Art history student wins national architecture essay prize

Jessica Mace, a second-year master’s student in York’s Graduate Program in Art History, has been awarded the Martin Eli Weil Prize by the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada (SSAC) for her essay "Storming the Castle: The Architecture of Trafalgar Castle, Whitby, Ontario".

Right: Jessica Mace

SSAC covered Mace’s expenses to attend its 35th annual conference in Yellowknife at the end of June to deliver a lecture on her paper and to receive her $250 cash prize and certificate. Her essay will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada.

"The whole department heartily congratulates Jessica," said Janet Jones, chair of the Department of Visual Arts. "Winning a national contest is a wonderful achievement, as is a student presenting a paper to a professional audience who shares her area of expertise."

Established in 1974 by conservation architect Martin Eli Weil, SSAC is devoted to the examination of the role of the built environment in Canadian society. Among its members are structural engineers, landscape architects, architectural historians, urban historians, urban planners, sociologists, ethnologists and experts in such fields as heritage conservation and landscape history.

SSAC’s annual essay competition is open to all Canadian university students as well as international students who are studying Canadian subjects. Eligible topics include specific buildings, cultural landscapes, individuals who have influenced architecture and philosophical, sociological or historical issues related to the built environment. Submissions are evaluated for originality and innovative subject matter as well as accuracy, relevancy of methodology and writing style.

"The essay I submitted came from a paper that I wrote for a Canadian architecture course in my first year at York," said Mace. "My prof, Malcolm Thurlby, encouraged me to present it at a colloquium on recent research on Gothic Revival architecture held at York University last February. After my presentation, a colleague suggested that I submit it for the Martin Eli Weil Prize."

Above: The architecture of the historic Trafalgar Castle in Whitby, Ont., was the subject of Mace’s winning paper

"I am thrilled about winning the award; it has provided me with such valuable experience," said Mace. "After my presentation at the SSAC conference I received really great comments and feedback. I’m so grateful to SSAC for recognizing my work and for publishing it in their journal."

Trafalgar Castle in Mace’s hometown of Whitby, was designed by Toronto architect Joseph Sheard and built between 1859 and 1862. It was originally the private residence of Whitby’s sheriff, Nelson Gilbert Reynolds, a man Mace calls a larger-than-life character, who was also a businessman, politician, soldier, railway director, college director and church warden. Today, the building houses a private college.

Mace’s research encompassed an investigation of English sources for the design of Trafalgar Castle, which included the 16th-century Hampton Court Palace, built in the Tudor-Gothic style, and the 18th-century classicizing houses of Robert Adam.

"Jessica’s sleuthing resulted in an excellent understanding of the balance between classical and medieval traditions in 19th-century domestic architecture in Ontario," said York visual arts Professor Malcolm Thurlby. "She is now continuing her research on Gothic Revival houses in 19th-century Ontario for her major research paper in the MA program in art history. She has already proved she can undertake original research, and I have every confidence that her continued research will lead to another publication."

Upon completion of her major research paper, Mace plans to submit it for consideration to SSAC’s other national competition, the Phyllis Lambert Prize, which recognizes the best doctoral dissertation or Master’s thesis on the subject of architectural history in Canada.