Cambridge, ON



Adrian Blackwell

University of Waterloo School of Architecture 

“Undercommons” is an exploration of global migration and a transnational experience through modes of belonging that reconcile scattered trajectories.

Immigrants and minorities are more likely to feel welcome if there are resources that allow them to metaphorically return to the cultural roots of their homeland: a place that acknowledges their existence as it relates to their frame of time and space without dehumanizing through assimilation. I wanted to provide, to not only the residents on site but those of the larger residential community, a cultural center - a form of an undercommons and res publica: a space to experience democracy of knowledge. The center would address an issue of racial stereotyping, cultural appropriation and historical erasure of contributions of minorities that is prevalent in western societies. It would provide platforms to learn about the cultures and the issues that are important to its people. It would provide a platform for people themselves to teach their practices to others. It would provide a platform to present productions. It would also in turn acknowledge the double consciousness of migrants, the hyphenated identities which they proudly cultivate.

By appropriating iconic architectural typologies and molding them to respond physically, programmatically, and symbollicaly, there becomes an unification of divergent cultures. The main strategy was to maximize freedom within these typologies rather than police behaviours. The spaces provide a history: the space to learn it, the space to practice it, the space to present it, the space to sell it and the space to live it. The museum brings a narrative that introduces an identification of culture, following with an expansion of knowledge and a recollection. The open “institution” space is entirely free, allowing for it to adapt to the requirements of the residents. The theatre is a gathering space. It can be used as outdoor seating, a theatre to present original productions or hold outdoor movie nights for the community. The home, with an entirely free plan, becomes an incubator for spatial experimentation. Providing divisional modules, the resident has the freedom in the application of one’s own spatial cultural identity and/or the application of another’s, establishing a continuous cycle of appropriation.