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I have been struggling recently to understand the bureaucratic approvals process at the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care (MOHLTC) for new mental health clinics in rural settings. Here is my concern, to receive MOHLTC funding the Agency requesting the money must navigate an approval process to ensure the utmost scrutiny and due diligence is conducted. However the process dictated is the same process no matter if the Agency requesting money is looking to build a modest $1 million or substantial $50+ million facility. For the general public reading this article both budgets might sound substantial, however for people in the construction and architecture sectors we know that a modest $1 million budget is small and the cost of construction/renovation of modest spaces is expensive.

Common sense should then prevail that a separate streamline approval process should be set up for smaller budget projects and better ways of procuring consultant services and general contractors would help. Yet I feel that the MOHLTC is using the same tools no matter what size and type of project.

What is also concerning is the lack of innovation in the delivery of both the functional program and schematic design. The functional program and schematic design go hand in hand. They should not happen sequentially and should actually be conducted through an integrated approach cross informing each other. It has been my experience that it is a requirement by the MOHLTC that the functional program is completed before work can begin on schematic design. The MOHLTC is missing an opportunity to instill innovation in the project delivery of many of their projects that goes above and beyond costs savings and addresses the need of the service provider to engage both the functional programmer and architect at the same time in a more  consultative and collaborative manner.

I am lucky to work for a firm who preaches this type of innovation. I hope to work with the MOHLTC to innovate their project delivery method and approval process. I believe it is all about creating a fair and open approval process that delivers service in the best way possible optimizing efficiencies and reducing costs to the taxpayer.

 

Receiving little attention in Ontario as the October 6th provincial election nears is the recent interest by Infrastructure Ontario to bundle projects into larger packages and sell through an Alternative Financing and Procurement (AFP) model, sometimes called P3’s (public-private partnerships). For all my Alberta readers, Infrastructure Ontario is a crown corporation that manages infrastructure projects in Ontario (name says it all). This crown corporation is carefully looking at the potential to bundle smaller infrastructure projects, such as schools, libraries, etc. into larger projects that seek private financing.

Private developers agree to build these projects and rent/lease them back to the government based on a guaranteed rate of return for X amount of years. The benefit to the government is that the private developer takes all the risk in building the government buildings and the government does not provide the initial investment. Private developers enjoy lower interest rates when they are approaching banks with large infrastructure projects that are bundled together.

The Ontario architecture community has been abuzz about the possibility of bundling. The conversation has revolved around how efficient is bundling smaller projects to use the AFP model. How efficient is IO current delivery system for these projects? It has become common knowledge that IO internal costing of projects is weak. They tend to underestimate their budgets before the RFP stage leaving the successful proponent with the aftermath of meeting a budget that only covers the must haves.

What I am more interested in is, what effect will IO takeover of smaller projects from numerous other government organizations have on the product delivered. How will the government client be affected by bundling? Bundling creates a situation where the clients project is just one of many similar projects. Will clients receive innovative solutions that assists their stated mission and enhances the quality of services they provide? How will bundling affect the quality and lifespan of the building? How closely will private financiers have to follow the PSOS or PDC Architects design that are developed for each project? Can clients expect to see cutting edge environmental design and individually tailored solutions to their needs? The AFP model is an innovative way to bring in private money to develop public goods, however how does profit affect the construction cost and profit margins?

 

The first question every architecture student is asked in an interview is “How much experience do you have doing Construction Documents and using CAD?” The second question asked is whether you have “any experience using Revit?” For most  Masters students seeking their first summer or full-time position, these questions are tricky as the majority of Masters programs do not explicitly teach CAD/Revit. Where as an undergrad or college architectural education does normally provide courses in CAD.

What is concerning is the emphasis some firms place on students and graduates knowing these programs and at the same time the lack of emphasis Masters programs have in teaching the basics in a structured way. In the realm of higher education, there appears to be a snobbish outlook on the technical skill set needed to meet the minimal level of readiness for the workforce. Is technical skills training the purvey of only Colleges?

I have met graphic/digital course teachers who take a very hands off approach in teaching programs, rather lecturing from the podium while students follow along on their laptops. This is of course highly ineffective. For students who have not had an undergrad or college education in architecture, it is the responsibility of the Masters program to either dictate that students seek external help prior to entering or provide a basic skill set workshop to bring students up to speed. Architecture students should not leave graduate school without learning to draw plans, reflected ceiling plans, sections, and elevations all in CAD and if possible Revit. That being said, firms need to realize that if they are looking for “CAD Monkeys” then stop hiring Masters students. Colleges are cranking out technically proficient graduates who want to produce Construction Documents. Masters students are taught to be designers and understand the formal qualities of architecture in a way that is not taught in college or undergrad. The value added of a Masters student is his/her comprehension of design.

Registered Architects have a responsibility to the profession to take on students and train them. This is a very important commitment as the sunken cost into a student is normally never recovered. Yet years ago, every registered architect was in the same position as the student today. For students worried about their lack of skills, don’t be! Go into an interview, be honest about your deficiencies, yet always return the conversation to your strengths. Talk to the potential employer about your best studio projects, ask them if they have any questions, push your interests in architecture and sell them on you, not your technical skill set.

 

There is two fundamental flaws with Chris Hume’s argument that Brampton does need a downtown. The first being that Hume’s discounts municipal identity over regional identity and the second being that a vibrant suburban Brampton downtown can encourage a higher, more sustainable density, living and working around the somewhat manufactured centre of the municipality. You can read Chris Hume’s article below at the Toronto Star.

Chris Hume’s: Downtown Brampton and other illusions
It is true that the GTA and Southern Ontario work as one economic entity driving the Canadian financial and manufacturing sectors. Each municipality is a cog in the machine that make it all work. Yet we cannot discount the importance that a vibrant, working downtown has on municipalities, especially the tenth biggest city in Canada. Identity is important for a municipaity, it gives the city purpose and drive. A bedroom community then has something to aspire to and work toward. People feel belonging which generates positive emotions and tangible productive results. Read any literature on identity and cities and we begin to understand the importance of belonging.

In some ways I felt that Hume’s was encouraging this car centric municipality with it big box stores, reliance on the automobile, and abundance of single family homes. As a Intern Architect, I cannot  condone these unsustainable developments. A downtown core that focuses and reduces the scale of the city back down to the pedestrian and encourages a commercial centre could allow for future development of transit alternatives, higher density condo living, and move away from annexation of the next subdivision just outsides Brampton’s borders.

I normally agree with much of what Hume’s writes, however not today, Brampton needs what Mississauga has begun to undertake. Mississauga has worked hard to create a downtown core, hopefully the Downtown21 plan will be realized reducing the current scale of the downtown to a more pedestrian friendly core. I can envision a future for Mississauga thanks to the Downtown 21 plan where a Light Rail option traverses the Mississauga core to GO Train stations alleviating traffic. Imagine having a commercial centre within a Brampton downtown alleviating some of the pollution caused by community to Toronto. Imagine a strong identity for Brampton that helps its influx of new immigrants integrate and feel Canadian, Bramptonian, and a part of a community. Imagine the future Mr. Hume, it will be better with a municipal downtown core… maybe they can have a hockey team too!

I had the opportunity to research and write a thesis paper on the effects of nationalism on architecture in my undergraduate History degree. This is an important topic as still today it is somewhat of an uncharted territory for historians. We living in a built environment are constantly bombarded and influenced by the architecture around us. We should be more cognizant of its effect. Select the link below to be redirected to where the document lives on ISSUU, an online publication website.

Nationalism & Architecture – Online Reader

Introduction / Summary

The built environment we inhabit is a strategic tool in the negotiation of national identity. The citizen cannot avoid the nation space due to the reality that citizens inhabit cities that are part of the national discourse. This discourse is directed by the hegemonic power of a nation that can influence the design and construction of our environments. Thus a federally constructed cityscape can enhance the power of the nation. Numerous case studies have analyzed the relationship between nationalism and architecture which have concluded that nations use architecture to reinforce identity. Haim Yacobi analyzed the Israeli-Palestinian use of architecture in nation-building. Paul Baxa shed light on Fascist Italy’s attack on Catholic Rome to develop a pagan Roman identity. These two cases are just a sample of the many that concluded that the built environment reinforce national identity. A nation’s conscious effort to manipulate architecture for nationalistic reasons can simply be called architectural nationalism. The authors of the sample case studies do not agree on all aspects of architectural nationalism because it is a relatively new debate on the varying theories of “how architecture is used” and “what does it represents subconsciously.” The debate encompasses the instigators, origins, place, time, governmental structure, and symbolization of architecture and identity. The issues in the debate are the ingredients needed to create a program of architectural nationalism. However, the mix of ingredients can be quite different in each state.

“I DO MODELS” HOODIE

So back in 2009-2010 as President of the Environmental Design Students’ Association, the Executive decided to make some architecture swag for our students. Unfortunately due to the controversial message on the clothing, we were unable to ever make our dream a reality. All we wanted to say was that Architecture students are skilled at building models. Some people took this out of context.

Special thanks goes to the designer of the swag and fellow graduate of the Architecture  program at the University of Calgary, Cameron Ashe.


So after approaching and applying many of the well known firms in Toronto for an Intern Architect position, I wanted to share some of the lessons I have learned. I wish I had learned some of these lessons before I started applying, however I hope this advice will help my peers who are applying concurrently. Although the worst of the recession is over in Canada, some architecture firms are still struggling to recover. At the end of the day many firms are still affected by the lack of new loans for building projects, the lack of Federal infrastructure money, and other various factors. The AIA has actually indicated that the Architecture Billing Index has fallen below 50 which likely means that the industry will slow down even more. So people looking for a job must be strategic.

With all that said, I wanted to share any advice for us job seekers.

1. Decide what you want to do with your architecture degree and write down your goals and aspirations!

What are your short term goals, 5 year plan, and 10 year plan? Do you want to get registered? Do you want to be partner or own your own firm? What type of architecture do you want to do: civic, institutional, residential, commercial, retail,  urban planning, art, or competitions? Be specific, this is your chance to tell everyone what really excites you about architecture and what your are driven to accomplish.

2. Re-focus your resume and cover letter to emphasize your goals and aspirations in a way that shows a specialization in architecture!

If you want to do competitions, what experiences, skills, and projects have you done to make you the perfect candidate? Include a professional development section that captures all the conferences, competitions, certifications, publications, reports, and other preparation for your specialization in architecture. If you have previous work experience, include a selected projects list of work completed. Write a short cover letter that includes a couple sentences in a separate paragraph that focuses on your specialization.

3. Research what type/size of firm wants your experience!

Don’t apply for just any firm, do some research and figure out what types of firms need your expertise and leverage those expertise to get a job. For example, if you have a previous interior design degree and have some experience in the field, then I would suggest that you go after firms who do not have interior designers on staff. Those particular firms likely want to add those skills to their practice however cannot afford to hire an interior designer. It really is a give and take relationship between the firm and a potential candidate and in the end, the firm gets your expertise and you get in the door to start work as an Intern Architect. One caveat with this strategy is that you are clear with your intentions that you want to become an Architect and wish not to be pigeon holed.

4. Network and build relationships before you ask for a job!

Talk to your friends in the industry that you wish to enter, make new friends, go out for drinks, go out for lunch, and build relationships with people. Creating an intimate relationship with persons of interest in the industry will lead to timely advice and help in approaching the firms you are interested in. People within the field can offer insight to who is hiring and possibly offer an introduction. Remember the Iceberg metaphor when it comes to careers, most jobs are not advertised and just under the surface. That means we must network and build relationships to find the unadvertised ones. Only after have you built a relationship of trust and mutual respect with friends, partners, and principals should you ask for a job. You want that person to feel completely comfortable with you. This could take months, however it is a rewarding educational experience. And remember your please and thank you’s after every meeting.

5. Apply for the job!

After you have identified partners of firms looking to hire your specialization and have their contact information in hand, go after that job with a strong cover letter and resume. Consider emailing a portfolio sample or link your portfolio from a website, blog, or FTP. Follow-up with a call within a week. Ask for an interview or drinks. Even if there are no job opportunities, maintain that contact for the next quarter and keep in touch. Sometimes it can take months to develop a relationship to a point where it becomes a career offer.

GOOD LUCK!!!

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