Leonardville celebrates 20 years of creating new architects

It may well be the fastest-growing district in Halton Hills…. At least in the minds of some students at Georgetown District High School. 

Leonardville is a fictional town invented by local teacher Michelle Leonard. She conceived it 20 years ago as a teaching tool to help her grade 11 and 12 architecture students visualize concepts. It exists only on paper and in software, but that hasn’t stopped her students from electing her mayor, with an accompanying mug that says as much.

Leonard says she was “trying to engage with the kids and bring this classroom up to the state-of-the-art technology” when she got the idea.

When she brought in some site plans one day, the students began crowding around, looking them over and asking questions.

And so Leonardville went from idea to reality. 

The town has greatly simplified the task of building the mental infrastructure of future architects. Some of Leonard’s students have gone on to become not just architects, but urban planners, home stagers, electricians, artists, graphics designers real estate agents and interior decorators, just to name a few.  

The map of Leonardville. Mansoor Tanweer/HaltonHillsToday

Kai Marks, one of Leonard’s students, has been accepted into Carleton University’s architecture program. Willem Smetana, another of her students, has ambitions on being a civil engineer and has been accepted into the University of Ottawa and is waiting on a response from the University of Toronto.

“I’ve gone through so many different career options in high school. But going into Mrs. Leonard’s class, it actually showed me that I do like architecture,” Marks told HaltonHillsToday. 

Meanwhile, Smetana expressed interest in the architecture of European castles and is able to see them first-hand while visiting family abroad. 

The class teaches students about specific concepts like setbacks, zoning, transportation and much more. They also learn about more broad topics like going net-zero, meeting the needs of Leonardville’s residents and generally understanding municipalities.

Tools at their disposal can be as simple as pencil and paper and as complex as computer-aided design software (CAD). 

The students are currently undertaking one of their last assignments for the year. They prepare a bidding package, where they pitch their idea of a development project for Leonardville. Smetana came up with a fish market after being inspired by the local markets of Europe, like London’s Borough Market. 

Marks plans to build a community centre with access to adventure amenities like trails and ziplining. Both will be built with things like sustainability, transportation, accessibility and many other aspects in mind.

The teens in Leonard’s architecture class are so taken in by Leonardville that at times it becomes all too real in their minds.

“Some of these students get so involved in (the town), when you see them and you see their projects,” noted Leonard.

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