The Hub AU architect explores design through fiction

AU architect explores design through fiction

Dr. Douglas MacLeod has more experience creating buildings than creating works of fiction.

Dr. Douglas MacLeod pictured at his Okanagan home.
Dr. Douglas MacLeod pictured at his Okanagan home.

But that didn’t stop the interim dean of Athabasca University’s Faculty of Science and Technology and head of the RAIC Centre of Architecture from putting pen to paper.

He has applied his extensive architecture and design experience to create a short piece of science-fiction prototyping that imagines how we can transform our communities to be more just and sustainable—essentially a guidebook for where we could be in 15 years if we rethink our buildings, communities, and culture.

“Of course, it’s aimed at architects and designers to start a dialogue on how we can create better communities,” MacLeod said. “But it’s also aimed at people who are interested in community activism, so we can see how things could be better if we all started to work together.”

Rethinking buildings, rethinking communities

The cover of The Architecture of Hope by Douglas MacLeod
The Architecture of Hope by Douglas MacLeod is available from Wood Lake Publishing.

The book imagines a cooperative community in the fictional town of Hope, modelled loosely on the communities of the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, where MacLeod lives.

Set in the years 2020-2035, the book imagines a transition from the current state to a way of life based on cooperative communities where people produce more energy, clean water, and food than they consume—and the ownership of and profit from these resources stays within the community they’re produced.

One of the ways the residents of Hope have achieved this is by building their community differently.

“We really are missing a huge opportunity with the built environment,” MacLeod said. “As one of the characters says, we have built these buildings, which are toxic, which are overpriced, which are basically energy pigs. “

Currently, there are toxic chemicals like formaldehyde, PVC plastics, cadmium, and lead that are still found in many new buildings.

He said we can do this differently, but one main requirement to achieving this is by rethinking our value system, and our economic system, that puts short-term shareholder profits ahead of meaningful, sustainable change.

This is where MacLeod’s field of expertise, architecture, needs to embrace a broader, more interdisciplinary approach to be part of this solution. He refers to “architectural thinking,” the idea of looking at things in a more wholistic and comprehensive manner, as critical to this transition.

“If we just focus on the forms and the shapes, we’re never going to solve the problem,” he said. “And that’s sadly sometimes what architectures do.”

Architecture at AU

More and more, architects are thinking beyond the shapes and forms of buildings, MacLeod said. The idea of creating a narrative of how someone will use a building you’re designing this allows a new and imaginative avenue from which to explore your design in a more wholistic and interdisciplinary way.

While interdisciplinary thinking is not necessarily built into the current curriculum for AU’s Bachelor of Science in Architecture and Graduate Diploma in Architecture programs, he said it’s something learners can expect to see more of in the future.

“Architectural thinking is critically important to the future of the world, in my opinion, because we won’t be able to solve our big problems without thinking in an interdisciplinary manner,” he said. “We want to introduce that more and more into our courses.”

Already some of that work has begun. A computer-aided design course, Applied Studies 255, includes discussion about the role of computers in launching and running an architectural firm. Likewise, in professional practices courses, learners are asked to map out the creation of their own firm, so that they learn not just about design but about the business and leadership practices required to run a firm.

This is not to say that many architects aren’t already thinking about these topics, but MacLeod said it’s not necessarily in the mainstream just yet.

“There are some excellent architects who are cutting-edge in terms of doing what’s called regenerative design, which I talk about in the book, but it’s not the norm yet,” he said. “To make it the norm, there’s going to have to be an awful lot of changes to the way we do things.”

You can read more and explore these ideas by ordering MacLeod’s book online from the Wood Lake Publishing website.

You can also explore AU’s Architecture programs and courses, and start working toward your educational goals today!



  • April 29, 2020