U of T architecture grad Renée Powell-Hines uses design as a call to action—to support the diversity that leads to better solutions for our climate and our society.

Posted on October 27, 2021

In the last year of her architecture degree, Renée Powell-Hines (BArch 2021) designed a sculpture: a woman encased in a contorted, constricting wire loop.

“It shows the discomfort and obstacles that women of colour, working in design, feel every day,” she says.

Powell-Hines is passionate about promoting diversity in a field that, in North America, is still quite homogeneous. “Allowing Black architects to share their knowledge will raise awareness of global architecture techniques,” she explains—methods rooted in sustainable traditions.

An artist's drawing shows an oval, open-ended shelter with a rounded roof and latticed sides sitting in a lakeshore park.

Renée Powell-Hines received U of T’s Nelson Wong Architect Inc. Award for co-designing this sustainable windbreak pavilion.

“It is impossible to reverse the environmental damage we have done to the Earth, but diversity in design will help us provide future generations with a solid foundation for working sustainably in any future landscape.”

Powell-Hines helped found the U of T club Black Students in Design, which offers both mentorship and education about Black designers. She had her work featured in the award-winning Support Black Designers mural at the John H. Daniels Faculty of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Design—which called for dismantling systemic racism in the field and gave Black creatives national recognition and exposure.

She also co-designed a pavilion for Ontario Place—a curving, light-filled windbreak, made of sustainable materials, that would allow people to enjoy wind and water from shelter. It won her U of T’s Nelson Wong Architect Inc. Award. “It was really nice to hear the donors were interested,” she says. “That gave me hope that the projects that I’ve done for education can move over to the real world.”

Powell-Hines’s sculpture might do just that too. “I turned it into a puzzle that I’m trying to patent,” she says. “Design is about solutions and designers can do more: to help solve climate issues, reduce disparities in poverty and uplift communities that need support.”

Please give to the University of Toronto today! Help architects like Renée Powell-Hines lead us forward, redesigning an inclusive world where diverse ideas are heard.

Please give to the University of Toronto today! Help architects like Renée Powell-Hines lead us forward, redesigning an inclusive world where diverse ideas are heard.

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