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http://www.concordia.ca/content/shared/en/news/offices/vpaer/aar/2019/02/07/breaking-down-walls-to-knowledge.html

Breaking down walls to knowledge

Concordia's 4TH SPACE is part living lab, design showroom, exhibition space, science centre and performance venue
February 7, 2019
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By Toula Drimonis

Anyone who visits Concordia’s new 4TH SPACE — Canada’s first dedicated street-front showcase for academic research and experiential learning opportunities — is in for a memorable stopover.

Following a soft launch in November 2018, 4TH SPACE presented workshops on how to make vegan cheese, how to use a chocolate printer and how to raise crickets. If visitors were lucky, some might have left with a sourdough starter kit. These workshops were part of What is Food? — an inaugural installation at 4TH SPACE located on the ground floor of the J. W. McConnell Building on the corner of De Maisonneuve Blvd. and Mackay St.

4TH SPACE 4TH SPACE is located on the ground floor of the J. W. McConnell Building on the corner of De Maisonneuve Blvd. and Mackay St.

Few projects at Concordia have inspired as much anticipation and enthusiasm as 4TH SPACE. The next-gen, multi-purpose venue was officially inaugurated in the presence of elected officials in January 2019. 4TH SPACE is a versatile and daring new platform for a rotating selection of research projects. 

Everyone involved is buzzing with excitement. “It’s part living lab, design showroom, exhibition space, science centre and performance venue,” says Nadia Bhuiyan, vice-provost of Partnerships and Experiential Learning. “Through rotating residencies and curated programs, researchers and students will present work that is designed to engage the public.” 

Sharing research to benefit society 

The result is a sharing of cutting-edge research in an interactive and engaging environment that greatly differs from a more traditional, static academic setting. And that’s the goal, says Graham Carr, provost and vice-president, Academic. He considers 4TH SPACE an opportunity to make Concordia visible to the external community and a vitrine onto what typically happens in labs. He views the space as fundamentally representative of the university itself. 

“Our mission as a university is to teach students — yet ultimately, it’s about using our research to benefit society,” Carr says. “We have some amazing research taking place here, and by showcasing it, we can nurture a real engagement with both our students and society at large.” 

The street-level venue, once the main floor of the Concordia Bookstore, has taken on a new vocation after two years of planning, consultations and a $1.9-million investment. 

While academic research is commonly shared through academic journals and conference presentations, “here is a space where you can show your research — and stimulate interest, exchanges and conversations across disciplines, bringing people together from different faculties,” says Justin Powlowski, Concordia’s associate vice-president of Strategy and Operations, Research and Graduate Studies. “It’s a way to make research more accessible through a nonstandard way of disseminating information.” 

Powlowski is counting on the space’s unique ability to be different things to different people. “Its flexibility and multi-purpose functionality are what everyone is hoping leads to experiential learning and enhanced collaborative thinking,” he says. 

Looking at food differently

The What is Food? installation is a superb example of a non-conventional, collaborative program that encourages participants to question how they think about and see the familiar through a different lens. During labs, participants were encouraged to sample foods and think about industrial versus artisanal fermentation, how our senses shape our food expectations, the trust we place in its preparation, how culture-dependent our food choices often are, and their overall thoughts on the edibility of food. 

In the New Year, 4TH SPACE opened with an exploration of cities to investigate an important question: “What makes a city sustainable, resilient, liveable and playable?” Concordia city cluster researchers are tackling such big questions. They are combining forces across the university’s four faculties and examining ways to bolster renewable energy sources, smart technology and the fight against climate change. The Cities Project at 4TH SPACE draws from the university’s invaluable interdisciplinary strengths and treasure trove of expertise that can teach and inspire. 

4TH SPACE Nadia Bhuiyan (left), Concordia’s vice-provost of Partnerships and Experiential Learning, and her team spearheaded the university’s new 4TH SPACE. She is pictured with Canadian Member of Parliament Marc Miller, Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante and Concordia President Alan Shepard at the public launch in January 2019.

Christophe Guy, vice-president of Research and Graduate Studies trusts 4TH SPACE’s ability to serve as a dynamic lab to foster diverse, stimulating conversations and viewpoints, and translate these into public experiences that will benefit the Montreal community and beyond. 

Extensive consultations took place to determine the specific technical, architectural and functional requirements of 4TH SPACE. It needed to foster meaningful and inspiring interactions between members of the university community and non-academic participants. The goal was to develop a space that accurately embodies the university’s spirit of inclusiveness and innovation.

“4TH SPACE was designed to inspire researchers and community partners to share the fascinating ideas percolating behind university walls — and connect people with knowledge-creation generated at Concordia,” says Guy. “It will also provide all students with the opportunity to engage in experiential learning opportunities, share their work with the world and bring their ideas to life.”

Installations, rotating residencies, screenings, idea labs, lectures, performances, hack-a-thons, curated programs and screenings are part of the planned programming. Innovative and inspired ways of connecting and learning are continuously being explored and proposed.

The university makes no secret of its high hopes for the venue’s ability to inspire participants to collaborate, experiment and explore new ideas. Concordia President Alan Shepard refers to the 4TH SPACE as the “future of what knowledge creation and outreach will look like.” The venue features large, glass entrances that during warmer months can roll up like garage doors to connect the space to passersby and to the city itself.

Laurence Parent Laurence Parent, a partner in 4TH SPACE’s Vibrations exhibition, praises the venue’s accessibility — including wheelchair-accessibility — to the public.

4TH SPACE will set a new standard in accessible knowledge. Powlowski emphasizes the “by-product”of these non-traditional approaches to accessing knowledge. “It benefits our researchers and faculty members to explain things to non-specialists outside of academia, to students and to the public at large,” he says. “They spend so much time alone during their research, in their labs. This approach allows them to think outside the box and branch out as well. It’s also the reason why the space was intentionally created on street level with high visibility to those passing by.”

Vibrating to the beat of a different drum

In December 2018, 4TH SPACE featured the Vibrations artistic project. It brought together deaf and disabled artists to co-produce artworks that explore our sensorial relationships to the world through vibration and touch. It focused on how artistic creation can contribute to challenging ableism — discrimination against disabled people — and audism — the belief that hearing people are superior to deaf people. The exhibition ran simultaneously in Montreal and East London, United Kingdom 

One of the partners in Vibrations, Laurence Parent, is completing her PhD in humanities at Concordia. She holds an MA in critical disability studies and her work and activism focus on disabled Montrealers and everyday barriers to mobility. Parent, who started using a wheelchair at the age of five, has spent the last decade exposing how inaccessible Montreal’s public transit system can be for people with disabilities. Even though she’s written a thesis on the subject, the visual component of her research was extremely important to her. 

“Having access to a venue like 4TH SPACE is wonderful because platforms where we can present non-traditional work are very limited,” Parent says. “Furthermore, wheelchair-accessible spaces are rare in Montreal. I think it’s extremely important to make academic research more accessible to the public and 4TH SPACE will certainly contribute to that.” 

Parent hopes the venue will become a space where academics, artists and community members will meet to work together on projects that are meaningful and have potential to effect real change in people’s lives. 

Samuel Thulin, MA (comm. studies) 09 — Horizon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Communication Studies and a researcher/artist at Concordia’s Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology — was also a partner of the Vibrations exhibition. The research team, he says, went to great lengths to look at all aspects of accessibility for both the show and the venue. 

Samuel Thulin Samuel Thulin is a Horizon Postdoctoral Fellow in Concordia’s Department of Communication Studies and was a partner in 4TH SPACE’s Vibrations exhibition.

“We’re providing different avenues for people to interact with research in an accessible way,” Thulin says. “It extends far beyond physical accessibility. That includes braille, audio descriptions, subtitling. We installed the show with a focus on disability, for example, examining the height of the pieces, keeping in mind how someone in a wheelchair would experience it.”

Thulin admits not all goals have been reached yet, due to physical or structural limitations. “It’s still a learning process and we’re adjusting and thinking through the process as we learn how design and space can be more, or less, accessible,” he says.

Breaking down walls

Challenging ableism and audism through the arts were the show’s primary goals. “I hope it allows people to think differently about research, art and accessibility. It’s not just about making a space that’s accessible for deaf and disabled people, but equally about making a space where the artistic works and research of deaf and disabled people are accessible to a wide public,” says Thulin. “4TH SPACE allows researchers to be cultural producers for a wider audience beyond the university crowd. It’s really about breaking down walls and enabling different people to be affected by both the research and the art — and hopefully changing things for the better.”

Bhuiyan hopes the space becomes an inviting and accessible window to the world inside the university. “I want people to walk by and get excited by the research and academic activities that take place at Concordia,” she says. “I hope it will pique the curiosity of future students and encourage community, industry and government partners to want to collaborate with us on exciting research.”

Carr shares that enthusiasm. “I don’t think there’s another university in Canada or even North America that has a dedicated space to display academic research and artistic collaborations like this,” he says. “4TH SPACE’s uniqueness is bold and refreshing.”



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