The Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism at Carleton University was first established in 1968, with 33 students in the first year of a five-year Bachelor of Architecture degree program. In 2018, the school celebrated its 50th anniversary and its place as one of the world’s premier design schools.

 
The main staircase at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism is both a thoroughfare of creativity and a conduit for collaboration.

The main staircase at the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism is both a thoroughfare of creativity and a conduit for collaboration.

 

Working with a 50th anniversary planning committee made up of faculty and alumni, our task was to create a graphic vernacular that resonated with past and present students and could be deconstructed and rearranged for visual applications from street banners to social media posts. 

When the architectural program first started in 1968, it borrowed space from the Department of Engineering while a future building to support a collaborative and creative environment was considered, designed and built. Even those students from the first graduating class got to spend their fifth and final year in the brand-new building designed by Toronto architect Carmen Corneil. Since it opened, the school’s new building has become the crucible in which some of the world’s finest architects have been born.

 

A scalable vector illustration of the staircase was created and overlaid with a vibrant palette to evoke the ascent to the upper creative spaces. This would become the central theme of the event vernacular.

STAIRWAY TO DESIGN HEAVEN

Designed to be a factory for creative thinking, the building is extraordinarily spare—bare concrete walls and floors, exposed plumbing and HVAC systems, factory sashes and unpainted concrete block—a simple unadorned backdrop for the exuberant visual output of the thousands of students who have passed through its spaces. If there is one dramatic feature that lives in the memories of all alumni and which is part of the daily lives of today’s students, one abiding visual that is common to them all, it’s the bald concrete and open staircase that seems to drop from the upper studio spaces down to the “street” from which all common and social spaces branch off.

The committee insisted that the 50th anniversary celebration be all-inclusive, telling the stories of alumni as well as the present-day students and those who are still to come. Instead of focusing on the past 50 years, we elected to look to the future and chose the title Forward > 50 to describe a waypoint in the development of this great school. We have come forward 50 years on this journey and we look forward to the next 50.

There is not a single student from the 50 years of the school’s existence who does not have a lasting memory of the staircase that led up to the creative design studio spaces and down to the collaborative and social spaces. The stairs themselves have always been central to the school’s collective memory and would become the central image around which we built our vernacular. The creative spaces that are joined by this central staircase are expressed in a colourful palette that climbs upwards and towards the future of architectural expression and urban design.

Using the strong palette and central graphics for Forward > 50, we were able to build out a suite of components—from social media posts to merchandise, event banners and postering.

Using the strong palette and central graphics for Forward > 50, we were able to build out a suite of components—from social media posts to merchandise, event banners and postering.

The Forward > 50 event spaces, known as “The Pit” and “The Street,” needed branding for the lead-up and for the event itself.  A number of simple hanging banners were created using a palette and typography to bring to life core values and emotions of the celebration.

The Forward > 50 event spaces, known as “The Pit” and “The Street,” needed branding for the lead-up and for the event itself.
A number of simple hanging banners were created using a palette and typography to bring to life core values and emotions of the celebration.

A view from the staircase down to “The Street,” and below that, “The Pit.”

A view from the staircase down to “The Street,” and below that, “The Pit.”

For more than 40 years of its existence, the Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism encouraged wider thinking about design, technology and creativity through an annual series of lectures by prominent designers, thinkers, urban planners, film makers and experience creators. This series kicked off for the 2018–19 season at Forward > 50 with presentations by former students of the school who have made their marks in the design world.

Part of the Forward > 50 celebrations included the annual Forum Lecture Series. Though this series would continue for five months , we brought this separate event into the structure of the celebrations by employing the palette and fonts to depict the classic Luxo task light illuminating new thinking in design and urbanism.

Part of the Forward > 50 celebrations included the annual Forum Lecture Series. Though this series would continue for five months , we brought this separate event into the structure of the celebrations by employing the palette and fonts to depict the classic Luxo task light illuminating new thinking in design and urbanism.