Faculty Focus

Shannon Pirie: Rethinking Design

For Shannon Pirie’s students, a trip to Tim Hortons is more than a break before or after class, it’s experiential learning in action. “When I teach, I try to draw from real-life examples. Since architecture is a visual and physical experience, I want students to constantly look at their surroundings,” says Pirie, Professor in the Architectural Technology program, and Research Coordinator for the School of Architectural Technology at Sheridan.

Shannon Pirie

Shannon Pirie, Professor, Architectural Technology program; Research Coordinator for the School of Architectural Technology, Faculty of Applied Science and Technology

“They can learn so much just by paying attention as they’re walking around the campus, sitting in class, even going to the mall,” she explains. “I’ll often say, ‘The next time you’re headed into a Tim Hortons, make sure that you check out how they have built the vestibule. What did they use at the base of the wall?’ The answers are literally right there.”

Although many of these buildings may not be considered high design, they can be important tools to teach the fundamentals of architecture associated with everyday living, says Pirie, who has a special interest in the spaces we live in, particularly housing. “I feel that teaching housing to students is a large part of the education of an architectural technologist. We want spaces that are comfortable and make us feel good. How we place our windows, our walls, how we shape them – they all help create a place that feels like home.  Students should understand that thoughtful design has more of an influence than they realize in creating that sense of place we all crave.”

Pirie explored the role of a home as part of her PhD which she defended in 2015, while working as a full-time Professor at Sheridan and raising three boys. Her doctoral thesis, which pertains to the idea of home as explored in social and affordable housing, touches on many of the important aspects of creating functional, inspiring, and architecturally innovative spaces for living.

I teach my students to look with a critical eye. As they move through the program, they can start coming up with creative solutions, and graduate ready to bring those solutions to the world.

Shannon Pirie

How we use our space to produce useful, environmentally-friendly buildings is also a big factor in the future health and well-being of our communities, adds Pirie, who would welcome the widespread adoption of the Passive House standard for building and design in Canada. A Passive House is a highly energy-efficient home in which “radical energy savings are achieved when compared to conventional construction.” (Cited from http://www.passivehouse.ca/).

She is happy to have a role in training the next generation of technologists who will be incorporating such new ideas into future construction, and she points to Sheridan’s Architecture Week and All-School Design Charrette (an intensive collaborative planning session) as examples of the innovative teaching methodologies that will help pave the way.

The School of Architectural Technology’s move to the expanded Mississauga campus will build on this innovation, adds Pirie, an inaugural Growth Grant recipient of Sheridan’­s Institute for C­reativity and Creative Campus Fellowship, and her faculty’s rep on the Creative Campus Advisory Council.

“I’m looking forward to opportunities to collaborate with the other design-oriented schools at Sheridan to further explore creative activities that will introduce our students to new ways of thinking, especially about building technologies. The synergies that can happen when we engage in interdisciplinary work are invaluable in an academic setting,” she says.

“As our students move through the program, they can start coming up with those creative solutions, and graduate ready to bring those solutions to the world.”

Click here for more about Sheridan’s Architectural Technician-Technology program