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Laurentian students look to reinvigorate Sudbury’s historic Flour Mill district

Don Procter
Laurentian students look to reinvigorate Sudbury’s historic Flour Mill district

A team of fresh faces from Laurentian University has invaded one of Sudbury, Ont.’s oldest neighbourhoods in an initiative to examine ways to reinvigorate the area.

The third-year students from Laurentian’s McEwen School of Architecture set the terms for the physical revitalization of an eight-block stretch in what is known as the Flour Mill district — a century-old mixed-use neighbourhood that got its name from the Quaker Oats flour mill factory built in the early 1900s. Still standing prominent are the factory’s six concrete silos.

The students’ survey scope is wide, covering technical and social aspects to the street, ranging from building energy improvements to recreational enhancement, says Ted Wilson, professor of the school of architecture.

He calls the street evaluation a framework for a “well-tempered environment.” The study will include recommendations for passive design elements accomplished through landscaping the street boulevard.

Students will also advise property owners on energy improvements and a host of esthetic building changes — some harkening back to an early era in the neighbourhood.

The study will be reviewed by the city for its recommendations. The Flour Mill Business Improvement Area is giving financial assistance for students to work on their studies.

Emphasis is on projects “grounded in real conditions, real communities. They (students) like that and get motivated by it,” says Wilson, adding the study takes a page from Jane Jacobs’s work. The noted urbanist was the author of the Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Wilson says students have met with several property owners. A landlord of a multi-unit residence who had made improvements to units gained insights from the students on cosmetic and energy improvements to the facade. The owner had indicated he may follow up with a building envelope retrofit.

Wilson says among the cosmetic improvements to the street being evaluated is the placement of recyclables and garbage in a fashion “to keep the street looking consistent and enjoyable.”

Other recommendations take root in the neighbourhood’s past. For example, the addition of porches for residences and shopfront awnings for commercial business to provide weather-protection for displays of wares outdoors.

Wilson says architecture students will continue to study the neighbourhood in years to come, evaluating other streets, urban forms and even back lanes that at one time were popular communal recreational spaces, he says.

He expects some of the students will land jobs with design firms retained by property owners to take the design process to the next step.

More initiatives like the Flour Mill study will be developed by the architecture school because “community engagement” is an important part of the school’s philosophy, says Wilson, pointing out the faculty collaborates with the English, French and Indigenous communities on projects in Sudbury.

“Our motto (taken from an Indigenous culture) is to hurry slowly.”

A design-build component is an important part of the McEwen School’s curriculum. Students build projects of increasing complexity as they move through the four-year undergrad program, he says.

Second year students recently built a wigwam on campus from wood they collected in the bush.

Why a wigwam?

“There is some really rudimentary foundational learning with respect to what a beam is, what a lateral is, what a connection is,” he says.

The design and construction of ice fishing huts and saunas made of wood are also covered.

In the two-year graduate program, students will produce a building for a symposium conference focusing on timber structures on the campus next year.

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