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culture urbanism architecture landscape photography research

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Small Things 23

$12 display until october 2010

MORRIS AND HELEN BELKIN ART GALLERY JAMELIE HASSAN AT THE FAR EDGE OF WORDS June 18 - August 22, 2010 Since the 1960s, Jamelie Hassan’s work has been influenced by cultural politics and personal history. This exhibition presents work that takes up her interests in memory, language, text, and identity. This exhibition is curated by Melanie Townsend and Scott Watson and co-organized by Museum London and the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at The University of British Columbia. The project was made possible with support from the City of London, the Ontario Arts Council, the British Columbia Arts Council and The Canada Council for the Arts.

— For further information please contact: Naomi Sawada at naomi. tel: (604) 822-3640, or fax: (604) 822-6689 Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery University of British Columbia 1825 Main Mall Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada V6T 1Z2

Hatje Cantz

Architecture arium Weather and Architecture Edited by Neeraj Bhatia, Jürgen Mayer H., texts by George Baird, Chad Dembski, Robert Levit, Henry Urbach, Mason White u.a., Rodolphe el-Khoury, graphic design by Eric Bury

A handbook on weather and architecture

15,80 x 23,40 cm hardcover

Is Weather becoming the last form of cultural specificity?

ISBN 978-3-7757-2540-8

Arium is a guidebook to Weather and Architecture. Examining the relationship between the atmosphere, built environment, culture, and politics, this comprehensive research project—under the direction of the architect Jürgen Mayer H. from Berlin and urban designer Neeraj Bhatia from Toronto—offers an in-depth look at our contemporary understanding of weather through critical examinations of design and architecture.

Is Weather the last vestige of nature in the city? Do the forces in Weather systems hold the key to the energy crisis?

Is instability and disorder something that can be designed? 2009. 320 pp., 70 ills., 37 in color, 170 drawings and diagrams Is Weather the nemesis of Architecture or its best friend?

Does it all come down to the “green”?

Let us look at small things. Modest, but important things; little, but beautiful; small of budget, slender of means. Things that are slight in scale, intense in impact. We’ve recently seen the crash of grande capitalisme and its struggling return. This has, perhaps, made us think a bit more about an architecture of intimacy, of personal attachment, of close attention.

small things on site 23 Obra Ivan Hernandez Quintela Steve Chodoriwsky Department of Unusual Certainties Joe Ringenberg Josep Muñoz Grey Hernandez Carol Kleinfeldt Peter Osborne Gerald Forseth Matthew Woodruff Charles Lawrence Melissa Jacques Myron Nebozuk Reza Aliabadi Gerald Forseth Matthew Johnson Steve Sopinka Chris Allen Rutger Huiberts + Evangelos Kotsioris Michael Leeb Denis Calnan Jon Piasecki John Gillanders Paul Whelan Shelby Doyle Paul Whelan Ruth Carolina Mora Izturriaga Ilona Hay Paul Whelan Victoria Beltrano Michael Summerton Samo Pederson Reza Aliabadi Kelley Beaverford Ron Wickham Carol Kleinfeldt Stephanie White Stephanie White DEPARTMENT OF UNUSUAL CERTAINTIES

2 4 6 8 13 14 16 18 19 20 22 24 26 27 28 31 32 34 36 38 42 44 46 48 51 52 55 56 57 59 60 65 66 68 70 72 74 76 78 79 Masthead 80

Ivan Hernandez Quintela S White

contents Eight Points of Architettura Povera Aikido Architecture, Mexico City An Interview with Yoshiharu Tsukamoto, Tokyo Anatomy of a Parkette, Toronto A Story in 36 Chapters FAD Door, Barcelona the lower case reading room, Vancouver Bar in a Box, Barcelona Small Lessons, Edmonton Little Feet, Calgary Marking Shadows, Vancouver Economy of Means: Fairey Marine, Hamble, UK Authentic Imposters Small Angles, Edmonton NOSA Research and Development Building, Teheran Small Companions Weather Room, eastern Washington Micro-Studios, North Bay Ontario Oliver Farmers Market, Oliver BC Sacred Signs, Greece Building Drums, Claresholm Alberta Small Town Edges, Weston Ontario Small Acts of Landscape, western Massachussetts Small-Lot Solutions, Toronto Washrooms, Toronto Small Space Architecture, New York Small Edges 1, Toronto Small Edges 2 Mini-Shelters, Plymouth, UK Small Urbanity, Dublin Main Street Boundaries, Toronto The Sign Remains the Same, London 50.end, Copenhagen Getting Smaller Small Projects: Deydinler, Turkey and Katebo, Uganda Small Indignities, Edmonton Cuba Tarpology, Nanaimo BC Jamelie Hassan’s At the Edge of Words subscriptions and the call for articles, issue 24 contributors’ biographical notes front cover: Akido Architecture back cover: Tarpology

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e i g h t points of a r c h i t e ttura pov e ra

u n - m a n i fe s t o s | p rov i s i o n a l i t y by o b r a a rc h i t e c t s

The term Architettura Povera is transposed from the famous description of Arte Povera made by Germano Celant when writing about a group of young artists working in Italy in the late sixties. The group, more than working under the protective conceptual umbrella of any defined manifesto, shared a disposition of disdain towards preconceived artistic principles. They were not only weary of theoretical frameworks to define the art, but also of any defined artistic language, which was viewed by them as more of an impediment to become intimate with the things of the world than an aid, in that sense. They tended to use the simplest materials found in nature, for example, metal, dirt, water, rivers, land, snow, fire, glass, air, stone, leaves, newspaper, and also, light, weight, electricity, measurement, stress, people, time, smell and horses. The materials were invariably left uncovered and relied on the specificity of their material substance for their effect. Rather than an exhaustive review of the works of Arte Povera, we recall these artists for their willingness to attempt an erasure of distinction between doing art and living. We would like to offer a consideration of Arte Povera in relationship to architecture to provide a kind of sympathetic lens through which to look at our recent work. The term povera or poor coincides with a desire to avoid material gloss and to get as close as possible to the elemental being of the matter involved, but in this consideration and as employed by Celant has more to do more with a self-imposed limitation of choices and assumptions. Or, as Gide would have it, ‘Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does, the better’.1 We would like to provide eight principles, albeit somewhat un-Arte Povera to suggest such an ordering, and therefore we propose eight PROVISIONAL principles underlying the work.


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pro c e s s wor k in g me th o ds time in tu itio n borde r le s s n e s s

1 We are doomed from the start ‘To be an artist is to fail, as no other dare fail.’ — Beckett2 We work to achieve certain mysterious moments of rare correspondence between an initial act of intuition and what would seem to be a real ideal object with a unique presence. Naturally, this kind of work is perpetually besieged by doubt. One aspect of the distinction between architecture and everyday lived reality that would be befitting to an Architettura Povera would be a treatment of the sense of time, analogous to the way we experience it in reality. How do you work in architecture with an idea of time that is different from the time of clocks and watches, the time of minutes and seconds, time chopped up and quantified, with rather time as it is felt, this chronological space that we’re in and we can’t escape from? It is both a reassuring and a terrifying predicament. For example, in our work, how do we achieve that sense of time about which Spinoza proclaimed, ‘We know and feel that we are eternal’.3 How do you do something like that in architecture? From the outset we are doomed to failure. 2 To be honest with you, we always do the same thing We aspire to extend the intentions of our work from project to project, constantly looking for the possibility to address the same problems, leaving behind any orthodox notion of regionalism or site specificity. It is precisely because we always try to do the same thing that projects are very different from each other. The infinite variety of the nature of things is responsible for the difference between them. We might try to reinvent the wheel, but we always are trying to make the same wheel, it just comes out differently with each effort. 3 We are unable to ever finish anything If one behaves as human beings typically do, with an objective in mind, one wants to get somewhere, arrive at something, achieve certain goals. Then all things become objectified, everything becomes related to those goals, and time is flattened. But, as we’ve pointed at in our first principle, we have very slim chances of success anyway, so why not simply postpone the idea of achieving anything? Why not scrap all objectives? Or even better, why not make the effort of trying to do whatever there is to be done the objective in and of itself ? As Borges said it, much more beautifully, ‘Every step you take is the goal you seek’.4 So the work is never finished, or even better, it is always complete. Then the objective and the work of pursuit itself become one and the same; action and life become one, the work never finished, and reality infinite. Time is simply filled with a sequence of things that one does to perfect the work, forward and back, coinciding with the duration of natural lives.

4 Make sure to only talk about food and drink

7 If you want to do good architecture you have to be gullible

Kierkegaard said about his hero Socrates, that he always talked exclusively about food and drink, but really he was talking about the infinite, while the others spent all of the time talking about the infinite in the loudest voices, while they really were only talking about food and drink. We believe that there is a deep sense of practicality that pervades the best architecture and that, well understood, summons that vertigo of the infinite much better than anything else. The infinite, as we know, can be infinitely large or infinitely small, and as such it is present in everything. Nothing converges to the essence of architecture as the potential clarified by the inhabitation it may suggest.

St. Augustine said, ‘Faith is believing what you do not see; the reward of faith is to see what you believe’. 5 It is well known that the worst enemies of faith are the same as the worst enemies of art: skepticism and relativism. Skepticism suspects that nothing is true; relativism claims that everything can be true. They are both false. The belief in the effective existence of the object of perception or imagination is an aspect of their essence and the foundation of everything for us.

5 Our designs will be bettered by others One important aspect of a povera outlook is an interest for the living things of the world. The artists became interested in animals, plants, and even in the apparently dormant vitality of rocks and minerals, and of course in themselves and others. In that light a project must be left open to that vitality which then will have an opportunity to manifest itself by changing the architecture in both reversible and irreversible ways as time passes. When such openness is of a reversible nature, it may simply have to do with appropriately staging the potential of inhabitation. In the case of irreversible change, it has more to do with growth as analogous to biological growth, that is, not by fragments, which beget monstrosity and deformity, but rather by moments in a process of continuous transformation. 6 Maybe it is good not to be understood The Povera artist chooses the hard life of living amongst things, aspiring everyday to travel the distance that separates our knowledge from the essence of things. This is a trip undertaken in solitude. Every thing which exists, once known, can perform a function of communication; it has the potential to be conceptually understood and also bears with it the potential to become a sign. That sign is one more obstacle in the search for the true knowledge of things; that sign is one more enemy in the effort to attain an understanding of essences. In the 1930s, Ortega y Gasset spoke of the megaphone and the radio as the new enemies of man. Unrecognisable things –obscurity– point our consciousness in unknown directions, expanding the horizon of experience away from the familiar. Or, as Germano Celant, considering the alternative, put it, ‘Moving within linguistic systems to remain language translates into a form of cultural kleptomania that stifles the vitality of real daily life’.

8 If you can’t come up with anything, you are probably thinking too much Embodiments of energy and the vital essence of all things were cornerstones of the works of Arte Povera, centering on an interest for the lives of animals and their existence directed by instinct as non-conceptual yet marvellous adaptation to vital problems. Intuition as a method of essential inquiry is related to the idea of instinct. Thought deals with things that have already happened, things executed and completed. If I move my arm, and I think about it, I break it up into moments of that movement. Intuition, instead, happens simultaneously with the moment lived, and thus it is aware of processes in their very unfolding. v

1 André Gide (1869-1951) 2 Samuel Beckett (1906-1989). ‘Three Dialogues’, by Samuel Beckett and Georges Duthuit, p 21, in Samuel Beckett: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. Martin Esslin. Prentice-Hall, 1965 3 ‘Yet it is not possible that we should remember that we existed before our body, for our body can bear no trace of such existence, neither can eternity be defined in terms of time, or have any relation to time. But, notwithstanding, we feel and know that we are eternal.’ Benedict de Spinoza (1632-1677) ‘Part V. On the Power of the Understanding, or of Human Freedom’ in Ethics, trans. by R H M Elwes (1883), MTSU Philosophy WebWorks Hypertext Edition, 1997 4 Jorge Luis Borges. Collected Fictions, translated by Andrew Hurley. Penguin Books, 1999. pp 504-507 For the original Spanish version, ‘La rosa de Paracelso’, see Borges, Obras Completas, Tomo III. Emecé, 1996. pp 387-390 5 Saint Augustine (354-430), Sermons, 43, 1

Lecture given on the occasion of a solo exhibit of work by OBRA Architects at the Rhode Island School of Design, Providence, Rhode Island, 9 April 2004.

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a i ki do arc hite c ture

urbanism | s t re e t s by i v a n h e r n a n d e z quintela

abs e n c e s te alth s e e ds mar ks tac tic s

the insinuated furniture project

to a lack of pubic furniture in Mexico City at the same time that it draws attention to the way inhabitants empower themselves against it. The project consists first of walking around the city noticing architectural surfaces that people use to lean and rest their bodies even though such surfaces where not designed for that purpose. I then draw over those surfaces, with masking tape, silhouettes of familiar furniture, such as the silhouettes of a chair, a bench, a table or a bed in order to call attention to them. I feel that such an act makes visible the creativity that everyday users of the city practice. I feel that my silhouettes could be drawn by anyone, and that soon, the entire city could be drawn over, making all surfaces inhabitable. I feel that such acts make anyone feel that they can conquer space. I feel that such gestures could provoke a new participatory attitude towards the city, where each inhabitant could construct little by little alternative ways to interact and inhabit their city. I feel that all of us have an aikido-practitioner within us waiting to be released – that all of us are makers of our city. v

iva n h e r n a nd e z q ui nt e la

In the martial arts of aikido, one learns to use an opponent’s strength to create one’s own strength. I like this because it offers tactics to people that might seem as the weaker player to confront bigger opponents. I have always thought that a similar tactic could be used in the practice of architecture – a practice where one single individual could impact the city one gesture at a time. This individual would work with his or her body, one spot at a time, but that each small gestures could be contagious, could be reproducible, could spread all over the city; a sort of acupunctural architecture where one invades one zone of the city but could actually get to affect a much broader area. One would use the existing patterns, habits and idiosyncrasies of the city towards itself. I picture myself as an aikido-architecture practitioner and intervene the city with small projects called urban prosthetics. These projects attempt to shake the city one spot at a time. I would like to use one example to explain what I mean by aikido architecture. The Insinuated Furniture project attempts to call attention


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Small Things

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iva n h e r n a nd e z q ui nt e la

m i c ro - u r b a n i s m | t o k yo by s t eve c h o d o r i w s k y

yo s h i h a ru tsukamoto o n pe t arc h ite c ture

the micro-urbanism of atelier Bow-Wow

s c ale in te r r u ptio n echoes bo dy s pac e

a conversation about small things conducted in March 2010 at the Tsukamoto Laboratory, Tokyo Institute of Technology Department of Architecture

I’m interested in the connection between your small-scale preoccupations and your larger scale urban research. Do you feel that there are appropriate, effective ways to shift from the small scale to larger scales, or vice versa? In terms of scale, the biggest programs can also be embedded in the small scale. This idea always encourages me to be brave or proud to be working at a very small scale. I like to deal with large issues through a scale that can be really handled, because you need a good ear to hear the echo between a very small thing and a big issue. I really like to make this comparison. Showing the sound of the echo between this and that can be sometimes very enigmatic, sometimes elegant . . . . . . and sometimes humourous. In a recent essay you wrote that, when designing a small house in Tokyo, it’s impossible to have an effect on the city and so ‘it is allowed to be dreamlike—an object of our imagination’. I’ve always felt that your small work are somewhat fleeting, maybe even suitably incomplete. They’re not microcosms of grand concepts – you seem more concerned with articulating this echo relationship . . . I learned this from Jean-Luc Godard, when he was criticised by French journalists for not going to Vietnam to shoot a film; instead, he stayed in Paris. And Godard said, it’s not necessary for a film to go to Vietnam, but the more important thing is to let Vietnam pour into the film. This is an issue of echo. I like very much this attitude to the world, that you cannot be representative of the whole world, but you can create an echo with it.


Much of your work focuses on a serious consideration of small space as bona fide space—not as something nostalgic or cute, but rather as a contemporary fact, something both useful and enjoyable. What are your thoughts on this? I think smallness can be a very strong tool for directing a design. For me, the very important thing is to handle the differences that emerge in every level of architectural composition and articulation. So if you want to make even a simple composition between rooms, some differences already emerge. Each room is just a room, but once they’re connected, their relationships create great differences—where you go in, or where you look— — it becomes complicated very quickly – It starts to be full of difference through these things. I think that, currently, the architectural discussion in Japan is based on how to deal with these small differences: how much you rationalise inevitable differences, how much you avoid or accentuate given differences from the outside environment, like site conditions or sunlight. If you start to be conscious of these changes, you need to break down levels of understanding into smaller elements and dimensions. For example, if you are aware of the temperature, this part of the room is really different from over there near the window. The light condition also changes. This is my interest with smallness—how to open up these kinds of different investigations, to understand the different qualities of space.

H o u s e + Ate lie r Bow- Wow

A Proj ect

[ a rc h it e cts] Ate lie r  Bow- Wow [ lo c a t io n] Sh in ju ku - ku , To kyo [ s it e a rea] 1 0 9 .0 3 sq m [ b u ild in g ar e a] 5 9 .7 6 sq m [ t o t a l f l oor area]  211.27sqm   [ s t r u c t u re ] r e in fo r c e d  c o n c r e te  an d  ste e l frame [ p h o t o ]  Ate lie r  Bow- Wow

[ archi tects] Atel i er Bow-Wow [ l ocati on]  Tok yo [ photo]  Atel i er Bow-Wow

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The concepts Pet Architecture and Micro Public Space come up consistently in your activities. With them, how do you feel smallness is linked to promoting good spatial practice? I am interested in the concept of smallness as it relates to body consciousness – a relationship between space and the body. Since most of our basic understanding of urban space for everyday living is very segregated, life becomes quite mechanical somehow. All the pieces are articulated as a kind of packaged service within the city, and if you have enough money, you can enjoy this itinerary, visiting these packages, one by one. The body, though, is something which tries to go beyond this controlled experience, through inventive spatial practice. In certain places, right when the body goes beyond this package, you can feel like you have discovered the earth – a kind of wild aspect of the living condition of human beings. I like very much the feeling of de-packaging these services. So if you buy a house produced by Sekisui [an industrialised housing company] in a new suburban development ninety minutes from Tokyo Station by train, your whole life could be packaged. But on the other hand, in Pet Architecture buildings, which we found to be very interesting, don’t fit into this framework.

Yes, although they lack size, they retain extremely customised functions, and also personalities. Their time and space are not served by anyone or anything, they’re really there, and this condition is irreplaceable. And the participation of the real body really supports the existence of that combination of time and space. This is quite strong for me; it stimulates my sensibility of urban living conditions today. Our intention was to show Pet Architecture as the foreground—I think it is often just pushed to the background. Do you think they play the role of urban monuments? Yes, I think it’s a kind of micro-monument, a witness to the transformation of the city. I found that Pet Architecture emerges out of specific contexts, where new or enlarged streets cut through old urban fabric, or, in spaces where the geometry of curving rivers or railways encounter orthogonal street patterns. They always appear at very unique points where these interventions occur. In that sense, they definitely have a monumental aspect. And people are really fond of these buildings, they become imprinted onto individuals’ memories. If you ask someone to talk about Pet Architecture in their neighbourhood, they can usually mention at least two or three really tiny buildings . . . Compared to an individual’s daily routine, which you frame as a series of complete packages, Pet Architecture becomes a kind of jarring interruption. This tells of an insufficiency or incompleteness in these buildings. But this also allows them to open to the environment – that’s an important quality. They can’t be closed-off systems; they must be helped by other buildings . . . I really like the generosity of Tokyo, which allows these kinds of structures. The city doesn’t want to clean them up, or force every building to be formal. Of course new construction must fit to regulations, but still, they can keep a feeling of informality . . . v

ate lie r b ow- wow

things you might like to know but never have the ch a n c e t o a s k : A t e l i e r Bow-Wow i s a transl ati on from the Japanese A tel i er Wa n, w hich is , naturally enough, the sound a dog makes in Japanes e . D o u bl i n g t h e wordpl ay, Wan wr i tten i n phoneti c Japanese , i s homony m o us w it h O ne .

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typology | parks by d e p a r t m e n t o f u nu s u a l c e r t a i n t i e s

t h e a n a t omy of a parke tte Our observations suggest strongly that open places intended as public squares should be very small. – Christopher Alexander1

in te r s tic e s par ks to ro n to o ppo r tu n itie s c o n f u s io n

The attraction of urban life is in being able to obtain a level of convenience and comfort similar to inside a room even while outside. – Atelier Bow-Wow 2

Toronto and its parkettes

Christopher Alexander, in A Pattern Language, determines the ideal size of a public space by relating it to the physical limits of the senses. A public space should never be wider than 70 feet because this is roughly the maximum distance at which a person’s face is recognisable in a crowd and it also nears the limit at which a person’s voice ceases to be audible. Thus the relation of space to the body and the senses is at its highest in these small public spaces. Intimacy is also an oft-cited value attached to these spaces, although the term is more difficult to pin down. Atelier Bow-Wow –masters of the small, with their study of tiny or pet architectures in Tokyo and their own brand of incredibly small house designs – see intimate urban life as gaining a sense of an interior life even while outside. In this sense small public spaces act as a collective living room where people feel the convenience and comfort normally found in their own homes, even while out in public among strangers. Such spaces are often described as being imbued with a heightened energy because of their embedded position in the urban fabric. Their economy of size intrinsically links them to their surroundings: one can directly observe the ballet of city life, the passers-by on the street, the shops and their window displays, the motor engine blasts and honking horns, the person sitting by their second-floor window eating a bowl of soup. But, just because something is made small doesn’t mean that the above-listed virtues will suddenly materialise. Small public spaces in the city are a mixed-bag. A lot is dependent on how the space is maintained, the subtleties of design, how the space is programmed and how people appropriate the space in the end. Much of the time, small urban public spaces underperform, sitting empty and forlorn – untapped opportunities for public life. This mixed-bag syndrome becomes immediately evident with a preliminary study of the spaces in our own town, Toronto.

Small public spaces in Toronto are commonly referred to as parkettes – a canadianism which speaks to our affinity for parkland as the quintessential public space in our cities. Under this association any public space too small to be a park (i.e. too small to serve active recreational activities or ecological functions) wins the diminutive title of parkette. This linguistic turn handicaps the parkette from the outset – forever compared to the accomplishments of its big brother, without having its own distinct virtues recognized. The City’s Parks and Recreation Department currently takes care of roughly 537 small public spaces in the city, where small is defined as anything under 0.5 hectares. Not all are listed as parkettes, and many have no name at all. Most of these spaces have been acquired ad-hoc by the City — orphans of the property market – awkward corners, traffic circles, road allowances, surplus land from infrastructure projects. They are unwanted bits and pieces of land that for some reason or another could not turn a profit. Each parkette, in its deviation from the norms of the property market, reveals a small story about the development of the city. The City of Toronto itself lacks formal records of how and why these spaces have been acquired. The Parks and Recreation Department struggles with the definition, programming and servicing of these spaces. For this reason, we see a value in delving deeper into this study to explore the nature of these spaces and to start asking what they could become. The following is the first step in this research project; a preliminary attempt to classify these different kinds of small public spaces, and highlight their significance.

de p a r tm e n t o f un us u a l ce r t a in t ie s

the virtue of small public places


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Parkettes ≤ 0.1 hectare

Toronto’s smallest parkettes in the context of the six former municipalities which now make up the current city of Toronto. Each municipality had its own methodology for creating parkettes – Toronto inherited an assortment of types, each developed through a unique process, solidifying the parkette as a creature of circumstance.

typological examples Urban Cuts These spaces are essentially vacant lots which have been taken off the property market and transformed into public spaces. They are immediately recognisable as cuts in the urban fabric – a sudden and conspicuous absence of building in a built-up area. They suggest a history of a building that no longer exists. The cycle of building and rebuilding is halted and a broken aspiration for land development is memorialised in the space. The space not only reveals a past failure, but also the hidden infrastructure of the city – the bare firewalls of adjacent properties, rear lanes and views to the backs of houses on adjacent streets. These parkettes peel back a layer of the city and allow us to glimpse its inner workings. name: Dundas/Watkinson Parkette location: 2742 Dundas Street West size: 0.09 hectares rank: 165th smallest park in Toronto


seatin g wa st e bi n w ater fo unt a i n t a bl e lightin g t rees a nd pl a nt s p laygr o und equi pment

name: un-named location: Dundas Street West between Clendenan Avenue and St. Johns Rd size: unknown rank: unknown

elements: seatin g lightin g

de p a r t m e nt o f unu s ua l ce r ta in ti e s

Grid Interrupted Toronto is a grid city. That said, sometimes large infrastructure projects, changes in topography and a few errant streets interrupt the grid, creating awkwardly shaped parcels of land. Because zoning by-laws, building codes and building practices are generally geared toward building on rectangular plots of land, wherever the grid is interrupted, a small piece of triangular land is often left over. While most of these leftover bits remain private and are used for patios, storage or parking, some are converted into public space. In these instances parkettes reveal the obstinacy of the grid and the cookie-cutter nature of building codes and practices. Even in places where the grid has been interrupted, the built fabric continues to be stamped out in rectilinear orthogonal forms, producing triangular orphans of open space. wa st e bi n t rees a nd pl a nt s

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Subway Surplus Lands When building the city’s subway lines, swathes of land were appropriated by the Toronto Transit Commission, usually between a major commercial corridor and the residential neighbourhoods adjacent to it. After construction was complete, the surplus land was no longer needed and was either converted into public parking lots, sold off for development or converted into parkettes. Because of their location next to transportation hubs, these spaces are often used as shortcuts for commuters getting to and from their homes. They are perhaps the most transitory of spaces in the small public space catalogue. name: Susan Tibaldi Parkette location: 620 Brock Avenue size: 0.11 hectares rank: 184th smallest park


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p laygr ound eq uip ment seating event boa rd w ater fountain l i g ht i ng tr ees and p lants wa st e bi n

de p ar t me n t o f un u su a l ce r t a i nti e s

Lakefront Slips The older lakefront neighbourhoods on both ends of the city were laid out without a lakefront public street. For the most part, private residential properties back onto the lake, granting the lucky few a privileged view. By-products of the grid however are the small pockets of land left over where the north-south road meets the lake. These spaces vary in their usability, some of them precariously wedged between asphalt and a precipitous bluff, but many afford enough space to accommodate a singular bench – allowing for philosophical gazing into the expansive emptiness of the lake. elements: name: un-named tr ees and p lants location: the end of 12th Street size: 0.12 hectares rank: not listed

Traffic Islands These are generally the smallest public spaces in the city. They occur at cul-de-sacs or in areas with irregular traffic convergences. Normally separated by roadways on all sides, they are also the least accessible and are correspondingly supplied with the fewest public amenities. In fact most are not intended for any kind of use whatsoever and merely act as an aesthetic feature of mediocre quality. Some have a flower bed, but most are sparsely landscaped. Because of their general uselessness and low-aesthetic quality, they give parkettes a bad reputation. name: Platsis Parkette location: Mimco Street size: 0.01 hectare rank: not listed


tr ees and p lants

name: Toronto Jail Parkette location: 0 Don Jail Parkway size: 0.47 hectares rank: 518th smallest

d e pa r t me n t o f un u su a l ce r t a i nti e s

Road Allowances Road allowance parkettes occur in places where the City has withheld land from the property market for a public road. In some cases the road allowance is wider than needed and even after the road is built there is ample space left over. At this point it becomes possible for the Parks and Recreation Department to take over the space and convert it into a parkette. Road allowance parkettes function more as enhanced streetscaping projects than anything else. Benches, public art and landscape elements frame both sides of the street and provide a setting for people to sit and watch the hustle and bustle of the street. The character of the park spaces is defined by the street that it is situated next to; they work best in very urban settings where there is a lot of street activity. In suburban areas, or areas dominated by large singular institutional structures, they aren’t as effective. elements:

seating w aste bi n tr ees and p lants

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name: Columbus Parkette location: 1985 Dundas Street West size: 0.24 hectares rank: 354th smallest

depar tment of unusual cer t aint ies

Awkward Situations These spaces occur when streets, infrastructure, land parcels and buildings collide in an irregular way. Because of the regularity of the grid in Toronto, these chaotic situations are rare. However, when they do occur they are a refreshing change in what is otherwise a rather monotonous street layout. In this sense they are like beauty marks – blemishes, that because of their rarity, are appreciated. The public spaces created in these spaces take on unusual dimensions to fill in the awkward situation. Columbus Parkette begins as a narrow opening on Dundas, rapidly slopes downward and widens out, framed on the back end by a series of laneways and garages. elements:

p laygr ound eq uip m ent seating lighting w ater fountain w aste bi n tr ees and p lants

looking forward Small public spaces in Toronto are under-studied. As the city grows significantly in density, these spaces will become more important as more users share the same finite public resource. Looking forward, there are several questions we need to address if we want to maximise the quality of these small public spaces. Ultimately the goal should be similar to what Atelier Bow-Wow says of creating a space where one feels all the comforts and conveniences of being in one’s own living room, even while outside. As a way forward we suggest three actions to be incorporated into the the design of small public spaces.

1 Accommodate the lives and needs of contemporary citizens, especially in the context of an increasingly large and dense city. This needs more research into what those lifestyles and needs are, as well as how different spaces and functions – not only public ones – currently respond to them. 2 Explore and experiment with different kinds of programs and amenities that can be designed into outdoor small public spaces, beyond your standard set of benches, swings and slides. 3 Provoke community stewardship, creating a situation where the community members can give the space an added-value beyond that supplied by the Parks and Recreation Department. v 1 Christopher Alexander. ‘Pattern 61. Small Public Squares’ A Pattern Language, 1977 2 Atelier Bow-Wow. Post Bubble City, 2006


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a story i n 36 c hapte rs n a rr a t i ve | a rc h i t e c t u r a l s t a r t i n g p o i n t s by j o e r i n g e n b e r g t ec hnol og y urba ni sm resea rc h refl ec t i o n

I am for an architecture that begins as a story, some scenario or recollection instead of as

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a rc h i t e c t u re | entrances by j o s e p mu n o z

Foment de l e s Arts i d e l D isse ny’s d oor

barc e lo n a s ign s pas s age atte n tio n u rban de tails

In the Plaça dels Àngels, the doorway of the Foment de les Arts i del Disseny was jockeying for position by means of a large sign above the small entrance, drawing on Venturi’s I am a monument philosophy. Nonetheless, the door to the chapel of Convent del Àngels continued to steal the show. The new proposal situates itself, observes its surroundings and integrates; it is a mechanism for standing out, consolidating the urban landscape and revaluing each line of sight. In this way, the door turns from the perpendicular that was its original position to stand parallel to the façade of the Convent dels Àngels in relation to the street. This shift gives the door a higher profile presence in the eyes of the city, at the same time creating more direct line of sight between the interior and the outside. Simultaneously, the door increases in height, establishing a direct relation with the compositional order of the door to the chapel. In this way, the Plaça dels Àngels recognises the presence of both doorways. The raw material used to make the door is black steel, simply treated with industrial varnish to protect and enhance it. On the inside, the threshold is intensified in lead paint – a metaphor of protection and continuous transition. The door and sign frames are made of sandblasted stainless steel to establish an abstract interplay of space and time. v This project has received two recent awards: Young Architects Association from Catalan Architectural College - AJAC VI Award and an Urban Landscape Award from La Vanguardia

above: competing doorways: on the left FAD, on the right Capella, a convent chapel used as the Museum of Contemporary Art of Barcelona’s exhibition area right: new FAD door revolving away from the building face to more fully engage with the adjacent Carrer dels Àngels street axis opposite: the FAD presents its information in a coherent assemblage to the outside, and pulls throught to the inside with a passage of orange painted steel 14

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jo s e p m uñ o z i p é re z

A la plaça dels Àngels, la porta del FAD lluitava per aconseguir posicionar-se mitjançant un cartell de grans dimensions sobre el petit accés, proper a la filosofia venturiana del I am a monument. Malgrat tot, la porta d’accés a la capella del Convent dels Àngels prenia tot el protagonisme. La nova proposta se situa, observa l’entorn i s’hi integra; i aquesta integració és un mecanisme per singularitzar-se, consolidant el paisatge urbà i revalorant-ne cadascuna de les visuals. Així, la porta gira en relació a la perpendicular sobre la qual es recolza, i se situa paral.lelament a la façana del Convent dels Àngels respecte del carrer dels Àngels mateix. La porta, gràcies al gir, aconsegueix una presencia més gran davant del ciutadà i, a la vegada, les visuals de l’interior cap a l’exterior es multipliquen. Simultàniament, l’alçada de la porta creix i s’estableix una relació directa amb l’ordre compositiu de la porta de la capella. D’aquesta manera, la plaça dels Àngels queda presidida per ambdues portes. La matèria prima per a la constitució de la porta és l’acer negre i, com a tal, es conserva intacte exteriorment, mitjançant vernís industrial que el protegeix i l’embelleix. Interiorment es conceptualitza la volumetria de pas, en taronja, com a metàfora de protecció del trànsit continu. Els marcs, per contra, són d’acer inoxidable sorrejat i es relacionen els uns amb els altres mitjançant un joc abstracte en l’espai i el temps.

jo s e p m u ño z i p é re z

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a rc h i t e c t u re | t h e re g i o n a l a s s e m b ly o f t e x t by g rey h e r n a n d e z

th e l owe r c ase r e ad ing room

re a ding a cco m o da t io n p r iva cy a da p t a t io n libra r ie s

g r ey her nandez

zines and things

Libraries, by their nature, are often ambitious monuments to nationalism or architectural ego. The reader can be an afterthought, which in part is what makes the lowercase reading room so charming. Coming in at just under 3m2, what is possibly the smallest library in the world is located in a stationary store in Vancouver. Housed in a former closet, the lowercase reading room was started in 2005 by Rebecca Dolan and Brandy Fedoruk as a means of housing their zine collection. In a space just big enough to stuff a vacuum, the founders of the Regional Assembly of Text have managed to amass and display one of the best collections of small books in the country.


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There are other larger and more complete zine libraries. The Anchor in Halifax, or ZAAP! in Seattle and in Vancouver The Purple Thistle, have extensive collections, as well as residency programs, lecture series, and workshops. But none manages to do so much with so little. This was not The Regional Assembly of Text’s original intention. When the Emily Carr graduates took over the space from Lucky Comics, it was being used as an office. Gradually it was transformed into an art gallery, complete with a curator and opening night parties. That such a small space required so much effort to maintain became an issue, and so the lowercase reading room was born. In doing so, it has became a beacon for bibliophiles, comic nerds, typography enthusiasts, print makers, and artists across the city.

gre y he r nande z

It is fitting that the scale of the space suits the aim of the visitor. Take its dimensions: only 3’6” x 9’, with a sloping ceiling under the stairs above. A small light illuminates a wooden bench and pillow and there is a foot stool. All around the room there are tiny four inch selves jammed with hundreds of small folded books, glued, stapled and hand stitched together. On the right hand wall are the books thoughtfully curated for the visitors enjoyment on themes such as phobias or weather. On a high shelf, just like in an old corner store, are the zines rated R for their content. Here you will find saucier zines such as The Jericho Hot Tub Infiltration Project, or Book of Cocks.

The scale of the space also suits the content. Self published, hand printed, often labouriously fabricated using retrograde technology, zines are monomanial love poems to obscure subjects. Often they are received by an equally tiny audience. Small books are minipropaganda machines for groups of one, published in desperation from the margins by activists, pedants, radicals, and loners. Think about the fan base of I Hate This Part of Texas, for example, or Cinema Sewer. Miniscule, probably, but certainly not indifferent. Architects in particular have had a long affinity for them, as Beatriz Colomia notes in her upcoming book on the subject, Clip, Stamp Fold: the Radical Architecture of Little Magazines 196X-197X.

What to read first? There are zines on every possible subject imaginable, in sizes ranging from microscopic to tombstone. There are cut and pastes, collages, blow ups, linocuts and recycled bits of not-quite-sure. The colours are spectacular, as are the contents. What’s not appealing about a zine called Fish Piss? Or Hate is something I’m good at? The cataloguing system is simple, by size. According to Fedoruk, this causes visitors to ‘either panic or get comfortable’. Browsing tends to be five minutes or several hours, with no room in between. You are reminded of Paul Valery’s comment on being overwhelmed at the Louvre, on a much tinier scale. Each book seems to compete for your attention, and you are confronted by seemingly ‘incompatible, warring factions, each with a weak, yet persistent singularity’.

Le Corbusier made them. So did Matta-Clark, and Steven Holl. Its refreshing to think that there was a point when the ideas of these architects, and others, were considered so radical, so jarring, that they had to publish themselves. And that as small as their initial readership was, that one existed. When asked what qualifies entry into the lowercase reading room, Fedoruk responded simply ‘a definite point of view’. Reading is a singular experience. Unlike going to the movies or listening to a record, the consumption of the printed word is an internal, and unique activity. Which is why going out in public to commit a private act seems at first seems so strange. But the ultimate triumph and the pleasure of the lowercase reading room is the recognition of this fact. Only one person at a time can and should enjoy Night School. Luckily, they now have their own room. v

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t r a n s fo r m a t i o n s | b a rc e l o n a by c a ro l k l e i n fe l d t

ba r in a box

bea c hes ba r s st o r a g e t empo r a l i t y mi ni ma l i sm

ca ro l k le in fe l dt

Beach bars in Barcelona are enigmatic boxes in the offseason and flip open to become wonderful little oases in the summer. v


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a rc h i t e c t u re | lessons learned by p e t e r o s b o r n e

s m a l l l e ssons

c o n s tr u c tio n c o n c e pt pro c e s s c r af t pro du c t

Nine people in ten seriously suppose that the good or bad appearance of things depends on their design alone. -David Pye, The Nature of Design 1

As architects we make a living from drawing our intentions. We provide a set of instructions which are interpreted by a contractor who builds our design. Designs are envisioned virtually, as 3-d models or hand sketches; a design idea is often divorced from the construction process. There is a tradition of architects experimenting, often with furniture, as a way of informing their architecture. These small objects can provide big lessons about construction, materials and process. To engage this tradition, I set out to design and build a shelf. A student at the time, my living situation was always changing: one semester in a bachelor apartment, another with classmates in a house – I never knew what kind of space I would next be in. The shelf had no specific requirements other than to accommodate future site changes. With this vague set of design parameters, I put pen to paper on the transient shelf. I quickly realised that it would be my own ability to build the shelf that would be the limiting factor in its design. David Pye in The Nature of Design said, ‘The only considerable technical limitations on design are imposed by our ineptitude at processing materials’.2 In the end, my ineptitude in woodworking drove the design. The final forms are rectilinear jointed with biscuits; the boxes have no hardware other than simple hinges because that was easiest to build. Plywood was the primary building material because it was economical, structurally stable and easy to work with. Other forms could have been sexier or more experimental, expensive hardware may have changed the way the boxes were hinged, but I may not have been able to process the materials. The idea that the design of furniture is limited by our ability or inability to process materials is transferable to buildings. It is important to realise that at some point a person is going to have a direct effect on your design. It will be the mason’s, the drywaller’s or the painter’s ability to process material that will be the limiting factor to the quality of the final building. Like my simple biscuit joints, using common construction techniques can ensure intended details are carried out. Studying local vernacular building techniques that are well known to local craftsmen can allow for a richer architecture with a tectonic connection to place. Vernacular building techniques do not

mean a lack of experimentation. There is always some level of experimentation and research that goes into the design of any project; the transient shelf was no different. On the drafting table it took on different shapes, hinging options and materials. But if good architecture is a combination of good design and good construction, there is actually more room for true experimentation and research if you move away from the drafting table or computer screen and into the workshop. Errors I made in construction and finishing will inform future variations on the shelf – variations as simple as changing the wood. Lessons learned on plywood can transfer to a more exotic wood with less fear of failure; building one version and truly understanding how the hinging works informs different shapes and hinging options. Architecture is no different, details and material selections need to be used and experimented with over the course of several projects if one hopes to develop their capabilities. As much time as I spent thinking about, drawing and modelling my design, it was construction where the real action was. The construction of the shelf, not the concept, shaped the final appearance. No matter how good construction documents are, it is the spontaneity and creativity on the job site that can either hide mistakes or ensure that a detail is built correctly. The success or failure of the design is dependant on both the skill of the designer and the skill of the builder. Even good ideas can be constructed poorly. Proceeding with the transient shelf, I quickly realised just how much time is spent on finishing. I spent as much, if not more time sanding and varnishing surfaces as I did cutting and assembling the major components. The big moves and decisions are, generally by measuring twice and cutting once, easily accomplished. In one day with a table saw I had all the panels I needed for the shelf. Building design is no different – large gestures such as overall massing are easily achieved, but it is the subtlety of the detailing that defines the quality of the final product. On a piece of furniture, the time spent finishing a surface is critical; it is what the user encounters, touches and engages. In buildings it is the handrails, wall finishes and corners that people come in contact with, not the bird’s eye perspective rendered to look like a photograph. These are also the building components that need to be worked through on site with the contractor, or mocked up with the craftsmen who are doing the work. Learning from my little mistakes, I have been able to glean big lessons about just how much people affect the process of design and construction. The way architecture is currently presented, with a virtual context and a memorable image, removes people from the process. But, no matter how much of your building is computer-manufactured and assembled with the help of GPS surveys, it will be a person with a paint brush touching up your steel that will determine its final appearance. v 1 David Pye, The Nature of Design. London: Studio Vista, 1964. p 86 2 Pye, The Nature of Design. p 47

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technology | spatial strategies by g e r a l d fo r s e t h

l i ttl e f e e t

reducing the footprint

par kin g lo ts c ar s to r age e f fic ie n c y s mall s pac e s

Any possibility to halve or quarter the footprint of our parked cars should be considered a positive urban improvement. All we need is a lift (currently costing as little as $CAD 3500) and a residential garage ceiling height of eight feet or better. A two car-garage can then park the four cars needed for our teenagers to drive themselves to soccer practice and ballet lessons. Or we can store the mini-tractor and accessories, wheelbarrow, fertiliser spreader and soil compacting roller that contribute to making a fantastic garden. A small condominium project on my drawing boards right now includes underground parking with two lifts specifically needed to park two seldom-driven vintage automobiles of one of the owners. Recently I attended the presentation of an historic restoration project of several buildings located behind up-market Stephen Avenue in Calgary where the developer proposes an exciting enclosed parking structure over the lane. Car owners are to be met by a parking valet, who will transfer the car onto one of several electric lifts having six levels, and return it on request – multistorey parking with personal service, one aisle, no ramps, small footprint‌. To date, planners at city hall have refused to approve this parking concept! v

ge ra ld fo r s e th

left top: Parked cars are a blight! below: Multi-storey parking lifts above, from the top: section, plan and illustrations of the Pro King 8 lift. below: the self supporting Pro King residential lift.


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a program, diagram or sketch of a site plan.

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m a r k ing sh ad ows making marks

For the last ten years or so I have been taking photographs of graffiti. I’ve not really understood my interest beyond admiring the formal juxtaposition of smooth and rough, the sudden shock of colour and line animating the otherwise mute surface of the (almost always) forlorn urban wall. I haven’t had any expectation that this collection will lead anywhere, nor have I pondered the deeper meaning of the artists’ motives, if any motive indeed exists. In parallel with the development of this collection, I’ve been slowly formalising the use of photographs in my architectural practice, first as a record and filter of the world (see Onsite 20: museums and archives), and secondly as a process of bringing closure to completed projects. While reviewing the first shortlist of images from a newly completed house, I found myself coming back again and again to one picture that showed sunlight coming through a plywood screen onto a heavily articulated concrete wall. A year before, while the house was in construction, this screen was changed from slatted timber to plywood on the advice of the contractor. As we developed it in plywood, much time went into abstracting the pattern of light through tree branches. Intellectually I knew that this would add another level of texture to the project, but what surprised me was the extent to which I was drawn to the effect (the display of light and shadow) rather than the fact of it (the screen itself ). Until I was faced with the image I had failed to understand how profoundly important the creation of an effect really was to me. While there is an irony in needing the filter of the photograph to understand architectural experience, my real interest lies elsewhere. Studying these shortlisted images I realised that there was a direct formal connection between the projects’ shadows and my graffiti collection. The architectural result is stiffer, but my preoccupation with paint on the textured surfaces of walls had born fruit. Beyond this though, I wonder if I haven’t also stumbled upon something else? My belief is that there is a conceptual connection between the graffiti and the design of these shadows. As architects we are desperate to make our mark in time – modernist orthodoxy espoused by schools of architecture has taught us that this is done with monument building. However the more recent, weaker tradition championed by Juhani Pallasmaa among others, has challenged us to do this by other, more intangible means. The feel


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gr afitti walls s u rf ac e s senses s h adows

matthew woodr uff

a rc h i t e c t u re | surfaces by m a t t h ew wo o d r u f f

of a door handle, the smell of beeswax, or in my case the effects of shadow and highlight on a wall also help us make a mark, even if it is mutable and fleeting. When I return to the motives of the graffiti artist, it strikes me now that through this shadow work, I’ve in fact tagged the building. I wonder if the lure of graffiti for the artist is to start a conversation with an unknown audience. Frustration, anger, humour or triumph can all be found there, but so too is the motive to speak and be heard, to challenge and tease, and finally to provoke and participate in a debate that is larger than oneself. These are basic human needs, and certainly echo some of the goals I myself have for my work. This is a small thing, but recognizing it is a part of a larger process that helps to frame the modest act of building in a noble way. v

m a t t hew w oo d r uf f

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cha r le s l aw rence: measured and drawn 2006

construction | boats by c h a r l e s l aw re n c e

a n e c o nom y of m e ans hot-moulding by Fairey Marine

ply wo o d lamin ate s s pe e dbo ats s h ipbu ildin g

In 1945, in Hamble, an English coastal village, Fairey Aviation needed to make best use of their skilled workforce and waterside factory, newly redundant from making warplanes. As many of the aircraft components had been fabricated from wood and the company’s directors were keen sailors, their choice of new products for mass-production was perhaps inevitable.

Their first boat was the Firefly, a 12 foot sailing dinghy, designed by the well known yachtsman Uffa Fox. By 1963 it had became the world’s most popular racing dinghy with 3,000 in use in 36 countries. Great attention had been given to the detail of the whole design, and bespoke fittings included a metal alloy mast, but it is the wooden hull that is important to this story. This lightweight hull was a single piece of plywood, formed as the finished shape of the boat, and with no need for internal framing: the manufacturing process was hot-moulding. The hull shell was built up from layers of wood glued together and heated in a pressure chamber called an autoclave. The planks were of African mahogany – Agba – about an eighth of an inch thick and up to six inches wide which were pre-shaped to a template and layered diagonally across a solid wooden buck. This buck was made from four inch timbers which were glued, pegged together and then carefully fashioned and faired to the interior shape of the designed boat. From this buck all future hulls of a particular design were built – all of which were exactly alike. The bucks were capable of being used many hundred times – one produced 700 boats which means that it was in and out of the autoclave and subjected to a heat of 212° F over 700 times. To hot mould a hull the appropriately shaped planks for the first skin were stapled to the buck. The second and subsequent skins were laid in alternate directions and were glued, one side only, by being passed through a glue spreading machine. As the second skin was applied, the staples holding the first were removed and so on until the appropriate number of skins was built up, from three to nine depending on their location and the size of the hull. The buck itself was mounted on a flat metal plate carried on a trolley running on a rail track. The plate was larger than the buck, which allowed a rubber sheet, lowered on to the laid-up shell on the buck, to be clamped down round the edges to ensure a good airtight joint. A vacuum was then applied until the rubber was stretched tight over the whole of the top surface of the shell. The unit was then wheeled into the autoclave where steam heat and additional pressure were applied ensuring good contact while

the shell was being cured. After at least half an hour (depending on the number of skins used for the shell) the baked shell was taken out of the autoclave and removed from the buck. Many different classes of dinghies were successfully produced over the next thirty years, their hulls renowned for their longevity, resistance to rot, light weight and elegance. Fairey Marine, as this part of the company was known, was producing 1,000 boats a year and had become ‘the largest boatbuilder in the World, outside America’. * In 1957, nearly ten years after the start of Firefly production, it was decided to build seagoing motorboats, and an innovative deep-V hull design was obtained from Ray Hunt, a well known American naval architect. This first 23 foot boat was developed by Alan Burnard, the company’s naval architect, into a very successful range of offshore motorboats with such evocative names as Huntress, Huntsman, and Swordsman. The hulls were also sold to other boatbuilders and individuals for fitting out, including four to Vancouver Police Department. The famous Fairey motorboats were elegant family cruisers, yet capable of offshore racing without modification, and were surprisingly competitive against purpose-designed racing boats. The boats pioneered the seaworthy deep-V hull form, the hot moulded construction and the use of diesel engines in fast boats. A large proportion of the 600-plus motorboats produced have survived today, the pride of their devoted owners. And nearly a dozen of the hulls remain in daily use as working fishing boats based in the south coast town of Weymouth. Hot-moulded production continued until the early 1970s, when the labour-intensive production of wooden boats could no longer compete financially with their fibreglas competitors. Fairey then offered alternative fibreglas hulls for both the dinghies and motorboats, although sadly these too eventually succumbed to economic pressures as the company concentrated on larger commercial and military vessels. All Fairey marine identity had vanished by 1990, when after various mergers the company was swallowed by a large shipbuilder. v

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me lis s a ja cque s

a u t h e ntic i m po s te rs

design | consumption by m e l i s s a j a c q u e s

moulding the mini-me

To understand our current fascination with mid-century design, we need look no further than one of the twentieth century’s most ubiquitous design-objects: the Eames moulded plywood chair. The tension between the ethics of what interior design magazines call the modern aesthetic and the cultural capital attached to the Eames chair as a signifier of that aesthetic generates some interesting questions: How do the original wartime applications of moulded plywood developed by Charles and Ray Eames continue to inform a domestic object designed for the average, albeit culturally savvy, post-war American? Does owning an Eames plywood chair in the first decade of the twenty-first century mean the same thing as it meant in the 1940s and 1950s? Does it signify the owner’s commitment to social change, or does it stand in for that commitment? Who is the ‘real’ audience for the marketing campaigns advanced by companies such as Herman Miller, the only licenced North American producer and distributor of the Eames plywood chair? How do factors like poverty (the inability to purchase) limit one’s ability to participate in this exchange of cultural values? In other words, when – if ever – is the moulded plywood chair just a chair? In Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes)1, Hal Foster surveys our current obsessions. According to Foster we live within a self-perpetuating system of total design, where ‘the aesthetic and the utilitarian are not only conflated but all but subsumed within the commercial, and everything—not only architectural projects and art exhibitions but everything from jeans to genes—seems to be regarded as so much design’.2 Rather than staging a minor revolution, the real people in Foster’s text are caught within a ‘seamless circuit of production and consumption’.3 One of Foster’s primary concerns is the status of the contemporary subject caught within this circuit: For today you don’t have to be filthy rich to be projected not only as designer but as designed—whether the product in question is your home or your business, your sagging face (designer surgery), your historical memory (designer museums) or your DNA future (designer children). Might this “designed subject” be the unintended offspring of the “constructed subject” so vaunted in postmodern culture? One thing seems clear: just when you thought the consumerist loop could get no tighter in its narcissistic logic, it did: design abets a near-perfect circuit of production and consumption, without much “running room” for anything else. 4

In a market where products are mass-produced, the packaging of commodities has become an end in itself. The most effective marketing strategies succeed through a process of consumerist interpellation. According to Foster, in the world of total design, a product can be mass in quantity yet appear up-to-date, personal, and precise in address. Desire is not only registered in products today, it is specified there: a self-interpellation of ‘hey, that’s me’ greets the consumer in catalogues and on-line. This perpetual profiling of the commodity, of the mini-me, is one factor that drives the inflation of design. 5

The subject recognises her or himself in the commodity. The advertisement functions as a mirror, pulling the consumer into a narcissistic relationship with the product. To be complete, to be oneself, it is necessary to buy. The marketing potential of this specular relationship is certainly not news. In a series of ads for Herman Miller published in Dwell,


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ac c e s s ibility e x c lu s io n u biqu ity r ar ity s ty le

the Eames plywood chair takes centre stage as the designer-object of choice. Herman Miller’s current marketing strategy for this icon provides an almost textbook illustration of the subjectification of the object that, according to Foster, facilitates the self-interpellation of the consumer. If Foster is right, and the ‘designed subject’ strolling the virtual aisles of the cultural Megastore is the monster child of the ‘constructed subject’ of postmodernism, then the animated Eames chair of the Herman Miller ad campaign signals an even more perverse twist in the consumerist loop. In two advertisements for this campaign, the Eames plywood chairs function like Foster’s mini-subjects. In the first advertisement, we see a coffee table accompanied by four of the iconic chairs. The caption is a play on words: Herman Miller with four-of-a-kind. Eames Molded Plywood Chairs & Table. They do everything but fold. Here the chairs have morphed into post-millennial designed subjects endowed with a kind of obstinate agency. They may not be the ideal poker buddies, but they have staying power. The scene of the second advertisement is less homely, a little more ominous. The setting is an office you’d find in a hardboiled detective novel. There are two chairs. One is positioned as if engaged in surveillance; the other is perched on a pile of books with its back panel wedged under the handle of the door. The door has a sign barely visible in its partially covered window. The caption to the ad reads: Herman Miller fights Crime. Eames Molded Plywood Chair. A small price for design security. The sign in the window reads: KEEP OUT. The exclusivity of the gathering is reinforced by the caption Authenticity Rules printed in red on the facing page of the magazine. At the bottom of this second image, there is exhibition information for the International Contemporary Furniture Fair that took place during May of 2003. Above this information is the following sentence: From Alvar Aalto to Charles and Ray Eames, Herman Miller celebrates original design and original designers. Needless to say, knockoffs aren’t invited to the party. The emphasis on authenticity can be understood simply as a recognition of the designers themselves. However, the way this purity narrative plays out says less about intellectual property and more about profit. It also extends beyond plywood into the realm of moulded fiberglass and plastic. Herman Miller no longer makes the fiberglass shells that, together with the plywood models, made Eames a household name in mid-century America. Having moved from fiberglass to plastic, they’ve also changed the measurements of the legs available for each model. What this means for people who want to buy legs for their ‘authentic’ shells is that they have to buy them from Modernica, a company that produces fiberglass shells on the original presses. Representatives of both Herman Miller and the Eames Office have openly criticised Modernica for their appropriation of the original designs.6 As someone with four shells and no legs to go with, I have to ask: What’s a girl to do? v Foster, Hal. Design and Crime (and Other Diatribes). London and New York: Verso, 2002. 2 Ibid. p17 3 p xiv 4 p 18, 5 pp 19-20 6 Demetrios, Eames. Letter to the Editor. Dwell 8.7 (2008): 42. 1

a rc h i t e c t u re | canted planes by my ro n n e b o z u k

sm a l l a n gl e s

a t r i ums a ng l es medi a t i on a mel i o r a t i on

m a na sc is aa cc archi tects ja ck m cc ut ch e o n

top: Gomez Moriana’s guest room, the underside tilted up against the ceiling. above: St John Ambulance by Manasc Isaac Architects, Edmonton. Construction phase photos and section showing the mediative, ambiguous tilted ceiling planes right: our ambiguous kitchen shelves, their undersides canted and reflective.

m y ro n ne bo z uk

My love of angled planes began accidentally. In the early 1990s, Rafael Gomez Moriana designed and built a closet and sleeping platform combination for guests in his apartment. One got to the bed over the closet by cantilevered ladder rungs. At the top of the ladder was a cantilevered landing, the underside of which was canted. This gesture softens the transition from room scale to object scale. I started to see this device in other work, learning that it works well at any scale. The atrium of St. John Ambulance in Edmonton contends with three rapid scale shifts, moving from a thirty-mile high stratospheric ceiling to a thirty-foot high atrium ceiling before settling into a ten-foot high reception space. The canted underside of the atrium ceiling softens the the first scale change, making the transition from outdoors to indoors smooth and welcoming. At the other end of the spectrum, small-scale inverted planes appear again and again in my own bungalow, which came with two Diefenbaker-vintage booklets titled Survival in Likely Target Areas and Your Basement Fallout Shelter (complete with a 3D construction diagram, materials list and recommended shelter supplies). When the tension between superpowers was most palpable, I think the stress was bearable because the USA (with Canada as a faithful sidekick) decided that we had to be just that much better. Whether it be at the scale of the American space program or the comparatively whimsical jet turbine tail lights of domestic cars, North America possessed a common optimism and bravado. In the spirit of the 1950s atomic era, a pair of canted shallow shelves in our kitchen have replaced a deeper particle board shelf that hid most of our espresso cups. Much to my delight, the canted undersides of each new shelf (with its ten coats of high gloss marine grade varnish hand-sanded between coats) produce an unexpected result; they are reflective, revealing soap bubble-like patterns and the contents of the cups below. This will be inconsequential to most people but in our house this feature has special significance as one of my kids squirrels away all sorts of objects in these cups. All is now revealed – keys, phone chargers and the like. Unintended practical consequences aside, to me canted planes represent an idealistic era marked by daring, optimism, confidence and hope. Canted planes occasionally produce a contrasting bittersweet feeling when some of our consultants come to design sessions with a conservatism reinforced by training that has been dulled by liability concerns – it becomes harder to pull off that gravity-defying cantilever. However, a small and tenacious pool of engineers across the country value daring and chance, postponing Jane Jacob’s prediction of professions in decay in Dark Age Ahead to another day. In details, I think we can measure the well-being and values of a society. v

rafa el gomez mor iana

personal details

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a rc h i t e c t u re | n e go t i a t i o n by re z a a l i a b a d i a n d a r a s h n o u r key h a n i

a w a ll, a punch-card: d e l i ca te d iv id e

a te l i er rz l bd

integrating landscape and urbanity

o f fic e par k repre s e n tatio n bu f fe r s image ability to po gr aphy

The Nosa Software + Hardware Research and Development Workshop in Tehran attempts to provoke a subtle negotiation between the built environment and the natural landscape. This negotiation is formed by integrating a wall that covers the west side of the project and has various connotations. There are numerous randomly-positioned openings which correspond to an exaggerated representation of an old punch card, and are in constant deferential dialogue with the sun at the particular interval of sundown.


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This wall tunes the scale of the building and its height to the extreme planarity of its immediate landscape on the west side. This planar continuity is provided a wall which conceals the building behind with a scalar enormity that maintains and echoes the innate tranquility of the landscape. It potentially acts as an installation dedicated to the landscape while also providing an atrium for the three-story building behind it. Although the concrete wall acts as an agent to condense the monumentality of the building with respect to the adjacent landscape, nevertheless, from the interior it suggests a monumentality of structure and loftiness of spatial allotment.

a t e li er rz l bd

The gap in between the wall and the main building has been roofed with glass to both accentuate a visual separatism and provide sufficient natural light for the atrium and the main building. The atrium is a buffer zone, providing an open space that can be dedicated to public and representational functions. Additionally it proposes a geometrical release between the wall and the main building which otherwise would have been a void. It breeds an environment in doubt, a blurring zone, space in constant turbulence between interiority and exteriority.

The main building consists of two major attached geometric forms: a triangular mass and a rectangular mass. The triangular mass, dedicated to public functions and attached to the main entrance creates a plaza outside the building. The rectangular mass contains private programs and is not accessible to the public. To amplify the longitudinality and monumentality of the interior, a long linear stairway springs from the instant of entry to the third floor along the west elevation of the building, and is indexed as an individual object. v

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01. amphitheatre 02. store 03. prayers 04. mechanical 05. parking 06. information 07. exhibition 08. classroom 09. supporting mech 10. kitchen/self-serve 11. hardware + checking 12. library + conference 13. workshop 14. project manager 15. Int + server 16. conf + demo 17. secretary 18. general manager 19. copy + store 20. financial manager 21. trade manager

a t e lie r r zlb d


design: atelier rzlbd. Reza Aliabadi design team: Farshid Behzadian, Farnoosh Fallah, Nazli Salehi, Ehsan Zareian structural: Aref Ruzbeh mechanical: Sarkisian electrical: Vahid Ghasemi


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client: Mr. Mohammadzade building type: research and development workshop location: Pardis High-tech Park, Tehran, Iran basics: Four-storey office building

lot: 1000 m2 area: 1400 m2 design: 2003-2005 completion: Fall 2010

s m al l c ompanions

n o mads amu le ts bo n e h an ds po c ke ts

g e ra ld fo r se t h

s c u l p t u re | i nu i t t a l i s m e n by g e r a l d fo r s e t h

For three decades these carved bone and sinew figures (2 1/2� tall) are my companions while I watch TV. They were made by Inuit craftsman in the Arctic sometime in the 1980s and collected, then sold, by Marmie Hess of Calgary, the noted authority on art and artefacts from northern Canada. They are talismen, associated with luck and safety from harm, pocketsized. It appears that they arrange themselves in a semicircle and often seem to react the same way I do, laughing, chortling, enquiring, panning or nodding in agreement with the dialogue of the programme we are watching. v

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a rc h i t e c t u re | cabins by m a t t h ew j o h n s o n

w e a th e r room s

concentrated structures

s tev en h o ll a rch it e cts

A few years back, poet Peter Handke published Once Again for Thucydides. The book is a kind of journal of his travels, but it is also an attempt to write a series of what he calls micro-epics, narratives that concentrate on the minutiae of the natural world, such as a sudden snowfall on a train in Japan, appearances of glow-worms on the plains of Friuli or tidal transformations off the coast of Spain. His micro-epics express astonishment at the world through his observance of small events in their ‘simple, unadorned validity’. This kind of concentration on small natural events is no longer a central part of our lives, since we now exist in an age of sensory overload, a time of continuous partial attention to use a phrase from computer researcher Linda Stone, in which distractions appear almost by the second in the form of email, chats, twitter, phonecalls, faxes, instant messages. Electronic signals envelope us. Our ability to connect to each other is now almost total, even as our engagement with the surrounding physical world seems more and more tenuous. Many of us find it hard to concentrate for any length of time: on a book, on a complex piece of music, on a difficult film, certainly on the minutiae of nature. Our lives are becoming a bit like the sidebars of web-pages, in which advertisement after advertisement blink on and off in a distracting array of color, motion, form and content. From this situation, architecture offers little respite. In the modern house (much less the modern office building, mall, school) few rooms are truly sanctuaries without distraction. Screens are everywhere. Yet many of us, I suspect, often wish for

n atu re filte r s de tails s u f fic ie n c y c limate

a space free from these distractions, a contemplative space such as a back shed or cabin in the woods, where architecture has the potential to become a kind of conduit or filter through which one becomes aware of the simple fluctuations of the world around us. For this reason, I’ve always had an appreciation for single-room structures built by architects: spaces meant primarily for retreat and concentration. Le Corbusier’s Cabanon in Cap Martin was one example. It was a rough one-room cabin in a grove of olive trees, with a bed, a sink, a small desk and windows fitted with shutters. Le Corbusier used to retire to his cabanon to think, to paint, to unwind. The door was positioned directly in front of the back entrance to the adjacent café and, in the other direction, to the Côte d’Azur. In the later years of his life Le Corbusier spent long summers at the cabin and the even smaller atelier next to it, drawing until in 1965 he drowned in the sea in front of his small shed. A few years ago, architect Steven Holl built himself a similar place in upstate New York, overlooking a lake. In his case, the one-room structure has no sink or bed, nor electricity, water, heat or insulation. It is only for escape, for painting and reading and for contemplating the tiny variations of the lake surface or of the surrounding leaves. These examples have something in common with a monk’s cell or even Finnish summer cottages called mökki, in which very little happens except the simple experience of life, stripped bare of modern conveniences and even of the need to socialise.

this page, above: Le Corbusier’s petit cabanon and atelier at Rocqueburne, Cap Martin, Côte d’Azur 1952. left: Steven Holl’s unserviced cabin at Round Lake in upstate New York 2005.


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mat t hew johnson

Like these examples, the Weather Room is a small one-room space for concentration – a structure through which one can witness the changing seasons or the changing colour of the day. The main wall is a 15 x 10-foot plate glass window facing out toward a field. The proportions of the window are the same as a 3:2 film frame. The opposite wall contains a set of built-in bookshelves. A built-in bed serves as a place to sit and to rest, at the foot end of which is a built-in sofa that can be converted to a writing desk. A skylight has for views through the tree cover above where the leaves perennially change colour, disappear and reappear again. The Weather Room, as the name implies, is fundamentally a space for the appreciation of the weather, at a slight remove, unencumbered by blinking screens, inputs of data and the beeps, buzzes and whirrs of contemporary life. The Weather Room is built from heavily insulated 2x8 framing, but could also be fabricated from structural insulated panels. It is intended to be an extremely inexpensive construction, able to be assembled in a few days. It is simple and light enough that it

can be moved by a small crane from site to site, with no need for plumbing or electrical hook-ups. It can occupy a back garden, a grove of trees or a promontory overlooking a landscape. The huge windows in the front direct your attention constantly outward, to the landscape and the weather. The Weather Room is an architectural way to heighten one’s senses, to become more aware of the things around us. I often think of the painter Antonio López García’s attempt, over the course of one autumn, to capture in paint the light filtering through a quince tree in his back yard, depicted in the film Dream of Light. After weeks and weeks of dedication and frustration, the weather finally turns against him and he gives up. Instead, he paints the quinces fallen from the tree as they rot into the ground. One wonders whether his project was the production of a great painting, or an attempt to notice with exactness the small transformations undergone by a single tree over a single season. It is this kind of precise observation that the Weather Room allows one to capture. v

this page, above: the Weather Room, tentative site in eastern Washington. right: basic structure and three prospects of the natural world.

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m i c r o - s t u dios from prefab to reality

s t ev e s o pi nk a

december 15 Over the past year or so (since my ice hut exploration that appeared in On Site 21: weather) I have been doing a lot of thinking/designing of a very small multi-purpose permitless building. A combination of economics, retreat and the desire to cultivate new space, this 10 x 10’ building would potentially be used as a shed, studio, cabin, yoga retreat, office, kid’s space, ice hut or any combination of these. Being prefabricated and assembled as one might assemble an Ikea kitchen with no building permit required, it allows a certain freedom to exist, both in design and in construction.   There are many versions of this concept all over the world – it is a familiar genre. One thing though is how common these buildings are on the internet (in theory), but I never see or hear of them being built in the Canadian context. They seem so convincing in theory, but haven’t necessarily translated themselves onto land yet. I’m curious as to why these are so appealing and sought after in the architecture world, but relatively non-existent in the ‘real’ world.   A draft of my (design) idea is below. As modest as it is, the idea was to create an exterior that was very shed-like and then fine-tune the interior into a more refined space. I’m interested in it being highly adaptable to different environments (rural, urban, mobile on ice). Where some of it breaks down, for me, is how to integrate services like water, heat and electricity and still have it affordable, mobile and permit-free.   Over all, I do feel like this idea of a micro-building is a response to shifting economic and attitudes that embrace efficiency and compactness. I suppose it comes down to real costs in the end. Is this building $4000, $7000 or $10000? When does it not become economical? What is 100 sq/ft of portable office space worth in an urban environment? Who would build it? Can one building suit all sites and most Canadian climates?


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ic e h u ts we ath e r e c o n o mic s c limate ligh t

january 18 I’ve been dragging myself on the small things article, and it hasn’t really gone anywhere. And now it seems to be on hold due to an exhibition I’ll be going in called Ice Follies (www.icefollies. ca) happening out on frozen Lake Nipissing in early Feb. I’m designing/constructing an ice hut (or at least my interpretation of an ice hut) and so this has been taking up a lot of my time. february 26 My ice hut has been out on Lake Nipissing for a couple of weeks now. It’s not exactly an efficient use of wood, or very practical or functional as an ice hut, but it is what it is. There is plexiglas dadoed in between each wood band. Until you get up close to it,  you can’t see the plexi (so the inside is more sheltered than it appears). Anyway, it was a neat project – to design and build something in a relatively short period of time – and to follow an idea through. For me, small translates into immediacy, which is a nice change from institutional work. feb 27 Initially I hadn’t really thought about it so much at night, and I do think that the night shots are more compelling than the daytime ones. I also built it in a relatively small warehouse, so never was able to view it from afar until it was out on the ice. I was pleased with the outcome, but more than anything, I was just glad that it didn’t get damaged en-route on the flat bed, and then during towing out on the ice with a pick-up.  And yes, there are about 150 pieces of 3/16” plexi (1.5 x 8”), and a dado on each face of the 2x3.

s t ev e s o pi nka

a rc h i t e c t u re | huts by s t eve s o p i n k a

What made me most nervous was that this small 9’x9’ hut was heavy – 2000 pounds kind of heavy. Not exactly your lightweight mobile ice hut. But it actually isn’t an ice hut, there is no fishing hole in the floor, just 2x4’s on edge with 1/2” plywood spacers. Pulling it onto the flatbed tow truck was definitely humbling. The thought crossed my mind that this thing could just blow apart, roll off or just be too heavy. One thing that struck me when the hut met the weather was the sound it made. It was nearly identical to the sound of rice crispies when you first pour milk on them – it crackled and continued to do so until the wood acclimatised to the below freezing temperatures. I also wasn’t sure how brittle the plexi would become in such cold weather, and the combination of how the properties of the wood and plexi would react to the elements.   After getting it on the ice and removing the temporary bracing for transport, I walked back a couple hundred metres and was relatively surprised at how the walls of the hut appeared. It was as though they were made out of bug screen – nearly translucent. I had been building it in a warehouse with only a few feet of space around the perimeter, so could never fully view it from a distance. Further to this, the plexiglas gave the illusion of parabolic curves – something that a computer model rendered, but didn’t expect it would occur the way it did. More than anything though, I probably underestimated not only the time to construct something relatively simple, but underestimated the unplanned results of something relatively simple. v

p a u l m it ch e ll

march 22 The hut is now off the ice. With an unseasonable quick melt, I’m just glad it didn’t become a gigantic minnow trap on the bottom of the lake. There is a chance that the new regional hospital here in North Bay (due to open this summer) may be interested in acquiring it for a more permanent exhibition, but this would have to be coordinated with the director of the Kennedy Gallery here in North Bay. In the meantime, it is being stored on the property of an arborist who might also have visions of for an afterlife. I have small lot myself, so to have it on my property was never really an option. It would of also involved tearing a wood fence down to move into the ideal position. In fact, the afterlife of this hut was never fully resolved or planned, and maybe for the better. I like the idea of it becoming something else, for someone else, somewhere else. But back to the construction. The 120 pieces of plexiglas rarely became tedious to implement. There were a series of actions that were done that actually made the whole thing go together in a kind of rhythm. Half way up the second wall however, I shot one of the nails through the 2x3 and it hit a knot and shattered the piece of plexi I had just installed. This was good for two reasons, the first: I must be more careful, and the second: what was my plan or method if for some reason one of the pieces of plexi mid-way up (on any wall) broke? How could I re-install if it is dadoed top and bottom? Never figured out what the replacement procedure would be, and never needed to – not yet anyway. More tedious was probably the 120 2x3s that I had to dado on each face.  This reminded me more of tree planting in remote parts of northern Ontario than anything else – the repetition and knowing how much more there is to do. And was the whole wall system even going to work?

opposite page, left: idealised permit-free micro-studio project, fall 2009 below: moving the ice folly, 14 February 2010.

liz l ot t

this page: the unexpected effects of building a simple structure and putting it in place.

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o l i v e r f arm e rs m arke t

speed, simplicity and straightforward building

de ligh t u tility mate r ials mar ke ts min imalis m

f lo r ia n m a ure r

a rc h i t e c t u re | p av i l i o n s by a l l e n + m a u re r a rc h i t e c t s


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The pavilion uses standard steel sections, with no angled cuts or welds, to support two unequal roof planes canted into a structural steel gutter. The construction module was derived from a standard 8’ folding table, allowing for up to 10 market stalls around the perimeter. The inward slope of the canopy avoids dripping water onto the shoppers. it also projects sound out into the park from the larger roof when the building is used for performances. The roof is made of tongue and groove beetle-kill pine decking covered with corrugated metal. The building was put together over the course of a few days by the fabricator, Thomas Born, who to our good fortune is also an artist and contributed a witty sculpture to enliven the building. Cut from rusty steel plate, it uses one of the shear panels as a backdrop to an abstracted tableau of the ancient ritual played out in this building every Saturday. It is a small thing, which brings some joy to a small town. It’s also the most sustainable building we’ve done, in every way we can think of. v

f lo r ia n m a ure r

In the dry, fertile farmland of the South Okanagan, in a small green park beside the Okanagan River, people gather every Saturday for the farmers market. In this era of slow food and hundred mile diets, artisan cheese and vine-ripened tomatoes, the event was outgrowing the venue – there was a need for more permanent shelter and a bandstand for outdoor concerts. The clients were a small non-profit market society with limited funds. They had originally approached a steel-building manufacturer about a modest structure which could accommodate their market stalls, weekend picnickers and occasional performances. They were offered a large, octagonal pavilion, which in addition to costing twice their budget, would have forced the market vendors to fight over a diminishing wedge of storage space behind them while funnelling rain onto the customers in front of them. We felt we could do better. The design process consisted of two architects, a structural engineer and a steel fabricator sitting down over a case of beer to hammer out something that would use a minimum of material, take the minimum time to fabricate and provide maximum utility to the market vendors. It would also need to be an attractive centrepiece for the park.

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r u t ge r h ui be r ts


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sac re d sig ns

me mo r ials ro ads c h u rc h e s ic o n s s ign ific atio n

roadside architecture

Roadside shrines are found in many cultures and countries, performing various religious functions. In Greece, it is almost impossible to go on a road trip and not see myriads of distinctive miniature church-like structures at the sides of the roads, known as eikonostasia. As macabre as it might sound, these small religious objects function as memorials to people killed in traffic accidents (less often as a thankful oblation from a survivor). They are placed on or near the spot where the accident happened by the family involved, and inside contain an icon of a holy figure together with a range of items, usually an oil lamp or a candle, a bottle of oil, wicks, flowers and sometimes pictures of the people that lost their lives. Locals seem to hardly notice them, mainly because of their complete integration in the (sub)urban landscape but also because of their specialised function. Members of the affected families visit regularly to clean them and light the lamps and candles. However, the existence of these shrines is not only meaningful to them, it also offers a multiplicity of meanings to local society. Εἰκονοστάσι(-ον) (eikonostási(-on) in Greek literally means ‘icon stand’, the place where the icon is put. In Greek Orthodox tradition, the family shrine is a place in the house dedicated to family prayer, usually put in an eastern facing wall or corner where icons are placed. Beyond the walls of the house, throughout the centuries, similar shrines were put outside the towns as beacons of habitation in remote areas, guiding travellers along the routes

and announcing the vicinity of a settlement. Eikonostasia as memorials to road accident deaths is a relatively new phenomenon that complements the common roadside building typologies that came with the arrival of the automobile. Nowadays, at certain points on the road, one is shocked to see whole groups of them – Greek roads and drivers do not enjoy the best reputation in terms of safety, at least not compared to the rest of Europe. But there is more to the eikonostasia than the memorial function. These ever-increasing miniature churches form an informal network of spot interventions that do make a bigger whole; they signify death outside of the cemeteries and stand for a loud and clear warning sign for road users– ‘this is a dangerous curve, people have died here’. In earlier days, the forms and character of the eikonostasia were as simple as they were diverse. Shrines were ad hoc, designed by the relatives themselves or craftsmen from the circle of the family. They all had something in common; they represented the minimal means to provide a sacred space for the icons stored inside. Icon, or Eikona in Greek, literally means image. Followers of Greek Orthodox tradition do not depict God or God’s creation. This implies that any kind of depiction has to be abstract. GreekOrthodox icons, especially, are abstract representations of the saints they signify; the icon presents a sign of a holy figure, not a real image of it.

r u tg e r h ui be r t s

m a t e r i a l c u l t u re | g re e c e by r u t g e r h u i b e r t s a n d ev a n g e l o s ko t s i o r i s

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r u t ge r h ui be r t s


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basic structure and material use, a new conservatism seems to the recent trend. Representational literalness and microarchitectural complexity now constitutes a bizarre architectural model. Dimensions now range from that of a mailbox (the cheapest model on sale) to that of actual structures an adult could easily enter. These new concrete shells are meticulously dressed in opulent materials such as stone planks, brick tiles, plaster reliefs or painted decoration on a thin coating of (what seems to be) masonry on top of the real structure – pretty similar to their modern full-sized references. Is it since the arrival of mass media and the rise of the Age of the Image that the icon has had to become more elaborate and realistic to be appreciated or even recognised? Are the eikonostasia of the 2000’s the Venturian Ducks of provincial highway strips? Appearing like misplaced, out-of-scale churches, their evermore formal presence almost cancels the necessity of an icon inside. Funnily enough, these mass-produced mutants of what seemed until now to be folkloric roadside curiosities may be the apotheosis of sacred iconicity in its most commercial form. v

r u t ge r h ui be r t s

These humble religious structures reveal their special character when considered from this point of view: they are micro-architectural objects that signify the sanctity a large church would normally offer. It is interesting that the basic form of an eikonostasio is that of a simple container crowned with the symbol of the cross – the smallest spatial unit required to house an icon, the most basic intervention to make a spot sacred. In recent years, the character of the eikonostasia has changed dramatically. Details started getting more elaborate and geometry became more complex than the mere set of walls, roof and operable glass or plastic opening that used to be enough. Eikonostasia gradually have grown into literal, iconographic representations of churches. At the same time a whole roadside industry of prefabricated miniature churches has arisen. Ironically, its resellers are found mainly along the provincial suburban roads where the accidents happen, and where prefabricated scaled replicas of famous orthodox temples are advertised and sold prêt-a-porter. Whereas the early shrines demonstrated an economy of means and an almost ‘modernist’ character in terms of their

page 28 overleaf: hand-built eikonostasia opposite page: manufactured concrete eikonostasia

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i n d i g e n o u s a rc h i t e c t u re drums by m i c h a e l l e e b


buil d ing d rum s

cosmological diagrams

ojibwa dr u ms dr um co n s tr u c tio n tipi fo r m ma t e r ial c u ltu re

a ll dr u m s co n s t r uct e d a nd p ho t o gra p he d bt m i cha e l le e b

Although indigenous hand drums are not considered a conventional form of architecture since they lack an inhabitable space, the design of drums often references indigenous forms of architecture such as tipis and buffalo pounds not only in terms of the geometry of their design or structure, but also symbolically and in their shared material culture. Most drum frames are either circular (not unlike tipis and medicine wheels) or octagonal (as are buffalo pounds). Similarities in the materials used are also noteworthy – buffalo and moose hide, wood and sinew for lacing. While the material culture and consequently the use of these materials is the same in many instances, some materials are used differently, for example drum frames are often made of laminated wood or small pieces of wood cut at 45 degree angles to form an octagonal shape. Furthermore, while the hides used for drums and tipis are from the same species of animals they are prepared differently; drums use raw hide while tipis traditionally used several smoked, soft hides for the tipi cover. Perhaps of most interest are the symbolic references or structural analogies that can be made between drums and indigenous forms of architecture. The design and number of ties or strings at the back of the drum represent tipi poles — often only four ties are used in a cross pattern that refers to the four foundation poles used by some indigenous peoples of the western Plains region. Another example is that the interior of the drum (the back) shows a small scale perspective of the interior of a tipi when looking upwards. This effect is developed when additional ties are used to pull the rawhide tight at the back of the drum, in the way that additional tipi poles amplify the four foundation poles. Both tipi covers and indigenous drums are occasionally painted with images and depending on the relative opacity or transparency of the hides used, both drums and tipis are luminescent when lit from within.Both tipis and drums share similar characteristics as two related structures that have a performance art quality. These analogies provide an indigenous reference point and structural framework for my own drum-making and most recently a sculpture entitled Sun Drum, based on the traditional Ojibwa dance drum or big drum that uses either a half-barrel or wooden wash tub as a drum frame. The relationship between drums, tipis and other types of indigenous architecture is in design, material culture and symbolic form. In this sense drums are a small-scale example of indigenous architecture and design. v top: A round elk hide drum where the braided sinew lacing is tied to reflect the foundation poles of a tipi. above: Octagonal drum with elk rawhide, red tailed hawk feathers, and red top feathers (pheasant feathers), with glass mini-crow beads.


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a ll d r u m s co ns t r ucted and photog raphed bt mi chael l eeb

Buffalo Pound Drum with opaque buffalo rawhide and buffalo fur trim. The braided sinew is tied in a manner to represent the circular motion of buffalo running within a buffalo pound, clockwise in the direction of the sun.

Drum Shield #2 with soft tanned elk hide and sinew lacing

Drum Shield with soft tanned opaque elk hide & buffalo tail

View of the back of a drum with cross-shaped braided sinew representing the four foundation poles of a tipi with elk rawhide and laminated maple wood frame.

For a study of the traditional construction of the Ojibwa dance drum see Vennum, Thomas. The Ojibwa Dance Drum: Its History and Construction. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2009. (first published in 1982 by the Smithsonian Institution Press)

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s m a l l town e d g e s

l a n d s c ap e | walls by d e n i s c a l n a n

the stone walls of Weston, Ontario

apart from age and lack of upkeep. Some even look as though they are being torn apart – the old riverstones lie on the ground beside the walls or are missing from the top coping. In some places entire parts of the walls are separated and some walls have been removed without a trace. Mining the Humber River for stones is no longer allowed so these missing walls are irreplaceable. Some walls have ad hoc upkeep but it is only the walls surrounding the Weston Branch of the Toronto Public Library to get proper attention in recent years. These walls have been restored to their original form: drystone walls with a small amount of mortar. Unfortunately, because of the high cost of restoring these walls, residents have not undertaken the refurbishing of walls on private property and the city of Toronto has not made it a priority to help with this. Despite this, in 2009 a commemorative plaque was placed in Little Avenue Memorial Park recognising the stone walls and the Humber River stone cenotaph as an important component of the neighbourhood’s heritage. v

d e nis ca lm a n

Growing up in Weston, a town that dates back to 1881 and now makes up part of Toronto, I grew up with stonewalls lining the streets. As a kid I climbed them and balanced, walking along the tops of them, never realising that these were something special. They surround houses, parks and the library and were taken from the bed of the Humber River. The walls are the pride of Weston and many are the work of stonemason James Gilbert Gove, a Weston resident until his death in 1974. Gove built the walls in the 1950s after the Town of Weston widened the streets and sidewalks. This redefinition left the streets no longer level with the front yards. Residents were given the choice to either make a small hill in their front yards to make them level or to accept a riverstone wall paid for by the town. The walls consist of several layers of stones laid horizontally, with the top layer standing vertically, with spaces between them. They were originally built with a small amount of mortar, but as years passed residents added mortar to the walls to help them last. Unfortunately even with this reinforcement the walls are falling

s to n e wo r k dilige n c e h is to r y ide n tity atte n tio n


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de n is ca lm a n

Small Things

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s m a l l a cts of l and sc ape a history of large intentions

pr ac tic e me ditatio n de tails h is to r y h an dwo r k

j ohn dol an

l a n d s c ap e | p a t h w ay s by j o n p i a s e c k i

Once, I was asked to bury a cat by the elderly woman who lived next to a job I was working on. She saw me digging holes for some plants and thought I could tuck her dead pet in. I did it. I have planted hundreds of trees, laid sod and ground-covers. I have raked and graded the land. For the last eight years I have mostly joined stone in walls and walkways and I have become good at it. Small jobs have been my career. How well I can pull off the little things determines whether I am asked back and whether I get the next job; my creativity shapes what those jobs become. My design/build firm has shrunk from eight employees to one. Me. For years I assumed that this shrinking was the trajectory of failure. I was wrong. My work has never been better and it is at its most lucrative. I don’t want a big office. I really never want to make a park, a corporate headquarters or a university master plan. I make treasures that touch people and that people touch. I think my stonework is a model for the power of small. It is additive sculpture. One piece gets joined to another small piece. I sweat the little details of this union. No two stones are the same. After a year my project might weigh 100 tonnes and be 100 metres long – I do it a little at a time. People often ask me if I get bored breaking, stacking and moving rocks. It is a reasonable question. To answer, I will share one large issue I explore while working small.


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Stone construction is one of the most enduring traces of human activity. Stone is hard and heavy. Any effort to quarry, cut and stack it is one that requires a powerful incentive, extensive planning and specialised skill. This work has often been done in the service of empire to advertise power. Masons shape and arrange stone and in so doing express cultural attitudes toward the land. This expression takes place on a range of scales, from a single shaped stone all the way up to a landscape fully occupied by people. The ancient walls and boundary stones of Rome are perhaps the best-studied examples of historical stonework. These stone remnants betray an attitude toward the land that continues to be important to this day. These walls were the places where culture met the raw matrix of what we consider the natural and the ancients saw as a supernatural world. Around the Mediterranean, physical boundaries of stone were also ritual boundaries. According to Varro, Cicero, Plutarch and Pliny these walls were made sacred by complex and ancient rites. At the boundary wall, culture distinguished itself from nature. Passage was strictly regulated through the city gates. Climbing over the wall was taboo and punishable by death. On the Servian Wall in Rome, or on the various cyclopean city walls around the Mediterranean Sea, power was expressed by the degree of separation afforded between the safety inside the wall and the danger outside.

j ohn dol an

Equally rich, though less studied, attitudes towards the land and techniques of stone masonry exist around the world. The Inca practiced the most advanced stone shaping and joinery techniques yet known. The artist Cesar Paternosto has suggested that the Inca used concepts from their advanced fibre technologies as a model for their landscape architecture and stone masonry. The Inca, who used twisted cord and knots in their Quipu notation system, the closest analogue to our writing, may well have expressed the interweaving of culture and nature in the stone masterworks they built. Their system of sacred organisational lines, called ceques, combined genealogy with religion and literally tied culture to the land. The Inca tended and cared for the huaca, or sacred places, along those lines. I think that this sense of weaving and fusion provided the impetus for the exquisite stone joinery of Inca walls, where the tightness of the seams between stones is legendary. In Art of the Andes, Rebecca Stone-Miller writes, ‘The Inca felt a special interchangeability with stones, believing them to be alive and able to transform into people and vice versa’. From a Western perspective, power may well have been expressed by the degree that culture and nature could be bound together. The implications of this fusion to our modern relations with nature are profound and stand in stark contrast to our primal conception of power expressed by the separation of culture from nature. Instead of amassing power by holding the forces of nature at bay as a king of Mycenae or early Rome might, the Inca ruler shaped mountains in an organic aesthetic and stone by stone, became a force of nature in his own right.

As a mason I join stone. As a landscape architect I use my skills to help join people to the land. My projects are small, but well-worked stone consistently leads people into nature. My goal is, bit by bit, to build better modern stonework that inspires others to recall that in spite of all we have done to separate ourselves from it, we are the land. v

Paternosto, Cesar. The Stone and the Thread: Andean roots of abstract art. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996. Stone-Miller, Rebecca. Art of the Andes from Chavin to Inca. London: Thames & Hudson, 1995.

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a rc h i t e c t u re | m i xe d u s e s by j o h n g i l l a n d e r s , swe e n ey s t e r l i n g


flexible responses

a rc h i t e c t s

The mixed-use building at 294 Richmond Street East by &Co can be seen as both a small building in the city and a large building for its tiny site. Both understandings challenge typical preconceptions of building in the urban context. The common view that bigger is better does not always apply. In the case of the revitalisation of neglected neighbourhoods with infill buildings, small interventions are often the most important. This building embodies that position. Before redevelopment, the 302 m2 lot at 294 Richmond Street East contained a failed restaurant occupying the original house that was built on the west side of the property before 1909, and a large dilapidated deck that covered the remainder of the site. Although the existing building was not suited to re-use, the redevelopment of the land was challenged because of the physical constraints of the property, both in its limited size and its adjacency to undevelopable land. The typical response to dealing with the development of small lots in the city is to increase their potential for intensification by assembling adjacent properties to form a site large enough to support a development with increased density. In part this is required to provide the infrastructure for larger developments such as underground parking, loading and service areas. Assembling a large site is also desirable for the creation of large floor plates that can be configured to provide a standard saleable response to program spaces in the form of residential units, commercial office space or street related retail. The property at 294 Richmond East is bounded by a heritage building, a public lane and two streets. With no adjacent developable land, there was no opportunity to assemble adjacent properties. A different approach to the development of the property which focuses on providing the necessities of the building and the acceptance of a simpler way to live and work in the city has been embraced by the owners, CTL Group. The owner’s desire to create a new model for the development of small properties in the city and their long-term view of the viability of the project has led to the creation and success of the building. For this project, with the support of the City of Toronto, all extraneous building infrastructures have been eliminated including on-site loading and parking which, if demanded, would have made any development of the property impossible. Instead, the entire site area has been built upon, effectively resulting in a modest mixed-use building with ground floor retail, secondstorey office use and ten two-storey loft residential units. Where cumbersome and unnecessary site infrastructure was abandoned, simpler and more appropriate infrastructure has been provided to serve the real needs of the building occupants, such as generous bicycle parking facilities, large personal storage spaces and practical garbage and recycling handling space. 48

ze ro -lo t lin e in fill s ite s i nt e n s ific atio n self -s u f fic ie n c y waive r s

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The building is a model of urban intensification that supports and also depends upon its surroundings — public transit and nearby commercial parking lots serve the building residents, and the use of the adjacent public lane for deliveries and garbage collection integrates this building into the city in a way that is generally discouraged by zoning bylaws that require self-sufficient site development. Some reliance on the surrounding city is manageable and successful in this case because of the small scale of the development. The benefit to the city is a revitalised property that contributes to the positive redevelopment of the area. Like the servicing, the internal planning of the building has been simplified in order to make the best use of the available space. Common areas such as lobbies and building circulation have been minimised. The building core is organised in a compact line along the north party wall, maximising space with access to windows. The two-storey residential lofts on single-loaded corridors benefit from a skip-stop design that eliminates the corridor on every other residential floor. This improves efficiency and creates units of greater depth on the narrow property.

s ha l gi ll ph o to grap hy

f i n l ay s o n

s m a l l - l o t sol utions

s ha l gi ll ph o to grap hy

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with precast concrete floor slabs. The window-wall and precast concrete cladding were also pre-manufactured and hoisted into position in modular assemblies. The lack of a construction staging area presented material scheduling and site accessibility challenges. Although the floor plate of the building is small, the structure was built in two phases, east and west, to provide at least some staging space on the site for most of the construction period. * 294 Richmond East is a building that has made the most of a small parcel of land on an important and highly visible corner in the city. It provides much needed vitality to an area that is, just now, experiencing a positive regeneration. Although the development potential of this small site has been maximised, the building is appropriately scaled to the neighbourhood in its height, and to the block in its engagement with the street. The limitations of this small isolated property have led to a strong building that makes an important contribution to the city. v

s h a l gi ll p ho t o grap hy

Ten two-storey rental lofts are also simple in approach. They favour clean, unprogrammed open space over customary condo unit features that may not deliver a full benefit when reduced in size to fit within ever-decreasing suite areas. Ultimately, the lofts at 294 Richmond Street East offer greater flexibility and greater access to natural light and views within typical residential space standards. The limited size of the floor plan encouraged a more threedimensional approach to spatial organisation, creating a building that is compact and efficient. The final arrangement is a series of vertically stacked and interlocked spaces which include open roof decks connected to the top loft units by striking, angular stair towers. Although simplicity may have been a design goal, the construction of the building on such a small site did not come without its share of complications. In order to minimise cost and construction complexity, primary building elements were modular and prefabricated off-site. The structure is a steel frame

developer and owner: CTL Group design: Sweeny Sterling Finlayson &Co Architects architectural team: Dermot Sweeny, John Gillanders, Peter Kurkjian, Marco VanderMaas, Julia Knezic, Holly Saplamaeff engineers: structural: Blackwell Bowick Partnership Limited mechanical and electrical: Jain and Associates Limited geotechnical: Terraprobe


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min imalis m s implic ity f u n c tio n s u f fic ie n c y mate r iality

cleaning up

r ichard johnso n

p aul whe lan

a rc h i t e c t u re | r ye r s o n u n i ve r s i t y by p a u l w h e l a n

paul whel an

How do you remember the quality of a place? It is surprising how many people remember their experience of the washrooms.  People routinely comment on the quality of washrooms in airports and theatres and even restaurant reviews will dwell on a high quality washroom experience.  Quality comes from attending to the small and intimate. Nowhere is this more apparent than in washroom design.   Kerr Hall at Ryerson University dates from the 1960’s and has the look and feel of a high school building.  Ryerson wanted to upgrade the qualitative experience of the building by upgrading the washrooms.   As a designer, when the entire project is the washroom you recalibrate the focus to a few simple ideas. The potency of small is that it’s like a short story – an entire world must be described as economically as possible.  For this washroom that economy landed on material selection and a few strong formal moves. The selection of materials was based on a visceral reaction to the urine-stained floors and urine-coloured walls of the original washroom.      Stantec Architecture decided to retain two materials – the terrazzo floor and the marble washroom partitions. The selection of a wall tile focussed on creating a sub-aqueous feeling using a rippled porcelain tile that recreates the illusion of water.  The space was enriched by introducing white solid-surface walls at the entry and as a floating wall supporting the sinks. The room was opened up by dematerializing the corners using mirrors or back-painted glass.    We deployed a standard sustainable array of low-flow fixtures, motion sensors for lighting, low-energy hand dryers and non-use of disposable paper towels. The faucets were particularly interesting as the hands-free sensors are battery-driven.  The batteries are recharged by a turbine that is driven by the faucet’s water flow. Thus we approached the holy grail of perpetual motion, or at least using ‘free’ power provided through municipal water pressure.   Washrooms are a microcosm of the complexity of construction compressed into one small space.  Just as there are many trades falling over each other in the construction of a washroom, so too there are many hands in a washroom design. v

r i cha r d j o hn s o n

design: Stantec Architecture, Toronto: Deana Brown, Elika Herischi, Ted Boruta, Mitch Gregoire, Paul Whelan, Bill Burgoyne project manager: Dominic Magnone, Ryerson mechanical engineer: Julia Sacher electrical engineer: Michael Shiu contractor: Hope Birnie-Colbert, Compass Construction

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sm a ll - spa ce ar c h it ec t u r e

c lin ic s n o n -pro fits vo lu n te e r s do n atio n s valu e

a rc h i t e c t u re | human rights by s h e l by d oy l e

s h e lby e li za be t h do y le

left: plan of the existing exam room in the closet. above: plan of the renovated exam room and counselling spaces on left. below left: a photo of the existing exam room. Medical examinations were performed in this space; records and supplies were stored here as well and wheeled out when the clinic was open. below: renovated exam room with reused exam table.


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Universal health care and universal health insurance are highly debated political issues in the United States. Under the current system, access to medical care is contingent upon a patient’s ability to pay medical or insurance fees. The millions of Americans who can’t afford either receive medical treatment in the nation’s emergency rooms or from a network of dedicated non-profits who offer basic medical services for free or for subsidised rates. This system results in spaces of inequality that reflect and reinforce the disparities of the US health care structure. In this context small architecture is an act of resistance, a call for design to engage in the contemporary social issues of the day. This is a story about small architecture and health care.

s h e lby e li za be t h do y le

To quote Henri Lefebvre ‘Space is political and ideological. It is a product literally filled with ideologies’. Policy alone cannot shape the built environment of the United States. Ideas must be given a place to live, a solid, physical manifestation, lest they become empty rhetoric. Architecture can give form to an idea; it can create space that houses a vision of equality and human rights. In 2007, Care for the Homeless (CFH), a non-profit that provides medical and social services to at-risk populations, received a grant from the US Department of Health and Human Services to renovate one of its free health clinics. Unfortunately, the funding did not cover the entire cost and CFH was faced with possibly closing the facility. The clinic is located in the basement of Broadway Presbyterian Church in Morningside Heights, a neighbourhood in Manhattan. CFH shares their space with multiple homeless outreach services, including a soup kitchen and shelter operated by Broadway Community Incorporated (BCI). Working to maximise CFH’s restricted budget, a team of volunteers from the New York Chapter of Architecture for Humanity (AFHny) provided a design for the renovation and paired with a local contractor, GO Construction Corporation. Through creative thinking and the generous donation of time, services and materials, the renovation project was completed on time and on budget.

right, from the top: - new 3-Form sliding doors - new Corian topped desks and Hafele locks - donated Elkay sink and faucet with running water - plywood and Corian counter detail

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brandon hendr i ck s

AFHny’s design concept integrated architectural strategies with CFH’s mission to make health care available and accessible to at-risk populations. Before the renovation CFH had been operating in sub-par conditions – their entire team worked out of a closet that was 13 feet long by 7 feet wide. This served as their exam room and the medical and counselling team provided by The Institute for Family Health did not have easy access to a sink, running water or private space to advise clients on intimate matters such as HIV counselling. The renovation included a new exam room, triage space, two counselling rooms, two offices, reception, copy centre and storage. The total square footage of CFH’s medical space is now 500 square feet. Translucent sliding pocket doors maximise the limited space, built-in desks are topped with Corian for durability, and new lighting brightens the renovation. A refinished floor and steel plates now cover what was once an open plumbing trough. AFHny collaborated with CFH, BCI and the Church toward the goal of providing a clean, safe construction site with a minimal amount of interference in BCI’s outreach services. Since the space is occupied 24 hours a day, non-VOC paint and formaldehyde-free insulation were used, as neither product off-gas toxic volatile organic compounds. Many people and organisations within the building community made the renovation possible through donations of time, services, and materials. Without their generosity this project would not have been possible within the budget provided. This list includes, but is not limited to: 3-Form (ecoresin doors), Hafele (door and cabinet hardware), Bettencourt Green (AFM Safecoat paint and Bonded Logic Denim Insulation), Evans+Paul (Corian, fabrication), Elkay (sink and faucet), Gateway (plumbing services), The Door Stop (door frames) and Aura Lighting (lighting). Debbian Fletcher-Blake, CFH’s Director of Clinical Programs, stated that the agency ‘is so grateful for the generous donation of time, services and materials by so many on behalf of so many. The result is a clinic that is not only cost effective and aesthetically pleasing, but one that, most importantly, enhances the dignity and care accorded to our clients’.

AFHny worked to create a design process that fostered new relationships between the nonprofit clients and the local building community. Each team member brought a specific expertise to the process, making the overall project possible. It is this collaboration which best embodies the spirit of sustainability AFH pursues in providing architectural solutions to communities in need. The resulting renovation supports the belief that when resources are scarce, small architecture matters. v

above top: AFHny team members demonstrate the new 3-Form sliding doors above: AFHny team trapped in a new CFH office: designers Shelby Doyle and Deborah Buelow and architectural theorist Pollyanna Rhee

l a n d s c ap e | g a rd e n s by r u t h m o r a and paul whelan

small edges

yards re tre at me mo r ials re f u ge to po gr aphy

Interval House Memorial Garden, Toronto

p a u l wh e la n

The ambitions are small – to reclaim a patch of unused space and navigate a steep slope.

Sometimes small projects are posited as a forum for testing ideas that can then be parlayed onto a larger stage. Interval House Memorial Garden is not scaleable.  It occupies a left-over unusable slot of space squeezed between the side of the building and a wood fence.  Interval House wanted to create a garden as a quiet refuge for women and their families. At the same time they wanted to use the garden as a place of memory for a former client who had died. And at a very practical level, the lower level needed emergency access to the upper street level and the existing sloped areas needed erosion stabilisation.   We seized on the narrowness of the space as its defining spatial attribute as well as a platform for a memorial narrative.  The narrowness has been exaggerated by creating three parallel bands of surface to accentuate the length and further compress the width.  Three donated wood benches provide shaded seating for quiet contemplation or simply a place to seek a few quiet moments with a cigarette. A stream of stones in a simple trough connects

the benches, slips behind a backlit memory plaque and ends at the top of the steep slope.   The narrow garden wood deck walkway ends at a lookout promontory also behind the backlit plaque. A run of stairs connects the narrow garden to the lower deck.  This area is more open and provides seating for mothers to supervise a future play area to the immediate north.   The secure garden is heavily shaded and requires lighting, particularly for spring and fall use.  Lighting is deliberately ‘soft’ with under-bench footlights along the upper garden.  The hub of the garden at the top of the stairs is lit by the memory plaque and the stairs are illuminated by backlit acrylic panels set in the horizontal wood siding.  The lighting has the feel of candles and diffused light.   Interval House Memorial Garden is a muffled and intimate space providing security for families and a connection to the beauty and healing power of a Toronto ravine. — Paul Whelan

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paul whel an

client: Interval House design: Ruth Mora, Paul Whelan arborist: Advanced Tree Care contractor: Allweather Landscape electrical: MemCo Electrical metalwork: Renaissance Fabrications

It seems that there is always an extraordinary relationship between the whole and the parts, between something that we consider large, and something we consider little. This relationship of addition and subtraction seems to form all we know.  Something not-so-small caught our attention when we were assigned the task to develop a memorial garden for Interval House.  This group takes care of abused woman and children while teaching them to rebuild a solid future for themselves.   The sensitive nature of memorials contrasts with the often festive nature of gathering places.  We needed to fuse a place of contemplation and sorrow to represent those that were no longer here with a place for those looking for hope and protection.  The area was captivatingly small, compact.  It asked for amalgamation and intensification.  Many existing site elements were kept; the place was so perfectly shaped, so complex in its nature that it seemed to us that by careful addition we could amplify its meaning.


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Symbols are powerful tools of communication as they represent bigger ideas by association; they become highly significant by their ability to transmit emotions, memories and ideas.  We understood that it was the intrinsic value of the parts that would give meaning to this place. The addition of memories through the use of one symbol – a single stone in a stream of stones, would make this place special.  Each stone commemorates the life of a person while the collection of stones represents the power of a community.  The stream of stones leads to a plaque with words of hope.  Suddenly, a small space concentrates healing and meaning.      Interval House is committed to a very noble idea.  We are pleased to have contributed in this small and indirect way to healing for Interval House families.  We are happy to have to see the beauty of small moments and their cumulative addition to create a small piece of meaning to this community. — Ruth Mora


m ini-she l te rs

pr ivac y we ath e r te c h n o lo gy po r tability c o n s tr u c tio n

z o e l at h am

f ro m t h e s c h o o l s personal shelter by i l o n a h ay

Plymouth weather hair and face protector (it rains a lot here), by Zoe Latham.

How small can architecture be? This studio project set in Plymouth, UK dealt with the design of a bespoke personal shelter. It addressed designing the smallest possible architecture, a shelter for an individual. Each designer developed a shelter for a specific purpose, either for physical or emotional protection. The mini-shelters have small budgets to match their size, with much use of found and recycled materials. This in itself has led to small carbon footprints. Designers made the best use of skills and facilities they had immediate access to; the shelters are relatively low-tech. In many cases, lateral thinking was applied to techniques not often employed in architecture, such as pattern making and clothing design. For an architectural shelter based on the body, this is completely appropriate. The mini-shelters show a range and depth possible within the realm of small architecture, from the practical to the emotional and whimsical. The exploration of such modestly proportioned structures will help to encourage simpler, smaller and more efficient future buildings, by proving that ‘small is beautiful’ and ‘less is more’. v

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I am for an architecture that is at home with mythologies and personal


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smal l urbanity

urbanism | dublin by p a u l w h e l a n

inve s tme n t re ge n e r atio n gr an d s c h e me s plac e atte n tio n

looking after the details

Several years ago I was walking through downtown Detroit and musing about the Renaissance Centre’s supposed catalytic impact on downtown rejuvenation. I remember thinking at the time that if the city had taken the same amount of cash and offered it as interest-free loans (or some such incentive) to few remaining downtown small shop keepers, the urban impact would have been significantly more powerful than a hermetic fortress/hotel complex. Of course the naiveté of my thinking is enormous. Political leaders will rarely be convinced by the cumulative power of small things. The allure of the ‘grand projet’ is too compelling. However the cities that people think of as models of positive urbanity are rarely defined by mega-projects. Instead it is the overall tone of life and activity that attracts us to these cities. So what are the small things that cumulatively count? The foremost is love of place. What compels someone to invest in a building or business? Quite simply it is an investment in their personal view of life, in their own idea of what makes a good life for themselves and their families. That represents cultural bedrock for urban and civic life.

p a ul w h e la n

I stumbled across a recent example of this love in a small building in Dublin while I was scouting around the recently-completed National Gallery. Behind the gallery is a pastiche of older Dublin buildings. Some of these were in reasonable shape and some were wearing badly. There was one that immediately jumped out. I do not know who owns this building or its proposed use, but clearly someone took care and invested more than the bare minimum. A large opening had been carefully incised into the stone and brick. It seems the the stone had been carefully relaid to turn inward at the new opening. The new window, complete with sun shade, provides enormous amenity to the building and suggests numerous possible uses for what is likely an interior that is immersed in daylight. The quality of our urban life far exceeds the cumulative effect of all these ‘small’ things. Perhaps it is the use of the word ‘small’ that misleads. For the all the individuals who invest in buildings and businesses it is not small. It could well represent all they own. All the more reason to applaud and support the small. Maybe we should forgo the big stuff and sweat over the small. I think our towns and cities would be that much better. v

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urbanism | s t re e t w a l l s by v i c t o r i a b e l t r a n o

m a i n s tr e e t bound arie s

micro-architectures of transgression, control and negotiation

a p pro pr iatio n c o n tro l bu ildin g e dge s mar ke ts in fo r mality

…I do not need to be the owner of an urban space to appropriate it. I appropriate it, but the city also appropriates me in a process that always operates in both directions…Appropriation, arising from spontaneous practices, is a part of the struggle for the right to the city. — Bernardo Jiminez-Dominguez1 The street is the place where much of a city’s urban public life plays out, so naturally the buildings that line it are the backdrops which frame this stage. They mediate between the negotiated space of the sidewalk, and numerous privately owned spaces beyond. The openings therein – large and small, physical and visual– and their surrounding accoutrements reveal the attitudes of those on the private side towards the public beyond, while the public’s engagement with that edge can also reveal conflicting public voices and attitudes about the nature of the production of urban public space and the rights of use of that urban edge. The three urban fragments that follow begin to tell a story of how the richness and complexity of urban life is often mediated by numerous micro-architectures in downtown Toronto. They contribute to a continued negotiation of the boundaries between public and private space, and formal and informal use thereof.

Chinatown Centre is a 1990s three-story urban mall which covers a 60 metre stretch of Spadina Avenue south of Dundas Street and just north of Wilson Place. With the exception of its corner entryway, the Chinatown Centre follows a typical mall typology and turns virtually all its merchandise and signage inwards, carefully mediating that internalised world. The resulting street presence is a solid wall cut off from the busy world on the other side of it. At what used to be a secondary entry to the centre’s now-vacant cinema, an blank set of doors is plastered with all kinds of small informal additions. Here, where the private world has turned its back on the city, public voices are most loudly heard. Posters advertising everything from concerts to phone cards, graffiti tags, paint, gum, food, various smells and cardboard have co-opted these walls and floors. Some users have even cleverly affixed and, in some cases, camouflaged small plastic hooks on the wall. These hooks become small micro-architectures of transgression2 – elements which deliberately reclaim this space for personal need, particularly those of informal, probably unlicenced, street vendors. On busy days, the vendors use these hooks, adjacent electrical conduit and door handles to turn the wall into an unsanctioned marketplace. After a day of vending, or when the threat of formal authority arises, items are promptly packed away and any items left just add to the normal detritus that collects in the corners. Given the introverted nature of the mall, this boundary has no clear formal occupant keeping informal use in check – there are no ‘eyes on the street’ here.3 Rather than engaging in some form of dialogue over these uses and additions, the micro-architectures and markings increase and appropriate the space until it reaches a point of saturation. At this point, the owner steps in and clears out any traces of use, leaving a blank canvas for these actions to start anew.


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v i ct o r ia be lt ra n o

Spadina’s Chinatown Centre: uncontrolled informal appropriation

v i ct o r ia be lt ra n o

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vi ctor i a belt rano

Yonge and College: carefully controlled private interests At the north-east corner of Yonge and College Streets, a relatively new and busy location for a national chain of pharmacies occupies the ground floor. In a part of town frequented by a whole range of publics and presently undergoing urban revitalisation efforts to create ‘a downtown that’s cleaner, safer, and more inviting’4, this building is a model for neighbourhood changes to come. Its boundaries are broken down by a whole series of mullionless shop front windows which at first glance seem to provide the openness and ‘eyes on the street’ missing from the Chinatown Centre. On closer inspection, the boundary is far less inviting to the public. Through both material and form, public engagement beyond the visual (and of course, economic…it is a store, after all) is deterred. Clad in stainless steel and glass at its base, and with little to no surrounding urban furniture, the prospect of lingering longer than absolutely necessary to complete a purchase isn’t exactly convincing. More blatant are the rows of stainless steel


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balls covering all the window sills. Too narrowly spaced to sit in between, too cold and awkward to sit upon, these small modifications to the building’s edges actively prevent anticipated informal usages and minimal traces of public occupancy altogether. Assured instead is the maintenance of a clear view to the merchandise and a controlled branded image projected onto the urban landscape. This boundary is not only a billboard, but a static boundary that favours the private owner of the commercial space beyond. While private businesses may have every right to project themselves onto the street at the outer edge of their building, what is at risk is the stifling of the unpredictability of public life at the building’s edge – a factor that should not be underestimated in the production of rich urban space and urban life. In the making of a space that is cleaner and safer, it is more inviting only to the consumer inside.

Spadina and Dundas: Negotiated urban threshold main street – Dundas West. While not the official ‘Chinatown centre’ this space is its informal other. On the north-west side of this busy intersection is a small doorway and adjacent vestibule,

v ict o r ia be l tra n o

In an attempt to find some sense of balance between the previous two examples, I returned west to Chinatown. Just up the street from the Chinatown Centre, Spadina Avenue intersects another

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vi ctor i a belt rano

no larger than a walk in closet, which leads up to a dentist’s office. During office hours, it is the only means of entry into the offices above. However, from the moment the door is propped open early in the morning until late in the evening, a wide array of informal users are ‘invited’ – or at least tacitly allowed – to use the space as well. Early Saturday mornings, local unsanctioned vendors selling on nearby sidewalks use it as a staging ground and occasional shading in the summer, and huddle around the radiator by the stairs during the winter. Its window ledge holds refreshments while people stand inside or out and chat, and its small single step up is just the right height for a child. This tiny little space is negotiated by all these informal users, while its maintaining its formal purpose. Simultaneously, this corner finds a way of supporting both formal (an entrance and passageway) and a range of informal uses which, creatively, find both micro-times and spaces to appropriate this boundary. As such, this boundary and its adjacent vestibule participate in an active ongoing dialogue in the production of urban space, allowing a richer edge for urban public life to unfold. It remains a negotiable edge – its identity is constantly being challenged – its boundaries being continuously re-drawn. Unlike the intersection at Yonge and College (where formal use is the law), or the blank walls at Chinatown Centre (where informal use has predominantly taken over) the boundary between public and private is blurred by propping open of the door each morning. This simple urban act makes each potential user a participant, based on their needs and the needs of others, in an active, ongoing and dynamic boundary condition.


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This ongoing dynamism and looseness is of course tricky to maintain, but not impossible and a valuable contribution by the formal realm to the informal realm’s ability to appropriate the city. To return to Bernardo Jiminez-Dominguez quote, the public’s appropriation of the city and the city’s appropriation of its citizens can only be achieved through such negotiations of space. These appropriations must be inherently small – a negotiation between individuals and the edges of another’s space – but they are of utmost importance in achieving a personal and collective sense of place. When architecture, no matter how small, actively manipulates, denies or completely ignores public participation in this dialogue, we risk relegating the public to a role of spectator or deviant. If we want our cities to be more vibrant urban spaces open to a wide range of publics and uses, we must consider the many voices contributing to an urban dialogue at a variety of scales – even as small as a propped open doorstop. Instead, it is important to think of these urban edges as places to confront, negotiate and appropriate: thickened boundaries which at best can broaden our conception of what it means to actively participate in urban life and contribute to enriching urban dialogue. 1 Bernardo Jiminez-Dominguez. ‘Urban Appropriation and Loose Spaces in the Guadalajara Cityscape’ in Karen A Franck and Quentin Stevens, editors. Loose Space: Possibility and Diversity in Urban Life. London & New York: Routledge, 2007. p 40 2 A term coined by Gil Doron ( I use it here as the user’s provision of elements not provided by the formal ‘designers’ of the wall. 3 Jane Jacobs. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York: Random House, 1961. p 35 4

urbanism | re c o g n i t i o n by m i c h a e l s u m m e r t o n

th e s i g n r e m a ins th e s a m e

c itie s c h an ge h is to r y br an ds s u bc u ltu re s

Actually about a little thing that hasn’t happened; this is a discussion of businesses that take on the name of the previous occupant and how it works for them and us. While I was at home in London a friend invited me for a drink one Friday after work. Meet me at Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes, he said. What? I asked; please clarify. He gave me the address. On arrival I saw Dream Bags Jaguar Shoes was indeed a bar and was housed like a greedy hermit crab in the shells of two adjacent retail units, now combined. Dream Bags said the sign on number thirty-four; Jaguar Shoes said thirty-two next door. I liked this. It required people to break the semiotic link and share surreal sentences as my friend had. It created a sense of expectation which gave way to surprise on my first visit. On entering I saw there had been no attempt to re-brand the space. In fact it was a kind of anti-branding but certainly effective – the place was packed. So could the new owners not be bothered to change the storefront? Teresa, the co-owner explains: We were young, skint and creative and we were desperately trying to think of a name. Nick and I stood outside and the penny dropped. It looked f ***ing amazing as it was! It kept a nice underground vibe and it kept some of the original history of the area. We also felt at that point that branding was all wrong. Nick continues: It allowed people to discover the venue for themselves and refer to the venue as they pleased. It has many mantles as a consequence – Dream Bags; Jag Bags; Glad Rags; Jag Shoes ... whatever.

Nick, the other owner, explains that having made the decision to keep the sign they chose a consistent approach inside the venue: Architecturally honest, with lots of the raw materials on show and we change the entire space on a 6 week program, handing it over to another artist-designer to completely re-decorate.

Remembering how I felt that night, I like what had been (or rather not been) done at DBJS. Beyond its syntactical absurdity, it encourages a fuller communication of tacit knowledge and the acknowledgement of the city’s past. It also signals a use of space that feels short-term, experimental and exciting. Here in Toronto the same approach is being taken, but perhaps with more consideration. Czehoski, previously a butcher-cum-deli catering to Eastern European Immigrants, now a ‘hip new restaurant and bar’ according to its website, has lovingly retained its 1924 sign and promises ‘after more than two years of respectful restoration … a quirky blend of downtown sophistication and heritage warmth’. There is a cultural turn wherein obsolete industrial or commercial space makes way for our capricious contemporary lifestyles, and much has been written of that, but what of this wholesale adoption of a previous business’s identity? Isn’t that like dancing in a dead man’s shoes? Alexander Gutzmer, whose PhD addresses the relationship between branding and architecture, bravely offers an answer: The whole issue of branding is a quest for a certain kind of authenticity. Brands want to be authentic and they want this to mean something for the customer. With the adoption of another brand’s identity, however, you do not adopt another company’s identity, but play with the idea of changing your own by connecting it with the other. Architecture is the perfect area for that, as the ghost of the old occupant is still there.

Nevertheless, I think that this is risky. If the visitor does not make any connection between the two brands then the effect is not only neutral but negative; the old brand will impact as an irritation on the new one. It is one of those cases where capitalism intends to conquer new territory but at the same time risks losing control.

This risk is intensified in the field of architecture, as it has what Gutzmer calls ‘a certain stubbornness’. Those ghosts he mentions can be very powerful. And what happens when things become too elusive, too tenuous, too transitory, when curiosity or tacit knowledge is overwhelmed by ghosts? I heard tell that the guerilla-like, anti-success attitudes of hipsters combined with volatile urban real estate markets had led to sheepish punters in Berlin and Amsterdam talking nonsense and wandering lost amid dead streets or worse, into corporate, mainstream watering holes. In response Mark Cremins of Rush Hour Music, Amsterdam, a man with a keen nose for urban subcultures, assures me: You shouldn’t be too distracted by the superficial phenomena of lost hipsters and look deeper, bigger and longer. Even though particular places might move on or even die off, the overall creative and constantly replenished energy of a city ensures that people find the next thing – as a basic function of supply and demand. This process is never ending. It’s the nature of urbanity.

So it’s ok with business, academics and the culture industry. What is the opinion of mainstream planning? The urban design principle of legibility was hammered into me at university and, albeit slightly softer, the notions of mystery and joy. Sometimes these conflict and this trend seems to be a victory for the latter. I contact Carolyn Humphreys, Graphics and Visualisation Manager at the Urban Design Department, City of Toronto and find a fellow fan of the phenomena. She tips me off to retained signs in my own neighbourhood and urges me to think about being somewhere without the local language. I’m always reminded of falling out of a train in Greece. Faced with a wild hangover and street signs that included triangles as part of the written alphabet made the trip that more exciting. Many a wonderful stumble or the willingness to go beyond the sign or lack of sign has left me feeling like the great insider, and that is where I get my sense of belonging and urbanity.

What a wonderful angle. Point of entry as a point of departure. Here’s a conclusion of sorts: while it reverses the sub-cultural orthodoxy of naming anew which advances social capital, this phenomena is far from conservative. It’s a statement of positive urbanism for at least the six reasons that I can enumerate here. It asks us to look harder at what’s actually going on rather than passively taking the city ‘as read’. It forces us to observe urban life as it is being lived and then talk about it. Physical change is minimised so it is likely cheap, low impact and encourages experiment in how we occupy urban space. It nurtures a sense of communal history – the retention of the vestigial identity of space rather than its eradication – positions cities as dynamic, evolving and alive. v

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It is still unclear to me if I belong to a generation in crisis. A bored generation no doubt, an angry generation too, but one of crisis? I cannot say. However there is a lighter path for the future. Here is a proposal for salvation of our society. This is about economy, this is about environment, but most of all, this is about freedom.

Like many others I was left disappointed over the outcome of COP15. For us Danes this was a big thing, as a lot of expectations were appended to it. Among the few highlights were of course Canada’s will to cut emissions by 40%. Before the whole thing was over the media had started its quest on finding scapegoats. Was it the Danish leadership who failed? Was it us, the European countries, who wanted to capitalise on our research and production of technology aiming at renewable energies? No it cannot be us. We are the good guys! Was it America then? Of course China was pointed out. Why should they have the right of polluting? It matters less that their CO2 footprint per capita is a fraction of ours, and they are the manufacturers of all the commodities we cannot live without. They are not addicted to Play Stations, plasma screens and Prada style as we are. They should learn from our mistakes we say. They should not get our lifestyle. In Denmark we believe we are at the forefront of the green revolution. Yes, we have some wind turbines and biking lanes. We also have Lomborg. However our national sport, surpassing soccer, is shopping. We love to consume. It is our human right! Like freedom of speech. An epitome of our society. We might have read the The Death and Life of Great American Cities but that is America. This does not apply to us. It is fine that our inter-city highways are being surrounded by shopping malls and office compounds. Easy access. Only a few hours drive to work is not bad. Hard struck by financial crisis our government is lowering taxes and encourages us to consume more. No problem, we love that! Our ideals are allotment housing in suburbs. More families get two or more cars. We tackle congestion by expanding our roads, which again increases the amount of people driving instead of using public transportation. Why shouldn’t they? Public transportation is much more expensive anyway. In general we are aware of climate change. Poor polar bears. Therefore we buy organic produce. It is almost same price as non-organic since it is subsidised. We know that politicians should do something. Not us. We have no power. We are addicted to consumption. Hypnotised by Ronald McDonald and Nike’s Swoosh. Okay, why don’t we just admit that we are no example to others? Let us acknowledge consumption as a condition without cure! In these times when climate activists are trying to jeopardise our lifestyle and future growth we need to unite. No doubt we need to reevaluate our true values. Start appreciating things that really matter to us! As resources run scarce it is time to discuss solutions and not only problems. A framework for the future is needed to be set. Here an antidote to extreme solutions as CO2 quotas and emission reductions prior to 1990 levels is proposed. Restrictions on our lifestyle should be no option. The proposal is instead to optimise capitalism. A ‘space of flows’ on speed. Again with architecture and development as generator. Only with a much larger turnover and quicker realisation periods, maintaining a growth rate that would put China to shame.This 66

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c o pe n h age n c o n s u mptio n u rban is atio n arc h ite c ts plan s

would be obtained by an evolution of Architect and Society. A new Spartais proposed, only the Soldier is replaced with the Architect. Every man would obtain architectural training from the age of 7. By his twenties he would be ready to join the battle. The battle of total urbanisation. A fight for consumption. A state of the ultimate fighter architect will be created. Imagine if Dubai had been built in five years, only ten times its proposed size. The economy generated would have prevented any crisis. Imagine if all of Amazonia was urbanised. Materials are no problem, local timber, Venezuelan oil and so on. For construction, a Helot building force could be employed full-time, in this case any man who has not yet become an architect. It would result in a city, urban Amazonia, dragging a whole continent out of rural poverty into the joy of retail. Imagine how much of the earth still needs to be colonised, needs to be transformed into the cycle of consumption, from factories, to shopping malls, to burger joints. As this first part is a straightforward process we need to deal with a few problems. Which of course is lack of resources. Obviously, drilling for oil would be improved to fit more extreme conditions and able to reach greater depth. New areas of tar sand should be exploited etc. However this would not be enough. One child policy would of course be introduced globally. Yet until a sustainable population size would be reached only Architects’ descendents would have the right to mate. Even when this is reached, a world of equal buying power to western standards would need a few more restrictions. At the age of 50 every human would be terminated. The enormous economical gain from reduced social security expenses in a society with no elderly would be canalised directly into global markets. This might provoke some moral dilemma, however as everything else it would quickly turn into routine. An urbanised world of course affects biodiversity. But who needs more biodiversity than fried chicken, ground beef, grilled fish and shredded pork anyway? It is time to stand up for all the small things that really matter, manifest our core values, to fight for the freedom of every consumer. Welcome to the future! v


f u t u re s | a m o d e s t p ro p o s a l by s a m o p e d e r s o n

histories, an architecture of subjective experience

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identity | essentials by re z a a l i a b a d i

ge tti n g s mal l e r

n ame s plac e s migr atio n limits re du c tio n

all stories are true

Episode B; pair of 30-kg suitcases

Late November in 1998, I was in rush to leave for Syria on a business trip. Having a personal email address had just started to be a trend then; it was fashionable to have one. You were able to check your email only at internet-cafĂŠs, because having access to the Internet was difficult at home at least in many cities including Tehran where I used to live. I knew that through my business correspondence in Syria I would need an email address. I had just a couple of minutes left to get on board, and a friend of mine was helping me get registered on Yahoo! We tried my full name in different ways such as: Reza Aliabadi, Aliabadi Reza, rezaaliabadi, raliabadi and the like. We did even try it with a few symbols (-, _, /) between my name and family name, but it was useless, they all had been chosen earlier. That was the first time that I understood, there are other people with same name in the world. Although it was funny, I had no time to think about that. When, my friend was playing around with letters and symbols, I came up with an idea. I just wrote down my full name, got rid of all vowels, and put the rest together. Here is the process: reza aliabadi > reza aliabadi > r_z_ _l__b_d_ > rzlbd The result was amazing at least for me. Under the pressure and tension of losing my flight, I had come up with a miniature version of my identity. An index of my own, which carried the whole essence of my ID and at the same time, was unique. There might be other Reza Aliabadis but there was only one rzlbd. Now, more or less after a decade it has become the very name of my atelier, my website, almost my personal signature, and my sole mark.

I will never forget sitting behind my used-to-be desk, in my usedto-be office, making an exclusive list of all my used-to-be assets. I had finally made the decision to leave Tehran for Toronto, and the challenge was how to convert my whole life into two suitcases, each with a maximum weight of 30 kilograms, respecting the IATA regulation for overseas flights. To make the exercise easier, I had omitted the office and its furniture, my apartment and its furniture, my car and a few other large-scale bits and pieces. Although it was a gigantic cheat, I was still confused as to how make choices. As an architect I had lots of models and panels of my projects, as a book lover I had more than thousand books in my office and home, and as a human being I possessed lots of belongings. This stuff, clutter, and the like had surrounded me, each screaming to be included in the ‘to go’ list. As there was no room for every thing I sold my personal library, gave the models and panels as gifts to employees and colleagues, and filtered personal stuff to make belongings as minimal as possible. Though it was hard to ignore lots of beloved possessions with their memories and passions and although many of them had been achieved through effort and struggle, it was a situation that I learned from. Surprisingly things and priorities expose their real value in tough circumstances. One learns how to do without things and how to skip unnecessary things. It is almost three years that I have been living with 60 kilograms of possessions and have been trying not to add clutter to my cart. Well, I know that I may be a traveller again, and there is nothing better than being weightless.

a t e lie r rzl bd

Episode A; rzlbd


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Episode C; cart shelter This episode is visual – a response to an open architectural design competition in 2006, for a shelter for homeless people in their cart. It got a 2009 OAA Award in the category of concepts/ proposals. Homelessness is a complex issue encompassing multiple facets of society. Considering the North American context, especially Canada, we are faced with shocking figures: the federal estimate of homeless people in Canada was 150,000 in 2005, [0.5 percent of the population], while homeless advocates estimated it to be closer to 300,000. Clearly homelessness is growing in size and complexity.

In this design proposal design itself is a tool that brings social awareness and discussion to society; both people and institutions can contribute to the solving of this phenomena. The objective was to create some sort of a shelter out of the only possession of many homeless people, the very cart that they carry all the time. The shelter had to be easy to manufacture [simple joints and details] and to use recycled and waste materials for the frame and the base. Fabric for the transformable shelter had to be flexible and waterproof [easy to shrink and expand]. A folding/sliding bed-frame supports the shelter/tent, and it had to be affordable, to function well, and to be feasible in its manufacture. v

[day time] shrunk


frame cover

transformable shelter (fabric with aluminum structure) sub-container, paper, newspaper, recyclables container base shelter supporter main base wheel frame

[night time] expanded

a t e lie r rzl bd


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f ro m t h e s c h o o l s | ser vice learning by ke l l ey b e ave r fo rd

s mal l proj e c ts

building new perspectives

projects. Our first partner, The Experiment in International Living (EIL), has established relationships with communities who identify their needs before they are matched with groups of students in mutually beneficial pairings. Although we now work with additional partners, the importance of working with established non-profit organisations with community connections remains essential to our planning process. It was through EIL that we found Deydinler village. The first group of students in 2005 worked on the restoration of a 400 year old bath house and garden. The humble yet extraordinary structure once held an important place in the hearts of the villagers as it was the main gathering space for the farming community. Traditionally

a l ovett

k beaverford

One of the greatest challenges we face as designers is keeping up with a rapidly changing world. Increasingly we will work with people from different cultures, make decisions with cross-cultural and international implications, and work overseas. With this in mind, a course called Service Learning in the Global Community was developed for students in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba to promote international knowledge and competency through service learning projects. Students of architecture, interior design, planning and landscape negotiate cross-cultural situations while constructing a small community building. With an intake of 10-15 students per project, the course is small but the impact is considerable.

co llabo r atio n glo balis m e x pe r ie n c e te c h n o lo gy c u ltu re

j ka lt ur n yk

j ka lt u r ny k

above: Katebo, Uganda – clients, meetings, construction, team below: Deydinler, Turkey – clients, meetings, construction, project

The month long course was initiated by a group of students who wanted to take design lessons out of the classroom and into a reality other than their own. An interest in Islamic design and culture brought the first two classes to a rural village in Turkey where participants stayed with families. Lauren Hauser reflects in her journal – ‘Culture shock! You have assumptions of what a foreign country will be like – stereotypes, biased images from the news, and other media – and then you arrive. Once there, you’re shocked to realize that it is not that different than home’. Lauren stayed with a family of seven in Deydinler, a village which she did admit is a ‘stark contrast to home’. We worked with various non-profit organisations to locate suitable 70

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the bath house provided the venue for relaxation and conversations at the end of a working day. Deydinler’s bathhouse was closed in the 1970s as bathing at home became more fashionable. The village identified the restoration of the bathhouse as an important project as its social benefits had been lost with its closing. The successes of this project lead to an invitation to return to Deydinler in 2007 to build a teahouse and garden. Each time the work was shared between participants creating what villager Mesut Oksuzoglu called ‘a festival of building’. Today the teahouse and garden, known as the Friendship Park, provides a place for public gatherings as well as a memory of

on community development through the construction of a primary school library. By staying and working in a village without running water or electricity the participants learned firsthand of challenges that many communities in developing countries face. Limited access to transportation and communication increased the need for resourceful solutions relying on local materials, knowledge and intense physical labour. MArch student Marla Wirasinghe wrote, ‘you begin to realise that without a back-hoe, it takes over a week to haul enough dirt to fill in a shallow foundation. Even making concrete requires chipping your own gravel and pushing bags of cement on the back of a bicycle. Each wheelbarrow load, each swing of a hoe gives you a stronger understanding of the materials and connection to the process of making’.

villager’s perceptions of certain trees and flowers that we may have found to be beautiful and appropriate for their garden’. Participants learned to see beyond their own space, time and culture by working ‘with’ rather than ‘for’ a community. It is a process of reciprocal learning as the friendships formed by working together motivates both sides to listen carefully to one another. Another learning objective is the understanding of the complex interdependence of global economic, political and cultural forces affecting the built environment. To further explore this we offered the course in an impoverished village in Uganda in 2008. This time the Canadian students learned of the long-term impact of HIV/AIDS

The experiences in Turkey and Uganda produced insightful journals ranging in topics from vernacular design to sore muscles. Perhaps the most common message conveyed in the journals is a need for intercultural collaboration if we sincerely want to create a sustainable global community. The lessons extend to an awareness of the impact of culture and climate on building practices as well as recognition that good design requires high levels of collaboration and communication. What started as a small idea for a course has grown to reach out to a network of many people, while adding to the discourse on how to prepare designers to work in our global community. v

j ka lt ur n yk

j ka l tu r ny k

j tanner

k beaverford

international collaboration. Additionally, both the bath house and teahouse generate income for the village by attracting visitors from surrounding communities. What can designers learn from this type of project? There are many answers to this question but chief among them is a broadening of perspectives as they relate to our understanding of design. Leanne Muir recalls ‘facing numerous challenges daily, from simple communication frustrations to impromptu job site meetings’. As a student in the Masters of Landscape Architecture program, Leanne was particularly struck by the difficulty of understanding the community’s perception of planting materials. She explains, ‘as visitors to the Turkish culture, and specifically rural Deydinler culture, it was hard to understand and gauge the

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s m a l l ind ig nitie s

design | b a rr i e r s by ro n w i c k m a n

ro n wi ck man archi tect

generous solutions

bar r ie r s ac c e s s be au ty s u s tain ability a c c o mmo datio n

Barrier-free design is a large issue that gets little attention. I specialise in such things, with a small practice with too much work. In Vitruvius’s ten books on architecture, written in 25 BC, he said that architecture must provide utility and function, firmness and strength, beauty and grace. He did not say that architecture must contain barriers to be beautiful. Architecture is not just for the hale, it is for everyone, yet so many people are barred from entering buildings because of the building’s inaccessibility. When I was at architecture school it was assumed that we were building for people like ourselves. My father was in a wheelchair: my filter is to always ask of any project, ‘How would Dad get in?’ We travelled together a lot; often I would have to leave him at the entrance and visit the inside myself, or we would have to find some other way of getting into some very famous architectural space. When my family recently went to the Salk Institute and I was getting ready to take the classic image across the plaza, I realised that if you take the wheelchair pathway to it, the power of moving onto the plaza is lost. If the plaza was accessed by a sloped pathway rather than the stairs, would the Salk Institute be diminished in any way?


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As simply an issue of good design, beautiful buildings must be accessible. Just as architects incorporate sustainability into their work, so must they incorporate barrier free access – not because a bylaw forces them to, but because it should be inconceivable not to. By 2026, 20% of Canada’s population will be older than 65. It is highly likely we will all know someone with a disability. And very likely that we will own a house that will not accommodate independent disabled access. It concerns me that this is not an issue until it personally affects architects and designers. There will be so much future renovation work that we could address properly right now, but instead we continue to build without much thought for this very real future. How can this possibly be considered a sustainable way of thinking?

ro n wi ck man

this page: my house – any one in a wheelchair can visit, everyone else can comment.

In 2005, one of my very forward-thinking clients, Peter and Alison Faid, asked for a house that would be their final one – they never wanted to have to move again. Thinking sustainably, they wanted to age in place and asked for five specific things: zero-step entrances at the front door and from the garage, a three-floor elevator, 3’-wide doors, wheelchair-sized bathrooms and a super-insulated building envelope with a high efficiency heating system. None of these got in the way of also applying Vitruvius’s principles of firmness, commodity and delight.

Just before I did the Faid house, I renovated my own 1968 1400-square foot bungalow, adding a second story to double the size of the house. We have everything the Faid’s wanted except the elevator, but its three key features are zero-step entrances, 3’ doors and a wheelchair accessible bathroom on the ground floor. Three years later I received a hand-written, anonymous note that said, ‘Your house is a monstrosity! It blights the neighborhood’. I have framed this letter as a reminder that there is more to building design than appearance. There will always be debate on what is aesthetically pleasing, for this is a subjective issue. However, there is no debating whether there is value in designing to accommodate as many people as possible in the best possible way. v

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c u ba

a very small shop

a ppro pr iatio n mar ke t s talls min imalis m n e c e s s itie s o c c u patio n

ca ro l kle i nfe l dt

urbanism | m a r ke t s by c a ro l k l e i n fe l d t

In Havana last year, I found that a street vendor had appropriated a six-inch niche in a building faรงade as a full-on shop. v


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and interpretation in humanity’s native tongue of meaning-making: narrative. v

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stephani e whit e m a t e r i a l c u l t u re | tarps by s t e p h a n i e w h i t e

ta r po l o gy signs of belonging

si g ns ma sk s c over s owner shi p wea t her

Tarps, the blue woven plastic kind with metal grommets and a light corded edge, are the most elemental kind of shelter, seen from tent cities in Haiti and Darfur to back yards. Made in China, they are a product so useful and so undemanding that they have almost become invisible. The tarps shown here are in a small four by sixblock neighbourhood which includes the store that sells the tarps, in Nanaimo BC, a wet, often windy environment. 76

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Clearly tarps cover things up. That is their primary use. More interesting is the range of secondary uses and the propriety that attaches to these uses. Other Nanaimo neighbourhoods use tarps, but farther down the economic scale tarps cover piles of belongings stored on balconies, or old cars in the front yard. The tarps in these pictures are in what would be considered a ‘nice’ neighbourhood where people look after their gardens, protect their campers, store their firewood. In such a neighbourhood, piles of leaves, pipes, rocks would be considered unsightly — projects started and not finished – so they are covered by a tarp. This indicates a project in process, rather than a pile of left over rocks out in the rain. Things leak. A tarp can cover a roof, or a crumbling chimney, or a 1956 Nash: this is to be expected. How the tarp is fixed is critical. It must be battened down, lashed securely and tidily, kept from flapping in wild abandon. Tarps are not last resort solutions here, they are purposefully and carefully applied, indicating that the problem will be addressed in better weather, or in a better year, or in a better life, but it will be addressed. Also, this is a neighbourhood without front fences and often with back yards open to an alley. Piles of manure dropped off in the spring for the garden will walk if not covered up. If the tarp is too small for the pile, it can be affixed to the side, indicating that this pile, which is where visiting shovels would normally liberate some of the soil, belongs to someone even although it is clearly sitting on someone’s property. This ineffectual, toosmall tarp is respected. It occurs in other places: a car in an unsupervised parking lot next to the blank wall of an apartment building is safer with a tarp on it than without. Why a Boler, with no seams on the roof, has a tarp on it is not about rain or weather; it is about surveillance. This Boler is watched, looked after.

s t e p ha n ie w h it e

The respect accorded to well-installed tarps allows them to act as garden walls, garage doors, wind-breaks, weed control and compost bins – all semi-permanent solutions legitimised by an extremely local understanding that the use of tarps are not a sign of poverty or desperation, but a sign of intention. None of this is art, or even design, but a language developing within this particular example of material culture. These are small things, but eloquent nonetheless. v tarps found between Newcastle and Millstone Avenues, Rosehill and St. Andrews Streets, Nanaimo British Columbia, March 2010.

Small Things

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books | jamelie hassan by s t e p h a n i e w h i t e

a t t h e f ar e d g e of word s

looking at a life

dias po r a c u ltu re tr an s latio n f amily h is to r y

Manuscript Pages, 1996

‫( ی‬Manuscript Page), 2005

Jamelie Hassan is a London Ontario artist who currently has a survey of four decades of her work at Museum | London: At The Far Edge of Words. Curated by Melanie Townsend of Museum | London and Scott Watson of the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia, it will travel from London to Vancouver, Lethbridge and Ottawa over the next couple of years. The book accompanying the exhibition includes new essays by Monika Kin Gagnon, Dot Tuer and Andy Patton, and reprinted essays by Mireya Folch-Serra, Cliff Eyland and Scott Toguri McFarlane. Several of these writers also wrote in Ron Benner’s survey of his work that came out last year, Gardens of a Colonial Present. Both Hassan and Benner’s work comes out of a community of critical thought and art ranging from landscape to sculpture investigating migration and exile, coloniality and identity. Displacement is critical to Hassan’s project, despite the fact that she grew up in a large warm Lebanese family in London Ontario. This was a distant pre-9/11 London where in 1955 the first mosque in Ontario was opened, reported in the paper, films made, people danced – it was clearly celebratory. However, the world impinges: like Mahler, one leaves one’s family, one learns that the outside isn’t and wasn’t all lovely. Hassan’s work investigates her own positions in the world and how they are framed by experience, by critical theory, by historical discourse, by politics. This really is about growing into the world, rather than bobbing along on top of it. When one’s native place as a child is revealed to be a chimera – a temporary anchor in the larger and longer process of exile, one’s difference becomes the subject of one’s life. The loss of one’s native place in the world can be the result of war, occupation, high-handed colonial practice, persecution, racism, etc. The inaccessiblity of the native place amplifies it, enriches it, makes it roseate, makes it tragic. The loss of one’s native place can also be by economic choice, by restlessness, by sheer curiosity. The results are the same, homeland remains significant by its absence.

Mireya Folch-Serra quotes Judith Butler: ‘the notion of identity carries several burdens: the meaning of culture, the problem of historical formation and contextualization; the possibility of agency, social transformation, representability in both linguistic and political terms’. Folch-Serra sees these burdens represented in Hassan without minimising the complexities they entail. Almost everyone writing about Hassan’s work discusses the necessary entirety of a life as the subject of one’s art: Andy Patton quotes Joseph Kosuth on Ad Reinhardt: ‘in evaluating the work of Ad Reinhardt, all of his output must be considered, not just that aspect of his work which satisfies those conceptions of tradition maintained by official culture’. Both in criticism and production, the more that is excluded, the narrower the focus, the less validity it has. No matter how difficult, one’s own gaze must be turned to one’s own life and we must understand it as such. Most of Jamelie Hassan’s works are installations of ceramics, text, film, photography, recordings and painting – there is little media restriction: each object carries an idea, both on its surface and in its making, which is then installed in space: the space of a gallery or in the public realm, establishing extremely complex cross references between what Hassan has provided and what the viewer invariably brings to the installation both physically and as a cognisant being. It is perhaps a distraction to view the material substance of Hassan’s work – red embroidered slippers, eighteenth century Persian manuscripts, the headscarves of Las Madres de Plaza de Mayo, neon arabic letters – as primarily cultural references. Of course they are cultural, but this work is not an object lesson in multiculturalism. These objects are culturally specific to Hassan, ranging from Canada to Argentina to Hong Kong, to Lebanon — it is her examination of them, the isolating of them, the pairing of them in a visual narrative that we must look at. Why look at the slippers? It is the close and sustained interrogation of a life, preferably one’s own life, that is the heart of this project. v


On Site review 23

Small Things

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Small Things

On Site review 23


on site review 23:

sm al l thing s Spring 2010

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On Site review 23

Small Things

contributors Reza Aliabad has an MArch from the University of Tehran and a post-professional MArch from McGill. atelier rzlbd covers a range of architecture, research and design. Chris Allen is a LEED® Accredited Professional and partner in the award-winning firm of Allen + Maurer Architects Ltd. His work in the Okanagan strives to develop a sustainable relationship between culture, landscape and building. Kelley Beaverford is an associate professor in the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Manitoba. She is the founder and director of Architects Without Borders Canada, an organisation committed to developing socially empowering environments. Victoria Ann Beltrano is a recent graduate of the University of Waterloo School of Architecture. Her graduate thesis, entitled Urban Blind Fields: creative public reclamations, focuses on user appropriated spaces in downtown Toronto. Denis Calnan is a freelance journalist and artist working as a researcher/reporter for CBC Radio in Montreal. He has written for Canadian Geographic, This Magazine and Spacing.  Some of his work can be seen at Steven Chodoriwsky is living in Tokyo. Brendan Cormier and Christopher Pandolfi are two employees at Department of Unusual Certainties. DoUC concerns itself with investigations into unusual, overlooked and speculative urban situations. Shelby Doyle is a candidate for a Master degree in Architecture at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Prior to attending the GSD Shelby worked in New York City and received her Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture from the University of Virginia. She is originally from Purcellville, Virginia. Gerald Forseth (BArch Toronto 1970) MAAA, FRAIC plans, practices, teaches, lectures, researches, curates and travels from base city Calgary. John Gillanders, OAA, LEED® AP is an architect and principal of Sweeny Sterling Finlayson &Co Architects in Toronto.  For over 22 years, he has provided expertise for prominent commercial offices, residential and retail projects.  Ilona Hay, a Lecturer at Plymouth University, is the director of Texere Studio. She’s a UK architect who studied at Dalhousie and UBC.  She has published and exhibited work in fibre arts and 1:1 studios – her research interests. Grey Hernandez is an architect in Vancouver. He is currently working on a lecture series/visual art project called The Geographer’s Delight. email: Rutger Huiberts has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Florence, Italy. Currently he is a candidate for the Master in Architecture at TU Delft, the Netherlands. Melissa Jacques teaches in the Department of English and Film Studies at the University of Alberta. Matthew Johnson is an Assistant Professor at the University of Houston College of Architecture. He previously taught at Stanford, and has worked for Steven Holl Architects and Allied Works Architecture. Carol Kleinfeldt is a partner in the firm of Kleinfeldt Mychajlowycz Architects Inc in Toronto and is an amateur photographer.  She has exhibited at Len’s Factory, Snap08 and Snap 2010,  On Site review and Contact. Evangelos Kotsioris has a degree in architecture from Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece. Currently he is a candidate for the Master in Architecture II at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Michael Leeb is a visual artist, writer and drum maker. He is a recent recipient of a project grant from the Canada Council for the Arts through the Alberta Creative Development Initiative, and is a member of the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada. Ruth Carolina Moya Izturriaga’s work is based on a strong belief in the value of multidisciplinary design. She has a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from U of T and a BArch from Universidad Central de Venezuela. Ruth practises design with HOK in Toronto. Myron Nebozuk is an architect and partner with Manasc Isaac Architects. He is amazed that anyone would spend time in the virtual world when working with real stuff is so much more compelling. OBRA architects practice in New York City. Peter Osborne is an architect and associate with Stantec’s Edmonton office. He is currently an Executive Director of RAIC’s Alberta Chapter and a member of the Edmonton Design Committee. Peter can be reached at Samo Pedersen is an architect and urban designer currently living and working in Shanghai. MSc from Bauhaus University, Weimar and Tongji University, Shanghai. Previously studied/ worked in Denmark, New Zealand, Brazil, Australia and Germany. Jon Piasecki is a landscape architect and stonemason in western Massachusetts. He won the Rome Prize in landscape architecture awarded by the American Academy in Rome in 2004. Contact and information at Joseph Ringenberg is a designer from Boston.  The architectural application of narrative is the focus of his Masters thesis at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design.  His blog and portfolio are online at www. Steve Sopinka has a background in architecture and landscape architecture. He is currently living and working in North Bay, Ontario with Mitchell Architects. Stephanie White is the editor of On Site review and lives and works much of the time in Calgary. Ron Wickman is a leading advocate for barrier free design in buildings and on landscapes.  His commitment to accessible housing and his award-winning practical and functional designs has earned him national recognition as an expert in accessibility and barrier-free design. He lives in Edmonton. Matthew Woodruff is a registered architect based in Vancouver BC.  His practice, Matthew Woodruff Architecture Inc. is focused on exploring the poetic potential of sustainability.  For more information please see

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on site #23

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spring 2010 architecture art culture landscape infrastructure

front: Ivan Hernandez Quintela. Akido Architecture spine: Michael Summerton. The Sign Remains the Same back: Matthew Woodruff. Surface Shadows

onsite 23: small things  

Let us look at small things. Modest, but important things; little, but beautiful; small of budget, slender of means. Things that are sligh...

onsite 23: small things  

Let us look at small things. Modest, but important things; little, but beautiful; small of budget, slender of means. Things that are sligh...