Editorial: Back to School

A view of empty corridors at the UBC School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture, from the school’s Instagram feed.

This September brings a back-to-school like no other. Remote learning will be the norm at universities across the country, presenting particular challenges for the study of architecture—a discipline grounded in physical space.

A few of Canada’s schools of architecture will be offering a hybrid model of in-person and remote learning. At the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Architecture, half of the students will attend in-person studios on one studio day, and the other half will attend on a different studio. Assigned desks, along with enhanced cleaning, have been implemented to promote a safe learning environment.

At the Université de Montréal’s School of Architecture, the majority of teaching will happen online, but two courses will be offered in-person—one in a computer lab with a limited number of students, another that takes place outdoors during the study break. For studio courses, site visits and crits will also take place in-person.

McGill’s Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture will likewise be almost entirely online, with a few exceptions—some local field trips, a PhD graduate seminar, and part of a field sketching course will be conducted in-person. “There is an open possibility of conducting final design reviews in person, but I am not sure yet if any instructors will want to profit from the opportunity,” adds director Martin Bressani. “Given that not all students will be in Montreal, it considerably complicates matters, because the crit would have to be conducted both in-person and streamed online.”

Any of these plans for in-person learning may change, as universities and Provinces continue to actively monitor the situation.

For many schools, going completely online—using tools such as Zoom, Conceptboard, Figma and Miro—cuts through some uncertainty. Online studios have been offered for years by Athabasca University, and on page 39, Douglas MacLeod reports on some possibilities opened by that mode of teaching.

Mark Gorgolewski, Chair of Ryerson’s Department of Architectural Science, notes that his school is holding all courses and studios online, so that “students do not have to be in Toronto and can participate in all activities remotely.”

Many schools who are pivoting to online learning will allow in-person meetings only in exceptional circumstances, and after applying for permission. These interactions would require measures such as social distancing.

An online summer semester at Dalhousie University helped the school investigate how to transfer its offerings online. “At the beginning of each week, we did a town-hall meeting with each whole class, to make the week’s navigation easier,” writes director Diogo Burnay. For the fall, they’ve developed a series of mentorship activities between senior classes and the new incoming class. “We also simplified and clarified what students can learn without access to our shops. This was important as we have a very much hands-on learning mode, and we have been using hand drawing and physical models as a way to think and design in our first terms,” he adds.

Workshops at some schools will be accessible in limited ways. At Laurentian University’s McEwen School of Architecture, for instance, assignments are being developed that would use the shop facilities with curbside pick-up for the finished models. “A few studio groups are planning on shipping materials to students to maintain a hint of tactility,” says director David Fortin.

The Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design at the University of Toronto decided early on that the fall semester would be entirely online. “We made it a design exercise,” says interim dean Robert Wright. The head start allowed the Faculty to plan a shared lecture series with the Toronto Society of Architects and Ontario Association of Architects, and to equip instructors with specialized tools for online teaching. In the landscape and forestry programs, for instance, teachers have GoPros to deliver field lectures.

For Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, one upside of moving offerings online is the ability to bring in instructors from all over the world. They’ve added a diversity and equity lens to their professional practice course by having it co-taught by Zimbabwean-born designer Nicole Nomsa Moyo, Indigenous architect Patrick Stewart, and African-American architect Mario Gooden—respectively based in Toronto, Vancouver and New York.

Director Jill Stoner says that she’d contemplate keeping such an offering active post-pandemic. “We’re probably going to discover certain classes where what we get online far outweighs what we get in person.”