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A visionary whose desire for oneness spilled into his livelihood, Rohan Walters has spent his life breaking down stereotypes with an insurmountable drive. From his own upbringing to that of his children, he understands the need of the support of our community. He not only designs because of his astute ability, but with the hope of recreating and rebuilding the community.
He moved to Canada from Jamaica with his parents in 1963, but after falling ill they returned home. He returned to Canada in 1967 (at the age of 7) and settled into life in a single parent home.
Growing up in this setting had its challenges but Rohan’s mother ensured her son was nurtured and supported through every turning point in his life. With that came important lessons on self reliance – from simple things like ironing his clothes to cooking – and he became involved in the community from a very early age. In junior high school and continuing into high school, he tutored fellow students in subjects like math and chemistry.
Architecture was an easy contingent as he enjoyed drawing and solving problems creatively.His at first wanted to be a pilot, but his decision was swayed after it became apparent that the people surrounding him didn’t want to see a young black man follow that career path. Architecture was an easy contingent as he enjoyed drawing and solving problems creatively. Having always had to fight – literally and figuratively – he soon found that it gave him direction to focus on school with that desire to be in some form of design; he found motivation to not just be a fighter but to use his mind and talent.
In his third year at University of Waterloo, he took the initiative to find a co-op position with an architecture company. Even though he was ranked 2nd after another less-qualified candidate, his talent outshined that of #1 and he prevailed as the sole co-op at the company who ended up being hired. After he graduated in 1987, the wall of stereotype was built even higher around him as there were no black architects in Canada during that time. He described it as “exceedingly difficult to start off a career in the realm of architecture and design with the legacy of slavery and colonialism, as it was tied to the notion that black people can not think with sophistication and beautiful aesthetic”. Through all adversity, Rohan was able to launch his own design company – Spaces by Rohan Inc and has had the opportunity to develop his skills as a designer working with several architects.
In 1992, he became involved in Black Professionals Reaching Out (BPRO) as the Vice Director; he would go in to high schools to mentor minority students and their teachers on how to overcome the stereotypes they encountered daily. It was important to him to instil in them how to instead learn from those very stereotypes without letting their anger consume and oppress them further. Rohan continued his involvement with that group until it dissolved in 1993. In 1996, he became the Architectural advisor to the Planning Committee for the proposed Cultural Centre for the Jamaican Canadian Association.
As it was important to him, especially as a black male, that he remained a positive role model for his children, he was a stay-at-home dad for 7 years (1993-2000), volunteering at their daycare directing art and plays. Then what started off as a stroll with his children turned into a life-altering opportunity; when he took the initiative and contacted a property owner to discuss some property he noticed on sale. This property owner turned out to know a builder who needed help the help of a designer. Mr Walters had ideas he wanted to share, and had found the right audience to listen. When he met with the builder and, with the simple use of napkins at the coffee shop where they sat, he impressed him with his ideas and visions. From there history unfolded and this once stay-at-home dad was ready to start the next chapter of his life. From then on there was no looking back for Spaces by Rohan Inc.
One of his more notable works is popularly known as the Lego House on Coxwell Avenue; it is an unconventional energy-efficient home built in 2003 that garnered so much popularity it went on to sell for well above its asking price. This exemplified the work his company offers – “innovative solutions for better living”. Another impressive creation is the house he designed for himself on 1292 College Street in 2003; modelling it after his memories of how homes were built in his native Jamaica.
Since then his work has been featured in newspapers like the Globe and Mail and Toronto Star, and has been seen on City TV. He also worked as Art Director with the Directors Guild of Canada in 2001, taught at the Institute Without Boundaries (IWB) in 2006-2007 and lectured at OCAD from 2007-2009.
Education: B.Arch., B.E.S., Architecture and Environmental Studies at University of Waterloo, 1987
The Autobiography of Malcolm X. The importance of critical reflection and the importance of trying to make a constructive difference in whatever theatre of life or community that one finds oneself. Further, that occasional ‘fail’ is part of the road to success, however failing to even try is on the road to hopelessness and despair.
“The process is as important as the goal” – unknown.
The context of this is in opposition to the conventional sentiment that the “end justifies the means “. In other words; the means DO matter and will come back to haunt us if it is not a healthy and beneficial process (a.k.a. means)
On my bucket list…
I would love to build the house I designed for a Toronto lawyer the ‘water house’ that would NOT have to connect to city water, city electricity, city sewer or city gas. It was also sexy as hell and had a green roof to boot. It replaced 4 derelict garages in a downtown Toronto lane. Further, if it can be done in a Toronto lane it can be done in any town, village, suburb or farm. Ontario planners and their influence on zoning bylaws, continue their slow recognition of social and societal necessities. They make alternative and complimentary building solutions very litigious. It shouldn’t have to be this way. In the future, the viability of healthy, affordable and sustainable cities, towns and villages may be severely compromised if other building/planning models are not explored now.
The journey, the travails, the legacy, the strength, the dignity and the hope that the vast majority of Black Women have given to North American, South American and Caribbean islands for the last 500 years or so. It still brings me to that sense of awe and determination when I sometimes feel I cannot endure another systemic slight.
The short answer is: “My love of Building Design is how I reciprocate for the gift of life that is given to me.”
The longer answer is: “I have developed one of my gifts: To be able to craft the dreams of people into a built form while combining good business values, societal relevance as well as integrate present technology, timeless building principles and art.”
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