Dalhousie University has teamed up with three architecture schools in the U.S. to design and build structures in Cape Breton and learn from each other while they do it.

Professor Geoff Gjertson and students from the University of Louisiana Lafayette were in Cheticamp last month to meet with students from Dalhousie University's Faculty of Architecture and see the structure they built this summer for the Cheticamp Farmers' Market. 

It’s part of a federal grant program from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

Dalhousie has teamed up with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and the University of Arizona.

“Essentially it’s a design, build exchange where each of the four universities are doing similar projects in their own communities and then we’ll be coming together to design and build a single structure in Nova Scotia in the summer of 2016.” 

The students are building structures called gridshells, a unique curved design that uses thin strips of wood in an overlap grid format. The enclosure in Cheticamp was built with the notorious suêtes winds in mind. The students will monitor the structure over the winter to see how it holds up.

Gjertson said gridshells are perfect for that type of environment; a simple but sturdy structure to build.

Anthropologists studying interactions

“One of the ideas is to try to develop systems that communities like Cheticamp and others could actually build on their own. We’d like to share the knowledge and the technology that we develop with local communities and industry," said the professor.

The students from Lafayette are building their own gridshell structure this summer, a community pavilion, and they wanted to see the one that was built in Cheticamp.

“We really wanted to see it in person. There’s nothing like actually going up and looking at it. And the students were able to talk to the Dalhousie students one-on-one, face-to-face and that’s part of the whole grant is to study the interaction," said Gjertson.

As part of the project, the conversations between the students are being recorded and studied by anthropologists and sociologists participating in the grant.

They’ll study how the students interact with faculty to learn on the job, how they learn from one another and how they work with the community to communicate ideas and accept feedback.

“It’s all about trying to develop best practices for doing design/build. It makes me very proud to see the maturity and the leadership that the students take on, especially when they’re having to essentially teach other students. That kind of back and forth elevates their learning, their maturity, their professionalism as they eventually go on into the profession," said Gjertson.

The project partners from the four universities are in talks with Parks Canada to come together somewhere in Cape Breton in the summer of 2016 to build a larger structure.