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06.15.20 – Master of Urban Design students win a competition to reimagine Ottawa's Sussex Courtyards

When Master of Urban Design students Celine Li, Stella Ti, and Cindy Hu found out about Urban Design Challenge 2020, a student competition sponsored by the National Capital Commission, they were intrigued. The design brief, which called for new design proposals for the Sussex Courtyards, a series of historic plazas in in the ByWard Market area of downtown Ottawa, was a more detail-oriented design challenge than any of them had attempted to tackle before.

In China, where all three students had lived and studied before coming to Toronto, the urban design competitions in which they participated tended to operate on areas much larger than a few courtyards. "In China, it was basically the scale of an entire village," Celine says. "The scale in Canada is extremely different from what I was doing before. Doing this competition adjusted my sense of scale."

Their efforts to work on a smaller canvas paid off: their joint design proposal, titled "Byward Catalyst," won first place in its category. Celine, Stella, and Cindy will receive a cash prize of $750, as well as an all-expenses-paid trip to Ottawa, where — pandemic permitting — they'll present their design at an awards presentation session of the National Capital Commission's Urbanism Lab.

Celine Li, Stella Ti, and Cindy Hu.

The backbone of Celine, Stella, and Cindy's design proposal for the Sussex Courtyards is a new walking path, constructed from a variety of different materials selected specifically to blend with the facades of the surrounding heritage buildings. The path would gently guide visitors through the interconnected courtyards. A built-in lighting system would illuminate the walking route at night.

Within each of the five plazas that comprise the Sussex Courtyards, Celine, Stella, and Cindy designed small-scale interventions intended to make the area more lively and comfortable for visitors. In Jeanne d'Arc Court, for instance, the group proposed a new in-ground fountain that could be made to rotate, like a turntable. When not in use, the fountain would serve as a spot for street performances and other types of group activities:


In York Court, the group proposed the addition of a new pavilion ornamented with a canopy of book-shaped sculptures. The pavilion would both add visual appeal and provide some weather protection for the courtyard's periodic antiques markets:


And here's a look at their master plan:

Celine presented her thesis project this past winter and has since graduated. Stella and Cindy will enter the second year of their urban design studies at the Daniels Faculty in fall 2020.