Letter from the Director

8 September 2020

Dear students, faculty, and staff,

As our spirits and minds return to school even as our bodies remain at home, I want to open by speaking to you about ‘. . . the fierce urgency of Now.’ These are the words of Martin Luther King Jr., from his ‘March on Washington’ speech in 1963. I feel this sense of urgency and know that many of you do too.

Last spring, the isolation of quarantine brought with it anxiety, and also for some of us a strangely calm interlude. Time seemed to slow down. But in May, heartbreaking acts of racism in the United States forced us to acknowledge the world as it is; many of you joined together, virtually, in a collective call for action. As tragic the cause, the effect of this coming together throughout our school community and at peer institutions has been energizing. Our aspirations have quickened. In the words of the writer Rebecca Solnit, there is “hope in the dark.”

As designers and thinkers, we have agency, so there is also work to be done. Within institutional frameworks, students are demanding an assessment of architectural pedagogy’s foundational structure, integration of critical race theory into our curriculum, and a more fulsome demonstration of commitment to material and resource conservation. At our school, student and faculty members of the Diversity Working Group and The Architecture Lobby have already assembled an ambitious set of program initiatives for the coming year. We are also testing some curricular innovation through the fall undergraduate studios in Conservation and Urbanism, the MArch Professional Practice course, and the MArch winter option studios. We are part of a collaborative lecture series involving all the schools of architecture in Canada, addressing diversity and inclusion themes. This does promise to be a year of action.

At the same time, now is the most collectively emotional time I can ever remember. We need to take care of ourselves and each other. Some of us are lonely, as closed borders and an active health crisis keep us isolated from loved ones. The looming specter of authoritarianism in other countries and the very real effects of climate change everywhere may inspire fear or a sense of helplessness. We may be angry that after decades of effort, equity and social justice still do not prevail. Perhaps we feel a distance from friends and colleagues who have different ideas about the best course of action.

My final year as Director coincides with this emotional and challenging time, and with my own deeply felt ‘urgency of now.’ Heartened and motivated by our students, and with confidence in your long bright futures, I want to make the most of this year. For those of you who have already taken the lead in framing conversations about the current crises, I encourage you to engage your peers. Open debate will always make institutions stronger. This is a hard time, but also an exciting time. Let’s enjoy it together. And please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with your concerns and ideas.

Warm wishes and welcome back to school.

Jill Stoner
Professor, Director
Azrieli School of Architecture & Urbanaism

Tuesday, September 8, 2020 in
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