For a more inclusive and sustainable architectural quality in Canada

How can we integrate the experience of architectural quality experienced by users and representatives of marginalized communities while creating more inclusive and democratic public places?

And how can we train future generations of professionals, social actors and municipal stakeholders to strengthen their understanding and their capacity for action regarding architectures and urban landscapes serving the flourishing of all differences?

These are the two main questions that more than 70 researchers from 14 Canadian universities and around sixty citizen, municipal, public and professional organizations are seeking to answer within interdisciplinary and intersectoral teams.

Nearly 180 people had an appointment in Halifax, from 1er to May 3, to mark the halfway point of this important partnership. They participated in workshops to present the first version of the 14 solution hypotheses – or roadmaps – which should lead to architectural work with social value for improving the quality of built environments in Canada.

Named Living Atlas of quality in architecture and the built environment, this consortium has been led since 2022 by Professor Jean-Pierre Chupin, from the School of Architecture of the University of Montreal, also holder of the Research Chair of Canada in architecture, competitions and mediations of excellence.

The need to question oneself

The partners of the project coordinated by UdeM: from left to right, seated, Virginie LaSalle, Nathalie Dion, Jean-Pierre Chupin, Anne Cormier, Isabelle Cardinal, Sarah Huxley and Victorian Thibault-Malo; and standing Izabel Amaral and Carmela Cucuzzella.

Credit: Bechara Helal

The idea of ​​bringing together a large pool of partners from research and civil society was born shortly before the pandemic and came to fruition over the two years that followed.

“Faced with the issues of equity, diversity and inclusion, architectural research communities in all schools across the country understood that there was a convergence of crises in terms of quality in the built environment in Canada : from the climate crisis to the housing crisis and so many urban crises linked to inclusion, homelessness, accessibility without forgetting the heritage and territorial crises,” indicates Jean-Pierre Chupin.

This urgent questioning made it possible to obtain funding of $8.5 million, namely $2.5 million from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council and $6 million from university, community, municipal, institutional and professional partners.

Since the start of the partnership, stakeholders have alternated local and national actions in 14 situations considered critical in the country. They meet at annual conferences – the first having taken place in Montreal in 2022 and the second in Calgary last year – where they report on the progress of their work and put in place hypotheses for national strategies of quality improvement.

Inclusive projects focused on essential needs

Jean-Pierre Chupin

Credit: University of Montreal

Two main principles guide the members of the 14 research teams: they must systematically include three groups, in addition to academics: citizens, public procurement actors and representatives of professionals. “Then, their respective roadmaps must be based on essential needs identified near their home university and on an understanding of lived experiences,” adds Jean-Pierre Chupin. Each project must be situated in a social context and operate according to a bottom-up strategy.”

Thus, in Montreal, the team coordinated by UdeM works on places for people with special needs, while the one led by Concordia University focuses on urban biodiversity. At the same time, the McGill University team is considering nighttime design of cities for marginalized communities.

For their part, the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia are studying the equitable resilience of open spaces and urban parks, while the University of Calgary and Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson) are reflecting on inclusive urban approaches, including accessibility in public places overlooking Lake Ontario.

For their part, the team led by the University of Waterloo is tackling the social housing crisis, that of Dalhousie University is addressing schooling environments, and Laval University is working on quality management processes on an urban scale. and Carleton University is exploring adaptive and heritage reuse. Finally, teams in northern Ontario, Manitoba and Alberta are dedicated to the issues – which could not be more urgent – ​​of housing and access to dignified, quality living spaces in Indigenous communities.

A partnership to deal with complexity

According to Professor Chupin, all these projects constitute a form of “serial research” carried out by academics and partners who “adhere to a strong hypothesis that only a partnership design process can, in the near future, make it possible to cope to such complexity without falling back into the fragmentation of expertise into silos, he emphasizes. Only intersectoral collaboration, adequately nourished by the sharing of lived experiences, will be able to promote consideration of the needs and expectations of all.

This major project revolves around the creation of a digital platform funded by the Canadian Foundation for Innovation. It is a mapping of experiences and proposals which aims both at educational changes and the creation of solutions anchored in the culture of places and territories. For Jean-Pierre Chupin, it is nothing less than “the most beautiful project to which I have been led to contribute in my career as a researcher and teacher”.

UdeM as both pilot and stakeholder

In addition to Jean-Pierre Chupin, who coordinates the partnership across Canada, several members of the UdeM faculty play an important role: the dean of the Faculty of Planning, Carmela Cucuzzella, who co-directs the committee of governance and the steering committee since the origin of the project in 2019; architect and professor Anne Cormier; the director of the School of Architecture, Izabel Amaral; and Vincent Larivière, library science researcher. The project led by UdeM is coordinated by professors Virginie LaSalle, from the School of Design, and Bechara Helal, from the School of Architecture. Both are working on the roadmap entitled Towards a creative integration of qualitative accessibility for all.

The citizen representatives of this project come from the Véro & Louis Foundation, the Société Logique and the University Institute of Mental Health of Montreal. The professional actors come from the Provencher, Roy and associates offices; EVOQ architects; Affleck de la Riva; and Chevalier, Morales, architects. Representatives of the Order of Architects of Quebec and the Association of Architects in Private Practice of Quebec are also involved in the project. Finally, the representatives of the City of Montreal are members of the Building Management and Planning Department and the Design Office.