Quick Links

Nik Luka

Associate Professor 
(Joint appointment with the McGill School of Architecture)

Associate Member, School of Environment
Associate Member, Institute for Health and Social Policy (IHSP)
Member, Trottier Institute for Sustainability in Engineering and Design (TISED)

Ph.D., University of Toronto
M.Arch., Université Laval (Québec)
B.A.A., Ryerson Polytechnic University (Toronto)

Office: Macdonald-Harrington Building, Room 418 (4th-floor annex)
Tel. 514 398 5925
Fax 514 398 8376
nik [dot] luka [at] mcgill [dot] ca (Email)


I am jointly appointed to the Schools of Architecture and Urban Planning and my overarching interest is REURBANISM. This is an umbrella term I use to describe the critical study of (re)urban(ising) landscapes as well as practical work done at the nexus of urban design and civil society. Through research and teaching, I explore the complexities of human settlements and the processes by which places become ‘urban’—i.e., the transformations, continuities, and ruptures that come with the passage of time, notably the liminal or transitional phases ‘from’ some condition ‘to’ some other condition—with specific attention paid to how design can act as a hinge between natural process and human culture. I am also particularly interested in the deliberate policy-led remaking of urban space through what is known in German as Stadtumbau (literally the reworking of cities and suburbs)—attending to the development of strategies for transforming (sub)urban landscapes to make better use of scarce resources while maintaining the qualities of place that people value about the settings that they know and inhabit.

My work on reurbanism is operationalised from understanding to reflexive action through my funded research endeavours, collaborations with public and non-governmental partners, and my teaching and supervisory work with graduate students studying urban design (particularly those in the Ph.D. programs in both Schools). All of this is guided by three sets of objectives:

DWELLING: HOUSING, NEIGHBOURHOODS, AND THE CULTURAL LANDSCAPES OF HOME—the critical study of housing form and quality with emphases placed on individual choice, satisfaction, and the nature(s) of ‘dwelling’ in contemporary metropolitan space. How do people ‘select’ and develop their own place in the world through their domestic space? How well are individuals and households empowered to make themselves a useful, sustainable, and rewarding home in diverse contexts? What are the implications for planning and design of different fiscal or policy regimes in these respects?

IMAGES: REPRESENTATIONS AND MEDIATIONS OF URBAN SPACE—explorations of how the work of planning and architecture is a political endeavour in any cultural context, with a focus on images and other representations as mediators of individual and group behaviour. How do users create their own internal ‘images of the city’ which inform their actions? How do shared images contribute to creating and sustaining cultural landscapes, as well as fuelling the development of ideologies and epistemologies? How we can usefully represent potential future configurations of urban space? How can we engage diverse publics in city-building projects by harnessing the ‘potential energy’ of their images and senses of place attachment?

FIXED TRANSPORTATION INFRASTRUCTURE AS PUBLIC SPACE—critical considerations of what exists and what is possible in urban space, specifically examining how to repurpose hard physical infrastructure such as streets, expressways, and rapid-transit lines—which have often been treated as monofunctional elements of the (sub)urban landscape—to meet different needs. How can we optimise the sunk capital represented by major public works in terms of how urban activity is distributed in space? How can we make urban landscapes fit for active transportation, i.e., taking advantage of needs and opportunities for reurbanisation to help encourage walking, cycling, and use of mass transit, particularly in terms of the quality of public space networks in cities, suburbs, and rural contexts?

My research approach is introspective as well as empirical—closer in many respects to work in the humanities but tending more toward work in the social sciences following the post-structuralist ‘cultural turn’—rather than the classically positivist work of engineering and pure science. I am especially interested in the notions of text and discourse as they apply to the work of architecture, urban design, and urban planning.

I am on the steering committee for the Institut de recherche en histoire de l’architecture as well as a member of the board and several project-related advisory councils for the Montréal Urban Ecology Centre / Centre d’écologie urbaine de Montréal, and I also engage in community life beyond the professional realms of architecture, design, and planning through work (including having served as a member of the Board of Directors) with the Fondation Schmeelk Canada Foundation. I was also a member of the Tafelmusik early music ensemble in Toronto for 10 years, with which I recorded several compact discs and one film production with the Mark Morris Dance Group.

Before arriving at McGill in 2006, I lived in many places: Québec City, Basel (Switzerland), Sheffield (England), Helsinki (Finland), and a fishing village called Armaçao de Pêra in the south of Portugal. Most of my earlier life was spent in Toronto, where I was born and raised while spending my summers at family cottages in the Haliburton Highlands, at Manitoulin Island, and parts of Georgian Bay—witnessing massive change in all of those contexts over the years. My paternal grandparents came to Ontario from Austro-Hungary in the early 20th century, but my maternal family roots in Canada can be traced to Scottish merchants who settled in Québec City in the 1750s.


Placing the 'natural' edges of a metropolitan region through multiple residency: Landscape and urban form in Toronto's 'cottage country'


Co-investigator, From speculation to evaluation: A digitally-mediated laboratory for local deliberative democracy
Funding agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Insight Grants)
Total amount of award : C$204 500 (2012-2015)
Principal Investigator: Prof. H. Kong, Faculty of Law, McGill University

Co-investigator, Québec 2020 : vers un projet collectif d'aménagement durable
Funding agency: Fonds québécois de recherche sur la société et la culture (Soutien aux équipes de recherche)
Total amount of award: C$482 240 (2010-2014)
Principal Investigator: Prof. C. Després, École d’architecture, Université Laval

Co-investigator (2010-2014), Making megaprojects work for communities
Funding agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Community-University Research Alliances)
Total amount of award: C$1 000 000 (2007-2014)
Principal Investigator: Prof. L. Bornstein, School of Urban Planning, McGill University

Co-investigator, Integrated dissemination forums for architecture and urban design 
Funding agency: Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (Public Outreach Grants: Innovation, Leadership and Prosperity)
Total amount of award : C$128 000 (2010-2012)
Principal Investigator: Prof. M. Jemtrud, School of Architecture, McGill University

Principal Investigator, Optimising public transport infrastructure for sustainable city-building and urban regeneration: whole-corridor urban design strategies
Funding agency: Volvo Research and Educational Foundations (Future Urban Transport Programme)
Total amount of award : C$218 500 (2008-2010)


(forthcoming) Democratic deliberation in the wild: The McGill Online Design Studio and the RegulationRoom Project. Fordham Urban Law Journal, 42. Co-authors: C. Farina (lead), H. Kong, C. Blake, and M. Newhart.

(2012) Sojourning in nature: the second-home exurban landscapes of Ontario’s Near North. In Landscape and the ideology of nature in exurbia: Green sprawl (K.V. Cadieux & L. Taylor, Eds.). New York: Routledge, pp. 121-158.

(2012) Finding opportunities for urban sustainability in cottage life. In Urban sustainability: reconnecting space and place (A. Dale, W.T. Dushenko, & P.J. Robinson, Eds.). Toronto: University of Toronto Press, pp. 171-210.

(2012) Georgian Bay, Muskoka, and Haliburton: more than cottage country. In Beyond the global city: understanding and planning for the diverse georegions of Ontario (G. Nelson, Ed.). Montréal / Kingston: McGill-Queen’s University Press, pp. 169-199. Co-author: N.-M. Lister. 

(2011) Evaluating the impacts of transportation plans using accessibility measures: a test case in Montréal. Canadian Journal of Urban Research, 20(1), 81-104. Co-authors: A. El-Geneidy (lead), A. Cerdá, and R. Fischler. 

(2011) Del espacio al lugar y al paisaje cultural : segundas residencias a orillas de rìos y lagos en Canadà central. In Construir un nueva vida. Los espacios del turismo y la migración residencial (T. Mazón, R. Huete, & A. Mantecón, Eds.). Santander (Spain): Milrazones Ed., pp. 21-46.

(2010) Arts of (dis)placement: City space and urban design in the London of ‘Breaking and Entering’. Cinémas, 21(1), 79-103. Co-author: L. Bird. 

(2010) Of timeshare cottages, zebra mussels, and McMansions: Dispatches from the second-home settings of central Ontario. In The rural-urban fringe in Canada : conflict and controversy (K. Beesley, Ed.). Brandon (Manitoba): Rural Development Institute, Brandon University, pp. 199-219. 

(2008) Le « cottage » comme pratique intergénérationnelle : narrations de la vie familiale dans les résidences secondaires du centre de l’Ontario. Enfances, Familles, Générations, 8, 86-117. Online: http://tinyurl.com/lukaEFG or http://www.erudit.org/revue/efg/2008/v/n8/018493ar.html

(2008) Making the edible campus: a model for food-secure urban regeneration. Open House International, 34(2), 81-90. Co-authors: V. Bhatt (lead), L.M. Farah, and J.M. Wolfe.

(2008) Waterfront second homes in the central Canada woodlands: Images, social practice, and attachment to multiple residency. Ethnologia Europaea (Journal of European Ethnology) 37(1-2), 70-87.

(2006) From summer cottage colony to metropolitan suburb: Toronto’s Beach district, 1889-1929. Urban History Review 35(1), 18-31.

(2005) Reworking the Canadian landscape through urban design: responsive design, healthy housing and other lessons. In R. Côté, A. Dale, and J. Tansey, eds. Linking industry and ecology: a matter of design? Vancouver: UBC Press, pp. 67-93.

(2004) Complexity and contradiction in the ageing early postwar suburbs of Québec City. In B. C. Scheer & K. Stanilov, eds., Suburban form: an international perspective. London and New York: Routledge, pp. 38-60. Co-authors: G. Vachon (lead) and D. Lacroix.

(2004) ‘Deeply connected’ to the ‘natural landscape’: Exploring the cultural landscapes and places of exurbia. In D. Ramsey and C. Bryant, eds., The Structure and Dynamics of Rural Territories: Geographical Perspectives. Brandon: Brandon University Press, pp. 104-112 . Co-authors: A. Blum, K. V. Cadieux, and L. Taylor.

(2003) Contested ground: the dynamics of peri-urban growth in the Toronto region. In Canadian Journal of Regional Science, 26(2-3), 251-270. Co-authors: L. S. Bourne (lead), M. F. Bunce, L. Taylor, and J. Maurer.

(2002) In the burbs: it’s time to recognise that suburbia is a real place too. In Alternatives, 28(3), 37-38. Co-author: L. Trottier.

(2002) De la ville à la banlieue, de la banlieue à la ville: des représentations spatiales en évolution. In A. Fortin, C. Després & G. Vachon (Eds.), La banlieue revisitée. Québec City: Éditions Nota Bene, pp. 151-180. Co-author: N. Brais.

(2000) Our place: Community ecodesign for the Great White North means re-integrating local culture and nature. In Alternatives, 26(3), 25-30. Co-author: N.-M. Lister.