This year’s Canadian Institute of Steel Construction’s Architectural Student Design Competition was another sweep for students from the University of Waterloo’s School of Architecture.
The partnership of third-year Waterloo architecture students Owen Melisek and Silas Clusiau took top spot for their entry titled Fire Bird, which featured a spectacular bridge design the pair characterized as a bright orange “tongue of flame” reaching towards ancient cedars in Prince George, B.C.
The representation was a reminder of the constant threat of forest fires brought about by climate change, explained Melisek, 22, of Whitby, Ont.
“With these competitions, just because there’s so many entries, in order to find a way to stand out, we like to find something where we think, ‘OK, what would steel never be seen doing?’” he said.
“For us that turned into being extremely delicate, almost. Steel a lot of times is perceived as really clunky or heavier.”
The winning entry was intended to tell a story, Melisek said, with the bridge taking the life form of a fire bird.
“It’s just about finding some way to tell the story, to give some kind of journey that the viewer can take through looking through it or reading through it.”
Faculty adviser Terri Meyer Boake, a specialist in architectural exposed structural steel (AESS) who lectures and writes broadly on the material, consulted with Melisek and Clusiau a number of times as the May 13 contest deadline approached.
“I wasn’t too surprised their project won because I got to see all the projects from all of my students and I would have picked theirs as being the best in terms of its ambition, its detailing and its final resolution,” said Boake, whose students often take the three top places in the CISC competition or at least occupy two of the top spots.
Melisek recalled Boake’s advice: “She was just like, ‘You got this. Just make it way more extreme. Go all out.’”
The 2021-22 competition theme asked students in Canadian schools of architecture to design a pedestrian bridge that spans two sites “to establish a meaningful connection. The bridge, by its elegance and gesture, should draw attention and be the symbol of a link between an origin and destination.”
The winning student team received $8,000, with the faculty sponsor winning $2,000.
Second place went to Waterloo students Cindy Ma and Luna Hu for their project The Grand Crossing, described as a “celebratory pedestrian bridge that acts as a point of convergence and community recreation between the two formerly separated neighbourhoods of Cambridge.”
Third was for the project Bridge No. 4, created by Waterloo students Jeffrey Yau and Ernest Lee.
Boake runs a course in the fall term devoted to designing with AESS. Preparing an entry for the CISC competition is part of the grading requirement for the course, which Boake said is the only one of its kind in Canada and probably the world.
She travels the world visiting AESS sites and taking photos and writing, works she then shares with her students.
“I’ve got a different eye for it, and I’ve got different information that I can share,” she said. “
It feeds into the detailed nature of those competition entries because I spent an awful lot of time having to look really close up.
“This is how you put these two things together, this is where you use welds, this is where you use bolts, this is how you fit tubes together or cables.”
Both Melisek and Clusiau, a 22-year-old from Toronto, are working in Copenhagen this summer, ahead of their fourth year at Waterloo.
Melisek is employed as a concept artist with a video game studio, work he finds is complementary to architecture given that he is “super into the visual side of things.”
Melisek said he has learned what applications AESS is most suited for but said, “Every material has its context and value…other materials are better in other contexts.”
Architects can’t solve all the problems of the world at once, Melisek suggested, but finding good solutions to one problem at a time is a good way to start.
About his winning entry, he commented, “I think for me, it would just be OK if one person sees the renderings that we did, and thinks, ‘OK, I didn’t really make that connection between the devastation that you see in one part of the world versus the lush things that we risk losing.’”
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