The Ontario Association of Architects’ (OAA) first vice-president of education probably couldn’t have chosen a more challenging time to propose the creation of the position—and then to accept it when it was offered to her.
Founding principal of Hamilton-based Assembled Light Inc., a small architecture and design studio that focuses on sustainable single-family homes and multi-residential design, Agata Mancini took on the role in January of last year. Two months later the COVID-19 induced province-wide lockdown went into effect and, as a result, the OAA had to swiftly transfer its educational courses, seminars, conferences, and other programs to a virtual format.
“The position was definitely a heavy workload, but what actually made it exponentially more complicated was that, due to the pandemic, my children, who were only five and seven at the time were home from school for the entire year.”
As a sole practitioner, Mancini had to immediately stop taking on any more commissions and teamed up on projects with friends who are licensed technologists operating a small practice in Thunder Bay.
“Working together with them is really what allowed me to be able to manage everything. Had the pandemic not happened, it would have still been busy. But it would have been much more manageable.”
Still, she has no regrets and is more than happy she was instrumental in the creation of the position. After serving on the OAA council for about six months, Mancini says began noticing that “there seemed to be a gap” in the issues and initiatives the council was undertaking.
“I started discussing the idea of a vice-president of education and the other council members, and they shared my opinion that there was a missing piece in the current structure.”
At its election in early 2020, the council voted to add that position to its executive, “and, luckily for me, they also voted for me to take it on.”
Asked what exactly the vice-president of education does, she explains it’s a diverse, multi-tasking job. One of the main responsibilities is chairing the OAA’s comprehensive education committee and working with its manager of education and development, Ellen Savitsky, on various educational initiatives on behalf of both its own members and the public.
For the past year the committee has been creating a document that will provide architectural lessons for the benefit of elementary and high school students. Once completed later this year, it will be shared with the Ministry of Education and Ontario’s boards of education.
“Considering the critical role the built environment plays when it comes to our mental and physical well-being, and the impact it has on our lives, it baffles me architecture is not studied in school as part of the main curriculum,” says Mancini, in underscoring the document’s importance.
“It (the document) is not exhaustive, but we are hoping that it will be the start of a conversation about the importance of teaching about design and the built environment, not only to those who decide to pursue it as a career choice, but to everyone.”
Touching on the education committee’s other initiatives, she points to the introduction of a mandatory Equity, Diversity and Inclusion course.
“The history of the profession of architecture isn’t exactly one of diversity and there is still a long way to go. But there have been significant changes even within the last 20 years and we are continuously making progress.”
Some of the vice-president of education’s other duties include providing input and guidance on the OAA’s admission, fundamentals of running an architecture practice, and continuing education courses. With the province in lockdown for most of the last year, the association launched a bi-weekly seminar series to ensure members could acquire their required continuing courses, she points out.
In January of this year, Mancini was elected as senior vice president and treasurer, but is still actively involved with the comprehensive education committee.
“I haven’t stopped learning since I joined the council. It’s been such an experience to get to see the profession from a completely different perspective, and to really see everything that staff and councillor are working on.”
Her successor as vice-president of education is Natasha Krickhan, principal at HaNK Architecture & Interiors Inc.
“I ran for the position because I wanted to educate clients (homeowners, developers, contractors, or government) and the general public that they have other options.”
Selecting an architect for any project ensures that the client will be hiring a trained professional with a high level of design knowledge, says Krickhan, whose objectives include raising awareness and knowledge among the general public on the advantages of purchasing energy-efficient houses, just like they do with appliances.