While on her summer vacation here in Ottawa from Hong Kong, Janice and I went to visit our alma mater, Carleton University School of Architecture (now named the Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanism). She was eager to revisit this place that she hasn’t set foot in since we graduated years ago. I had darkened the doors of the old establishment once or twice, however it was more meaningful to visit together with my dear friend.
As the school term hadn’t yet started, the building was quiet, with only maintenance personnel or the occasional student walking by. Upon first glance, the school appeared not to have changed one bit. How could eleven years have passed? We wandered into the empty first floor classrooms, past ‘The Pit’ where we had attended student forums & listened to visiting lecturers, peeked into offices, and popped into the Technical Data Library, brimming with architectural periodicals, books, and reference manuals. Upon closer look, we saw changes that we hadn’t initially observed: the building’s new entry ramp, the expansions to the fabrication facilities where we used to build the components of our models, and the space formerly known as the ‘Meat Locker’, once a select few senior boys’ studio space in Thesis Year which has since been transformed into general building storage. ‘The Hub’, previously a quirky student-run coffee & muffin shop and lounge, is now a casual living room with a self-service coffee machine.
We wandered upstairs to the 1st through 5th year design studios, surprised to see that the pods are still equipped with drafting desks and wooden locker storage for each student. Who draws anymore?? In professional practice, so far removed from our school days, our drawings are almost exclusively done on computer instead of with mechanical pencils or Kohler ink pens. Though the desks remain, it’s clear that they are now secondary to the ever-advancing electronic technologies provided by the school, supported by phenomenal and extensive computer labs, photographic, video, digital facilities and a Solids & Tectonics research laboratory, as well as fully-equipped architectural woodworking and metal workshops.
Meandering through the spaces, memories came flooding back. Ooohing and aaahing, we found our old desk spaces for each of the years that we were there, reminiscing on our colleagues, our profs, jokes and expressions that had been coined among our peers. We took photographs of the spaces and of ourselves in them for posterity. It was refreshing to see how the mechanical, electrical and plumbing is exposed, almost celebrated, in this building. The ‘build’ tradition was always emphasized at Carleton, ubiquitous within the design culture of the school, helping us to understand that ideas cannot be evaluated apart from human experience.
Architecture students worldwide have a reputation of frequently working late into the night, and pulling the occasional all-nighter at school. And for us, it was no different. As students, we were encouraged to explore ideas through making, and to think creatively with our hands and minds. But ideas don’t stop at 6pm! Visible to anyone walking through the university campus would be sleeping bags lined up in the Architecture School’s glass connector, especially during the winter months, propped up on the radiator. Seeing the bridge brought back memories. Good times. 🙂