5 Questions: Nicki Reckziegel, Emerging Architect

5 Questions: Nicki Reckziegel, Emerging Architect

Posted 29 January 2015 by Nicki Reckziegel
Nicki Reckziegel, Retracing a Place of Memory - The Contemplator Nicki Reckziegel, Retracing a Place of Memory - The Contemplator

Montréal-based Nicki Reckziegel is the winner of the Canada Council’s 2014 Prix de Rome in Architecture for Emerging Practitioners.  With this award, she will travel to “institutions of refuge” (crisis centers, safe houses, hospitals) in 18 locations across Central and East Africa. She will also intern with MASS Design Group, a non-profit organization that has designed health-care facilities in developing countries around the world. Through this travel and internship, she will study the role of architecture and memory in the aftermath of traumatic events.

The Prix de Rome is awarded each year to a talented recent graduate of a Canadian school of architecture to broaden his or her knowledge of contemporary architecture culture.

Nicki recently agreed to answer a few of our questions about her work.


Much of your work to date has focused on the subject of memory and architecture. What is it about this subject that inspires you? Can you tell us about a building that is a good example of this?

Engaging with memory as it relates to architecture triggers a spectrum of other concerns – history, culture, politics, religion, psychology. This is what interests me most, that architecture cannot stand alone but is inherently multi-disciplinary and anchored in place and in life. As such, an architecture that embraces memory can go far beyond the idea of a museum or a memorial. It could be a house, a hospital, a school, a prison – it is an architecture that has considered its own past present and future as well as that of its inhabitants and all that that entails.

Do you feel architects have a responsibility to help to build a better world? If so, how?

I think that architects have the same responsibility that all people do, to engage with the world as a whole and to consider the impacts of our actions. Nevertheless, architects are trained with a particular skillset and holistic way of thinking that can allow us to contribute to a “better world” in unique ways and that potential should not be left untapped.

What do you hope to learn from your travels and internship in Central Africa?

Women and children play crucial roles in building and sustaining communities, but the conversation on memory is often dominated by other groups. This research will be an effort to hear these voices and tend to them. Traumas endured by individuals – such as familial loss, assault, mutilation, rape, pregnancy – beyond their immediate repercussions, carry insurmountable social stigmas which isolate victims from their communities. In the end, both the individual and the community suffer.

Through my travels and research, I hope to uncover how the physical places in which people seek refuge in the aftermath of trauma might contribute to the healing process. I would put forward that the architecture of these places has the potential to foster supportive relationships - the traumatic memory that might otherwise isolate a victim can be communalized and approached by a group as a whole.

This same spirit of community action can be found in the architectural process of MASS Design Group, the firm with which I will be interning in Kigali, Rwanda. Their work challenges the boundaries of architecture through a design and construction process that empowers communities, fosters dignity and improves lives. I hope to gain from them a physical, material, and architectural grounding for my research.


What will you learn that could be shared with Canadian communities that have suffered through traumatic events? How will you share this information?

My travels will take me through Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo, and Kenya, where the potential for trauma is compounded by generations of cross-border wars, ethnic rivalry, and internally-displaced persons. While Canada may be free of such crises, we are not immune to many of the same atrocities that plague individuals in Africa and most cases are equally stigmatized.

Through my research I hope to learn how an architecture of refuge can function as a place to dispel stigma, form communities of survivors and healers, and prepare people to dignifiedly re-establish themselves in their lives. These findings could have direct applications in Canada and will serve as the groundwork for further research on what remains a critical discourse here at home.

I will put together a book of photographs, architectural plans, and human narratives collected in Africa and distribute it to architectures of refuge across Canada. My hope is to further encourage the traumatic memory to be “communalized,” this time creating communities and sharing hope between survivors across cultures and continents.

What does winning the Prix de Rome prize mean to you as an artist?

The Prix de Rome in Architecture for Emerging Practitioners represents for me an incredible opportunity, not only for the year to come but for the promise of my future practice as an architect, for which these experiences will undoubtedly prove invaluable. It is also a validation; it recognizes that architecture plays an important role in trauma and memory that is worth exploring.

Nicki Reckziegel. Photo: Ji Won Jun

About the Author: Nicki Reckziegel

Nicole Reckziegel is the winner of the Canada Council’s 2014 Prix de Rome in Architecture for Emerging Practitioners. A recent graduate of McGill’s Architecture program (M. Arch., B.Sc. Arch.), she is interested in the subject of memory and architecture in institutions of refuge. Her Master’s thesis studied the site of the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocidal Crimes in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – a building that was once a high school, then a prison of the Khmer Rouge, before becoming a museum.

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