Comment: Heroic buildings and hope for First Nations
October 24, 2015
By Bronwen Parsons
The awards allow us to profile excellent projects, but at a deeper level they show directions in which engineering is going.
From the October-November 2015 print edition, p. 4
The Canadian Consulting Engineering Awards allow us to profile the excellent and diverse work done by consulting engineers in this country. But at a deeper level, they show directions in which engineering is leading.
What’s been called “heroic” engineering is much in evidence among this year’s winning projects. Heroic engineering is courageous and exuberant. It’s where the building structure expresses its strength and makes the building stand out from the crowd of average commercial boxes. It’s about cantilevers and long spans, exposed concrete and steel and timber, deep trusses, and soaring heights. It’s also about caring for heritage buildings, cities and the environment. Heroes are leaders, but they also protect their communities.
The Queen-Richmond Centre featured on the cover by Stephenson Engineering is the most astonishing of the heroic structures in this year’s awards. The jurors were “amazed” by its giant jumping jack frame that supports a tower in Toronto’s entertainment district. They gave it the Schreyer Award.
There are two other award-winning buildings where the engineers use structural gymnastics on tight downtown sites: the Halifax Central Library by SNC-Lavalin and the Goldring Centre at the University of Toronto by Blackwell. Entirely different, a long way to the west and even more dramatic, is Dialog’s great sculptural form that rises above the plains at Edmonton International Airport.
In previous centuries important civic and religious buildings were marked by their calm beauty, classical symmetry and handcrafted details. Today buildings make their statements with bold, dynamic forms. In a society energized by change and enamoured with technology, it’s the engineers’ technical expertise that is much on display.
The other common theme in many of the winning projects is the involvement of First Nation people. In Hatch’s Forrest Kerr Hydroelectric project in Northern B.C. and Knight Piésold’s Kokish Hydroelectric project, for example, First Nations lent their deep knowledge of the land to help with the designs. Hopefully this involvement is a sign that they are starting to reap economic benefits from Canada’s huge bank of natural resources.
In the First Nation Land Management Regime, Pinter and Associates worked directly for First Nations helping to clean up contaminants on reserves in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. But the engineers also helped write a legal environmental framework for each First Nation to ensure that any future developments protect their traditions and land. The two Outreach projects also involved First Nations, in the classroom and on an archaeological site.
Tragedies continue to haunt Canada’s Aboriginal people: the brutal death of 15-year old Tina Fontaine in Winnipeg last year, the disappearance of hundreds of other women, and the perpetration of domestic violence against so many others, have received much media attention recently. We believe that engineering contributions such as those described in these pages will make a difference by enfranchising the people with job opportunities and hope.