Viewpoint (April 01, 2004)

This issue is devoted to the position of education and research in the ten schools of architecture across Canada. Hopefully, this issue will also address some areas of interest for architects who are demanding better leadership and improved continuing education (Con-Ed) programs from their associations. Perhaps we will assess the meaning of Con-Ed points more critically in the near future as our professional associations grapple with what is means to provide architects with the necessary tools to ensure a dynamic and entrepreneurial level of architectural thinking in Canada. Being a leader in the profession goes beyond planning for fire exits.

One major area where continuing education programs could be more proactive is the environment. Last month, I attended a conference hosted by The National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy (NRTEE). Whether a sole practitioner or an established firm (I saw many of both on the list of attendees) the work of the NRTEE allows architects to pursue sustainable projects at all levels, in addition to thinking of new ways of offering more specialized professional service to clients. The work of NRTEE is presented in two reports entitled Environmental Quality in Canadian Cities: The Federal Role and Cleaning up the Past, Building the Future: A National Brownfield Redevelopment Strategy for Canada (see The first deals with broad directions for improving environmental quality in our cities. The second presents practical, concrete steps for reducing urban sprawl through brownfield redevelopment.

The central argument of the NRTEE is that it believes that the federal government should play a stronger role in the future of Canada’s cities such as refusing to sell or lease government properties to interested groups or individuals that would develop them in ways that contribute to urban sprawl. The current tax system is another large area that is ripe for reform. Municipal and provincial property tax systems and the GST rebate on new housing unintentionally facilitate urban sprawl, while uncoordinated one-time grants attempt to increase densities in existing developed areas. Current government policies also create large disincentives against brownfield redevelopments.

Including GST rebates for green infrastructure projects such as public transit, water and sewage treatment plants, renewable energy generation and community energy systems should also be encouraged. Energy-efficient renovations should allow a partial GST rebate on materials and labour, thus saving the client money and/or resulting in a better building. Implementing initiatives that will improve the environmental quality of our urban communities with better transit, sustainable infrastructure, and efficient energy use for land and buildings is an intertwined system. Architects must be given good advice and expertise in order to be able to understand this increasingly complicated process of development. By mastering these issues, we can then deftly manoeuvre, and even pressure the federal government into making necessary reforms to bring about better environmental policies. Now imagine this to be a continuing education course.

As a final word, I would like to introduce our new Assistant Editor, Leslie Jen. Leslie has degrees in Architecture and Law, and has joined us after several years in media and communications. Most recently, she was responsible for marketing and promotions for a Toronto architectural practice. Leslie has a keen interest and substantial knowledge of design issues, and will make a great addition to our magazine. Ian Chodikoff