Roger Connah and his students pose in this black and white shot.

You’re So Vanier: Student Project Wins Inaugural Architect Magazine Studio Prize

By Joseph Mathieu
Photo supplied by Roger Connah

An award-winning vision of Vanier, an urban and futuristic architectural model, has been travelling around Ottawa for the last several months.

Since last spring Roger Connah, associate professor at Carleton’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism, has been coordinating the movements of Ottawa: You’re So Vanier, the culmination of his students’ work on a year-long studio project.

The three-by-four-metre model that covers the Vanier Parkway to Saint Laurent Blvd. and everything in between Beechwood and McArthur Avenues is an alternative to mainstream development happening all over Ottawa.

The moving exhibition is eight panels of a 40-panel model. With plans of progressive housing, an urban core, and new ways to use main streets, the project took a stab at deflating urban gentrification of neighbourhoods.

“Gentrification brings in money, but slowly, over years it removes the people who first lived there, who no longer can afford it,” said Connah.

“I wanted to say, ‘let’s halt this process, let’s try to give a thematic vision that Ottawa can appreciate.’”

In September, the exhibition won the inaugural Studio Prize by Architect Magazine, the journal of the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

The project was one of 152 submissions of studio courses, hands-on and risk-taking courses that explore architecture through practice.

Of the five schools to win, Carleton University was the only Canadian school.

Vanier 2.0

The comprehensive project created several aspects of a “Vanier 2.0,” including a detailed design of a complex housing project.

Connah wanted his students to explore existing housing in Vanier that will need to upgrade in the next decade.

Working in teams of two, his students designed housing developments for one semester and then put it into a wider, comprehensive context in the second.

“I removed grading out of the question,” said Connah. “I don’t think you can grade when we’re putting together a full product.”

Connah, who has been a professor at Carleton for eight years, also helped develop a book that came out last March, and a public consultation in April.

Jamie Kwong of the Vanier BIA and Geoff Heinzman of ModBox helped set up the exhibition in the main hall of the deconsecrated St. Charles Church.

Anyone from the community was welcome to walk through and ask questions of the students.

Mathieu Fleury, city councillor of the Rideau-Vanier ward, asked to have it displayed at City Hall for other city councillors, planners, and passersby over the summer.

The exhibit recently moved to the Vanier Community Service Centre. It may also take up residence in either the Vanier Museopark or the Wabano Centre on Montreal Road in a few months.

Connecting with the public was a major factor in winning the Studio Prize. The interest continues to grow, even just to discuss the possibility of not gentrifying another city lot.

“I don’t have any problem with developers but I don’t like the nostalgic stuff,” said Connah. “I think it’s cheating the public of a real contemporary architecture. We need to take a pragmatic approach to reality, not try to remove the existing reality you work from.”