Students in the Spotlight: Clarence Qian

June 22, 2021 by School of Cities Staff

"Students in the Spotlight" is a conversation series with members of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy program

Clarence Qian's headshot

  • What are your research and engagement interests?

Mass timber products have many well documented environmental benefits. Steel and concrete, the most common construction materials used today, have five times the embodied energy of timber, are non-renewable, and contribute much more to the heat island effect. Timber is a local and renewable resource in Ontario - a clear choice in the face of climate change. My design project is to tackle the outstanding financial, architectural design, and construction challenges of mass timber in the residential development in Ontario with the goal of catalyzing a sustainable and affordable real estate industry.

  • What has motivated your interests and journey? How do you hope to make a difference?

    Today we are facing a huge climate challenge. Real estate development serving the demand for urbanization contributes significantly to global carbon emissions, while construction material supply chain has a massive carbon footprint in the real estate value chain. Mass timber, as a proven sustainability solution, can create sufficient carbon storage needed for the net zero carbon emissions by 2050 committed by the Government of Canada.

  • What’s the latest project you have been working on that you would like to share with the SofC audiences?

    I’m delighted to share my latest group project. It is a social impact prototype, The NEST, which is a regional one-stop destination that promotes art, culture, creativity, sustainability, and prosperity across a historical neighbourhood and the city as a whole. Mass timber, smart living technologies, collaborative space, and other sustainable strategies are systematically designed in an evolving ecosystem.

  • As a student, researcher and or activist, what have you learned from the COVID-19 pandemic and its global impact? How do you envision post-pandemic recovery? What do you hope for?

    This pandemic has not impacted all of us in the same way, so I do reject the thinking of “we are all in this together”. My mother is an essential healthcare worker at a nursing home and my father is an essential worker. While I admire their courage and perseverance through this pandemic. I also realize it does not need to be this difficult and we can make tangible policy changes to improve the daily realities of marginalized, poor, and racialized folks.

    The lesson I’ve learned from the pandemic is that urban outdoor spaces are essential to people’s physical and psychological well-being. The transformation of on-street parking into temporary café patios has been popular along main streets in the downtown Toronto. The Café TO program aims to expand outdoor dining space to support restaurants and bars impacted by COVID-19. The popularity of this Parisian café model has diversified the Toronto urban spatial typologies, which highlights the potential urban design improvements. As GTA is still the fastest growing real estate market in Canada, I hope the upcoming developments can attempt to adopt this Parisian café model in their urban design and site plan controls. 

    Click the thumbnails below to explore the visuals

    The project vision of Clarence's project The Next, with graphical renderings of the visualized spaces

    The Nest employs the strategy: "Nurture, Share, and Engage" to envision a multi-functional and interactive space

    A 3D visualization of live/work outdoor space- a courtyard with steps as benches. seen from a bird's eye view.

    Nurture. A luscious sanctuary

    A 3D visualization of an indoor creative space- an open concept multiplex made of brick and wood, with lots of light.

    Nurture. A landmark workspace housing

    A 3D visualization of a open courtyard amphitheatre space with the main building in the background.

    Share. A multi-functional plaza


  • Please share with us your experiences at the SofC. How do you think being a member of the SofC Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has contributed to your scholarship and added to your experience as a student?

    My experience at the School of Cities Urban Leadership Fellowship and Academy Program has been incredibly rewarding. The School of Cites has been a diverse and inclusive platform supporting members in tackling complicated urban challenges and pursuing professional development. The Social Purpose Real Estate workshops I attended earlier this year were very insightful and informative about the development and financial aspects for non-profits and social / community services. 

  •  Any final words or message?

    This fellowship provides a great opportunity to rethink my practice, push the envelope of creativity, and develop an impactful project. I am so grateful to join this fantastic community.

Student Bio:

As a current MBA Candidate at Rotman School of Management and a Master of Architecture graduate of the University of Waterloo, Clarence is an aspiring, passionate, and experienced architect and city builder with eight years of experience designing, leading and managing award-winning projects in the residential and mixed-use sectors. His passion lies in driving social and economic growth through real estate development. Through his fellowship at the School of Cities, Clarence will be examining the financial, architectural design, and construction challenges of mass timber in the multi-family residential and mixed-use development in Ontario. At the core of the project, Clarence is proposing a feasible mass timber finance - design - build approach to catalyze a sustainable and affordable real estate industry.