In conversation with Prof. Katy Chey

How do architects get into architecture? What do architecture students learn at U of T? Why study local architecture? Find out one architect and educator’s answers to these questions in this interview! Prof. Katy Chey joins us to discuss all of these ideas… and more!

Check out the excerpts in the video below, and scroll down to read the full interview!


Introduce yourself!

Hello, I’m Katy Chey. I’m an architect, and I am also an Assistant Professor, Teaching Stream at the University of Toronto in the Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape, and Design.

What do students in the Daniels Faculty of Architecture learn, and how do they engage with architecture in Canada?

A Daniels student is presented with many opportunities to learn and immerse in architecture. They are taught in both lecture classes and design studios. They learn to analyze; they learn to synthesize and conceptualize project objectives; they learn to research and codify information. They learn an array of computer software that help them represent their ideas and designs in an architectural graphic language. Students make physical models with paper and card stock. They have access to our wood and metal workshops. They can also build digital models and have access to our digital fabrication lab with CNC (computer numerical control) machines and 3D printers.

Daniels itself is housed in an award-winning architecturally compelling building, and Toronto itself is a catalyst to explore with all the new buildings being constructed everywhere you look in the city.

Why do you think it’s important to examine the architecture of Canada?

I think Canada has a lot of under-appreciated architecture. I think we have a remarkable collection of modern architecture right across the country that deserves to be studied and experienced by both citizens and visitors. We also have a lot of accomplished Canadian architects who have left indelible marks in our cities, but who are unfortunately not widely recognized outside of Canada.

What do you think is the future of architecture studies in Canada?

I’m going to go back to Daniels. In the Daniels Faculty, we have a lot of international students, Some stay in Canada after school and some return to their home countries after their education here. As much Canadian architecture as they may be introduced to while here, the school is about preparing them with the tools they can use to apply – from their studies – to be analytical and critical thinkers of space, no matter where they are. I think in that sense Daniels is more a global school than a local school.

And I think there will always be a need to study architecture. Humans will always need spaces to sleep, to eat, to work, to rest. Even with new ideas and new behaviors of how we use spaces, as we have all learned in this pandemic, there will always be new spaces that will still need to be studied, understood, and designed.

How else can students get involved in architecture, whether they are Daniels students or not?

Daniels offers courses to non-Daniels students. And if they’re in Toronto, there’s so much going on. There are walks; there are tours; there are just a lot of really great buildings. And it’s difficult now in a pandemic, where a lot of the buildings are closed, but you can go into any building. I tell my students this, “Use the architecture student card or I’m an architecture enthusiast card,” and many places are very welcoming. They will allow you to tour their public spaces.

Now turning more toward the personal, how did you become interested in architecture?

I knew I wanted to design buildings, since I was six years old. I just didn’t know what it was called then. In Grade 1, we had to make a booklet and we had to write answers to a series of questions and draw a picture under each answer. One question was, “What will I be when I grow up?” and I didn’t write anything because, again, I didn’t know what it was called then. But I drew myself drawing a building and it was a very tall and skinny building that I coloured in black. I think my parents actually still have that booklet somewhere.

What are your research interests?

I have an interest in researching housing, more specifically multi-unit housing typologies. I like to explore housing through different cities at specific times when housing had the ability to build and shape cities. I want to know how a multi-unit housing typology developed, how it evolved, and how it define the city, how the inhabitants lived in the topology, and how the typologies correlate in a contemporary context. I have looked into many different multi-unit housing typologies all over the world, and one case study is the Toronto High Rise in Toronto from 2007 to 2017 – and really still very present today.  I thought the presence of this ubiquitous, mostly glass high rise tower typology in our city is worth investigation, and it has become quite an architecture phenomenon. I have taught this interest of mine as a course at Daniels, and it has been published as a book called Multi-Unit Housing in Urban Cities: From 1800 to Present Day (New York; Abingdon: Routledge, 2018).

Katy Chey, Multi-Unit Housing in Urban Cities: From 1800 to Present Day (New York; Abingdon: Routledge, 2018).

What else are you working on?

I have my own small architecture practice where I am currently designing some new spaces for some single family houses in Toronto, and I have a few Daniel students helping me this summer. We have been a bit busy. It is an interesting time for housing right now in Toronto. We seem to be a city of two housing topologies: the high rise tower and the single family house – and not much in between. We are missing the middle, and we are in desperate need of more housing typologies.

What’s your favourite building, and what would you like to see more of in Canada?

I cannot possibly choose one favourite space or building. I like too many spaces and buildings and for all different reasons. As an architect, I think a lot of what we like could have been shaped by when you were taught and the impressions you had when you were an architecture student. I was an architecture student in the mid-1990s, and I studied a lot of modern cultural institutions so museums and performing arts centres and libraries. I still tend to gravitate towards those types of projects.

But for Canada and very specifically for Toronto, I would like to see housing explored. We need more housing types, a variety of housing types.

Thanks, Prof. Chey!


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