JHI Circle of Fellows Spotlight—Laurel Wilson

May 14, 2024 by Sonja Johnston

Laurel Wilson is a 4th year architectural studies student with a specialist in design of architecture, landscape, and urbanism at the Daniels Faculty of Architecture. Her research interests stem from her upbringing in the historical Muskoka-Parry Sound district of Ontario which fostered a deep passion for the environment, Canadian history, and vernacular design from a young age. Laurel is one of our 2023-24 JHI Undergraduate Fellows.

What are your main research interests?

My main research interests centre around the intersection of Canadian history, architecture, and Canadian art. I am interested in vernacular building strategies, the use of local and found materials, adaptive reuse of historical structures, extractive industries/infrastructures, and rural architecture. Most of my interests focus on the colonial settlement of rural Canada, particularly Northeastern Ontario and Muskoka from 1800-1950.

What project are you working on at the JHI and why did you choose it?

My project at the JHI is about the absence of building codes and traditional forms of municipal government within unincorporated/unorganized townships within Northeastern Ontario. In this study I explore and document what physically manifests in the built environment when “everyday people” (those who may or may not have formal training in architecture or construction) are able to take agency over the design and construction of their own homes. I also look into what unconventional modes of built “organization” manifest in the presence of absence. This study has been so rewarding with twists and turns at every point and has evolved to include undertones of economics, political secrets, the power of land ownership, conspiracy, and the power of a tight-knit community.

How has your JHI Fellowship experience been so far?

Being at the JHI has been such a privilege. As an undergraduate student, having my own designated space to work is a rare treat. The ability to mingle and talk with those in graduate level studies, post-docs, and faculty has been invaluable to my research and my overall university experience. I find it is rare to overlap with those in different levels of studies, especially at such a large institution such as U of T, so having the ability to do that at the JHI has been amazing. Additionally, being able to mingle and work alongside scholars in other disciplines has provided some of the most valuable feedback I have ever received for my project. Usually architecture students mostly interact with those at the architecture faculty, which is full of people who work in a visual field who more often than not think and see the world in a similar way, so being able to interact with people from other disciplines has been an amazing learning opportunity.

Can you share something you read/watched/listened to recently that you enjoyed/were inspired by?

I love TV period dramas and often watch them when I’m drafting, which takes up a massive amount of my week. Here are some of my favourites I have watched over the course of my final year: Call the Midwife, Bomb Girls, The Great,Vikings,The Terror, and The Crown.

What is a fun fact about you?

I grew up in Muskoka-Parry Sound but don’t hunt or fish, or particularly love camping despite having the privilege of living about 20 minutes outside of Algonquin Park. I do love a good hike though!