A letter from the Dean | Year End Exhibition 2020 – 2021
A Letter from the Dean
“Pure” space is an attempt to depict the (intellectual) construct of human space creation pictorially: space as a self-sufficient, inward-looking structure, characterized by equal, continuously closed boundary walls and a uniform, level surface. Space as a unit. And we are in the middle of it. (Loidl & Bernard, 2003, p.55)
Francis Ching (1996) observes that “The degree of enclosure of a space … has a significant impact on our perception of its form and orientation” (p.168). I have chosen the word “enclosure” to describe our state of being since March 13th 2020, when the University of Manitoba executed the shift to on-line learning. In the days and weeks and months hence, we, as a community of scholarship and learning, have experienced many different degrees of enclosure. Some of us already had home offices, but others had to adapt domestic spaces to learning spaces – to studios and classrooms. As rotating degrees of lockdown affected the breadth of our contacts, our communities were reduced to “bubbles” – which suggests connectivity – but for some, only variable access to internet provided a crucial tether to loved ones.
In design we enhance the qualities of enclosure through manipulating and punctuating planes, but in lockdown there were times at which enclosure led to a sense of constraint and confinement. “Complete closure with boundary walls produces the most independent but also the most insulated space… (Loidl & Bernard, 2002, p. 51). The outdoor world became a place of escape for many; parks and open spaces were activated as locations for expansion and for gathering in small groups. During the winter, the rivers became the most dynamic of public spaces, filled with artistic installations, ice gardens and recreational activities such as toboggan runs, walking trails and ice rinks. This was the local setting, but our learning community is international and with many students unable to come to Winnipeg to study, these scenes were repeated in a range of diverse locations and conditions.
“People and space are inseparably linked” (p. 52). There are many ways to alter the experience of enclosure. One can elevate, depress or punctuate planes, materiality can introduce variety through texture and pattern, repetition of elements can produce continuity; in the 2020-2021 academic year, our enclosures were perforated by the digital realm. Except for a brief interlude of in-person teaching, our community of learning existed through the internet. Zoom, Microsoft Teams, UMLearn, Miro, DISCORD, Social Pinpoint – these were the places for the exchange of ideas, the acquisition of knowledge, the fostering of creativity and a passion for design. You may hate the word “pivot,” but this word very concisely captures the rapid adaptation of our community to new forms of communication for sharing ideas and building a culture of design.
For several years, we have gathered at the end of term to rejoice. The Year End Exhibition has always been an event of celebration and pride for our students and educators. It was also the best party in town. While we may mourn our inability to gather, independent of our individual enclosures, the digital platform for the Year End Exhibition means you can visit the exhibition often. You can revel in the amazing creativity fostered within unprecedent conditions. In their confinement, our students and educators invoked new means of advancing design as a solution to the wicked problems we face in the world today. Celebrate and enjoy. Join us online www.yearendexhibition.com
Ching, F.D.K. (1996). Architecture: Form, space, and order (2nd ed.). New York: Wiley.
Loidl, H., & Bernard, S. (2002). Opening spaces: Design as Landscape Architecture. Basel: Birkhäuser.