STRANGE PROCESS

Sandy McIntosh, Architect

Strange Process is a podcast series, by dpai architecture and Mohawk College, where we explore and demystify the process of how multidisciplinary artists produce their work.

For our first episode, Principal + CEO, David Premi sits down with architect, Sandy McIntosh to discuss his journey through music and design.

“The more we talk about it and the more we explore it, we see maybe [the artistic process] isn’t as mysterious as we think. Maybe there is some continuity or logic behind the method in which an artist creates a piece of work,” said David.

Listen below or watch on YouTube.

DESIGN DISRUPTION

Rendering of a proposed streetscape by dpai.

Historically, disruption has been associated with bad behaviour; we all remember those disruptive students at school. But today it has evolved to have a different meaning. From a business or organizational perspective, “disruption” is defined as changing the traditional way that an entity operates, especially in a new and effective way.

Disruption is now ubiquitous. Profound transformations in industries such as transportation, hospitality and music continue to occur through disruptions sparked by Uber, Airbnb and Spotify. The design industry is no exception. Tradition must be challenged if a design process is to be robust. 

Creating a virtual reality

Today, designers can create functional, virtual replicas of their projects, neighbourhoods and cities. These virtual models can be navigated in 2D or visitors can be immersed in virtual reality. Bus schedules, tree species, existing built fabric, complete with materials and textures, and an accurate daily cycle of the sun’s path can be embedded into these models. Cars and pedestrians roam the streets based on actual traffic data. Soon we will be able to include dynamic computer simulated wind, air quality, and temperature data to assess the environmental impacts of a change to the built fabric.

Unlike the cumbersome, expensive and time-consuming practice of wind tunnel testing, unlimited iterations of a proposed building or park can be studied “live” with this technology. Designers can see the impacts of their design as it is in its virtual context. Through web sharing of the model, the visual and environmental impacts can be experienced dynamically by many groups of people simultaneously. Public consensus at this scale could have a profound impact on any political issues surrounding a proposal.

Disrupting traditional processes

As a public engagement tool, this technology has the capacity to seriously disrupt both the traditional development and planning processes. Imagine a proposed building, twice the height permitted by zoning, is empirically and publicly demonstrated to have only positive impacts. Conversely, what if a permitted height is shown to have unacceptable impacts, pressuring developers to reduce the density on which the economics of a development were based? Land values could be affected on a hyper-local level.

Could virtual reality hold the answer to a truly democratic and participatory urban design process?

CITIES AS A CANVAS FOR EXPERIMENTATION

Collage by Petra Matar

As architects and urban planners, we need to let go of the idea that we have complete control. Instead of thinking of our work in terms of a final product, what if we approached it as an ever-changing canvas, that both shapes and is shaped by people and the environment?

Architecture isn’t a linear process with a single vision of what is right, but rather an infrastructure of human life, within which users and their activities move, adapt and change. We don’t see our work as absolute – it is an intuitive collaboration of many inspired individuals overlaying their visions in a shared community. We need to employ intuition and encourage participation in modifying and creating environments that perform and inspire.

A disconnected design process

The making of structures and cities has become a disconnected process. Codes, regulations, minimum requirements, deadlines and budgets tend to reign supreme over intuition and thoughtfulness. These are crucial factors, but too often ignore qualitative conversations and considerations.

A property built by a developer is typically built to maximize revenue – an understandable requirement – however, its contribution to society cannot be ignored. The process of city building can and should give designers the opportunity to practice good intuition, and end-users the freedom to participate and modify their environment.

Hands-on growth

The organic formation of dense human habitation in many parts of the world holds intrinsic beauty and order, as a manifestation of immediate human need with a close relationship to materials, highly conditioned by scale.

Photo by Agung Raharja

Densely inhabited areas can inspire cities to grow according to need, employing experimentation and improvisation. They represent spaces that have been designed with human scale fundamentally considered. Cities are an act of human creation – why not design them to celebrate human participation, ingenuity and creativity?

Opportunities

Imagine a design process that sees beauty and opportunity in experimentation; design born of imagination, fully driven and supported to apply and experiment with its vision. Imagine a city that is a canvas of experimentation.

Our wish is for cities to invest in realizing bold new ideas – not for the sake of self-image, but for the sake of society. Despite our best efforts at planning, cities grow and change over time without end results being fully known. As city dwellers, we must be encouraged and empowered to participate in the creative evolution of our urban environments

A RENDERED WORLD

Render by Tim Stephens

Studying a map is a great way to understand relationships between geographic areas. Spinning around a globe (remember those?) and seeing these areas in a relative way is even better.

Our world has been changed by technology. With GPS based 3D satellite map environments, we have access to an immersive and increasingly accurate perception of the real world. The same is now true for designers who convey perceptions to the people who will inhabit these spaces.

It seems like gone are the days of the ‘pin-up’ at the local library. Thanks to the adoption of building information modelling we have much greater power to communicate our ideas effectively. It is up to us to figure out ways to leverage these new capabilities to achieve the desired outcomes.

In a recent article by Tim Stephens, a Digital Innovation Lead, Registered Architect and Associate Principal at Jasmax, visual imaging is discussed along with his learnings of the tool.

Read the full article here.

With the latest technologies, we are producing higher quality visualizations through our design process, faster than ever before. With the growing ease of producing ‘photo-realistic’ visual outputs, comes the risk of miss-managing the design process with our clients.


Tim Stephens, a Digital Innovation Lead, Registered Architect and Associate Principal at Jasmax

WHAT IS URBAN DESIGN?

Urban design is the practice of arranging the elements of a city that provide infrastructure for a healthy, lucrative and productive environment for residents. Urban design deals with built form, transportation, density, public space, architecture, landscape design, land use, public transportation, public health, recreation, sustainability, politics, public art, micro-climates, and ultimately the character and quality of the built environment. It is a holistic practice that considers the complexities and inter-relationships of all these systems.

Urban design must therefore be a collaborative effort, and must a acknowledge and embrace the context of its political, economic, environmental and cultural complexities. Many voices must be heard and included to ensure success.

Urban designers

Unlike the roles of planners, architects and engineers, urban design is a relatively new profession. The title ‘urban designer’ was coined over 25 years ago but to date, there is no professional accreditation for this role. It is a curatorial activity that considers and acknowledges the many forces that shape a city.

Good urban design

Urban design should consider the ideal quality of the human experience. It’s proactive in that it delivers a quality master plan that the individual interventions strive to satisfy while supporting a vision. Issues arise when there is an overemphasis on zoning, often creating unnatural environments based on an artificial and arbitrary set of rules that are inherently inflexible, rigid and predetermined.

For urban designers to succeed, they need to be at the table as a primary driver of vision alongside planners. They also need to make sure that when individual interventions are made, they are not in conflict with the mission and values of that vision.

Even when the best process is followed, some results will be unexpected. Such is the nature of the complex and unpredictable system, and for that, we need urban designers.

A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE

At the recent Bay Area Climate Change Summit, a Hamilton audience of 150 people was told by Sustainability Consultant Yuill Herbert that the city could become carbon neutral by 2050. This, according to increasing scientific consensus, is the necessary target that all cities must strive for in order to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

This is particularly timely as Hamilton city council also recently voted to declare a climate emergency. It is amongst the first few cities in Canada to do so after Vancouver, Halifax and Kingston.

Herbert said that governments have a lot of leverage to change the way we design our cities. He suggests the following:

Change regulations

Governments should enforce a net-zero carbon agenda for any new construction. Provincially, this could be enshrined in the building code if the Government considered climate change an important issue. Locally, bylaws could enforce a higher level of sustainability, for example, Toronto’s requirement for green roofs.

Intensify

The way a city is designed has a direct impact on its carbon footprint.  In an automobile dependent community, a great deal of carbon is produced driving around.  More expensive and resource-hungry roads and infrastructure are required in low-density environments. Cities must urgently adopt new (or finally get serious about enforcing existing) rules that promote compact urban form and intensification. Less sprawl and more density mean a more livable environment locally and a healthier planet. There is no downside to this concept.

Stop Designing for Automobiles

Parking requirements should be greatly reduced or eliminated. Parking stall sizes should be decreased. Require bike storage and car share in all new buildings. Build complete cycling networks. Cities must start to create redevelopment plans around both local and regional transit networks

Photo by Ken Mann – Global News

We are running out of time. All designers should feel an obligation to radically change the way we design cities and buildings and need to act to work quickly towards this goal. By declaring a climate emergency, the City of Hamilton has announced its commitment to this goal. We now have a new lens through which to justify and judge our actions.