By Alison DeLory

Alumnus’s spontaneous act provides financial and emotional support to four Dal architecture students 

When New York City-based architect, designer and professor Peter Yeadon (BED’87, MArch’89) saw first-hand the toll COVID-19 was taking on students, he wanted to do something to help. With little deliberation, he sent a short email to Dalhousie’s School of Architecture offering $3,000 — money that ended up bringing relief to four students who’d lost income opportunities. Peter is a faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design. He was Head of the Industrial Design Department there when COVID-19 struck, forcing him to send about 300 students and 50 faculty members to study and teach from home. “It was a struggle to pivot so quickly,” Peter says.

It got Peter, a materials innovation specialist and founder of the Yeadon Space Agency (an architectural and design consultancy), thinking about students at Dal. “I saw how [COVID-19] directly affected our students and how it was expensive for them — the unexpected nature of what had to happen like leaving campus, making other arrangements around internships for the summer that were planned and being cancelled,” Peter says.

Dalhousie used his $3,000 gift to create four $750 emergency student bursaries for Master of Architecture students. One of the recipients was laid off due to the pandemic. She calls COVID-19’s early days “stressful and trying, both emotional and financially,” but says receiving the bursary helped immensely. “I felt a weight lifted and an optimistic outlook [for] the coming term, knowing there would be less pressure to meet inevitable financial costs.”

Another student lost her work placement, too, because of COVID-19. Studying from home was also problematic because she lacked the equipment she needed. She used her bursary to upgrade her laptop to run drafting software effectively, something that will also help her work on her thesis online.

A third student lost her co-op job with an architectural firm due to COVID-19. With her bursary, she was able to take time off this past summer to read and research her thesis, and to study the trail network back in her native Cape Breton. She also volunteered to map and build trails for the Seawall Trail Society, saying it was an opportunity to understand the natural setting and architectural needs. And come fall, Paulette had more peace of mind and was ready for a productive school semester.

The fourth student to receive one of the bursaries said it helped offset her tuition and cover some learning tool expenses. “It also gratified me to know that I could still get help far away from home when everyone is suffering the same during this situation.” Peter didn’t specify how the money should be used and he didn’t expect to learn how his gift was disbursed. He was surprised and delighted when each recipient wrote him expressing their gratitude. “They were very transparent about the challenges before them. It was nice that they would share that with me, a stranger. That’s hard to do.”

An opportunity to rethink design 

Peter was born and raised in Nova Scotia, but through Dal’s co-op program had opportunities as a student to work in London and Berlin, which he considers spectacular cities in terms of design. It gave him the bug to live and work abroad. “It was very mind-opening, my experience at Dal,” he says. He also lived in Montreal, Toronto and Rome before settling in New York 15 years ago. Although Peter graduated over 30 years ago, he’s maintained a relationship with Dal ever since, returning to Halifax on occasion to give talks at the School of Architecture or serve as a student critic. Peter calls it “a worrisome time but also an exciting time,” citing the profession’s response to the pandemic. “There’s been a lot of activity in the design community and architecture community around rethinking how we design and occupy spaces, and design products and experiences, and support venues. I think all of the creative disciplines are rethinking how they do things. And you can see it in the sheer volume of ideas that are out there right now.”

He says he was thinking particularly of the students finishing up their studies when he decided to make his gift to Dal last spring and how worried they must be about their future prospects. “I was hoping there would be a little bit of encouragement for some students knowing that alumni are thinking of them.”