Grads Revive Abandoned Space by Putting Tools in the Hands of Community Members
Kanchan Sharma Quinlan, BArch/11, MArch/13, founder of Montreal’s fledgling COdesign, together with her Saudi-born colleague Maysan Mamoun, MArch/13, work directly with clients to design and create hands-on public installations out of simple, low-tech materials.
Quinlan, at right, was born in Toronto but spent her early years in northern Punjab.
“My master’s thesis was going back to India and doing a Hindu temple project with the women and children in the community where I grew up,” says Quinlan. “I gave them a blank slate, and gradually they filled it with their ideas. So it gave them a sense of ownership of the design. And that’s where my interest in community architecture was sparked.”
Back in Canada, Quinlan settled with her husband and their baby in Pincourt, just outside Montreal. She was dismayed to find that the community lacked any public art and design projects, so she offered her vision and expertise.
“My idea is to revive abandoned or underused urban spaces by working with the community to create temporary installations in unexpected places,” she says. “I think it’s time architects let the people they are designing for be part of the process in a more hands-on way.”
The local Girl Guides were intrigued. Quinlan held a series of workshops with them, and together, they came up with plans for a micro-library in a neglected local park.
The finished structure, managed by the Guides, had room for about 250 volumes in stacks made of milk crates. Take a book, leave a book—that was their simple business model.
While Pincourt’s micro-library was intended to last only for the summer, it proved so popular that the local mall has taken it in for the winter. Next spring, it will be back out in the park.
“It’s the only public design installation in this whole town,” says Quinlan, “so people are holding it close.”