Waterloo’s School of Architecture is the only architecture school in the country that is home to a professional gallery—and that gallery, Design at Riverside, is one of only two galleries in Canada devoted to design.
John McMinn is a member of the gallery steering committee and a frequent guest curator. “The gallery is a great enhancement to an architectural education,” says John, who is also a professor at the school and an architect with a private practice he says. “My role is to help find and propose exhibitions.”
John has also curated a number of shows including 41° to 66°: Architecture in Canada—Region, Culture, Tectonics. 41° to 66° debuted at Riverside in 2005 and toured widely. In 2008, it was chosen as Canada’s entry to the Venice Biennele, the most prestigious architectural exhibition in the world.
41° to 66° got its start when John and his co-curator Marco Polo of Ryerson University began thinking about sustainable architecture in Canada. “Most people think of sustainability as a technical issue,” says John. “They think about putting in high-performance windows or installing solar panels. But sustainability is more than that. We began to explore early examples of sustainability, from indigenous structures like igloos and teepees to early pioneer structures like sod houses and bank barns.”
The two then investigated new buildings that draw on these old traditions to be both sustainable and appropriate to place. “If a building fits in well, if it speaks to the vernacular, people will love it,” says John. “And a building that is well loved will be well used, and will last.”