Future of Canada’s architectural landscape, ROAC report, Canadian contemporary building design

The Future of Canada’s Architectural Landscape

25 May 2023

According to a report published by The Regulatory Organizations of Architecture in Canada (ROAC), relatively few Canadians understand how significantly architecture impacts their lives. People recognize that they face many challenges, including the climate crisis, human health and well-being, economic disparity, social justice, and political instability; however, most do not acknowledge the built environment’s impact on these areas.

Future of Canadas architectural landscape
photo : Touann Gatouillat Vergos on Unsplash

The Future of Canada’s Architectural Landscape – ROAC Report

ROAC advocates that architecture must be leveraged to help Canadian communities thrive and for there to be a social contract between the professionals who design and originate the spaces in which people live, work, and thrive and those who inhabit those spaces. ROAC challenges the architectural profession to empower citizens to create communities where social and environmental justice shape design decisions. As well they want diverse cultures to be celebrated.

According to ROAC, Canadians want more from their architecture. The Rise for Architecture Public Survey found 77% of respondents supported the need for better policies around planning and design. Citizens want more inclusive and welcoming communities, and they want to work more closely with the people creating them. The suggestion is that people do not want architects to create ‘trophy projects’ and want them to be accountable for their designs. More than 5,000 people were questioned over a three-year period. Just under half the respondents were architects and architectural students, and the balance were members of the public.

The overwhelming response was that people want better policies to guide the planning and design decisions. An Architecture Policy for Canada would set goals around how the built environments affect communities’ social, cultural, and economic well-being. Unfortunately, Canada lags behind other countries that have adopted architectural policies that shape expectations for community design.

The policy would have the following aims:

  • The creation of healthier, fairer built environments
  • The empowerment of people to pursue positive community changes
  • Guide government to use architecture to drive desirable social outcomes
  • Help people understand architecture’s impact and value
  • Make Canada compelling and competitive on the world stage
  • Strengthen advocacy for architecture
  • Reduce Canada’s overall environmental impact

It is proposed that any policy be open to evolution and responsive to changing situations and needs. This is an essential part of any policy and can ensure that so-called ‘white elephants’ are not created that are then left unused and without a purpose.

The way in which we use buildings and spaces evolves. Throughout the world, there are countless examples of infrastructure and facilities being created which serve an apparent need but, by the time they are completed, have limited lifespans. While humans always need housing, for example, how we want our houses to be configured changes over decades and centuries. In China, for example, developments are regarded as old after ten years, and people want new, up-to-date homes. On the other hand, in places in Britain, people live in houses many hundreds of years old. However, the internal layouts are changed to adapt to the evolving ways in which families live.

Anyone who visits an unmodernized late 19th-century home will be struck by how the kitchen is in a dark corner away from the heart of the house; the best places are reserved for elegant rooms the residents could show off in. Contrast that with the current requirements of modern families who like to live in light and airy open-plan spaces. However, rather than demolish old homes, architects and designers breathe new life into the existing housing stock, with knock-throughs, extensions, roof lights and spaces being repurposed and refocused.

The same has happened to many leisure spaces too. For example, musical halls and theatres may no longer have live audiences clamouring to see the acts. Initially, these palaces of entertainment might have been converted into picture palaces and, at a later date, bingo halls or mixed-use community venues.

It all comes down to imagination and the ability to envisage that change will be required in the future. For example, what will happen to the newly built casinos and leisure complexes that have sprung up over the last few decades? As more citizens find online casinos in Canada (see https://casinoscanada.com/en/), footfall at gambling venues is bound to fall off. How will the architectural and design community respond and effectively repurpose existing buildings? That will be the challenge.

In a country as vast as Canada, it is all too easy for defunct buildings to be left to fall into disrepair and eventually need demolishing. However, if they are created as great buildings in the first place, people will want to restore them and find new uses for them. Surely it is better to have an architectural gem rather than an eyesore at the heart of a community. If planners, architects, and residents work together from the outset, there is a much better chance that the built environment will be treasured by people as changes are required.

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If people feel that the latest architectural proposal is, as King Charles said a few decades back, “a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved friend‘, the chances are they will want to get rid of it as soon as it falls into disuse. There can be no denying that people can grow to love so-called monstrous carbuncles, and it would do architecture a disservice to only come up with platitudes and pastiche. People need challenging with new concepts and progressive ideas, but they are more likely to embrace them if they feel part of the process.

ROAC believe that their national consultation findings have produced a set of recommendations that are pivotal for the future of Canada’s architecture. They are calling on professionals in the field to:

  1. Renew partnerships between professional organizations, regulators, schools, NGOs, and governments.
  2. Work together collaboratively to scope the Architecture Policy for Canada.
  3. Redefine and expand the term public interest
  4. Improve equity within the architectural profession.
  5. Include and involve the public in the processes that shape their communities.
  6. Bring together architects, technologists, and businesses to tackle the social challenges of 21st-century Canada.

Comments on this guide to Future of Canada’s architectural landscape article are welcome

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Design: Diamond Schmitt Architects
Fredericton Performing Arts Centre New Brunswick
image courtesy of architects
Fredericton Performing Arts Centre, New Brunswick

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Comments / photos for the Future of Canada’s architectural landscape guide page welcome