• February 27, 2023

However, if Canadian design is going to extract from its country’s land and legacy, it comes with an obligation: To reconceptualize how that abundance is used and channel it into swift, powerful, and positive change. It means we must shift our practices from consumption to caretaking, from waste to curation, and from privilege to obligation.

For Canada’s designers and architects to make informed decisions about Canada’s future and to act collectively, we must move past individualism and look to and support Indigenous values; we must be united by obligations to land, to water, to trees; and we must be united by our shared past and present and future, from Indigenous peoples and settlers to immigrants and refugees.

As we inhabit Canada, we must care for it together, and Canadian design and architecture can provide it with a more hopeful and inclusive future.

Where Canadian design takes root

Canadian design and architecture have a clear aesthetic and identity: It is defined by its complexity and contradictions, containing many voices and shades of grey.

To create Canadian is to harmonize these diverse and nuanced voices into a shared inclusive identity and sense of belonging, finding its origins in key elements:

  • Land: The land we share is our identity, and our actions on it define us. Our existence depends on the land we live on, and ecosystems have never been more precious than now. To protect and conserve the complex and interlaced systems of nature, Canadian design must always be in an equitable exchange with it. Place-based architecture like Canada’s succeeds when it is in harmony with its geographically diverse topographies, histories and communities.
  • Multiculturalism: As architecture acts as a tool for translating and speaking different languages of diverse and distinct cultures, Canadian design can be thought of as polyglottal. In Canada, design becomes a dynamic exchange between past and future generations, whether they are First Nations, Inuit and Métis or immigrants to what we call Canada today. In this multicultural context, Canadian design can’t be defined by a one nation or one race. Instead, it must be an equitable, inclusive, and sustainable lingua franca that adapts to and welcomes change.
  • Inclusivity: The public is bigger than the individual. That’s why Canadian design listens and seeks out compromise to create, repair and revive relationships between its communities. It comes from a place of connectivity, of joy, and play; Canadian design is at its best when it continuously questions who is missing in conversations, actively inviting new participants and audiences in.

Ambitions framed by obligations

While we look to the future with optimism, there are communities who continue to go ignored, underserved and unrepresented while challenges of climate change persist. This means that practitioners of Canadian design who are tasked with designing solutions to these problems cannot be out of sync with those directly impacted by the outcomes of their designs.

Whether it is for people or the planet, design is the practice of decision-making on behalf of others; this means Canadian design requires both moral and design excellence. Today’s social and ecological emergencies require new ways of thinking and taking action that require values of responsibility, humility, plurality, and solidarity.

This is why Canadian design must be circular, approaching future design challenges with equity, inclusivity and sustainability. When it is unified by its obligations and strengthened by interdependence, Canadian design can repair the foundations of our past built environments locally and around the world.

Designers and architects must reimagine their cities with nature-based solutions to protect, create, and improve the urban. Only then can cities’ abilities to adapt to and mitigate damage from climate change be enhanced. Through circular designs which prioritize reuse, repurposing and upcycling strategies in architecture—and not expanding into unused and untouched areas—Canadian design can propel us to a better, resilient, and regenerative future.

The horizon ahead

Canadian design can create nature-based solutions and build in ways which work within natural systems in ways that provide well-being for cities and local communities, between people and their environments. After all, how we use our land defines our ability to adapt and care for it throughout all the challenges we face together: Climate threats, global economic forces, oceanic waste, shifts in industry and labour, and evolving social and cultural paradigms.

With circular design processes and goals of universal inclusivity, Canada can be a central hub of innovation in the world. Its designers, researchers, and architects must speak out, grab reins, challenge one another, and put aside the characteristic humility of the Canadian ethos. Canadian design leadership must proclaim and declare, celebrate, and provoke not only itself but the world at large.

Equipped with immense cultural and natural abundance, Canadian design’s architectural projects become ideas for better societies and benefitting tomorrow, inspiring others to create spaces to grow.


The above text follows Lemay’s research and design collective FLDWRK and its manifesto for Canadian design.