Until a few months ago, the Bata shoe factory stood empty, silent, solitary — a five-storey monument to the glory days when more than 1,200 Bata employees carefully crafted thousands of shoes to be shipped worldwide.
Lately, the factory has been bustling with Carleton students.
Twenty-seven architecture and industrial design students have been spending their summer envisioning new designs and plans for the factory and the village of Batawa, situated on the Trent River, just minutes from Belleville.
Architecture student, Kendra Spanton, and her team is proposing new uses for the old factory.
“We’re designing a place where education and research are the focus. There will be studio and exhibit space, garden labs, computer labs, lecture halls — all combined with living space and a restaurant,” says Spanton.
Three other student groups are also working on different visions for the factory that range from a focus on urban agriculture, to a place for recreation and events. The students have been interacting with the residents of Batawa and incorp-orating their ideas into their designs.
“The project’s appeal stems from our involvement at every scale,” says Jean-Francois Jacques, an architecture student. “Designing everything from furniture to urban plans, our Batawa proposals are an opportunity to showcase a holistic vision. Besides, it’s fun and exciting to work on real projects outside a studio and the classroom.”
About 20,000 people ski on the Batawa ski hill every year. Kevin Armour, who just graduated in industrial design, has been working with a group that thinks there are innovative ways to get more people on site.
“There could be a small observatory at the top of the hill that would offer lectures on subjects like the weather. There could be a pond where people could skate that would also act as a reservoir for snow-making for the ski hill. The ski chalet could offer ongoing movies for a walk-in audience or plays. And we even envision a ‘Batadome’ that will provide a space for biology students to study and research.”
Students are also working on creative designs to upgrade the many trails around the scenic site of Batawa. Things like a memorial trail for founders and heroes or a trail that will showcase student designs and act like a museum for future student work, are part of those designs.
Katherine Graham, Carleton co-ordinator of the Batawa Initiative, says the project has caught everyone’s imagination. “There are so many different aspects to the Batawa Development Project that should keep Carleton students and faculty, from all kinds of disciplines, busy for a long time and allow them to engage in real-world opportunities. Batawa is a living laboratory for our students.”
The Carleton designs are part of a vision by Sonja Bata, wife of Batawa founder Thomas J. Bata, to create a model village for the world.
“My vision is to build an exemplary rural village that attracts and inspires people of different ages, religions, cultures who are committed to creating a sustainable and safe community that engages people and helps connect them,” explains Mrs. Bata.
As Mrs. Bata speaks, you can’t help but notice that her face lights up with energy and ideas.
“When my husband first created the Batawa shoe factory, he said this would be the top factory in the world. And it became a centre of excellence. It wasn’t the largest factory but you can’t measure happiness by size. You measure by the health of the people, their intellectual development, their exposure to culture.”
She founded The Batawa Development Corporation to strategically develop some of the land in and around Batawa. Using sustainable development practices and partnering with the community, the idea is to create a village that is “beautiful by nature and design.”
All development will strive for a silver LEED rating under the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Neighbourhood Development program.
An additional 500 residential units are planned for the first phase of redevelopment, expected to be completed within the next 10 years, bringing the total number of residents to 610. Long-term plans call for a further 500 residential units. This will be accompanied by commercial, industrial and recreation development and conservation activities.
A new village centre will include a civic square, retail services and offices that create a hub of activity. The shoe factory and existing ski hill and chalet will be brought back to life utilizing design concepts from world renowned architect Eberhardt Zeidler and the Carleton students themselves. Other recreational facilities, including a network of theme trails, will be built.
The village has already received more than $5 million from three levels of government to upgrade the existing water, sewage and stormwater infrastructure. The thinking is that the community will offer residents cultural and intellectual pursuits so they can engage with each other and the world; that children will still be able to play safely by themselves in the community.
Carleton’s involvement in the project grew out of a spontaneous discussion between Mrs. Bata and President Roseann O’Reilly Runte. Mrs. Bata says she is delighted at Carleton’s role and input.
“The students are providing innovative ideas, concepts and things we can’t even imagine yet.”
“We’re delighted Mrs. Bata is giving us this opportunity,” adds Thomas Garvey, director of the School of Industrial Design. “She loves students and that’s our business so we are a great fit. We’re training the people she needs to make her dream come true and, in return, our students are getting a fantastic opportunity to apply their skills.”