From trash to treasure: Recycled material gives Kuujjuaq new sports pavilion

Minimum Cost Housing / Hackathon Group wins 2018 National Urban Design Award for unique project in Kuujjuaq

A team from the School of Architecture’s Minimum Cost Housing Group (MCHG) has won a prestigious National Design Award for its unique project repurposing discarded materials in the northern village of Kuujjuaq to design and build an outdoor sports pavilion and enhance a central public space. The announcement was made on Oct. 18.

The Kuujjuaq Hackathon 2017 project was named winner of the Small or Medium Community Urban Design Award. “The project explored a DIY up-cycling approach that reduces landfill waste and energy consumption, validates the design/build culture of the region, and produced an engaging public structure,” wrote the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.

The project was led by Vikram Bhatt, Director of the MCHG; David Harlander, who was completing his MA in Architecture at the time of the Hackathon; and Susane Havelka, who just completed her Ph.D in Architecture. The Kuujjuaq Hackathon was realized with the support of Living in the North SSHRC supported project, McGill’s Peter Guo-hua Fu School of Architecture and the Village of Kuujjuaq.

Construction challenges

There are many challenges to building in a remote community like Kuujjuaq. There is no road access to and from southern Quebec, and the transport costs of building materials are more than double than in the rest of the province. The construction season is truncated due to the short summers and the community lacks access to critical equipment and skilled labour.

The Kuujjuaq Hackathon, a collaborative effort of over 60 residents of Kuujjuaq and an interdisciplinary team of designers from McGill’s Minimum Cost Housing Group, overcame these challenges by creatively repurposing materials found in the village dump. Over five days, the group designed and built an outdoor community structure to improve recreational opportunities.

“The Hackathon provides a unique precedent that challenges governments, schools, and architectural practices to adopt a more collaborative approach to policymaking and design leadership in northern Canada,” according to the project organizers at theMCHG. “It has been instrumental in valorizing the rich design/build culture that already exists in Nunavik.”

The new 75-square metre, all-season outdoor sports pavilion is wedged between a skating rink and a baseball diamond, commonly used as the village’s central outdoor public event space. The renovated space now includes outdoor bleachers that create a dugout behind the baseball field; a shelter for the skating rink; a stage fronting both spaces; and a tower with a searchlight from which public announcements can be made.

The Kuujjuaq Hackathon is an example of how central the DIY recycling culture is in planning and designing northern villages. In the true spirit of “hacks,” which have demonstrated that reusing and recycling defunct parts and existing technologies can radically enhance everyday life, participants scoured the village dump for salvageable material, so much so that the dump was dubbed “Canadian Tire.”

Hacking mindset

In their appraisal, the judges praised the project’s resourcefulness as a demonstration of how “a hacking mindset and up-cycling of materials have a legitimate place in the discourse on the public realm.

“This fruitful collaboration between McGill students and the Northern Village of Kuujjuaq promotes and exemplifies projects that are critical for both the incremental improvement of communities, as well as for Canada’s increasing cognizance of the challenges faced by First Nations, specifically in terms of the built environment,” the judges’ citation continued. “Recycled materials and elements provide the raw materials for a project which relies more on goodwill than on capital investment. Clearly, this is not an antidote to impoverished living standards, but it is an inspired manifestation of dignified public space, especially where youth is concerned.”

The National Urban Design Awards is a biennial Canadian awards program established by the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada, the Canadian Institute of Planners and the Canadian Society of Landscape Architects in 2006. The program showcases excellence in urban design, raises public awareness of the role of urban design in sustainability and quality of life in Canadian cities, and recognizes the contributions of individuals, organizations, firms, and projects.

The awards will be presented on January 7, 2019, at the Ottawa Art Gallery in Ottawa.