Sudbury architecture grad's research suggests a more inclusive design downtown is possible
SUDBURY -- Chris Baziw is one of the latest graduates to come out of Sudbury's Laurentian University School of Architecture and he's eager to hit the ground running to gain that professional experience. And his research for his thesis has some city leaders taking note.
Baziw is proposing a redevelopment of the block in which the Ledo Hotel sits on, while also keeping in mind the social impact of his designs.
"While I was looking at the downtown and learning about architecture and design, I was also volunteering at the Samaritan Centre and the Elgin Street Mission serving breakfast. So a lot of what I was doing was tied to what I was doing in the downtown and seeing vulnerable communities experiencing homelessness," Baziw said.
It inspired the young man to begin a personal journey on the role architecture can play when it comes to having a social impact in the community.
"Looking beyond the physical appearance or state of architecture, looking at the social implications, the legal and political implications that it has," Baziw said.
A lot of his thesis centred around the Ledo Hotel, which has been part of the city's landscape for generations, but some say the building has seen better days.
"I looked at the whole of downtown to determine where individuals experiencing homelessness experience the most conflict and where they spend the most time. And to look at that, I looked at what's identified as hostile architecture, which are different objects or artifacts that are used to control areas, to try to push people away," said Baziw.
He cites the definition of loitering and whether people can afford to shop at certain establishments as examples of 'hostile architecture.'
Assessing those factors, Baziw determined most of the hostile architecture was in the dense centre part of the downtown core, while the Ledo area was the least dense and is also next door to the Elgin Street Mission.
His thesis has included detailed, computer-generated drawings of what he believes the old hotel could look like. An addition onto the exterior of the building that would include a mix of housing, storefronts, social services and public space.
"When you treat homelessness like a problem itself and try to keep people off the streets or control people on the streets .... you're actually leading to more instability when they don't have a place to feel comfortable. They can't find the stability they need to deal with their mental and social and spiritual issues," said Baziw.
His ideas, including a mix of housing, has many city leaders as well as the mission taking note.
"I've known Chris for a long time and the first thing I think about Chris is that he's an innovator," said the mission's executive director, Pastor Amanda Robichaud. "With the lens he's using, you can tell that he's done the research. He knows what Sudbury needs and he's an asset to our city."
"We've seen closures of a lot of different housing for those experiencing homelessness ... the thing that our city needs is more sustainable housing and so that has been addressed in Chris' project very well and I really like that it's a dual-hybrid purpose, you know people experiencing homelessness and people not experiencing homelessness, it's a really fantastic project," said Robichaud.
Ward 12 Councillor Joscelyne Landry-Altmann has been working a lot lately with the school of architecture and likes some of the ideas she's seeing coming out of the student body.
"It's a very interesting idea, it'll be interesting to see how it evolves," said Landry-Altmann, who cited recent work they accomplished on Laforest Avenue as an example of student ingenuity. "It propels investors to up their game and what it does is it makes for better neighbourhoods, safer neighbourhoods. So if his ideas bring us to that, I'm always open to what they have to say. It's such an interesting group. It's so innovative, especially for young students with bright new ideas."
Baziw's work has also gotten him nominated by Laurentian for a national award within the school of architecture.
In the meantime, he's hopeful the city will carefully consider what he's proposing and study its next steps with everyone in mind.
"What I wanted to show through my design is that design for individuals experiencing homelessness doesn't have to be exclusive," Baziw said. "You don't have to design a soup kitchen for people who only identify as homeless. It should be inclusive, good design and good architecture should be inclusive of all backgrounds."
Baziw said the redevelopment should be inclusive for all.
"So if you're going to redevelop the site, there's no reason to make it exclusively for housed people or people with income, but also it shouldn't be exclusively for people experiencing homelessness. So what I think the developers and the city can take away from my research and my paper is that it's really quite simple to include these people and have a process for community feedback and engagement," Baziw said.
The building is currently the focus of another proposed revitalization project in which the developers have yet to identify themselves.