilities of urban form through our design studios, reimagining a better city that has a positive impact on the quality of life for its citizens.

How would you encourage new students to approach experimentation and invention in the design process?

The work that my students undertake while in school must push the boundaries and rethink the possibilities of design to reshape the built environment. Through collaboration, exploration, and experimentation, there will be invention and discovery.

And finally, do you have any other advice for current students before they enter their professional life?

I believe that the perceived boundaries between the disciplines of architecture, landscape and urban design, visual art and forestry are artificial. You and I have taught several joint studios working with architecture and landscape architecture students which has resulted in exemplary projects that link site, design and placemaking. The best thing about being a student at 1 Spadina in the Daniels Faculty is that you work under one gigantic roof with engaged students in many design disciplines. Each student must take advantage of this opportunity to discover each discipline and the very interesting territories in between.

X