September 22, 2022

People of Republic Feature: Rachael Alpern

Drawn by adventure, Rachael’s move to Winnipeg was not exactly planned, but after a degree in Architecture, various design projects and awards, and now a teaching opportunity at the University of Manitoba, adventure has found her.

Inspired by the relationship between humans and nature, ecosystems, and driven by a passion for ecological preservation, it’s no surprise that when asked what advice she’d give her students, Rachael responded, “Maybe something about connection…” 

Q: What led you to architecture?

RA: In my case I was thinking something along the lines of forestry, in that realm. My family was moving to Winnipeg, and they asked if I wanted to come along. I thought, why not? Let’s go on an adventure. We were looking at the programs here. I saw Architecture, thought it sounded super cool, and I’ve never looked back. I love that architecture combines art and science together; that has always been the appeal for me. 

Q: In your bio you mentioned your interest in “ecological preservation.” What is your design philosophy and how does “ecological preservation” play into it?

RA: As humans, as intelligent beings, I feel like we can look at the environment around us and strategically place objects in space. By placing everything strategically, you can pay for less energy in the future, and create buildings that are comfortable, interesting, and appropriate. 

Q: How are you going to bring your design philosophy into your (new) teaching role at the University of Manitoba?

RA: I’ve started by talking about the philosophy of sustainability, trying to get people to wrap their heads around it. I talked about things like Jevon’s Paradox: the more energy efficient we make things, inevitably we start to use more, and end up using the same amount of energy. It becomes a moral choice that we need to exert in our life. 

The second class was laid out like this: imagine you’re in space and you’re looking at the earth. You see how the sun creates the different wind and current patterns around the earth. Going forward, I’m going to have them come down to the level of a specific site—how do those wind and current patterns play out when you’re standing on the site? How do you create form that takes advantage of those flows? 

Q: What do you hope your students will take from your classes?

RA: The course I’m teaching is a pre-requisite so students can get into the Faculty [of Architecture]. It is important they absorb information the information from this class and apply it to their future design projects. Even for myself, as I review the assigned textbooks for the class, I have been walking around outside being more conscious of how the sun engages with me, or how temperature and air movement happens in my house. I would like students to become more conscious about where they are, what is happening around them, and incorporate this into design. If I teach 50 or 100 students that go into design and start making more efficient buildings, that will the better for the world. 

Q: Can we talk about your blog? Are you still writing it? Can you tell me why you titled it La Tierra y agua / Earth and Water?

RA: My architecture thesis was based on the threshold between humans and nature. There was a rural stream that had channelized and was moving fast through my site. In order to regenerate the site, I learned about bioengineering. You install weirs into the river bank, and when the stream water hits it, debris collects, and forces the water to move in a different direction and by virtue induces new meanders. The inside of these meanders drop silt, which was then collected and bricks were built of it. The idea was that when the river is in homeostasis, you stop building. It was playing around with regenerative and site-specific architecture, studying earth and water and how they interact. The whole concept of ecosystems – earth, water—the edge between two ecosystems is a rich area full of nutrients and diversity representative of both sides. 

Q: Any words to the wise?

RA: Connect with different people of various disciplines and types, because that’s the only way you are going to grow, learn, cross-pollinate, and do interesting things together. 

Q: When you were in university, what did you look forward to about back-to-school?

RA: The class debates. Sitting around and philosophizing about new ideas. That’s the kind of environment I want to cultivate in my class.

Q: What will your students call you – Rachael? Ms. Alpern? Can they call you Rach?

RA: I want the students to feel like they can engage in class and be approachable, as such they can call me by my first name.