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October 24, 2002 Growth of Irish studies reflects community's vitality



Fine Arts student Adad Hannah with his maquette.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Nora Gombos

The old warehouse-turned-gallery was buzzing with excitement as sleepy students waited for the announcement of the winning team of Charrette 2002, a collaborative design competition sponsored by the Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA).

The vernissage of the exhibition, held at the Darling Foundry near the Old Port on Oct. 28, displayed the result of three intense days, and in most cases nights, of hard work and creativity.

“The enthusiasm and sheer hard work coming out of our teams was nothing short of amazing,” said Rhona Richman Kenneally, an assistant professor at Concordia’s Department of Design Art, who collaborated with the CCA along with professors from McGill University and the Université de Montréal in setting the parameters of the project.

(A charrette is a cart, but since it was used to convey architects’ drawings to a building site, it has become the name for an architectural design competition.)

The objective of the charrette was the design of a site-specific optical installation, an artwork or architectural work confined to a particular location.

“The idea was for students to consider the small parts of the city that remain after building lots are carved out and allocated to different projects,” Kenneally explained.

The students had to consider the nature of a leftover space and develop design ideas based on the land’s cultural geography, history and physical presence within the city. The site chosen this year is a space surrounded by the train tracks on the west and University St. to the east, St. Paul St.to the north and William St. to the south.

However, the site for their projects was only revealed to the students at the launch of the charrette on Oct. 24, which left them with only three days to research the area, come up with a design and submit a maquette which explained and communicated their intention to the judges. To accommodate the students, both the Design Art Object Laboratories and the Centre for Digital Arts made special arrangements to keep facilities open for the weekend.

“It was a challenging project and I liked it a lot,” said Hisham Mansour, an undergraduate in Concordia’s Design Art program. “The real crucial bit is the first night, when you really have to find the idea.”

His group based their project on a European design concept, where plants are grown along the walls of new and old façades. The plants only require air, wind and sunlight, so there is no need to water them. “We thought the site really lacked greenery and vegetation,” Hisham explained.

Kenneally was pleased with the variety and scope of the designs. “I think students addressed the problem very well, and I think their approaches were favourably and strikingly diverse, innovative, and, in some cases, poetic.”

A recurring theme in many of the projects was water. “We actually found out that the site had a river running underneath it in the 1800s and they paved it over for the highway to go across,” said Colin Copeland, president of the Design Art Student Association.

In addition to being a participant, Copeland was a key player in the organization of the contest. “I was making sure that all the groups of students had all the materials that they needed, so it was a bit of a runaround,” he said. “But we had great team members, so it worked out really well.”

The charrette was a collaboration between the CCA and Université de Montréal, McGill University, Université du Québec Montréal, Concordia, Université Laval and Carleton University, and the students worked in mixed groups of three to five people.

In fact, the Concordia Fine Arts Student Association set up a preliminary meeting with the architecture students from McGill. They got everyone together and matched people up.

“It worked really well, because one of our main focuses this year is getting a lot more collaboration between the schools,” Copeland said. He felt that rather than creating a competitive atmosphere between the universities, they were brought together for a common purpose.

A record number took part this year. Considering it was the first year that Concordia officially participated, there was a good turnout. Of 72 groups, 18 had Concordia members, including three teams of graduate students in the Design Art Graduate Certificate Program, and Digital Technologies in Design Art Practice, of which Michael Longford is director.

One of the winning teams included a Concordia student, Adad Hannah, who had joined forces with three architecture students from Université de Montréal. More than anything, this illustrated the real success of the project — collaboration among the universities. As students were leaving the room, they were already discussing how to approach the charrette next year.