Policy: Rise for Architecture

INTERVIEW WITH Darryl Condon and Lisa Landrum

Since 2016, a task force of Canadian architects and educators has been mobilizing conversations on the future of architecture and developing a framework for an architecture policy for Canada. The group shared their preliminary work in a 2019 Canadian Architect interview. Editor Elsa Lam reconnected with this group—now called Rise for Architecture—to check in on their progress and plans.

Ini Adedapo, a University of Calgary M.Arch student, reports on architecture and potential at the CAFÉ West event in March 2020. Photo by Lisa Landrum

Elsa Lam: When we last spoke in 2019, your group was planning an ambitious series of consultations with architectural professionals as well as student groups, aimed at informing a national policy that would highlight the value of architecture, helping to feed public debate and influence legislation. How did those consultations go?

Darryl Condon: Just before the pandemic, we talked to over 2,000 architects from across Canada—roughly 20% of the profession. These face-to-face workshops took place at the 2019 RAIC conference in Toronto and at regional meetings from St. John’s to Victoria to Yellowknife. When COVID canceled our planned coast-to-coast consultations with Canadian communities, we reinvented our public outreach strategy with an online platform. Rise for Architecture launched in 2021, and results from an Angus Reid poll were published in April 2022. Overall, we’ve heard from nearly 5,000 Canadians, most of whom are keen to help shape better built environments and support an architecture policy for Canada.

Lisa Landrum: The Canadian Architecture Forums on Education (CAFÉ) began in September 2019. The series brought together all 12 Canadian schools of architecture in conversations about the profession’s future. Five forums were held at five campuses—in Halifax, Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg and Calgary—involving nearly 1,000 students, academics and community members. The last CAFÉ took place in March 2020. Online forums, a survey, and a manifesto competition continued through the summer, and a Summary Report was published in September 2020. This year, we createdCAFÉ Capital: Towards Equity in Architecture,” with three online workshops and an in-person forum in Ottawa, from September 29 to October 2.

Jonathan Kabumbe and Noémie Lavigne lead a presentation in November 2019 at CAFÉ Québec. Photo by Lisa Landrum and Meili Pradel-Tessier

What did you learn from these consultations?

DC: Again and again, we heard about the desire for change. Architects believe in architecture’s potential to make positive social and environmental impacts. But they also feel constrained by inflexible procurement and regulatory processes that put profits and risk aversion over long-term value. From the public, we heard general dissatisfaction, but also encouraging evidence that they value good design. Results of the 2022 Angus Reid Poll show that most Canadians do not see themselves, their culture, and their values reflected in the places they live. People further feel disconnected from decision-making processes shaping their communities. Our survey results confirmed these findings, with 76% of respondents supporting better design and planning policies.

LL: The voice of the next generation of architects resounds with creativity, conviction and hope. The CAFÉ series had five key takeaways:
1) Engage architecture as a tool for climate action; 2) Engage architecture as a tool for social justice; 3) Enable radical diversity in the profession and radical accessibility in the built environment; 4) Pursue architectures of healing and enjoyment at multiple scales and sensibilities; and 5) Support holistic design excellence, community-engaged processes, and Indigenous empowerment. We also learned that architecture’s future is a trans-generational project. New students and seasoned practitioners have much to contribute and to learn from one another.

The Kind Hart Women Singers contribute a song ceremony to the CAFÉ Prairie event in February 2020. Photo by D. Howlett

How did the pandemic affect your group’s methods? Has the mission of your group been adjusted to take account of lessons-learned from the past two-and-a-half years, when Canadians have been interacting with architecture—especially public architecture—in different ways?

DC: Challenges in the last couple of years have underscored the need for the architectural profession to renew its social contract with the public it serves. Access to safe and healthy environments, affordable homes, and inclusive and inspiring public spaces has never been more important. Moreover, the climate catastrophe is accelerating. Living in Vancouver, I have seen the unprecedented floods and fires of the last two years. Resilient infrastructure and sustainable buildings are top priorities. The socio-political and environmental contexts in which architects work are rapidly changing. Yet, many of our professional frameworks are static. It’s time for change!

LL: Remote learning magnified problems of accessibility in architectural education. The pandemic was a wake-up call for well-being and work-life balance. There are also renewed calls for anti-racism and social justice. The Black Lives Matter movement and the painful confirmation of unmarked graves at former residential school sites have impacted academic institutions and architecture programs in sobering ways. Most schools have formed Equity, Diversity and Inclusion committees and committed to decolonizing curriculums. Yet, biases of gender, race and class are entrenched. Addressing systemic racism in Canada’s architecture schools, as school director Anne Bordeleau has explained, is a slow process (see CA, Feb 2021). This fall’s CAFÉ, “Towards Equity in Architecture,” encouraged open discussion on these difficult topics.

What are your next steps?

DC: This month, we will publish our key findings and recommended actions. We’ll present these at the CACB Conference in Ottawa at the end of October 2022. The goal is to communicate the need for change and potential for the profession to rise to the challenge of self-transformation. We aim to garner further support for change within the architectural community, so this can be leveraged through advocacy for better policies at federal and regional levels. We will also publish a study of architecture policies in Europe, which can guide Canadian policy makers. Ultimately, governments write policy. Our group’s role has been to sketch policy priorities, encourage architectural advocacy, and model the change we want to see at government levels. Our next steps will include building a collaborative platform for industry partners to work toward the changes we can make without government intervention.

LL: Following CAFÉ Capital, we further plan to publish a white paper towards equity in architectural education, to share best practices among academic and professional sectors, and to advocate for these priorities
in institutional processes and policy.

What are the key recommended actions?

DC & LL: We call on the entire architectural profession to more boldly commit to addressing the climate crisis; to improving diversity, equity and inclusion in the profession, as well as accessibility in built environments; to meaningfully involving communities in the design process
affecting them; to working in partnership with Indigenous peoples to advance the Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada; to expanding the definition of public interest; and to renewing governance and accountability among architectural regulators and advocates, professionals and educators. The challenges we face and the change we need require everyone working together—architects, regulators, educators, students, advocacy bodies and allied professions.

How might the architecture community support these efforts?

DC & LL: Read our report. If you support its recommendations, write to your association and to the RAIC, and urge action toward influencing legislation. Write to your Members of Parliament, and encourage them to read the report and move an architecture policy forward. Above all, act within current mandates to effect positive change. We will be calling on all within the profession to move towards a renewed social contract.

Anything else to add?

DC: We would like to thank all the members of task force, the Advisory Group, all the professionals who shared feedback, as well the RAIC, the Regulatory Organizations of Architecture in Canada (ROAC), and the Canadian Council of University Schools of Architecture (CCUSA) for their support.

LL: Thanks also to everyone participating in CAFÉ, especially the students who have assisted in the research and reporting, and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC).

Darryl Condon is managing principal of hcma architecture + design in Vancouver and Chair of the Rise for Architecture / ROAC future of architecture working group.

Lisa Landrum is a professor of architecture and associate dean at the University of Manitoba, CAFÉ project lead, and Rise for Architecture steering group member.