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Sarah Bonnemaison, associate professor

A day in the life

Sarah Bonnemaison, associate professor

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The fact [that] there’s a real ethics here to do sustainable design and to work with people and to build things that work for people is really, really important.

@Lab: playing with the fabric of a profession


Sarah Bonnemaison builds with fabric. Her specialty is tensile architecture. In other words, she builds tents.

“Since I was a kid, I was interested in making tents,” she says. Its timeless form and impermanence, as well as its nomadic and festive associations, attracted the free-spirit in her.

“I think the tent is probably the oldest way to protect yourself from the elements. On the other hand, it’s always very up to date because it’s always incorporating the latest technology.”

She makes backdrops for dance companies that change colour with movement onstage; right now, she’s inventing a massage enclosure where body heat will change the shape of the tent itself.

“What we are doing here is integrating intelligence into the fabric that can go into the environment,” she says.

An ethical layer of design


Maybe her work is a metaphor for how the program educates architecture students. We weave a layer of ethical intelligence into the fibre of our program, too.

“The fact [that] there’s a real ethics here to do sustainable design and to work with people and to build things that work for people is really, really important,” she says.

“Students who are interested in sustainability, they end up here, and then they feel like they have a good answer to their questions. It’s a self-feeding thing.”

Hands-on opportunities to build


Dr. Bonnemaison co-runs a studio, @Lab, filled with full-scale designs in various states of completion. Funded through commercial partners, her studio reflects another tenet of the Architecture program: students get hands-on opportunities to build.

Here, her students draw, cut, and sew onto billowy sails, translucent tents, sprightly metallic frames, and a patchwork of luminous fabric swatches.

“The idea of prototyping full-scale is very unique for architecture. Most architects design and draw things and then it goes off and is made by somebody else, somewhere else,” she says.

Her students even traveled with her to India and to England to build a tent.

“With the Free Lab, we went to India and we built a large tent. That tent ended up going to London for the Sustainable Architecture Awards. The Queen of England and the Dalai Lama who gave the awards, they ended up under that tent!”