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

GRIT AND KINDNESS DESERVE BETTER

By Ralph Benmergui

When people ask me what it’s like living in Hamilton (and believe me, every time I return to Toronto, they ask), I usually say that it’s great. Hamilton, I tell them, is a human-scale city. “But why would you leave Toronto?” they ask. “Because it’s full,” I say.

When we were considering the move (or I should say, when I was considering the move, along with my reticent family), I asked a friend who previously lived in Hamilton and Guelph which she preferred.

“Guelph if you want to fit in, Hamilton if you want to make a difference,” she said.

Case closed, we moved to the Hammer.

This is a decision I have not regretted. Here, people and the city itself, seem a good mix of grit and kindness. The working-class ethos, the waterfalls and the casual conversations just about anyone will have with you. This is a pre-war city.

But I’m not starry-eyed on Hamilton.

The car has supremacy here.  Speeding is expected. Bike lanes are nominal and dangerous in almost all parts of the city. On Hamilton’s main drag, a red light is considered an affront, as the goal is to get the hell from one end of town to the other, tout suite. This is sometimes good for drivers, but for anyone thinking of starting a small business, opening a café or even living on these corridors, good luck. I see block after block of wasted opportunities.

I’m not a city planner or a traffic flow specialist, but I am a citizen who sees avenues of loneliness and disconnection. The unfettered five-lane roadways, particularly Main Street, downtown and east end, keep us isolated.  They make daredevils of those who want to ride bikes and strangle the creative energy out of small business people who could be welcoming us into their shops.

Whenever I mention turning these arteries into two-ways with parking and protected bike lanes, locals roll their eyes and say (like those once told that one day the Berlin Wall would fall) that this will never fly in Hamilton.

What does a former Torontonian like me know about such matters anyway? Tribal war paint aside, I am a citizen with a lived experience that tells me that this city should have two thriving grand boulevards with treed pedestrian and cycling paths running through the middle of the streets. LRT, cafes, local grocers and specialty stores all the way from Dundurn to Gage Park.

So, I ask, do we need to get somewhere or be somewhere?

If we dare to move, I’m thinking that all that grit and kindness that we love so much here in Hamilton can find places to pollinate, and we might not be quite so big-city lonely.

About Ralph

Ralph Benmergui is a Canadian television and radio broadcasters, strategic communications professional and spiritual counsellor. Follow Ralph on social at @RalphBenmergui

An exchange of ideas on urban issues affecting Hamilton

Urban design and the built environment significantly influence the lifestyle and quality of life of city dwellers. However, those who interact and experience cities every day don’t always get the opportunity to be heard and impact the decision-making process.

We make our buildings and afterwards they make us. They regulate the course of our lives.

Winston Churchill

urbanXchange is a panel discussion and community gathering that looks at Hamilton’s current socioeconomic challenges, giving people the chance to express their views and suggest solutions. In a City under financial, social and cultural transition, questions and concerns have the tendency to grow rapidly and eventually replace positivity and optimistic thinking. Citizens have the need and the right to receive information directly from decision makers, pose questions and discuss matters from their own point of view.

urbanXchange discussions do not take sides nor present a subjective reality. The aim of the panel discussion series is to give people the opportunity to explore urban issues, based on panoramic views that are inclusive of all opinion.

Established industry professionals from Hamilton, the GTA and beyond, are invited to share their knowledge, express their views and discuss specific urban issues and concerns. Laura Babcock, a nationally established communications professional and community expert moderates the panel, hosted by dpai principal & CEO David Premi. All urbanXchange series panels can be viewed at The O Show on Cable 14 or on Facebook.

To date, topics have included gentrification or renewal, the future of transportation, intensification, sustainable cities and most recently art and place-making. If you have a topic you’d like to see covered, please reach out to us at info@dpai.ca

PUBLIC ART AND ITS IMPACT ON CULTURAL IDENTITY

Article + Image by Wendy Yuan @tearypuppet

As we go about our busy lives, travelling from point A to point B, we often encounter works of public art without noticing or appreciating them. Their importance is casually undermined. Some people may spare them a glance, and some may question their purpose; frankly, I am not completely innocent of such behaviour. However, I have grown to value the richness public art can bring to our cities.

What is public art?

Mural, Artist Unknown

Plainly put, public art is art that is intended to be displayed in public spaces. It can take the form of all types of media, including monuments, architecture, street performances, murals and beyond. Whether permanent or ephemeral (designed to respect the life of its natural setting), it is used as a tool for artistic expression, community education or celebration of space.

Why do some people dismiss public art?

  1. Expensive. When a city decides to install a six-figure piece of public art, taxpayers undoubtedly question whether it is worth said value or just an awful misuse of their money.
  2. “Tasteless”/ “What does it even mean?!” This reaction often comes from a large disconnect between the artist and the audience. The public’s lack of understanding of the artist’s intention in their use of form and material contributes largely to their disinterest in public art. Though admittedly, some works could simply fall under the category of “ugly”.
  3. “Insensitive subject matter.” Recently, Gaetano Pesce’s Maestà Sofferente in Milan sparked public outrage. The outdoor sculpture, shaped in the form of a woman’s torso, angered feminists who believed it objectified women. Although the artist claimed his intention to be completely the opposite, he and his audience could not on meet on the same page.
  4. “Why do we need public art anyways? Let’s talk about it!

What are some good examples of public art, and why are they important?

Monumental statues:

The Statue of Liberty, New York

One of the most well-known examples of public art is the Statue of Liberty in New York, a torch-bearing female form that embodies so much cultural and historical significance that she inevitably finds her way into the sights of every tourist’s camera. Manneken Pis in Brussels and The Little Mermaid in Copenhagen occupy a similar iconic status. As defining symbols of their cities, these monuments have shaped the identity of their respective cities’ residents.

Pressing global issues:

My favourite type of public art is that which conveys thought-provoking messages. Ai Weiwei’ s Refugee Art Installation is one example. On the six Corinthian columns of Konzerthaus Berlin, he hung thousands of orange life jackets used by refugees. Regardless of one’s political take on the refugee crisis, the bright orange of the life jackets, in contrast with the weathering classical architecture, fills our view and sends warning signals to our brain. Similarly, Ice Watch by Olafur Eliasson another beautiful yet daunting installation featuring 12 icebergs melted-off of a fjord in Greenland, harvested and displayed in prominent urban settings in the formation of a clock. This piece of land art makes it clear: we must act immediately because global warming is an urgent matter. We do not have much time left!

Architectural expression:

On a larger scale, architectural structures can also fall into the category of public art. For example, the Serpentine Galleries annually commission the world’s renowned architects to design a pavilion. Through this platform, architects experiment with technologies, materials, spaces and their relationship with people, and showcase their unique styles in architecture. SANAA’s 2009 Pavilion resembles their J Terrace Café in Okayama, which I had the good fortune of visiting this year. Bjarke Ingels’s 2016 Pavilion uses a similar strategy as his Telus Sky Tower in Calgary. These intriguing structures draw the public in to explore and interact with each other while showcasing their architects’ signature talent for design.

Landscaping:

The Gardens by the Bay, Singapore

To stretch the idea even further, the towering Supertrees and surreal Cloud Forest of The Gardens by the Bay in Singapore can collectively be considered a grand gesture of public art, responsible for greening the country. And like the Statue of Liberty, this horticultural attraction defines the community, shapes the city, and influences those who live near it.

And more…

I could keep listing all the forms of public art I have fallen in love with but ultimately it is our individual and communal experiences with them that really make a difference. It is hard to say that all public art is beautiful, however for those that are, we should spare a moment of appreciation. If we replace our attitude of dismissal with curiosity and an open imagination, it is not difficult to get past our fleeting assessments and stop to truly recognize the opportunity for cultural impact that public art offers our lives.

THIS IS NOT A PARK

Spaces are shaped by the people who occupy them. Public space is any area available to the public that is open to experience and enjoy. We own public space. We make it what it is.

THIS IS NOT A PARK is a pop-up opportunity in Hamilton, Ontario, for the public to enjoy an urban park experience through engagement and human activation. A sign reading “THIS IS A PARK” illuminates when participants enter the space. Without the presence of people, the sign turns off, reading “THIS IS NOT A PARK.” The portable park demonstrates that urban space comes to life when in use and that any public space has the potential to be enjoyed, even in the most unlikely of places. THIS IS NOT A PARK brings to light and celebrates our city’s underused spaces.

THIS IS NOT A PARK was originally designed for 100in1 Day Hamilton, an event showcasing innovative urban interventions by everyday residents around the city. The juxtaposition between the shortage of downtown park spaces and the abundance of forgotten or misused spaces in Hamilton calls for action. Common spaces such as sidewalks, alleyways, parking spaces and empty lots all have the potential to become vibrant public realms full of interaction and life. This installation seeks to activate these spaces and will be showcased in a number of locations throughout Hamilton which we have deemed forgotten or misused.

We aim to build a sense of community within these reclaimed urban spaces by encouraging meaningful interpersonal interactions and by inviting participation from all members of our city. The simple and raw design captures our vision: transformational, ephemeral, mobile and most importantly, activated by you!

Thank you to park sponsors:
LED Solutions
Historia Building Restorations
Beach Road Steel
Marshall Electric Contracting

VIRTUAL REALITY BRIDGING THE GAP OF EMOTIONAL CONNECTION

by Max Schramp @maxschramp

Experiencing virtual reality (VR) was previously limited to reading books, watching television or movies, and experiencing one’s own imagination. Whether it was through the “OASIS” from Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One or directly embedded in your subconscious like Christopher Nolan’s Inception, people have been fascinated by the concept of alternate realities where anything is rendered possible.

A common trope among all examples of such environments is that these realities are generally accessed through some form of game platform. I’m willing to bet there’s a whole generation of architecture students who, when asked why they chose this their field, would respond “Minecraft.” Not only is Minecraft the world’s best-selling, with more than 176 million copies sold, it is also widely considered to be the perfect sandbox game.

“Sandbox” is synonymous with the genre “Open World”, which according to Wikipedia can be defined as “a level or game designed as nonlinear” i.e. “open areas with many ways to reach an objective.” For years Minecraft existed without any storyline or objectives, but as a virtual universe where players created their own narrative. This poses the question: How does a low-resolution world of cubes with no objective or narrative keep people of all ages immersed for years? For me, the answer is an emotional connection. Experiences with other humans in real-time that harness multiple senses are the key to compelling immersion.

Virtual Connection

Over the past year, a group of friends and I have organized three “virtual festivals” in Minecraft. Our group grew up playing hours upon hours of the game during our formative years, while concurrently pursuing careers in electronic music. As we became more established artists in the electronic scene, we realized there was a clear gap in our community: it’s financially impossible for a community of international, independent musicians and fans to meet up in the same place at the same time and perform.

Using our knowledge of Minecraft, we collectively “hacked” a version of the game that would allow us to create a music festival. We built a virtual world that involved not only stages, but an entire environment to explore. This included various sculptural works, houses, carnivals, city streets, and even an art gallery featuring visual artists from our community. We asked artists to record sets and stand on the stage, “DJ’ing” in front of the crowd of virtual characters, who listened to the audio “in real life” streamed through an external website. All our marketing material was parallel to that of real-world music festivals, the exception being that the entire event took place in a virtual world.

Most people can relate to the feeling of getting goosebumps when they witness their favourite artist live, surrounded by hundreds of people experiencing the same feeling. We successfully recreated this phenomenon within a virtual reality for the over 100,000 people who attended our events. This has many implications for the future of performance art and the integrations of architecture.

VR and Architecture

There have already been multiple derivative events, but now there is now proof that virtual experiences don’t belong strictly in art galleries. As virtual reality becomes more accessible, will architects be able to immediately integrate international communities into their work? Why couldn’t millions of people attend the largest sermon in the world, all from their own home? How would one go about designing a cathedral, a temple or a mosque, for millions of people to experience? Without the limitations of physics or budget, how would the formation of spaces change? When speculative architecture has a feasible platform to exist, will it?

Applications of virtual reality in the field of architecture are still far from their full potential. Walkthroughs with VR headsets can engage with our visual senses, but truly experiencing architecture is more than that. How can we as occupants engage emotionally with the virtual representations of the built environment? How can we as architects simulate or encourage human interaction while in a virtual world? These are questions that will push the field and the technology further, as the possibilities remain infinite within virtual space.

WHY I LOVE GLASS BLOCK

By Petra Matar, Designer, dpai architecture
@bonpetra

There is something poetic about glass block – its intrinsic paradoxical materiality, scale and depth. 

Inherent in its name, glass block combines the heaviness and opacity of masonry and the lightness and transparency of glass. This intrinsic paradoxical materiality is probably one of my favourite properties of glass block. Like masonry, the size of the block is human in scale and has an inherent modularity giving it a familiar logic. Even though it is glass, most glass block is not perfectly see-through. This translucency allows freedom to build privacy into spaces without compromising light. It also allows for diffusing direct light that hits it and depending on its shape and composition can cast beautiful shadows. Glass block has a visible surface depth which adds to its complexity; expressed through the material itself, the shadows it casts, and the shadows and colours of figures beyond it that translate through.

Glass blocks of the past

Most people have experienced glass blocks in tacky applications like in the dentist’s office waiting rooms with a dusty plastic plant sadly leaning against it; the small sad window in an underwhelming washroom; the curved glass block wall near the principal’s office, but a material’s potential should not be judged as such.

Give glass block a chance!  

It has been used in numerous beautiful and inspiring buildings for close to a century. How can you hate the glass block in Maison de Verre? It was built from 1928-1932 and is still a modern, relevant, and iconic piece of architecture. Glass block has even been used in great contemporary buildings such as Maison Hermès by Renzo Piano, Dumas + Horacio by Central De Arquitectura, and Termas de Tiberio by Moneo Brock Studio to name a few.

Next time, give glass block a second glance. See it with fresh eyes. Don’t hate it for how it has been used but love it for how it can be used.