KNOWLEDGE, DESIGNED

We live in a world where information is easily accessible for many. Search engines like Google will tell you everything you need to know, with hundreds of sources and reviews. It’s become a common reflex and response to anything you want to know or learn. Just “google” it!

Google is a basic tool in our day-to-day lives, but where did it come from?

Back to Land

In the sixties, in the midst of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam war, there was a rise of a counterculture that favoured individual empowerment and self-sustenance. With this came the “back to the land” movement, where people moved to communes with the goal of slowing down and simplifying life. At the heart of this movement was Stewart Brand’s publication of the Whole Earth Catalogue

The Whole Earth Catalogue

In 1967, a NASA geostationary weather and communication satellite captured the first colour photograph of the whole earth. People’s perspective of the earth changed and for the first time, people could see the earth not as the world we live in but as the planet we live on. The earth was no longer our entire world; it was a thing of its own, both finite and delicate. It was a powerful symbol: regardless of who we were and where we were, we all lived on the same planet and with that, shared a common future and destiny. Brand used this picture of the whole earth as an icon for his publications, an image he used to help shape people’s views and way of thinking to see the earth as a finite entity that needed to be protected.  

The contents of the Whole Earth Catalogue were catered to people who were involved with the “back to the land” movement. It was a paper database of the skills, tools and information they needed to survive and succeed, all within the pages of a few catalogues. It was meant to empower individuals who were tired of being controlled by the government and big corporations and wanted to shape their environment and future.

To access this knowledge, you needed the physical catalogue. There was no internet, libraries were restricted by their size and television content was limited. The catalogue was a new concept, a place where anything you needed to know, find and learn about a single topic or idea was in one place. It was regularly updated and changed as the creators received reviews and feedback, just like the search engines we know today.

The Digital Age

Unlike the catalogues, which we can see in physical space filled with a finite quantity of knowledge, Google exists on the infinite digital plane of the Internet. We cannot see or even begin to understand all the information this entity can hold. It has no physical form; it is a space we cannot physically see nor touch. It is designed using computer code, using algorithms and sequences, to pull the information we are searching for from that infinite digital space. Today, the way we get our news, communicate with one another and share knowledge is via the digital plane. It is no surprise that the way we collect data and search for information happens the same way.

Information Overload

With unlimited access to information comes an overload. The abundance of information has created difficulty in understanding issues and making decisions around them, largely due to the uprising of “fake news”. Twenty-first-century libraries are evolving from primarily housing books on shelves to taking on the self-proclaimed role of “fake news debunkers”. Some modern libraries are also developing programs they call design thinking to promote creative processes for problem-solving, helping their clientele to develop the skills needed to process information in this “overloaded” climate.

Unlike the days of the Whole Earth Catalogue, libraries have gone from transactional to relational interactions with users. Libraries are no longer places where users simply come to consume information, they have also become places where the public comes to create their own content.

Described by Steve Jobs as the “paperback Google”, the Whole Earth Catalogue gave rise to the way we access digital information today. Understanding how the knowledge you are receiving has been designed and disseminated is arguably as important as the knowledge itself.

This is why libraries are so critical to our communities. They are bastions of democracy, making sure that the development of critical thinking and creation are available to all.

About Arthi

Arthi is a 2nd-year student at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture. Being exposed to different types of meditative spaces and seeing them used in different ways inspired her to learn more about the impact of architecture on people and the world. She’s interested in painting, travelling with her family and friends, and watching movies.

A WOONERF SOLUTION

How a Woonerf Could Anchor Redevelopment of the James-John South District
By Paul Shaker

Good, proactive urban planning reimagines city spaces that may be overlooked but hold great potential. This is the case in the area just south of downtown Hamilton.

The James-John Street South district (SouthTown) is a diverse commercial area in Hamilton, south of the downtown Central Business District. The area contains a variety of land uses, such as St. Joseph’s Hospital and the Hamilton GO Centre as well as nodes including the restaurants and pubs on Augusta and the retail Terraces on James South. Functionally, the district extends east to the other major corridor, John Street South and includes the connecting streets such as Augusta, Young, and Charlton.

While other commercial districts around the city including Locke Street South, James Street North, and Ottawa Street North, have gone through impressive revitalization, SouthTown has remained relatively stable in its vibrancy, experiencing small cycles of decline and renewal over the past decade. There are distinct nodes of vibrancy, but the district lacks continuity and connectivity between these nodes that would help the area achieve greater prosperity.

In this context, Civicplan and dpai teamed up a few years ago to develop a concept plan for the district. Central to the plan was the creation of a focal point for the area: the Augusta Street Woonerf.

Woonerf: A Living Street

A woonerf is a concept first developed in the 1970s in Holland. The concept is to transform a street by prioritizing pedestrian and cycling over cars. It allows for street space to be flexible, used in multiple ways, for cars, parking, cycling and pedestrians. The Dutch employed the planning model in residential areas, but it is becoming more common, particularly in North America, to see it employed in commercial areas. It is also known as a “living street” and is aligned in North America with the idea of complete streets.

Common elements of a woonerf are the elimination of sidewalk curbs, and the blending of pedestrian and vehicle space. Additionally, the woonerf is designed using a different material or pattern than traditional streets to differentiate it from a traditional street, for example paving stones instead of asphalt. The benefits of a woonerf are primarily traffic calming, pedestrian safety, and bringing life to a street. It encourages commercial spaces to connect with the street through the use of patios and outdoor spaces.

The Augusta Woonerf

In the SouthTown district, the Augusta Street Woonerf would transform the underdeveloped street into a pedestrian-friendly civic space connecting the two major north-south arteries (James and John) together. Augusta Street has an excellent cluster of restaurants and pubs, giving it a base to grow street vibrancy.  However, street design and the prevalence of street front parking lots are limiting further growth. Some of the opportunities for the Augusta Street woonerf include:

1. Redesign Augusta making the street a pedestrian-friendly civic space better connected to the James Street and John Street South commercial nodes.

2. Encourage scaled infill design consistent with existing building massing at the street.

3. Introduce more landscaping and tree planting to provide some green/open space for the district.

4. Target high potential sites for initial catalyst development.  Focus on uses that are attracted to the district’s demographics, character, assets and vibrancy (e.g. post-secondary).

The SouthTown Concept Plan

This was just one element of the SouthTown concept plan, which had the goal to not only articulate a vision for the future of the area but to help guide public investment in order to kickstart development. Other key elements of the plan include:

About the author

Paul Shaker is a Principal and co-founder of Civicplan. He is a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners and a Registered Professional Planner in Ontario.

MICRO-HOMES: A SOLUTION

By Wendy Yuan

micro-home plans by pinuphouses.com

Homeownership has long been the “American Dream”. Achieving this dream often requires people to put their entire savings into real estate. With housing prices skyrocketing and the threat of global warming, micro-homes or tiny houses have become a suitable alternative for some.

Micro-homes refer to any residential structure under 400 square feet (37 square meters). They can range from cob houses and shipping containers to buses and even boats.

I was first introduced to micro-homes in an Architectural Technology course, where students were required to design Net-Zero Energy tiny houses for single families. The main benefits of micro-homes that appeal to me, include:

Affordability

Because of their sizes, tiny homes cost much less than the traditional options. It is less likely for people to be handcuffed to long-term mortgage loans. For example, this Japanese Tiny House on Wheels cost $30,000 USD in construction. Aside from the small purchase price, micro-homes also demand a relatively low cost of upkeep and insurance fees.

Customizability

Customizing a micro-home is more manageable than renovating a standard single-family house. Many have built their homes from found materials, others have tailored their space to their needs through DIY projects. However, what fascinates me the most is the ingenious solution to the limited space: shapeshifting. With pulls on handles, the walls slide across this 344 square feet (32 square meters) Transformer Apartment in Hong Kong, to create more “room”.

Sustainability

Tiny houses are environmentally conscious. Often constructed out of recycled materials and converted from “undesirable” spaces, they have a significantly smaller carbon footprint. Some owners prefer an “off-the-grid” lifestyle, which means they must source their own water, electric and plumbing services. Introducing water recycling system, solar-integrated roofs and compost toilets!

micro-home plans by pinuphouses.com

Micro Homes in Canada?

Although interest in micro-homes is high in Canada, municipalities are slow in accepting them. Some set a minimum square footage requirement; some even specify the colour and type of building materials. No city yet provides adequate zoning description or building by-laws to encompass tiny houses.

Progress is slow but present. Some cities, such as Vancouver and Edmonton, are softening restrictions for secondary suites. There have been plans to build communities of micro-homes in towns such as Okotoks, Alberta. The City of Hamilton has recently shown it’s progressive side by approving a zoning by-law that permits the construction of laneway houses on inner-city lots containing a detached single-family home. In this case, the size of the units are limited to 50 SM in area and 3M in height, adding much needed smaller units to the mix. This allows residents to age in place, or simply add some more affordable units to the retail stock.

Micro homes can offer refuge to the homeless, improve social wellness and contribute to the fight against climate change. Most importantly, they offer some simplicity to life. We can live for ourselves, instead of living for our houses.

#CLIMATESTRIKE

In March 2019, the City of Hamilton officially declared a climate emergency (we wrote about it here). The declaration was necessary, but it’s not enough.

We are running out of time. As architects, we are uniquely positioned to change the way we design cities and buildings. It is the obligation of our profession to exert influence over our clients, consultants, and the authorities having jurisdiction to introduce new design and building practices into the market. Net-zero buildings are easily within our reach; it’s not rocket science. It comes down to better detailing, more insulation, careful design and renewable energy. The longer-term financial viability of a net-zero building is radically better than the kinds of buildings we are accustomed to building.

In response to the Global Climate Strike, the Canadian Architects Declare pledge was created, urging architects and designers to raise awareness of the impact of the built environment on climate change and take immediate action through their projects.

About 150 architects signed the pledge, committing to:

  • Raising awareness
  • Taking immediate (and measurable) action
  • Designing for holistic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions
  • Eliminating waste and harm
  • Adopting regenerative design principles and practices
  • Advocating for the rapid systemic changes required

As architects and designers, we can make a difference. According to Architecture 2030, the urban built environment is responsible for 75% of annual global GHG emissions: buildings alone account for 39%. 

We should never underestimate our impact.
Together, we shape the world.
  
#ArchitectsDeclare #StandwithGreta #DesignforFuture