In April, the CN Tower will turn pink. In March, look for pink crosses and grey ribbons spray-painted on city walls and garbage bins.
These are the marks of a light-hearted guerrilla-marketing campaign for What Has Architecture Done For You Lately?, an exhibition opening at the Design Exchange on April 15, showcasing the work of a local design firm with a social edge.
Started in 2006 in Vancouver, but moved to Toronto in 2007, archiTEXT Inc. is run by Zahra Ebrahim 25, and creative director Darcy Hanna, 24, who hope to spark fresh discussions about built structure. "If we get people talking about architecture, we've accomplished our goal," said Ms. Ebrahim, the founder of archiTEXT - and the youngest design professor yet at the Ontario College of Art and Design.
Their idea is to get people who don't hold an architect's tag into the design process. They want to make buildings, even if they're designed by kids. For instance, they're going to start an architecture summer camp for the University of Toronto Schools. They hold workshops open to anyone who wants to play with balsa wood and paper, or modelling clay. At a recent event, they played electronic beats like Crystal Castles, mapped out ideas with magic markers and planted bowls of jellybeans at public workshops. Architecture, too, can be a little Willy Wonka.
"Candy is an integral part of archiTEXT," said Ms. Hanna. "Sugar leads to hyperactivity, which we believe is good for the design process."
The duo, trendy-looking university grads, have scored a coveted studio in the Design Exchange on Bay Street as the first "innovators in residence," a pilot project.
Samantha Sannella, the president and chief executive officer of the Design Exchange, wanted to hire Ms. Ebrahim after attending an archiTEXT event last March at the DeLeon White Gallery. But Ms. Ebrahim gently declined, wishing to stay focused on archiTEXT. Ms. Sannella was not put off. "Zahra is challenging people to think about how architecture really affects people," said Ms. Sannella. "Architecture ... defines us."
Since September, archiTEXT has been planning its first major exhibition at the Design Exchange, a six-room spectacle in which each room has a theme. For instance, the Environment Room will have mug shots of the city's worst condos. The Economy Room will have pink neon signs and LED tickers bearing phrases such as "This person lives in a mansion, they must be rich."
Ms. Ebrahim says architecture helps keep her head up high. Sauntering down Wellington Street, she admires buildings like a tourist might, pointing up at the windows of the CBC mothership and scowling at Metro Hall as being Big Brotherish.
"They say the sign of a great architect is someone who walks into poles, and I'm always walking into parking meters, more than I'm willing to admit," she said. "I make an effort to always be looking up."