UWSA 2023 Masterworks Call for Submissions

Friday, March 10, 2023

Masterworks is an annual showcase of exemplary graduate student work at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture. This year, the Masterworks exhibition will be curated by UWSA alum Kurt Kraler around themes explored in his graduate thesis, “The Generic Spectacle” (2016), and his recently published book, “The Signs That Define Toronto” (2022). His AIA Henry Adams award-winning thesis sought to define the widespread proliferation of the American commercial vernacular as initially documented in the seminal text “Learning from Las Vegas” (1972). This Las Vegas Strip-style urban condition has since been recreated in countless contemporary city centres, including Toronto’s own Yonge-Dundas Square. These themes are further explored in “The Signs That Define Toronto” (2022), a book that documents the history, stories, and culture behind some of Toronto’s most recognizable signs.

It has been 50 years since the initial publication of “Learning by Las Vegas” and the book remains as relevant as ever in its study of a built form that continues to persist. Architects Denise Scott Brown and Robert Venturi, identified the growing prominence of images and symbols in architecture, as observed on the Las Vegas Strip. More recently, the widespread adoption of smartphones has further prioritized the exchange of images, further ingraining virtual and physical commercial spaces in our daily lives. Through social media, we create personal brands, presenting carefully curated versions of ourselves to be consumed by an audience. This presents an opportunity for architects to question and problematize the role of media and commerce in architecture. How is architecture complicit in the expansion of media in both physical and virtual spaces? How can architecture respond to or provide an antidote to the saturation of branded spaces around us? How do cultural communities express themselves through symbols, signage, and architectural styles that embed meaning into architecture? How can meaning be reintroduced into architecture in an age of parametric and AI-generated designs?

In this call for submissions, we’re looking for graduate theses completed between 2015-2023 that map, trace, document, and respond to the commercial vernacular, employing novel techniques to better understand existing contexts and the communities that buildings serve. Such techniques can include photography, model making, infographics, hand sketching, or any other method of observation that provides robust insight into a given site. In “The Signs That Define Toronto” for instance, writing about signs and the stories behind them was an approach that offered a glimpse of the occupants who lived, worked, and visited the buildings that architects built. After all, signage is a reflection of the society it advertises to.

Emphasis will be placed on projects that engage with communities that have historically been overlooked by architectural pedagogy and practice, particularly folks who are racialized, queer, trans*, and/or disabled. Projects should respond to at least one of the related themes or keywords listed below:

  • Media, retail, and commercial architecture
  • Nightlife, music venues, the ‘experience’ economy
  • Designing for spaces of exchange (ie. cultural, labour, communal)
  • Popular culture, branded spaces, theme parks
  • Camp reclaimings of ornament and decorative architectural languages
  • Visibility for BIPOC cultural identities through architecture and signage
  • Creating forms of access for marginalized communities in public space
  • Decolonial and/or anti-capitalist approaches to architecture
  • Context-driven design, site specificity, responding to an existing building and/or community
  • Adaptive reuse, conservation, and design for heritage buildings

Submission Details

Interested applicants are asked to submit a 250-word description of their graduate thesis and how it responds to at least one of the themes outlined in the call for submissions above. Applicants must be available to collaborate, either virtually or physically, on the exhibition in the months leading up to the exhibition, which is currently planned for June 22 – September 21, 2023 at the Design at Riverside Main Gallery in Cambridge, Ontario.

All submissions must be sent to archadvancement@uwaterloo.ca by Friday, March 31, 2023. Three (3) projects will be selected, and the successful applicants will be contacted by mid-April 2023 to confirm their involvement. An artist honorarium of $875 will be provided to each participant, for the scope of this project. This honorarium has been calculated in accordance with CARFAC for group exhibitions and covers all artist fees, installation/de-installation labour and materials, and artist travel as needed. Large-format printing, basic tools and hanging materials will all be provided by UWSA. However, any repair costs associated with reversing any significant modifications to the gallery space, will be covered by the artist.

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