The Annual International Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Berkeley Prize 2024

[ID:1891] Concrete Consciousness: Advocacy and AIDS in Toronto


Fearful and unprepared, we have assumed lordship over the life and death of the whole world of living things…The test of [our] perfectibility is at hand…Man himself has become our greatest hazard and our only hope.

John Steinbeck

As HIV/AIDS continues to spread, the memories of loved ones fade as one by one generations fall to the disease. Since 1981, over 25 million people have died as a result of AIDS, with between 34.1 and 47.1 million currently infected worldwide. There is still no known cure, and looming over those infected is the chilling certainty that without a cure, HIV/AIDS will continue to decimate the human infrastructure necessary for productive households, strong communities, and the progression of mankind. Imagine a world of brown scorched earth and barren fields, a wasted garden of weathered concrete and empty classrooms; this is a world in the shadow of indifference, a world consumed by AIDS.

HIV/AIDS is not a localized disease confined to exclusive geographic or demographic conditions. From its earliest surfacing, HIV/AIDS has been a global condition, simultaneously emerging in 1981 in the United States, France, Zaire, and Haiti, and spreading beyond any human imposed boundaries of race, creed, gender or nationality. Yet foolishly, these limits continue to define the face of AIDS, identifying the illness relative to a specific region (Sub-Saharan Africa), community (homosexuals, IV drug users), or class (people in developing countries). These distinctions are divisive and downplay the enormous threat of the disease to all humanity, shifting the responsibility from the greater global community to the specific, often marginalized groups that are perceived to be most affected. This shift in our communal consciousness creates a barrier that enables those who otherwise could contribute to the fight against AIDS to forget their innate human responsibility to help their fellow man, simply put, because AIDS is not affecting them. Yet since the first cases were reported in the early eighties, this type of ignorance characterizes the spread of the disease from one so-called impenetrable community to another; to those people who were simply unaware that they were ever even at risk, but who now must cope with the infection. In a country such as India, where the disease had an infection rate of virtually zero until 1986, AIDS first infected sex-trade workers, but quickly spread. A country of over one billion people, between five and six million are now thought to be infected, second only to South Africa in number of infected cases (UNAIDS, HIV Epidemic in India). Learning from this disastrous approach, ‘we must continually reevaluate the concepts through which we understand HIV, looking closely at how the multiple levels of experience and the multiple forms of knowledge interrelate and change over time,’ as the epidemic moves, changes, levels off, and shifts from one group to another (Patton, 25). By taking down the barriers of our communal perceptions, we can create a garden of understanding, engaging each other in a unified and conscientious approach in the fight against AIDS.

This call for global consciousness is at the forefront of modern thinking about the disease. In the year 2000 with the United Nations’ declaration of the Millennium Development goal to halt and reverse the spread of AIDS by 2015, the disease was made a global responsibility. In June of 2001, when for the first time a disease was discussed by the United Nations Security Council as a global security threat, the severity of the disease and its lasting impact was internationally acknowledged. But the call for public discourse has not been met with results; the Millennium Development Goal of halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS has already been deemed at risk according to the United Nations Development Programme. The 2004 UNDP Human Development Report, ‘Cultural Liberty in Today’s World,’ states that without strong financing from the G8 partners, made up of the world’s wealthiest nations, the Millennium Development Goals will be missed by a large margin (Lewis, 33-34). The report identifies Canada as the best placed among G8 countries to take on the challenge of the ambitious agenda. Canada is one of the wealthiest countries on earth with a proven track record as a world leader, ‘We are regarded abroad…as a refuge for the oppressed, wherein political and personal freedoms flourish…Here, as in other countries, the way in which we handle this distressing situation will be the test of our civilization,’ (Spurgeon, 2). Yet as a nation, Canada has been heavily criticized for its lack of contribution, its reticence noticed the world over with its failure to meet its own goal of donating 0.7 % of Gross National Product to foreign aid, a target that could greatly benefit people living with HIV/AIDS in foreign countries. Yet for Canadians, it is unreasonable to expect the national government to spearhead the effort single-handedly, because the nation as a whole will never mobilize until the issue is taken seriously at a community level. 80% of Canadians live in cities, cities which represent potentially powerful clusters of consciousness, and places where AIDS activism can have a profound impact. For Canada, these cities act as ‘our gardens, with their stench and contagion and rage, our memory, our sepals that will not endure these waves of dying friends without a cry,’ (Lynch), the places most capable of mobilizing a campaign against AIDS. I live in Toronto, this city is my home, my garden, and where I will make AIDS a part of our communal consciousness.

Toronto is the economic engine of Canada, and the country’s largest city. For the 2.6 million people who live in Toronto, this city is the model of a global success story: Wealthy, diverse, and with a high standard of living, this city is a garden in the truest sense; though undeniably a city of concrete, Toronto is also a place of growth and toil, beauty and calm, a landscape of opportunity. To understand why Toronto is so successful one need only take account of the monuments that mark the cities street corners and parks. In front of Union Station, Francesco Perilli and Nino Riko’s Monument to Multiculturalism reminds us of our commitment to cultural diversity, instilling the belief that in Toronto ‘there is no official culture, nor does any ethnic group take precedence over any other. No citizen or group of citizens is other than Canadian, and all should be treated fairly.’ (Pierre Elliot Trudeau, 1971). At the corner of Victoria and Gould St. Hamilton McCarthy’s statue of Egerton Ryerson, founder of the Ontario School System, reminds the city of its commitment to excellence in primary and secondary school education, public and free to all. In front of Toronto’s famous Hospital for Sick Children, Lea Vivot’s evocative The Endless Bench, donated by the artist in appreciation of the work the hospital does for children, reminding us of the high quality of universal health care available in the city. Creating a reservoir of communal memories, these monuments not only announce to visitors the qualities that set Toronto apart, but also remind Torontonians of the legacies our forbears have left us to uphold. Yet in the future, will the citizens of Toronto have anything to commemorate in the fight against HIV/AIDS?

Toronto has an AIDS Memorial in Cawthra Square. Designed by Patrick Fahn and completed in 1993, the space was conceived by Michael Lynch, a gay activist who died of AIDS before the memorials completion. The memorial presents a record of infection, bearing names of the departed by year of death, mounted on a series of stark concrete pillars positioned along an arc-shaped, grassy hillock. 1981 has one name, as does 1982. 1983 has twelve names, and 1984 has 18. The names eventually become too numerous to count, most of them male, most of them with a birth date between 1945 and the mid 1960s. On the last of the columns, the names become less numerous again, optimism that AIDS has receded: 2004 has 22 names, and 2005 has 19, 2006 has 6. Through activists like Michael Lynch, the necessary attention was brought to the disease, for not only the gay community in the city, but also the greater community in general, imploring people to take notice, and develop an action plan to address the illness with better drug therapy, prevention, and education. The memorial, however, only tells part of the story, providing a cursory acknowledgement of the greater pandemic with Shoshanna Jay Addley’s inscription, ‘Each name on each standing stone remarks thousand fold upon those unmarked upon those unmarked from sea to sea, pole to pole,’ but not engaging the greater global struggle with HIV/AIDS. Michael Lynch planted a seed in this garden, but for that seed to grow, we must take the message further, and imbed AIDS in our communal consciousness.

In partnership with Architecture for Humanity, a charitable organization committed to innovative, collaborative design solutions to humanitarian problems, I propose to develop a large scale installation on University Avenue, creating visibility for the fight against HIV/AIDS, and reminding us of our obligations to help achieve the 2015 Millennium Development Goal. University Avenue is one of Toronto’s most prominent thoroughfares, connecting Queen’s Park – the provincial seat of Government - at the north to the financial core in the south. Adjacent to this tree lined axis are examples of the city’s greatest assets: The University of Toronto and the Toronto General Hospital, the new Canadian opera house and the Palladian Osgoode Hall, there are monuments to our fallen in war, and monuments to our leaders of industry. Intermingled in this history will be a new symbol of hope, an installation to facilitate the collection and dissemination of information on the disease, to dismantle stigmatism, and replace the fear of AIDS with the optimism that we can make a difference. Occupying the wide centre median, which now has bench areas, trees, and some of the cities most beautiful monuments, the design will be dynamic, featuring changing display boards mounted at eye level on tall pillars of varying materials such as stone, steel, and concrete, the materials that make this city. The display boards will incorporate information from a variety of sources, groups such as government, not-for-profit, and grass roots action committees, local, national, and international. An open-air classroom, the installation will include space for public gatherings and discussion, but will not have walls – the installation will draw people in, rather than shut them out. Spreading out of the median to the broad sidewalks, the design will continue in the same language, creating a positive disturbance for people walking through, a positive civic space to learn about the illness. Large enough to be noticed from a passing car, but at a scale that suits human interaction, the installation will constantly engage the diverse population of the city: Students, teachers, lawyers, diplomats, nurses, doctors, business people, people in arts and culture, young and old, rich and poor, from all races and all nationalities, all the people who AIDS could or does affect, all the people who need to know how to participate in the fight against AIDS. Eventually, as AIDS slow and recedes, the screens will be removed but the pillars will remain, acting as a memory of the city’s positive, global contribution. Financially, the design itself must not take money away from aid that would otherwise be used for treatment or prevention. It is the intention that the money needed for the design will be raised by private donation, and as much as possible, the design should incorporate donated and recycled material, and be built in part by volunteer construction.

Architecture for Humanity has a history of involvement in architecture that engages public discourse, organizing competitions and seminars that promote design solutions for global humanitarian issues, and promoting humanitarian-design initiatives through its partnerships with government and relief organizations. Advocating for a number of projects such as school building in Calcutta, refugee housing on the borders of Afghanistan and responses to Hurricane Ivan, Emily and Katrina, AFH has been successful in drawing attention to areas where architects can make a significant contribution. For HIV/AIDS, they have organized two major design competitions: In 2004, ‘Siyathemba’, a competition for a soccer pitch in Somkhele, South Africa where youth aged 9-14 can assemble, and information about the disease can be distributed; and in 2002 a competition for the design of mobile health clinics in Sub-Saharan Africa to provide accessible care to the millions on the continent who are infected, but go without treatment. For the installation in Toronto, AFH will be instrumental in helping to align the local and international community groups necessary for a design such as this to be effective, not only helping to organize the design team who will develop the proposal, but also engaging the organizations that would be interested in using the forum of the installation to engage the community. As a student, I will work with AFH to develop partnerships, specifically at the university level, involving students who currently work with AIDS, design students who would be interested in gaining building experience on the installation itself, and students in general interested in learning more about how they can be involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS. AFH also has experience engaging university students through their design competitions, and by direct involvement in student-led workshops on humanitarian-directed designs. AFH’s existing infrastructure for attracting volunteers, funding, and media attention is also critical, enabling a project such as this to develop much quicker than if those strategies had to be developed from scratch. Through media, conferences, their web-site, and host cities where AFH has local discussion groups (including one in Toronto), AFH has a global reach beneficial not only for this project, but AIDS advocacy in general, ‘The nexus of the global organizations that fund and direct policy and the media that represent the global epidemic to countries and the world forms a crucial space for how the epidemic will be conceptualized and handled in the years to come,’ (Patton, 25). Capable of engaging in the global discourse on HIV/AIDS, and assembling the types of organizations necessary to enable meaningful public advocacy from Toronto to the world, a partnership with Architecture for Humanity will ensure the successful development of a citywide interface to not only conceptualize a strategy for facing HIV/AIDS, but also help in mobilizing that effort.

As the seeds germinate, the garden will grow, beyond the city walls, and across the earth. No one is immune to AIDS, and many have already died, but by regenerating hope, we can make a difference. In Toronto, our hopes are held in the public monuments that contain our communal memories, imploring us to never forget. As long as these images stay fresh in our mind, there is hope for an end to AIDS. If we participate, there is hope for an end to AIDS. But the obligation is ours and ours alone, so that if we forget, then that hope will be lost.


Baker, Rob. The Art of AIDS: From Stigma to Conscience. New York:

The Continuum Publishing Company, 1994.

Black, David. The Plague Years: A Chronicle of AIDS, the Epidemic of Our Time.

New York: Simon and Schuster, 1985.

Bull, Charles, Editor. While the World Sleeps: Writing from the First Twenty Years of

the Global AIDS Plague. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 2003.

Harris, Nancy, Editor. AIDS in Developing Countries. Farmington Hills, MI:

Greenhaven Press, 2003.

Hunter, Susan. Black Death: AIDS in Africa. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2003.

Lewis, Stephen. Race Against Time. Toronto: House of Anansi Press Inc., 2005.

Lynch, Michael. Cry. Engraved on the AIDS Memorial, Cawthra Park, Toronto.

Originally published in These Waves of Dying Friends, 1989.

Monette, Paul. Borrowed Time: An AIDS Memoir. New York: Harcourt Brace

Jovanovich, Publishers, 1988.

Patton, Cindy. Globalizing AIDS. Minneapolis: Regents of the University of Minnesota,


Spurgeon, David. Understanding AIDS, A Canadian Strategy. Toronto: Key Porter

Books, 1988.

Trudea, Pierre Elliot. Statement on multiculturalism from speech to the House of

Commons, 1971, Inscribed into the base of the Monument to Multiculturalism by

Francesco Perilli and Nino Riko, 1985.

UNAIDS: Joint United Nations Programme on HI/AIDS. HIV Epidemic in India.


If you would like to contact this author, please send a request to

« Back to The Reserve

Copyright © 1998-2024 Berkeley Undergraduate Prize for Architectural Design Excellence
Privacy Policy Cookie Policy
For permission for any form of re-use of any of the contents, please contact
The BERKELEY PRIZE is endorsed by the Department of Architecture, University of California, Berkeley.