Creating Forward Motion by Working in Place

Creating Forward Motion by Working in Place
Posted on May 26, 2020 | Toon Dreessen | Written on May 26, 2020
Letter type:
Blog Post

Governments are preparing for the re-opening of businesses to kick start the economy. The calls for “shovel-ready” projects are already being heard loud and clear. We need to treat this as an opportunity to address our infrastructure gaps.

There are still billions of dollars in backlogged repairs to schools. Cities have growing lists of repairs and upgrades needed to libraries, recreation centres, pools and other community infrastructure.

Long term care centres have been a crisis for years, with cramped rooms and inadequate numbers of people forced to cohabitate in substandard conditions. Waiting lists for access mean that we don’t have enough capacity.

We still have a housing crisis. People can’t afford their homes and there’s a desperate need to create housing affordability across the country. Some cities have transformed vacant hotels into temporary housing for the homeless while other cities have created temporary respite centres for people who have nowhere else to go. Some cities are sitting on land, waiting for funding to build desperately needed housing near new and under-construction transit systems.

Each of these challenges is an opportunity. Architects can make a difference in the lives of people across the country. In 2018, the Ontario Association of Architects commissioned an independent study that showed that architects have a 14% impact on the ON economy. Let’s tap into that potential to create the future we aspire to.

Architects can lead design teams including engineers, and landscape architects, while working with surveyors and other professionals to design solutions to these problems. And they can do much of this while working remotely.

This work can create a holistic framework for repairs to schools and other community infrastructure. We can design new housing and undertake studies to repair, renovate and make accessible the social infrastructure we need in our communities. Creating plans to make every library, pool and community centre in the country universally accessible is an opportunity to meet accessibility targets set by Bill C-81.

Underlying each of these is the ever-present reality of climate change. We know that buildings have an enormous impact on society when it comes to energy use and making a difference in climate change. According to the Architecture 2030 challenge, the urban built environment accounts for 75% of global greenhouse gas emissions, with buildings responsible for nearly 40% alone.

At the same time, creating plans to undertake deep energy retrofits to every publicly owned building in Canada would set up a target for how we decarbonize the built environment. Some of these projects might result in studies that lay the ground work for future projects, while others would complete projects that can be constructed in the near future. Some projects might be realized as design competitions, creating respectful, socially engaged, solutions to housing and infrastructure in remote, northern and indigenous communities, providing an opportunity to put action to calls in the Truth & Reconciliation Commission Report.

Governments are looking to make this investment now. Billions of dollars in construction that will forever alter the lives of Canadians in positive ways starts with an investment in architects and engineers. That investment might be 10% of the total construction cost and, if done right, can have a lifetime of positive payback in energy efficient buildings that affect our socio-cultural world for generations to come. Spending that money today means there are shovel ready projects to roll out in three, six or 12 months, and will provide a list of ready projects that could be paused if we need more time for pandemic restrictions on construction.

A key step in this is how we go about hiring these professionals: current procurement models mean adding months, if not years, to the hiring process and reducing the value of the investment. On Monday, Angela Mondou and Colin Deacon noted that streamlined processes have allowed businesses to pivot in response to innovations by procurement officials. There’s no reason to think we can’t have the same innovations in procurement for the sort of infrastructure our communities need that will last for generations. We can use Quality Based Selection to hire professionals. We can use design competitions to solicit ideas and spur a public dialogue on solutions.

The old trope of measuring twice and cutting once is true. Right now is the time to be measuring, studying, planning and preparing so that when the shovels come out, we’re ready to build. The result will be a built environment that is beautiful, safe, healthy, equitable and supports the social outcomes we aspire to.

About The Author's picture

Toon Dreessen is an architect and the president of the Ottawa-based practice Architects DCA; he is a past president of the Ontario... More