May 22, 2020

When life hands you coronavirus, take your year-end show online

Obstacle becomes opportunity as School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape students go digital to share their work with the world

When life handed the world the novel coronavirus and its accompanying shelter-in-place restrictions, most of us had little choice but to relinquish dreams or plans we had made. For some that meant scrapping travel plans, deferring new jobs or navigating temporary layoffs. And for the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape (SAPL) Class of 2020, it meant a vastly different ending to their final months of study.

SAPL students spend the final portion of the academic year working on intensive studio projects, either individually or in groups. Those projects are reviewed by their studio instructor as well as a panel of external critics drawn from an international group of practitioners and academics in architecture, landscape architecture, planning and design. The work is then exhibited in a gallery show aptly titled the Year End Show (YES).

  • Image above: Rochelle Greenberg, MArch’20

This year, the week of day-long studio reviews switched to an online format, with instructors, critics and students gathering via Zoom or Facebook Live feeds. Shared screens, text messages and verbal comments were used to discuss the students' work s and its implications on the built and natural environments.

Naturally the YES had to switch formats, too. Committee chairs Brendan Webb, MArch’22, and Rochelle Greenberg, MArch’20, began planning for an alternative way to celebrate the year’s work and wish graduating students well.

“We realized that we still had to celebrate the graduates and the success of the year, so we were excited by the prospect of new opportunities by pivoting to an online format." 

An online format had the potential to reach many more people than a one-night event, thus giving more exposure to the hard work of each student.

They began by looking at precedents for online galleries; exploring different formats used by publishers to present work online. Eventually they settled on a virtual show with three separate components. SAPL’s commitment to using digital technology throughout its curriculum has enabled this transition to presenting work on these platforms.

Studio instructors compiled all student work into publications on Issuu. They capitalized on SAPL’s robust Instagram following by using the social media platform to showcase a curated display of student work across the different programs and years, and created a separate website to highlight graduating students.

Lauren Fagan, MArch’20, has paused her job search given the uncertainty faced by most businesses as a result of COVID-19. “It’s been hard at times, imagining a moment in your life and it not turning out the way you expected,” she acknowledges, “but if there is one thing this unprecedented time has taught me, it is that we are resilient.”

SAPL’s associate dean academic architecture, Jason Johnson, agrees. “It has always been my feeling that the very best architecture comes into being when it becomes a form of resistance. Resistance against laziness, mediocrity, obstacles, entrenched histories and in this case an unexpected force of nature.”

Indeed, what began as an obstacle to finishing an academic year has been transformed into an opportunity to share student work with an audience that transcends university and city borders. Within one week of launching, more than 1,500 people from all around the world have viewed the studio booklets, and the Instagram show has been viewed by over 1,700 different users. Family, friends and potential future employers have been able to view and discuss the work of the continuing and graduating students of SAPL in unprecedented ways.

UCalgary resources on COVID-19

For the most up-to-date information about the University of Calgary's response to the spread of COVID-19, visit the UCalgary COVID-19 Response website.