The Royal Architectural Institute of Canada’s (RAIC) upcoming Festival of Architecture in Ottawa is the perfect occasion to celebrate 150 years of Canada’s architectural heritage and to 2017 president Ewa Bieniecka, a Montreal architect specializing in conservation of heritage buildings, the RAIC has the perfect host.
The RAIC and the Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) are co-hosting the festival, set for May 24 to 27 and sporting the theme Architecture 150.
"It’s about celebrating the accomplishments of our profession of the past and aspiring to the future; it’s about the cultural legacy this profession has and is central to," said Bieniecka.
"We build communities, we build livable cities, we are involved in decision-making. In this case we will have buildings in Ottawa, there will be many tours showcasing that, looking at how city planning has been transforming that city."
The RAIC has held its annual conference in cities big and small — last year it was in Nanaimo, B.C. — and celebrates projects of all scales, said Bieniecka. This year’s festival will showcase many of Canada’s most famous buildings in the parliamentary precinct, many of which have been renovated for the nation’s 150th birthday bash.
Royal Architectural Institute of Canada
The lineup of keynote speakers features some of the biggest names in the profession worldwide. Daniel Libeskind’s projects include the Jewish Museum in Berlin, the master plan for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site in Manhattan and the National Holocaust Monument under construction in Ottawa. Edward Mazria, founder of Architecture 2030, will address a plenary session. And Jeanne Gang, founding principal of the New York-based Studio Gang who was named 2016 Architect of the Year by Architectural Review, will deliver the keynote address for the Fellows Convocation.
Bieniecka, the 78th president of RAIC and the fifth woman to hold the job, has a special appreciation for the accomplishments of Gang, who will soon be undertaking her first Toronto design.
"She is a remarkable woman who has a way of transforming a very important aspect of our communities and that is housing," said Bieniecka.
"And the other thing is, our projects look for diversity and equity and women in architectural schools are over 50 per cent but in practice they are barely reaching 30 per cent. I think we need the kind of visibility and leadership that Jeanne Gang provides to the profession."
Featuring Mazria, who espouses sustainability, resilience and reduced energy consumption in the built environment, is also appropriate given the role of architects as community leaders, said Bieniecka.
"That is where architects play a leading role in communities, and it’s well known we understand design, we understand planning and we understand the impact of good research and local design," she said. "We bridge many disciplines and whether it is working with landscape architects or engineers, we see the whole. We are the chefs de l’orchestre, and we need that kind of plenary to reinforce that. And I think we are moving towards this aspiration of a zero carbon future, and it is a topic that is more and more discussed by leaders in government."
The 2016 RAIC president Allan Teramura announced at the start of his tenure that indigenous housing would be a special concern of his and the 2017 conference will represent the fruition of that interest, as the Saturday session will be entirely devoted to a symposium on that topic.
Bieniecka said she shares Teramura’s passion for indigenous housing and communities.
"I am definitely working on the shoulders of my predecessors who have built this organization so I am looking forward very much to building on what Allan has left with the indigenous task force," she said. "We will be hosting architects from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand and I think it works well with the message that our government has also shown."
Bieniecka lists indigenous communities as one of her four priorities this year for action, the others being aging in place, the emerging practitioner and renewal of the RAIC. Each of these three other focuses will also be addressed with RAIC members at some point in the festival programming, she said.