Reflections from Halifax

Reflections from Halifax

Dalhousie University’s School of Architecture and Planning celebrated its annual “Professional Practice Week” from January 21, 2013 – to January 25, 2013 and I was fortunate to represent BNIM for one of the week’s plenary sessions.

The session’s theme was “Collaborating with the Public; Advocating for the Social,” and it began with public lectures from Simon Allford, Director at Allford Hall Monaghan Morris (AHMM) and myself.

After the presentations, we gathered on stage to respond to each other’s work and develop a dialogue on the topic, facilitated by Emanuel Jannasch, faculty member at Dalhousie. Throughout the lectures and the dialogue that followed, I found, in spite of the geographic and cultural differences, AHMM and BNIM had much in common and was struck by the number of similarities and sympathetic values that were shared.

Fortunately, it seems these kinds of sensitivities and values are becoming more prevalent and commonplace within today’s design culture — and the idea that it can be extended to the academic environment through opportunities such as this one is hopeful and promising.

Change is rife and these values are being nurtured within a world that is more “open source, more comprehensive, elegant and economical” than ever before (much like the regenerative tools Bob Berkebile spoke about in another recent blog post on this site).

The following were just a few of the values/themes that emerged from our dialogue in Halifax:

  • Architecture is ultimately about the power of ideas to be transformative and impactful.
  • Architecture is a social driver: its role is sometimes more about designing a social mix (the conditions within which architecture lives) rather than simply being about bricks and mortar.
  • We can’t over tailor our buildings anymore. More and more, our structures must embody the notion of “long life, loose fit.” Constraints are drivers: we take constraints, challenge them, and reinvent.
  • We design more than just buildings: we design pieces of the city, community and the public realm.
  • Our work should be generous and regenerative.
  • Our respective practices require time and space to release moments for speculation.
  • Authorship is less important in a current practice: ideas belong to everyone; the best ones ultimately “win” and are integrated into our projects.
  • We should strive for work that embodies the idea of doing “twice as much with half as much.”


Throughout the week, the students participated in teaching modules on such necessary practical considerations as site visits, costing and building codes. All of this was followed by what I considered to be the highlight of the journey to Halifax: an engaging, wide-ranging seminar with graduate and undergraduate students. Dal students proved to be savvy and thoughtful, and asked terrific, insightful questions about such topics as collaboration and establishing and maintaining proper work/life balances within current office structures. This is yet more proof that the next generation of professionals will be thoughtful, insightful and generous designers and problem-solvers. I can say with some confidence that if this small sample is any indication; the future of the profession is in extremely capable hands.

Thanks to Ted Cavanagh, Dal faculty member and organizer of the week, and his team for including BNIM. It was a great privilege to visit beautiful (and frigid!) Halifax for a few days of hopeful dialogue and discovery. 

Image courtesy - Snohetta