Architect with a 'distinctly Nova Scotian' style heads to Yale

Architect Omar Gandhi will serve as visiting professor at the Yale School of Architecture this fall, and plans to bring his students to Cape Breton.

Omar Gandhi invited to act as visiting professor at the Yale School of Architecture this fall

Omar Gandhi was awarded a Governor General's Medal in Architecture in 2018 for his Rabbit Snare Gorge project in rural Cape Breton. (Doublespace Photography)

When Nova Scotia architect Omar Gandhi asked staff at Yale University to reschedule his upcoming guest lecture in September, he had a pretty good excuse. He has to be in Ottawa to receive a Governor General's Medal in Architecture.

Now he gets to repay the Ivy League school for its kindness by teaching a whole course this fall, as the Louis I. Kahn Visiting Professor of Architectural Design at the Yale School of Architecture in New Haven, Conn.

Omar Gandhi received his master's degree, and kicked off his architecture career, in Halifax. (Tara Noelle)

As a visiting professor, Gandhi said he expects to travel to the university every other week to teach a senior-level design studio course.

He said he also plans to bring his students to Cape Breton to see the place that has inspired much of his work and where some of his most prestigious residential projects have been built.

This residential project, called Float, in Purcells Cove, N.S., was inspired by the jagged bedrock it sits on. (Doublespace Photography)

Gandhi is originally from Brampton, Ont., but moved to Nova Scotia to pursue a master's degree at Dalhousie University in 2005 and "fell in love with the place," he told the CBC's Information Morning.

He now runs two offices — one in Toronto and one in Halifax — and commutes between the provinces every four days or so.

His work, which includes both residential and commercial projects, is now inspired in part by the look and feel of his adopted home. Gandhi said he hopes people get a "glimpse of Nova Scotia" when they look at his projects.

The Lookout at Broad Cove Marsh in Cape Breton sits on a narrow strip of land between a country road and a cliff that drops down to the ocean. (Omar Gandhi)
Part of the inspiration for the Sluice Point project in Yarmouth County, N.S., came from the look of local fishing sheds. (Omar Gandhi)

While he spends a lot of time considering the unique qualities of the landscape he's working in, including topography, climate and proximity to the ocean, Gandhi said it's equally important to him to "spend a lot of time with the people we're building for."

That means getting them to describe their formative memories and tell stories about their childhood, he said.

Those two elements — a consideration of the landscape as well as the person who will inhabit it — "produce a sum that's unique," Gandhi said, adding that every project has a look and feel that's different from the last.

Interior looking out at the Sluice Point project. (Omar Gandhi)
Harbour Heights overlooks the Cabot Links golf course. (Greg Richardson Photography)

Sunil Bald, the associate dean of the Yale School of Architecture, said Gandhi is a good fit for the position because his work shares Yale's commitment to "progressive design" and "environmental responsiveness."

Dean Deborah Berke said his work is "true to this time while also being distinctly Nova Scotian."

While the international recognition that comes with an appointment at Yale is exciting, Gandhi said, his priorities haven't changed. He wants to continue to be "a little bit selfish," and maintain creative control over the kinds of projects he and his staff take on.

Gandhi said he also wants to keep having fun — and getting paid for it. "The best days are the days that we laugh in the studio," he said.

Rabbit Snare Gorge is a summer getaway in Inverness, Cape Breton. (Doublespace Photography)

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About the Author

Nina Corfu

Associate Producer

Nina Corfu is a journalist based in Halifax. She aims to tell stories that people want to share around the dinner table each night. If you have a snackable story idea to share, please drop her a line at nina.corfu@cbc.ca.

With files from the CBC's Information Morning.