Talent on parade: Dal students prep colourful contribution to Halifax's Holiday Parade of Lights

- November 20, 2015

Students take a break from construction Wednesday night to showcase their work. (Nick Pearce photos)
Students take a break from construction Wednesday night to showcase their work. (Nick Pearce photos)

It was the Wednesday night before the Parade of Lights, and through the Architecture Building’s main floor, not a creature was stirring — there was nary a snore!

The basement, however, was an entirely different tale.

While most of the building’s occupants had headed home to settle in for long, pre-winter’s naps, a group of students from across Sexton Campus were busy turning the basement’s woodworking studio into a loud, bright and bustling space — not that different, presumably, from what Santa Claus’s own toy shop would look like.

The difference, of course, is that rather than assembling gifts to be delivered on Christmas Eve, these “elves” were putting together a unique and colourful Dalhousie float for this Saturday’s Chronicle Herald Holiday Parade of Lights.

At work on the parade float's focal point.

Designing in teams

It’s a longstanding tradition for Architecture and Engineering students to organize a Dalhousie contribution to Halifax’s annual holiday parade. It’s an experience students Shalini Makdani and Jennifer Kinnunen loved taking part in when they first joined the School of Architecture two years ago.

“It was a lot of fun,” says Shalini. “It was a really great community bonding experience. But it didn’t happen last year, and so when this year was coming around, Jen and I were like, ‘let’s do it!’”

Shalini and Jennifer — both now in the first year of the Master of Architecture program — are co-leads for this year’s effort, with the support of a team that includes upwards of 30-to-40 Dal students from across the Architecture, Engineering and Planning programs. Work began back in September with a series of design charrettes (planning meetings), which allowed different groups of students to brainstorm what the float might look like.

“Each group did a design, sketches, small models and presented to the rest of the groups,” explains Jennifer. “We’d talk through concepts and ideas, taking the best ideas from each group. We had about three charrettes before we submitted our design to the parade organizers for approval, and it’s been snowballing ever sense.”

Jeff Walker, first-year Planning student, under the rainbow.

Their final concept embodies “parade of lights” and “float” quite literally. Attendees Saturday evening can expect to see a living seascape of rainbow-coloured “jellyfish” (as the team calls them) swimming through the streets of Halifax, each beaming with light and propelled by foot, by trailer and by bicycle. Organizers say outfitting the bicycles has been one of the trickier parts of the design process — which makes it all the better that the Dal Bike Centre is not only providing the bikes but also helping with construction.

“Someone from Architecture asked me if they could use some of the bikes that we have at the centre, and I said ‘absolutely!’” explains Dérik Suavé, a fourth-year Bachelor of Community Design student and president of the centre. “So that got the Dal Bike Centre involved and now I’m downstairs helping!”

Something for everyone

Prototyping has been underway for about a month or so, but it was only this past Sunday that construction began in earnest. Each night this week, for three or more hours, dozens of students have been in the woodshop making saws cut, sparks fly and plastic bend. On Wednesday evening, the float’s focal point — its largest “bulb,” pulled on a trailer — was truly taking shape, while alongside students also worked on smaller jellyfish-like bulbs that will be worn by individual parade participants.

“Our focus, especially in the design process, was being able to fabricate and design things that can be broken up into smaller pieces, so that you can have the comradery in the assembly process that fills the woodshop with people,” says Jennifer. “They can jump in at the beginning, or at the end, and still participate and be part of it, even though they might not have been able to be there through the whole process. There’s always something for someone to do and be able to say, ‘I did that.’”

Scenes from the workshop.

Sam Fresia, a third-year Electrical Engineering student, has been working on the float’s lighting. He says the project has been a great way to connect with students from the different programs that call Sexton Campus home.

“It’s really great to work with students from other disciplines and get these different opinions,” he says. “Even though we’re on the same campus, engineers, architects and even planners are often separated in our work, and there’s not always opportunities to bring them together quite like this.”

What’s possible together

The students are eager to show Halifax the fun, engaging design they’ve been toiling over for weeks and months. And when the Parade of Lights reaches the end of its route, and when the coloured foil gets packed away and the “jellyfish” get taken apart, the students will be left with an experience that demonstrated what’s possible when inspiration meets collaboration.

“To mobilize a group of young people is really exciting: bringing them together, talking about things and making something beautiful out of it,” says Shalini. “It might not be the most polished thing, or what you’d expect, but it’s an opportunity to share ideas and work together and have some fun.”

Jennifer agrees. “It’s been really eye-opening, as to how and where we can do projects like this in our futures — just how to create that community dynamic, foster people’s talents, enjoy each other’s company and get involved.”

The Chronicle Herald Parade of Lights begins at 6 p.m. Saturday evening. The Dal community is encouraged to drop by the Medjuck Architecture Building (5410 Spring Garden Road) starting at 5 p.m. for holiday treats — including cookie decorating — before heading to the building’s lawn to watch the parade.


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