Sitting in the bright, open space of EPCOR Tower’s 16th floor, some of Canada’s top experts in architecture, planning and urban form, including the likes of Gene Dub and Renée Daoust, listened intently to a passionate group of city builders—Grade 9 students from Rosslyn and Highlands schools.
The experts were in the city to judge 25 professional submissions for Edmonton’s Missing Middle Infill Design Competition. The contest drew proposals from teams of architects and builders from across Canada and abroad to design a “missing middle’” housing development on five City-owned parcels of land in the Spruce Avenue neighbourhood.
The students were on hand as an unofficial, fun and educational way to include the next generation of architects, designers and city planners in the future of their city.
“We knew after the 2016 Infill Design competition we wanted to encourage more students to get involved and think about the future of their communities,” said Jason Syvixay, Principal Planner with the City of Edmonton. “Our goal is really to plant the seeds of planning, architecture and design in kids from a young age.”
The students took the seed-planting to heart.
“We incorporated trees in our design because we wanted to keep it true to the culture of the neighbourhood,” said Michelle Wong, a Grade 9 student at Rosslyn School. “I like to understand how design can shape buildings, homes and people’s lives.”
Standing in front of the industry professionals, Wong and her classmates skillfully presented concepts around themes of empathy, understanding, community consultation and neighbourhood aesthetic. The students also recognized the importance to city-buildng of transit-oriented development, multi-generational housing and overall liveability.
“On one side, some students said minimal parking because of LRT. But another student said ‘My dad told me the LRT wasn’t so good’, so, yes, there were debates.”
The students grappled with real-world issues in their imaginary designs.
“There were debates about things like parking,” said Alena Manera, Rosslyn’s Innovate & Design teacher.
The experience was mind-opening for the students, and eye-opening for the pros at the City of Edmonton.
“These sorts of presentations offer an equally valuable glimpse into the opinions of young, soon-to-be leaders in the city,” said Syvixay. “Good design is always about learning, listening and refining, and this is just another way we get to encourage that.”
Highlands School and John A. McDougall School also took part in the design project. Highlands told the judges their vision was inspired by, well, it’s better to read it in their own words:
The term missing middle refers to multi-unit housing that falls between single detached homes and tall apartment buildings. These housing forms are considered missing because they were never widely developed or sustained in Edmonton. Encouraging this type of housing is essential for welcoming new people and homes into older neighbourhoods, and creating complete communities with a variety of housing options for the variety of people who make cities vital.
The official, big-league competition puts the judges to work to choose the top entry for the Spruce Avenue site. The winner’s prize: the opportunity to purchase the site and build their winning design, subject to rezoning approval.
Editor’s note: we will build on this story!