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Supporting sustainable architecture

How the John D. Watson Memorial Scholarship helped student Larissa Roque connect her First Nations heritage to her architectural pursuits

This summer, Larissa Roque (BEDS’14), a second-year Master of Architecture student in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning, set off to conduct research for her thesis project. She left with only a tent and a plan to visit First Nations communities along the Great Lakes.

“I grew up on the Georgian Bay so the Great Lakes region is very dear to my heart,” says Roque, who is from Wahnapitae First Nation. “I wanted to gain a better understanding of the people and existing infrastructure in the communities surrounding the Great Lakes that my future thesis project would be affecting.”

For Roque that meant analyzing the cultural appropriateness of the architecture in these communities, which she says should lend itself well to green technology given First Nations’ philosophies of environmental stewardship and local materiality. And thanks to the John D. Watson Memorial Scholarship, Roque was able to achieve more than she had hoped.

“I ended up visiting 14 communities, met countless people, gained first-hand understanding of the communities and ultimately narrowed the focus of my research. The experience was invaluable,” she says. “Even before I received the scholarship, I wanted to work towards improving the lives of First Nations people in this area. Along the way, I was also hoping to discover more of my ancestral Anishinaabe heritage.”

The John D. Watson Memorial Scholarship was created by John Watson’s (MArch’90) family and friends after his untimely death in 1998 in Bermuda, where he had been working as an architect. It celebrates John’s life and advances sustainable architecture—a passion of his—by supporting students who are focusing on green design for their thesis project.

John Watson as a student in the Faculty of Architecture and Planning

For Wayne Watson, John’s father, hearing about the students’ experiences and the way their education has been impacted means a great deal to him. “John was kind, well-liked, thoughtful and passionate about architecture and sustainable design,” says Dr. Watson. “He would have loved the idea of providing an opportunity for a student they otherwise wouldn’t have had.”

“I ended up visiting 14 communities, met countless people, gained first-hand understanding and ultimately narrowed the focus of my research. The experience was invaluable.” –Larissa Roque, scholarship recipient

The opportunity certainly enriched Roque’s experience. After visiting many communities along the remote northeastern shoreline of the Great Lakes, Roque realized that the architecture is not reflective of Anishinaabe culture.

“My own desire to learn more of my heritage was being felt across the region; the current school system does little to address the need,” she says. “Without my scholarship I wouldn’t have been able to travel to all of the places I visited, and may not have made this important discovery.” In the coming months Roque will be researching and exploring traditional Anishinaabe education techniques and how architecture can facilitate the needs of the communities she visited.

For Dr. Watson, it’s gratifying to know the award in John’s name is making a difference in the world. “When a parent loses a child, you’re left with a life unfulfilled. While John did great work as an architect, he was only in the industry for eight years before he died,” he says. “My hope through this award was to remember John while making a difference in a student’s education, and ultimately what they are able to achieve. It’s rewarding to know that is happening.”