Bianca Weeko Martin


Engaging with Architectural Travel

"The Canned Tour: Engaging with Architectural Travel" was an online symposium that took place on November 4, 2020. The symposium was supported by the University of Waterloo School of Architecture and sponsored by the Ontario Association of Architects.


Although we will be exploring many disparate and connected lands in tonight's symposium, we must first and foremost recognize the territory we occupy, the traditional owners of the lands we locate ourselves on beyond this virtual space we now share, and travel's role in past colonial projects. The University of Waterloo is situated on the Haldimand Tract, a swath of land ten kilometers on each side of the Grand River. This land was promised to the Haudenosaunee of the Six Nations of the Grand River, and is within the territory of the Neutral, Anishinaabe, and Haudenosaunee peoples. Though my ancestors were at one time the indigenous peoples of both the Philippine island of Luzon and the Indonesian island of Java, my family along with myself made their home in settler-colonial Canada in 2000 when we immigrated, itself an act of travel.

The importance of travel to architectural research and practice was challenged this past year as a global pandemic shut down borders and grounded airplanes indiscriminately. We have learned that virtual tools and insular thinking cannot completely replace the deeply embedding, empathy-building experiences that travel can offer - whether in the context of site visits, field work, or international exhibitions and conferences. We're gathering together as architects and designers to discuss what we can do to better prepare for and maximize the positive impact of our international experiences, being mindful that every trip abroad disrupts both the environment and our host cultures. What is the future of travel in architecture, and how must we adapt our means of knowledge-creation and sharing?... What can we do to make our future travel more intentional and considered, so that our trips are not neocolonial itineraries that simply reproduce Western knowledge?... Our three speakers, Asia Clarke, Justin Lai and Lola Sheppard, will discuss new ways of reaching our global goals, and share stories related to design and architecture research in international contexts. We will end the event with a generous amount of time for discussion, which I strongly welcome designers of all levels to participate in.

I wanted to conduct this symposium in an optimistic tone and create a space for sharing stories about travel since, at the end of the day, we miss it. Many of us have been educated considerably about the environmental impacts of air travel and mass tourism, and it is clear that we should be approaching future travel out of some form of necessity, and acknowledge that, although the wide availability of travel is one of the defining events of modernity, the kind of mobility available to most of us is a privilege. However, I think that it's also important to remember that this "necessity" can take on many forms, as privilege so often does, and that for somebody who does not have the blessing of living in the same country as all of their family, fostering relationships on the basis of physical proximity should be seen as a valid reason for travel as much as the next conference, exhibition, or site visit - or at least be kept in mind before passing judgment.

Nevertheless, there is so much we can do to be better travellers, and much of this has to do with our ways of engaging with architectural travel: coming into foreign spaces with true humility, resisting the instinct to categorize the "other" based on simple binaries, embedding ourselves in places on the basis of reciprocal relationships, and being critical of how we engage with people who might be considered racialized, marginalized in class, or subaltern.

This symposium was called the "Canned Tour" as a play on the phrase "Grand Tour", which was a tradition from the 17th and 18th centuries wherein wealthy European men roamed France and Italy in search of the roots of Western civilization, educating themselves on journeys from a "civilized" locale to a "more civilized" center. "Canned", informal, can mean fired, thrown out, and it can also refer to the process of placing products in vacuum-sealed containers to be mass-produced and mass-distributed - like much of tourism today. The Grand Tour and the Canned Tour, although quite at odds with each other in terms of accessibility and scope, are equally disappointing directions in which travel can go, and they can overlap, too. We are gathering together this evening to find ways to be more aimful, considered, intentional.