RE:SITE- Notes on Small things

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RE:Site Issue 1 Notes on Small Things

DoUC Department of Unusual Certainties

Free for On Site Subscribers otherwise $3 where available. Limited Edition Print

R E: site


Introducing RE:site RE:site is a companion publication to On Site, an alter-ego of sorts. Its mandate is to create an environment where readers and contributors are encouraged to continue the dialogue of previous issues of On site, to create new lives, questions, definitions and meanings out of the ideas presented in the magazine. RE:site is parasitic and therefore risks its life and usefulness at all times. It puts itself into the hands of the On Site community for both its survival and relevance — its failure is our failure, its success is our success. The current culture of dialogue and criticism associated with contemporary Canadian architectural and planning practice has become banal and meaningless. RE:site will be a refuge for meaningful, insightful commentary, visual weirdness and criticism free of nepotism.

RE:site encourages all and turns away none. 2

Notes on small things

For its inaugural issue contributors to Re:site were asked to comment on, question and continue the themes and topic discussed in On Site 23: Small Things. The first of anything is always in some shape or form an experiment and this issue of RE:site is no exception. The contributors’ responses range from hateful to nostalgic, from passive to aggressive; combined with imagery that can be considered obscure and direct all at once.

Re:Site aims to be a direct call to the On Site community. It is more than just joining the facebook group (or in some cases not even joining, and taking instead the lazy “like� option) or reading a copy in Chapters. It is about being part of and continuing a dialogue around the issues that shape and effect society.

RE:site needs you... to criticize to be skeptical to agree to calmly disagree to hate to enjoy to think Sincerley, Department of Unusual Certainties Editors of RE:site

RE:site would like to thank all its contributors, Stephanie White, Heather at TFG, Stantec, Steamwhistle Brewery and last but not least the internet. RE:site is edited and designed by Department of Unusual Certainties in collaboration with On Site Review.


THE LOGIC OF SOAP Re: Paul Whelan’s Washrooms, Toronto. From: Joshua Craze

Washrooms made me recall two small things. Both begin their lives in dirt, both are cleansing. I arrived in Kono District, Sierra Leone, during the rainy season. The houses were heaving under the downpour, and the roads slick with mud. When I asked Abu Bakar Jalloh, a young miner, why he thought Kono, for all its resources, was so poor, he told me a proverb: “Kono is like country soap. It cleans while always remaining dirty.”


The black blocks of palm oil soap were a great salve after days of traveling; I was less sure about Kono’s cleaning powers. Kono is the major diamond mining area in the country. It was also the scene of some of the fiercest fighting during the civil war – control of Kono meant control of the diamonds, and the means to finance a movement. The fighting has ended, but things haven’t changed much for the miners. They arrive here from around the country. Their first task is to find a sponsor: someone to pay for food and accommodation while they mine. If the miners find any diamonds, they are obligated to sell them to their sponsor. The sponsors then sell the diamonds to dealers, who are mainly Lebanese. During the war, the Israelis were so concerned about money from the diamond industry funding Hezbollah that they got involved in mining; the Middle East conflict in a microcosm, in a tiny stone. All the stones flow out of the country, and little of the wealth they create is seen in Kono. Abu Bakar Jalloh arrived in 1989, frustrated by a lack of opportunities at home. There is a rigorous equality among the miners, he told me. When you see a stone, you try and keep it quiet, make it as unobtrusive as the dirt that hides it. If anyone sees your stone, they can call it, and you are bound to share any income you make from the diamond with whoever called it. It is a system of inescapable indebtedness. You are indebted to your supporter, who feeds and lodges you, and to the miners around you. It is the diamond that is out of place in all of this: a sudden influx of wealth that the system tries to tame, to ensure that Kono remains as dirty as country soap. When Abu Bakar found a diamond, he would live well for a week, drinking Guinness and smoking good cigarettes, spending the money as quickly as he made it, as if illegitimate. Then he was back mining.


A MOBILE HOME Re: Ilona Hay, Mini-shelters, From: Joshua Craze

We travel like other people, but we return to nowhere.

– Mahmoud Darwish

Hay’s work made me think about all the ways we shelter ourselves. When I first looked at it, I had just been in the deserts of California, where the American houses I had found so ugly suddenly made sense; they were ways to shelter from an unforgiving sky, amid so much emptiness. The mini-shelters also recalled to me a more intimate memory. I first met Ferozan when I was 16. I doubt I understood much. She was sharp, sardonic, and from Afghanistan. We went to my house, sat down on the furniture, surrounded by the material history of my life, crammed into that London house. There is a lot of shelter amid duvets and toy dinosaurs, a lot of assurance. How about going to your home, I asked. We never went to her home. But she showed it to me. When unrolled, it was barely five feet long, covered in rich red geometries in which I would lose myself for minutes at a time. “Anywhere I put this rug down, anywhere I can pray – I feel at home,” she told me. It was, I think, a vertical home, that reached up from wherever she was into the sky. The best shelter one can obtain is an orientation. It was night when they crossed the mountains into Tajikistan. The details of the story are now blurred in my mind – my certainty is only that it was Tajikistan, there were mountains, and, somehow, they arrived in Germany, before beginning a life in London, where I was born. I imagined it all sounded very romantic to my sixteen year-old ears. But little of that remains. The design of the rug however, has stuck with me. I think about it, once in a while, and what it means


to find shelter in such an object. Small things can be refuges; unlike oil installations, power stations, unlike even the heavy weight of duvets and furniture, Ferozan’s home was mobile, and it was small: it was so small it was useless. Against the ravages of power, she found something that almost cannot be taken, cannot be placed in a political equation.

It seemed to me, at that age, surrounded by comfort, that the small rug was a liberation: freed from heavy social significance. I cannot think of a better shelter.


A RESPONSE Re: DoUC, Anatonomy of a Parkette From: Corinne Keddie, Architect I was struck by both the insinuated furniture project and the anatomy of a parkette - the contrast of how the public spaces in an extremely dense urban centre, such as Mexico City, and those of a large, but albeit, significantly less dense city, such as Toronto are used. I have always been interested in why so many public spaces in North American cities are not used. Granted many of them are not well planned or have much in the way of design, other than the random bits of furniture and planting elements. But I think more importantly, it is the way we live. For the most part, there is no shortage of space here and most of us have our own private space, be it a yard or a balcony. Therefore public spaces in much of North America do not have the same purpose as they do in Mexico City or other dense cities, where any leftover bit of land becomes a place to escape to or to gather together in. So if we do not need public space in the same way, why is it still conceived of in the same way? Creating a large plaza in the centre of a downtown core, where no one lives, will never be used in the same way as the old town squares in Europe, where people live, work and socialize. Simply placing a bench, or other typical urban intervention in the middle of a green belt, does not somehow make it a place that will suddenly be used. I drove past a bus stop yesterday and sitting along a low wall adjacent to the stop were about 30 people waiting for the bus. And yet the bus shelter with its small bench inside sat completely empty.

I love the idea of marking the city…of pointing out its weaknesses and studying the way in which we actually use and inhabit its spaces.



A RESPONSE Re: Victoria Beltrano, Main Street Boundaries From: Enrique Enriquez Montreal, August 20th, 2010 The article by Victoria Beltrano (Main street boundaries: micro-architectures of transgression, control and negotiation) took me to what the City of Montreal is trying to do now about the “problem” of street posters. The authorities are planning to install “special urban infrastructure” for the public to post their posters. That reminded me Cedric Price’s dictum that the best solution to an architectural problem is not necessarily a building. The solution can be –as Victoria Beltrano put it- negotiation. We don’t need a well designed stainless steel artifact carrying Montreal's name and city logo to put our street posters on. The spontaneous act of putting a poster of our lost cat on a lamppost is a small proof that a neighborhood is lively. It is a way of communication and connectivity and –more importantly in these individual virtual times- a way to create a living community. We have to understand once and for all that transgression is part of being urban. And just for the authorities to know: a poster of a garage sale on the reddish shiny mailbox will never disappear, fortunately! As David Byrne said: “a little touch of chaos and danger makes a city: sexy!”


“What are cities but people.�

William Shakespeare


RESPONSE TO 50.End Re: Samo Pedersen, 50.End From: Al Donnell

Actually, I think I would just relax. I think consumerism does have a cure, and it's called history. History didn't end, as Francis Fukuyama famously wished, but just keeps rolling along. Soon enough, if the geophysicists and climatologists are right, the long wave of consumerism will come crashing down on our carefully raked beaches. If the days of bargain priced energy, fertilizers and herbicides are gone forever and if the earth's atmosphere is heating up by six, four, or even two degrees, energy and food will become increasingly expensive and the last thing on anyone's mind will be shopping for anything else. Scrounging and survival will be the words of the day. Today's headlines about the fires in Russia and the floods in Pakistan offer a glimpse over that horizon. Millions, perhaps billions, of meals have been destroyed in just a few weeks. The elite will always be with us, of course, but soon they will probably be the only consumers left, as they have always been until the last century or so, and we architects will be part of their priestly entourage, as we always have been, telling the elite what they should consume if not how they should behave. The hoi polloi will still be with us too, scrounging outside the palace walls, but they will no longer be embarrassing. Their pitiful imitations of the elite – here in Canada including cavernous cars and petite palaces sans architects - will be history.



ENJOYMENT Re: Onsite 23 “small things� From: Michael Barton

Yes, I did really enjoy the "small things" issue. It made me think of several things such as George Bernard Shaw's revolving garden hut in which he wrote much of his work. Also Dylan Thomas' boat shed where he wrote "Under Milk Wood", (I've been there, it oozes atmosphere). Come to think of it, Robert Service's cabin in Dawson could be included in this category too. When I moved to Bermuda to work for 6 years, I lived first in a tiny cottage, which was a former "buttery", a circular structure with a conical roof of limestone slates. Again, a great feeling inside, rather like a Doctor Who phone box.


I think that architects really love minimalist design and attention to clever and functional detail; overdoing it doesn't cut it with our profession! 15

PARKETTES Re: DoUC, Anatonomy of a Parkette From: Stephanie White

Once identified (City of Toronto) and mapped as a typology and codified (DoUC) the next step is to do something with these parkettes to establish their validity in the public mind. A parkette sign might designate the land as something, but it still looks left undone, undressed, unconscious. In Barcelona in the mid-80s, hundreds of such parkettes were given to often unknown architects to plan and develop. Of course there was a political agenda: the post-Franco city was no longer a site of ceremony and control, hierarchy and oppression – instead all neighbourhoods and their people were to have access to good design, to well-tended urban corners, to tangential bits of beauty, not just the wealthy or the politically favoured. Good, provocative, sophisticated, passionate design was for everyone. The public domain was public. Architecture and urban design were public. The city was public. I'm reading Lady Duff Gordon's letters from Egypt, first published in 1865. The 1904 preface tells how, as Lucie Austin, she grew up in an intellectual, political and artistic milieu in London that included John Stuart Mill, the Carlyles and Jeremy Bentham who laid out his panopticon prison in tapes and threads across his garden, the playground of the little Mills and Austins. I have a conceptual fondness for the Toronto Jail Parkette, forlorn patch of civic grass that it appears to be in the article. If I got this park to do, to make my thesis, or my manifesto, I would want it to say something about rejection, redemption and remand centres, loss and love of freedom – you know, something relevant to that particular place, not to be repeated in some other parkette, unable to be codified.

Attached: Above Right: el Jardi del Museu, Parc de la Ciutadella. JCN Forestier, 1916. Below Right: els Jardins de la Vil-la Cecilia. Jose Antonio Martinez i Apeña, Elies Torres, 1985. from White, S. Parcs Placas i Arbres. Field Notes Press, 1990. 16


Architectural Hate Mail Re: Onsite 23 p.73 From: Matthew Woodruff

The note that reads "Your house is a Monstrosity! It blights the neighbourhood." jumps out at me from Onsite 23 (see page 73). It brings to mind some criticism that I have received myself. It reads: To whom it may concern I have lived on Mayne for 10 years, and if I had thought that some one would build such an out of place , ugly and impractical dwelling in such a conspicuous place I would have stayed away. I have not heard any one on this island that is in favor of such an ugly building. It is totally unsuitable for the Mayne Island way. Unfortunately many of us have to drive by this monstrosity on the way to the store or catching the ferry. If this is what having money and an education leads to, I am pleased that I was too poor to go to university. If this upsets you, think of what your design has done to others. I am 80 years old and have earned the right to speak my mind.

In this case it was signed by a neighbour. Usually architectural criticism is either numbly polite or opaque, so I was pleased instead to be the catalyst of such a raw statement. I now wonder if others have had the same experience?


What would be the impact if this model became the norm for professional critique?


BOUNDARIES Re: John Gillanders, Flexible Responses From: Emily Rossini We can work within the limitations we are given when we have the freedom to explore innovation. Flexible Responses illustrates the balancing act that is working within a municipal framework while creating more space out of less. While it is important to look to examples of industrious uses of small spaces, one of the larger messages is how vital the marriage of design, function and regulation is to creating something that makes you question the traditional roles of those three. As space becomes limited and the vast majority of development focuses on ego, we are reminded that while we can't always extend beyond the physical boundaries we can indeed extend beyond the boundaries imposed by the traditional framework.



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NOTES FROM 1988-89 Re: Reza Aliabadi, Getting Smaller From: Simon Rabyniuk

In response to Reza Aliabadi's Getting Smaller: all stories are true, it’s surprising that in 2006 there would be an architectural competition based on re-jigging the shopping cart into a portable shelter for homeless people. Krzysztof Wodiczko made this project in New York City in 1988-89 to great effect. By 'great effect' I do not mean to say the project was a success for its design merit; although, the prototypes were fully functional with sleeping and storage space. Seen in relationship with his projection work, Wodiczko's Homeless Vehicle can be understood not as a sincere attempt at developing a model for responding to the crisis of homelessness; but a tool for making the issue of homelessness visible. The video documentation follows a homeless black man pushing a prototype around a street in New York. The stereotypical every-day street scene of the homeless man pushing his cart is turned into a ludicrous street performance. Deployed into the public realm people passing by sparked off this man with his missile shaped cart. The documentation captures severe reactions. I am unable to find the video on youtube to check but my memory of it suggests outrage in their responses. While in art school interventionist works like that of Wodiczko's and others helped me develop an interest in cultivating a consciousness around social issues like homelessness. I came to volunteer and later work at a homeless shelter. In an attempt to further support clients beyond emergency shelter we began networking with other agencies that provided related services. We were trying to create a continuum of care, supporting clients from from emergency shelter to permanent housing. Eventually the shelter leased the entire building it was in and sublet portions to related social service agencies creating a multi-service centre. The existing building was not well organized to support the dynamic needs of the five different agencies. Money was secured to renovate the building in two phases. The program worked with a local design-build firm. I never felt like they took the time to fully understand the needs of the space. Through the process it continually felt like the agencies were made to adapt to the design choices made rather than the other way around. I often found myself thinking that this was a situation that would have benefited from the design excellence of an architect. 22

“...the homeless become actors, orators, workers, all things which they usually are not.� Krzysztof Wodiczko on Homeless Vehicles (Quote and Photo)


SMALL GEMS Re: Paul Whelan, Small Urbanity, Dublin From: Adelle Beitz Isn’t it so often the small things that make us happy about where we are, or where we live? When you think of your favorite places in the city – the places that really have personality and their own feel-good, neighbourhood vibe, isn’t it those very places that become the hidden gems in any urban environment? We seek the pleasure of their comfort, familiarity, and surprise. Paul Whelan reminds us in his latest contribution to on site magazine, that downtown rejuvenation isn’t about the catalytic projects, but more simply about the cumulative power of the small things that contribute to, and make up our urban environment. All too often, the parenthesized places and details which are obvious to the individual, are over-looked in an “establishment” way. Whether it’s a memorable coffee shop, a place to meet up with friends, a hidden walkway, an intriguing public art piece, a sunny outdoor patio, a well-landscaped park area, or as Whelan describes, a simple investment to restore some architectural integrity to a historic building, it is these small scale things that infuse personality into the built environment and transform it into a place and space which attracts people. Of course there is always an alluring attraction to the mega-projects and the hopeful impact it will have on the urban environment, but we can’t forget, what we as individuals really cherish about our own neighbourhoods. It’s the quality of life, the character of a place, and the planned and spontaneous urban activities, which bring us happily to these places. Whelan deserves our thanks, for reminding us, it’s less about the over-stimulating and iconic presence of big efforts, and more about the small comforts that make urban life enjoyable.



the assault on street furniture Re: Ivan Hernandez, Akido Architecture From: Devin Glowinski

The insinuated furniture project by Ivan Hernandez is what we need in our urban centres to remind us that all too often we find ourselves witness to the assault on common street furniture. Municipalities and business associations are caught all too often scrubbing their sidewalks clean of basic furniture or militarizing benches against skateboarders and those who want to take an afternoon snooze lying down. Human resolve overcomes the lack of provided seating and we adapt by spending coffee breaks next to bramble and sharing ledge space with pigeons. This project in Mexico City illustrates the basic need to ensure that our public spaces are designed for a wide range of (desirable) uses or we will simply find ourselves precariously perched on bollards reading our daily blog fixes.



comment on little feet Re: Gerald Forseth, Little Feet Reducing The Footprint From: Samo Pedersen There might be a good reason why planners at City Hall hesitate in approving implications for optimizing parking possibilities in cities. I can see some practicality in lifting cars one above each other in order to free space and halving or quartering the footprint of parked cars in the city sounds almost ideal. However such implementations need to be clearly supervised. Unfortunately it is not necessary that the footprint of parked cars is going to be halved if implementations for stacking cars one on each other are available. I believe that unfortunately it is more likely that the amount of parked cars in the city will double. Restrictions on available parking spaces and expensive parking charges are some of the few measures that city planners have in combating people’s unnecessarily excessive use of cars. As an example can be given that many studies indicate that ‘improvement’ in infrastructure, as widening roads, actually rarely reduces the amount of congestion and decreases traveling time. Often the result is increased traffic and added amount of cars creating a status quo in congestion and traveling time. Thus my comment on stacking up cars is that freeing space is a charming idea, however it needs to be implemented very carefully with regulations and aim on not increasing the amount of cars driving and parking in our cities.



This is not a Hardware Store Re: Michael Summerton, The SignRemains the Same From: Brendan Cormier

In his contribution to Small Things, Michael Summerton discusses a current phenomenon in downtown retailing where signs from previous shops are retained, even as a new shop uses move in – a kind of form of antibranding. So it was with some serendipity, that we held the Toronto release party for On Site 23 in such an antibranded venue – the Toronto Free Gallery. Heather, the owner of the gallery, explained to me that the seventiesera home hardware sign was just too expensive to get rid of. And then replace it with what? For her it was much easier (and perhaps more stylish) to leave the sign up, and advertise the gallery in a more subtle fashion, through advertisements on the glass front. While we were setting up for the party a man came in looking confused and then asked where he could find a hardware store. He was obviously disappointed that we were not what the storefront sign advertised us to be. During the party, several people also voiced their frustration at trying to find the venue. Even though we advertised the store’s address, some people were more inclined to locating the major intersection and then looking out for a storefront sign, as opposed to a specific street address. If anything this new tendency in anti-branding, that Michael writes about, will require a new diligence and astuteness in navigating the urban environment. Which, in an age where everything seems to be spelled out for us, is not necessarily a bad thing.



TARP CITY Re: Stephanie White, TarpologySigns of Belonging From: Christopher Pandolfi After reading Tarpology my memory immediately reminded me of my short stay in Hong Kong some years back, and the buildings under construction encased in wonderfully ugly green tarps. Tarps promote mystery and intrigue, but most importantly as Stephanie pointed out the unfinished. They allow the viewer to create their own images of what lies underneath. With this in mind, it seems only logical then to propose a facade-less city, one where buildings are imagined, destroyed, and then re-imagined again by its citizens- a victory for the public process. Tarp City needs no architects because everyone is in fact an architect, to be more specific everyone is the chief architect of Tarp City. It is important to note, that no one actually lives in Tarp City, instead it is a kind of training facility for the imagination and cognitive thinking. Guests arrive in Tarp City and are immediately put to work, aimlessly walking around creating and destroying buildings. After 3 years they are asked to go back to their homes where they will live a life of constant disappointment. Long live Tarp City!