Can architecture be generous?
Do architects have an inherent civic obligation?
Those were the questions up for discussion at the Toronto Society of Architects (TSA) January 21st Urban Affairs Forum, titled “Generosity by Design.” Speakers included Robert Allsopp from DTAH, David Sisam from Montgomery Sisam Architects, Helena Grdadolnik from Workshop Architecture, and Philip Evans from ERA Architects, with Carol Philips from Moriyama & Teshima Architects as the panel moderator.
Urbanspace Gallery hosted TSA’s Urban Affairs Forum
In the era of ‘starchitects,’ the role of architecture as community collaboration can be problematic, as can the role of advocacy in urban architecture and design. But as David, founding principal at Montgomery Sisam, insists, “architects do have a civic obligation.” His talk focused on the issue of reciprocity, taking the audience through examples of communities around the world built with reciprocity in mind. Photos of houses joined to create civic space were shown, and David spoke knowledgeably about how urban form is important in creating reciprocities and positive adjacencies.
David Sisam from Montgomery Sisam Architects
“Good architecture is a good neighbour”
Robert Allsopp reminded the audience, “Good urban architecture is designed for time and change.” The design process must always consider context: the past, the present, but also the future context of any building or development. Design must be able to adapt as required to changing times and contexts, including the cultural context, in order to fulfill its civic obligation. Community advocacy and collaboration has a role to play in articulating this context.
Robert Allsopp from DTAH
Helena presented several projects by Workshop Architecture that illustrate partnerships with communities. The firm tries to advocate for “architectural activism” where the architect is not just a designer, but is also a “problem-identifier” who is aware that “sometimes, the answer to the problem isn’t another building.”
Helena Grdadolnik from Workshop Architecture
“To be generous is to balance”
Finally, ERA’s Philip Evans moved the conversation outside of the urban realm to rural communities, speaking about the Culture of Outports and small programs he has been running since 2010 (cultureofsmall.com). small aims to identify methods to help rural communities transition from natural resource-based economies to diversified, cultural resource-based economies. Philip shared the belief that “the pillars of our community are in a state of transition,” and that architects and designers need to balance the development of community infrastructure with support for economic drivers, by fostering uniquely place-based design and broader business solutions. A diverse cultural economy that fosters balance avoids the limitations of a mono-economy, a situation that has led to community decline in both urban and rural settings. This balance can be expressed in both form and – perhaps more importantly – use of the buildings that create vibrant communities. This could lead to a consideration of both form and use as cultural heritage attributes, and a balance between the two as part of the inherent civic obligation of design.