21 July 2008

Palast der Republik, Berlin


Julien Dallaire, translated by Riccardo di Marco
Brandenburg gate casts the shadows of its colonnade over the Pariser Platz, since 1791 a symbol of Berlin. The last gate of the Stadt, it connects the Tiergarten, the lung of the city to Unter den Linden Avenue. Here one passes through a sector known for its embassies and the theatres and concert halls that outline the cultural reputation of the city. Strolling the Unter den Linden one stops: on the historical Museumsinsel, the island of museums located along both shores of the Spree River, cranes tower over an imposing steel structure. This is not the frenetic real-estate wave catching up the historic city centre, but the controversial dismantling of the Palast der Republik, former seat of the German Democratic Republic. The site is draped with banners defending this ‘democratic decision’ even though many Berliners pleaded for the preservation of the Palast that housed, on top of government-related functions, an entertainment complex and a 5000 seat auditorium. After a long debate the Palast der Republik has thus been added to the collateral damage of the Cold War. Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, traces of this struggle are still apparent.
The site is one of the most important in Berlin. The 500 year old Stadtschloss, located at the entry to the Museumsinsel until 1950, was the focal point of the Unter den Linden perspective. An eighteenth century baroque extension by Andreas Schütler created a symbol of absolute power, strengthening Prussian national sentiment. Beyond its representative functions, the true role of the Stadtschloss in Berlin was its structuring presence in the historic city centre landscape: the palace responded to Schinkel’s Altes Museum, served as a façade to the greenery of the Lustgarten, and framed the Berliner Dom, another major Berlin symbol. Allied bombardments during the closing stages of the Second World War left Stadtschloss façades standing, but the interior was reduced to ash.
In grim post-war Berlin forty percent of liveable spaces had been destroyed, the historic city centre was badly damaged and the political partitioning of the country began to manifest itself physically in the urban landscape. American investments in the west and the support of the USSR in the east launched capitalists and socialists in a competition for the rebuilding of the city. East Berlin authorities regarded the Stadtschloss as an intolerable symbol of tyranny and militarism. Despite protestations from the cultural elite, the last standing element of the old palace was blown up on December 30, 1950.
In 1957 the West Berlin Senate announced a competition for a city master plan that included the parts of the city under East German control. The newly formed German Democratic Republic replied with its own competition, the ‘socialist transformation of the centre of the GDR capital, Berlin’. None of the participating design teams from either side considered the reconstruction of the Stadtschloss; proposals from the east concentrated on the construction of a large government building, while on the west side, cultural insititutions were favoured.
The division of Berlin in 1961 ended the era of collective restructuring projects. The young GDR government wished to create a centre that would represent party ideology, and that citizens could identify with. The buildings of this ideological centrism, mostly still intact, included Erich Honecker’s Palast der Republik — a major cultural building and the congress hall for the Socialist Party.
This large, hulking bronzed glass building was built on the east of the vacant Stadtschloss site. At its opening in 1976, visitors sauntered through restaurants, the auditorium, the Volksammer (room of the people) and bowling alleys. The tall main foyer with its thousand and one lamps became known as ‘Erich’s lamp shop’. Subsidized as it was the Palast’s success was measured in access to low price quality restaurants and to all forms of entertainment permitted by the authorities – such things as concerts and discotheques.
Not long before reunification in 1990, the Palast der Republik was closed indefinitely due to asbestos contamination. Reunification accentuated the building’s disgrace — the government, exiled to Bonn in 1946, returned and settled in the Reichstag, eliminating for the second time the political power of the Museumsinsel site. Eventually, the asbestos was removed from the Palast as well as the exterior glass. Then came a long debate on the relevance of preserving a relic of a failed ideal that nonetheless still evoked emotion. Some wanted to demolish the Palast der Republik and rebuild the Stadtschloss. In opposition, a movement to safeguard the Palast was organised. A rock group called Einstuerzende Neubaten (literally ‘collapsing new buildings’) performed in the stripped-down building in 2004. However, none of this was sufficient to reverse the 2002 decision to demolish it. Contrary to the government of the GDR which had disposed of the Stadtschloss in an untimely manner, the new authorities voted for a meticulous dismantling of the structure.

At www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de, the official website for the Senate Department for urban development, one can observe the slow disappearance of the Palast thanks to photographs that are updated by the hour (ironically, the same process was employed a few years ago in order to follow the unrestrained pace of construction of the Potsdamer Platz). A building complex called the Humboldt Forum, whose costs have not yet been officially published, is projected for the site of the palace, but in the short term, a park will be planted there. For the moment, a stand of curry-würst leans on the demolition site fence, through which one can witness environment-friendly dismantling: stripping down of the façade, then of the floor and structure, the lifting of steel beams using mobile cranes and finally demolition of the eight concrete elevator cores. As time changes, methods evolve, but it seems clear that each government claims an editorial right over history. In a city as laden with symbols and history as Berlin, one can only hope that the next building located at the entry of the Museumsinsel will offer a durable reference for Berliners. And maybe, perhaps, it will share its lastingness with the Brandenburg gate.

Dallaire, Julien. 'Chronicle of a Political Death' On Site review, No. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Julien Dallaire and On Site review

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La porte de Brandebourg, qui étire les ombres de sa colonnade sur la Pariser Platz depuis 1791, est un symbole immuable de la ville de Berlin. La dernière survivante parmi les quinze portes de la ville fait la jonction entre le Tiergarten, le poumon de Berlin, et l’avenue Unter den Linden. En suivant cette avenue bordée de tilleuils, le marcheur passe devant les embassades et les salles de concert et théâtre qui font la renommée de cette métropole culturelle. Puis, il arrive devant une scène intrigante : sur l’historique Museumsinsel, l’île des musées nichée entre deux bras de la rivière Spree, les grues d’un chantier se dressent autour d’une imposante structure d’acier. Rien à voir avec la fièvre immobilière qui rattrape le centre historique de la ville. Il s’agit plutôt du démantèlement controversé du Palast der Republik, ancien siège du gouvernement de la République démocratique d’Allemagne. Aux abords du chantier, le passant peut lire des bannières qui défendent cette décision. De nombreux berlinois voulaient que l’on conserve cet édifice au verre couleur bronze qui, en plus de sa fonction gouvernementale, abritait un complexe de divertissements et un auditorium de 5000 places. Après un long débat sur son avenir, le Palais de la république s’est ajouté à la liste des dommages collatéraux de la guerre froide, dont les traces perdurent à Berlin malgré la chute du Mur en 1989.

Cette décision touche un des secteurs parmi les plus importants de Berlin. Le Stadtschloss, ou Palais de la cité, occupait jusqu’en 1950 le site à l’entrée de la Museumsinsel, et constituait le point focal de la perspective sur l’avenue Unter den Linden. La résidence royale a évolué sur près de cinq cents ans; l’agrandissement baroque au début du XVIIIe siècle dessiné par Andreas Schütler avait pour but de créer un symbole de puissance absolue, et d’affirmer le sentiment national de la Prusse. Au-delà de ses fonctions représentatives, le véritable rôle rempli par le Stadtschloss à Berlin était sa présence structurante dans le centre historique de la ville; le Palais répondait à l’Altes Museum dessiné par Schinkel, servait de façade à la verdure du Lustgarten, et encadrait le Berliner Dom, un autre symbole berlinois. Vers la fin de la Deuxième guerre mondiale, les bombardements alliés détruisirent plusieurs intérieurs mais une bonne partie des murs tint bon.
Le contexte socio-économique d’après-guerre à Berlin était pour le moins amer; 40% du volume habitable avait était anéanti, et le centre historique était gravement touché. De plus, l’impasse politique qui divisait le pays n’allait pas tarder à se manifester dans le paysage urbain. Les investissements américains à l’ouest et le soutien de l’URSS à l’est lancèrent capitalistes et socialistes dans une compétition soutenue pour la reconstruction de la ville. Les autorités de Berlin Est percevaient le Stadtschloss comme un symbole intolérable de la tyrannie et du militarisme. Malgré les prostestations de l’intelligentsia berlinoise, la dernière partie du bâtiment encore debout fut dynamitée le 30 décembre 1950.

Sept ans plus tard, le sénat de Berlin Ouest lança un concours pour la création d’un plan d’ensemble qui incluait le centre et des parties de la ville en territoire est-allemand. La République démocratique d’Allemagne, nouvellement formée, répliqua avec son propre concours, pour la « transformation socialiste du centre de la Capitale de la RDA, Berlin. » Les équipes participantes, tant à l’ouest qu’à l’est, n’envisageaient pas la reconstruction du Stadtschloss; les propositions à l’est se concentraient autour de l’érection d’un bâtiment gouvernemental dominant, tandis que les projets ouest-allemands favorisaient l’implantation d’équipements culturels.
La division de Berlin par le Mur en 1961 sonna le glas des « projets collectifs » de restructuration. Le jeune gouvernement de la RDA souhaitait se doter d’un centre représentatif de l’idéologie du parti, centre auquel les citoyens devaient pouvoir s’identifier. Cette notion d’espace identitaire allait mener à la création de plusieurs bâtiments et places, relativement intacts aujourd’hui. Le projet le plus important aux yeux du leader Eric Honecker demeurait le Palast der Republik, qui devait offrir aux citoyens toutes les commodités d’un grand équipement culturel, en plus d’être le siège des congrès du Parti socialiste.
Un imposant volume de verre couleur bronze fut érigé à l’est du site laissé vacant par le Stadtschloss. Lors de l’inauguration du Palast en 1976, les visiteurs purent déambuler à travers les restaurants et salles de concerts, la chambre du peuple (Volksammer), la salle de quilles, sans oublier l’immense foyer central et ses mille et une lampes qui pendaient depuis le plafond (espace qui valut au bâtiment le surnom de « boutique de lampes d’Éric »). Subventionné comme il l’était, le Palast devint un succès auprès de la population, qui avait accès à des restaurants de qualité à prix modiques ainsi qu’à toutes les formes de divertissements permis par les autorités :concerts, discothèques.
Peu avant la réunification en 1990, le Palast der Republik fut fermé indéfiniment pour cause de contamination à l’amiante. La réunification allait accentuer la disgrâce de l’édifice. Le gouvernement, en « exil » à Bonn, revint s’installer dans les environs du Reichstag, retirant pour une deuxième fois le pouvoir politique du site de la Museumsinsel. Eventuellement, l’amiante fut retirée de la structure du Palast, de même que les panneaux de verre de l’enveloppe extérieure. S’ensuivit un long débat sur la pertinence de conserver une relique d’un idéal déchu, mais également chargée d’histoire. Des voix s’élevèrent pour réclamer la démolition du Palast der Republik et la reconstruction de l’ancien Stadtschloss. A l’encontre, des mouvements de sauvegarde de l’édifice s’organisèrent. Un groupe de rock allemand nommé Einstuerzende Neubaten (littéralement « les nouveaux bâtiments s’effondrant ») offrit une performance en 2004 dans le squelette de l’édifice. Ces regains d’intérêts pour le Palast ne furent pas suffisants pour renverser la décision déjà prise en 2002 de le démolir. Contrairement au gouvernement de la RDA qui avait fait dynamiter le Stadtschloss, les autorités municipales votèrent pour un démantèlement minutieux de la structure, plus soucieux de l’environnement.
A l’adresse www.stadtentwicklung.berlin.de, le site officiel du Département sénatorial de dévelopement urbain, on peut observer la lente disparition du Palast grâce à une caméra dont les images sont mises à jour à chaque heure (ironiquement, le même procédé fut employé il y a quelques années pour permettre de suivre la construction effrénée sur Potsdamer Platz). Un complexe nommé le Humboldt Forum, dont les coûts ne sont pas encore officiellement chiffrés, est projeté sur le site du Palais, mais à brève échéance un parc y sera aménagé. Pour l’instant, un stand de curry-würst est adossé aux clôtures du chantier, à travers lesquelles on peut observer le démembrement méticuleux de l’édifice : démantèlement de la façade, puis de la structure et du plancher, soulèvement des poutres d’acier à l’aide de grues mobiles et enfin démolition des huit noyaux d’ascenseurs en béton. Autre temps, autre méthode, mais il semble que chaque gouvernement se réclame de l’exercice d’un pouvoir éditorial sur l’histoire. Dans une ville aussi dense en symboles et en histoire que Berlin, on peut espérer que le prochain projet à l’entrée de la Museumsinsel offrira des repères durables à la population berlinoise. Qui sait? Peut-être partagera-t-il la pérennité de la porte de Brandebourg.

Dallaire, Julien. 'Chronique d'une mort annoncée' On Site review, No. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Julien Dallaire and On Site review

18 July 2008

Lucrae ante populus

Jill Browne
McKenzie Towne is an olde-new ‘village’ in Calgary, surrounded by the flat and densely packed acres of new houses that make up the subdivisions collectively thought of as McKenzie. When I asked a few people about living in McKenzie, they were quick to point out that McKenzie Towne is just a small part of McKenzie world.
I remember reading about McKenzie years ago in the newspaper, when it was a gleam in the architect’s eye. The vision was of a pedestrian-friendly place with a village feel. More fool me for thinking that would include local jobs.
Recently I’ve made a couple of trips out to McTowne (their community association was advertising using this name) and have been mulling it over.
It’s easy to be negative and critical about the tweeness of the olde bits, but there are some positives about McKenzie, including the green spaces. Despite the fact that many of the houses are unbearably close together, McKenzians have visible pride of ownership. They were not the ones who designed their homes and took them from lot line to lot line. In Calgary’s new subdivisions (and most of Calgary is new), homebuyers pick from what the developer offers. If it’s not on the menu, you can’t have it.
The thing that gets most to my point is found in one of the children’s playgrounds. There are some play structures set up like a little town. At the pretend bank counter, the sign says ‘BANK. Lucrae ante populus’. The intended meaning is, ‘Wealth before people’. I think it is a sophomoric ironic statement unsuccessfully mocking bankers. The irony is terribly misplaced to the point of being mean.

‘Wealth before people’ is how McKenzie works. The people who live there can’t actually afford if they were dependent onwages available locally, in McKenzie itself. This is not because the residents want it that way, it’s because their employers do. The cost of commuting - both the direct costs of driving, and the much larger indirect costs in terms of quality of life - are borne by the residents. The city planners and council have no apparent motivation to change things.
If McTowne had an economic centre beyond the retail outlets that dominate its northern half, the village life of the vision might just be possible. I don’t see how a place can justifiably be called pedestrian-friendly if the would-be pedestrians are depleted after commuting two or more hours daily to make a living. What kind of village is that?

Browne, Jill. 'Lucrae ante populus' On Site review no.18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Jill Browne and On Site review

Cosmopolitan Dynamics of Multicultural Cities

the outer edges of TorontoIan Chodikoff
With the variety of ethnic and cultural groups found across the inner and outer suburban rings of the Greater Toronto Area, architects need to improve their understanding of the miscellaneous informal activities and physical adaptations to our built environment developed by communities living in these suburban spaces. More discourse on this subject is required to anticipate and respond to the spatial and design challenges associated with our increasingly large cosmopolitan cities. Toronto is growing by 100,000 citizens every year and a majority of this growth is attributed to those arriving from the Middle East, Asia, Africa and Latin America. There are tremendous design opportunities afoot.

Canadians are accustomed to believing in the merits of multiculturalism. This is understood by nearly every citizen, as well as the world beyond which views us as being tolerant to a multitude of cultures, religions and ways of life. However, this dangerously glib mentality will not ensure Canada’s position as a leading global innovator in its approach to architecture and urban design. With respect to the multitude of immigrants arriving each year, our design professions need to develop a more proactive approach to diversity. A useful way to devise a methodology that anticipates the needs of a new era of cosmopolitan cities is to examine the suburban fringes of the Greater Toronto Area.

The first generation of postwar suburban buildings in the 1950s spawned new thinking in the possibilities of our suburban landscapes. Don Mills, Erin Mills, Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Parks each offered fresh perspectives relating to the densities and building types available to the new middle-class. When Flemingdon Park was completed in 1967, it marked a significant transition in the history of Toronto’s public housing where families —single-mothers or otherwise— could live peaceably in a medium-density environment with easy access to schools and playgrounds. Its original architects never intended the cultural composition to be as diverse as it is today, with women in saris strolling at night on wide sidewalks alongside immature trees trying to buffer the noise of the busy arterial roads.

With subsequent generations, the original schools and shopping areas have changed. A 2004 renovation to the Flemingdon Park High School by Stephen Teeple allowed a 40-odd-year-old school serving over 30 different cultures in adjacent communities to thrive and co-exist in a rich and meaningful way. Teeple’s renovation engages and furthers a culture of diversity set within a neighbourhood containing wholesale distribution centres built 20 years ago. Flemingdon and nearby Thorncliffe Park now contain silk traders from India, Pakistani restaurants and halal butchers.

Postwar apartment towers, townhouses, shopping centres, office buildings, religious buildings, parks and schools of the Greater Toronto Area’s suburbs have collectively contributed to the foundation of a deep and meaningful cultural landscape, enabling a diverse range of communities to be altered and replaced by a new reality — one of global connectivity and entrepreneurship. Relationships developed amongst the variety of social networks found across the Greater Toronto Area are being reworked and enriched by immigrants arriving with social, intellectual and financial capital, contributing to the social and economic benefit of our respective communities. Entrepreneurial activities flourish within a suburban infrastructure, allowing 1960s strip malls along Eglinton Avenue in Scarborough to be remodelled into new businesses that sell hejabs, hookah pipes or Sri Lankan cuisine. Underutilized parking lots in front of these strip malls evolve, transforming themselves into sophisticated social spaces operating equally well during the day and at night. With festivals like ‘The Taste of the Lawrence’, a popular food and cultural fair that takes place in July (now in its second successful year), a diverse community of Greek, South Asian and Persian backgrounds celebrate over a weekend of food, commerce and fun — this is something that the rest of the world can learn about, provided we continue to allow these urban spaces to flourish.

It is clear to even the most casual observer that a highly motivated series of private initiatives activated by vibrant ethnic and cultural communities has developed a process of evolving informal urbanism. It also remains clear that many of the strip malls located across the Greater Toronto Area provide useful palimpsests for cultural diversity. Advertisements for English as a second language, computer skills, tax and accounting services, as well as medical walk-in clinics allow the careful passerby to deconstruct the various components of such a diverse and complex network of interconnected communities. These are just a few examples of the many possible urban design outcomes for architects; the challenges of multiculturalism are an opportunity to develop a toolkit capable of analysing the processes that affect the cultural contexts of Canada, while providing new possibilities of design innovation.

And, entirely new communities are being built from the ground up. A short drive away, on the southern boundary of Markham just north of Scarborough, lies the expansive Pacific Mall. This suburban commercial enclave is the perfect arena from which to examine the creation of a shopping centre specifically designed for a mostly Chinese community. The transformation has been outstanding. Individual storeowners have collectively created entire commercial environments essentially foreign to a non-Asian visitor. At first glance, the commercial framework is relatively straightforward, but the dynamics are constantly changing and are highly indicative of global connectivity. Hundreds of tenants are divided into commercial tiers where kiosks sell items from unlocked cell phones, food, jewelry, cheap handbags to running shoes. Beneath the surface of legitimate trade lies a few more informal streams of commerce, where illegal CDs of the latest films and fake handbags are sold to trustworthy clients. And the role of the architect? The agglomeration of restaurants and food fairs have coalesced into a string of economic activity that has created a parallel city in Markham. In a few years, the nearby Markham Civic Centre, designed by Oleson Woreland Architects and landscape architect Janet Rosenberg will heighten the awareness of this new suburban environment with a network of a variety of mid- to high-density developments in a community that has seen its population grow from 20,000 to 200,000 in the last two decades. The Town of Markham is duly proud. The influx of foreign capital and urban development has contributed to the success of this municipality.

When John B. Parkin Associates completed the Ortho Pharmaceutical Corporation in Don Mills in 1956, Toronto’s then mostly white suburbs had embraced Modernism, joining the ranks of global cities engaged in progressive architecture and urbanism. Another modernist building in Don Mills, the Bata Building (also by John B. Parkin Associates), is set to be replaced by the new Global Centre for Pluralism, designed by Mumbai-based architect Charles Correa and funded by the Aga Khan Development Network, based in Geneva.

This kind of transformation represents a new era of urbanism shaping the Greater Toronto Area’s suburbs — an urbanism connected to the religious, historical and cultural networks of the world while the Greater Toronto Area evolves into a cosmopolitan city-region.

Chodikoff, Ian. 'Fringe Benefits' On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Ian Chodikoff and On Site review

Belonging, sous le pont

Nicole Dextras
Go back in time and imagine a native village on the saltwater shoreline of southern British Columbia surrounded by giant Douglas Firs. Witness the last spike being driven in the trans-continental railway on the shore of the western frontier. Now picture a beautiful Art Deco bridge connecting Vancouver’s downtown core to the prosperous west side. Fast forward, zoom in under this bridge, and familiarize yourself with a no man’s land overgrown with wild blackberry brambles where homeless people settle in for the night. You will now arrive at the site for a recent ephemeral art installation: Belonging: sous le pont.

One of the first things you will notice is the word Belong, woven from willow branches and hanging between the concrete pillars of the bridge above a small hut made of twigs. This word raises the questions: Who belongs here? How do we as citizens negotiate public space and the notion of ownership? In this instance, the ownership of this plot of land has been contentious since colonial times because the area is divided between the city of Vancouver, the railroad and the Squamish Nation.
This land may be divided up between the many parties who want access to the upscale area of Kitsilano, but it is generally regarded as abandoned and wild. Like many undeveloped lots in cities, it attracts street culture in the form of graffiti artists and is home to itinerants who fabricate makeshift dwellings. Guerrilla gardeners, cyclists, commuters, boaters, students attending the nearby music school and the Emily Carr Art Institute on Granville Island also encounter this site on a daily basis.
This site-specific project continues my art practice as an eco-artist working in the realm of ephemeral art installations. Like the artist Andy Goldsworthy, I work predominantly with the materials that nature provides. I have erected a series of domed structures emulating the natural arch of the invasive and prolific blackberry vines. If you crawl into the hut, be careful; the thorns remain so that they evoke the pain and sacrifice inherent in living on the margins of society.
While these works echo the use of thorn barring plants to protect and exclude property, they also speak to the fundamental need for shelter.

One significant outcome of working under the bridge has been the spontaneous interactions between the public, the sculptures and myself. In particular, the photo of the original native inhabitants of the area once called Snauq (circa 1891), framed by a crown of thorns placed above a red sofa acting as a flower bed, has led to many conversations with passers by. For instance, one day I met a young native girl out for her daily jog who calls this area the rez. She explained that although she is not from the area, she is involved with local natives who would like to create a web site about the ancient village of Snauq. I have also met some shady characters, troubled individuals, friendly neighbours, city workers, tourists and a whole troupe of actors who staged a performance under the bridge for a month. Most remarkable of all was a homeless man who was so taken with my work that he took a photo of it with his cell phone.

This seemingly forgotten space and the issue of its ownership has been at the forefront of public debate of late because of the Squamish claims to the land plus the need to retrofit the bridge. I have spoken to a wide variety of people about the recent proposal by the Squamish to erect billboards along the Burrard Bridge. My understanding as a non-aboriginal is that the Squamish Nation, which has fought long and hard to regain rights to their ancestral land, regard advertising as their only recourse to generate revenue from this small parcel of land. Though a majority of Vancouverites support the Squamish’s aspirations toward self-sufficiency, most agree that it will be an unsightly addition to the historical bridge. Moreover, the ongoing civic debate regarding the expansion of the Burrard Bridge to accommodate the yearly increase of traffic usage has met with public opposition.

After spending several months under the bridge I would conclude that the answer to my initial question, Who belongs here? to be All of us, regardless of the fact that on October 16, 2007 all of my installations were hauled away by an over zealous city crew upon their return to work after a three month city strike. Although I fully accept the risks involved in the creation of guerrilla art, I did appreciate that they did not destroy the word CLAIM, which was a few metres out of their jurisdiction. It stands as a reminder of the need for redress in regards to the colonial laws of land pre-emption and squatter’s rights. May the growth of this autumnal rye grass take root in our consciousness and imbed in us the first seeds of change.

Dextras, Nicole. 'Belonging, sous le pont' On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Nicole Dextras and On Site review

coda — here is my new installation at VanDusen Botanical Garden in Vancouver - the garden director there invited me to work in the garden after he heard the city had taken all my work away under the bridge...
http://www.flickr.com/photos/ndextras/

Belfast

20th April 2007: the Denmark Street Community Centre in the heart of Protestant territory.

Tom Strickland
The only thing keeping the peace in Belfast is the threat of an aggressive military intervention from the British government, according to our Catholic cab driver. The cultural district in the city is like any other historic site in the world, open for business. If a visitor leaves this area however, and enters South Belfast, they will encounter a different narrative. In fact, during a tour of the area local residents threw things at our bus, so we took a cab tour the next day to find out more. Our cabby hinted that he spent fifteen years in jail for killing a Protestant and would do it again. At first we though he was being inflammatory but later discovered during conversations with other cab drivers that that few people in Belfast feel peaceful. As for the Peace Wall, its official name, it is only open at one point between 6am and 6pm weekdays and, according to our driver, if there is any trouble the gates will close, cutting off access to the hospital from the Protestant community.

Strickland, Thomas. 'Belfast'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Thomas Strickland and On Site review

Cultural Literacy, Visual Default


The Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum of Alberta
Myron Nebozuk
Twenty-odd years ago, my first year architecture professor presented our studio with a description of the human body resized to proportionately represent nerve endings. Parts of the body that have a lot of nerve endings, like finger tips and genitalia, would become grotesquely big and other parts of the body with fewer nerve endings, like the top of one’s head, would shrink. I’ve never forgotten this image, interpreting it as a call to engage all senses and to view any subject from a number of vantage points.
Fast forward to last fall and I’m leafing through Canadian Architect’s annual awards issue. I stop to read the jury comments for the proposed Ukrainian museum in Edmonton, Alberta. The jury waxes poetic about the quality of spaces and sequence presented. I study the drawings and conclude ‘who can tell?’. The information presented in the magazine is purely visual; perhaps the jury had access to some secret key just out of view, enabling them to decode the drawings. I see only two things: firstly, the rendering style reminds me of a popular video game from a decade ago called Gadget. Gadget was set in a bleak, tobacco-coloured cold war world populated by grim apparatchiks in long coats, so well rendered you can almost smell the vodka, cigarettes and sausage on their breath.
My second visual cue is the architectural style employed by the winning firm. Although the design solution is an addition to an existing building, the design team cleverly contrasts the original historical brick structure with something that reminds me of exposed-to-elements-and-neglect constructivism. I know something of such abandoned in-place heroic constructivism because there’s a lot of it within walking distance of my in-laws’ home in Budapest, where it plays poorly with the locals.
The submission’s constructivist references immediately strike me as dissonant because this style was embraced (for a few years at least) by the early Soviet government. Applying this style to a building that commemorates the struggles of a people that by and large sought to escape czarist and communist Russian persecution seems like cruel irony.

The design team and curators might argue back and say this museum represents the experience of all Ukrainian Canadians, irrespective of political orientation. However, one can clearly see the built manifestations of two different political perspectives within a few blocks of each other in downtown Edmonton. Whereas the opulent St. Josaphat’s Cathedral was bankrolled by people whose values would have been in stark opposition to the new Soviet regime, persons sympathetic to the new Soviet government built a comparatively modest hall a few blocks north. This perception is supported by Orest Subtelny’s Ukrainians in North America (1991). The author estimates that the proportion of religious and nationalist Ukrainian immigrants coming to Canada outnumbered socialist Ukrainian immigrants ten to one. So, it follows that the much larger group built the enormous, Byzantine-centric church and the other group settled for a comparatively simple stucco box. For several generations, neither group wanted to have anything to do with the other. Placing these opposing groups under one roof and making like one big happy family would be either naive, ignorant or a willful revision of history.
Could things get worse? Let’s consider one more idea: historian Richard Evans has written eloquently about the many obstacles that stand in the way of a fair and balanced historical record, recognising that history is typically written by the victors. The Ukrainian Canadian Archives and Museum might be the exception to this rule, dressed in an architectural style associated with one of history’s biggest losers.

Although I don’t expect any jury to understand and comment on minute political currents within cultural subsets of our society, when juries establish architectural merit based on the visual sense alone, folly usually follows. The experience of buildings involves all senses at least, and at best includes messy cultural layers that add additional complexity.
Why then do adjudication processes give primacy to the visual sense? Since the Renaissance, the visual has ascended to dominate discussion and evaluation of the built environment. Save Rodolphe el-Khoury’s recent history of architecture based on the sense of smell (History of Shit. MIT Press, 2003), the vast majority of architectural criticism and history has assumed that the visual sense has driven all that is meritorious in architecture and urban design. Had a multivalent approach been used by this design team and jury, someone might have precluded the oh shit! moment that comes right after a big ball is dropped. Instead, we are faced with the prospect of the curiosity presented by my first year professor, all hands and genitalia, possessing very little space between both ears.

Nebozuk, Myron. 'Cultural literacy, visual default'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Myron Nebozuk and On Site review

Graphic Virtuosity

architectural posters as cultural artefactsArchitektur I Sovjetunionen 1917-1987
1989 27” x 39” (68 x 100 cm.) silkscreen Arkitekturmuseet, Stockholm
A celebration to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the Constructivist movement in the Soviet Union. The poster incorporates a student design project by Nikolai Sokolov, drafted in 1928 and showing floors plans for a Communal Dining Hall at the proposed Holiday Hotel on the Black Sea.


Robert G Hill
An unprecedented exhibition of architectural posters at the Eric Arthur Gallery at University of Toronto (catalogue from anna.lightfoot@utoronto.ca) provides a unique opportunity to explore the historical and cultural impact of this print medium on both the profession of architecture and the broader culture of art and art history.

The methodology of collecting cultural artifacts such as architectural posters is not an easy one. Mandatory requirements include a broad-based knowledge of contemporary design and architectural history, powerful radar, gentle persistence, a certain fanaticism for the subject and, above all, a discerning eye. Surprisingly, deep pockets are not required, for many of the posters have been purchased at an astonishingly low cost (typically under $10), or have been sent free charge by galleries and museums intrigued by my interest from faraway Canada. Developed over a forty-year period from 1967 to 2007, this collection of 1,600 architectural posters serves as cultural barometer of the rise and fall and continuing shifts in the style and development of twentieth-century architecture. From modernism to post-modernism, from expressionism to deconstructivism, from brutalism to the new minimalism, the diversity of approaches to architectural design and theory have been recorded and promoted with the simple device of the printed poster. These have served as a tool and a forum for graphic experimentation, as a vehicle for the exploration of expressive opportunities in typography, and as a voice for new architectural imagery conceived by leading architects from around the world.
The history of the architectural poster is endlessly fascinating, yet a relatively short one. It was against the backdrop of the Art Nouveau movement that the Belgian artist Adolphe Crespin (1859-1944) can be credited with the design of the first architectural poster in 1897. It promoted the work of Paul Hankar (1859-1901), a Brussels architect who is shown at work in his atelier, hunched over a drafting board. In the first decades of the twentieth century, the number of European institutions that regularly produced architectural posters could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Their efforts were, with a few notable exceptions, modest in size, and made use of simple one-colour printing methods. The exhibitions were rarely monographic, focusing instead on building expositions or housing developments designed in the ‘New Style’ of architecture created by a young generation of modernists after 1920. The Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany was fertile ground for graphic designers and architects alike, but with the closing of the school in 1933, and the hiatus of economic growth before WWII, it was not until well after 1945 that architectural posters appear with any regularity.
By 1975 an entirely new generation of architectural museums and galleries began to emerge in Europe and North America. The creation of these publicly accessible collections can be directly linked to the growing appreciation of architecture as an art form and as a highly regarded profession, instead of merely a business. New architectural museums opened in Oslo (1975), Frankfurt (1979), Montreal (1979), Bordeaux (1980), Basel (1984), Washington (1985), Copenhagen (1986), Rotterdam (1988) and Vienna (1992). Each established their own ambitious exhibition programmes accompanied by scholarly catalogues, and heralded with impressive architectural posters conceived by gifted graphic designers.
It remains puzzling, however, why architectural posters still stand in the shadows of their more glamorous and coveted step-sister movie posters, travel posters, war posters and rock’n’roll posters, vintage examples of which easily command four figures at auction today. The answer is obvious. In North America, the architectural poster is, for the most part, perceived merely as an information device. In Europe, it is an art form, capably demonstrated by some of the posters here, which are drawn from the 22 countries represented in the Toronto exhibition.
Divided into six categories, the exhibit includes posters representing the landscape, architectural models, drawings, typography, lectures and symposia, and architects and their personae. The most inventive and memorable posters included in the display are those which do not use conventional building imagery, but instead make brilliant use of typography alone to associate the architect with his own style and era.
Among the most effective poster campaigns yet developed for an architectural school, credit must be given here to Robert Stern, Dean of the Yale School of Architecture who in 1998 hired Michael Bierut, partner in the New York office of Pentagram Associates, to direct a poster production programme using a standard sheet size and one colour of ink: black. The utter simplicity of this formula, combined with a strategy of folding and mailing the posters without envelopes, guaranteed the widest possible dissemination of Beirut’s designs announcing symposia, lectures and student exhibitions at Yale.

The very best architectural posters in the exhibition contain three key ingredients: clarity, simplicity and graphic elegance. Yet the content is often radically different from conventional broadsheets. Advertising posters sell product. Travel posters sell place. Movie posters sell escape and fantasy. Architectural posters do none of these. Instead, they invariably sell an idea, they may celebrate a body of work, or promote a personal philosophy and a highly idiosyncratic approach to design problems. The exceptional posters may even achieve cult status when married with a brilliant graphic designer who has the ability to portray the essence of an entire career with one potent image.

These posters are in many cases provocative, raising questions of why some talented architects, popular fifty or sixty years ago, have been unjustly eclipsed or buried under an avalanche of recent work by a new architectural generation. Projecting their own sense of immediacy during the staging of a current exhibition, posters often remain in circulation long after the exhibit has ended and the artifacts have been dispersed, underscoring the rightful place that an architect might deserve in the cross-currents of twentieth century architecture. For the uninitiated, or the uneducated, these posters are the entrée into the career and work of an architect who, languishing in undeserved obscurity, can be resurrected. Drawing attention to his or her work may inspire an entirely new generation of young designers.

Do architectural posters still have relevance in our new digital age? The answer is unequivocally yes. This most portable form of the visual arts continues to have value because it is such an effective instrument for communicating ideas about architectural innovation that cross international and temporal boundaries.

Hill, Robert G. 'Graphic virtuosity'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Robert G Hill and On Site review

Social Acts

and lessons learned
Sumoproject: Ruth Alejandra Mora and Gaston Soucy
Having had direct contact with the uneven distribution of wealth and resources in Latin America has taught us a form of recycling that goes beyond ecology. To us, recycling is also a social act where the constant reinvention of a particular resource is a choice that comes from the social consciousness of necessity and responsibility.
Thesis Bench is the result of re-cycling and re-inventing second hand materials. It is composed of a series of 1x4s and scrap pieces of wood previously used as frames for a thesis presentation. The 1x4 studs are staggered horizontally to create a sitting area while the scrap wood is inserted in between to act as vertical support. These operations produce a ‘random’ and artistic disposition of all the pieces creating a dynamic, playful and yet functional object.

Sumoproject. 'Social acts'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Ruth Alejandra Mora and On Site review

Carlos Raul Villanueva

tropical modernism: the power of estrangement
La Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, Aula Magna (Convocation Hall) interior. Acoustic panels (The Clouds) by Alexander Calder.

Ruth Alejandra Moro

I remember the first time I saw blue shadows, light-diffused shadows on snow. In the warmer and brighter tropics shadows are a strong dark or a well-defined black. I arrived in Toronto in early March, still winter, and everything was foreign to me, but soon I realized that I was the foreign one, not the other way around. All my contextual understanding was displaced; in a battle between rejection and acceptance I had to both redefine the known and to make the unfamiliar familiar.

When Carlos Raul Villanueva arrived in Caracas in 1929, after finishing his studies at l’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris, he found a predominantly rural society under the dictatorial government of Juan Vicente Gomez. The leading architectural trend among the Venezuelan bourgeoisie was historicist: neo-colonial, neo-baroque, vasque style. The figure of the architect did not exist: the engineer was recognized as the master builder.
The son of Venezuelan diplomats, he spent most of his youth in Paris, living in a diplomatic environment surrounded by arts and culture when the first modernist examples emerged in Europe. It was the primitive environment of Caracas that acted as a provocation, a catalyst, igniting the creative process and confronting him with the most fundamental principles of architecture. As I did, Villanueva reinvented himself by understanding, transforming and appropriating the unknown. Slowly he discovered tropical weather, lush landscapes and the elements of Hispanic architecture: the colonial window with its multiple layers to protect from the sun; the traditional patio for cross ventilation; the use of colour to make spaces warmer, happier.
His first works were shy, conservative and academic, a reflection of the society he had encountered. In the 1930s he built a bull ring (La Maestranza) in Maracay, that along with the Museum of Beaux Arts of Caracas and the Museum of Natural Science, were part of a historicist period of his career. These and other pavilions and galleries built during this period, generated a sensibility towards the arts that would be very evident in Villanueva’s late work.
Meanwhile the modernist influences he brought from Europe were waiting in the background. He started to slowly introduce elements of modernist language while continuing to re-evaluate and re-interpret traditional Hispanic architecture. Two events greatly influenced this change: the death of Juan Vicente Gomez in 1935 initiated a period of political openness and modernisation in Venezuela, and working with Juan Bernardo Arismendi, his father-in-law, on private residential projects allowed him to understand the local use of the domestic space.
A clear example of his architecture at this time is the revitalization of El Silencio (1941-1945), a low rise social housing project in downtown Caracas.
Although the public façade portrays a historicist language through the use of mouldings, cornices and traditional columns; the private façades (on the interior courtyard) clearly show a modern language with no disguises. Commercial gallerias on the ground floor protect from the intense tropical sun while creating a strong link with the public space. This is a space of exchange that even today remains active, in spite of the rapid and aggressive growth of the surrounding area.

It is finally in the Ciudad Universitaria, the main campus of the Central University of Venezuela (1944-1970) in Caracas where modern and traditional elements, and the sensibility he had developed towards the arts, come together to generate a truly tropical modern language in an amalgamation of art, landscape, architecture, planning and urban design. Built over a 26 year period, under Villanueva’s sole direction and design, the campus is a city within the city.
The master plan that had started by copying rigid English and American models evolved into an organic pattern, open spaces without solar protection become delineated by covered hallways, pergolas, and patios; the concept of the covered plaza was introduced to provide a transition between public and private space in which to socialise. The deliberate contrast between light and shade produced texture, and colour was introduced through the incorporation of art into architectural elements such as windows, murals and facades .
The encounter with the unknown and unexpected, gave Carlos Raul Villanueva special awareness of its surroundings and another vision of himself. Finally after many years of observation, analysis, teaching, sharing and understanding the society he lived in, he appropriated it and made it his own.
After seven years, my understanding of Canada (its people, habits and beliefs) has changed, and so has the perception — the notion — of myself. A negotiation of identity has risen from personal experience, self-reflection and a contextual awareness making what was once unfamiliar, familiar now, and what was a battle, is now a dialogue.
Displacement is not the place where we become something completely different but the place where we can share the differences and extract the best from them.
My architecture, as well, has arrived to a balanced mid-point where the fusion of both cultures, the tropical and the northern, celebrates the most unexpected but harmonious results.

‘Ultimately, estrangement is not about encountering a complete alien, but also about encountering sufficient otherness to recognize strangeness in oneself. Through displacement-in the mind in time and in space, through travel and emigration- we revisit ourselves’.
Payne, Alina. ‘Displacements: Architecture and the other side of the known’
A1, Architecture and Ideas, vol IV (Winter 2000)

Mora, Ruth Alejandra. 'The power of estrangement'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Ruth Alejandra Mora and On Site review

17 July 2008

Yuquot, British Columbia

syncretic signsThe two house posts within the former sanctuary, with the communion rail separating the nave from the sanctuary. On the left near the door is the altar and tabernacle, moved from their former central position. Inward-facing seats (the pews) are typical of potlatch houses of the 1920s.

Michael Leeb

Yuquot is a village on the southernmost part of Nootka Island, British Columbia. Its church sits on a windswept hill on a narrow ribbon of land between the open Pacific Ocean to the west and Friendly Cove to the east. There is a grove of trees to the south and a footpath through chest-high blackberry vines flickering with hummingbirds.

The church is neo-Gothic with arched windows along the length of the building, a central tower and a spire which also served as a bell tower. In a niche of this central tower stands a statue of the Sacred Heart. The church is clad in whitewashed wooden planks with concrete buttresses supporting the frame. The present building, built in 1956, replaced the original church, designed and built by Fr. Brabant in 1889, destroyed by fire in 1954. The 1956 building appears to have been built on the foundation of the original church. In 1995 the building was redefined and is now used as a cultural centre and museum for the Mowachaht-Muchalaht First Nation. This is only apparent inside, since all exterior qualities of this building only convey the sense of a neo-Gothic wood church.

When you go in, the first thing you see is a display of site maps and architectural renderings for a proposed Na’amis Interpretive Centre (in the works since 2000) for the village of Yuquot given that it has been named a National Historic Site. The entry also has a stained glass depiction of Yuquot, donated by the Spanish government in 1957. From the front door one can see the old nave of the church but the culturally redefined interior is only apparent once fully inside.
In 1995 two totem house posts were placed at the doorway between the entry and nave, and two other posts stand within the former sanctuary at the opposite end of the building. These house posts are carved replicas of former house posts dating from the 1920s when they were used as totem poles for potlatch houses. These totem poles are freestanding and not part of the structure. Nevertheless, this dramatic alteration of the interior has culturally redefined the original intent of the building and represents a cultural form of reclamation and cultural assertion.

Other modifications include the reorientation of the pews on either side of the nave so that the pews now face each other rather than towards an altar. Although a communion rail still separates the nave from the sanctuary, the altar and tabernacle are somewhat haphazardly placed to the left side of the former sanctuary from their original central placement, enhancing the significance and centrality of the two house posts within the former sanctuary.

Within the bell tower located in the former choir loft are a large crucifix and a number of statues arranged in a semi-circle. The sense is of a grotto with beautiful ambient light, and resembles very much the placement of carved human-like figures that once were found within the Whaler’s shrine that was removed from its location near the village of Yuquot to the American Museum of Natural History in 1905. The similarity in some respects of these two shrine-like spaces (the bell tower and the Whaler’s shrine) I would argue are not coincidental but rather the grotto-type space within the bell tower is indicative of a form of cultural reassertion and architectural syncretism within the former church. Both First Nation traditional indigenous art and architecture coexists with traditional Catholic iconography within this structure. Although the cultural centre now resembles a 1920s potlatch house, vestiges of the religious architecture of Catholicism still remain — the ambient lighting from the series of windows along the sides of the building are also typical of early potlatch houses.

The result is a unique and complex architectural syncretism between the cultural history of contact and the power of European religions in the dismantling of aboriginal culture, the aspirational efforts of the Mowachaht-Muchalaht people to repatriate their pre-contact, ancestral Whaler’s shrine to Yuquot, and the Canadian Government’s deferred recognition of Yuquot as a National Historic Site.

Leeb, Michael. 'Syncretic signs'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Michael Leeb and On Site review

16 July 2008

City Lands

islands of plurality: the case of Toronto Foreign Island Concept: Infrastructures reinforce distinct communities which stand separated. This middle ground island becomes a shared platform for exchange.

Neeraj Bhatia
Debates on immigration policy often focus on the number of immigrants a country can absorb without threatening the nation’s overall identity. Immigration is predicated on the notion of the assimilating melting pot, imposing a common bond between constituencies. From Hannah Arendt to Richard Sennett, it is felt that this common bond not only creates the public sphere, it reaffirms a sense of reality, reduces isolation and promotes trust. Arendt posits that the public sphere, while rooted in the common bond, also requires distinction, or plurality — the dialectical condition of our equality, in that we are human, and our distinction, in individual viewpoints. The melting pot, however, sought homogeneity to tame the chaos of diversity. More recently, a ‘salad bowl’ model, based on the dialectic notion of the heterogeneous whole, or multicultural pluralism asks ‘what is the common bond’, or the ‘salad dressing’? Where does the multicultural city come together to celebrate its collective concerns and distinct characteristics?

To answer this question, we can look to cities wherein multiculturalism is prevalent. Toronto and Vancouver top the list, only to be superseded by Miami. Intriguingly, all three cities sit in geographically separated zones; Miami as an appendage to the United States embracing the Caribbean, Vancouver behind the wall of the Rocky Mountains adjacent to the Pacific, and Toronto in Southern Ontario – a peninsula that effectively digs into the United States. Unlike Miami or Vancouver, whose separation is largely morphological in nature and attracts a more homogeneous immigrant population, Toronto’s ambiguous position, created through its adjacency to a political divide, absorbed a mosaic of immigrants. Presently, Toronto is made up of 44% foreign-born residents, 43% visible minorities, and a variety of religious groups.

Toronto’s location has linked it more directly to the United States than other Canadian cities. For instance, Queen Elizabeth Way, built in 1939, was one of the first major highways in Canada and connected Toronto to Buffalo’s industry and tourists. An expressway between Toronto and Montréal was not built for another twenty years. As far back as the 1920s, massive investments from American companies poured into Toronto5, continuing into the 1950s and 60s: in 1954, Toronto had 48 foreign-owned branch plants, including Ford and American Motors. More than two-thirds of the companies in New York City sought sites in and around Toronto6, which was preferred to Montréal because of its location (situated at the point of convergence of transport lines leading in all directions), language, and larger labour market.

Being a convergence and distribution point between Canada and America contributed both to Toronto’s growth and early identity crisis. Robert Fulford describes pre-1960s Toronto as a city which ‘denied that it had an identity worth exhibiting,’ and before the 1970s as ‘too British to be American, too American to be British, and too cosmopolitan to be properly Canadian’. It is the ambiguity of southern Ontario’s geographic position that has given the city a unique position, or lack of position. Without a coherent and overpowering identity, and situated in a nether zone, Toronto successfully hosted a large number of immigrants without assimilation. In Toronto, the immigrant condition became the norm.

At the scale of the city, the notion of the ambiguous but strategically sited ‘foreign island’ can be applied to discrete areas that lack a coherent identity and sit at convergence or distribution points. In Toronto, one such island created by infrastructural separation is the Railway Lands (CityPlace). Situated between the CN Railway and Gardiner Expressway, CityPlace has remained vacant and trapped at the city’s centre since railway transport reduced in scale and moved out of the city. CityPlace epitomizes the critique of large-scale infrastructure projects — complete separation of communities and civic morphologies. Local street grids, park systems and built form are interrupted by infrastructures; they cannot find a way around these and simply dead-end at their intersection. In addition to the morphological divides produced by major infrastructures, there are demographic divides. The pattern is such that a wealthier and ‘more Canadian’ (in terms of citizenship) population lines the southern edge of CityPlace along the waterfront. A substantially lower income bracket lines the east and west edges of the site, while visible minorities are in higher concentration on the southeast, southwest and north edges of the site. What results is an ambiguous island bounded by infrastructures that enforce distinct communities and morphologies around their edges.

While the foreign island of CityPlace causes separation, it is simultaneously the site of converging flows and associated user groups, such as local and commuter populations who occupy the adjacent airport, ferry, highway, buses and trains. The intriguing dialectical quality of CityPlace through separation (causing distinct communities) and convergence (allowing for common interaction) alludes to Arendt’s definition of pluralism. Just as Toronto’s immigrant plurality was contingent on its location as a foreign island of separation and convergence, CityPlace is home to none and all. It is within ‘foreign islands’ such as CityPlace that a public project of plurality could be carried out.

There are other characteristics inherent in these infrastructural islands that make them ideal for a public project of plurality. Inadvertently, CityPlace tends to collect massive public and cultural programs. In many cities, large programs are often too large to fit into the regular urban fabric and are therefore pushed to the periphery11. In Toronto’s case, CityPlace offers an island for these oversized public projects such as the CN Tower, SkyDome, and Air Canada Centre, with direct links to public transport that absorb and distribute large crowds. Another characteristic of these foreign islands is their central location because of the historic centrality of railway yards. They are often government-owned and are easily fitted with public projects. Lastly, the infrastructural isolation has allowed many to remain undeveloped. These qualities of neutrality, convergence and separation, accommodation of large programs, central location, public ownership and emptiness make them ideal for a grouping of public projects that create a shared platform of exchange. The promise of foreign islands such as Toronto in Southern Ontario, or more locally, CityPlace in Toronto is that they lack an overpowering stance and therefore appeal to a diverse multicultural population. Current private condominium construction on CityPlace, however, obstructs the emerging public project, and threatens to bring a consistently affluent population to the island. The latent public project inherent in the structure of foreign islands like CityPlace is fundamental to the public realm in the increasingly globalized and multicultural city. Without it we are just a grouping of unrelated people in the space that was once known as the city.

Bhatia, Neeraj. 'Isolated sites: Toronto'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Neeraj Bhatia and On Site review

Urban Settlement: Ermenek, Turkey

Selçuk Sayin and Esra Yaldiz
Selçuk Universitesi Muhendislik-Mimarlik Fakultesi
Mimarlik Bolumu Kampus, Konya, Turkey


Cities are places where the relations between yesterday and today are traced and where people identify themselves by different place-structures. A city’s own personality is directly affected by ideology and movements in specific periods, something particularly outstanding in traditional settlement units.
A society can be defined as a cultural vicinity or an architectural vicinity. Streets, areas and houses reflect processes that form the physical environment as an accumulation of technological, economic and social status, social preferences, movements and religious perspectives, plus personal interest and necessity despite restrictions imposed by nature. People interact with culture as required: it is a communication tool between human beings and the environment. This is how place is determined.
Anatolia has had numerous civilisations, each one leaving traces on its cities. Ermenek, where traditional fabric is not yet corrupted, is one of the most significant cities in the region surrounded by Antalya in the west, Isparta-Burdur and Konya in the north, Seyhan and Ceyhan Rivers in the east and the Mediterranean to the south. Ermenek is an ancient town on the Ermenek River and has been a hub for the area throughout history.
Urban settlement sits on south-facing lower mountain slopes with a Mediterranean climate. Main economic activities are agriculture (cereals, industrial farming, horticultural production and viticulture), stock breeding, small-scale industry, trade and mining. Crafts include textiles, shoemaking, tailoring, ironwork, woodwork, rugs and copper work.
Because Ermenek has been a significant historical centre, its traditional city fabric shows interesting surprises in the integration of city and the green valleys of the Taurus Mountains. Although physical characteristics play an important role in shaping overall city structure, how people live is different from community to community, according to culture and social structure. As a result, various traditional fabrics have typologies based on identical principles with completely different uses. For example, parallel streets laid out topologically on lower mountain slopes are linked by steep streets and steps. These share in the formation of traditional Ermenek house fabric which reflect an integration of geographical circumstances, family structure and overall characteristics in the society.

Ermenek houses, spilling over the hillside, generally have two floors with animals housed on the bottom. These houses resemble steps stretching over the hillside: the roof of one house is the yard for another house. In some parts of the city, houses hang from rock faces: house façades are made of wood and supported with angle braces driven into the rock.
Roads cut into the hillsides allow one to enter houses over the streets. On main streets, upper floors are lived in while the ground floor is left as a covered passage ensuring the vivacity of the street. Streets are narrow and often end with a house, making a blind street.
Building materials in Ermenek houses include stone for the basement and load-bearing walls; wood floors, walls, cupboards, agzı açık, doors, windows and building frames; soil in roof coats and stucco; mine for mallets, door grab bars, decorations on doors and windows, and lime on the cooker and walls.

Culture, as a concept, is a complete package composed of production and consumption relations followed by beliefs, values, norms, perception, uses and customs. It can be regarded as a type of infrastructure regulating social and individual behaviours. Belief systems, ethnic roots, regional factors and interaction with other communities assume an important role in formation of culture’s structure.
Traditional societies gradually form and sustain their ways of building in ways that go beyond features of the specific region in which they live. Communities stick to their own tradition of place even if they migrate to a different physical environment — in other words they bring to their new habitat the building production of their previous habitats. Traditions of ‘cultural place’ resist environmental changes because the act of creating a place is realised in accordance with a world view. Beliefs and contemporary technology, geographical conditions of the place and materials can be both derivative and climate-determined.
Families used to live together in Turkish culture. Children did not leave home after marriage: this newly-formed family was allocated a room in the house. The room given to the little family had a wardrobe bed and a bathroom in the wardrobe bed. A musandere, above the wardrobe beds, stored dried summer food for the winter.
The sofa, connecting inner and outer places in houses, is the focus of household living in the summer. Domestic production activities, imposed by Turkish agricultural economy, take place here. The ground floor is generally kept for storage and service — there is a cooker for baking bread on the ground floor and other units such as animal housing, kitchen, and other service facilities that housewives spend most of the day with. Ambars (storehouses) are built on the ground floor for keeping wheat.

Studies of culture and human-made environments claim that buildings constitute an inseparable part of the culture and are a product of it at the same time. House-form is a complex result of socio-cultural influences dependent on factors such as climate, defence systems and building and construction technologies. Ermenek houses are models of traditional architecture shaped by regional features, culture and geography. Although ensuring physical contingency means the preservation of living environments rather than physical forms, it is highly important to conserve these fabrics shaped with such local characteristics.

Sayin, Selçuk and Esra Yaldiz. 'Ermenek'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Selçuk Sayin and On Site review

False Creek


Vancouver
Eric Deis
False Creek. March 18, 2007

Deis, Eric. 'False Creek'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Eric Deis and On Site review

15 July 2008

How did we lose the public's trust?

how did we lose the public's trust?
What’s it going to be? Count Dracula’s castle? A chateau on the Loire? We don’t know until the make-up is on. Right now it is a pile of sticks and plywood and shows how the great versatility of wood is at the same time its great weakness: you can do anything with it. Stone, concrete and steel are not so forgiving and buildings made of them tend to have greater continuity of form and content.


Florian Maurer

I am an immigrant architect. Finally I get to have the good things I was barred from in Europe: Baroque castles and Tudor mansions; I get to stay in hotels that make Gothic cathedrals look like social housing; my court appearance is in a Greek temple with Corinthian columns; even WalMart finds a gable and a diamond window here and there to give its mega-boxes some pizzazz, something ‘traditional’ to make them fit in. Walking through my neighbourhood I see cascading rooflets, gables and flying buttresses from eons of European, Asian and even extraterrestrial history, some of them on the same building. So full of fantasy, and so economical — wood frame construction allows this exuberance, it can be covered with anything. Mickey Mouse has broken our chains and set us free. Yet I humbly confess: I am overwhelmed by the boundless possibilities Mickey has given me, and more often than not I default to designing rather plain boxes.

Enough sarcasm — do we attach our-selves to things and forms that are symbols of a glorious past not our own because we are like cannibals eating the flesh of powerful adversaries? Why do we call our neighbourhoods Shaughnessy and Gleneagles in reference to countries we’ve never even visited? Gated communities called Deer Run forget the environmental degradation around them. When we’re young we want to look older, and when older we want to look younger. We greet each other with ‘How are you?’ but rarely hear an honest answer to threaten the world of smoke and mirrors maintained with so much effort. If we are afraid of What Is, our wealth allows us to worry about a future which rarely comes as planned. Between an obsession with the past and worrying about the future, it is easy to forget how to really live.

Celebrity worship is a vicarious way to experience a bit of the culture and the creativity denied us. Between the the extremes of signature public buildings (with star architects vying for originality and visual noise at all, and often frivolous, cost) and badly designed, overbuilt, unsustainably-sited boxes with bits of ‘style’ glued on, we miss the opportunity to express ourselves in an architecture of our own time and place. The fact that there is a tiny minority who still produces work that inspires without resorting to hyperbole does not change this general picture.

Where has our profession lost the connection to a real culture? Here is what Stephanie White has to say:
‘I think in Canada we’ve always assumed that architects will tell us what we need, and in general trust that they will...Developers deal in fashion, and architects are not trained in fashion, but in basic principles, and never taught how to link fashion to principles, thus they hit the market as naïfs. When someone goes out to buy a house, they are limited by budget and by geography. In Calgary, and in Kelowna, and in Nanaimo, they could get a lovely little old house within their budget but they’d have to work day and night to fix it up, and most people only have time to move in, get the kids settled at school and go back to work, thus new developer neighbourhoods. Style, in this situation isn’t as important as ease’.
I guess it would be a valuable marketing tool if we knew how to press the right buttons, if we were not ‘naïfs’, but let’s concentrate on those basic principles, Commodity and Firmness: I believe that when they show up convincingly in our work, our case for Delight is strong. If not, Style will fill the void.

‘Canadians firmly believe that good examples happen elsewhere, in Europe, in the States, in Australia. We do not feel that we require beauty, or elegance, or loveliness in our lives. The minimum will always do. Developers give us the minimum, and the bits of decoration attached are really about competition between developers. The buyers are irrelevant here.’
I can see here the dour world of self-denial Ingmar Bergman portrayed so graphically in his films. We need to break this armour! In a culture dominated by economics it means that beauty, elegance and loveliness (and sustainability) will have to come at no extra cost. In fact, to convince developers they may have to cost less! The public needs a low-cost chance to realise that they need beauty and sustainability before they know to demand them.

We have to learn to design extremely simple, practical and economical buildings, and forgo the temptation to make them unique at all costs for the sake of our egos. We have to say No to star architecture and concentrate on the average Joe. We have to be certain to include ‘supporting a life of joy’ in our clients’ catalogue of functions. In fact, it is a building’s most important function. What would be the point of a life without joy? It is a prerequisite of sustainability: buildings that don’t make us happy are fundamentally unsustainable. Compassion for the less privileged, responsible use of resources, return from hubris to humility, commonsense sustainability not hi-tech gizmos, our love for the planet, those are the things the public has to see in our designs. Once they trust us again they just might be willing to spend a little extra for ‘beauty, elegance and loveliness’ and to demand it from developers. Our designs have to be ingenious. We will have to do some hard homework on Firmness and Commodity to package our Delight in.

Still, this doesn’t address the cultural crux of the matter: living culture is about doing, not buying vicarious experiences. To really enjoy music, for instance, and realise its artistry, we must try sometime to play it ourselves, no matter how badly. I am speaking from my own experience. With the deluge of recorded music we have perfectly executed music available 24 hours a day. We measure ourselves against this perfection and get discouraged. This goes for all aspects of cultural life and I believe it is a major cause for a kind of cultural inferiority complex. As architects we must not only involve our clients more, we must work them hard. This will make their building their own; they will see the artistry behind it and we will be more certain that we have really understood what they needed.

Yes I am an immigrant architect and there IS a distinct Canadian culture, one I cherish very much or I wouldn’t be here. I want this culture to carry its head high and proudly in our architecture, not hiding it behind symbols of another time and place.


Maurer, Florian. 'Caring about architecture'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Florian Maurer and On Site review

Yellowknife, NWT


local culture and northern architecture
Kayhan Nadji
The architectural expression of this house grows out of an appreciation for local culture and environment.
This four-bedroom 450 m2 house, designed for a family of five, is in Yellowknife, the capital city of the Northwest Territories and the homeland of Weledeh Yellowknife Dene. Based on tipi and igloo architecture, the indigenous dwellings of this area, it reflects an increasing awareness of the way architecture affects, and is affected by both the environment and culture, plus emergent characteristics in contemporary architecture.
For aboriginal people, the circle is a significant symbol, representing the continuity of life. Almost all aboriginal shelters feature a circular plan in which is held some basic physical and psychological concepts: a circle makes everyone equal, the circular plan encourages concentric use of space with attention focused on the centre with its fire pit at the base and smoke vent at the top. Circular dwellings are non-directional, aside from the entrance, and let in daylight from all angles.
Also, a circular shape is the most efficient for enclosing volume, minimising the use of materials and presenting the least possible surface area for heat gain and loss. A circular plan directs the earth forces naturally around the building, and wind turbulence is minimal. It encloses a given area with less wall, and energy consumption is dramatically reduced.
This site, on high ground, has one of the best views in the city of the river and bays the aboriginal people call Weledeh (Yellowknife River). To maximize this, there are many windows and two levels of walkout decks. The environmentally sensitive site determined both the extent of glazing used in the building and the transparent deck railings. Within constraints, the aim was to produce a building with a sense of tranquility and harmony with a beautiful location that reflected the environment and culture of aboriginal peoples with a strong visual presence

The Round/Tipi house, which stands out in high contrast to the sky, sits back on a long rocky site; behind are birch and spruce trees. The site is bounded on the east by Yellowknife River and on the west by Niven Lake. The overall design vocabulary abstracts the form of native dwellings of the surrounding area. The ground floor contains a rotunda entry hall, living, dining, family room, kitchen and bathroom. The second floor contains bedrooms and bathrooms; a study room is located on the third floor. The basement contains an office and an art studio. The house has a cast-in-place reinforced concrete foundation and floor poured onto bedrock. A layer of 19-cm rigid insulation and a vapour barrier under the slab prevent frost penetration and improve thermal performance. The house places an emphasis on the expression of simple frame construction (wood frame, steel post and beam, concrete foundation) and was built, nailed and shaped with ordinary tools.
Natural materials are central to the philosophy of the design; Douglas Fir #1 joists sit on a circle of steel beams and columns. Torched-on membrane material was used for the roof. A woodstove is placed at the centre, and its chimney pierces a conical 10 by 16 foot skylight: the Dene tipi shape creates a spiritual power that represents relationship between man and God. The woodstove is located at the geometric centre, radiating heat efficiently inside the house. A four-storey void extends the full height of the house, wrapped by a continuous stair which spirals up from the basement. Light plays very important role — a generous use of glass in the skylight pulls daylight into the stairwell.
Windows placed high in each room capture winter sun: the amount of daylight in the house changes colour and space with the hours and seasons. Six roof windows frame the landscape outside in a vast panorama. Colours use rich saturated hues of natural materials and the purple-gray stucco façade harmonises with the surrounding rocks and trees.
The house celebrates the natural beauty of surroundings: landscape, architecture and culture are as close we can make them to what one would find in this native land. Design concepts work to create a more friendly relationship between the people inside and the natural surroundings, opening the house to the mysticism of the land and its cultures. The house is set into the natural landscape to blend rather than to dominate it. Respecting northern weather and economy, local material such as rock and gravel in combination with birch, spruce trees, mountain Avens and a small amount of grass has been used for landscaping.

By studying the aboriginal architecture, we see that complex structures are not always superior. Aboriginal architecture possesses a high degree of sophistication, performance, relevance to needs and respect for the environment.
When we look into aboriginal ways of living, we find their houses were not only sympathetic with nature, but celebrated nature as the source of life. We find that they illustrate sophisticated rules about how to design and construct — rules that had a lot of respect not only for the elements of nature, but also for people.
This house has tried to articulate, through its form, a northern architecture through its relationship to indigenous culture, landscape and the northern sky.

Nadji, Kayhan. 'Local culture'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Kayhan Nadji and On Site review

13 July 2008

Chicago


White, Stephanie. 'Prairie culture' On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008

Scavenger Suit

clothes, trash, collections and random walks
Ivan Hernandez Quintela
I live in Mexico City and it has become my curiosity field, my ground of exploration. I live my body as a tool of perception and interaction during my city walks. Yet, even though it is through my body that I perceive, interact, and intervene the exterior, rarely has my skin been the one in direct contact with the exterior. Instead, it is my clothing that has acted as a contact tool, as a secondary skin.
Reflecting on my past random walks, where I would take pictures with my Polaroid camera of everyday conditions, events and incidents that would catch my attention, I started to feel like a flaneur, distantly observing the city through a scratched and apparently unfocused squared lens of two by two centimetres. I no longer wanted to feel so detached, so one day I had an idea of assembling a suit for myself, a suit that could help me collect objectual traces of the city. I thought of a suit covered with pockets, some big, some small, some with zippers, some with buttons; a suit that could hold all types of objects. I thought this suit could become not only a tool but a sign for my collecting. I thought that as my collection of objects found and stored in the suit’s pockets would grow, I myself would grow. I thought the suit would become a sign that I was not only keeping random objects as if I was an urban archeologist, but that the act of collecting these pieces was literally shaping me, transforming me, becoming (in a Delleuzeian way) me. As the suit became fuller, fatter, heavier, I myself would get fuller, fatter, heavier, not in a physical manner, but fuller, fatter and heavier with urban experience.
I have only taken a couple of walks using my Scavenger Suit, and so far, my collection consists of what anybody would define as a bundle of trash. I once read something on the lines of ‘show me somebody’s trash and I will tell you something about that person’, yet, I am beginning to have doubts about the final purpose and depth of my collection. I am still not even sure how my Scavenger Suit helps me as a collector, except that people on the streets look at me as if I am unstable, leaving me free to collect unbothered by questions about my intentions. Still, on thinking about culture in general, which I take it to be everything that we produce, consume and integrate into our daily life, I think of my Scavenger Suit as an appropriate tool for the everyday city walker. It is, in the end, through our clothes that we protect, project and veil ourselves from the other. It seems to me that that is exactly what culture attempts to do, to protect, project and veil for us a feeling of identity that sets us apart from the other. That if we were to unveil it, we would find we are completely naked underneath.

Hernandez, Ivan. 'Clothes, trash, collections and random walks'
On Site review, no. 18 Fall/Winter 2007/2008
© Ivan Hernandez Quintela and On Site review