Thinkin’ of the master plan: Lambie leads students at Waterloo

Thinkin’ of the master plan: Lambie leads students at Waterloo

In the early summer of 2012, between working on DIALOG’s award-winning Seneca College Campus Master Plan, and the Hurontario LRT Streetscape and Urban Design, I was quite happily distracting myself with drinks on patios, dipping my toes into pools, and otherwise frolicking around in the beautiful weather.  As a full-time professional Urban Designer, I certainly did not anticipate that I would be going back to school in a few short months.

Shortly thereafter my friend and colleague Amy Roots of B+H Architecture asked me to join her as an Adjunct Studio Instructor at the University of Waterloo for the 2nd year Urban Design course at the School of Planning.  We proceeded to design the course with Dr. Luna Khirfan to reflect the principles and practices currently being used in ‘real-world’ projects – both by DIALOG and its competitors across Canada and Internationally.  We placed emphasis on teaching the theoretical and practical fundamentals of Transit-Oriented Development (TOD), walkability, and the human scale.

The course centered on master planning a site in downtown Kitchener designated by the Region of Waterloo as a transit hub. The site has existing Via and GO rail connections, a proposed stop on the Region’s newly planned LRT system, and is surrounded by a mix of building types and uses.  The narrative of the course was developed so that as the students designed the site, they would be following a professional master planning process based loosely on a model used at DIALOG. That is, they were to engage the community and conduct a thorough site analysis of existing conditions; identify opportunities and constraints for the short and long term; develop a vision and series of concept options which provide solutions and innovations; and finally, based on weekly critiques with Amy and myself, create their final and fully defendable master plan.

To motivate (and equally terrify) the students, the instructors designed the course to culminate in a final critique with a large group of professionals from the City, the Region, the University of Waterloo, local community groups, and consulting firms from around the region.  This event too, mirrored a DIALOG methodology for creating dynamic and engaging public open houses and client workshops.

The student groups prepared professional presentation materials and filled a large rotunda at the university.  The day itself was broken into two parts, formal and informal critiques.  The students were responsible for formally showcasing their work to a small number of prearranged groups of guests.  They began with a short pitch of their master plan concept, and then fielded questions or comments from the professionals.  This process was designed to help the students build their capacity and confidence as planners, designers, and perhaps most importantly, effective communicators.  Once the formal critiques ended, the atmosphere in the room lightened considerably and the second part of the day began, styled after a public open house.  Here guests freely and leisurely floated around the room, chatting to students and offering spontaneous critiques; or the students, armed with bios of all the guests would offer to pitch their plan to professionals who shared similar interests, giving them an opportunity to broaden their professional networks.

Dr. Luna Khirfan (left) and Studio Instructor Amy Roots (right) among students and guests at the final critique.
Dr. Luna Khirfan (left) and Studio Instructor Amy Roots (right) among students and guests at the final critique.

At the end of the day, students were urged to continue engaging with the community and its ongoing real-world planning processes by using their projects to apply for the City of Kitchener’s Urban Design Awards.

For me personally, the experience of teaching was full of personal and professional lessons.  Connecting with young students and seeing their passion and excitement for planning and urban design reminds me of the simplicity of why I’m in it to begin with: to make great places for people.  This then adds weight and responsibility to engage, teach, and inspire these young designers to become competent and ethical critical thinkers as they enter the professional realm.

With the term now over, I am certainly glad to have had the opportunity to dip my toe back into the pool of academia.

Jordan Lambie CNU-a, LEED® AP is an Urban Designer with expertise in Transit-Oriented Development, Urban Redevelopment & Intensification, and Environmental Rehabilitation & Conservation.   He has practiced throughout the Middle East, Asia, South America and Canada.  He will be speaking at an upcoming Ontario Professional Planners Institute event for students on March 21st.  Click HERE for more details as they become available.


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