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Amanda GattoAmanda Gatto gives a presentation to CTL staff as part of her process to garner ideas for how spaces would best be laid out and grouped together for a new teaching and learning building.

UWindsor grad designs new teaching and learning building as part of thesis project

In high school, Amanda Gatto had a keen interest in math, logic, and rational thinking, as well as a love of art. In trying to decide on a career path, she found the perfect blend of all her passions: architecture.

Her journey to become an architect began in her hometown of Windsor by enrolling in Visual Arts and the Built Environment (VABE), a joint program between University of Windsor and University of Detroit Mercy. She received her three-year visual arts degree through the VABE program and completed a fourth year at University of Detroit Mercy to receive her Bachelor of Science in Architecture.

Gatto said the VABE program offered many advantages, as she had the opportunity to learn architecture from both Canadian and American perspectives, establish connections in each country, and work with clients in Detroit helping to revitalize communities.

“They really focus on community engagement,” she said. “A lot of our design projects were based in Detroit, working with people on areas that were up-and-coming.”

After completing her fourth year, she decided to get a Masters of Architecture degree from the University of Detroit Mercy. For her final thesis project, she designed a new teaching and learning building for the University of Windsor.

She was inspired to take up the subject while completing an Outstanding Scholars internship, working on a space audit for the Centre for Teaching and Learning (CTL) with Veronika Mogyorody, VABE founder and professor emerita in the School of Creative Arts.

“Veronika and I would talk about all the possibilities, like imagine if we could have this on our campus, or how amazing would that be, and so it just made me really excited and want to continue working on it,” Gatto said. “Eventually, it evolved into my thesis.”

Dr. Mogyorody would serve as her external advisor, meeting weekly throughout the research and design process.

“Amanda's research on active learning and learner participation propelled us into examining learning spaces of the future and how social engagement and mobility are an important part of human-centred architecture,” she said. “It was this collaborative effort in identifying problems in existing learning environments, and proposing multiple design solutions for the future, that made our working together so enjoyable and memorable.”

While Gatto designed the building as a home for the CTL and Office of Open Learning, she said she incorporated other elements to increase the suitability of this building for construction some day.

“Prior to the temporary shift to online instruction, there had been growing recognition of larger incoming first-year classes, so I included a 500-seat classroom as well as a faculty lounge and multiple spaces for students to meet and study,” she said. “I see it as a hub of learning with a strong educational development component.”

Gatto said she hopes her work can become a starting point for a structure to be built, showcasing how necessary this space is for campus and its value, but recognizing the final form will probably not end up looking like hers.

“Although it will likely look different, I do hope that a teaching and learning building on campus is possible and provides a place of innovation and connection on campus,” she said.

Gatto got an appreciation for the things one needs to consider when creating a well-designed building and how much work goes into running a university, she said.

“In school, we can design these really cool structures, but it is generally for a hypothetical client,” she said. “When you're designing for an actual user, you need to be thinking realistically about the use of that space in order to make it as functional as possible as well as aesthetically appealing.”

Gatto’s work has not gone unnoticed: the American Institute of Architects awarded her with the Henry Adams Medal, a medal of excellence given to a graduating Masters student with the highest academic standing in an accredited school of architecture in North America.

Her thesis project also reinforced her love of education. While she most likely will go back to school one day, for now she will be working at the international architectural, engineering, and planning firm SmithGroup, headquartered in Detroit.

To see the plans of the new building, as well as Gatto’s process, visit the CTL’s new blog.

—Peter Marval