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Trendsetter: Omar Gandhi

The young architect’s designs are minimalist and raw, standing out in the Nova Scotian landscape.

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Photo: Riley Smith

Photo: Riley Smith

Omar Gandhi’s vision for design is bold and contemporary. The young architect’s designs are minimalist and raw, standing out in the Nova Scotian landscape. Born and raised in Ontario, and educated at Dalhousie’s School of Architecture, Gandhi says people are welcoming him and his designs. “I think people are really looking for new faces and a new flavour,” he says. “And it just so happens there’s a bunch of young people who are trying to make a name for themselves. I feel as though there’s been nothing but support.”

Halifax Magazine recently spoke with Gandhi about his designs, architecture in Halifax and what he really thinks of the development-versus-heritage debate.

What is your assessment of architecture in this city?

I think it’s a pretty exciting time. There are a lot of talented people out there who are trying to break the mold. I think the city is certainly ready for something like that. It goes without saying the library is going to be breaking barriers down into modern architecture. I think people of all walks of life are going to be able to appreciate that building. It’s going to change Spring Garden, it’s going to change the city and become a hub and become a promotional tool for modern architecture.

Is that the building that stands out for you right now?

Absolutely. I think it’s spectacular and I am so excited about it. I have a little boy and I imagine I am going to spend a lot of time there. I think that project is going to change the way people think about architecture and space and look at the potential of the city.

The heritage-versus-development debate has been going on in the city for years now. What are your thoughts on that?

I think looking after heritage architecture here—or anywhere—is an important thing. But what I don’t agree with is faking heritage. I agree it’s important to look after historical architecture and history of place, but those things were built in different times and craft meant something else and they responded to the time they were built in. I think there is a different language in terms of architecture of today. I think by creating architecture or faking architecture that mimics that heritage look is really just set design. It’s very thin and kind of fake. So, I am all for progress.

If you were going to build something downtown, what would it look like?

Well, it takes a lot of study before you really get to what it looks like. I think it’s completely pertinent to be looking at the scale of the street in terms of density and materials that surround it. If there’s a building like the library, which is clearly meant to be different, and there is a place for buildings like that, but in terms of building urban fabric, I think it’s really important to take a look at context. I think it’s completely doable to create a modern piece of architecture which both responds to the current time period, as well as the things that surround it.

Are there any local architects whose work you admire?

Susan Fitzgerald is someone who I admire a lot. She is a very, very exciting architect. I think there’s a real study that goes into her projects. There’s a real wisdom in her work. Rayleen Hill is a very exciting architect here in the city right now. There is a bunch of young people who are trying to make the city more vibrant. Breakhouse who has designed some of the best spaces in the city, retail and food/drink.

The city is coming out with a new bran—“Be Bold Halifax.” Is the city bolder now?

I think it’s becoming more accepted. The new library is bold. The new food and drink places are bold. The music has always been bold. I am not sure everyone agrees with that. It’s exciting to be living here now.

What are some of the most exciting changes you’ve seen in the city?

Well, food is something that has changed just in the last year. There’s nothing more exciting. Music has always been here and there’s a great arts environment, but food. Just in the last 12 months the place has turned 180 degrees and now there are all these options. It’s incredibly exciting. You can walk down Agricola and basically just choose from a bunch of places that are equally exciting. So it’s a really fun time.

What are your favourite spots?

My favourite food, drink establishment has always been Tom’s Little Havana. But in terms of the new places, I love Edna and I am a big fan of Brassiere. I spend a lot of time at both of those places.

Where do you see the city in five to 10 years?

I guess my hope is that people become a little bit more critical of developer-type projects and hopefully there is a pressure from them to consult with architects and essentially produce some more thoughtful, beautiful architecture as opposed to just filling the urban fabrics in. There are a lot of projects happening now that in five years we will be able to enjoy. Hopefully, projects like the library will spawn new projects because they are so successful.

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