Award-winning architecture graduate to help shape East Village

Nicholas Dykstra | Senior Research Studio 2014

Marc Boutin | Faculty Supervisor

Q&A with Nicholas Dykstra on the direction of urbanism in Calgary



Nicholas Dykstra has accomplished an academic award hat trick. Over the 2014 convocation ceremonies, the Master of Architecture graduate’s perseverance through the rigours of architecture school was rewarded with three academic medals: the Faculty of Environmental Design (EVDS) academic gold medal, the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada (RAIC) Student Medal, and the Governor General’s Award.


Dykstra, who grew up in nearby Didsbury, is now a development coordinator at the Calgary Municipal Land Corporation (CMLC), the development company responsible for giving shape and substance to Calgary’s East Village. As he puts his years of scholarship into practice with the CMLC, Dykstra took some time to reflect on the direction of urbanism in Calgary, and his time at EVDS.


Q: What were your influences, inspirations, and support systems during your studies and career?

A: I must say that I am incredibly lucky that my wife is simultaneously my greatest muse, critic, friend and fan, and without her presence in my life, I likely wouldn’t even have gotten my undergraduate degree. Otherwise, at EVDS, influences, inspirations and support systems are fluid things that co-mingle in beautiful ways.

I really cannot overstate how incredible EVDS is as an organization. It creates a tight familial setting where we all struggle and succeed together. As you progress through your studies, the lines between student, faculty, and staff begin to become less visible, and less important, eventually leaving you with a solid support structure of lifelong friendships and mentorships. Leaving it is comparable to leaving home.


Q: Are you working on any interesting projects at the moment?

A: With respect to projects, my experience at CMLC has been phenomenal. I have the opportunity to play a role in the design and development of what will soon become some of Calgary’s defining public spaces and institutions, specifically the new Central Library, and C-Square, a small but very central urban plaza in East Village. My colleagues at CMLC have developed a unique expertise for providing wonderful public infrastructures for the city to grow into.


Q: What do you see the most important considerations for Calgary’s public spaces going forward?

A: In the processes of city building, infrastructure is the most important act for engendering the type of city we all hope to create. When we create a public realm, we create a democratic network of open spaces, and institutions, where people will come to define their perception of their collective home: their neighbourhood, and their city. If we lack imagination and foresight in the creation of this realm, we risk creating spaces that will not inspire a more human and personal understanding of our city. Fortunately, I get to work with some of the most talented designers in the world in the provision of these spaces, so imagination and foresight is not is short supply.


Q: Were there any faculty here at EVDS that were particularly supportive during your studies?

A: Two of the faculty that I found invaluably influential, inspirational, and supportive were Marc Boutin and Brian Sinclair. Both have an intense dedication to architectural and teaching excellence that inspired me to achieve a level of care and consideration in my work that I didn’t think was possible. I found the same qualities in Kate Thompson, who’s now my boss at CMLC, and the dean, Nancy Pollock-Ellwand. These two both exude incredible competence in everything they do, while being truly great individuals. It’s amazing when you can refer to the people you greatly admire as your friends.


Q: Last, but not least, how did you feel about your triple medal wins?

A: To be honest, I feel completely surprised and honoured. The end of my time at EVDS coincided with the passing of my father, who quickly became ill and died 4 weeks before the end of my last semester. Needless to say, my energies and priorities were much more focused on family than school. Additionally, the culture at EVDS doesn’t focus on grades or comparative success as much as personal development. Because it’s a studio-centred program, I never felt that I was succeeding more or less than others that were doing well, we generally felt like we took wins or losses together.

I’ve realized the Governor General’s Award, which I am still trying to wrap my head around, is an incredible reflection on EVDS. The award shows that the quality of the instruction and the results it has on the student body is comparable to the best faculties in the University. The faculty deserves this type of recognition, and it’s an incredible honour to represent it with this award