Meet the architecture students behind Through the Rye

This fall, a new pavilion will be unveiled on the grounds of the Just Food farm in Ottawa. Through the Rye was declared the winner of the Growing our Community student design competition, garnering over 5,000 votes over two weeks of public voting.

The outdoor pavilion will serve as a public gathering place at the farm and the community garden, inviting visitors to reflect on the importance of local and global issues. For Canada’s 150th anniversary, the design of the pavilion will create a space that reflects shared Canadian values of inclusion, diversity, dialogue, and community building.

The winning design was created by Luis Alvarez, Wai Kan Chan, and Di Wang from the McGill University School of Architecture. Ahead of the opening, we had a chance to chat with the three students about the pavilion and what’s next for them.

Tell us a bit about yourself.

Luis Alvarez (LA): I lived most of my life in the small city of Aguascalientes, Mexico, where I lived for 17 years before moving with my family to Montreal, Canada. I found my passion for design and architecture through flying. My dad is an airplane pilot, and through him, I have been able to travel and learn about craft and design.

Wai Kan Chan (WKC): I came to Canada from Hong Kong [when I was] around three years old, but lived and studied in both countries since then. After completing my Bachelor degree of Architectural Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and a year of internship, I started to pursue my Master degree of Architecture at McGill University in 2016. I became interested in architecture because architects can take part to resolve social issues through thoughtful making of space and thus have a direct impact on society.

Di Wang (DW): I was raised in Changsha, a mid-sized city in south China. Then I went to Shanghai to study architecture for two years before moving to Canada. I feel lucky to be in one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. The reason I chose architecture is that it not only satisfies my creative drive but also is relevant to everyday life. It is exciting to think that one day my design will have positive effects on people’s experience.

Could you tell us a bit about Through the Rye?

WKC: Through the Rye is a community farming pavilion; the design is inspired by the surrounding scenic landscape. My favourite part of the design is the subtle use of bevelled wooden members to resemble rye in a field.

LA: Through the Rye came from the attempt to relate the pavilion to the landscape that surrounds it. We didn’t want the pavilion to stand out but instead have a conversation with and enhance the experience of the community garden. We made it clear, thin, and permeable for easy accessibility for the visitors, but we also wanted to integrate suitable activities inside of it.

DW: When designing the project, we were drawn to the picturesqueness of the landscape, which reminded us immediately of the paintings by the Canadian landscape painters, the Group of Seven. As a result, the pavilion has a distinct silhouette against the vastness of landscape much like the trees, trunks, and leaves in those paintings. At the same time, we wanted to express the growing momentum of the rye field in its rhythmic structure. In the rural culture, growing crops are associated with the joy of harvest, and it is interesting to bring back that sense of joy to city dwellers.

Now that it’s going to be built, what is your hope for Through the Rye? What do you hope the structure will be used for? What purpose do you want it to serve?

DW: I hope the pavilion will attract people to the community garden and slowly become a casual meeting point for the community. I also hope the pavilion will serve other functions, for example, a small music performance. Such flexibility can be achieved by the adjustable bench in the design, and we especially hope to see that happen.

WKC: I hope the community garden pavilion can really fulfil its function as a social gathering space as well as its design goal to inspire people to treasure common values, such as social inclusiveness and environmental consciousness.

LA: Its flexibility is probably my favourite part of the design, and I hope that the structure does serve this purpose and it’s enjoyed by the people visiting the garden.

What’s next for you?

LA: After the fall semester, I will be finishing my master’s degree and with it, my year-long thesis. I am looking forward to a productive last few months of learning at school, and other successful architecture competitions, before heading to New York, Toronto, or Paris, where I plan to live and work for a few years.

WKC: I am currently finishing my master’s research on digital media culture and post-digital aesthetics. The relation of architecture and music has been a constant motivation for me for further investigation.  In particular, I would like to explore new media art and architectural acoustics in the near future.

DW: I am finishing my master’s degree this year. After that, I will do some travelling before I start working.

This interview was edited for length and clarity.

About the project:

Growing our Community brings Canadians together in 2017 to plant and maintain a new community food garden. This project will enhance the quality of life in the neighbouring community and allow Canadians to explore the local-to-global connections around issues of food security and environmental sustainability. Growing our Community is in partnership with Just Food and is funded by Ontario 150 and is part of Ottawa 2017’s community legacy project to install 20 new community gardens across the city for Canada’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

  • Learn more about the architecture competition here.
  • Join us for the unveiling of Through the Rye in Ottawa in October. Click here for details.