We are well aware that architecture is a thoroughly collaborative practice that includes everyone from clients and specialists, to city officials and office partners. We even find ourselves collaborating with materials. Unfortunately, it is less common for architecture students to experience a collaborative design process while in school.

Encouraging students to develop their own voices, unique identities and signature styles, architecture schools do not spend enough time on collaborative projects. When they do, the process often reverts to hierarchical distributions of power and knowledge–and in worstcase scenarios, a kind of disciplinary myopia. Can our schools offer an alternative pedagogy of collaboration?

An effective precedent for collaborative design education occurred last fall in a graduate design studio offered at the University of Toronto’s John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape and Design. Entitled “Assembling a Molecular Architecture” and directed by faculty member Adrian Blackwell, the studio linked up with members of a community kitchen located in Mount Dennis, a west-end Toronto neighbourhood. They met for a number of months before deciding upon on a design. Through mapping exercises, group meetings, charrettes and intense brainstorming sessions, the studio decided to build a mobile community kitchen that would achieve the utmost variability and modularity so that it could be transported to various locations within the community. The design of the kitchen would be capable of handling a wide variety of seating and cooking arrangements, community cooking events, and hosting the greatest number of interactions amongst a wide range of community members.

There was a continual discussion between the students and community members where design concepts, concerns and skills were exchanged. Accomplishing the task with a minimum of funds and in a limited amount of time, an emphasis was made on maintaining a collaborative dynamic where considerable skills were shared amongst community members and students. The studio was not intended to be a charity exercise, but instead sought to engage in a grassroots community organization.

The Mount Dennis Mobile Kitchen Unit is flourishing. It continues to roll along to different events and locations in Mount Dennis, feeding upwards of 400 people at one sitting and drawing lines of continuity, connection and participation within the neighbourhood. As for the architecture students who participated in the project, the mobile kitchen provides a successful case study that emphasizes how architectural education should continue to stress the spirit of collaboration.CA

In the spirit of the collaboration, the names of the participating students are: Pamela Choo, Nicholas Elliott, Jessse Jackson, Scott Keyes, James Lennox, Larry Mac, Giampaolo C. Mancuso, Eugene Mastrangeli, Cara McKibbin, Graham McNally, Luke Stern, Hui Teng and Pamela Tung.

Adam Bobette is an artist and researcher based in Montreal.