AIAS FORUM Contra Recap

Words: Bronzella Cleveland
Photos: MASONRY DESIGN Magazine 

“Architecture starts when you carefully put two bricks together. There it begins.” – Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Toronto in the dead of winter might not seem like a shining beacon of light in the world of architecture, but the cold weather did little to dampen the enthusiasm of this year’s American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS) Forum participants. From a lively and engaging Expo to a riveting series of tours, talks, and events, there was something for students and exhibitors alike to enjoy over this holiday season.  

Students from all around the world convened in one central location to network, explore, and learn new things about the architecture industry. Since each FORUM is held in a different part of the world, MASONRY DESIGN had the honor of joining the students of this illustrious organization on December 29, 2019, – January 1, 2020. We rung in the New Year Toronto style, and must say it was the best experience yet!  

The AIAS FORUM Contra team worked hard with the AIAS board to produce the most cohesive and well-rounded event yet. Every year dons a new theme, and this particular year’s theme focuses on working together towards a solution through architecture and design. The conference was held at Fairmont Royal York in the heart of downtown Toronto, a historic landmark held the Expo and hosted the Beaux Arts Ball for AIAS members.  

This year, Cassandra and I joined everyone at FORUM Contra- this was my second year in attendance and Cassandra’s first. It would be an understatement to say we had an amazing time interacting with the architecture students and professionals! We had the opportunity to talk with industry professionals, architecture and design students at all levels, and learn more about this interesting industry and what the future holds. Here is our recount of the 2019 AIAS FORUM Contra.  

The Recap 

FORUM Contra offered over 30 seminars, which focused on education and practice, nature and technology, present tensions and future cities, and localization and globalization. AIAS members had a variety of seminar options to choose from throughout their time in Toronto, as well as network with the presenters and fellow attendees. Each seminar took place at the Fairmont Royal York in their meeting rooms, so seating was first come, first serve. There were four General Sessions where guest keynote speakers hosted and spoke on one of the four focuses of FORUM Contra’s theme. During these general sessions, roll call was performed, each school had about 90 seconds to engage their peers with a creative greeting that was significant to their respective school.  

Informative and helpful workshops were also offered to attendees that focused on the importance of portfolios, perspectives, drawing stories, and more. Everyone likes to break up learning with a bit of fun, and FORUM Contra offered at least 13 tours throughout Toronto, one of which happened to be the historic Distillery District. Cassandra and I had the chance to explore the historic neighborhood in Toronto and enjoyed geeking out over the brick and architecture of the repurposed area. She will provide a more formal summary of our explorations.  

The Honor Awards took place on the first day, December 29, 2019, kicking off the nightly After Dark events. Other nights featured a trash sculpture competition and movie night, the Beaux Arts Ball, and the final night offered a silent disco. There was definitely something for everyone to partake in while at FORUM Contra.  

Board elections also took place during the general sessions as last year’s officers step down and the newly elected members step into his or her respective role. Firm tours were included with the landmark tour option for those interested in exploring their options for networking while in Toronto. Firms such as Eventscape, RDHA, and Sweeney & Co. Architects are three of the tour destinations available to choose from.  

To say we had a wonderful time would certainly be an overstatement. We want to thank AIAS for being so hospitable to us and cannot wait for this year’s FORUM and what they’ll have in store for the members and sponsors!