The second year of the Laurentian University architecture program focuses on the relationship between design and landscape. Studying the landscape, both empirically and experientially, is essential to better grasp the enormous potential of place to guide building and design processes. Following a canoe trip down the French River, an essential node in the vast pre-industrial Canadian trade and transportation network, students form groups to build two canoes, one out of traditional birch bark, and one using hybrid materials.
The canoe, central to Canadian identity and history, is viewed a vessel that meaningfully and beautifully connects one the landscape, as buildings should aspire to. For six weeks, students are led by invited craftsmen, each with different approaches to the artifact. The birch bark canoe teaches students the value of indigenous knowledge, sustainable approaches to craft, and the power of community building through making. Using only renewable material, students are taught by indigenous elders about the sacredness of life and building with respect for it, encouraging them to think of building more symbiotically with natural systems.
While similarly invested in traditional canoe typologies and histories, the hybrid canoe explores performance, innovation and expression, questioning the role that traditional and contemporary materials can play throughout an iterative design process. The materials include cedar strips, fiberglass, and carbon fibre, supporting and reinforcing each other into one composition.
Both canoes were named during a ceremonial launch into Ramsey Lake at the end of the semester.