Building bridges across design and research: architecture and landscape architecture

"Seek out opportunities to reach across disciplines and forge new connections to respond creatively to the complex and entangled challenges of our time."

Brendan Buchanan Dee, Rising Star Fall 2022
Brendan with a view of the Grandview Cut, the material source of the False Creek Flats infill.

Brendan Buchanan Dee

I was born and raised in Vancouver, BC. UBC’s School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (SALA) has been my second home in recent years as I developed my capacities for design in the dual degree Master of Architecture and Master of Landscape Architecture (MARCLA) program followed by my recent focus on research in pursuit of my Master of Advanced Studies in Architecture (MASA). My passion for architecture and landscape architecture stems from my interest in the creative ways humans and non-humans have adapted to the unique environments and contexts which they inhabit. Prior to my time at UBC I received my Bachelor of Arts from McGill University with a major in Geography and minors in Geographic Information Systems and Political Science. During my undergraduate studies I spent a year at the University of Melbourne in Australia and during my graduate studies I went to Switzerland for a semester abroad at ETH Zurich. My multicultural upbringing and exposure to the diversity of people and places in Vancouver and beyond has instilled in me a deep appreciation for culture, history, art, and nature.

Why did you choose to go into your field of study at UBC? 

After studying physical and human geography during my undergraduate degree I had a desire to fuse my fascination with natural and built environments with a lingering interest in art and design. I chose to study at UBC SALA as it was the first school in Canada to offer a dual degree MARCLA program for architecture and landscape architecture. The program endeavors to promote interdisciplinarity in design and research through an integrated curriculum which is a departure from the persistence of traditional academic and professional silos. Being part of the inaugural cohort of the MARCLA students offered me the opportunity to learn from both fields and examine their historical differences. Critical thinking and designing beyond disciplinary boundaries propelled my research in the Master of Advanced Studies in Architecture program where I investigated the intersection of architecture and healthcare in the context of long-term care homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

What has made your time at UBC memorable?

A major strength of UBC is its diversity as our school brings together people with countless perspectives and experiences. This is especially true in the architecture and landscape architecture programs where students from myriad academic, professional, and cultural backgrounds are brought together in studios and seminars where we learn to communicate with one another through design and graphic representation. I recall that in my introductory classes I had peers whose previous studies included engineering, music, photography, anthropology, and computer science among other fields, which contributed to lively discussions and unexpected design propositions.

Some of my most memorable experiences have been times spent in the studio, getting outside and conducting in-person site visits which provided a great reprieve from desk work and an opportunity to learn from direct observation and documentation. As designers of architecture and landscape architecture often seek change in the physical world, experiencing the existing conditions of sites has enormous potential to influence the direction of projects, informing the inventive ways we envision and embed our design proposals into the layered realities of the built environment. Throughout my studies I have had the privilege of visiting places in BC and internationally as part of my courses including Haida Gwaii, Kamloops, 100 Mile House, as well as Seattle, Spain and the Netherlands.   

How do you feel your degree has benefitted you compared to a different field of study? 

The MARCLA and MASA programs have cultivated my growth as a generalist thinker. While many disciplines have trended towards specialization, architecture and landscape architecture continue to foster generalist thinking and collaboration, in many ways straddling the arts and sciences, and embracing both qualitative and quantitative modes of research and practice. The courses I’ve taken in pursuit of my degrees have raised my awareness and appreciation for the nuanced values and interests that are held by human and non-human stakeholders, whose positions are enmeshed in the collective production of the built environment. 

Where do you find inspiration for using your degree to make an impact on our world? 

Throughout my time at UBC I’ve been surrounded by professors whose research and teaching have been a constant source of inspiration. Their passion has been contagious, seeding my aspirations for a career spanning design, research, and education. I’ve had the honor of working as a Graduate Research Assistant (GRA) on multiple occasions and I’m grateful for my time spent with elements Lab with Prof. Ron Kellett and Prof. Cynthia Girling, and for the opportunity to work on special topic research projects with Prof. Joe Dahmen and Prof. Fionn Byrne. I’m also thankful for the support of Prof. Adam Rysanek, Prof. Sara Stevens, and Prof. Blair Satterfield during the development of the MASA thesis. A special thank you to Prof. Rysanek who chaired my MARCLA graduate project and MASA thesis, and whose ongoing work with the Building Decisions Research Group is a model for interdisciplinary research and collaboration. I’m also deeply inspired by the students who I’ve had the privilege of working with as a Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) in support of LARC 316 with Prof. Douglas Justice and Prof. Karin England, ARCH 597D with Prof. Colette Parras, ARCH 597F with Prof. Tijana Vujosevic, DES 130 with Prof. Allison Earl, DES 220 with Prof. Roy Cloutier, and ARCH 548 with Prof. Matthew Soules. My family and friends have been highly encouraging, providing me with the love and support I need to make a positive impact through research and design.  

What are some contributions you would like to make when it comes to the future of work in your field? 

My education and work at UBC has pushed me to be more adaptive, inventive, and interdisciplinary which are characteristics I hope to carry forward in my future work in architecture and landscape architecture. Collaboration and creative thinking are needed now more than ever in response to the multifaceted challenges facing urban and rural settings which range from planetary dilemmas such as climate change and biodiversity loss to local issues such as affordable housing and access to greenspace. The aesthetic agenda of architecture and landscape architecture is omnipresent yet the ethical dimensions of design remain largely undiscussed in terms of their value and influence on everyday life and the health of our planet. I hope that my future work can help elevate awareness of the impact of design and serve as a model for interdisciplinary research and practice. 

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